Friday, 19 August 2016

Camping is Shit - part 2

Our first day in the hell that is camping ends with a lovely dinner at friends. I eat heartily, get slightly wankered and look forward to a good sleep.

No one tells you that sleeping whilst camping is impossible. Sleeping bags are miserable places. A sleeping bag placed on a thin yoga mat in a flimsy tent is Millets contribution to the history of torture. Add a child rendered near hysterical with tiredness and it's no wonder that men such as Raoul Moat had a history of owning camping equipment.

Groggy with exhaustion and the mildest hint of a hangover, I heroically make my way to the campsite shop to buy two hot teas. After nearly 24 hours without wi-fi, my grasp of world affairs worryingly thin, I decide to treat myself to a Daily Mirror. The front page brings sad news. Dalian Atkinson, a former star at my beloved Aston Villa, has died in a police taser incident. This is a third omen. Today promises to be the hottest day of the year, I fear the worst.

As it turns out, we have a nice day and you dont want to hear about that. We visit Hay-on-Wye and I somehow resist the temptation to spend our entire holiday budget on books. We see ducklings on a late night chips-fuelled walk along a canal. We witness one of sport's great grudge matches - the petanque battle between Brecon and those upstart fucks from Crickhowell.

Then we try to get to sleep. One night without sleep will make a man grumpy, a second consecutive night will make him close to psychotic. What we don't realise is that we are about to learn the downside of letting a small child book your holiday location.

En route to our second spot, we make a quick stop in Crickhowell. A beautiful market town bustling with early arrivals for the Green Man Festival, who this year seem to be hosting all my favourite bands as some kind of punishment for me being in a tent round the corner. I take turns to insult locals as to the piss poor petanque team that represents their shitty little Brexit town as a small act of revenge*

Campsite two is in the small village of Llanellen, near Abergavenny. We find the village shop to ask for directions. The proprietor is only too delighted to be disturbed from building a papier mache model of the Guernica massacre by three lost people. We buy a cursory carton of orange juice and make plans to go to Abergavenny for supplies later. It is a journey we will never make.

Middle Ninfa is a wonderful and remote place high on the Blorenge. It is accessible only by the steepest, narrowest road I have been on in this country. A road for 4 x 4s, not 11 year old Peugeot Partners filled with camping equipment, driven by my increasingly terrified wife. The screaming, luckily, is only made by the car as it finally comes to a stop at the beautiful farmhouse after driving at 30 degree angles. The owner, Richard, as pointed out by our daughter, looks like a weather worn Jeremy Corbyn. Before he can show us our pitch, he parks our car for us as my wife is still in a state of polite catatonia. With directions we are pointed to a place I presume is reserved usually for trainee sherpas. To get our stuff to this giddy height I need to wheelbarrow our stuff up another hill.

It is at this point that the sun decides to turn itself up a notch and my transformation from reluctant, miserable camping Dad to Sisyphus of the Sleeping Bags begins. A miserable 45 minutes making repeat journeys to our pitch ends with me finding our child crying at the thought of a night recreating some of the less awful moments from The Road.

Why has my daughter chosen this place? Because a horse visits this field when campers come. The horse, I guess, is unimpressed with the remarkable panorama afforded those who visit. The Skirrid overshadowing the little market town, the trains to civilisation a tiny distant line of hope. Hot air balloons soar close by. It is a place of absolute wonder. My daughter begins to cry.

"I dont like it, I want to go home."

At this point I am trying to mallet tent pegs into a ground that has not seen rain for several weeks. Already rendered breathless by wheelbarrowing our stuff to this hellish place, I am mentally calculating how far my screams will carry across the valley. My wife, finally capable of speech again, says she cannot drive up that hill again and we will have to survive on whatever food we have on us. Too proud to admit defeat to the farmer, we resolve to stay and see the night through.

Then we are attacked by a plague of horseflies.

Our tiny purple tent has clearly been advertised in the insect world as hosting Horsefly Glastonbury. Thousands of flying bastards have flocked to see Midge Adele or something. It is horrific. We decide to build a fire. I venture down with my wheelbarrow to buy firewood. Now we are no longer campers. We are soldiers in a war with Mother Nature.

Incidentally, the Blorenge is said to be the inspiration for the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful. The Lord God may have made all creatures great and small but I'm determined to be Lord of the Horseflies. Our fire is quickly built, soon the midge scum will choke on our mighty smoke and perish in our triumph.

