“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!”
That line should ring bells with anyone who's seen the 1986 film Withnail and I, in which two booze-riddled, drug-addled, out-of-work actors head out of London to spend a paranoid weekend in a country cottage that turns out to be a little less luxurious than they’d hoped.
Not that the Dixon family holiday was anything like that, you understand. But after we got back from a wet week in Wales and girded our collective loins for an extra two nights under canvas in supposedly sunny Hampshire, it did start to feel a bit like we’d wandered onto a movie set.
The camping trip was intended as a celebration of our wedding anniversary, although it’s hard to see how two days without mod cons qualifies as any sort of celebration.
Dixon Junior had run away to sea for a week in preference to living in a tent with his parents and younger sister. We remaining three crammed the car with camping gear, mosquito repellent and portable video games and hit the road.
Into the worst rainstorm to hit the south coast of England. Ever.
For this was Thursday, August 18, the day that flash floods struck Bournemouth and environs, roads were awash, the wind howled and all was absolutely frightful.
By some quirk of fate, though, the rain stopped just as we reached Lymington, and the campsite appeared to be well drained.
All thoughts of escape were suppressed as we gritted our teeth in the last blusterings of the gale, hoisted the tent, bashed in the poles of the windbreak and set up the stove for a brew.
What could possibly go wrong? Well not much, funnily enough. Friday dawned crisp and clear, and we took the ferry across the Solent. Which is a bit like going abroad but staying in England – as you drive off the good ship Wight Light in Yarmouth you wonder for a moment if you should be driving on the left or the Wight. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
One of the best bits about camping, though, is watching the other campers and feeling smug about your own set-up.
A young couple pitched up that evening, and pulled out the floweriest, flimsiest tent ever to be seen outside the glamping enclosure at Glastonbury. They spent hours positioning it just right and getting the guy ropes completely straight, and then started the barbecue. At dusk it became clear that in all their perfectionism they’d forgotten to bring a torch. By 8.30 or thereabouts they were cooking in the dark.
We got our comeuppance for our smugness a couple of hours later, though, as a noisy, sweary bunch of people arrived and put up their tents by the headlights of their Land Rover. By midnight other campers were yelling at them to shut up, and at seven on Saturday morning they packed up their tents, still swearing and shouting about needing bacon sandwiches, and moved off to another part of the site.
Oh well, we thought, as we headed back to Bath. We only had to put up with them for one night. Their families are stuck with them for the rest of their lives.