HS2 – the end of the line? Politics – who cares?

HS2 Crosses Here

HS2 Crosses Here (Photo credit: R~P~M)

I am going to do something a little bit different today with my blog piece.  Don’t worry, I am not going to stop ranting.  I said a little bit different, not completely out of character. Today I want to drag myself away from the usual preoccupations of a 40 something year old mother of three and write about something which makes me both very cross and also seriously concerned about the future of politics in this country.

What’s got me so worked up?  Yesterday, I did a little bit of work on a briefing for the campaign against HS2 (the High Speed 2 rail link for those who don’t live in the UK and for those who do but don’t think it will affect them in the slightest (more on this later)).  Firstly I have to declare an interest – I live very close to the proposed line in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  I can almost hear you all switch off – “oh she’s a NIMBY”. Yes, I am a NIMBY but then isn’t everyone?  If a motorway or a railway line was going to be built through your back garden, you wouldn’t welcome it with open arms, would you? NIMBY is a totally meaningless expression, used as a cheap stock insult thrown at protesters to try and undermine their protests and dismiss the validity of their viewpoint.

So, yes, I am a NIMBY but wake-up everyone else who doesn’t live anywhere near the proposed line, this project will affect you, will cost you and will not benefit you.  This Government is using the word NIMBY to alienate us from you, to pull the wool over your eyes, to convince you that this is a project of huge economic, environmental and business potential.

I am not going to bore you with a mountain of statistics and figures – that would be extremely tedious and I don’t even need to because the arguments in favour of HS2 are so fragile and tenuous that you don’t have to dig very deep to expose its nonsensical foundation. Suffice to say that HS2 will undoubtedly cost way more than is predicted as these projects have a habit of doing and the purported benefits are highly disputable.  The latest strategic case is built on frankly questionable assumptions and flawed projections, many of which the Government has failed to provide evidence to support, and as I suspect happens with so many of these projects, once you look behind the headline figures, the calculations are a moveable feast, open to some quite blatant manipulation to suit purpose.

Forget the numbers.  HS2 does not stack up on any level.  All I keep hearing is how we need this super-duper railway system to rival those in other countries like China, France and Germany.  Hello, why do we? One glance at the map answers that question.  We are not a large country, people do not have to travel huge distances between cities – London to Birmingham cannot be compared to Shanghai to Beijing – that’s patently ridiculous.

Apparently we desperately need more capacity as all our trains are overcrowded and business travel numbers will dramatically increase in the future. I don’t agree. With the exception of some extremely busy commuter routes, most of our trains run half empty and surely a dramatic increase in business travel is unlikely as technology progresses further and the need to meet face-to-face diminishes? Even if it does increase, why does anyone need to get to Birmingham and beyond any quicker? The Government seems to be assuming that all business travellers sit on the train, twiddling their thumbs and playing “Angry Birds” on their phones. Most business travellers work on the train – in fact, many relish the opportunity to get things done which they don’t have time for at other times of the day.  Where’s the economic benefit to shorter journey times? Why not just upgrade current railway lines – way cheaper, just as effective?

So no real economic benefit. What about environmental benefit?  The argument about HS2 providing “green” benefits has been largely abandoned – it just does not.  Instead it will destroy some of our most beautiful ancient woodlands and habitats, something which we have a responsibility to preserve for future generations. Take where I live, for example, in the Chilterns AONB – how ironic that I can’t do anything to my house without jumping through thousands of hoops with planning etc but the Government can authorise a train line which will scythe through the countryside, destroying mile upon mile of both land and housing.

I know what you’re thinking – may be she has got a point but frankly it is not really going to affect me.  Wrong. If you are a tax payer, you will be paying for this. Is this where you want to see your money spent (wasted?). Think about your own local area for a minute – is there perhaps a hospital that is being forced to close, a school that requires some serious investment or public services which require upgrading? Wouldn’t you rather see money spent on these things that actually do affect you, rather than a wasteful, unnecessary rail link which appears to be nothing more than a vanity project, a useless legacy which this Government seems determined to leave for future generations?

