• James Carrick, Liz Cannon
  • Charlie and Harry Brown, Liz Cannon, James Carrick
  • Liz Cannon and Basil
  • Charlie, Harry and Billy Brown, James Carrick
  • Harry, Billy and Charlie Brown, James Carrick, Liz Cannon, Ellie Brown

Tent tickles...

Musings from an old camping pro... with teenagers in tow

School holidays - loved by children across the country. What’s not to love? Thinking about this question, I firmly believe that children like the idea of a break from school. Young children that is. The older the child, the harder it is for them to enjoy this enforced break. They’re studying like fury and catching up with coursework. Between bouts of furious industry, there are bouts of less furious sleep and the ever-present screen. They sit and watch streamed footage of people they don’t know having a great time.

This is the routine. Every term. Every holiday. Unless of course, there is parental intervention in the form of a trip away. 

My kids would love me to hear me say, “OK kids, pack your bags, we’re going to Europe!” Come to think of it, that would be good, but all the while we still have to feed them, they’ll have to put up with good old-fashioned Kiwi camping!

I love camping, as does my partner. We have a camper van named Basil, that has all the home comforts we could ask for, apart from a toilet, a comfortable bed, a shower, and room to move around. Along with our trusty, rusty steed, we have more camping gear than we can shake a tent peg at. There’s the obligatory housing estate tent that could sleep a family of refugees, and every other kind of tent down to the humble bivouac. There are things to keep you cool, things to keep you hot, and gas-driven gadgets to keep you guessing.

We pack everything in with the solid intention of leaving around seven the next morning. After a lazy brunch and loose discussions about who’s feeding the cat, we round up the kids. They pack and we leave around one. I make sure we’re a good hour into the journey, with spirits high and music pumping, before quietly announcing that the place we’re going to has no internet.

After that lead balloon crashes to the floor, it’s a pretty quiet journey. I discover that the car games of old no longer entertain. Comments like, 'I spy with my little eye something beginning with sulky teenager,' garner no giggles. To get back in their good books requires snacks. But I don’t like stopping.

Once at the campground, so begins the construction of our temporary accommodation. Tents are unpacked, and the thaw begins. It’s a slow process. The first few minutes start with screen withdrawals. Desperate pacing, one hand in the air, begging for just one bar of reception. This subsides with a request for music. They want their music, though, not my 80s and 90s nonsense, or so I think. The sound of early hip-hop drifts across the site and a sense of camaraderie ensues. They begin to work together and even start to have fun. This is good. They’re connecting. They’re communicating! I feel a sense of something very close to pride.

And so it continues. Even a break of a few days sees a reset. Books are read, chess and backgammon are played, along with endless rounds of cards and silly scrabble - our very own family version of this staple family game that actually makes it enjoyable for all. We go for long walks, and we talk. And it’s real conversation too; they start to use words and sentences, all joined together. I’m conscious of making it sound super wholesome, but it’s by no means perfect. There are still arguments about who's washing up, and who’s turn is it to cook, but these are short-lived. 

Before we know it, the trip is over. The tent is taken down and the site is cleared. We begin our journey home and as soon as we start to get coverage, the dings, pings and not-so-silent vibrations make their way into the car and the moment is lost.

The things I wish I knew? I wish I knew how to bottle the feeling the kids have when they reconnect as a family, engaged and enthused. I wish I knew why I only instigate this kind of event a couple of times a year. Family time is precious and there’s never enough of it. I wish I had more. Happy camping, hi dee hi and hi dee ho, val dah ree, val de r'AGHHHH! and all that good stuff! Enjoy your school holidays, folks!