Carry On Camping Day 3

I don’t think I could ever get to like sleeping under canvas but I could learn to endure it for the benefit of the children. I had what could at best be described as a reasonable night’s sleep faithfully recorded by my Fitbit as 5 hours 54 minutes long. Although I woke at 5.30am I did manage to get back to sleep for an hour and that’s something I rarely do at home.

So today was Parkrun Day (formerly known as Saturday) and we had a mixture of those who were definitely coming, those who might and those who would rather stick needles in their eyes than run 5k on a Saturday morning (or any morning really!) In the end, ten of the fifteen of us took part, two came to watch and three (one whole family – you know who you are!) stayed in bed.

Some got lost on the way (doing this had become one the holiday’s certainties) but those of us who got there early went to the Parkrun tourists’ and first timers briefing where a volunteer tells those who haven’t run the course before something about the course and the route to take. Today the volunteer doing this briefing had decided to do it as a rap and it was tremendously entertaining. (I will make every effort to get a copy of the video we saw being recorded and upload it to this blog.) The Moors Valley Parkrun is excellent. It’s a lovely course, on gravel and Tarmac, with few hills and the whole thing is extremely well
organised.

Modesty prevents me from telling you who came first amongst our runners but I can say it was the oldest member of the team (98th and 4th in age category). Everyone did really well and we returned to camp to cook bacon rolls and butties as reward for our efforts. We very graciously let the non-runners share our treat with us.

The previous day, one of the camp site staff had recommended a place called Mudeford so after a lot of head scratching and Sat Nav consultation we decided that was the place to go. It was suggested that the first person there who found a decent place to park and a nice beach should send the rest of us a message using our Whatsapp group (How high-tech are we?) and we would congregate there.

I got my message, put the postcode into my Sat Nav and it took me to nowhere near a car park or a beach! Thinking I might be at least close to where I should be, I asked my Garmin to take me to the nearest car park and that took me to the meeting place. Others clearly got lost (nothing new there then) as they didn’t turn up for at least 20 minutes so I have no idea where they had been.

Mudeford, now we had got there, appeared to be obsessed with crab catching. There were countless groups along the sea wall casting nets into the sea with fairly revolting bait in them and slowly pulling them out usually to find the bait had gone and the only thing they’d caught was seaweed not a crab. Having said that there were quite a lot of crabs that had been caught in the imaginatively named ‘Crab Buckets’ on sale , of course, like the nets and bait from a nearby shop. We wandered back and forth, it has to be said, fairly aimlessly until four Dads weakened and bought crab-catching gear from the richest man in Mudeford (i.e. the man who thought of selling buckets, nets and bait to unsuspecting tourists for a mark-up of 400%!)

Having agreed that we would have fish and chips later and not having been one of the
Dads who had sponsored the detached luxury villa in the Algarve holiday that the aforementioned business man was saving up for I set off with three non-crab fishing kids to find a suitable fish and chip shop and a location where we could eat said fare.

Before any crab-catching could begin however there was a major incident in Mudeford. Now before you get too excited you have to realise that the traffic lights changing in Mudeford are considered a notable event. A very old man and I mean a VERY old man had crashed his mobility scooter into a concrete bollard. Our group dealt with this situation like a finely oiled machine. First aiders, mechanics and trauma counsellors (I’ll leave you to decide who in the group fulfilled these roles) leapt into action and before the poor victim died of old age, and believe me it was a close call, he was back on the road perilously steering his now decidedly unreliable mobility scooter the four miles to his home.

We soon found the chip shop we’d been told was “the best in Mudeford” but struggled to find a suitable place to eat. Eventually I remembered something I’d seen on my OS map (the only time it had been useful on our break) and we went to Highcliffe, passing the still alive old man on his mobility scooter on route, which turned out to be a real beauty
spot. We soaked up the beauty of the place for a while then returned to the crab-catchers to relay our news.

A cunning plan was formed (not the first of the weekend I have to say) and after we’d admired the huge and tasty looking (okay not huge or edible) crabs that our group had caught they were thrown back. We were just finalising the cunning plan by ordering what we wanted from the fish and chip shop (these things take time for 5 adults and ten kids) when the second major incident of the day broke out in Mudeford.

There had clearly been some sort of dispute in a nearby playground. Adults were shouting obscenities at each other and fisticuffs had broken out. Unlike the movies where fights are choreographed to the last slap, this was a real ‘handbags at dawn’ type fight with, believe or not, an 11 year-old the apparent protagonist. When ever the fight appeared to be calming down and everyone was walking away, the youngster could be seen to be laying into a woman easily twice his age and weight!