Looking more closely at HS2 has left me ever more concerned about politics in this country. It is no wonder that increasing numbers of us believe absolutely nothing which comes out of politicians’ mouthes. HS2 is so clearly, in my mind, one of the most outrageously wasteful projects of recent times and the fact that the Government is still trying to “persuade” us that it is for our benefit only goes to make me mistrust their motivations on all other issues both at home and abroad. The result – well me – I’m  mistrustful, skeptical, cross at the actions of politicians, verging on “giving up” on politics. What about for our children?  What sort of faith can they possibly have in our political system if it is so patently not acting in their best interests, if there is always another agenda? In my mind this can only lead to a generation of young people who are totally apathetic about and disinterested in politics.  This is a serious state of affairs and one which politicians need to address urgently.  Trust has to be rebuilt, respect for the people that politicians serve needs to be regained.  HS2 is a small issue on the world stage, of course I appreciate that, but a generation of young people who are simply not interested in politics is not.

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Perceptions

English: Beko Washing Machine. Türkçe: Beko Ça...

English: Beko Washing Machine. Türkçe: Beko Çamaşır Makinesi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I was in any doubt as to what my children think of me then my daughter has put me entirely straight on the matter.  Aged 4 she has become rather obsessed with the bigger questions in life – how do we die? When do we die?  Where do we go when we die?  I have tried my best to answer her questions in a way she would understand, reassuring her without looking totally clueless.  However, it would appear that her concerns were slightly more mundane – nodding sagely as I told her about the ins and outs of Heaven, she asked “when you die, who will do the laundry?”  If ever a question could bring one crashing down to earth from the contemplation of the esoteric delights of Heaven, then this is it.  My daughter sees me as a washing machine.  Her concerns about me dying are not about losing a loved one but rather focused on who will ensure she has a clean school uniform for Monday.

I would like to say that my sons who are older (and therefore supposedly wiser) can appreciate the finer points of who I am.  This is not the case.  My elder son seems to think that I do nothing all day and his regular accusation is “Mum, you don’t do anything for us”.  I can honestly say that there is hardly anything that I can imagine that my son could say that annoys me more than that particular accusation.  It is guaranteed to send me into a rant about the usual “you don’t know how lucky you are” stuff and an endless list of examples of my activity on his behalf. Rant over, I always ask myself why on earth I felt it necessary to justify my existence to a 9 year old…but I can’t stop myself. My extreme reaction to his statement always bemuses him and my humiliation is complete when he says “it’s ok, mum, no need to get all stressed, I didn’t mean it”.

My middle son is trying to get his head around the fact that I did have a career before I accepted this long-term, badly paid, hideously long hours position of mother.  He asked what I did before I had children and when I told him that I had worked in an office like his father does now, he looked incredulous.  He asked me what my job is now, “Cleaner, taxi driver, cook, children’s social diary co-ordinator” I replied. Incredulous look again. “But when do you do all those jobs?  Do you do them when we are in bed?” he asked. Clearly my description of my current job status did not ring any bells with him at all and I am slightly concerned that he now thinks that when he is tucked up in bed, I am busy driving around the county with a 2 way radio, taxi-ing random people from here to there before returning to cook 40 covers in a restaurant and finishing off with a few hours cleaning. Perception that I was working those sort of hours would at least explain why my daughter recently asked me if I had been 100 years old yet.

Does it bother me that my children perceive me like this?  No, not really, after all this is what I do at the moment, at this stage in our lives. Yes, it would be nice if just once a week, one child picked up a wet towel abandoned on the floor after a bath, folded it and put it back on the towel rail in the bathroom – but I know this is just a pipe dream. Yes, it would be nice if just once a month, one child attempted the highly difficult and dangerous task of placing a plate in the dishwasher – but I know this is beyond all expectations.

What does bother me a little bit more is my own perception of myself as only the sum of these things.  2014 needs to be the year when I put this to rest and strike off “professional procrastinator” from my CV.  Of course I shall continue to be a fairly average cleaner, taxi driver etc for my children, but also this year is my year to start something for myself.  This blog was the start of it for me – this writing lark, and now I’ve got to get out there and do something with it….if only to see the incredulous look on my children’s faces if I do something that surprises them, something that falls outside of my usual job remit!

