tom briggs

The tent  We started out with a pop-up tent. The circular kind about a meter and half in diameter.  It springs to final shape in a second or two, then takes two hours for the novice to figure out how to get it back into its original shape and ready for storage. Our next tent was a little bigger, an elongated half circle model of about 1.5 meters wide with an infinitely wider learning curve. An abysmal struggle ensued on a wind swept beach to a chorus of benign derision from a group of nearby German inebriants. Those hilarious grainy pre Wright Brother’s films of failed flight attempts came to mind.

Next was a Quonset hut-style affair of about 2 by 3.5 meters wide by almost 2 meters high. A “floor” made of thick nylon of about 3 x 4 meters is first laid out on the ground, forever mutilating the grass underneath.  The tent was then put together with ardent, though blind hope. It’s an ingenious design, probably concocted by some popcorn eating peach-fuzzed MIT egghead. It’s based on support ribs, lightly brazed, served with fries, and made up of aluminium rods, fastened together and connected inside by a bungee-like cord. This 2.5 meter-long rod, one of three, is then “threaded” into flaps sewn along the width of the nylon (I think) tent.

The rods are then “hooked” often with some expletive-laced effort, into place along the bottom. This action transforms a deflated, disorganized and uninspiring mess into something that looks like a tent. Next, cords of about a meter and half, are attached to the tent and are tightened with aluminum “spades” that are driven, Barnum and Bailey style, into the (preferred) soft earth. This arduous back-taxing maneuver stretches the tent tighter than Barney in The Cain Mutiny or paper on a model plane after doping.

We then hang the proverbial “Our home” embroidered sign, and presto, we’re ready for camping. We have a larger tent now, and can assemble it in under twenty minutes. It’s a cavernous model, with enough room for a game of basketball, though without the intimate feeling afforded by the smaller model.

Camping  More like canned camping. I mean it’s not like we’re out in the wild, vulnerable to a bear attack or by any other species larger than us. Except maybe by some psychotic individual combing the grounds, come to think of it. We arrive at  a camp site, where from ten to thirty or so other ‘campers’ reside. Most of them stay in their caravans. These are  domesticated properties decked out with yards, patios, flowers, and look boringly home-like. The  retired types are watching junk TV most the time. I mean, what’s the point? We’re rugged individualists by comparison, as we pitch our tent in areas allotted for that purpose.

The whole idea of these camp sites is for the convenience of using the community bathroom and showers. Apparently to get away from an even more mundane existence. Trekking across the grounds in the middle of the black night is no fun.  The whistling wind, moving shadows and creepy noises will raise your hair. Another characteristic of “tenting” is the regular sound of zippers that open and close the entryway. A nightly chorus of Zipper in B Flat is heard in the tent areas, and you can always tell who has diabetes or hypoglycemia.

The sound of rain hitting against a tent is amplified. So much so, that a fairly timid rainfall sounds like  a raging Key Largo inside. The same ratio applies to wind. Of course, all this is a perfect prescription for coziness. The tent and our collective mettle was tested once, as a violent storm raged most of the night. All of us, tent included, proved worthy.

This whole business is not my idea of camping, but heck, we tried it, and maybe one day we’ll look at something a bit more exciting and dangerous, like, say, setting one up in Detroit or Chicago. Last spring Lieve opted for a site with a private bathroom, which cost over 2000€ for the season. That’s in Zeerikzee, Zeeland, Netherlands, though we haven’t used it in over 2 months. (That might very well be the equivalent of inserting twenty euro bills in a nickle plated slot every time you want to use the john). When we take it down in October, that’ll be it, camping-wise, for a long long time.

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