The fight having died out one car was dispatched  to buy 15 meals in the fish and chip shop and the rest of us went to Highcliffe for more natural beauty admiration. If I had to nominate another high spot of our trip, what happened next was one of them. The fish and chip suppers arrived, we found a spot at the bottom of the cliffs near a beach to eat and we all quickly consumed what was for some of us only our second meal of the day. The
sun came out and the children instinctively gravitated toward the beach. All of them in
varying degrees sampled the delights of a cold Atlantic Ocean. Their trek to the waterfront was easy either. They had huge rocks to climb over and worried fathers to persuade that they weren’t going to be savaged by a basking White Shark!

None of the children being properly dressed for a cross Atlantic swim, all the Dads had to retreated to their cars (up a 1 in 10 slope I might add) to get a change of clothes for their offspring. Now anybody reading this might think that the Dads in question were showing an exceptional degree of preparedness in having a change of clothes for their kids with them. The reality of the situation is that they either had a tent too small to keep their clothes in or they had been too bone idle to unpack their kids’ clothes from the boot of
their car since arriving on Thursday. Whatever the excuse there were plenty of clean
clothes in their boot space.

Eventually the cold water won the day and cold bodies were towelled down and put back into cars. It was a short drive back to camp and once we got there the reality of today being our last day kicked in. The Dads started ominously clearing up: something they hadn’t done before and the kids demanded toasted marshmallows: something they’d wanted all weekend! It must have been 8pm before the first drop of alcohol was consumed (a camp record!)

After marshmallows we all went to the pub. I managed to remember that the International Space Station was passing overhead around 10pm so we all went out to see that. There was a short abortive attempt at a night walk with some of the younger children and a much longer one after the pub closed with the oldest kids.

On returning from their walk one of the children recorded this video outside one of the tents. You might want to turn the volume up on your pc before you play it!

Carry On Camping Day 2

After a disturbed night’s sleep (two trips to the Gents hedge for me and one for Ben) I was the first camper to get up. It wasn’t early for me at 5.30am but it was obviously far too early for the other adventurers. I use the term adventurers because today was the day we were going to the New Forest Adventure Centre!

I needed tea so I broke out our £20 Halfords single burner gas cylinder stove (living the good life), filled the £5 whistling kettle (no expense spared) and made a surprisingly refreshing cuppa. It was quite serene sitting in the early morning light until the peace and tranquility of it all was ruined by a “7 on the Richter Scale” snore from a tent that the confidentiality rules of the trip prevent me from identifying.

I showered then wasted 10 minutes of my life that I won’t get back trying to convince my 12 year-old son that he needed and would indeed enjoy a shower.

I was just beginning to wonder if my compatriots were waiting for Gladys Pugh to come over the camp PA system and say “Good morning campers. Hi-de-Hi” when they slowly started to emerge. Eventually we were all up and about and everyone had their breakfast. Those driving got the postcode of where we were going and off we went. What, I thought to myself, could possibly go wrong?

I’d upgraded the maps on my Sat Nav before I came away so I was very confident my Garmin would get me exactly where I needed to go. Sadly I had taken the postcode of the booking office from the bottom of the organiser’s letter not the place we had to go so, tail between my legs, I had to go into that office and ask for directions. The others, who had taken the correct postcode (or claimed they had), didn’t do a lot better as apparently even that didn’t lead them to the right location. One driver (no names, no pack drills) got very lost but did eventually turn up with his charges.

The first part of our ‘adventure’ was archery. Fifteen of us lined up to be told how the weapons used by our ancestors at Agincourt worked and in the hope that some of that skill had been passed down to us we took aim. Scores, I’ve been told, were irrelevant but I think it’s fair to say nobody did well.

Second of the day’s adventures was ropes. I wasn’t sure, when we booked the day’s activities, what this entailed and it was cheaper if I didn’t take part so bearing in mind how much I’d lashed out on a stove and kettle – I opted out. It turns out that ropes was a lot of fun. It involved an assault type course similar to but more complex than those found in some primary school playgrounds. Then the adventurers had to climb to a considerable height, in full safety gear, and negotiate a challenging path between trees that required considerable courage and balance.

There was a pack lunch laid on by the Centre but, as with all things, the kids squabbled about what they had and wanted to know why their individual lunch wasn’t exactly what they wanted. Originally we thought our surnames had been helpfully written on the paper carrier bags but closer inspection revealed that the organisers surname was on all of them. After a lot of bartering and swapping I think everyone had a satisfactory meal.