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Spoilt for choice

Gola

Gola (Photo credit: masochismtango)

Choice, choice and more choice.  Options, options and more options. Life is so complicated nowadays it is a wonder that we are not all completely paralysed with fear of making the wrong choices in even the most simplest areas of our life – what to have for breakfast, what TV channel to watch or what fruit to eat as a snack.  Back in the seventies life was (relatively) simple: take the three things I have just mentioned – breakfast was cereal and/or toast (or croissant on high days and holidays); there were only three TV channels (until the major excitement of Channel 4) and there were only three fruits – apple, orange, banana (and occasionally the very exotic pear) – end of.  Nowadays we have to choose between a million types of potential breakfast items (my daughter almost persuaded me this morning that a sugar-covered donut would be OK on the grounds that it is bread-like and had jam inside); there are so many TV channels that flicking through them all takes the same time as watching the omnibus edition of EastEnders and as for fruit…my children think it is perfectly normal to have mango, kiwi, pomegranate, pineapple and pawpaw and the only person who still eats good old apples and bananas in my household is me.

Although people my age may find the choice available nowadays quite bamboozling, it is perfectly ordinary for our children.  If I were to present my children, for example, with the choice between an apple and a banana, they would almost certainly say “is that it?” They expect choice, they demand choice.  This was very starkly demonstrated to me a while ago when I took a large group of boys aged 7 to a restaurant.  All the boys chose their drinks – variations of coca cola, orange juice and apple juice – until one boy who seemed to have difficulty deciding on what to drink.  I read him the options from the extensive menu and without hesitation he said “No, I don’t want any of those, I think I’ll have an elderflower pressé” – jaw-dropping – without batting an eyelid he rejected a fairly comprehensive list of drinks for a completely different drink which by anyone’s standards sounds slightly strange coming from a 7 year old’s mouth.  Needless to say this child will never be coming for a play date in my house in case he discovers that we only have the clearly inferior “Ribena” on offer.

Take shoes as another example.  When I was young, footwear was very simple  – girls wore flat Mothercare sandals (and I mean flat, totally pancake flat) in the summer, t-bar shoes in the winter (a very lucky few, whom I envied greatly, were allowed patent) and Dunlop Green Flash for sport.  This morning I have been trying to buy my son some trainers – it has so far taken me the best part of an hour online without resolution as I have waded through hundreds upon hundreds of trainers – astro, cross-trainer, running blah, blah, blah. There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as a plain simple trainer – in fact you can get any sort of trainer as long as it is not plain and simple.  Of course, neon, flashing, air-pocketed, ankle-supporting, breathable trainers also come at a high price – criminally high price.

Choice has permeated through every single fibre of our lives. Man’s best friend – the dog.  In my childhood, dogs basically came in sizes and colours and if you wanted to get technical they did officially have a breed name. My first dog was quite big and black and white and my second dog was small and brown.  Not today, oh no, no, no. It would be very very amateur to describe dogs by mere colour and size.  Today we have so many new breeds that one could be forgiven for thinking that someone somewhere is having a real  laugh at our expense, creating such preposterous breed names as cockapoo, spanador, labradoodle, shepadoodle and spoodle…..

Ok so I know you are thinking “here she goes again on one of her rants”…but I do actually, unusually for me, have a serious point to make. Not only do I think that all is this choice is frankly bad for our children and contributes greatly to the highly pressurised society in which we live where simplicity doesn’t appear to be an option, but if you stand back for a moment and consider what we have and what so many other people do not have, this level of choice seems at best ridiculous if not totally grotesque.  How wrong is it that we are wasting our lives worrying about whether to have rye bread, pitta bread, multigrain bread, half and half bread when half the world’s population has nothing to eat at all? How wrong is it that a 7 year old is asking for an elderflower pressé when half the world’s population does not have clean drinking water? I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel deeply uneasy and really very uncomfortable.  Our children are not just spoilt for choice, they are spoilt – full stop.  It’s easy to say but I don’t think it is easy to rectify –  some may think that all this choice signifies progress but I am not sure, if anything it is widening the gap between those who have and those who have not and I find this very worrying for future generations.  What do you think?

