I don’t know what came over me. I haven’t a clue why I said yes. I must have been mad. Or else, back in February I’d somehow misunderstood the proposition. I can’t think why else I agreed to go camping. I mean, the last time I did such a thing, we stayed in an air-conditioned mobile home on a fabulous Italian camp site where there were bars, restaurants, swimming pools and Petty Trangs to transport you from one to the other. And everything was paved so you didn’t get your feet muddy.
But this time we’re going with the local social association and apparently we have to take tents. God help us all, we’re supposed to sleep on the ground, cook our own food, and walk everywhere - although there won’t be a bar or a swimming pool in sight. (Or even on site.) Nightmare.
This is because we’re going back to nature. We’re going to wash up and shower in cold water, we’re going to sit on logs and balance our plates on our knees. We’re going to cook over a camping stove. We’re going to get away from it all and live outdoors for a week.
But that’s not the worst. The expedition leaders have organised activities for each day. Visits to air-conditioned shopping malls? Film screenings? Fringe theatre? Expensive new museums? Champagne tasting? Not on your Nelly. Canoeing, climbing, hiking, nature rambles and swimming in the river.
“You’ll need strong shoes. Jeans. Knee protectors. Cream for blisters. It’s going to be wonderful. Don’t worry about the harness...”
“Harness? I beg your pardon? Are you mad? I’m not doing anything involving webbing straps. And as for body protectors and helmets... give me a break.”
“It’ll get you fit.”
“Mollocks to that.”
At which point there was a certain amount of telephoning. I phoned Yvette, she phoned Marie-France, who phoned the leader, who phoned her cousin, who phoned Rufus who phoned me...
“Is this true?”
“Webbing straps are out,” I said firmly. “I was planning to lie on my sun lounger all day. Under my mosquito net. With a bottle of Something Cold.”
“Oh,” he said and rang off.
Marie-France phoned. “You don’t wish to become fit?”
“No. Not at all. I aim to sleep a lot. Possibly tan a little. Maybe ogle young men walking around with their shirts off.”
Yvette was next on the line. “You don’t like the activities?”
I tried another tack. “Look. I’ve got a new rescue dog. She’s not very well. She can’t walk long distances. Can’t I stay in base camp and look after the luggage or something?”
“You don’t mind doing this?”
“No, no... I don’t mind missing out on everything just so that you can all have fun and not worry about your belongings. Really I don’t... in fact I’m longing to immolate myself on the alter of neighbourly duty...”
“Perhaps we can leave you some lunch every day?”
“Oh well, very kind of you...”
“And perhaps you could prepare the meal...”
“Or perhaps not.”
“No, we’ll do the cooking when we get back.”
So that’s all right then. Me and my smelly new dog Bella can get up early every morning to wave the intrepid hikers on their way and, the minute they’re out of sight, go back to bed until it’s time to hop into the car and hot-foot it to the nearest town.
I reckon as long as we keep a firm eye on the time it’ll be entirely possible to spend every afternoon in an extremely civilised, air-conditioned, local bar - and still be back on guard-duty by the time the adventurers return from their daily mountain-climbing.
Perhaps this camping business won’t be so bad after all.
Next column will be uploaded around 15th Aug.
This article is protected by all international copyright agreements, and reproduction is prohibited without permission of the author.