Except a breeze has begun and is taking the smoke away from the flies. Advised by the ever patient Richard that the horseflies will disappear at night, we decide to see what food and drink we have to survive the evening.

Crisps for tea it is then.

The evening, as it turns out, isnt that unbearable. The thought of leaving this god forsaken place in the morning acts as a protective blanket over the three of us. That and a solemn promise we can have a fry up first thing tomorrow. Our daughter, for whom an evening meal of crisps and Party Rings is nothing less than culinary heaven, has cheered up no end. For we have been visited by Fly the Horse.

For an hour this beautiful creature stands over us while we eat. We take turns to feed it handfuls of grass torn from the hill. We are at one with nature. We would survive a return to the wild., we are made of tougher stuff than most of our pathetic home-comfort dependent wage slaves.

Where's the toilets?

A seemingly unending torrent of horse piss from Fly, whilst entertaining in the sheer couldnt give a fuck nature of its delivery a few yards from our tent, has inspired in our own bladders a sudden desire to visit the loo. The toilets were indicated on our arrival as being over there....

The distance was one of several technological generations. A compost toilet whilst clearly kind to Mother Nature, is a shock to anyone who has never wanted to make stuntmen of their bowel movements. Struck by a mutual poo fear, we return to our tent and blessed with traumatic exhaustion, we sleep soundly.

(A QUICK ASIDE HERE - Middle Ninfa is a beautiful, magical place. And for people with proper vehicles, camping nous, equipment and all that it's a wonderful experience to be treasured. For the kind of idiots who leave booking such places to a primary school child, however, it's a trial with a deserved punishment. Don't let our idiocy and my cynicism deter you.)

Morning comes and we pack and depart with a haste that we disguise with jaunty small talk about checking out Abergavenny's reputation as a real foodie town. The £4 fry up I enjoy half an hour later tasted all the better for it's lack of anything foodie about it.

(A SECOND QUICK ASIDE HERE - I am using the term foodie here ironically. I fucking hate foodies and anyone who uses the term. Nigel Slater, Yotam Ottolenghi, Jamie Oliver. These people are utter bastards. Ooh what's for lunch, Nige? A quinoa and snail piss salad atop Mongolian yak bread. Fuck off.)

Our final campsite is Broadstone, near Coleford. A campsite that straddles the Welsh/English border. It is a beautiful place, I can honestly say it was the most I have ever enjoyed a night beneath the stars. With a
beautiful barbecue provided by Chef Wife and cold lagers courtesy of a Monmouth supermarket, I almost started to believe I enjoyed this nomadic lifestyle.

Before we settled down for the evening, we decided to visit the historic market town of Coleford. A quick tip for anyone, dont visit Coleford. There's nothing there except charity shops. Go to Monmouth or Ross instead. They're much nicer.

We awoke to the most beautiful sound a reluctant camper can hear. Torrential rain. Followed by another camper saying "We're going home. There's a terrible storm coming." In between packing various wet pieces of tent into the car, we chatted with a semi-permanent resident of the site, a lovely, gentle soul called Herb. A former soldier, he spoke to us about the local geology, the cyclical nature of life, the dangers of unchecked materialism and the joy of the occasional toke. This is usually the exact sort of talk I would walk into a burning abbatoir to avoid but he did all this whilst making us endless cups of tea.

Car finally packed, we returned home. The cats had survived. No other neighbours had died. The grisly omens of the week amounted to nothing. Our kettle sang with the joy of a busy hour ahead.

But best of all I could take a shit whilst checking my text messages.

* I don't really. I don't even know what petanque is, or how to say it. It looks well Brexit though.

Camping Is Shit - part 1

There had been talk all summer of going camping. I dismissed it in much the same way as I dismiss talk of decorating and Christmas shopping - the cavalier ignorance of a man who senses that these things may come to pass but probably without too much of his own input.

Now, I dont want you to think that Mrs Fourfoot does everything around these parts but as she is the practical, sensible, driving licence owning half of the marriage it will look like that to the uninformed. For example, it fell to our daughter, already at 11 a cross between Dorothy Parker and Lisa Simpson, to source campsites within a 50 mile radius of our beautiful, waterproof, wi-fi ridden flat.

Campsites duly chosen, I spent last Sunday evening analysing 5 day forecasts with an intensity previously saved for things like running around High Street shops half two on Christmas Eve. The forecast was as poor as it was bright. Nothing could be done, I was to go camping.