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Christmas Complex

English: A Christmas Tree at Home

English: A Christmas Tree at Home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again – Christmas – which seems to come round faster every year.  Is this perhaps yet another sign of ageing?  I think not, more a reflection of the fact that with each year the Christmas season creeps forward by a day or so as the shops start blaring Slade et al and shoving tinsel in our faces from early September.

Let’s get one thing straight – I love Christmas. Nothing can transport you more readily back to childhood than the magic of Christmas. Only the most miserable of individuals can fail to be swept up to some degree into the jollity and frivolity of this season.  However, it is not without its complications and of course it will come as no surprise to you my observations.

The advent calendar.  Or in my house, plural. When I was a child an advent calendar was a very simple piece of card which depicted a traditional nativity scene (yes, kids – “nativity” – the central word for Christmas in case you had forgotten) and some badly perforated windows to be opened each day where you would find some random supposedly Christmassy object – always a robin and a bell and often a cat (why a cat?).  The biggest challenge that the advent calendar presented in those days was opening a window without causing the other windows either side to open inadvertently.

The biggest challenge nowadays is actually to find an advent calendar depicting a traditional nativity scene rather than some bizarre mixed up Christmas scene with Santa, Jesus, a snowman and some carol singers vying for centre stage.  This year my children have got two calendars each – one traditional nativity scene which I hope will serve as some small reminder of what advent actually is and one chocolate calendar.  I would cheerfully throttle the person/people who thought putting chocolates in an advent calendar was a good idea.  It is hard enough to persuade my children to brush their teeth in the morning without all my efforts being wasted on a stale chocolate which has probably been sitting behind that calendar window for most of 2013.  All pretences of the meaning of advent also go out of the metaphorical window when it comes to chocolate advent calendars.  My daughter’s chocolate calendar is a “Hello Kitty” calendar – I am not even going to bother to pretend to her that “Hello Kitty” has got the faintest association with advent or indeed Christmas.

As usual in our family, the school nativity play has not been without its fraught moments.  My daughter, like every other girl in her class, was completely convinced she had landed the part of Mary.  I could only watch on knowing that never making Mary is one of the burdens you have to carry with you for the rest of your life.  To be fair, I didn’t even get close – I didn’t even make head angel. Predictably my daughter’s confidence that she had secured the role was misguided and she is a King.  This is not good news – not only has she not made Mary, but she is playing a “boy” part so no tinsel, sparkles, wings etc. For me there is a silver lining however, as I am not expected to provide a King costume as apparently the school have already got one.  Although I am not going to pretend that in the past I have slaved over costumes for school plays – I find that the big supermarkets do a great budget version of almost any character you could wish for and who cares that all around the country in every school nativity, the shepherds are wearing exactly the same £7.99 nylon, highly flammable, shepherd’s tunic and carrying a rather unusual plastic crook?

My next complication with Christmas is my middle son’s obsession with the technicalities of Father Christmas’s itinerary over the festive period.  It is without doubt very good for his mental maths but not very good for my sanity that daily, soon to be hourly, he is calculating FC’s speed per hour, houses visited per minute etc and inevitably always concluding its impossibility and then requiring some sort of rational explanation from me.  This is very very tiring. This is coupled with his new line of attack: he will say “So and So got an X-box from Father Christmas last year, how come I got a satsuma?”.  Explain that one.  How I would love to shout at So and So’s parents and tell them how hard they are making it for the rest of us but also I would love to tell my son how lucky he is that Father Christmas comes at all as there are millions of children around the world whom he won’t visit.  Only, of course, I can’t do that without ruining the magic of FC for him.

One thing that I am sure is a sign of ageing is my new obsession with completing my Christmas shopping weeks before the big day.  This year I am feeling smugger than ever (not because I have finished the shopping) but because I have yet to set foot in a shop – I have done it all online. Christmas shopping brings out the utter worst in people.  Normally sane and rational people become persons possessed as, list in hand, they hunt down their targets with a single-mindedness not seen at any other time of year.  All this is done to a backdrop of over-heated shops churning out Wham!, Slade, Shakin’ Stevens and friends on an interminable loop, nodding Santas saying “Ho! Ho! Ho!”, reindeers with flashing antlers and harried shop assistants with tinsel in their hair – and this is mid-October.  I am sure it must contravene some sort of human rights law to have to wear tinsel (which incidentally I absolutely hate) in your hair for a period of 2 months or more.  No, shopping in shops is no longer for me, I am an internet Christmas shopper.  One word of warning, make sure you shop in the morning with a cup of tea rather than in the evening with a glass (bottle) of wine – you can get rather carried away with the latter in your hand.

