Now here’s a question. What is it that makes a normal, easy-going, well-family unit decide to up sticks and spend the weekend (or at least part of it) in a tent?
The spirit of adventure? A sudden desire to get back to nature? Or a general feeling that we’ve had it too easy up till now this year and it’s time for a bit of outdoorsy self-punishment to put us back in touch with our true selves?
Whatever the motivation, we make the booking and get ready to load up the car.
Lurking in the loft since the last time we went camping (only last year, but distance lends enchantment to the view) are the bags. Bags with bulges. Bags with bulges on their bulges. Bags with bulges so bulging that they could carry the gross national product of Bulgaria. In small change.
We lug them down, murmuring a prayer to the god of waterproof spray that we put the pegs back in the right place all those months ago, go back upstairs for a final check, dig out the gas cooker from under a pile of old magazines and hit the open road.
Fast forward to a field, somewhere in Wiltshire. A field into which have migrated, by some sort of magmatic sedimentary continental drift, the pebbles that weren’t good enough to be pebbledash, the rocks that couldn’t roll, and the boulders that never made it to Colorado.
Into which me must plunge our tent pegs, and upon which we must sleep.
More questions: why do the tent pegs that come with tents have rounded ends rather than spikes, and why are they made of bendy aluminium? And why are the standard-issue mallets, tent pegs for the bashing of, made of rubber? Ensuring that your temporary abode isn’t going to blow away in the middle of the night should be a process at once quick, effective and manly. It shouldn’t be like whacking a drinking straw with a lump of fudge.
Forewarned is forearmed, though and we have with us a far more sturdy implement, the club hammer from the garage, which will knock seven colours of resistance out of any rocky surface in no time flat. The fact that it does likewise to any fingers or thumbs that get in its way need not concern us here.
Extremities bandaged, sausages fried, wasps fought off, camp fire sing-song rejected by offspring on the grounds that it’s too embarrassing, a few hours’ agitated sleep on top of three or four of the more aggressive rocks, another fry-up for breakfast (you can get pretty fat in the great outdoors) and it’s time to strike camp, as the professionals call it.
And that’s when those bags come back to bite you.
Next door to the factory where they make tents is a little school. It’s where people go to learn how to fold up a tent and fit it into its bag. And all these people end up working in the factory next door.
Which means that when a brand new tent is put in its bag for the first time, it gets folded perfectly, competently and space-savingly. But when you put it away again after its first airing, it gets folded by you.
Which means that rather than a neat, symmetrical package you get a something that looks like a rejected garlic sausage. And probably smells like it, after all that frying earlier.
No matter. Camping, it seems, is in one way at least like childbirth. You eventually forget the pain, or you’d never go through it twice.