Magazine article The Spectator

Perfect Pitch

Magazine article The Spectator

Perfect Pitch

Article excerpt

Take half a pound of flour, a pinch of salt, some water and a large bar of chocolate. Mix the salt into the flour, and add enough water to make a stiff dough. Peel a green stick and dry it over the campfire. Wind the dough around the stick in a spiral. Suspend it over the fire, turning once. It is cooked when it sounds hollow when tapped. Allow it to cool. Break a piece off, taste it, spit it out, and throw the rest on to the fire. Unwrap the chocolate and eat it.

'Twist' wasn't a recipe, it was a ritual, and it used to be observed by every boy who was ever in the Scouts. Campfire cooking was part of camping, and camping was fun. The liberating thrill of living under canvas made all sorts of hardships tolerable. Campfires fried eggs until they took on the texture of melted plastic bags; blackened sausages and bacon were distinguishable only by shape. We ate them without complaint, and drank tea made sickly sweet by tinned milk. When we kipped we persuaded ourselves that we must be comfortable, because we had scooped a dent in the soil under our sleeping bags to accommodate the outline of our hips. Our tents weighed tons but always let the water in.

We washed in cold streams (or pretended to); we pissed en plein air, and we buried our turds in the earth.

Few such in- (or non-) conveniences trouble today's campers, and today there are many more campers than there are Scouts. Camping holidays have suddenly become fashionable. Market research published last spring shows a surge in the number of them taken by 'ABs' -- which is marketspeak for 'the moneyed' -- and campsites have been quick to cater for their cash-cultivated tastes. I have camped in France at least once a year since 1988, and the change I have seen has been recent and dramatic. Yes, there are still old-fashioned municipal sites that are little more than a field and a shed housing a bog, sink and shower, but in the sort of places that foreigners flock to campsites now boast luxuries that would have had Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell clutching at his woggle in disbelief.

Last month my wife and I spent a night at the 'Camping Pyrénées Natura', in the Parc National des Pyrénées, where there are eagles and marmots and bears (oh my! ) and all sorts of other things wild. Nature at our tastefully appointed campsite, though, was hardly red in tooth and claw. There was a solarium with infrared and ultra-violet sunbeds, a 'music room' furnished with an adjustable leather armchair and a CD-player with speakers the size of sideboards, and a sauna advertised as capable of accommodating an entire family. We weren't tempted to use any of these facilities, even after we found that they were 'free', and that we had therefore already paid for them. But after a day spent hiking through penetrating mountain mist, we did enjoy a hot shower in one of the spickest and spannest loo-blocks I have ever encountered. Had we brought our chocolate labrador, Cookie, she could have been offered a shower, too, for there is a separate cubicle set aside for dogs. I suspect she would have been more puzzled than impressed.

We didn't have showers at all in the camps I ran as a patrol leader in the late 1960s, when we drove out the damp by sitting round a campfire, and made our own music by singing 'Ging Gang Goolie' and 'The Quartermaster's Stores'. …

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