We wait for the forecast to tell us when the highlight of the holiday will be. There’s a niggle that we may have missed the boat. That we should’ve whipped them out of school in June, as the sun shone gloriously, and done it then. We need a run of a couple of days, preferably without rain. We watch, we listen and we google for our window of opportunity. Black clouds hover on the pictures. Black clouds with rain coming out of them. White clouds with rain. White clouds. We opt for a white cloudy day to set up, with the promise of a scorcher the following day. A big round yellow sun with the 21 degrees written beneath. That’ll do.
It’s all in the preparation, or so we learnt too late last year on our maiden camping in the wilderness trip. This year we are not to be fooled. The preparation starts in Dublin. Tents. Sleeping bags. Sleeping mats. Gas cooker. Torches. Going to the loo in the middle of a field, on a very dark misty night, with animals roaming, without a torch is not much fun. As we found out last year. A torch all round it is. Logs for the camp fire. Chairs. Food. Soup. Marshmallows. Water. Pear cider. We are so ‘prepared’ that we have to bring two cars. Two chock-a-block cars. We even bring a washing line rope in case the jeep has to tow the ‘new’ car out of some ditch on the rocky, marshy, undulating beautifully rollicky headland to where we are heading.
I take the lead in the jeep with three and we are making good progress along the road when I spot the empty fuel light flashing at me, flashing, flashing and then stubbornly staying on. Marque 2 phones the car behind and we all turn back on ourselves, retrace our route back to the town for diesel. Stumped at the first. After all that preparation! We snail back through the town, roadworks causing delays, procure the precious fuel and set off again. A thick misty drizzle descends. But we know the forecast. This will clear, making room for the scorcher ahead of us tomorrow .
We bump along to the gate, open it, two cars through, then stop to decide whether we’ll brave going to the furthest beach across the headland, or somewhere closer so the ‘new’ non-tractor style car can make it. Decision made. He opts to go first, except when he turns the key in the ignition there’s a chug and then nothing. He tries again. Nothing. We are stuck at the gate. We think. The AA. Nope. Pushing it out of the way of the gate. Nope. Washing line, ah yes, what fore-sight, we’ll tow, but to where, and why, and I’m muttering to myself about how somebody is trying to tell us something. To abort the whole thing. It’s obvious isn’t it. Thankfully the kids see no barriers and they are busy unravelling the washing line in the damp mist when he decides to give it one last try and vroom, he’s off and not looking back it seems, heading bravely into the remote, rollicky foreground and I can but follow.
We set up camp at the furthest point possible. The sun breaks through as we set to work pitching the enormous family tent – a tent within a tent fronted by a kitchen/living area with doors and windows. All of the girl guide/scouting powers between us are summoned to launch this monster. Two of the marques throw up their own tents in minutes as we huff and puff for what seems like an hour beside them. A pear cider in the sun lends a little perspective to the situation and we collapse on the chairs admiring our creation as it flaps lopsidedly in the wind. We have possibly chosen the only spot around with a cross wind.
Then we pack the fun into the hours that remain to us. Body boarding. Barbecuing. Fishing off the rocks at full tide. There’s no-one else here. Just the seven of us. And a dog. A dog that turns up every time we come here and swims with the boys and stays with us as if she’s ours. Will not leave us. Loyal. Sweet. Fun. Except when barbecuing. Then she’s a nightmare of sniffing and snaffling and leaping around. They want to keep her. They want to feed her. ‘Can we please just, please just…’ We want her to go home. Tonight above all. Will you please just, please, go home.
After fishing at sundown we cook soup on the fire. They were hoping it would be a fish, but, well, it’s tomato soup, followed by toasting marshmallows.
I’m busy zipping up the various doors and windows of the front of the monster when I notice. Hundreds of midges or mosquitoes or whatever have taken refuge inside, waiting. In our thorough, not to be out-witted preparations, blood thirsty insects had not featured. We are in Ireland after all. He sits by the fire with the kids as they enthusiastically toast – charring outer skins around lethal bubbling pink and white liquid sugar middles. I should be out there with them. Instead I sit on the floor of the living area, shining my torch around, mesmerised by the quantity, picturing all the red bumps and discomfort of tomorrow. Then I leap up and set about on a murderous squishing squashing spree. It’s surprisingly easy. They are laid back creatures. They do not fight their fate. They hang from the tent lining inviting my thumb. There is a speckled blood design taking effect in the front living area, chiming in with the rustic environs, enhancing the decor. At least there will be no vicious itching, scratching and bleeding amongst the crew.
By 11.30 the kids noises die down and we shine the torches at one another, wondering if we are too exhausted to eat anything ourselves. A massive box of food sits right beside us. We could rummage. Or we could just crack open another cider and be done with it. Which we opt for. And a few sips in we are taken by a fit of the giggles. All the planning. All the preparation. All the mini-scrapes. It’s got the better of us. ‘Da-ad the dog is trying to get into my tent’ marque 1 calls from yonder. We are laughing hysterically now. ‘Mum, what does neurotic mean?’ marque 2 calls from the inner tent. Tears roll to accompany the laughter. We are done in.
I am woken by something pinging off my face. I look around to see what’s thrashing about when it dawns on me. Rain. It’s pooling above. Pooling and then pouring inexplicably in. We’re sleeping in the living area and not the inner tent. I peep into the snoozing kids and it’s bone dry in there. In the grand design that is this monster tent, it’s fine for half of it not to be waterproof. We dive in on top of the kids and wait for the rain to clear.
‘Mum, Dad’ the roars of marque 4 and 5 echo around. ‘The dog is killing a sheep, come quick’. Sure enough our all night companion is down on the beach, straddled on top of a lamb, jaws clenched around the it’s neck. He roars, the greatest bellow he can muster, and the dog leaves the lamb who lies there looking pretty dead, but then springs up and jumps onto a rock in the sea. ‘Maybe they’re just play-fighting’ marque 5 suggests as the starving looking mutt scarpers. Indeed. Thankfully this incident puts them off begging to keep the dog.
We return to the tent and wait for the promised scorcher to arrive. He pops to the car to recharge his phone and listen to the news. Moments later he is back. ‘Pack up your stuff everyone, we’re leaving’. I look up for the wink, the smile, the little sign of a joke. ‘There’s a yellow weather warning for the country. Flooding, thunder. We have to get going or the cars might get stuck here’. We re-pack swiftly, albeit sodden, eighteen hours after our arrival. Before breakfast can be had. It’s just as well that we jam packed it in, creating the memories while the sun shone – we reckon that must’ve been the scorcher last night. This brief intense camping trip will be the highlight of the summer. They’ll talk about it as if we did nothing else at all. Meanwhile the pooped parents swear blind that they’ll never, ever do it again!