We learnt a new word this week. Well, not surprising really. We are English people in a foreign country, France, so you would expect us to pick up new words all the time. But, this new word is not French. It may not even be English although it sounds English if there was such a word in the Oxford Concise Dictionary, (I looked, and it wasn’t there). Confused? Well, so were we. Maybe it is best if I start at the beginning, yes; it’s a very good place to start. If you are now sitting comfortably then here goes!

It was in the post, the invitation that is. It was from our eldest Grandson, Tom, my namesake. We had been expecting it. He is now a big strapping lad with his own security business and a lovely girlfriend, Samantha. They have been going out for a while and recently moved into a new home together. They are a good couple and go well together so it was inevitable they would tie the knot together some time soon. Soon, the invitation said, was going to be next August.

Now, here’s the thing-the wedding was not one day but over three days. Ahh, that’s different, but there’s more. Be prepared to go Glamping it said. Glamping! What the devil is Glamping? Never heard of it! We asked around. No one had heard of Glamping. Susie said, with typical female logic. ‘Maybe Tom has spelt it wrong and he meant Camping.’ Now Tom has a good brain on him but he is no literary genius. But Sam is a teacher. She would never let a mistake like that go on her wedding invitation. No, it could not be Camping! Apart from which Tom knows I hate Camping. The plot thickens!

My mind went back to the one and only time we had gone Camping. Susie’s s cousin, Barbara, a Girl Guide, later a Queens Guide, told us that she and a group of her friends were going to Guernsey on a Camping trip and flying there, would we like to come? We had never been to Guernsey, never flown or been Camping before. It sounded great. We jumped at the chance and said yes.

My only other previous experience loosely related to camping had been with the Boys Brigade. I had joined because I wanted one of their BB leather belt and buckle. I never went to any meetings but once a year they all went away for a week to Birchington in Kent, near the seaside. Less like Camping you could not imagine! We slept in the Village Hall on mattresses and the food was cooked in the kitchen. Somehow I got the impression that all camping was like that! I went with them for a number of years, they allowed it because numbers were always tight, but, eventually they chucked me out due to the fact I did not attend the meetings. I didn’t mind that but I was heartbroken when they came and reclaimed my belt.

first-rule-of-camping meme

However, I digress. Back to Barbara and the camping trip.

We were both very excited about the whole trip. Money had been tight and we had not been away for years if you don’t count sleeping in Uncle Willies ancient caravan at Manston. It had Gas lighting, no running water or toilet facilities on board.

Not having flown before we thought it important to be well dressed. I put on my best light grey suit and shined my black shoes until you could see your face in them. I even brought a new tie to go with the crisply ironed white shirts Susie had prepared for me to wear and take. She was nattily dressed as well. We wanted to take our bathrobes with us so we had something other than our pyjamas to walk to the sanitary block in but they would not fit in our small case.

It was a bit of a shock when we got to the airport. There were 18 of us and we were surprised at how shabbily the others were all dressed. Jeans, trainers, sweatshirts, they did not even have proper suitcases; it was all backpacks, knapsacks and holdalls. Well, each to their own, we thought. We were happy to be the best prepared. Barb was happy though; she laughed incessantly all the time and introduced us to everyone. In fact they all seemed very jolly and talkative and laughter was the order of the day.

I was not impressed with the aircraft. It looked quite small and I was sure I had seen one in better condition at our local scrap yard. The propellers looked fiercesome. We took off and everyone cheered. I was not sure that it wasn’t from a sign of relief that it could actually leave the ground in one piece. A young lady served us with orange juice which most of us spilt as the aircraft was rocking from side to side and going up and down like a cork on a string. How she stayed on her feet I don’t know, she had legs and knees propped in all directions against different parts of the seats around her and still managed to keep her hands free. Perhaps she was a contortionist in an earlier life. She wore a form of uniform but it was so old and tatty it was unrecognisable. She looked like she had been pulled through a hedge backwards. Her hair was straggly and stood on end. Her lipstick had somehow missed most of her lips. If I had not known better I’d have sworn she had stuck her head out of an open porthole to give the pilot directions.

We landed with an almighty thump and then, for good measure, a few more as we bounced up and down on the runway. We were so pleased we had missed breakfast, it would have been wasted. We all trundled out of the aircraft. My legs were all wobbly as we walked down the rickety metal steps. Barb had organised a coach to pick us all up. It was clearly a museum piece. I had a battered old dinky toy just like it. It took us to a farm gate in the countryside which led into a big field. It had a rickety old wooden building in one corner. Discounting the Cows there was no other sign of life or civilisation.

Everybody tumbled out of the coach and ran into the field. We left the bus last. Immediately following our departure the bus groaned and emitted an almighty loud bang with a cloud of black smelly smoke belching from the exhaust, and then it drove off down the lane. Everybody else had started to erect tents or build fires. We stood there like a lonely pair of plums refusing to leave the tree. What do we do now?

Barb shouted over to us. ‘Come on you two, don’t worry, we have a tent for you, we will put it up. Why not go and help prepare lunch over there. ‘We did as we were bid. My first step into the field went into a round black pancake of sorts; it proved to be all soft and enveloped my right shiny black shoe with a jelly like substance before letting out the most evil smelling aroma. ‘You will get used to that.’ Barb laughed. ‘Try to avoid them if you can.’ I did not need telling twice!

