Monday, 23 March 2009

Camping it up

My dad was a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force in the 1950's and 60's. This was the era of the Cold War and the RAF were sent out on low-level training missions, night and day, protecting the country from the perceived threat coming from behind the Iron Curtain. Well, that's what was supposed to be going on, but what my dad was actually doing (it seemed to me) was sussing out places to take the family on holiday!
He would return from night-flying at some ungodly hour of the morning, crash into our bedrooms (his four daughters), fling open the curtains and announce that we were off to the Wye Valley on the Welsh border, or to the seaside at Camber Sands, or the Peak District in Derbyshire - whatever part of the realm had taken his fancy from the cockpit as he flew over in his fast jet.

Mostly these were day or weekend trips. However, after one detachment with his squadron to a flying base in Germany, big plans were made for a Continental Camping Holiday. We girls (aged from 2 to 8 years) had no idea what this meant. In preparation, we were required to lie on the lawn in the back garden in a square formation while dad paced out the area we covered. This, we were told, was to determine how big a tent we would need to hire.

So, came the day, off we set in our battered Standard Vanguard, packed to the rafters with sleeping bags, canvas camp beds, a CampingGaz stove and enough clothes for six people for two weeks. Well, it would have been enough clothes, had not my dad got one of my sisters so excited about the trip on the Channel ferry that she was sick over all the luggage before we got to Dover.














Seasick and fed up already
on the cross-Channel ferry
in a stiff breeze!


Once in Dover, we had to collect the hired tent. It turned out to be not so much a tent as a military-style khaki marquee that reeked of creosote. Property of the Dover Marquee Company, who had stencilled their name in 12" high letters on the side of the canvas. On the first night, we discovered that there were a great many complicated guy ropes and I had to stand on my father's shoulders to attach them to the tops of the tall tent-poles. This tended to draw attention to us on the German campsites, where most of our genteel Continental neighbours had brightly coloured, stately pleasure domes.

Our whistlestop tour of Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Germany was full of misadventures. My littlest sister was washed downhill on her rubber mattress in the middle of the night when the campsite was engulfed by torrential rain, my mum had to be left as surety at a petrol station while the rest of us rushed to the nearest bank before it closed to get more foreign currency to pay for the fuel, another sister fell in the Rhine trying to reach for wine corks bobbing in the river. I remember too that my dad was constantly stared at because of his large handlebar moustache and a complete stranger bought us all ice-cream one day.

Not long after this holiday, we were posted to the Far East, where my dad's flights mostly took place over the Borneo rainforest. I lived in dread of being woken by the sound of the curtains swishing open and a jolly announcement that we were going for a family jaunt in the jungle. Although we did escape that fate, there was the time we had to sleep in parachutes slung like hammocks in a WW2 pillbox on an island off the south coast of Singapore ......

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This post was inspired by Penwren's wonderful photos of her vintage camping and hiking book, and magic sense of humour.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ooh ................... I can't wait to hear more. Keep it coming, Chrissie.
Anne XX

Julie (uk) said...

You've got to write a book... please! It'd be a best seller, no doubt. This is too good to miss, please tell us more about your Dad and your childhood?
Hope you're soon much better and out of the clutches of the doctors and nurses...
Julie x

Chrissie said...

Thank you both, you're so encouraging!
Got a (relatively) clean bill of health yesterday, so feeling reassured and more relaxed, thanks for your thoughts Julie. x

On a Whimsey said...

Chrissie, this is wonderful! Very Enid Blytonish!! Those days had their mishaps but there was a wonderful sense of niavety wasn't there? Would love to read more.

Good news that you are on the mend!!!

joan linenbroker said...

What a great story !!! I agree with anonymous I want to hear more.

Things Hand Made said...

Great story Do you listen to Radio 4 they are reading "The Tent, the bucket and me" a memeory of camping.

Chrissie said...

Haha! thanks for that link - I've managed to 'Listen Again' and hear all three at once - aren't they great!

Guzzisue said...

I'm also listening to the radio 4 reading, I remember camping with the guides and saying I'd never do it again, well I was wrong and a tent tied to the back of our motorbike has been a regular sight for years.

julielea said...

How you doing Chrissie? :)

Chrissie said...

Sue - the last real camping trip I had was 40 years ago in Snowdonia in a blizzard, carrying everything on our backs (Dad, again!). I said 'never again' and I meant it!!!

Julie - thanks so much for enquiring - fit as a nearly-fifty-eight-years-old-flea can be! x

india said...

ach, so much hilarity at this hour of the morning...!!
we had some ripping trips in our time but at least we never had to leave our mother anywhere as a hostage...