Kiri and


Intense in tents

June 12th, 2017 (by Steve)

“So what’s the plan for tomorrow?”. We’d just arrived at my parents-in-law’s house about to head off camping with them the following day and I was caught off guard by the question. “Ummm, I’d only really planned up to arriving here”. They were in a similar position – a hectic patch of life, a need for a rest, but little time to organise. A month ago we’d sent a load of camping gear from our flat in London down with them, so at least we knew we had the right kit for the trip, but other than that we’d be making things up on the fly!

Our destination was Cotswold Farm Park – the baby of celebrity farmer (two words I never thought I’d use together) Adam Henson. I will admit I’d never heard of him, but then again I’m not up with popular culture. The draw was that if you camp there, you pay for one day’s entry to the farm park, then can come and go as you like – ideal for holidaying with a toddler.

The drive from East Sussex was long on a baking hot Saturday and car park conditions on the M25 ensured that we didn’t arrive at the campsite until 4pm. After registering at reception, where we were informed that they sold pizzas on Friday and Saturday evenings, we headed to our neighbouring pitches and the competition started. 17 year old tent with two dab hands who had pitched it many times versus a brand new tent with two people who had pitched it once before. Who won? It turns out that toddlers complicate things – stealing essential parts of the tent at opportune moments, then depositing them elsewhere as something more exciting takes their fancy. The wise thing was to abandon the competition and take it in turns to pitch, whilst the other couple entertained the wee one. Final task was the traditional marking of our territory with a parrot on a pole.

By this time it was dinner time and we realised we hadn’t got any food, so I headed to reception with my father-in-law to order a pizza then head out to some shops for supplies. I was sent with one condition – no pizza with pineapple. I returned with no pizzas ordered – there had been a run on them, and the only remaining ones were ham and pineapple. Unforgivable. Pineapple does not belong on a pizza. So we headed for the nearest “supermarket” in Stow on the Wold (which incidentally had a cracking gluten-free selection for such a small shop), before grabbing some fish and chips and heading back to the campsite.

Following the previous week of blazing sunshine and Mediterranean temperatures, it was a surprise to have to layer up as the temperature fell with the light. It was a challenge to get the little one down to sleep in a light tent, with lots of exciting things to explore (such as the new travel cot) and distracting sounds outside. However, once settled we added yet more layers, had a great chat with Sam who looks after the campsite and lives in a motorhome on site (is that the perfect job? Obviously we’re not jealous…), before a numb-fingered game of crib. We hit the sack just before we totally lost the light, soothed to sleep by the gentle squeaking of the parrot’s tail as it turned in the wind.

The very early morning (our little one woke with the light) brought a dismantled parrot (was it the wind, or another camper annoyed by the squeaking? Oh, Kiri’s just informed me it was her Dad!) and news of yet another horrific terror attack. Over a bacon and egg butty we tried to digest how people could be so filled with hatred that they would have so little consideration for the lives of others. It was impossible to get our heads around.

Although being in a car is quite a novelty for the young ‘un, it’s a great place to sleep, so some shut-eye was had on the way to church. We then unleashed our secret weapon in the test of how welcoming a church is – a screaming toddler. St. Michael’s passed with flying colours – we were offered an activity bag to play with (we assume it was for the parents…?!) and when that failed I received looks of sympathy rather than annoyance as a noisy, kicking bundle was carried to the crèche. At our church in London we’ve got a speaker through to the crèche room so that adults can hear the talk, which there wasn’t at St. Michael’s, but it did mean I had a chance to have a deep conversation with one of the helpers, unpicking and processing the events of the previous night in London while the little one happily played. I can’t begin to understand the suffering in our broken world, but I do know that we have a faithful and loving God, so all we can do is cry out for strength to share that love with others.

Lunch (as with every other meal thus far) was an alfresco affair (Kiri thought that “alfresco” meant naked – I can assure you we remained fully clothed) on Cleeve Hill with fantastic views. Due to a communication breakdown, my coat was still at the campsite, so I was the wally with the brolly out in the countryside when the rain arrived soon after we’d eaten. The wind had picked up, so the precipitation was short-lived, but it did mean that our parrot was lacking a tail when we arrived back at the campsite. Again.

When the next batch of rain appeared soon afterwards, the elderly tent became, well, I guess you might say, incontinent as we all sheltered inside to have a cup of tea. Thank goodness there was a good weather forecast for the next few… oh… wait. Ah well, we’d take it in our stride and come to that when it happened. In the meantime we ventured into the farm park.

It’s a great time of year to visit the farm park, with lambs, piglets, kids and chicks galore, and even a foal. The attention of our toddler though was immediately drawn to the ride-on tractors, so we spent a good proportion of our time playing rather than looking at the animals. And why not, eh? The evening brightened up and we had a lovely dinner outside with a most British topic of conversation – the weather. The forecast was rain for 36 straight hours, accompanied by 45mph winds. Looks like we were in for an adventure!

