Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Night must fall and we shall be forced to camp

Along with the children, my husband and I recently attended what I can only describe as the most wonderful and extravagant 50th birthday party, or joint birthday party. Two of our friends celebrated this milestone by having what was effectively an amazing private music festival for around 400 of their friends. The event spanned two days on a farm, with pretty much round the clock live bands, excellent catering, a 24-7 bar, a wonderfully equipped babysitting creche, and luxuriously kitted out tents for our overnight stay. I'm told this kind of glamorous camping is referred to as 'glamping'  - but have to admit that my experience of camping per se is severely limited thanks to negative past experiences.

I have never been keen on communing with the outdoors except when it involves admiring nature or the animals knowing full well that the day's activities will end with a hot tasty meal that doesn't require me to kill or clean an animal, a nice glass of wine, and a soft warm bed that where my body does not have to make direct contact with the ground. Oh, and a toilet and hot shower that does not include a risk of athletes foot, or encountering bears or insects in order to access it in the middle of the night. I'd go further and say my ultimate fantasy camping experience involves conjured images straight out of Poirot episodes or Out of Africa, where, despite being in the middle of the Egyptian desert or African bush, people dress up beautifully for dinner and eat around tables with white clothes, silverware and crystal, and there is a gramophone playing while we enjoy post dinner port and hear the lions roar (far far far) in the distance.  

When I talk about my views on camping, a friend of mine (who does one of those back to basics men and the earth type camping trips with his mates on a fairly regular basis) shakes his head in disgust, tells me I am bourgeois, and that the reason why I have such a shamefully negative attitude is that I just haven't done it properly in the past. He is referring to the time, after I caught a fish and had to clobber it to death with a small mallet, I spent the whole night freezing cold and getting sharp pains in my shins. And then another whereby I spent another entire night unable to sleep because of what felt like a dozen rocks penetrating every part of my body. Oh and the communal bathrooms, well, that's just a deal breaker every time. I appreciate were the world to come to some sort of nasty post apocalyptic end, I would not fare well in the living off of the land and roughing it stakes.

We are currently on holiday, and in the absence of the wonderful person who regularly helps clean our house in London, the children have been set to work to make their beds in the mornings, tidy up after themselves, and help in the house.  They are rising to the occasion to such an extent that I realise that (a) even small children are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for, (b) they are actually quite keen to help and feel like they are contributing and (c) we are probably doing them a great disservice back home by not getting them more involved with helping around the house. A friend of mine told me that having grown up with people to look after her home and prepare the meals for the family, she left University and moved into her own apartment with absolutely no idea how to cook or run a household. Another guy I shared a communal house with at university, and who was a fairly good cook, told me he learnt while he was growing up by hanging out in the kitchen and watching the family's Zimbabwen chef. I suppose these things are relative. I learnt how to cook because as a teenager I spent four years eating as a vegetarian after reading a book of how animals are killed in abattoirs, and my mother (quite understandably) refused to cook separate meals for myself and my carnivores relatives. 

This holiday we have used Uber for the first time here on Long Island. Our first driver was a large African American man who had a 4 out of 5 rating. Upon entering his car his said enthusiastically  "Hmmmmhmmm, what is that smell? Yeah, that's the smell of dinner folks,"  before admitting that he didn't really know his way around where we lived and that even his Sat Nav got confused. We got to the restaurant fine in the end, with navigational assistance from my husband who was using Google maps that is, but I did have a residual concern that we were going to be late or take a circuitous route. I guess this is a potential downside of inexperienced drivers in the navigational stakes working as part of the Uber service.  In London I more often than not plonk myself down in the back of a black cab and check my email or make calls with the assurance that my driver knows exactly where he is going, although most recently, I have had at least two black cab drivers cheekily admit that sometimes they have done the circuitous route intentionally to garner a bit of extra cash - notably when passengers are four sheets to the wind.

While waiting for our Uber collection back home after dinner, my husband and I saw fireflies for the first time in our lives. At nearly 40 I love the fact that I can still experience or learn something new for the first time. Apart from say, muggings, an acid trip, or getting arrested that is. But these little insects were quite mesmerising; at first you think you are seeing something out of the corner of your eye they way you sometimes do when you get up too quickly, but then you see another and then another, like tiny burning embers floating past you. And as quickly as you see them the little light in them goes out. Quite beautiful.

Our homeward bound Uber driver was a tall, thin, gaunt-looking man from Turkey with a slight lisp, who had lived in the USA for 25 years. He had a very large and unexpected collection of TicTacs and chewing gum, as well as drinks and a singular packet of Doritos on display in the storage bit between the front seats that faces the back seats - where one would, say, normally put a box of tissues, and in the gap where the arm rest usually sits. He told us to help ourselves, and I wondered if he was testing out a sort of mini shop slash taxi service concept. When we told him we had not yet visited Istanbul he quickly and rather dramatically blurted out: "Oh don't, dont visit Istanbul!". My husband and I looked at each other and then at him, "Er, why?" Expecting some terrible tale of unexpected crime or natural disasters, only for him to counter, "Because you will never want to leave. Istanbul is soooo beautiful." The rest of the journey was spent listening to him telling us about all the things he wanted to do in his life but had missed out on doing - seeing the 'Pyramints' and having children being just two. 

This week we were grocery shopping in the local store and I overheard a group of three tall hearty-looking college-aged American men discussing whether or not girls would like avocado's. It's a small store and at various points this topic repeatedly came up depending on what food stuff they were looking at. I imagined they were using one of their parent's holiday homes and hosting one of those parties you see in movies where there are kegs, someone has a very bad drug experience, and the whole party gets busted by the cops. The guys then went on to the butchery section and ordered what looked like half a cow while the butcher gave them precise cooking instructions. After he had handed them the large parcels of meat, one of them handed him some money. He told them it wasn't necessary but they insisted, and he said thank you and that he appreciated it. I felt certain that in his 20 or so years of working in the store it was probably the first time he had been tipped for serving steaks, but with this being America (a heavily tip-driven place) I could well be wrong.

Subject header credit to Withnail and I (1987). Full quotation: Monty: "Come on lads, let's get home, the sky's beginning to bruisenight must fall and we shall be forced to camp."

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