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!