2 years ago
Quite a few years ago now, when my 10 year old suggested we should “get a tent and camp out in the garden”, the idea was met with a little less enthusiasm than she'd hoped for. You see, my last camping experience prior to this had not gone that well at all.
I was 18 then, and had travelled to the Lake District with three mates in a lime green Vauxhall Chevette weighed down with a small amount of camping gear and a large amount of beer. It rained all the way up there, and when we arrived at the camp site, it was waterlogged – but worse than that, it was full. We tried to turn around to leave, but the Chevette was going nowhere. It was well and truly stuck.
Now I don’t know whether you’ve ever tried to push a car out of a muddy field in the rain. If you have, then you’ll know what happened next, and if you haven’t – well you’ve probably seen it on countless episodes of You’ve Been Framed. Unfortunately, this was in the days before widespread video camera ownership and there was no opportunity to earn £200 for sharing our discomfort and distress with the nation.
I’m sure there are worse situations on a dark and rainy Friday night than being covered head to toe in wet mud, crammed into the back of a crappy hatchback with a bag of tent pegs stuck in your backside, but they are certainly outnumbered by the number of better ones. It was now too late to find another camp site and so we elected to park in a lay-by and pitch the tent right there.
After parking up, we unloaded the camping gear and remaining beer, and were just about to pitch the tent, when my mate Dave decided to move the car… and promptly backed straight over the tent and beer, smashing everything in his path. So there we were, no tent, no beer, soaked through, covered in mud and with the only option left being to sleep in the car. Having all consumed our fair share of cheap lager and a takeaway curry, I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the sort of night that was to follow.
I’ve never attempted to sleep under canvas since that night, and certainly didn’t relish the prospect of doing it now. “We haven’t got a tent”, was in retrospect a pretty weak attempt at getting out of it, and was quickly countered with “They’ve got a sale on them at Halfords.”
When we arrived at Halfords, they did indeed have a sale on, and everything looked surprisingly good value. I immediately gravitated towards the cheapest package available - a two-man tent with sleeping bags and floor mats for just £39.95. “This looks alright,” I said to a somewhat sceptical looking daughter, “it says it only takes five to ten minutes to put up.”
“Make that an hour for you then.” she said.
I’d have liked to reply with a witty riposte, or evidence to the contrary, but she knows me too well. Any attempt at rebuttal would have been met with a detailed recount of a catalogue of embarrassing incidents from the past (why do women remember everything you’ve ever done wrong?) and be thoroughly discredited at the moment of truth anyway.
“It might not be so bad.” I said.
All I got in return for that comment was a look. If you’re a bloke, and you have daughters, or indeed any women in your life, you’ll know the look I’m talking about.
So we bought the tent, but I was still clinging on to the hope of a reprieve. My thinking was that it could be several weeks before we got any decent weather, by which time my daughter would have either gone off the idea or forgotten about the tent altogether. When I got home, I deliberately hid the camping gear in a corner of the garage where it wouldn’t act as a reminder…
But the weather Gods were not on my side.
Within just a few days, cold miserable weather gave way to bright sunshine and 23 degrees centigrade. I knew what was coming and waited for the inevitable…
Don’t you know it’s trouble when the word is extended out like that?
All my excuses were used up. We had the tent, the weather was good and it was the weekend. A last minute reference to my bad back was simply ignored as a bluff. If only the DSS were so unyielding, the government could probably reduce income tax to 10p in the pound.
Erecting the tent went almost exactly as expected… Well, exactly as my daughter expected!
All I’ll say in my defence is that the instructions were extremely confusing and almost certainly for the wrong tent. I wanted to give up. She wouldn’t let me. I kicked the tent bag across the garden in frustration. She scolded me for being childish. I swore at it. She pretended not to hear.
When I look at it now, it seems almost inconceivable that it could take a grown man over an hour to put up a tent with only 3 parts to it, but you just had to be there. You really did.
Never mind. It was up now and I felt a little pang of pride.
“You did well there”, said my daughter, relieved that the whole affair hadn’t ended with me storming off as she’d witnessed on any number of other occasions in the past. And she was right. It looked for all the world like the sort of tent a proper Dad would put up.
I was relieved, but couldn’t help noticing that the tent wasn’t of the finest quality. It was made of 100% polyester for one thing, and it was small…. more ‘two midget’ size, than ‘two man’. And the sleeping bags? Well they appeared to have all the structural integrity and insulating properties of bin liners. The mats were the thickness of lino', but without the ‘give’.
I really wasn’t looking forward to this!
The dreaded hour was rapidly approaching and I decided that the best way to deal with this whole thing was on the outside of a bottle of red wine. Having woken up in the strangest of places while anaesthetised by strong drink in the past, I figured it would be equally effective in helping me sleep through this.
By the time we trekked out into the garden under cover of darkness I was nicely ‘relaxed’, but the daytime heat had given way to an ominous chill. Entering the tent, it was impossible to escape the conclusion that there was too much of me to fit in it. This was going to be a foetal experience!
We shuffled into our sleeping bags, and it was painfully apparent that they were definitely at the back of the queue when tog ratings were being handed out. I couldn’t help but wonder how many poor sods had bought their two-man tent and sleeping bag combo’ and set out on to the moors in the middle of January, only to be never seen or heard of again. This was late May in a sheltered garden, and even in the midst of summer, it wasn’t looking good.
But alcohol is a marvellous temporary discomfort suppresser though, and after listening to the nocturnal callings of a few late night drunks, I quickly drifted off to sleep and my daughter did the same.
I woke… cramped up and frozen stiff. It was still dark. The sleeping bag felt like one of those sleeves you put on bottles of white wine to keep them cool….only much colder.
“Are you awake?” I said to my daughter, sensing that she was.
“Yes” came the reply.
“Are you cold?” I asked.
“Course I bloomin’ well am!” she replied, like it was the most stupid question in the world.
I looked up and saw something on the tent canvas (or should that be polyester?) illuminated by the garden lights.
“Look,” I said, "there’s moisture on the outside of the tent. Can you see the water?”
“That’s not on the outside,” she said, "it’s on the inside and it’s just dripped on my head!”
I reached up to the side of the tent and it was like someone had taken a hose pipe to it. We’d made the fundamental mistake of breathing inside the tent - something Halfords clearly hadn’t taken into account of, when they designed it.
“Shall we go inside?” I ventured.
“Let’s!” was the reply I was relieved to hear.
It was half past two in the morning. The camping trip had lasted just three and a half hours.
As we dashed to the luxury of a nice warm bed, giggling like idiots, my daughter turned to me in mock disgust…
“We’ve been had Dad…we’ve been had!”
But had we really?
You see, I was at the time and still am a grown-up – chronologically at least. As such, unlike, an increasing proportion of the population, I don’t seek to blame someone else when purchases don’t turn out as well as I might like. When I buy a product, I take full responsibility for the consequences of the ‘informed’ decisions I made to do so.
Looking at the product in the shop, any sane person could see that the whole package was no bigger or heavier than the average gym bag, and that the price would put severe restrictions on the quality. My expectations were not that high in the first place – and they were fully met. Anyone thinking otherwise would simply be conning themselves.
But I didn’t really care…
You see, while I might happily (well maybe ‘happily’ isn’t the right word) spend the price of a house on a car and the price of a car on a wristwatch, I wasn’t prepared to pay the price of a decent meal for two on a full camping ensemble. And that was because in my mind, I had a low grade need for the product, and hence a low level of involvement or interest in the purchase. So I only had myself to blame.
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