Camping, as anyone fortunate enough to live since the advent of the brick knows, is about as relaxing an activity as documenting mass graves in regions devastated by war. But having promised our daughter some sort of getaway experience and armed with a holiday budget of around £3.56, the world of tent pegs, disposable barbecues and chemical toilets was our only option.

Packing the car, we noticed a higher than average police presence in our street. It transpired that one of our neighbours had lain dead in his flat for several days. Seizing upon this as a bad omen, I broke down and begged my family to reconsider this reckless proposition. Soothed by my daughter with the promise of cold beer and burnt meat, I was soon strapped in to the Peugeot Partner and bound for the Brecon Beacons.

The Beacons have had a bit of bad press of late what with our armed forces hellbent on training our soldiers to die there and the A470 that winds past it acting as a Mecca for suicidal motorcyclists but, all that death aside, it really is a place of outstanding natural beauty. To pass Merthyr Tydfil and chance upon this timeless vista is like leaving a Chubby Brown concert and finding oneself, well, anywhere else really. With the sun shining and the sky full of roadkill chasing buzzards, I began to relax. To ease myself into a week of sleeping beneath the stars, we had arranged to meet some old friends for dinner in Brecon. I looked adoringly at my family and smiled. This could be fun after all.

I knew, before I had been in Brecon three hours, that they meant to kill me.

Stopping for supplies in the town meant trawling through many many charity shops for holiday reading and a chance to discover my daughter's "amazing" game. This game is called Charlotte Church and involves holding up any copies of Charlotte Church's Tissues and Issues CD found in a charity shop's CD haul. The insolence of youth, I suppose. Suppressing the urge to tell my child the game is actually called David Gray, and ignoring the plethora of White Ladders on the shelf of Save the Children, I decided to phone our evening's dinner companion to inform them we had arrived safely and could we stay in their house for a week. It was at this point I discovered that Brecon, clearly recovering from the hell of the just finished jazz festival, had forgotten to have a mobile signal.

Still in a state of shock, I sat in silence in our short drive to our first campsite of the week, Bishops Meadow. We were greeted at reception by an elderly man in a golf buggy who looked a bit like Chris from Eggheads. He pointed to a large field and told us to camp where we liked. Seizing the opportunity to contribute something to our campaign, I pointed to the huge shady area beneath a great solitary oak in the middle of the field. With the temperature already in the high 80s, and proud possesor of a complexion somewhere between Moon Shimmer and Frosted Dawn on the Dulux paint chart, I feared anything else would mean utter misery.

To my surprise, Team Fourfoot agreed. And so, to the task of erecting a tent. There are three stages to erecting a tent. The first stage, which I admit to being rather excellent at, is Staring At All The Constituent Parts on the Ground and Saying Well I dont fucking know do I? This, despite, possessing one of the less complicated tents £3 can buy at a carboot. Second stage is Helping Someone With Common Sense Put The Tent Together As It Really Isnt That Hard. My main contribution to this bit was hammering pegs in to the hard ground with a mallet and swearing throughout. The third stage is Silent But Still Undignified Weeping.

Our home thus built, it was time to enjoy a picnic. Alas, daughter had other ideas. In her research for sites to visit, she had identified items of specific interest to her at each potential destination. And this one had been chosen for its swimming pool.

Having done nothing of much use so far on the trip, it was inevitable that I should be the one to accompany child both to and into the pool. As I went to the car to look for towels, I chanced upon a face down playing card with the WWE logo. Hypnotised by its incongruence, I turned it over. It was a picture of somebody called The Undertaker. Seizing upon this as a bad omen, I broke down and begged my family to reconsider this reckless proposition.

Moments later, I was in the water. There are few things more horrific to me than the prospect of a swimming pool filled with screaming children. The best place for water and screaming children is a screening of Jaws or an old We Are The Champions. Needless to say, despite the temperature now well into the 80s, stepping into the pool was like stepping into Captain Oates miserable, frozen shoes. After some minutes of screaming, I settled into that age old pastime of Waiting For My Child To Get Sick of Splattering My Face With Frozen Chlorine.

Several hours later, we made our way back to the tent. To do this, we had to go through the Caravan and Camper Van Zone. It seems that caravanning has come a long way. Everywhere we looked people sat in awnings with laptops, wide screen televisions and snooker tables. I felt a mixture of awe and pity at these people incapable of surviving in the wild without every modern conveniece usually afforded to them. Emotions which I quickly disposed of when I remembered we had no mobile phone signal....

Coming up in Part 2: Sleeplessness! Wheelbarrows! Corbyn Lookalikes and Horse Piss As Entertainment!