I found quite quickly that I had made a few mistakes in buying food for a camping trip. It's been a while since I did camping, and I had bought far too much perishable food, which we were going to struggle to eat in time.
I made my first visit to the loos nearest our tent, and quickly realised this was going to be challenging. For those who haven't experienced plastic moulded loos, they have a door with a dodgy swivel lock, and once inside, a minimal amount of room to move about. There is a shelf which has a loo moulded into it, with a separate seat and lid, with what looks like a gear stick next to it.
There is a moulded sink too, which initially dispensed water on pushing on a foot pedal, but the water ran out along with the loo paper before a couple of hours had passed, which left one unable to wash one's hands. Fortunately I had bought a quantity of wet wipes and loo paper.
The most noticeable thing about those loos is their smell. There is a sweet smell from the bue chemicals which are used to flush the loo, and the smell of urine and excrement, mixed in. In the heat the odour builds up, but it also becomes very strong if the loo is blocked by people throwing paper towels down the loo.
I was convinced that there weren't enough loos for the number of people. It was hard to calcuate because although it clearly stated that one loo would serve 7 people working a 40 hour week, it was hard to work out how many people it was reasonable to expect it to cover if they were being pumped out every 24 hours. I assumed that maybe 14 people if they were pumped out reliably. I didn't tour the whole campsite and count every loo while I was there, but I would be surprised if there were more than 25 or 30 loos on the whole site. It wasn't enough.
I don't know whether you could argue that it was or wasn't enough on the bare statistics of 1200 people and the number of loos, but the fact is that many people sent their children unsupervised to the loo, and so they began to be blocked up by children throwing paper down them. Going into the loo to discover that not only had it been blocked, but people had continued to use them after being blocked up was pretty unpleasant, to say the least.
On Saturday night, it rained heavily, and the ten began to leak. It's not leaked before, but it seemed that it had been packed away damp last time it was used (we lent it out to someone) and I was pretty cross to find it was full of bit of rubbish etc too. I moved all the beds and stuff to the middle of the tent and put down newspaper and buckets. It rained and rained, although it had stopped by the next morning.
By Sunday morning, I had visited most of the loos in search on one which was usable, finding many which were blocked or so horrible that the stench was impossible to stomach. The day was hot and so the smell began to be overpowering once inside. Other people began leaving the site by car to find loos.
The Cinema tent was closed on Sunday with a notice saying this was due to vandalism, and there were signs of that both in the condition of the loos and the tales of bad things happening around the camp. However, some of it was due to the inadequacy of the facilities. In the ladies, there were tiny sanitary bins which were full to overflowing... it is easy to criticise people for adding material to an already full bin, but in the circumstances it was hard to know what someone could do, apart from ensure that they had plastic bags with them for disposal.
Ali had a shower in the morning, having been awake virtually all night due to noise, and described it as not just cold but refrigerated. Other people had showers later which were superwarm, and we discovered latterly that it seemed to be a choice between relatively normal temperature - but in the dark; superwarm and asphixiating conditions, with a light; or cold with a light. 12 showers for 1200 people did not seem enough, and there were long queues for the ones with a reasonable temperature but no lights.
Tom got up later, and came and told me his tent seemed to have fallen down in the night, and that all his clothing and bedding had got set before he got to bed. It then emerged that two boys from our group had thought it would be a jolly jape to undo the tent poles on Tom's tent, so tha it had collapsed and in the rain, leaked badly. Having been fairly philosophical about what had happened, thinking it was a combination of wind and poor tent design, he was extremely upset to find that it had been Luke and Aidan, and this affected him quite badly. When it was rumoured that they thought this would be a good joke to be repeated every day, he moved his tent away from the group he was camped with, to a secret location.
The day passed very slowly. The trouble with a field-and-a-tap type of camping is that everything takes so much effort... washing up meant boiling kettles of water and balancing the washing up bowl on my knees, rather than being able to take them to a communal sink and do them all in one go.
I tried to go to the conference session on legal issues in the Badman report, but thought I staggered around the field looking for the conference tent, I didn't find it. Latterly I discovered it had been one of the smaller tents, but having wandered around in the blazing hot sunshine, and having visited one of the block loos (no loo paper, two out of three didn't lock, all disgusting), I was in need of a lie-down.
I forgot to mention the state of the field. It was deeply rutted where large vans or lorries had been driven over it, and had serious cracks too, because it seemed to be extremely dry. This meant that walking across to the main tents, which were some distance away, was extremely tiring. In the dark, with bicycles abandoned all over the field, guy ropes and tent pegs ago go, it was extremey hazardous without a torch. That didn't stop some men going off to the loo without a torch, resulting in wet loo paper and wet everywhere during the night.
