As it turns out, Easter is also the busiest time of the year to go camping.
Around the camping grounds tents were erected everywhere the trees weren’t. Because of the heavy traffic we’d arrived later than we’d expected to and the sun was already beginning to set.
“Wait here,” said Dad as he went off to find us somewhere to pitch our little home away from our proper, sensible, comfortable home.
Families all around us were sitting by their fires eating dinner. The smells of burning wood and cooking meat made my mouth water. Suddenly I was very hungry.
“What’s for dinner, Mum?” I asked.
Mum looked frazzled. I had the feeling she didn’t want to be here either.
“We’ll cook something after we set up camp,” she said.
Finally Dad arrived back.
“I’ve found one!” he announced excitedly, jumping into the driver’s seat. “Everyone get in!”
Have you ever tried to put a sardine back into the tin? It wasn’t happening. Instead we shoved the blankets and pillows back onto the back seat, slammed the doors shut and followed the car up the dirt track, between tents, to our campsite.
When we finally got to the spot Mum couldn’t believe our luck – the grass was thick and green and relatively flat.
“This is nice,” she said to Dad, giving him a peck on the cheek. He couldn’t know it, but that was the last kiss he’d get from Mum for a while.
Dusk is, traditionally, the worst time of the day to try setting up a campsite because you can’t see a thing. The best time is the fourteen hours of good, solid, tent-pitching sunlight leading up to it. Having wasted the day on things like school, buying inadequate tents and proving you can get all the way up into the mountains in second gear, we pitched our tent by the headlights of the car and the occasional flash of distant lightning. We started thinking about food again just as most of the campers were turning in for the night.
“What’s for dinner, honey?” Dad asked Mum as he stood back to admire our surprisingly tent-like construction.
“Just grab the other esky out of the car and I’ll get it started,” said Mum.
I volunteered my services and raced to the car to get it for her. Near starvation may have played a big part in my eagerness to help.
“It must be out already,” I called over my shoulder. Everything was unpacked. In fact the car was the cleanest it had been since Dad offered me a fiver to clean it out at Christmas.
“It’s not out here,” said Meg, helping Mum to look.
Two minutes later, the last of our happy mood turned in for the night.
In our rush to get to the campsite we’d left behind the weekend’s supply of meat. It turned out we’d also left the bowls and plates there too. After this, much of the evening’s conversation was communicated through clenched teeth.
We ended up having porridge for dinner, eaten straight from the saucepan – five hungry campers brandishing spoons and competing for their share of the slops.
As we lay in our tent that night I was surprised to learn porridge was as combustible as baked beans, because we had an incredibly silent Dutch oven going on – the smell was rank and constant.
But at least the grass under our sleeping bags was soft.
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“Raising a family on little more than laughs”