With that in mind, it is time for me to do some more Christmas shopping online now.  I’ve got to buy presents for the school teachers.  I am not sure whether this year I shall be contributing to what I call the candle economy – a booming industry in which 20 children in a class give their teachers a candle so that said teacher ends up with enough candles to open a chandlery (in its original meaning) and then re-distributes the candles to others as presents through the rest of the year before the whole cycle starts again.   I am not knocking it – everyone loves a candle and you can never have enough candles, can you?

How to spot a man over forty – the definitive guide

Porsche Boxster, a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel...

Porsche Boxster, a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel (RMR) drive sports car (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little while ago I wrote a blog post about how to tell whether a woman is over 40.  But how do you tell if a man is over 40?  Easy, you say, he manifests all the signs of a mid-life crisis – he buys some ridiculous, utterly impractical 2-seater sports car, or worse a motor bike; he starts wearing a dodgy leather jacket and too-tight jeans; he flirts outrageously with girls half his age in the delusional belief that they find him attractive when in truth they find him pitiably sad.

These things may all be true or they may just be a cliché. It got me thinking however whether in fact there are some more subtle signs which herald the onset of the 40s in a man and I believe there are.  After much observation, here is my list of the signs of an impending mid-life crisis:

– Firstly, in one of Mother Nature’s more cruel jokes, men appear to lose the hair on their head and grow it elsewhere on the body. For some reason Mother Nature seems to think that men no longer need hair on their heads but instead need more hair on their backs and in their ears and noses.  I fail to see what biological reason this body hirsuteness has – perhaps it is just a sort of rough (bristly?) justice to compensate women for the decades of plucking, waxing and depilation that we have to endure. Note – the borrowing of a woman’s tweezers by a man or a sudden interest in waxing are common initial manifestations of the onset of increased body/nasal hair.

– Secondly, the onset of male hypochondria and the diminishment of the male immortality belief. In my experience this male hypochondria often stems from the over 40 health MOTs which many men undergo.  I wholeheartedly endorse such health checks but I strongly believe men should not be given access to any of the results unless absolutely necessary.  Why?  Because men who have never ever shown the remotest interest in health (believing in their immortality), the same men who dismiss all female health problems as either “something down there” or related to the “her time of the month”, suddenly become minutely interested in the details of their own health.  They pick through the smallest print of every blood test – “My phosphate level is slightly high – do you think this is serious, am I going to die?”.  In my opinion, men are best left blissfully unaware of such things, obviously with the exception of any serious illness, and only given information about their health on a need-to-know basis.

– Questioning immortality and insecurity about future health is what drives another sign of a man moving towards middle age – exercise.  I know that I am not one to speak as I frequently wear exercise kit as a way of vicariously exercising and making others believe I have exercised when I have not, but it seems men of a certain age have all the gear and absolutely no idea. They have lycra, expensive trainers and hi-vis clothing coming out of their (hairy?) ears but how often do they actually go out and exercise? Infrequent at most would be my guess.  Although, do note, there is a sizeable subset of men who after the age of 40 take exercise to extreme levels and start competing in iron man competitions and the like (you can spot these men by their eagerness to post race times etc on social networking sites).

– Another sign – falling asleep on the sofa almost every evening at a time that could not reasonably be called bedtime.   This falling asleep can happen almost immediately upon sitting down and is usually accompanied by noisy exhalations.  These narcoleptic tendencies often go hand in hand with the automatic denial the morning after that he fell asleep on the sofa the night before. Sometimes it only becomes undeniable when a man sits down to watch an episode of a programme (having slept through the previous episode) and asks “can you remember what happened in the last episode?” to which a woman replies “Yes thanks and so would you if you had been awake”.