We chopped up some vegetables and peeled potatoes which had miraculously appeared from nowhere. It gave us chance to look around to see what was happening. I won’t say it was like looking at a well oiled machine but everybody was getting on with something or the other and it all looked very much organised. That’s our Barbara for you! Lunch was fantastic and great fun.

We were all ravenous. I could not help feeling a little overdressed. The others were looking at us and whispering to each other and laughing. I was starting to look a mess from the knees downward. My right trouser leg had a black ring of cow pancake around the hem. The other leg was damp at the bottom and the water patch was gradually creeping upwards. Susie hadn’t fared much better, she wore flat shoes but they weren’t exactly practical and were soaking wet from the long grass.

The others had put up a tent for us. It looked like a wigwam and was very small. We tried it for size. With two of us lying down my head touched one side of the tent while my feet nearly protruded out of the other side although neither of us are tall people. There was no room for the suitcase so we had to leave it outside with a plastic cover over it. By early evening we were exhausted. We made our excuses and retired to our canvas abode and sleeping bags.

I suppose it was always going to happen! The wind started blowing, the rain started falling. It did not matter. We were so tired we slept through it all.

I awoke to the sound of voices.

‘Do you think they are still in there?’ One voice said. Another voice. ‘They probably walked into town and found a hotel.’ A girl’s voice! ‘Don’t be silly its miles away.’ ‘They can’t be dead can they?’ ‘Has anybody looked inside?’ I opened my eyes to find myself covered in damp white canvas. I lifted the canvas over Susie a little. She was gently snoring but as she breathed her hand was rising in tandem with the breaths lifting the canvas up a few inches to give her room. She had probably done that for hours in a form of human automation.

The tent had collapsed during the night!

Seeing the movement many hands pulled out the tent pegs and lifted the tent off of us. We had barely budged from the same position as going to bed. We rose from the waist upwards together. It all went rather quiet, no one said a word. Some ran away, hand over their mouth. We just sat there in our sleeping bags. Someone said. ‘Are you all right?’ I think I said something rather rude and, possibly, uncalled for. Seeing we were clearly alive most of them soon drifted off.

Not Barbara, she was very upset. ‘I am so sorry.’ she said almost crying, I wasn’t sure whether it was from sadness or laughter. I told her it was not her fault but maybe Camping was not really for us. Maybe we can find a B & B close by. ‘I’ll sort it.’ she said, and ran off. And she did, about half a mile away. The others all chipped in to help pay the cost. I tried to refuse but, secretly, we were grateful. We did not have sufficient money to pay for it ourselves. We rejoined the group everyday and had a great time with them but we were not sorry to get home.

So ended our first and last camping experience.

Now, like most of us who have reached a certain age in life, we are not over enamoured when faced with things we know absolutely nothing about, Camping or Clamping for example. Okay, we do not know everything but, at our age, we are expected to know quite a bit of it, what ever it is. Not only that but it is particularly galling when you start to think that this Glamping lark, whatever it stands for, is something which presumably lots of people know about and somehow, it has passed you, and your friends by. Just how annoying is that?

Give me that telephone woman, I ordered Susie. ’Oi you’. She responded, ‘I’ll have none of that woman business from you.’ But she handed me the phone anyway. It’s like that at our age you know. Hi Tom, it’s Granddad, (as if he didn’t know, our names show up on his telephone), what’s all this Glamping nonsense on your wedding invitation. (For the sake of the innocent I have omitted the expletives, but Tom’s a big boy now).

‘Granddad, don’t worry’. He told me. ‘It will be fine, you will love it! It’s all sorted. All you have to do is turn up.’

‘Love what!’ I said. The red glow rising up my face and my neck going hot and rigid.

‘Granddad.’ he said quietly. ‘You don’t know what Glamping is, do you?’ ‘Of course I do.’ I blustered. ‘I get about you know. I’ve been around the world four times before you were born. You think that because we are old we don’t know anything do you. Just tell me what the arrangements are!’

‘Come on. Granddad. Admit it. You do not know what Glamping is. Do you want me to explain it to you?’

‘Well go on then.’ I told him. ‘But I still don’t think I will like it, you tell me what it is!’

‘It is Camping Granddad, but luxury Camping.’

‘Tom, you know I have always hated Camping! I was nearly shouting.’ Susie was telling me to calm down before I had a heart attack. ‘

It’s not camping as you know it, Granddad. It is not in tents it is in what they call Yurts. They are fully lined and insulated, so you will always be warm, they have got proper bathrooms and flushing toilets and lovely soft beds. You can even have your own kitchen. This is luxury camping Granddad like you have never known before. Fantastic food and wine. It is just up you’re street-specially the wine bit.’

‘Eh.’ I said. ‘Not so much of it you! How do you get all that in a tent?’ I asked.

‘Granddad, it is not a tent it is a Mongolian Yurt.’

‘Blooming Mongolian Yurt! I am not sure about all that foreign rubbish. It still sounds like Camping to me! I will tell your Grandma. I suppose we will come then. It’s just like a normal wedding then. No tents eh!’

We said our goodbyes. ’See you in August then.’