‘You’ve never been camping? Really?’
Jamie is obviously astonished that someone of my not inconsiderable age has never spent a night under canvas.
‘No Jamie I’ve never been camping, never even been in a tent. Well I’ve been in marquees but not a tent you sleep in.’
‘Enough of the inquisition,’ says Bob ‘Evelyn is looking forward to camping, it’ll be fun won’t it sweetheart?’
I have to be honest I’m not the sort of person who ever considered camping as a way of spending a holiday. I like my comforts, nice hotels, preferably with a pool and a decent restaurant. David and I holidayed in some beautiful places, I’ve been spoilt and I know it.
‘I’m sure it’s going to be lovely,’ I say, ‘you can show me how to put the tent up and cook outside. I’m looking forward to it.’ I try and sound convincing but really I’m scared to death. What about going to the loo in the middle of the night? What about creepy crawlies?
Bob, Jamie and Emma are camping experts. Bob makes sure the children have a holiday even when money is tight.
‘I try and make holidays as fun as possible,’ he said when we first met and later, when we’d been dating for a while, he asked me the question.
‘You’ll come with us this year, won’t you?’
How could I refuse? David had left me for a blackjack dealer named Jeff. My life was in freefall until I met Bob in an art gallery. He was the teacher in charge of a group of disinterested teenagers, I was the volunteer on the door to the modern section handing out leaflets. We got talking while the guide eulogised over the Jackson Pollock and entertained the group with stories of how Pollock had discovered his splatter painting technique.
Bob asked me out. I saw no reason to refuse.
We dated for several months before I was introduced to his children. Now they think I’m odd because I’ve never been camping, never cooked on a barbeque, never danced around a campfire.
I am a little old-fashioned I admit it. David had been somewhat older, we lived a genteel lifestyle of cocktail parties, art exhibitions and poetry readings. Children never happened and I never realised how frumpy I’d become until I met Bob. He likes jeans and T-shirts that carry comical slogans. He wears odd hats, likes blockbuster movies and live rock music. He is a widower, his young wife died of cancer when Emma was only 2, how do you cope with that? Bob saved me from a breakdown, I know that much.
I should be looking forward to camping in the Lake District. I’ve always liked Wordsworth; I love the brooding hills and mirror-like lakes. I’ve been there many times but always in a 5-star hotel resort with a fine dining restaurant and pre-dinner canapés. A 5-man tent with sleeping bags and lukewarm showers may be a step too far.
The dreaded dawn breaks, we pack the car, I’ve made sure we have enough sausages and rolls to barbeque tonight. We can shop in Windermere for the rest of the weekend, we’re only staying 3 nights, I’m not ready for a whole week yet. We arrive at 2pm, Bob co-ordinates everything, ordering us around like a sergeant major, I’ve never seen this side of him before but by 3pm we’re set up, mattresses inflated, sleeping bags rolled out.
‘You’ll get used to it,’ says Jamie, ‘he likes it done quickly so we can relax without worrying about blowing up mattresses in the dark and falling over ropes.’
It makes sense because with the camping table and chairs set out, the kids paddling in the stream, Bob produces a chilled bottle of Rosé with a flourish and with a tea towel draped over his arm like a wine waiter, pours us each a glass.
‘I’m glad you’re here,’ he says as we chink glasses, ‘let’s toast to a happy holiday.’
The barbeque is fun, Jamie manages to burn a couple of the sausages but assures me ‘they taste better this way.’ It’s idyllic but it’s only the first day, the sun is shining and all’s well. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.
By 10pm I’m so tired I could sleep anywhere, which is just as well, it must be the fresh air or perhaps the two bottles of wine we shared. I wake up to find Bob’s sleeping bag is empty, I check my watch it’s 8am. I’ve slept for over 9 hours. I can’t remember sleeping so well in years. I hear activity outside.
‘Sshh you’ll wake Evelyn up,’ Jamie whispers, ‘we’ve got to let her sleep Dad says.’
I crawl out of my sleeping bag and pull on jeans and a t-shirt and manage to scramble out of the sleeping area without falling over. A quick peek out of the door to see Emma and Jamie cooking bacon and beans on the camping stove.
‘Here’s Dad,’ whispers Emma.
I look up and he’s walking towards the tent.
‘Hi Dad what’s in the bag?’
‘I went for milk from the farm shop and they had fresh croissants so I got some, they’ll remind Evelyn of France.’
I stay where I am, hidden by the tent door-flap.
‘Let’s make coffee and lay the table properly,’ says Bob, ‘Emma go and pick a few flowers from the hedge and put them in a mug before she wakes up.’
I watch them all bustle around. Bob lays out the cutlery, Emma sorts out a couple of wild roses for the centrepiece and Jamie folds serviettes.
‘Knock, knock,’ says Bob.
I push open the flap.
‘Good morning everyone, I’m starving. Looks like a lovely day.’
Bob kisses me briefly and pulls out a chair.
‘Breakfast is served Madame,’ says Bob as Jamie dishes up bacon and beans and Emma pours coffee.
‘We’ve got croissants too,’ she says.
‘Who needs a 5-star hotel,’ I think to myself, ‘when I have all this.’
© Nita Lewsey 2019