Many things have happened this summer, and I’ve not been in a place where I’ve been particularly happy to witter on about them. My little Citroen C3 threw yet another expensive wobbly, which was the final straw; it’s no good doing 60-odd miles to the gallon if you’re going to cost an arm and a leg in maintenance. The girls had become anxious about going any distance in her, thanks to her habit of saying she was in first gear at roundabouts & junctions, when she was in fact in neutral. The second or two while she thought about this & I had no control (she’s a semi-automatic) put us in peril more than once. Even OH became reluctant to take her up to Town, but was heartbroken when I announced I was replacing her. Partly because I’ve chosen to replace her with an elderly but expensive Japanese van that only does half as many miles to the gallon…
There was method in my madness, albeit perhaps not very much. Those of us who play at market traders had outgrown the space available in the bigger car, and ended up just about swearing at each other because neither of us had space for all our stock by the time we’d fitted in the tables, chairs, shelves, crates and our lovely joint assistant. I test-drove a 3-year-old Berlingo Multispace & it was lovely, but hardly any bigger than the C4 GP; deeper, but shorter. The only other option within my budget that was likely not to be on its last legs with rust or having done 300,000 hair-raising miles in a couple of years was a fresh-import Japanese MPV…
So I became the proud owner of a 17-year-old Mazda Bongo Friendee 2.5 TD AFT from Southern Bongos, just as diesel was unmasked as the root of all evil. There was a little bit of budget left over, which I used to have the middle row of seats removed & a mid-conversion installed; that’s a cooker, sink, fridge and a couple of tiny cupboards, plus a little pop-up arrangement that means I can sleep in her when the back seat is folded down flat; this’ll be very handy when we do the weekend “events” next year. In theory, two people can sleep in the elevating roof too, but the mattress would need quite a bit of beefing-up before they’d be very comfortable! There’s also a solar panel, as most of the time when we’re camping there’s no mains electricity to hook up to, to run the fridge, lights & gadget chargers that it would be hard to manage without. And I have made her a set of “silvers” or thermal screens; to buy them would have cost over £80, but 3m of Insul-Bright set me back just £20, 50 suction-hooks £5, and a paint-marked 1970s sheet makes the inside look very pretty!
For all the increased fuel bills, she feels very safe & reassuring to drive, especially after dark; no-one tries to barge you out of the way, and the visibility is great, unlike in the little car. And there’s clearly a lot of capacity for fun; picnics spring to mind, but for one reason or another we haven’t had a chance yet, though we have done one market & managed to take everything we needed with us! We also traded at a car boot sale this weekend, offloading excess stock, and it was lovely to be able to sit out of the biting cold wind in quieter moments, without having to struggle up from a car seat to help potential customers. But I’m very mindful of the increased emissions, as well as the fuel bill; my one way of dealing with this is to try very hard to cut the miles driven down to the bare minimum whilst keeping my business going and keeping half an eye on my dear mother!
Another of The Offspring has moved back in for a year, having found a job locally whilst waiting to do his MA starting next September. Delighted though we are to have the pleasure of his company for another year, this has reduced still further the amount of space we have for stock or refurbs, and increased the mess in the shared areas of the house. And thanks to lighting issues with my stall at Molly’s Den, I’m moving over the aisle to a smaller but more visible space. So I’m trying very hard to refine what I do; only to take on things which can be cleaned, repaired and/or upcycled very fast, and which are directly relevant to my regular customers. But on a positive note, Boscombe Vintage Market is going back to monthly after Christmas, which should help stock flow through our household better.
I’m now struggling to deal with an avalanche of apples & quinces; having had a good rest last year, when high winds stripped the blossom clean off the trees in spring, they’ve gone to town this year & presented us with tons of fruit. There are three trays of apples in store, and numerous bags have been distributed amongst neighbours & family. But I don’t need to make any apple butter or jams or chutney as there’s lots still in the garage from last year & the year before; there’s not a lot of point putting more in there if it’s not getting used. I also have another mega-pumpkin sitting on my lawn, waiting for someone (probably me) to take a knife to it; this is going to be distributed amongst four households, but even just a quarter of it is going to overwhelm my preserving skills & apparatus for a few days!
There’ll be another post along shortly; I’m mulling some ideas over already, but kind of felt I should bring you all up to date before I get too philosophical…
Just about 11 years ago, I took it into my head to take 7 young people and their surf- & body-boards for a few days’ surfing & camping in North Devon. We had a big, sturdy tunnel tent & a big, sturdy car, and they were a manageable crew, with 4 of them plenty old, experienced & sensible enough to trot off & ride the waves together by themselves. But… that was the week of the Boscastle flood. There was some very good surf, and some very lively weather. At the campsite we love to go to, North Morte Farm, the wind can whip up the valley from Rockham Bay and blast poorly-pitched tents clear down even when it seems quite calm in Woolacombe; it had happened to us once before, at 5am in a thunderstorm. So we were hunkered down tightly beside the hedge, with storm guys attached from the word go, and the wind that got up late that night blasted straight over the top of us.
