Dare I camp again…..??

My first camping disaster on a campsite. I actually have three, but for this blog I shall only tell you one though I do believe that, the Gods of this world were telling me “Dave…… Camping, my friend, is not for you!”

It was a beautiful hot summer’s day, 2 weeks off from work, still living with my parents (the year 1991) so had not a care in the world. My 3 friends and I decided to take a trip to Cornwall. We packed some clothes in any old bag and squeezed a rather large tent that none of us had ever seen before, into the back of my friends Fiesta XR2i. Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Cars’ tape was turned up full volume, the windows were down and the wind was fiercely blowing in my ‘then’ hair……..life was good…… and easy!

Severn Bridge

Travelling along the M4 Motorway, to our left in the distance was Chepstow, as we approached the old Severn Bridge taking us over the Severn Estuary. The question that always comes to mind is always……”will the tide be in or out?” I’ve heard the currents are very dangerous…. not sure about the sultanas though. Of course if the tide is out then there’s miles of mud, even now I think “Don’t want to be stuck in that when the tide comes in!” But why would I? I’ve never been down to the mud bank, Punch in the mouthso unless I fell out of the car window it wouldn’t happen. Anyway, we had just paid £1.00 to drive over the old Severn Bridge. Yep, remember the good old days when it was £1.00 each way, not like it is today, £6.80 for a car!! This price always leaves you feeling like you’ve just been stripped naked and beaten!

After leaving the M4 Motorway, we were all feeling good as we drove around the large sweeping bend on to the M5 Motorway. It was always a good feeling as a child, because the M5 was confirmation….. you knew we were really on the way to Cornwall. As I said, the sun was out so it was very hot, but we had already made our first mistake…. well, in fact we had made a few but the first one (that we found, which clearly none of us owned up to), was when we had stopped off at the services for a toilet break. My friends Mum had gone in to the sweet drawer in the kitchen before we left for the holidays and gave us a brand spanking new bag of fun size Mars bars that we placed on the parcel shelf up against the rear window (a rookie mistake, I know). Before we set off on our journey again I reached in grabbing the bag…….. the bag of squidgy, liquid, melted fun size Mars Bars (not so “fun” anymore!) I will take credit for the idea that followed, and that was to tie the bag of fun size Mars Bars on to the rear wiper of the tailgate outside of the car, in the hope that by the time we made it to Cornwall, they would have gone hard from the cold air of travelling at 70mph….. alright 80mph…….. alright maybe 85ish mph. Did they go hard you ask yourselves? I’ll tell you at the end of this blog.   With no traffic to be seen, we were feeling cool taking in the miles and miles ofBlack bales fields either side of the M5 being flummoxed and asking each other “Why it is that no matter what long journey you take, there is always a single dead tree in the middle of a field?” Anyway, as we came to the end of the M5 we made our way on to the A and B roads. The scenery was stunning, field after field with rolling hills in between, laughing at the same joke as we gazed at the many sheep in the fields in amongst the large black plastic balls of wrapped up hay saying “WOW…..The rabbits in that field must be HUGE!!” (I’ll give you some time to think about that one).

At this point Tracy Chapman was still playing (and by the way, I still can’t get enough of the Fast Cars album), when suddenly my friend stretched out his hand to the knob on the cassette player, turning the music down. He looked at us with a smile on his face, “Boys…… the tent doesn’t have a ground sheet, but don’t worry, my Dad gave me a plastic sheet that we can put down over the grass”. I was about to turn the music back up when he spoke again “But it’s the plastic sheet that he uses when mixing up cement on the drive.” We all looked at one another and thanked him for telling us…… when we were past the point of no return!

Eventually we came to the first camp site, so in we drove and made our way to reception. The lady took one look at us “NO!” Yes, we were eighteen years old but we were a nice bunch! I hadn’t even blinked and we were back in the car to the next camp site and the next and the next and the next and… ….Ground sheet floor planwell we lost count of the camp sites that rejected us.   Eventually, the last camp site we came to, the time now 9.30pm, we were given permission to camp but only for 1 night at the cost of…… wait for it (because it still brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it) £30…… £30!! It was 1991 not the year 2191. However, he had us by the short and curlies and there was nothing we could do, but put up our tent for the first time ever. By 10.45pm the tent was up (in some shape) with a 12 inch gap all around the bottom of the tent and an even bigger gap around the edge as the sheet of plastic looked like the map of Italy covered in lumps on cement which wasn’t exactly ideal considering the tent was square.

