￼I work with people all week and being the introvert that I am, one of the main aims of a weekend away is to get as far away from people as possible. Staying in motels and/or hotels is too expensive and we are not crib or holiday home owners. Also, we resist the baby boomer trend of owning a camper van; too pricey and too cumbersome. So we have decided to put a theory to the test: whenever we go on a weekend jaunt, we will point the bonnet of our car to whatever point of the compass indicates good weather, travel no more than an hour and a half, spend the day exploring, picnicking ...
and the night in a standard cabin at a camping ground. This seems to us to be by far the most interesting, comfortable and affordable getaway deal.
The only flaw in this plan is that camping grounds are very public places. They bring me, the incurable introvert, within the close proximity of strangers. When you’re frying your eggs and bacon or brushing your teeth, alarming things can occur. For example, when my husband went to have his morning shower, because of the stable-door arrangement it didn't take him long to work out that a whole family (mother included - and remember this was in the Male showers) was in one cubicle, showering together. Nothing at all wrong with that per se, but in a public place? I guess it is nice for that couple to be so liberated, but please! All my husband wanted was a little Male-Female separation. I wonder what the reaction would have been if the family-with-father-included had decided to use the Female showers? Are we being unreasonable? All we want is to carry out our (necessarily public when camping) ablutions in as private and straight forward a manner as possible.
With camping grounds there is the instant community factor where, like it or not (and I am misanthropically inclined enough not to) you are thrust into a nest of strangers and expected to exude goodwill and smile at whoever you meet, even when you happen to be half-dressed, without your contact lenses in and fumbling your way blindly towards the toilet block. You could give off vibes that you are from another country and don’t speak English or know Kiwi customs; however, more often than not it turns out that it’s a German tourist that is wanting you to be sociable.
In the kitchen, strangers smile their hail-fellow-well-met smiles at your frying pan and then pass inane comments like, "Golly, that smells nice. Oh, look it’s only butter.” Or feel compelled to explain to you that they had to take a bottle of Coke away from their site because it was attracting wasps. Do I care? No. Does that make me a bad person? Yes, in a camping ground situation, apparently it does.
We have figured out some strategies, and will continue to hone these as we carry on with our experiment. For example, arriving at seven p.m. and leaving at seven a.m. may be a good idea. That way, we can cut down on the rubbing shoulders factor; by arriving later, we will miss the teatime rush and necessary stranger-proximity, and by leaving early, ditto for the corresponding morning shower time.
There may be some advantages to residing among the masses in a camping ground. For example, seeing kids on bikes and hearing their uncomplicated laughter as they kick a ball, and having it dawn on you that the ordinary, grass-root pleasures in life are still to be found, triumphantly flying in the face of any general pessimism about the state of the world. I heard a six-year old informing another kid, “My Mum and Dad are going to buy a Harley Davidson”. Clearly, if kids are still boasting, kicking balls and riding bikes, all is not yet lost.
Tonight we are staying in a camp with the name 'Camp-Run-A-Muck' with other cheesy names for areas in the camp, such as 'Gerry Attrick Korner'. Hmmm. Well, at least it was a clean, pleasant, well-run camp with strong, hot showers, plenty of chattels in our cosy, clean cabin, a comfortable bed and all noise ceasing on the dot of 10.00 p.m. Well ... apart from some extraverts who insisted on having loud conversations outside their caravans, saying things like, “Hello and who is that young lady there with you?” in an annoyingly jovial uncle’s voice - the kind of uncle that kisses you at Christmas with beery breath and you really wish that they wouldn’t, especially on the mouth. Their sentences tend to start with,”Tell you what,” and end with a sarky, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” followed by great guffaws. They know full well their voices are filling the camping ground, and it delights them, giving them great joy and a sense of power because they're laying claim to ownership of the night and all sleeping patterns within a mile radius.
“No worries. Not a problem,” the jovial uncle says, “We actually got a photo.” More belly laughs.
The camp is five minutes walk away from the beach where the waves are long and low, turning navy before exploding into white lines of foam. There the sky at our back was wide and high, the sunset colours, apricot and grey and the moon a shiny, baby-face peeking out from under a knitted bonnet of cloud. We walked where the air was still and heavy with the heat from a day of sun. I felt a strip of sunburn stinging my neck from when earlier in the day we drank coffee in the mid-day sun down by the harbour. I felt the sand under my feet, velvet-soft and cool. As we headed back towards the camp, a couple in a ute towing a small horse float pulled up alongside to ask if we knew the way to Paul Harris’s place. No, sorry, we explained, we are staying at the camping-ground. We are not local.
Later that night, after loud, jovial uncle had finally fallen quiet, I lay awake for a while listening to the sounds a small coastal town makes in the night. I heard what I thought was a long train going by, only to realise after fifteen minutes that no train can be that long and that it was in fact simply the unbroken sigh of the wind in the trees. In that disconcerting way that sounds play on your mind in the dead of the night, I started to fret that it could be the sea. I imagined a wave massing up to a terrifying point (much like those you see in Japanese woodcuts of a tsunami) ready to swamp us all, whether nosy, liberated or loud ... and I did for a moment worry for my fellow campers. But then I convinced myself again that it was indeed just the wind soughing in the trees. Soughing. What a lovely word, I thought ... and drifted off to sleep.
It did surprise me all the same, how even though I am a grumpy, old cow, when faced by a disaster (imagined or not) of gigantic proportions, there can be found in my cold heart a sudden rush of concern and compassion for my fellow humanbeings. When put to the test, it would appear that not only am I an old softy at heart, but also, in the end camper solidarity will out.