The Joy of Camping




A steady procession of pastry-grey legs

Passes our TARDIS-blue tent.

Men’s fashion leather mules slap-slap on hairy feet

As they stride towards the showers, toiletries bags

Clutched self-consciously under their arms,

Crammed full of shower gels, moisturisers and creams

No self-respecting bloke would ever use.

The travel toothpaste, stubble-studded soap and comb

Are all he’ll need in the slick-floored toilet block,

Exchanging silent nods and sighs with the guy at the next sink

As they wash breakfast’s barbecue smoke from their hands

And face as they start another day.


Outside – the Pot Washing Line: crumpled t-shirted storm troopers

Jealously guard their sinks against all invaders;

Plates, pans and cups stacked Leaning Tower of Pisa high

On this side, cutlery on that, a modern day version of Mousetrap.

One wrong move will bring the whole lot crashing down,

Prompting celebratory Schaudenfraude clapping

From those standing behind waiting for their turn

To scrub their charred bean-coated plates clean again.


In the “Family Field” kids are already screaming

Like banshees, their cries so high pitched that for miles

Around dogs are wincing in pain;

Again and again they shriek, and I don’t get it, I just don’t.

When I was that age if I’d made an unearthly noise like that

I’d have been slapped so hard I’d have been the first

Child in space, I’d have flown so far and so high…

But today they’re left alone, to roam freely around

The tents, people’s homes for these precious few days

Away from offices, factories and Real Life,

Without any warning words from Mum and Dad

Sat in their straining canvas chairs over there,

Without a care in the world.


And scattered everywhere, like black orchids in a flowery field,

Sulky teens, dragged there under protest, torn away

From Playstations, YouTube and their digital world.

Wrenched away from concrete and glass, left stranded on the grass

Like fish gasping on a beach, drowning in “fresh air”,

Pulling out their hair because they can’t get on Facebook

At this godforsaken place, their faces wracked with angst

And pain as they try, again and again, to text

Their city-dwelling friends to tell them how horrendous it is,

How primitive it is. No MTV, just “sightseeing”

And endless visits to The Shop for stuff that they forgot

To bring from home. So they sit alone,

On mossy walls or barbecue tray-blackened tree stumps,

Looking lost, each one a little Neo cut off from the Matrix,

Itching to get back home, run up to their rooms,

Plug themselves back in and resume Real Life…


By lunchtime tribes of shrieking Scousers and bawdy Geordies

Are battling it out for the award for whose voices can be heard

The farthest from their barbecue-centred Base Camps,

Shouting at their bairns and bonnie lasses playing in the woods,

Their dirty-kneed Charlenes and tearaway Tyes

To GET BACK HERE NOW! hard to hear above their

Car stereos and Ibiza Hot cd’s…


Over there, staring out coldly at the world over the tops

Of hot, steaming cups of coffee, the Cyclists are ready

To head out for a day of touring the back roads and byways

Of this place, panniers straining under the weight

Of Pit Noodles, flasks and soon-to-melt Flakes;

Brakes oiled and eager to squeak their way through

The villages and towns scattered around the campsite.

When they return at dusk, thighs burning after their

Great Day Out, they’ll ignore the shouts ringing out

Across the field, retreating into their tents to spend

The evening reading “Morse”, Christie or James,

The wife waiting until her other half is snoring

Before retrieving her hidden copy

Of “50 Shades of Grey”…


And up there, in the tree-shaded Far Corner,

The Pluto of the campsite’s solar system,

Lying half in and half out of his one man bottle green bivvy,

The unshaven SAS wannabe is surveying the scene

With a mixture of contempt and pity, laughing

At the satsuma orange power leads connecting

Tents and mains, shaking his head at the vast array of

Halfords Special offer gas cookers and grills smoking

Behind his distant neighbours’ candy-coloured

Windbreaker walls. “That’s not camping,” he sneers,

Chewing on his beef jerky strip, sipping

His liquorice-thick tea, telling himself he

Could live on just squirrel meat and seeds if he had to,

If the Bomb dropped or the Zombie Apocalypse

Finally dawned – as long as his local

Go Outdoors was spared, of course…


Packing-up time:

Some just throw everything into the car,

Vowing to ‘sort it out later’, but knowing

They never will, that the next time they do this

It will all come spilling out in a tsunami of tent pegs

And carrier bags. Others are more organised,

Laying everything out in rows and lines,

Carefully folding, rolling, with almost military precision.

Another mini Desert Storm expedition comes to an end

With one final slam of the car boot and a final, final

CSI check for any pegs left embedded in the yellow square

They’re leaving behind in the grass, the only sign

Of their passing…


…but amidst all this, the little joys.

Seeing her yawning as she wakes,

Wrapped in a fluffy quilt like an ornament in bubble wrap;

The smell of sausages spitting in the pan; the pit-pat

Of rain on the tent roof in the middle of the night,

Feeling safe and smug inside; those midnight moments

When, suddenly, all is quiet – all the demon-possessed

Children are in bed, their parents too, and it’s just you,

Standing there alone under a star-spattered sky,

Telling yourself “This is why we came,

To get away from the world…”


© Stuart Atkinson 2012


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