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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
“I think I’m floating. Are you awake?”
“Yes, I’ve been awake. I’m floating too.”
“Why are we floating?”
“Well, I know that. Where’s it coming from?”
“The sky. It’s been storming for hours. You slept through it.”
“Where are my shoes?”
“Yes. Sorry. I opened the tent flap and away they went. Well, one of them did.”
“Where’s the other one?”
“In that cactus.”
I suppose, looking back, that my brother and I had been wise to use inflatable pool mats as beds in our tent. We would have been wiser to put our clothes into plastic bags but, being teenagers, we hadn’t thought of everything.
We were floating inside a tent in the pitch dark halfway up a stony hillside above a beach at St. Tropez on the French Riviera.
This was not what I had expected of a holiday on the Cote d’Azur.
Many peoples’ memories of camping comprise ninety percent extraordinary discomfort and privation, eight percent genuine adventure and two percent bizarre or devastating calamity.
The best camping trips, of course, were those organized by our parents, who seemed to know just how much food and bug spray to take, where to pitch all the tents, how to tie knots in ropes, and what the weather was going to do.
Camping, however, does put us at the mercy of the unforeseen.
Press on, I say, and try to make the best of things, even when the mosquitos are advancing in squadrons, the rocks have poked through the tent floor, someone’s melted the bread bag on the grill, a raccoon has done a poo on the doormat, and the sky has turned the color of granite.
Why? Because, believe it or not, our parents weren’t quite as perfect at making camping trips successful as we thought they were. They just didn’t show it. They, too, pressed on and made things work out just fine.
My brother and I were alone at dawn, soaked to the bone and shivering, bobbing about on silly blue lilo mats as the infamous late-summer Mistral hammered the French Mediterranean coast. We scratched our heads and wondered what a sensible grown-up would do.
Not sleep in a leaky tent on a hillside at St. Tropez, that’s what.
“Get a shovel.”
“Do we have a shovel?”
“Everyone has a shovel. Go and find one.”
I found a shovel. When the situation demands it, even a thoroughly bedraggled and drenched 16-year-old stumbling about in the pitch dark can find a shovel.
We dug a trench.
“This way, downhill!”
“Make a channel!”
Even in the dark, it was easy to tell that our cunning plan had worked. The pesky French rainwater drained from the tent, gushed into the channel and hurried on its way towards the sea.
When it reached the edge of our campsite, it arced in a graceful yet treacherous flume through the air and descended into darkness with the force of a jackhammer.
“What’s below us?”
“What do you mean?”
“What’s it going to hit?”
“Oh God, the Germans!”
Even the Mistral’s deep rumbling thunder could not cover the sounds of screaming and cursing that suddenly leapt up the scrabbly hillside from the direction that our magnificent gulley had poured.
“Are they coming for us?”
“Doubt it. They can’t make it up that slope in the dark.”
“What if they do?”
“I still have shoes.”
Into which percentage bracket one puts any experience will depend entirely on what one makes of a situation.
I’ll still go camping. I’l still forget something important like checking the forecast or whether there are Germans downhill, but I’ve learned to make the best of things and just to press on, because there’s no fun to be had in not doing anything.
And we’ll always have the Mistral.