In a little under 6 hours I will be locking the shop door and won't re-open it until just before 8am on Tuesday of next week - Happy Days.
This weekend is the last UK Bank Holiday of the year and the one weekend I get together with childhood (and newer) friends for our annual camping trip to a local forest area. I love camping, although I am beginning to understand (as I get older) why many people make the move to a caravan (it's a lot easier and doesn't get wet!) Having said that, if you have the right tent, then you can end up with a lot more room. I've never been able to afford a decent sized tent myself, so when I go by myself, or with the kids, we use one of my smaller ones (I have one with 2 small sleeping areas and a narrow strip in between - with no sewn-in groundsheet so it gets a bit wet - the other has just one sleeping pod with a slightly larger seating area that does have a groundsheet, although this is not sewn-in hence why it flooded when I went in May). This weekend though, I get to bundle into my friends tent; it's huge and everything is fully sewn in so water can only get into it if someone leaves a door open. Hurrah. It has 2/4 bedrooms and a seating area we've had 12 adults and 3 kids sat in - comfortably - before. I have share one of the sleeping areas tomorrow night (they are 2 big rooms with dividers if you need to make them into separate rooms) but Saturday and Sunday I have a whole side (which sleeps 6) all to myself. The area is actually bigger than my bedroom at home :) My friends son, his girlfriend and their daughter have the other sleeping area on the opposite side; it works well for us all. One day, when I win that lottery I'll treat myself to one just like it.
I was a late-comer to the whole 'camping experience' not officially becoming a camper until I was 25 - I'd spent a night or 2 as a kid in friends tents that had been put up in their parents gardens so they didn't really count (although they gave me a small taster of what to expect). I also remember as a kid (my brother hadn't been born so it was before I turned 8) asking my Mum and Dad if I could sleep outside (no idea what I was thinking when we have so many bloody spiders and other creepy crawlies in our garden). My Mum got some old sheets and rigged up a covering for me and gave me one of those folding sun loungers that were all the rage in the 70's (see here) to sleep on. I took a pillow out there with me (no matter where I am I have to have a pillow) and I settled down for the night. I didn't realise until then just how damp the air gets at night, which in turn makes everything feel a lot colder. I thought I'd feel scared or maybe not actually be able to go through with it, but I climbed into my sleeping bag, settled down and before I knew it was away with fairies, awakening the next morning thanks to my neighbour being noisy. I never found out until years later that Mum had stayed up all night to keep watch over me and make sure I was ok. I love my Mum :)
I guess I kind of semi-camped during most holidays, as my grandparents had a caravan on a park in Dorset; it had no running water or electricity (hence why I semi-camped) so I was already used to having to make my way to a toilet block for a wee, wandering to the water pipe to fills up water drums, and traipsing across fields in the pouring rain to have a shower. The caravan did give us the added advantage of keeping dry when it rained, and it had permanent beds; we also didn't have to pack anything in the car other than ourselves and our clothes, for we just tidied, locked the door and knew it was ready for us the next time we went down - so, I didn't really experience proper camping at all. Did I? I loved staying down there. Every morning my Dad would send me to the farm shop at the top of the hill - what a steep hill it is as well. My grandparents caravan was at the same height so I'd have to walk all the way down the hill first, then back up, then do it again in reverse order. Sometimes I went up the side of the fields (if the crops weren't too high I was allowed to walk that way for I could still be seen) other times I had to stick to the official paths and road. Once at the shop I would buy the milk, eggs (and usually cream) we needed for the day (I was allowed a chocolate milkshake too for going). Then I'd walk back via the little shop at the entrance to the park and pick up cigarettes (back then you were allowed to buy them for your parents) and the daily newspaper. Once my brother was old enough to walk I used to have to take him with me too. By the time we got back to the caravan Mum or Dad would have breakfast (always a fry up) just about ready so we'd eat, then wander over to the shower blocks - roughly 250 metres away - then we'd head off out for the day. Sometimes we head up the cliffs and go a hike along the South Downs way, other times we'd head off to the nearest town with a sandy beach and spend the day tipping our Dad out of the rubber dinghy, or burying him in the sand. Occasionally we would visit a theme park or museum, but they all cost money that my parents didn't really have to waste. Other days we'd sit outside the caravan in our deck chairs reading books and just watching the world go by. I used to love being down there in August for the meteor shower; Mum would wake me just over 1am so we could sit outside together watching them as they whizzed across the sky. It's the perfect place for such things as there isn't much light pollution. A few years ago I stayed there with a friend and saw the milky way for the first time, and a couple of years previous when I was with another friend there were 5 planets aligned with each other. That was quite a magical thing to see; I've been truly blessed when I've stayed down there. I guess that helps to make it such a special place for me - I wish I'd been there for the meteor shower last weekend. To see what I saw that night but down there would have totally blown my mind.
Anywho, back to my first "proper" experience. The guy I was living with had been out of work for 2 years when he finally bagged himself a job. To celebrate we decided to do something one weekend, when one of our neighbours suggested a load of us get together and go camping. Neither of us had any equipment so we borrowed a tent from another friend, grabbed our bedding and headed off in a convoy with our fellow campers. We picked a great spot next to a little river - the toilet block just the other side, a wooden bridge crossing it. We had the whole area to ourselves. The only downside was we had to pitch on a bit of a hill - it was the only spot we could take as the others had bagged the flat pitches (the rotten gits) so we spent the whole weekend feeling like we were on a slide :) It all made for some entertaining nights though :) I found myself enjoying every second of it; from that moment I was hooked.
Sadly, there are some people these days who ignore the 'camping code' but I guess that's to be expected; people have no respect for anything any more but on the whole our weekends are normally a source of 'good times' and something I look forward to very much - this weekend being no exception.