Unfortunately being a student (and more importantly, not a millionaire) not all of my travels witness me jetting off to far flung corners of the globe. Though I cannot deny my experiences abroad are extensive (check some of them out here) and I’ve yet to encounter anything else that manages to set my heart a-flutter in quite the way that first step off a plane does, there is something to be said for becoming a tourist in your own country.
Don’t get me wrong, I have to admit it was a little difficult to alter my perspective, particularly considering how accustomed I have become to the quaint, idyllic English villages that so many seek out. Nevertheless, those in possession of a mind that is rarely far from recollections of past adventures and an incurable addiction to exploration can appreciate my dilemma. When your bank account and calendar aren’t exactly on the best of terms with your daydreams, it becomes a necessity to satiate your wanderlust in any way that you can, even if you are only able to offer your niggling conscience a temporary fix.
So, let me set the scene for you, after all revelling in someone else’s horror is always a little more enjoyable when you have access to the details. It was a typical rainy Sunday as my little travelling crew piled into the car. With the luggage safely stored and seat belts firmly fastened, we set off for Hay-on-Wye, a hopeful optimism in our hearts and some rather unfortunate wellies on our feet. Tucked amongst my mother’s 25 pairs of shoes, I embarked on my most dangerous adventure to date, a family camping trip from hell.
Though this positivity was not to last, I should perhaps clarify that I possess nothing but fond memories of Hay-on-Wye itself. Each year the sleepy, riverside town becomes home to a world renowned festival that offers some truly remarkable experiences. Whilst this literary extravaganza is a far cry from the alcohol-fuelled debauchery typically associated with British festivals, it’s unique nature is something to be appreciated. Whether you choose to spend your time listening to speakers ranging from BBC journalists to award winning authors, sipping on a glass of Pimms in the afternoon sun or engaging in my personal favourite activity, browsing the endless book shops on offer, there truly is something for everyone.
For anyone like me (who elicits an undeniable sense of satisfaction from the opportunity to feel just a little smarter than usual), then rest assured that Hay Festival is the place to be. Surrounded by tweed wearing philosophy enthusiasts and crooked looking bookshelves, it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in the intellectual atmosphere, flicking through the titles of novels you’d never even dreamt of reading. This tangible sense of unity, sparked by a shared affection for literature, is a remarkable feeling and one that I would encourage you all to seek out.
Unfortunately for us however, the academic façade ended there. As with any familial outing, the experience would have been incomplete without the various family friends (and their 67 pushchairs) in tow. In a wonderfully convenient coincidence, the final member of our group had found himself taken ill just before the events of the day and thus was unable to participate in the festivities. Sadly, not all of us were so luckily afflicted and thus a day that had begun with the search for knowledge had slowly transformed into a manic quest for sustenance, a desperate attempt to silence the whines of a screaming child. With tensions rising, faces reddening and patience wearing worryingly thin, our group of eight stumbled into the first restaurant we spotted. In a poorly predictable turn of events, the establishment was rather far removed from grandeur and a truly undesirable dining experience followed. My sleeves stuck in an unidentifiable sticky concoction, remnants of a baby’s spaghetti in my hair and the grumbles of my Father’s unsatisfied stomach in my ears, I was more than ready to conclude the evening and welcome a new day in its place.
Needless to say, matters only continued to worsen and our dramatic return to the campsite bore more resemblance to a horror movie than any form of bonding experience I had ever encountered. In dark flashbacks to an overnight train journey from my nightmares (which you can read about here), mother dearest swiftly removed herself from the situation. Cocooned in more layers than could be considered healthy, her soap a permanent feature in her hand, our ‘adventure loving’ parent disappeared within the confines of her tent, leaving my brother and I to brave the perils of nature alone. Alone, that is, bar the presence of our father and the rest of our travelling companions. Though undeniably amusing, these characters did little to distract from the scent of fermenting Portaloo and the oppressive dampness that permeated the walls of our temporary home. With a loose tent peg or two and a slug infested welly, the idyllic camping fantasy we had envisioned had quickly become a rather absurd notion (one that we would remind aforementioned adults of in the event of another bright idea).
Fortunately, science was on our side and and the sun rose again, bringing with it the promise of reparation for yesterday’s disasters. Emerging from our tone-lowering tent (apparently beer bottles aren’t exactly in-fitting with a literary celebration), our crew awoke ready to embrace a new set of challenges. Surprisingly enough, our final day in Hay was something of an enjoyable experience and succeeded quite notably in fulfilling the expectations of a truly English weekend. Academics and baby-milk fuelled food fights aside, strolling the streets alongside topless, peeling men was a real lesson in British culture. Even the sticky-toffee-pudding stuffed elderly couples, walking poles in hand and human sized rucksacks on their backs, weren’t enough to detract from the simple pleasure of greasy fish and chips on a picnic bench.
Sadly though my friends, all that was well most certainly did not end well. Having repacked the car 16 times, forcibly removed our footwear (at the direction of our pedantic driver) and bid our farewells, we set off for home. Paying little attention to my brother’s quiet complaints of sickness, our spirits were lifted and the thought of a solid roof above our heads had restored much of our earlier enthusiasm. With a peaceful serenity in the air and the English countryside whizzing past our windows, to say my sibling’s sudden exclamation was a shock is something of an understatement. The threat of vomit looming, my mother did what any good parent should and flung the nearest wet wipe to her rather green looking child, seemingly satisfied with her reaction to the crisis. In a series of events as far removed from grace as humanly possible, he proceeded to empty the contents of his stomach into the Morrisons bag positioned just mere centimetres from my arm. Whilst utterly disgusted and armed with supermarket branded projectile, the tangible panic in the air began to subside. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, the distance between us and our village grew ever smaller. Perhaps if things had ended there, if a situation already too horrific to describe had failed to worsen, my scars may not be so permanent. In fact, I think I may have laughed a little, now and then, recalling the hideous nature of these dramatic moments.
This, so devastatingly, was not the case.
In the few seconds it took between my brother’s discovery that the bag was leaking and his decision to launch its contents from the window, I can recall a sense of total disbelief. Surely, surely, no one could be so foolish as to believe an attempt to empty this container in a moving car would yield successful results. I do not think it’s necessary for me to clarify that I was severely mistaken. With the cruel wind vicious in its assault, the hideous bag of hell (and its innards) were flung back into the vehicle, drenching my brother and I in a substance too sickening to consider. The sound of mother’s heaving in the air, interrupted only by the curses of my enraged father and tears in my brother’s eyes, I began to question how any one person could be so terribly unfortunate.
So with a heavy heart, a dripping jumper and memories to last a life time, we rolled back into our own little corner of the globe. Regardless of the hurdles we encountered along the way and the scars we’ll carry with us forever, the weekend was one rich with humour, culture and literary wonder. So in keeping with the academic theme I have tried so fruitlessly to retain, I figured I’d end with a quote. Whilst he may be no Ernest Hemingway, I’m convinced my father, if perhaps lacking in eloquence, summarised this adventure quite perfectly.
‘We are never going f*cking camping again.’