The time of the year has arrived again. The coolest dads and their eager kids loaded the boots with an excessive number of clothes-filled bags; cool boxes brimming with sugary treats and neatly-cut sarnies lovingly prepped my mum; DVD players, PSPs and iPads to tide over the wearily dull journey and, if there’s any room, a tent. You’ve guessed it. ‘Camp Dad’ has begun again.
Except, this year, and similarly for the last two years, I have out-grown this ritualistic trip. I watched in vain as Dad and Conor rolled down the road, disappearing as they head for the North Circular and onwards to Kent.
As far as I know, Camp Dad was founded by some genius belonging to the Roberts family, who revolutionised camping by dispelling the mothers -much to their delight- and sending the fathers to an isolated indentation of the UK for the weekend. With 10/20 families packed tent-by-tent in a field, we sure made a lot of noise, although it is still unclear to this day who made the most noise; the screaming kids or the drinking dads. In the early days, there was a failed attempt to rename Camp Dad to ‘Dad’s Camp’ to emphasise that ‘camp’ was a noun and not an adjective to describe the dads. But ‘Camp Dad’ had stuck. I partook in the rave every year, bar uno, so have been left to reminisce on 10 year of sweet, absurd memories…
Since 2003, only two children have been lost to Camp Dad.
Just kidding, no one’s died… yet.
But we do have stories of dead animals: on one occasion, our tents were conveniently pitched beside a pigeon shooting forest and, like the rebels we were, we entered the restricted area, a bit like the forbidden forest from Harry Potter. And what greeted us was the skull of a deer, which Sam brought back on a stick and planted outside his tent. I think it was a status sign. We also came across its legs hanging from the pelvis, but those were too heavy for us to carry back.
That was not the only terror event. Undoubtedly, Imogen’s brief moment of imminent death will never be forgotten. Running through a forest, a sharp scream caused the group to halt and revolve to see the poor girl slowly descending into the depths of swamp. But luckily our heroic Sam came to the rescue, but not before my little sister Amy was balling her eyes out in fear of her best buddy’s life. Sam kindly put a comforting arm round her shoulder after he diffused the situation but this caused Amy to cry even more hysterically.
But Camp Dad was not all doom and gloom. Romance was much closer than on the horizon for Naomi and Lorcan. At the unblemished age of 8, they both dispelled such innocence by embracing in an intimate smooch. If you don’t believe me, picture evidence can be provided. And there was never a dull moment when Josh was around to keep us entertained. With his ukulele en garde, that was enough to occupy the 20 plus kids for the whole weekend.
Bickering was definitely the inevitable result, however, of a weekend cooped up in a camp site together. For the kids, I mean, although I highly expect some bickering took place between the dads too. When Marnie’s guest (who will remain nameless as I am a kind person) had a hissy fit and threatened to abscond, I recall consoling Marnie whilst she fretted her Dad would go to prison as he was guardian to the nameless guest. Of course nameless guest did not run off and subsequently Marnie’s dad avoided prison… And there were always ‘heated discussions’ over who would sleep in who’s tent. It would have been much simpler to have just stuck to our own tents, but the novelty of being with friends for 48 hours never ran dry, so we were always determined to wangle a sleepover, much to the Dad’s reluctance.
The dads, including my own, really were (and still are!) good sports to spend the weekend camping every year, but I haven’t always shown such appreciation. Being the highly-strung six year old I was, my dad’s snoring seriously embarrassed me…
‘What if the other kids hear Daddy’s snoring?’ I fretted beforehand. ‘What if I am associated with Daddy’s monstrous roaring?’ At least that was my biggest fear of Camp Dad…
The final memory is in fact is a contribution from my dad. His most memorable moments seem to be when the kids had supposedly been tucked up in their sleeping bags for the night. All the dads would unload the remaining beers from the cool boxes, although the majority had been consumed during the day. Finally they can flop into the camping chairs -as if they hadn’t been their all day- without being disturbed by their screeching kids or shot at with nerf guns. But then…
“Daaddddyyyyyyyy!” And they all respond.