By Sunday evening, Ali was desperate to sleep, but couldn't get to sleep because people around his tent were so noisy. As I had room in my tent, I went over and helped him to move his bed and bedding, and he moved into our tent. Fortunately it was dry that night, or else he might have had to sleep clutching a bucket. I went and asked the people next door to switch off their generator at 11.30pm do that he could sleep... I think they didn't realise how loud it sounded from our tent, as it was hardly possible to hear on the other side or through their caravan, but it was very loud where we were.
Next morning, the tent was impossibly warm by 8 am, and we all got up. Ali was feeling a lot better after 8 hours sleep, and more positive, but by the time he had tried to go to the loo, was wanting to go home. Me too... I traipsed around the field trying to find a loo which was usable, and felt sick all the time. As Ali is on immune suppressents, and there was still no water in the loo sinks, I was fearful that he would pick something up.
All the workshops were cancelled and an emergency meeting had been setup for 12 midday. I discovered that there had been vandalism again, and that one of the loos had been burned down the previous evening. People were going from tent to tent, telling people about the meeting and asking parents to come.
I'd already heard from the children that there was some conflict between the officials and some parents. Allegedly one child was damaging equipment in a tent and someone had asked him to stop. The parent came across the tent the berated the official for telling the child what to do....
We expected a chance to express our opinions, as in previous years there has been a "people's court" arrangement that gave everyone who wanted one a chance to express themselves. I must admit that I thought they would be talking about the unhygenic condition of the toilets....
Many people gathered in the music tent, and a microphone was set up for Andy, the rganiser to use. He imediately declared that this was not a discussion group, and that he wanted to inform us about a number of events. He praised the location, said it helped to be away from places where people could invade or disrupt the event, and leaving behind the Yobs who might have done this in previous years by being out of the way from commercial campsites.
The things he announced were... that someone had stolen bottles of Jack Daniels from the cafe, and vandalised equipment; someone had set fire to a loo and destroyed it; theydid not plan to call the police or claim on insurance, and didn't have any money left, so please could we all pay a surcharge to cover the cost of the cubicle; and could we keep control of our children as some under-10s had been found jumping unsupervised into the river - at 3am!
Having expected that the inadequacy of the toilets was going to be discussed, and that we would be given the opportunity to contribute our opinions, I was pretty frustrated by the meeting - and outraged that I was being asked to contribute more money to it. They seemed to think it was a one-off piece of vandalism, but there seemed to have been at least three cubicles where the person had tried to start a fire... one was partly damaged, one was destroyed and the last simply had a pile of ash and burned loo paper in it.
Andy asked to be left alone for the rest of the day, as dealing with the falout from the theft and vandalism was stressful, and I respected that, but I came away feeling that I needed to tell him how I felt about the loos. This was a family camp which was worse than the most drug-fuelled festival....
The Ali and Kate had fun on the boat which one of the others had brought along, although I was worried about them being able to cope if they fell in the river. Both of them can swim as novices, but we have swum very rarely. The river was slow moving and they are sensible, so eventually I gave permission for them to go on the boat.
Tom was off doing his own thing, which seemed to be a festival arrangement of getting up late, eating and going to the music marquee, taking until the early hours and then falling asleep. He seemed completely unfazed by the loo thing, athough of course it much easier for men to go pee in the hedgerow.
I was feeling a bit awkward about the group I was camping with by this time. A few families I didn't know at all had joined the group later on Saturday, and had designated their Gazebo as a communal area. The children were gathering there to chat. I was invited in to join them in a general way, but I found it quite hard to do - and so did Ali, interestingly. I was surprised by how territorial I felt... how resentful I felt if a stranger invaded the area I regarded as my space, and how awkward I felt walking through the next door family's space in order to get to the communal area. It felt as though I was invading other people's space, and I didn't like it at all.
I think if I had been invited to come NOW, and chat to people, I might have done it, but I felt awkward, particularly as I didn't know either of the American families, including one of the boys who had taken Tom's tent down. I might have worked mysef up to it by the end of the week. It really surprised me that it was an issue for me.
By the time we got to bed that evening, they were both dropping with tiredness... and we became aware that there was a party going on beside us. They were playing loud music, incuding a live saxophonist with the loudest saxaphone. Once it got past midnight I began to resent the selfishness of it. Once it was past 12.30 I was really boiling, particularly since even ear plugs didn't help - the saxophone and raucous laughter penetrated the ear plugs.
Eventually, I went out past tents with open candles in them, and asked them to be a bit quieter, and said I thought it was a bit boody selfish. As I understood where we were to be designated a quiet area, I felt well within my rights to tell them off. The folloing day I discovered that the quiet area was the far-flung bit of the field, which is not where we were camped... although I still think that playing loud music and shouting and singing at 1 am on a campsite is pretty selfish behaviour.
Watching the Fire in Friedsee [Flickr]
4 months ago