There are some people whose idea of a holiday is having to do everything for yourself. These people find it relaxing to go to a place where you have to perform an even more time-consuming version of your everyday domestic chores, with vastly inferior equipment and no dishwasher. And these same people, rather than sinking their tired bodies into a comfy bed or sofa at the end of an arduous bit of travelling, would rather build an annoyingly elaborate shelter for themselves before they can so much as close their eyes for a few moments.
These people are called campers, and they are wrong.
I recently spent four days camping at a music festival, and while I very much enjoyed the festival, I was once again reminded how glad I am that humans invented proper housing, with soundproof walls and without mud.
Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote in No Exit that “hell is other people”. He should probably have specified that “hell is other people in the tent next to yours who won’t shut the hell up at 3 o’clock every morning, but instead giggle drunkenly about things that couldn’t possibly be considered funny unless your brain was addled with alcohol and/or other chemicals and, let’s face it, wasn’t exactly over-endowed with much intellectual acumen to begin with.”
Okay, so his phrase is pithier, but I bet mine is more heartfelt.
No Exit is set in a locked room, but it should have been set in a tent, because at least a locked room offers proper shelter. Tents turn into a furnace after roughly five seconds of sunlight, and offer precious little protection against cold. Whenever it rains, somehow the water will get into your tent, as predictably as Lara Bingle getting into trouble with traffic police.
Admittedly, my tent didn’t leak, but every single time I left it, my head or the hood of my garment somehow rubbed against the sheet of canvas that covered the opening, transferring moisture onto my head. Why you’d use a fabric that water passes straight through for that purpose I cannot fathom, but it’s just yet another annoying aspect of the hellride of al fresco misery they call camping.
We as a species didn’t spend millennia evolving from aquatic to land-dwelling creatures in order to go and sleep somewhere soggy.
When the first European settlers arrived in Australia, they camped. One of Sydney’s most charming beaches, Camp Cove marks the place where they spent the night before moving on to Sydney Harbour on 26 January 1788. As Bill Garner points out in his charming survey of camping in Australia, Born In A Tent, the first European settlement was the proverbial row of tents.
But here’s the thing – as soon as they could manage it, everyone with enough money built themselves a permanent dwelling.
Getting proper camping gear is so expensive, too. The first time I camped after it was compulsory during school, I bought a sleeping bag that claimed to be rated to zero degrees. Where I was staying went down to about two degrees at night, and I soon learned that the manufacturers had interpreted the number to mean that at that temperature, you probably wouldn’t die of hypothermia, touch wood. It was the most painful evening I’ve had since I decided it’d be hilarious to watch Battlefield Earth.
So it was back to the camping shop for another sleeping bag, and a special camping towel, and backpack, and gumboots, and by this point, I’ve spent enough for at least a week in a cheap hotel.
And even with proper gear, you never avoid the feel of that squishy, muddy, cold earth penetrating through a tarpaulin floor like some kind of malevolent sandpit.
Cooking while camping is the most annoying rigmarole imaginable, with lots of fiddly bits and pieces, but even going to the toilet is irritating when you’re sleeping outdoors. What’s more, when you camp, you’re resigning yourself to feeling, smelling and being filthy until your holiday slash ordeal is over.
Now, I accept that camping has its uses. If you’re on a polar expedition, or conducting urgent research in a remote corner of the Pilbara, or even temporarily without housing, then clearly, it’s great. At music festivals, it’s probably a better option than staying miles away and waiting in interminable bus queues. What I don’t get is why people do it for recreation. Is ordinarily life not challenging enough without going out of your way to make every little aspect of your holiday fiddly and annoying?
Perhaps you imagine I’ve no love of the great outdoors. Incorrect. I’m happy to gaze appreciatively at a picturesque vista from my comfy hotel room. I’ll even go strolling through the magnificence of Mother Nature on occasion, especially if there’s a band playing outdoors at the end of the trek.
In fact, I think my unwillingness to sleep bang smack in the middle of nature should be interpreted as a sign of great respect. I’ve no desire to be Mother Nature’s uninvited guest.
After all, even the most eco-conscious camper has some level of impact on the landscape. Whereas I tread very lightly, and then head to a place with a proper shower.