So lunch being over we went on our third and final adventure. The venue for this was just a short drive away but once again some of our entourage got lost! Once we all got there this was, to my mind anyway, the best of the day. Six three-person canoes were lashed together in pairs for us to crew on the Beaulieu river. The instructors made up the final boat and we set off to learn boating skills. Perhaps, I thought, we’d have gleaned more from the genes of our ancestors at Trafalgar than we did from those at Agincourt? It turns out we did. I think I can safely say that everyone enjoy our stint on the river although some of the younger crew members were waning towards the end.

The journey back to camp was broken up for my car by a trip to the supermarket to top up the food supplies. Despite this we still seemed rather short of burgers when we started cooking which might have been my fault as I didn’t write down what I was supposed to buy!

Perhaps because I was feeling guilty about the burger shortage, I volunteered to do the washing up for the second time. It was whilst doing this that I noticed that some of the crockery and cutlery had been labelled. Not like ours with a thick permanent marker for when the kids went to camp but with properly made white waterproof labels. Interestingly the bottle opener we had been using exclusively to open our bottled beer was apparently owned by the nine year-old of the family.

We ate a lot earlier than we had the previous evening and just as I was wondering how we’d fill the rest of our evening someone (I have to say ‘someone’ under our Charterhouse Rules) suggested that we should go to the pub. There wasn’t any need for a vote on this as it was quite obviously the thing to do after our magnificent efforts to mimic Robin Hood and recreate the opening sequence from Hawaii Five-O earlier in the day.

In the pub, once the beers began to flow, all sorts of things happened. We had a drunken conference call with the Mums back home. One of the adults did some card tricks. Finally some of us tried to learn an extremely complicated card game that some how I won. I felt reasonably happy that is was complicated and it wasn’t the alcohol adding to my confusion as my daughter who hadn’t been drinking (not at that point anyway!) kept asking questions about the rules too.

Favourite phrase of the trip so far: “Yes you can but don’t tell your Mother.”

Carry On Camping Day 1

All entries have been anonymised to protect the innocent!

(Sadly the signal is so bad here that photos will have to be uploaded another time.)

We had agreed, at the more sober of the planning meetings, to congregate at our organiser’s house some time after 10am. That arrangement gave us plenty of time, after breakfast, to finalise our packing. Despite ensuring I had already put everything I needed into my bag the night before, I soon realised I hadn’t packed any clothes to sleep in or, as my fifteen year-old daughter gleefully pointed out, a pillow.

Overnight omissions having been rectified, the car boot began to fill-up and I began to wonder if we would get everything in. It was only three and a half days after all. Thankfully we weren’t going to my in-laws for the same period otherwise we would have needed a trailer!

Having duly gathered at ‘Camp Planning HQ’ and having had our picture taken by the Mums, it became blindingly obvious that our ‘better halves’ we’re looking forward to this camping trip more than we were. They had two evenings planned one local and one in town. As they wiped a tear from their eyes as we departed I’m sure I heard the sound of champagne corks popping!

I had three children in my car one ‘I’m not sure why I’m coming on this trip’ teenager and two 12 year-old boys. I revealed the music I had brought for the journey (CDs with hits of the 60s and 70s) and suddenly all three, in a synchronised movement that a team of Olympic swimmers would be proud of, got out their mobile phones and put in their headphones. I tried Radio 2 in the hope that might persuade them into the musical ambience of my car but that failed too. Eventually I gave in and the iPod came into its own (not that I was allowed to choose what we listened to!)

The musical tastes having been settled, the trip to the camp site was relatively unremarkable. We arrived in plenty of time for the pub lunch we had booked (Does anyone book a camping trip where there isn’t an onsite pub?) and decided to erect our tents (Cue the 12 year-old boys giggling at the use of the word ‘erect’) after our meal.

My lunch was good and judging by the majority of plates that were cleared most enjoyed their meal too. The men that chose to drink showed remarkable self-control and only had two beers possibly because they knew they still had tents to put up. There was great relief when we found out that the pub had wi-fi even though it took several attempts to log-in and dropped out regularly. That excitement was tarnished with disappointment however when we found out that the pub had no television for us to watch the football later.

So how did the tent erecting go? Well considering it was the first time ours had come out of its bag it went well. I have to say that the successful construction of our home for the next three days was largely due to the expertise of my daughter. On the way down I had reminded her how Douglas Adams had so succinctly wrote that: “Nobody likes a smart arse” but I have to admit that her knowledge from previous Guides and Police Cadets camping proved invaluable in getting our tent up. Some, it should be said, brought a pop-up tent with them (see photograph) and were roundly condemned as cheats.

