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Kerry McLean: Even in hailstones and Siberia-esque conditions, I'll always be a happy camper

By Kerry McLean

There are certain times in life when you think to yourself, 'Why on earth am I here?' Don't panic, I'm not getting all existential on you. Who wants that level of cerebral contemplation on a Saturday? If you're anything like me, the most challenging thoughts you want to consider are, 'Should I have red or brown sauce in my fried egg sandwich?'

No, I'm talking about those times when you find yourself not only doing something painful, but also paying through the nose for the privilege. Lots of examples spring to mind, but top of my list would be going to the gym, getting your eyebrows, or elsewhere, waxed and then, of course, camping at Easter.

I was in the midst of a bout of post-Christmas blues, the kind that hit hard when you pack away the final box of festive baubles, when it occurred to me that what I needed to put the bounce back in my step was a trip away to look forward to.

I called a meeting of the extended family and together we decided it would be a great idea for all of us to go camping. Given that it was freezing cold at the end of December and we'd already had several weeks of snow, we figured that by Easter we would be over the worst of the weather and ready to enjoy some fresh spring days from the confines of a campsite.

I mean, we could only have so many weeks of winter, couldn't we?

That was the theory.

The reality last week, when we finally set up camp, were conditions the like of which are normally only experienced in Siberia. We had several days when the hailstones could be more accurately described as coming down in sheets rather than showers.

There was just no let-up. It was so cold that, rather than changing our clothes each day, we just added on another layer.

Trying to light the Trangia proved to be brilliant training for a game of twister.

We'd all gathered round it, contorting our bodies into the most unusual positions, in an attempt to protect the feeble little flame on our camping stove from the winds all about us.

We managed to keep it alive just about long enough to heat the milk for our hot chocolate and toast our marshmallows. And oh, was it worth the effort! Never in the history of all things food has anything tasted so good.

It's that way for most activities when you're camping - twice the effort required, but at least four times the satisfaction back that a well-completed task would normally bring.

It's why, despite the frozen fingers and mud encrusted wellies, I'm already planning our next outing.

I'm far from the only one in our family who loves these times away together. Camping holidays are the ones that last longest in our children's memories.

When you ask about favourite breaks away, they reminisce about road trips in a caravan or motorhome with the whole family, cousin, auntie and granny and granda included.

Holidays in hotter climes, or trips to Disney, don't get a mention.

Looking back, it's the same from my childhood.

My parents took us to every part of Ireland, visiting campsites along the coast, journeying up mountains and driving along every highway and byway.

On more than one occasion, that included taking a wrong turn into a city centre where my poor daddy would get lost in one-way systems, hauling a caravan through heavy traffic, sweat lashing off his head as my mother would call out helpful things like, 'Sean why did you go on this road?', or ,'I wouldn't have gone this way, Sean, I'd have taken that last turn-off'.

You know, the kind of helpful comments that husbands and wives seem so adapt at giving each other from the passenger seat.

I have fond memories of meeting fellow campers from all around the globe, of large, group fires where everyone would come together to fry sausages and toast the world together, of snuggling down in my sleeping bag, with a tummy full of hot chocolate and gooey marshmallows.

It's no coincidence that you'll find 'tent' in the middle of contented.

Belfast Telegraph

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