Thursday, 28 June 2012

Summer happened

 I think it was on a Thursday. But suddenly, there was sun. 
Summer uniforms came out, flowers decided to burst into bloom, the bumblebees found the cat mint and celebrated.
 The rain (because although summer happened, it was and is a very British summer. Rain features heavily even on the sunniest of days. Apparently) falling on the thyme and lavender, washing their essence into the decking where a sit or a squat (see above re: rain happening and imagine the wet wood) reveals heavenly scents. 

A gentle breeze wafts heady waves of honeysuckle over the garden, as the few remaining birds (cats. Birds. Bad and bloody combination) sing warnings to themselves and to me, and a softly furred feline rubs up against my knees.

Freshly mown lawn and damp soil add the base notes to the intoxicating fragrance. And I am refreshed. Closing my eyes, I give thanks for the infinite variety to be found even in this fairly small English not-very-Country Garden. And then the rain starts falling again, and that's altogether too refreshing for me, so I retreat to the sunroom and watch the huge drops fall onto the giant red roses which bloom, better year on year, despite never being pruned or fertilized or treated for any kind of pests. 

The rain thrums down on the flat roof, reminding me of summer nights under canvas, Mediterranean storms and the neverending wonder that a thin sheet of fabric can withstand torrential rain, provided it is never touched from underneath. The worry, lying in a sleeping bag, that an unfortunate dream might cause limbs to thrash and accidentally make contact. The fascination of using a finger to trace a drip from entry point down the sides of the tent to the ground, and watching all future drips follow that same path rather than enter the tent, and the irresistible temptation to create new drips and new paths. Irresistible only once, until the maze of drips is so intense there are a dozen buckets balanced precariously around the tent, and sleeping spaces are now contorted into corkscrews to avoid waking in a puddle. And in the morning, the steam rising as a scorching sun eradicates all traces of the night before. 

I'm a parent myself now, and I have no idea how our parents managed to organise our holidays so well. True, my brothers and I didn't have the various complications both my girls have, and, equally true, there were two of them. But the packing involved in camping with five of us, the trailer and the roofrack, and the three of us sitting on seats made slippery with the addition of sleeping bags under us, footwells packed with pillows and laundry, bootspace filled floor to ceiling bar a slim corridor of light allegedly providing a view to the rear for the driver. And all this, not just once to get to our holiday and once to get home, but repeated every 2-3 days throughout the three weeks we would be away, in order to make the most of the holiday and see everything there is to see. 

Backing the trailer into the designated pitch, assembling frame tent (Boys and Parents) and bright orange Force Ten (Me). Lashing a groundsheet over the top of the tent for additional waterproofing. Corks as improvised dollies to prevent my tent being a lightning conduit. Always an additional frisson during the inevitable storms. And, with hindsight, possibly an excuse to open that second bottle of wine? 

Falling asleep to the rain, or to the chirp of crickets, the low murmurs of my parents' conversations, muted noises from other campers and the distant barking of dogs. Waking to a baking heat, stumbling out of the orange tent into a world where the grass has taken on a bluish purplish hue overnight, until normal vision returns. 

Camp breakfasts and either striking the tents and moving on, or else leaving the tents and trailer, piling ourselves back into the car and driving off to whatever the day's agenda might be - prehistoric caves perhaps? Churches and chateaux and ancient rambling towns, route marches up mountainsides and through forests, roadside picnics and on one unforgettable occasion, cherry stones thrown out of the moving car and hitting a Gendarme on his bike. 

Wet washing steaming gently in odd corners of the tent, or draped over improvised washing lines on drier days. Whist and rummy and Beggar-My-Neighbour. Evening rambles to a creperie, morning races to the croissant van, toilets a-la-Turque (squatting holes, for the uninitiated), and perfect fresh French beans or Artichokes in butter. 

Oh, and the perils of shorts in combination with vinyl seats and hot sun; searingly painful when first sitting down, and the stickiness of trying to separate limbs from seats on arrival at the destination. Dividing up the back seat according to the stitch lines and protesting when marauding siblings put a finger over the line. Sleeping on an improvised bed in the back seat, rolling over and sending a smaller sibling into the footwells and under the passenger seat. Baking on slow moving motorways, and carsick on winding mountain roads, bickerings and sulks and the million and one things smaller siblings do On Purpose Just To Annoy Me. And the misery of being trapped in a car with a full potty. 

So, summer happened last week. I think it was Thursday. And now I'm gearing up for our own coming holidays, and we ourselves are planning a three week camping trip, albeit rather tame in comparison to those of my childhood. We'll have a week at New Wine, a few days at home, then 5 days at Special Kids Camp followed by 5 days at Guide Camp. I hope, in the years to come, my girls' memories are similar to mine; the scents and sounds and summer-holiday-adventureness of them more easily recalled (mostly) than the grim times. And I hope, please, that Summer proper will happen, and that we will have dry days and quiet nights, dry strikes, healthy girls and absolutely no flooding at all.

Bring it on!


Anonymous said...

Lovely evocative post - took me back to holidays under canvas - tents shared with mice, insects and on one occasion a crab! We are going to New Wine too so hope to say Hi to you there. Harriet

Tia said...

That would be good - we're not hard to spot!

Almost American said...

Love your description of your camping trips as a child - you could have been describing mine! I remember one summer doing a trip that started in the Netherlands,and ended in Belgium, having traveled as far as Venice. No more than 2 nights on any one campsite! A Belgian bloke walked up and down watching us set up camp in Italy and as we sat down for a cup of tea he walked over and said "You have done this before I think?" I don't think we'd spoken a single word - everyone knew what their job was! What a wonderful mum you are, making sure your kids have similarly great memories!

Tina said...

You described my childhood holidays perfectly. Except there were 8 of us not 5. I so remember counting the stitch lines and tearing my legs from the vinyl seats.
And was the full potty pink with a handle. I can see it now.
Hugs. Hope summer is good for you all.

Tia said...

The camping trip I remember above all others is the one we did when I was ten - three months straight, camping from California up to Canada, down to Mexico and just about everywhere else we could fit in between. When we got home, my three year old brother had forgotten that you could sit on chairs; we had spent so long telling him not to sit in the ones in stately homes!


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