|Celeste gives up on the sea at Shingle Street beach in Suffolk.|
Camping is great, if you do it properly. I know the part about it being cold and uncomfortable, the shared loos, and the dirt. Elodie has a long list of why she doesn’t like it, a carbon copy of the one my mother used through our childhood. My Dad had been a boy scout and tried to convert my mother. He managed to get her to go once when I was about eight to St Jean de Luz, but it failed to convince her of the joys. He mentioned it today when they dropped in on their way home after a couple of weeks across the Channel.
“Do you remember how it never stopped raining?” he asked.
Strangely, I don’t remember a drop. What I remember is fantastic spy games with new friends in the campsite, eating delicious tinned stew in the sunshine outside our tent, going with my sister Dido to buy baguette every morning with our rudimentary French, and the giant waves of the Atlantic. We went a second and final time but this time without without my mother, up in the Lammermuir hills which were a few miles from our house in Scotland.
This time I remembered how we pitched our tent in a downpour. It was my grandfather’s tent from before the war – the type that if you touched on the inside, water would pour through the canvas. And it continued to rain. My father organised us into playing a tracking game, then tried to light a fire. Of course the wood was too wet, so instead of hot baked beans on toast we ate cold baked beans on bread, inside the tent. I remember the rain that time, because it made the adventure.
We went camping this weekend with a group of other families. It’s an annual event that’s all about choosing a brilliant location to enjoy fabulous food and drink around a campfire in wonderful company. It has to have space for the children to make their own adventures in between huge games of drunken (drunken on our part obviously, not theirs) rounders. Last year we were in Oxfordshire, close to the Uffington White Horse, but this weekend it was Suffolk.
It’s always poignant for Steph and me, heading along this stretch of coast. We were on holiday in Southwold when Juliette became ill for the last time, and the route takes you past the turning to Ipswich Hospital, the awful place where she left us.
We never took her camping, but I know Juliette would have loved it. She loved being outdoors and had such a radar for fun, out of the ordinary events. It would have fulfilled her constant plea to “do something exciting.” I thought of Juliette often over the weekend. Olive is fourteen and one of the two teenagers with us. She was due to be born in March 1997, like Juliette, but arrived three months early. I remember meeting her as a tiny little scrap of six months, while Juliette was a robust and chunky three months. At the time I thought of the trauma her parents had been through, and felt almost embarrassed at how healthy Juliette looked. Over the weekend I wondered whether Olive and Juliette would have been friends.
The rain all through Friday night disturbed us slightly, and we were glad of our almost waterproof gazebos as we finished breakfast on Saturday morning, but after the skies cleared the eighteen of us set off for a walk to Shingle Street beach. After a meandering three or four miles we arrived at this oddly desolate place. The only buildings for miles other than a handful of Martello towers built to repel the dastardly Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, were the line of coastguard cottages on the shingle.
Celeste strode down to the distant sea with her friend Harvey, despite the miles they had just walked. The rest of us concentrated on refuelling with snacks and wondered where the nearest pub was to break the return journey.
I said to Steph tonight that these are the sorts of times our children will look back on. Childhood memories are viewed through a filter, and I hope it’s a happy one. Perhaps they won’t even remember the rain.
|Leaving Shingle Street to find a pub, Martello tower on the left in the distance.|