A tale of two tents
A tale of two tents
Scott Dunlop
That terrible joke about the pair of wigwams- you’re too tense- is bound to come up when there is camping afoot. Parents seem to have very strong feelings about camping; either you’re a camper or you aren’t. I like the romantic notion of being at one with nature, but I think I still prefer a solid roof and soft bed. But having children means you don’t always have the luxury of doing things your way.

If you grew up camping you’ll have learned plenty of camping tricks and shortcuts over the years. Like not doing it when there’s a storm approaching and remembering toilet paper. Yes, a big leaf will never do what toilet paper does so efficiently. You may be fantastic at packing your tent, inflatable mattress, sleeping bag and cooking goodies within the space of 15 minutes and heading out on the open road, but not with kids.

I haven’t done much camping with my children. Just enough to give them the experience and to remember how painful it is. Waking up with a pebble sticking in your back, soft rain slashing the tent fabric and mud everywhere is enough to put anyone off. I’ve camped in constant rain- heading out into the dark to dig trenches around the tent and in sweltering sun which transforms even the most breathable material into a sauna.

Camping can be planned for days and you’ll still forget stuff. I’ve watched the batteries on my kid’s torches die after about fifteen minutes. Stumbled around trying to re-peg those all-important tent cords into the equivalent of granite. Put up unfamiliar tents in the dark while the kids argue about who gets to sleep where. Cooked braais in the pitch blackness, hoping that the food is cooked so we won’t all be hurtling to the dreadful ablutions block clutching the toilet paper we didn’t forget.

I get away with not camping much anymore because my kids do it at school. They pile into buses with their friends and get whisked away under the supervision of nervous-looking teachers. And return with tales of terrifying ghost stories, horror at porridge for breakfast and pride at learning to make their own fires.

They still find it a mystical experience to be out in the wild (well, in camp site dormitories) and seem to cope just fine without cell phones and TV. They don’t seem to mind the rough sleeping conditions- in fact, the only thing I need to watch out for when they return is that they’re always ratty as a result of staying up late whispering with their friends.

What’s even better, they also appreciate my cooking.

Yes, I think I do love camping, especially when they do it alone.

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