– Watch an over 40s man’s face the next time he is told that a social engagement has been cancelled.  He will almost certainly say things like “What a shame – I was so looking forward to a huge night out” but look carefully at his face because the relief will be almost tangible, his words are just bravado.  The truth of it is that even the most hardened of male party animals secretly enjoys his nights in with a takeaway, a beer and the TV to watch (or sleep in front of…).  In fact, given the choice most over 40s men would rarely go out except for the odd night out with a few mates – the proverbial old man in the pub evening.

So there you have it – he may not buy some wildly inappropriate car or think he is impressing girls half his age but the signs will be there if you look.  The sad truth for men over 40 is that they have now entered the realm of dad-dancing-at-a-wedding and we should probably cut them a bit of slack as they come to terms with all that represents.  It cannot be easy for the male ego to admit that he is not the man he was at 21 and actually pottering around the garden centre of an afternoon is not all that bad…

turningtwicetwenty plus one

English: Miley Cyrus' signature Español: Firma...

English: Miley Cyrus’ signature Español: Firma de Miley Cyrus Português: Assinatura de Miley Cyrus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back by popular demand (well anyway thanks to the couple of people who have asked why I haven’t been blogging). The title of my blog is no longer strictly true – I am now turningtwicetwenty plus one. I am now in the less appealing position of being “in my forties” rather than “forty”.  So what has changed in the year since I turned forty…well, here’s a couple of things for starters:

The wrinkles on my face have increased in quantity and depth with an acceleration which is nothing short of frightening.  I am particularly hating the “expression” lines between my eyes which are less expression and more trench.  Frankly, if they are expression lines, then I must spend the majority of my life frowning and looking grumpy which is also rather disappointing as I have always thought, clearly mistakenly, that I was one of life’s laughers.  I have to admit to moving slightly more in favour of the botox approach and I might even be tempted if it wasn’t for the extremely high likelihood of being the person whose face is plastered on the front page of a Red Top with the headline “Botox botch – woman, 41, scares local children”.

Until fairly recently, I felt that I was quite “up to speed” (I know the fact that I have used that expression demonstrates the complete opposite) on popular music but I can feel my grip slipping.  There have indeed been occasions of late when I have found pop music frankly bewildering:  Miley Cyrus and “twerking”, Lady Gaga prancing bizarrely around the X-Factor stage in some seriously unpleasant flesh-coloured granny-bags (large Bridget Jones pants if you’re wondering). Perhaps most worryingly of all, I actually enjoyed watching Gary Barlow perform his new single because it had a good “tune” (something my parents would have said which would have made me cringe and vow never to be like that when I grew up).

This has definitely been the year that I have started to fall behind with regard to popular culture.  I heard on the radio this morning that the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year is “selfie”. Now I am not so behind that I don’t know what a “selfie” is (although admittedly the clue is in the name) but I have absolutely no idea why taking random photos of myself and sticking them on some social networking site is something in which I would wish to participate. As far as I am concerned it is quite enough of a shock seeing my face in the mirror first thing in the morning without wishing to share that sight with several hundred other people.  Perhaps it is some form of narcissism, I am  not sure, but it seems at best utterly pointless to me. It is rather like karaoke – I know I can’t sing so why would I inflict my talentless tuneless caterwauling on a bar full of people who are hoping for a good night out without the soundtrack of their favourite songs being mullered?

In terms of my home life, not much has altered really over the last year.  I am still employed on a full-time basis as a mother, chef, taxi driver, laundry woman and cleaner.  If anyting I would say that my duties have been increased over the last year as my bosses have got still more demanding. One of my bosses asked me the other day what I get paid on a weekly basis.  I smiled benignly, ruffled his hair and said that I did it all for love not money (as I reached for that large self-medicatory glass of white wine). Although, big boss if you are reading this, some sort of pay rise/time off would be appreciated. The only slightly concerning change in my personal circumstances is that my youngest child is now at full-time school so I am running out of excuses not to do something worthwhile with my days.  Predictably I can think of a thousand things I don’t want to do but am struggling with that one elusive thing that would “fulfil my potential” blah blah blah.  I mustn’t do myself down, if nothing else it takes a certain sort of person to move seamlessly through as many different careers as I have managed in the last twenty years and still not manage to stick at any one thing for any length of time.