The next mistake we all made was that the 4 of us forgot to bring pillows, so we improvised by rolling up our jeans, you’ll be surprised how comfortable Levi 501’s can be. As we laid in our sleeping bags, the owner of the camp site turned up to see us, he was wearing an Australian bush hat, waist coat and jeans (we figured he thought he was HarleyCrocodile Dundee) on a Harley Davidson! Of course, there was no need to unzip the tent door due to the large gap around the bottom of the tent, so we stuck our heads out through the gap. “Lads, keep it quiet tonight and be gone in the morning!” he then straddled his beautiful Harley Davidson and rode off………it would have made no difference if we had a rave that night and bought the loudest stereo in the world with the biggest speakers….it was never going to be as loud as his Motorcycle.

The next day we packed up to make our way home thinking we were never going to be accepted on any camp site being a group of 4 boys, when another friend mentioned a camp site in Devon, in the little seaside town of Woolacombe. We reached the town mid afternoon and by the power of the camping Gods they let us in straight away and for a week. As it was daylight, we took our time putting up the tent, but it made no difference, the tent and the poles didn’t match. Either the tent was too small or the poles were too long and the ground sheet….. well, we did spend time picking off as many of the lumps of cement but could do nothing about the size or shape. We did have a master plan….and that was to use our bags along the bottom of the tent to save us from the wind but in reality it made no difference. Outside TentThen one of my friends (I can’t give you a name as he now has a very important job now, but he did like to wear big buckles on his belt, and yes his ‘jeans pillow’ wasn’t as comfy as ours) one night decided to sleep half in the tent and half out because he felt sick, which in fact he was, this was the scene we all woke up to in the morning

So the easiest option was to cover the sick with grass (I know…..lovely, Dave) than move the tent, whilst using one of the many gaps at the bottom of the tent as our new doorway.

Now, not having a correctly fitting tent and ground sheet can cause problems…..they don’t stop bugs and insects from joining you, this I know from firsthand experience. As the 4 of us lay on our backs in our sleeping bags chatting and laughing before going to sleep, something landed in my mouth at the precise moment I laughed.

“Alright then boys……Who threw something?”

All together it was a resounding “Nope, not me!”

Luckily I was on torch duty that night, so I sat up and spat on to the grass and there it was……Was it a bit of rolled paper? Was it a bottle top? Was it a blueberry muffin? Was it an Earwig……………..? Sleeping bagsWhy YES! YES it was! So for the rest of the week before going to bed it was “Hit off the Earwigs from inside the tent duty” and once that task was done we would all place pieces of toilet roll in our ears because…. well……. isn’t it obvious they’re Earwigs ‘DUUUHH!’ The last thing we needed was for the Earwigs to take a stroll in to our ears and eat our brains…… just how stupid do you think we were?

Halfway through the holiday I even woke up with the 3 of them staring at me with a look of horror of their faces. I first thought I was covered in earwigs with my brain sticking out of my ears…..but NO! Up until this point in my life only my Mum and Dad knew my sleeping habits, and the one thing I feared happened. Sometimes….and by the way, I’ve not done it for years, but I used to make a droning noise. This woke them all up as they were amazed by how long I could drone for without taking a breath. The only way I can describe it is…… picture yourselves on a sunny warm sunny afternoon having a cup of tea when everything near you is quiet, but far away in the distance you can hear a droning sound of a motorcycle in the distance……well that’s what I sound like…… apparently….

Oh, and just to give you some serious information on the fun size Mars Bars that melted in the back of the car……once melted it doesn’t matter how long your journey is or how fast your travelling if it’s HOT…. they will forever stay melted.

As usual on the Easy Blend I’m listening to some great music, today it has to be Tracy Chapman, Fast Cars

You can find out more about my book ‘Farrago: Ten Tall Tales’ and buy it here…. (click on the cover)

Full cover single

Until the next Easy Blend blog……….. 

Stay warm and fuzzy……..

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On a rally….? Really?

1988 and a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go and see a ‘night rally’ through the different stages in Brecon and Llandovery.

Forest.png

Of course the answer was YES, who doesn’t want to see a Rally?  Lots of fast cars with experienced drivers doing a 120mph through forestry, and let’s face it, the trees in the forestry normally only see a man walking his dog with a stick in its mouth on the weekend.

The rally started at 11pm, so we left around 9pm with a flask of tea, a

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packet of plain crisps and four cheese and Branston sandwiches tightly wrapped (tight enough that the crown jewels would have been safe).  It was dark, cold and no street lights were to be seen, it was the middle of Wales after all.  I looked the part as my mum and dad hadn’t long bought me a RS Rallye Sport jacket, all the rage back then, and by the way I still have it and it still fits…..!  If anyone else has one, they’re considered ‘vintage’ now and are worth a few bob!