Nobody was getting a signal on their phones now and the pub wi-fi was far too far away to have effect so I volunteered to go to reception to see if the camp site had wi-fi. I actually just wanted a yes or no but I had to endure a lecture on how the Government had failed to support those that dwell in the countryside by not laying fibre optic cables. That would be a ‘No’ then!

As the afternoon progressed the sun came out. There were games of cricket and hand hockey punctuated with cans of beers for the dads that were drinking and soft drinks for the kids. Suddenly it was nearing dinner time so the BBQ was lit. Food preparation duties stopped the team games but it didn’t stop smaller groups hitting or throwing a ball to each other.

In order to ensure that we had hot food before it got dark, a bottle of BBQ lighting fluid had to be purchased from the on-site shop. Finally the charcoal was considered ‘ready’ and we all ate excellent burgers and sausages. A local guard dog, safely behind a locked gate, had been drawn to us by the smell of cooking food and waited expectantly behind his gate to see if there were any leftovers.

I had brought a digital radio with me so having established at lunchtime that the pub had no television it went on in time for those interested to listen to England v Portugal. I say ‘those interested’ because by then I don’t think anybody really was! The beer drinkers had much more important things to talk about (important to them any way!) and the kids were still hitting or throwing balls to each other.

So when the food ran out, the dog lost interest and clearly decided that Winalot was going to be his only meal for the day. Final rounds of beers were consumed and someone came up with the idea of going for a walk. That idea was soon quashed when the majority decided it was time for bed (it was nine o’clock!)

There was a flurry of excitement just before bedtime for when one of the dads mislaid his mobile phone. Nothing to do with the amount of beer consumed of course but shortly after the pub had been searched and we’d done a fingertip search of the surrounding grass and bushes, it was found in his vehicle!

So I settled in to spend my first night under canvas for over 40 years. I snuggled down into my sleeping bag only to find it was rather more uncomfortable and colder than I’d remembered sleeping bags to be. The issue was resolved when my children pointed out that I’d managed to squeeze myself into the part of the sleeping bag that used to contain an air bed. Nothing to do with the amount of beer consumed of course!

Carry On Camping (Part 1)

Or “Five men trying to prove to their wives that they can organise a piss-up in a brewery”

CampingSo it was back in January when a family friend sent me a text message inviting me and my two children to a “Dads, Lads and Lasses Camping Trip (no mums)” in the New Forest planned for early June. At the time ‘Flaming June’ was a long way off and the idea of a sun-drenched relaxing long weekend in the New Forest was quite appealing. Perhaps it would be like the film City Slickers I thought – a group of urban dwellers, herding kids not cattle, bonding and getting back to nature (but without Curly dying mid-trip).

The Planning Committee (the Dads) have had two meetings. The first started in the pub, moved swiftly to a curry house and ended up at the organiser’s house (after we’d purchased several six-packs from the local supermarket). Sadly nobody took minutes so any plans that were made got largely lost in an alcoholic haze. Thankfully at least one member of the committee remembered that he had been asked to book an adventure park near the camp-site so archery, ropes and canoeing are all arranged.

The second meeting was held in a pub but was far more productive (i.e. it was conducted at the beginning of the evening not the end!) and notes were taken. We agreed a departure time, a loose plan for the purchase of food whilst away and that some of us would take part in the local parkrun on the Saturday we are there.  The next day I typed up and circulated the notes I’d made and after an Herculean effort a Whatsapp group was created for us to communicate with each other.

Well now it’s the day before we go. There have been several heavy downpours in the last 48 hours and the wind has been too strong to practise putting up our specially purchased tent. There’s no electricity anywhere near our ‘plot’ and we couldn’t find a shop today that had a foot-pump for sale so we could well be blowing up our air-beds using lung power.

On the plus side, the car is packed, the camera is on charge and battery packs for iPhones and iPads are also plugged-in and charging. I have somewhat optimistically bought the OS map for the New Forest and downloaded the digital copy of it to my iPad. I have also dug-out our waterproof map case for when my iPad battery inevitably runs out on the day I really need it!

Subject to the reliability of the aforementioned iPad battery and a Vodafone signal in the New Forest, I plan to blog about the trip at the end of every day. This is mostly for the benefit of the Mums who will, no doubt, be worrying about their children and possibly re-evaluating their decision to leave their precious charges in the care of five men who can’t even organise a Whatsapp group without help from their kids.

To be continued……..