Other people weren’t so lucky. The night resounded to yells of, “How dare you subject our children to this?” and, “That’s the last straw! I’m seeing a lawyer as soon as we get home!” There were entire brand-new tents & sleeping bags in the bin area the next morning, and wreckage littered the camping field, which had virtually emptied out, although it hadn’t actually rained very much and the sun was rising on a new, calm & glorious day.
I was reminded of this when we hauled the big tunnel tent out of the garage. It’s past its best now, and we no longer need a tent that big & could do with the storage space back. But it’s still strong & sturdy enough to last at least another season, so I popped it onto our local Recycling group, hoping that it would so someone else a good turn, but being totally honest about the fact it’s far from new & will probably need a little TLC – re-proofing the seams, at least, and stronger pegs than the original ones I’m letting go with it. Needless to say, as it’s just as the kids break up for the summer holidays, I was inundated with replies. Once I’d discarded the “Yes! Me!” and “I’ll take it off your hands!” ones, I was left with a number of, “I’m going to a festival for the first time & need a tent!” and “Me & the Missus fancy taking the kids up to Scotland on Saturday to try out camping…” replies. And one dear lady who said she would love to give it some TLC & a new lease of life with her family; needless to say, that’s who I’ve offered it to.
Camping’s an art form, not just a cheap holiday…. it’s very easy to get it wrong & end up with everyone cross, tired & miserable, and if you’re really unlucky, ill with sunstroke or exposure. It’s something you need to research & prepare for, if you’re not experienced, just like you’d prepare for a holiday in a different country by finding out at least how to say “please” and “thank you” in the local language, taking some relevant currency, checking whether you need visas and so on. Don’t just assume it’s a cheap holiday & anyone can do it…
I grew up with people pitching & striking marquees & other tents in our big vicarage garden, going off to Guide & Ranger Guide camp at regular intervals, then belonging to the local District Service Unit supervising & maintaining Scout & Guide camps, as well as spending a fair amount of time camping & hiking in the wilds of Wales & Scotland. I’m no expert & I don’t pretend to know it all, but I do know that there’s a wonderful balance between having everything you actually need to be safe & comfortable, and the freedom of having very little stuff to look after. How to achieve that requires some thought; what you need as an unattached teenager walking the Pennine Way or a young couple going to their first music festival is completely different to what you need as a family of 7 looking for an inexpensive seaside holiday. A huge, heavy tent that fills a small car boot, that’s too big for most campsite pitches & really needs two or more adults to put up isn’t ideal for a festival; what you need for that are small, lightweight tents that perhaps open into a gazebo if you’re going with friends. That way you have some privacy when you really need to crash, but a covered communal area for socialising and a little light catering. (This also works for a family with older children who need some space of their own.)
And whilst a serious tent of that sort is well-able to stand up to the vagaries of the Scottish weather, it isn’t ideal to take your kids so very far from home to camp for the first time. What if someone’s ill, or suddenly discovers they can’t stand sleeping outside, or using communal loos & showers? What if the weather hasn’t read the forecast & isn’t playing ball? What if you discover that your “3-season” sleeping bags aren’t actually very warm & you don’t have enough extra blankets or clothing? What if your excited kids don’t listen to you telling them not to play out in the rain & get wet, because there’s no tumble dryer in a field? Best for your first few forays to be close to home, so that you can dart home & fetch bits if necessary, or even give up & retreat in disarray in the middle of the night. Better still, try it out in your own garden for a few nights before setting off – that way, it doesn’t feel so strange & unsettling to small children, and it gives you a chance to work out what you really need to take.