The following morning started earlier than ordered once again, but we managed to keep noise levels low by reading books in our tent until a slightly more human hour. The rain struck after our breakfast, two hours earlier than forecast, leading to an emergency summit which, for some strange reason, we happened to hold in the leaky tent. Maybe this is what clouded the outcome of the conflab – which hinged around the weighing up of adventure versus the sensible option. It was apparent that the elderly tent would not hold up in the coming gales, so our options were to find some way to stay, or call it quits and strike camp.

For those of you who followed us around Europe in Bertha, you’ll know that we thrive in reaction to awkward situations, but that doesn’t mean that I would willingly enter a situation that I know will definitely be awkward. Well, as definite as a weather forecast can be. Adventures are often more fun in hindsight and my appetite for one was certainly diminished given that we had a toddler in tow too. However, we’re made of hard stuff and don’t want to give up easily. We chewed on a few options including rigging up a ground sheet and bungee cords over the top of the old tent, or buying a new tent. We certainly wouldn’t be able to all cook, live and sleep in just our tent. So, feeling slightly cheated that she was missing out on an adventure, Kiri conceded that she was out-voted and we set about dismantling camp.

The old tent was dismantled first (and I believe was quite helpful in dismantling itself!) whilst the little one was entertained with books and pens in our tent. Then we swapped and, as the others sought some warmth and dryness in reception, Kiri and I battled against the wind and driving rain with numb hands to strike our tent – 3 days earlier than planned – as I questioned whether I’ve gone soft (Kiri says I have). Had we been in Bertha, we would have most definitely stayed and in fact there are hard-standing areas at the campsite, making it ideal for a motorhome. Alas, we’re in a season between motorhomes, so are more at the mercy of the elements when holidaying.

Coffee and cake was the answer. I’m not quite sure that there even was a question, but coffee and cake was most definitely the answer – a big breeze block of lemon drizzle cake all to myself and half a coffee – I say half, because my numb hands knocked most of it over my mother-in-law. And then, given that it had some indoor bits, we ventured into the farm park again – first to the “touch barn” (I’m sure they used to be called “petting barns” when I was younger – I can’t think for the life of me why the name has been changed), then to the indoor soft play area. Oh, and I went on the zip line in the rain. Because it’s a zip line. And it would be rude not to.

We didn’t go straight home, but dropped in to stay overnight with one of Kiri’s grandmothers. It’s amazing how entertaining a stairlift can be (Kiri wants one in our one-storey London flat!) and it was amusing how our little one kept on answering questions aimed at the dog, as if to say “the toy’s over there, silly!”. It was a real privilege to be four generations under one roof.

It would be a lie to say that as we headed to see Kiri’s other grandmother we didn’t question whether we’d made the right decision in leaving early. Are we getting less hardcore? (Kiri says that I am, but she isn’t – she wanted to stay!) Could we have found a way to make it work? (Kiri says without a shadow of a doubt, yes!) I think our downfall was that we hadn’t really taken time to prepare for all eventualities (Mum – it’s nothing to do with my upbringing – I was well trained in making sure I pack an extra night’s worth of underwear!). We had a lovely time with the wee one’s other great-grandparent (well, actually all the grandparents are great, but there are only two great-grandparents who are also great) where our little one decided to step into the dog’s water bowl. It’s our fault really, given that we encourage splashing in puddles!

Following a long drive home where we spied plenty of fallen branches, we vowed to make the most of the rest of our holiday, but just from the base of Kiri’s parents home rather than a campsite. The next day we pitched our tent to dry it out before hopping in the car to Bexhill. Our plan to all have icecream while a certain child slept in the car was scuppered, but we’re still at the stage where a dry cracker has just as much draw as an icecream, so all were happy. We were amazed by the playground in Egerton Park – there was something for everyone there (including another zip line for me!), so we spent a good long time playing before we found a sheltered spot for a picnic, observed by a gull who circled around us like a vulture. We failed at trying to both keep the fruit out of sight of a toddler who wanted to move on from savoury, and a hawk-eyed gull and ended up losing a corn on the cob which was in the same container. I’ll leave you to guess which nabbed it!

All hopes of this holiday being a true rest went out of the window at 10pm on election night when we realised it would be impossible to go straight to bed. I was slightly alarmed when my father-in-law announced that he was going to put something more sexy on, but relieved when he re-appeared in a Wales t-shirt. The only downside of a late night when you have a child is that they still get up at the same time in the morning!

A change is as good as a rest though. In London we can’t just pop down the lane to visit the tractors. We don’t have two ewes and three lambs suddenly appearing in the front garden that have to be herded back to their field much to the delight of a toddler. We don’t have geese that we can go and feed around the corner. And we don’t have the beautiful Norman’s Bay just down the road with its smooth nature-battered, sea-sculpted groynes finer than the craftmanship of any human. So whilst the holiday didn’t provide bodily rest, it was balm for the soul. Having a sleep-inducing car at our disposal made a huge difference, meaning that we could deviate from the normal routines and be a lot more flexible with our movements.

London was an assault our senses as we returned. I’d optimistically packed a couple of books to read on this holiday. They remain untouched. I wonder how long it will be until they’re opened! In a final act of defiance before being dragged back to the normal pace of life (perhaps I exaggerate a little!) we had a leisurely barbecue, just the three of us. Lovely.

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