Summer Holidays. Nothing beats them. They are the silver lining of a childhood otherwise ruined by the tedium of education and exams and paper rounds. The summer holidays of youth are golden, shimmering, near-ethereal in their perfection. The sky was endlessly blue, and the only clouds to stain it were light and fluffy, forming shapes like racing cars, or dragons, or horses (I wasn't on LSD as a child, I'm just painting a pretty picture). There were trees to climb, seas to swim, crabs to torture and the sun never ever seemed to set. You were never distracted by holiday romances, never had to worry that your white beach body glowed with the strength of a million candles, and you never had to pack. They were the best days of your life.
They would start in that final week of school, the moment your teacher abandoned any hope of making you learn something and simply left you to colour in a picture of the water cycle and put on a film that was vaguely related to a lesson you might have learnt that term; George of the Jungle would tie in with that geography lesson on ecosystems, whilst Oliver Twist was an effective illustration of the industrial revolution. Or that's what my teacher told us, just before they slunk off to find a last minute holiday on Ceefax (if you don't know what Ceefax is, it's best understood as the internet through your TV, but it was an internet that updated at the 'speed of mud' and was free of naked ladies).
By the time the summer holidays were finished, you usually didn't mind - being at school seemed like a dim and distant memory, something you 'used to do', and so it wasn't all that bad going back. And besides, it would give you a chance to show off that amazing scab on your elbow you got from wrestling that badger (true story). You'd climbed all the trees the countryside had to offer, and most of the living creatures from your garden were either in a jar under your bed or dead. Or both. It was as though you had 'conquered' the summer, had beaten the living fun out of it, and left it bleeding in a field. The resulting death was thus the beginning of Autumn.
And then you grow up. The summer becomes an identifiable number of months, which skim along with alarming speed as you approach the thin end of your diary. You take a holiday not because there's nothing else to do, but because you need a holiday; the thought of one more day at the desk/ward/till/morgue fills you with such despair that a holiday is the only thing that gets you out of bed and into the shower. You crave a skin full of cancer-inducing-sun burn and a browse of another country's ancient culture. It's something to look forward to, to build your year around, to escape from the pains of life. Or, in my family's case, an abandonment of all sense and perspective. For we are not normal in our choice of holiday. We are strange, different, and misunderstood. We are campers.
My family never really had the cash, nor the inclination to get on a plane and escape foggy little England. The preference was rather to become more English than is really necessary, for camping is the epitome of English holidaying. What better way to escape the frustrations of modern life than to completely give up on modernity all together, and return to a nomadic existence of canvas-on-field action. It certainly allows you to 'return to nature' for a week or two; do you hate the way that walls and glass protect you from the more miserable aspects of the weather? Well we don't either, but we decide to give them up and replace them with a few millimeters of material. I own thicker jumpers, but you don't see me making a holiday home out of them. Does the comfort of your bed really frustrate you? Nope, nor us, but for some reason we decide that in order for a holiday to be a real holiday, we'll sleep in a bag on top of an inch of foam. Essentially, for a holiday to be enjoyed, it has to be suffered. Only then are you really enjoying yourself. You have to earn it. Come on chaps, lets rough it together, what what? Smell the country air, get dirt in your hair, fly the flag for camping, and never ever question why you're doing it. Spiffing.
And yet, some of the happiest weeks of my life have been spent in a tent, in the rain, playing cards with my family, quite possibly because of the minimalism of it all. When you go camping, you don't do it for the sake of living in a tent for a few weeks, just as you don't go to Spain or Italy to live in a hotel (I assume). When you're camping, you feel a little bit more alive, a little bit rugged, a little bit human, as you prove to yourself you can exist very happily without having to plug anything in. You explore your surroundings, you realise just how many stars there are in the night sky, you get dirty and wet and tired and yet actively enjoy the process. Clearly, you don't have to go camping to achieve all these things, but it somehow feels a little bit more... 'proper'.
But I'm probably just naive. You can't camp in Venice, and it's the most beautiful city I've ever been to on holiday. And you don't have to camp in Thailand to experience how incredibly 'natural' it is. Singapore is too hot to camp in, and doesn't have much by way of available fields, but it's one of the most incredible sights of the Asian world. The Lake District is frighteningly pretty, but you'd probably feel a little more 'traditional' if you were staying in an ancient stone cottage rather than a piddly little tent. I love camping, but only because I've grown up with it. Staying in hotels will always feel a little bit too 'easy', like you're cheating. If you haven't been camping, I implore you to do so. Just not in England. England isn't built for camping, but the English are.