So there we have it – not much change over the last year since I started this blog, just a gentle degeneration…oh yes, and the horrifying discovery of my first ever grey hair – yanked from my head with such ferocity that if I was that grey hair, I wouldn’t be making any sort of re-emergence in the near future without serious consideration of my survival potential. Perhaps I’ll continue with this blogging malarkey – I’m not sure.  What do you reckon?  It’s either that or start perusing garden websites or the daily bargains on Achica…

Hi-de-Hi Campers!

English: Modern 'dome' tent

English: Modern ‘dome’ tent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just returned from my first ever family camping trip in Devon.  Frankly, camping is a blogger’s paradise for material but I am going to cut to the chase and just give you the nitty gritty…

Camping is all very well until…

– You have to put up the tent. The tents of my youth have all but disappeared from British camp sites, to be replaced by superstructures.  The result of this?  Putting up a superstructure is a full-blown architectural, building and interior design project.  No half-hour of japes and ‘hysterical’ jokes about ‘erections’ – this is a very serious job taking 2 hours and requiring elite teamwork.   My husband and I were just rank and file and we listened closely to our leaders who have years of experience in this highly technical exercise.

– You start participating in “competitive camping” – by which, I mean constantly prowling around the campsite, nosing at others’ tents and accoutrements and then scurrying back to look online at how much they cost and how quickly you can get the same. Camping 2013-style is highly competitive.  Size is important – I shall admit to a small twinge of jealousy at my neighbours’ superstructure (we were sleeping in their “cast off” as virgin campers).  However, the devil is in the detail: spotted on our campsite – bunting, fairy lights (everywhere), blow-up sofas and chaise-longues and garden gnomes.

– You want to sleep. In my experience, camping and sleep are mutually exclusive.  However, I accept that I appear to be alone in this as the rest of my family seemed to sleep soundly.  I have to admit to moments at about 3am when I did wonder why I had chosen to “sleep” on a blow-up mattress in a confined space with my whole family, wearing an eye mask and ear plugs at the age of 40.

– You need the loo in the middle of the night.  Forget the adverts about bladder incontinence and retraining your bladder on the back of the doors of public conveniences in motorway service stations.  There is nothing better for improving bladder control than camping a 5 minute walk from the nearest loos.  In every tent, there is a woman, in the wee hours (sorry, pathetic pun), wondering if she can possibly hold on until morning and cursing the men who can liberally water the foliage outside the tent.

– You leave a rubbish bag out overnight. Elementary error, dear Watson. What followed can only be described as making Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” seem mild in comparison.  Gull attack.  Gulls are big, gulls are noisy and frankly no-on in our tent had the courage to face up to them at 5.30 am when we were under siege, gulls tramping all over the top of our tent.  We lay there, frozen in fear, hoping that the Gull army would finally march on elsewhere to some other amateur who had left out a bag of rubbish.  It will, I think, take years of therapy for us to come to terms with the trauma of the night when the gulls attacked.

– It rains. Camping is a fair weather sport. The solution to rain, however, is simple.  Make sure you are friends with people who own a larger tent than your own, with blow-up furniture, rugs, pretty lighting and a fully-stocked larder and then settle down with a glass of wine and laugh.

– Your child starts to suffer from repetitive showering syndrome.  At home, my requests for my eldest to shower fall on deaf ears – he looks at me as if I have suggested something deeply unpleasant.  Not so when camping. My eldest proudly informed me that he had showered 14 times in 4 days.  When questioned about this, he told me that he liked showering at the campsite because he had his own cubicle and no-one disturbed him.  Very disturbing indeed.

So what did we really think about camping?  We loved it and despite all my reservations, we have booked to go again next year.  I shall admit that a large part of this is due to the fabulous friends we camped with (whom I think were as surprised as we were that we survived the trip).  I shall leave the last word to my daughter, just turned 4, who in a late night tent conversation, was asked by her brother where good people go to when they die…”Devon” she said – not far off I suppose (give or take the first letter).