I freely admit that it was all my idea.
We’d had the tent for more than a year but had not yet ventured further than the back garden. Our son was itching for adventure, the weather had been settled, it seemed the logical thing to suggest.
I could tell mummy wasn’t quite as keen as me but what’s the point of having a son if you can’t use him for a bit of leverage? (‘Ah it will be a great experience for him’, ‘You wouldn’t want him to miss out when all his friends have already been away camping.’) Soon we were buying sleeping bags out of Decathlon and setting off for the Mournes. (Just a warning for anyone of a nervous disposition; it all goes a bit Blair Witch soon).
The setting at Meelmore Lodge was spectacular. Not so much at the foot of the Mournes as nestling comfortably in its lap like a contented cat.
I set about pitching the tent, a task I didn’t feel quite comfortable with until it was done. I suppose it’s a male rite of passage thing and as I worked I imagined there were a line of men with long beards peering over a stone wall and shaking their heads in disapproval as I struggled with the poles.
The heat of the sun was making the grass wilt as we took a trip into Newcastle to buy provisions (when you’re camping you say provisions rather than food). Perhaps I was getting a little bit carried away as I blethered on about barbecues, toasting marshmallows over a campfire and counting the stars in what was certain to be a clear black night. I fear I may even have expressed regret that I hadn’t brought along a harmonica.
The first spots of rain caught my face as we left Tesco. No matter, a quick shower keeps the dust down. But by the time we returned to the campsite it was raining with an annoying persistence. Not heavy but steady, the sort of rain which soaks into your bones and saps your optimism.
We sat in the car and waited for it to pass. It didn’t.
Soon we realised the barbecue wasn’t going to happen. This meant another trip into Newcastle on a Friday night to try and find a restaurant and enduring the disbelief verging on contempt in the voices of a series of managers as they asked ‘Have you booked?
By the time we finally got back to our tent the sun had given up the fight entirely. We ran from the car only to discover that I had not zipped up the tent properly and part of the interior was now soaking. We huddled inside and climbed into our sleeping bags because…well, because what the heck else was there to do?
We had bought crisps for our son to pacify him for missing out on toasting marshmallows. Somehow the majority of them ended up ground into crumbs inside my sleeping bag stuck to my backside.
The tent which had seemed remarkably capacious earlier in the day now seemed to have shrivelled like my mood as the three of us struggled for space. Our son fell asleep quickly and mummy soon followed, apparently oblivious to the inebriated partying of the group in the adjacent tent.
As they slept they spread out so I found myself being stuffed into the very darkest corner of the now tiny tent, like a rag that plugs a leak. The mats we had bought for comfort seemed to serve no other purpose than to glue themselves to my arms so that every time I moved I painfully lost another layer of skin. My damp sweaty face was forced against the side of the tent like an unfortunate insect caught in fly-paper.
And so it was. I lay like that for hours, sleep a distant notion. The taunting tiny fingers of the rain tapping incessantly on the canvas roof. Comfort could not be found. I developed a nagging pain in my hip. The solitary stone in the whole field seemed to be located directly under my body. No matter where I moved the stone followed.
It was about midnight when the wind began, its force making the tent seem more puny than ever. The best description of the experience I can offer is this. Imagine you have been shrunk and placed inside a tennis ball which is then used in a ferocious rally between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
For some time, hours I suppose, I had been aware of the need to pee. I kept trying to banish it from my mind, the processes just seemed too daunting to even consider. But nature would not be denied and sometime between nighttime and morning I found myself wriggling madly to extricate myself from the sleeping bag and then unzipping the tent and stepping out into a terrifying blanket of blackness. I stumbled about blindly in the field, the long wet grass clinging to my bare feet. I knew there was a toilet block somewhere but I soon gave up on finding it and lowered my ambitions to just not stumbling off the edge of a cliff. I found what seemed to be a hedge and relieved myself. I sincerely hope it actually was a hedge and not another camper’s tent. I retraced my footsteps, soaking wet, miserable and feeling acutely sorry for myself.
I think I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep before my son shook me awake at the first sign of light. He was excited and full of energy as he always is in the morning. He jumped up and down on me. ‘Daddy, daddy, when can we go camping again?’