As the distinctly cooler temperatures of autumn beckon, we can take one last wistful daydream about the summer just gone. Sunny bank holiday weekends, festivals, summer breaks and camping..! Camping? Chances are, camping was not on your summer holiday wish list. Louise Chandler takes a humorous look at why Black woman and camping, generally don’t go together.
Holidays are a time to get away and relax. During the summer, I query my work friends and colleagues about how they plan to spend their annual leave and many respond: ‘going camping’.
With the announcement that I’m due to camp at a festival, but I’m certainly NOT a fan of camping at all, my comments are met with gasps and wide-eyed surprise. ‘You should go camping more often, you’ll love it’. Contrast my announcement to my family and Black friends that I’m going camping, and they react with horror and shock: ‘are you sure you want to do that’ and ‘are you mad?’.
It dawns on me: I don’t know any Black people (particularly women) who go camping at all and have no intention of trying it and following my most recent foray into the world of camping, I think I know the reasons why….
Hygiene and Cleanliness
The number one thing mentioned to me by my Black friends when I say I’m camping: ‘yuck, you’ll have to use those portaloos’. They’re not wrong! We are outwardly repulsed by communal toilets that do not meet our high standards of cleanliness and we make no apologies for this. It seems we’re unable to shrug it off like other attendees.
Many of us were raised with the matriarchal members of our families washing, mopping and dusting on a regular basis! But, when you choose to camp, you choose to forfeit personal hygiene. Yes, there are showers, but you must queue and there’s a risk of no hot water! When I wanted to brush my teeth, I found myself stood at a makeshift sink- troth with taps of cold water alongside six random strangers. Some people were washing up cutlery and plates while I foamed at the mouth with toothpaste. A strange experience and not a hygienic one. I thought to myself: ‘what am I doing here?’
Then there are the portaloos. I cannot articulate the sensory experience of the portaloos at festivals. All I can say, thank goodness for tissues and hand gel! This pongy experience does not sit well with us and our cleanliness habits.
Camping = hassle
In all my life, I have camped three times and it’s always been at festivals with a group of friends. When booking tickets in advance, my friends always sell the idea to me as: ‘go on, it will be a laugh and a lot of fun!’
So, I reluctantly agree and book a camping ticket. My optimistic outlook on life thinks ‘it’s good to try something different and give it a go’. Truthfully, I perceive camping as a hassle and inconvenience, but I don’t give it much more thought until the weekend in question arrives, months later.
Fast forward to the actual weekend of camping and my head is full of questions: what do I take, what do I need and how will I cope sleeping under a nylon sheet? Why did I agree to this?
I have friends who spend their summer holidays or weekends pitching a tent and enjoying the great outdoors so it’s a popular spare time activity! They don’t see camping as a big deal and embrace everything that comes with it. A UK Market Research Report states that the Caravan & Camping Sites Industry is work £4.3bn so it’s obviously a popular pursuit! But not for the Black community!
What amazed me was the set up! I arrive with a sleeping bag, duvets, pillows and food but my friends are far more equipped. In fact, I am teased for being unprepared and we all have a good laugh at my naïve attempt to be a camper.
One friend made a kitchen area with stove, kettle, cool box and enough food and drink to last us about a week. We had a communal tent that served a purpose for us to sit and hang out – genius idea! This came with comfortable chairs, lights and kitchen equipment to cook bacon sandwiches!
I wander around the campsite and surveyed the set up in front of me – people actually make an effort to decorate their tents with glow in the dark lights, decorative furniture and flags. It looks great but it’s a lot of effort to put it up and take it down days later!
Other groups created a ‘dance tent’ with speakers, lights and more – it really impressed me how people built these homes for a weekend!
Everyone is friendly and chatty. If you are lost or can’t find something – there are plenty of people willing to lend you something or simply help. It is a real community of strangers and indeed friendships are made every year as people return year after year to ‘catch up’.
British weather is not our friend
We all know that British weather can be unpredictable! We can experience four seasons in one day and no one wants to be cold and wet. Talking to other happy campers makes me realise that people embrace it and are clearly prepared for whatever weather comes our way. No amount of rain will dampen spirits or put them off! Surviving awful weather conditions is accepted and even seen as a strange rite of passage. I don’t share the enthusiasm!
The weather forecast for the first day of the festival was 90% rain for the whole day! Sigh!
I turned up at the campsite at lunchtime with three jumpers, two coats, a poncho and large umbrella and largely dodged the drops of rain that refused to stop. By the time the evening arrived, the relentless rain annoyed me, and I gave in and drove home (with the excuse that I had to work the next morning). Note that I live 40 minutes from the site so I always knew I could make a quick exit and head home to my dry, warm and cosy bed!
The fact is, it’s not in our DNA to sleep in a damp, soggy field and we don’t define it as fun. Sorry!
Does it even count as a holiday?
As a Black woman I think we define leisure and a holiday in a different way and camping just isn’t part of our psyche. We envisage camping as ‘slumming it’ and the outdoors life isn’t seen as a positive way to spend our spare time and hard-earned money. When I book time off work to have a holiday, I’m thinking ‘comfortable hotel’.
Choosing to spend time sleeping pretty much on the floor (or a poorly inflated mattress), hot and often cramped is not ideal. Many of my Black friends say the same thing – camping does not count as a leisurely holiday!
In summary, while I did have a good giggle with my friends, camping is not for me.
One thing I did learn, there’s a sense of camaraderie and community at campsites that encourages people to do it time and time again.
But for me, I have tucked away my sleeping bag and inflatable mattress. My next trip will definitely include a comfy hotel bed!