The Great Outdoors: Rachel Cooke Is Taken Back to Her Roots with a Sparky Social History

Article excerpt

Britain Goes Camping

BBC4

My childhood was punctuated by hideous camping holidays. There was the Guide camp where I contracted glandular fever and spent the following five days holed up in a sick tent that happened to be delightfully near the grease traps, which, before I fell ill, I'd helped to build from four sticks and some old tights (you poured your used washing-up into said nylons, and bits of carrot and bacon rind would be caught prettily in the gusset).

Even worse, there was the trip to Ingleton in Yorkshire with my parents and brother. Our family tent, constructed in a howling gale while my stepfather bawled at us not to let go of our guy ropes, on pain of death, had interior rooms--only my parents elected not to use these; they rolled up the internal walls so that we could all "share our body heat". Ugh. My brother and I spent the weekend listening to my stepfather fart and hoping that he and my mother wouldn't, you know, do anything in the night. Our dearest wish was that we might be allowed to join their friends Lynn and Ken in their pristine VW camper van, with its chemical no. But no. "That's no fun," said the parents, throwing another yucksome Wall's sausage on the Primus.

No sooner had I exited childhood than the whole camping thing seemed, thanks to package holidays, to be gasping its last. I was bitter on my own account but glad for the mites who would come after me. Except I now discover that everyone's doing it again. Why? According to Britain Goes Camping (20 July, 9 pm)--an excellent documentary in every respect, save for its failure to point out how stinky sleeping bags are--we can blame music festivals and, perhaps, the recession for this trend. Either way, it's not a media invention.

The Camping and Caravanning Club has 400,000 members. What do you need to be a camper--apart, that is, from the usual assortment of enamel mugs, inflatable pillows and insect repellents? "A wry smile," said one of the talking heads. Hmm. Perhaps not wry so much as crazed. A man called Dixe, who is a "wild" camper, which means that he has no use for campsites, nor even clement weather, explained that he likes to sleep on Welsh hillsides because they have no carpets. …