Several summers ago I decided to take my boys camping. It was one of those grand ideas I sometimes have which are carried out with great passion and enthusiasm and often fizzle out, or as in this case the stuff remains at the back of the garage and is never used again. Yes boys, we’re off to connect with nature. Of course we are. It’s a boy thing, boy scouts and all that, and off we go. To Decathlon, our local outdoor shop where a tent is bought with all the gear and a couple of happy meals on the way home are far from happy as the kids throw a tantrum and we do our usual depart without decorum. Nevertheless I drive back down the motorway feeling satisfied and rather pleased with myself about all these opportunities I am creating for my growing boys.
I’m lying on the airbed in the said tent under the pine trees along the Tuscan coast, which is an infinitely more pleasurable experience to sitting in a wet field in the Yorkshire Dales. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Yorkshire Dales. It’s one of the places where I grew up thanks to innumerable weekends of caravanning. But the weather’s hot and sunny in Tuscany and luckily our German neighbours aren’t playing Carpenters songs today as that would be taking it too far. The good life, yes, but without the Carpenters covers. Maybe I hear my kids playing in the background, I don’t remember. In any case, it’s just me, the airbed and the tent.
There’s that great big lightbulb right above my head twinkling away with some profound sentence to match. She realised how simple life could be, and how all the rest simply didn’t matter. She saw life pared back, and with a vast whiteness before her, breathed away all the colour and confusion that had been there. Alternatively: Away from all the chaos and the demands and the confusion and the noise, she saw how little we need and how much is superfluous. Hardly profound or original, but I think you get my message.
Of course, we can’t stay in a tent on the Tuscan coast having revelatory moments all the time. And nor would I wish to, and certainly not in a tent, as I’ve actually realised camping might not be for me after all. I like my own bed, and there’s too much sand everywhere for a start. Of course it’s great in theory. Just like when we tell ourselves forty is the new thirty and fifty the new forty. Our own personal version of the great overcoat of middle age may be funky and vintage but the cuffs are still frayed and it could do with a new lining, and in the background someone’s turned up the volume of demand, time has accelerated and hold on tight as we all hurtle towards the grave.
In reality, my life continues and routine repeats amidst the stimulants and toxins of today’s world in a whirlwind of what everyone thinks we should be doing. In my mind, I am a solitary woman in a scruffy green anorak on the North Sea coast where the wind batters the harbour walls and the seagulls screech shamelessly. I look out to sea and contemplate my ancestors, the Vikings from the north and the Celts on the hill, and spend my days reading the old Icelandic sagas. My mind seeks simplicity and finds it here. We all have a home for our soul.
Nevertheless, I am currently contemplating a VW camper van. I have visions of taking my boys around Europe, complete with fire pit and a copy of Beowulf.