The citizens of foreign nations often accuse the British of being pessimists. To the fiery Mediterraneans or uninhibited North Americans we are written off as the emotionally-stunted denizens of a culture so depressing that watching Eastenders or listening to Morrissey records is seen as something that would cheer you up.
I won’t deny there’s some truth in the idea that cold tea runs through our veins, but I also think that this view of Britain neglects an area of life where we are surprisingly, unfailingly optimistic. That area is not love, art, or the pursuit of world peace – but the continued popularity of camping as a leisure activity. Given that we live in a part of the world where summer often just means warmer rain, we really, really love to sleep in tents. You could set up a campsite in the burning sulphurous clouds of Venus, and British people would stick it out as long as there was somewhere to buy beer and the opportunity to char-grill a packet of bangers.
For most people the gateway drug to camping is either a cheap family holiday or a music festival. Both involve similar levels of grassy discomfort and baked bean consumption, but have very different rules about what you can do with a Tizer bottle full of urine – even if you do happen to bump into them at a family campsite it’s bad form to throw it at the Red Hot Chilli Peppers when your nan is sat in a deckchair reading TV Quick. You can learn an awful lot about a British person by observing their toilet habits when there’s a line for the portaloo, and I would argue that the decline of our civilisation can be charted by our decreasing willingness to politely stand in line until our bladders burst.
Just pitch a tent and, regardless of what you do with your wee, a great time will be had. I merely want to share my love of dewy flysheets with any camping virgins out there. Maybe you haven’t camped because your family is from St Ouen and doesn’t understand why anybody would voluntarily go back to sleeping on a pile of soil, but believe me you don’t know what you’re missing. For those about to camp, we salute you.
#1: First, think of a good place to pitch your tent
Sounds obvious, but your wild sleeping experience isn’t going to get off to the best start if you decide to set up camp behind the portaloos at a festival, in a field full of mad cows or in a bit of countryside exposed to random inbreds and tractor-driving serial killers. The last one is obviously a joke – because every bit of the countryside is exposed to those things. You aren’t booking a five star hotel, but you do need to find somewhere that offers soft grass and a relaxing environment, but isn’t so far away from civilisation that you get caught short and have to spend four days eating grubs and wiping your bum with a damp leaf. Unless that’s your aim, Mr Grylls.
#2: Make sure you’ve packed the things you need
Subject to your preference for surviving on earthworms, you’ll need to remember that Amazon doesn’t deliver to a muddy field in Wales, even if SlipKnot are playing there that weekend. You’ll have to take all the essentials – beer, vodka, Jaffa Cakes, insulin – as well as a high-tech sleeping bag to stay warm and incubate some terrible baked bean farts. It’s also a good idea to triple check you packed all the bits for your tent, as there’s nothing like getting back from a drunken ramble to find that your decision to skimp on pegs has resulted in your temporary home being blown into a bubbling reservoir of goat slurry.
Jaffa Cakes might be a deal-breaker, but you must resist the urge to bring everything from your house. You’re supposed to be experiencing nature, so if you catch yourself trying to pack your Xbox then you might as well save petrol by spending the weekend sleeping in your garden and eating Iceland ready meals with a spork.
#3: Leave all non-essentials behind
Jaffa Cakes might be a deal-breaker, but you must resist the urge to bring everything from your house. You’re supposed to be experiencing nature, so if you catch yourself trying to pack your Xbox then you might as well save petrol by spending the weekend sleeping in your garden and eating Iceland ready meals with a spork. It’s okay to bring your phone, to record pictures of your fellow campers picking river leeches off their bums and being dive-bombed by angry crows, but a general rule is if you can get 3G in your camping spot you’re probably going to get your shoes stolen by cider drinkers whilst you’re asleep.
#4: Accept that your entertainment options are quite limited
Much of the countryside doesn’t even offer access to Netflix if you have a house, let alone if your (temporary) home is a sodden tent. The only entertainment you will have is provided by nature itself or the other people you’ve brought with you. The traditional British way to address the frightening reality of time spent in the countryside is to cycle through a series of bland conversations about how much it is raining, how green the fields are and how very, very nice it is to be outside away from TV and the internet. Say it enough times and you’ll be convinced. You can also play travel Scrabble, but be wary of the number of campsite stabbings that occur because nobody can agree on legal two letter words involving the letter J.
#5: Embrace the great outdoors
Some people think that British people love camping so much because it eventually finishes, and then we get a couple of weeks feeling smug that we’re lucky enough to live somewhere that has a proper mattress and ventilation to let methane out. I prefer to think it’s because camping lets us embrace a primal connection to our ancestral landscape, so ensure you don’t return to civilisation without first seizing the opportunity to remove your clothes, smear your body in mud and sensually rub yourself against some trees. This is still appropriate (encouraged even) if camping at the Glastonbury Festival or anywhere where more than 10% of tents are teepees or yurts. However, don’t get carried away and try to embrace a primal connection to any animals. Even if you aren’t somewhere that has bears or mountain lions, even bumble bees, otters and cuddly sheep will happily destroy the hated human interloper if they get half a chance. Rural types are also quite picky about who gets to embrace a primal connection to their animals, so ask permission first and be prepared to wait in line
if it’s a Friday.