Anyway, the car we were in ….now don’t forget

Fiesta

its 1988, it was the car that most people desired….a MK3 Ford Escort XR3i, in white with a black spoiler.  Yep I know….some of you who are old enough are nodding (YES Dave you are right….a nice car, my friend!)

Now one thing my friend didn’t tell me was that it was an AMATEUR Rally not a world class Rally with all the famous drivers and really, really, really fast cars……

Two worlds

Nope, these were Ford Escort MK2’s, Opel Manta’s, Vauxhall Chevette’s and Mini Metro’s and Talbot Sunbeams.  But please don’t get me wrong, they were fast, but a price of a professional Rally car can be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, these cars were worlds apart.

When we arrived, a marshal gave us a small map with a time table of when and where each stage started and finished.  We drove on ahead of each stage, ready to find a spot to park and a spot to stand with a good view to watch the excitement.  The only worry I was supposed to have had for the night was when do I eat my cheese and Branston sandwiches?

BAD album cover

And not to spill my tea in the car (grey seats…..would have stained easy!)  On the stereo continuously playing from side ‘A’ to ‘B’ was the Michael Jackson album “BAD” (on tape of course), it had only been out a few months and still today when I hear any song from that album it reminds me of this Rally.

So, all was going well until my friend bumped into someone he sort of knew, whose friend was one of the drivers in the Rally, and this is what he said “Why don’t you follow me, I know these lanes like the back of my hand, I can take you to the best spots where nobody else will know.”

Hand

Well….. we did just that and we followed him, and before I go any further this man was driving a brand new MK3 Escort Estate 1.3L, in BEIGE of all colours.   I don’t care who you are or what year it is or was, even what car is on the planet at the time….. no-one sits in their house flicking through a brochure and saying to themselves, “Hmmmmmm……I think I’ll buy a new car and Ohhhhh YES….and I want it in Beige.”  And it had a brown interior.

Estate car.png

The ford Escort XR3i that we were in was a 1.6i and at the time it was a fast car so you’d think keeping up with this guy would be easy, well for a while it wasn’t.  He drove his own car like he had stolen it, like a raving lunatic!  He clearly, in his own demented head, thought he was on the actual Rally as a competitor.  Anyway, I had soon lost my appetite for the last

Hands over face

of my 2 cheese and Branston sandwiches and I daren’t even look at my flask of tea.

I knew things were now getting serious, because the stereo was turned off for full concentration and all of a sudden we could see 2 lights in the rear view mirror…..

Rear view

YEP, hurtling towards us from behind, at warp speed (and NO it wasn’t the Starship Enterprise) it was a Rally car in the middle of the stage which we are were also in the middle of!

In the nick of time the both cars pulled over to allow the Rally car pass, and then we moved on again knowing full well another Rally car would soon be behind us.  We were lost, the ‘FOOL’ in front of us had no idea where he was going and neither did we. I looked at my cheese and Branston sandwich

kitchen

thinking “Mother Frantony will shout at me if I waste them and she’ll shout at me if she finds out that I’m in a Rally in a normal car with normal seat belts no roll cage and no fire extinguisher and let’s not forget the helmet.   So the FOOL in front was speeding off around every bend in the lanes, then all of a sudden he was gone.  Then we saw him way ahead of us, only his car looked taller and thinner…… well, it was going

Car on side

to happen, he was in a ditch with his car on its side.

Standing on the seats with half his body out of the window we stopped, I thought brilliant “I’m going to be in the back and he’s going to want one of my cheese and Branston sandwiches.”  Luckily, he told us that he’d be okay and for us to drive on, so that’s exactly what we did.  5 miles later we drove in to Llandovery town and through the finish line with every one about to cheer but they just stared at us in disbelief instead.

Finish line

We didn’t hang around, so we headed straight home finishing off my cheese and Branston sandwiches along the way and by 7:30am I was tucked up in bed, I didn’t even clean my teeth but I was glad to be home.  I’ve never been on a Rally since; I find it far easier and safer to watch it on TV!  I have no idea who the FOOL was that we were following or even if he’s still in the ditch 28 years on!  Probably not, and of course he clearly had no idea what the back of his hand looked like!

As this is the Easy Blend, I‘d thought I’d let you know what I’m listening to.  Today it’s Michael Jackson – Man in the Mirror

You can find out more about my book ‘Farrago: Ten Tall Tales’ and buy it here…. (click on the cover)

Full cover single

Until the next Easy Blend blog……….. 

Stay warm and fuzzy……..

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