Elsa takes a walk on the wild side
With the onset of summer I’ve become increasingly conscious that I should expand Elsa’s experience of the “great outdoors” beyond trips to the local park. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that stretches of grass come automatically adorned with little “don’t walk on me” signs, or that duck-shaped paddle boats are legitimate – if oversized – types of wildfowl.
So when a friend recently suggested a weekend camping trip, I readily agreed. I must confess, however, that although I love the idea of camping – mountain views, sausages cooked on an open fire, cold beers under a starry sky – I fall somewhat short of being a natural camper in practice. In actuality, the whole subject brings back long-buried memories of miserable school trips sheltering under mildewed tents of a particularly nasty shade of orange.
Still, for Elsa’s sake, I knew I had to battle my childhood demons. Singularly ill-equipped for our upcoming adventure, I decided the first step would be a visit to the nearest outdoor equipment store, where rows of pristinely gleaming, attractively colored, pre-erected tents greeted our arrival. Elsa was in heaven, scampering into one after the other, leaving dusty little footprints and several agitated staff members in her wake. I was quickly seduced into buying a smart red tent boasting a two-second put-up time (“just throw it into the air!”) as well as a couple of high-tech self-inflating roll mats. My confidence soared with each purchase. How hard could this be?
The next day, our party of four adults and two young children set off. The grown-ups amongst us, consisting entirely of comfort-loving females, had underestimated our luggage quotient and were forced to upgrade to the largest vehicle in Avis’s fleet, a mighty beast fittingly dubbed “the bus.” Undeterred, we packed it to the gills and bravely took on the delights of the Third Ring Road.
Several hours later – after four impromptu stops to accommodate Elsa and her friend Oscar’s small bladders – we found our ideal spot. I pitched our tent by a cluster of trees that bordered a delightful brook. By dint of a clever-unwinding mechanism, the tent did indeed pop open “ready-to-go” in the promised two seconds. Unfortunately, I had neglected to pack any toys, and our peaceful idyll was soon disrupted by Oscar’s outrage at Elsa’s attempts to lay claim to his purple spade. Once sharing rights were established, order returned and the two of them were soon revelling in the glorious potential of the vast expanse of soil before them – a definite step up from the sandpit at Tuanjiehu.
So the afternoon sped pleasantly by as we exchanged idle chit-chat and flicked through the latest glossy magazines to the backdrop of the occasional splash as Elsa or Oscar lobbed a rock in the stream. I got to thinking that perhaps camping and I weren’t such strange bedfellows after all. Elsa also seemed to be relishing the experience, spurning footwear and scrabbling over rocks in true mountain goat style. Only once did she reveal a hint of her mother’s genes: observing her dirt-encased hands and crying, “Mummy, my nails!”
Eventually darkness fell, the kids went to bed and we could finally, truly relax. Cracking open the red wine, we congratulated ourselves on achieving our wilderness escape. Even the thought of the early rise and absence of washing facilities did not disturb my serenity, for in our bus nestled my trusty cafetiere and a packet of April Gourmet’s strongest deluxe coffee.