I’m not saying don’t go to Scotland – it’s a fabulous, beautiful country with lovely people – just don’t make it your first-ever family camping trip if you live on the South Coast! And I’m not saying, don’t go camping, either; I love camping & think it’s almost a necessary thing to do in summer. The idea of summer gatherings, festivals & camps is as old as history itself & fulfils some kind of nomadic instinct in me, even though I now have to sleep in the car or on a camp bed. I’m just saying, be prepared! Do a bit of homework, thinking & practice, and it will go much more smoothly & be a much nicer experience for all concerned. It shouldn’t be a hair-shirt experience; always take extra blankets, and if you love your morning coffee, do take a cafetiere, but an all-singing, all-dancing espresso machine is probably a bit OTT…
Have to say, in my not-so humble opinion, people who take everything including the kitchen sink are also getting it wrong. They’ll spend all day looking for the things they really need under everything else, or having to clean things they’re not likely to need that have somehow got muddy. (Everything will get muddy, even if it isn’t raining.) Not to mention worrying about the weight on your axles on pot-holed country roads or the amount of fuel you’re getting through. If your tent’s bigger than you need, you risk having to pay extra for a bigger pitch. And if you even take the TV with you – well, what’s the point of going camping? Tablets & mobile phones are a mixed blessing; there’s often little or no mobile signal at the nicest campsites.
A single-parent friend of mine has taken her family camping every summer by bicycle; they load their wombled tents, sleeping bags, kettle & a small suitcase-style gas cooker into a tag-along trailer, take their clothes in backpacks and set off along the country roads; it’s about 10 miles down to the Purbecks, which feel quite different to this part of Dorset, and there’s a cycle-way for most of it. They always have a whale of a time and can’t wait for next year’s expedition when they get back, and the kids are late teens now & still keen not to miss out. So it can be done for very little expenditure, and it can be great fun, with a little thought and initiative applied beforehand. Just don’t rush into it, buy (or otherwise acquire) loads of expensive (and probably unnecessary) gear or go too far from base for your first few expeditions. Learn how to put your tent up properly and where to pitch it. Find out what you do and what you don’t really need to take. Then – have a great holiday!
Things to make sure you take:
Tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats (airbeds have a habit of going down halfway through the night) or camp beds, and extra blankets – wool ones are best. You’ll need insulation underneath you, as well as on top.
Clothing – layers work best! – and footwear – decent flip-flops/sandals & something sturdier for serious walking/colder days. Only take space-hogging wellies if the forecast is truly awful, and make sure people take them off regularly or you’ll all get athlete’s foot. Make sure everyone has at least one really warm jumper, and leggings to wear under pyjamas if it’s cold at night. Warm socks are a blessing on cold nights.
Cooking gear – e.g. a suitcase burner & spare cartridges, kettle, mugs (enamel or china – plastic mugs are Not Nice with hot drinks) cutlery, pans (a frying pan plus a small saucepan or wok work for us) plates, bowl, brush & detergent for washing up. A tin-opener & bottle-opener (for the beer, cider & wine) are essential, and a gas fridge (remember the regulator!) or a good coolbox on a shorter trip, will make life a lot more civilised. You can eat out or a take-away every lunchtime and/or evening meal if that makes it more like a “proper” holiday, but it’ll dent your budget mightily. And a few tins & packets, plus oatcakes/biscuits, eggs, fresh fruit & tea-bags to fill gaps, at the very least, even if the campsite has a cafe and a shop. They’re not likely to be as cheap as a supermarket.
Torches, lanterns & spare batteries; torches for those midnight trips to the loo and lanterns to light your way around the tent & especially the guy ropes. IKEA’s little solar lanterns or fairy lights work very well, or a tea-light lantern if your kids are old enough to be trusted around a naked flame.
First aid kit, sun-cream, paracetamol, sting-ointment, allergy relief & enough of any regular medication needed. Also specs, if needed. Soap/gel, toothbrushes, toothpaste… and towels, plenty of towels…
Rain jackets/ponchos. Especially if they’ve just declared a drought….
Something to do in quieter moments or on the beach – your knitting, a good book, a small selection of games (a pack of cards is pretty versatile!) for rainy moments, a frisbee etc.
A windbreak – useful to mark your space out, give a bit of privacy and to cook behind, and also on the beach… I’ve just made one from old poles & some cheap Ebay’d canvas, and it took about an hour. There was even enough fabric left over for matching bunting!
a couple of good insulated flasks, preferably unbreakable; one to keep your hot water in when you’ve boiled the kettle (for more tea, washing, washing-up water) and one for cold water, to keep it cool. Mine were purchased for pennies at that indefatigable local emporium, the Tip.
a bucket, with a lid. Works well as a bin, but has another use too in the middle of the night when it’s raining…
You really don’t need a lot else, whatever the camping shop’s trying to sell you… have a good trip!
Please – add your tips as comments below! Every little helps someone who hasn’t done this before…
Edited to add an update: in the end, the nice lady had a sudden bereavement & couldn’t follow through to collect the tunnel tent. And no. 2 son suddenly spotted it in the hallway, where it had been waiting for her, and pronounced it perfect for his Tough Mudder team. Luckily one of the other team members had space in his garage for it, and it’s stood up to another British summer of torrential rain, gales & loads of lovely mud!