Home and Away

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(First published in Le News 12 June 2014)

‘We’re going to need a bigger tent,’ my husband said, with some surprise.

The last time we used his three-man tent, it had been more than big enough. We didn’t take up much space in those days, back in the first flush of romance, when we still fell asleep in each other’s arms. Also, we travelled very light. On one memorable trip to the Kalahari Desert we took two tog bags, some beer, a packet of sausages and a dozen cheese rolls. A ground squirrel stole our cheese rolls on the second day, so we drank the beer, barbecued the sausages, and had a great time.

Fast forward fourteen years – fourteen years! Where did they go? – to the most recent long weekend, when we decided to introduce our small daughters to the joys of camping.

These days it’s no longer possible for us to go anywhere with only two tog bags. Even to the gym. Compulsory luggage now includes a suitcase of clothes for hot weather, clothes for cold weather and extra clothes in case someone comes home covered in strawberry juice and reeking of goat (smaller child, France, 2012).

We also need a large medicine kit, with everything from plasters to antibiotic drops in case someone’s eyes suddenly swell shut (bigger child, South Africa, 2009).

And we can forget about living on a packet of rolls and a few sausages. Nothing ruins a trip like a hungry child, so a three-day holiday requires food for nine meals, plus snacks. Plus extra food, in case of ground squirrels.

Not too bad, we thought, as we surveyed the pile to be packed. The children will want to take a few toys, but we’ll get it all in the car comfortably.

‘Hah!’ I say now, with hindsight.

Apparently when we said, ‘Let’s go camping,’ the children heard, ‘Let’s move house’, because they shifted the entire contents of their bedrooms to the car: two sizeable soft toy collections; dozens of books; a lava lamp; rain sticks; and three empty cardboard boxes, which no one could explain clearly but which absolutely had to come.

Once the car was packed we couldn’t see the children and they couldn’t see out. I don’t think they asked, ‘How many more minutes until we get there?’ every ten seconds because they really wanted to know. I think it was an attempt to echolocate.

My husband was right about the tent being too small. That night we had to burrow through all the dinosaurs, unicorns and monkeys to get to our air mattress. But I liked it. It was actually very romantic: the lava lamp gave the the tent a nice red glow and, as the air mattress began to slowly deflate, my husband and I were rolled towards one another. With a snoring child jammed in on each side, we once again fell asleep in each other’s arms.

I lay there for a while, listening to the campsite settling down for the night – except for the group of bikers, who were alternately singing and vomiting into the bushes – and I cast my mind back to that long ago trip to the Kalahari. I’d just turned thirty and I remember looking in the unforgiving mirror of the ablution block and finding my first grey hair. I remember thinking about my newish boyfriend, who was waiting for me back in his very spacious three-man tent. And I remember wondering where in the world it was all heading.