The survivors lay scattered across the Pelham Arms, sleep-deprived, and dazed. Most wore visible scars of their tours of duty: bandaged wrists, bruised shins, plasters on foreheads. All were grateful for the company of others who understood what they’d been through. After a silent period of reflection, the recounting of war stories began.
‘You simply wouldn’t believe the people next to us’, cried Absent Minded Girl, knocking over her Crabbies ginger beer. ‘I said politely, would you not play any more Chris Rea, enough’s enough, it’s one in the morning. And they just laughed and turned it up!’
A collective shudder went through the troops.
‘Same at our site, only it was the Eagles till dawn’, winced DJ Mama. ‘I still have Hotel California in my head on a loop.’
‘You should have seen the so-called toilets’, said Eco Dad, taking a large gulp of babycham. ‘Like the Somme, they were.’ Eco Dad has a composting loo at home and his children were raised without benefit of nappies. For him to balk at a facility was really something.
‘Every damn year the same’, said Honesty Girl. ‘Smelly tents, crap food, joke showers, and worst of all, feral children up till midnight. To paraphrase Alan Bennett, camping means late nights, early mornings, and naff-all in between.’
‘As Sartre said after a nasty experience under canvas with Simone de Beauvoir, hell is other people on a campsite’, agreed Pierced Boy. He had just returned from Shambala, and wore his bandages ostentatiously. ‘From banging the tent peg into my hand, to tripping over someone’s absurdly extended guy rope in the pitch dark, the whole thing was a non-stop ghastly cabaret.’
For Pierced Boy to resist a pun about extended guy ropes showed just how broken was his spirit. How different from his bravado a week earlier, when he’d set off with his pink dayglo rucksack chanting, ‘I’m gonna put the camp in camping.’
‘I’d high hopes for glamping’, muttered Hoxton Mum from behind dark glasses. ‘Posh tipi and proper beds.’ She shook her head in dismay. ‘You wouldn’t think yobbos with didgeridoos could afford to stay there.’
I was at the war council in an honorary capacity, as I don’t do tents, having had a sanity-shattering experience in a non-waterproof steel-framed monstrosity on the Pennine Way in 1991. But I’d spent this year’s holiday in a flat above a live-music pub, so I too had known suffering.
‘You’re going camping’, said Absent Minded Girl, ‘so why do you need an enormous electric guitar? Why? WHY?’ Shell shock was clearly setting in, so we gave her some prawn cocktail crisps and she calmed down.
The barman put on music, but everyone flapped their hands and shouted till he turned it off.
‘Good to be home’, said Eco Dad. ‘It’s so nice and quiet here.’
A barrage of fireworks went off close by, and we all ducked under the table.
‘End of summer’, sighed Cycle Girl. ‘Start of Bonfire Season.’
Beth Miller, 1st September 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com