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The Holiday

The motorway was quiet. That's not to say there was no traffic, there was, in fact, plenty, but none of it was moving. Heat shimmered off sun drenched cars and tarmac. Passengers hung their heads out of windows, desperate for a breeze, a sign of movement, a clue to the cause of the hold-up. Drivers' gripped steering wheels with white-knuckled frustration, easing their vehicles forwards in a futile attempt to intimidate the traffic ahead into some form of motion.

The queue snaked back, mile after mile, up rises, down dips, arcing back through the gentle twists and bends. Lorries and overloaded coaches punctuated the snarl of cars. Business reps shouted into phones, stressed out parents tried to quell the excesses of their bored offspring, and legs were crossed as regrets surfaced at the decision to press on past the services.

Only the few at the front knew the cause, not that it did them any good beyond allowing them the satisfaction of glaring at the hapless motorist responsible. They were all going precisely nowhere.

Three police cars were parked seemingly at random, blocking the carriageway. Two fire crews were standing by, along with an ambulance, whose paramedics were sitting on the back step, resting in the shade. There were no criminals, no fires, no blood and guts. Just a caravan on its side. A tow truck had been summoned, but was stuck two miles back in the jam.

Some distance behind the tow truck was a red Audi A2. It's occupants were arguing. They had been arguing since six o'clock that morning when it became apparent that an Audi A2 is not up to the task of carrying sufficient gear for a fortnight's camping in Cornwall. A considerable amount of the female passenger's wardrobe had been rejected by the driver, who pointed out with infuriating calm that he was sure that two pairs of trousers, plus an assortment of lightweight t-shirts, would be more than adequate.

His wife, already a reluctant camper, had complained bitterly and, in his opinion, irrationally, and in the ensuing argument regrettable things had been said by both parties. The argument was now at the silent stage where both people were forced to occupy the same small space without ever actually looking at each or even acknowledging the others presence. In short, the holiday was shaping up well.

Some five hours later, the red Audi pulled into a campsite. The passenger clambered out, staring disdainfully at the sloping field, the riot of knee-high thistles, the snot-nosed children roaming in packs. She closed her eyes, hoping when she reopened them, the scene might have changed. It hadn't.

They were directed to a pitch at the top of the field, next to an unkempt hedge beyond which was a cow apparently in the final stages of a difficult labour. The couple stared at each other, their first exchange for some hours.

The man shrugged and opened the boot of the car. The tent tumbled out, smacking him in the shins and knocking him onto his rear. His wife did her best to hide her amusement, focussing intently upon the hedge, but he could see her shoulders shaking.

He picked himself up with a scowl and set about unpacking the tent.

Two hours and much confusion later, he hammered the final peg in place and stepped back to admire his handiwork. The tent promptly folded with a sigh. The woman reminded him for the sixth time that the B&B they had passed coming into the village had vacancies. The man gritted his teeth, grasped the leading pole firmly and hauled it upright.

After a further hour, the man from the caravan in the opposite pitch wandered over to cautiously offer some advice. The husband, by this time beyond the point of macho pride, graciously accepted, and ten minutes later the tent was up. This time it stayed up.

The woman began dragging their possessions inside, making the beds and arranging her diminished wardrobe while her husband set up the camping cooker. She ignored the muttering and occasional expletive as they were still, technically, not speaking to each other, but when she emerged, looking hopefully for a mug of coffee, she discovered her husband standing beside the cooker and the gas cylinder, looking forlorn. He had forgotten the hose. The man in the caravan opposite came to the rescue, cheerfully producing a spare piece of hose he always carried, just in case.

After a mug of coffee, tentative communication resumed. It was agreed that the view from their tent was quite beautiful, although the background accompaniment of the cow was a little distracting.

The woman, deciding that a full reconciliation should not be rushed, certainly while she was in need of a shower, set off in search of the facilities. She returned ten minutes later, white-faced, dripping, and shivering violently. A further discussion with the man in the caravan opposite revealed that the campsite owners only provided hot water between five and seven in the evening.

It was then that they discovered they had made camp on top of an ants' nest. This time it was the woman from the caravan opposite who came to the rescue, producing a can of insecticide. It worked with astonishing efficiency, but rendered the tent uninhabitable for the next three hours.

Sitting outside their fumigated tent, admiring the view, listening to the deliberations of the farmer and vet on the other side of the hedge, and watching the children building a large dam in the river at the bottom of the field, their interrupted reconciliation resumed with a tentative cuddle.

As the man and the woman in the caravan opposite started up their gas barbecue, delicious smells wafted over. The couple thought longingly of the food they had forgotten to remove from the tent before dealing with the ant invasion.

Their stomachs rumbled as they imagined beefburgers, and hotdogs, and sticky chicken wings. The man in the caravan brought out a bottle of rosé, while his wife cut thick slices from a fresh loaf of bread. This was swiftly joined by a large bowl of salad.

The couple could hardly bear to watch.

The man from the caravan carefully turned the sausages and chicken wings, ensuring they were browned right through. His wife added some vegetable kebabs to the heat, and the smell of roasting peppers, courgettes, onion and feta filled the air.

The young couple groaned, shifting position so they could no longer see.

And then the man from the caravan called to them, and they turned to see four glasses on the table, four plates, four chairs. The woman from the caravan beckoned cheerfully.

'Come on, dears! You must be starved! There's plenty for everyone!'

At nine o'clock that evening, the cow, with the assistance of a sweating and exhausted vet, delivered a healthy calf, whose arrival was toasted by the campers with glasses of wine. The river broke through the children's dam despite their best efforts, but they were not disheartened. They had rebuilt it every evening for a week, and were already looking forward to their next attempt. The man and the woman in the caravan went to bed, delighted to have added to their ever growing collection of camping friends. And those new friends slept under the stars, wrapped in each others arms, all thoughts of traffic jams, depleted wardrobes, freezing showers and ant-infested tents forgotten. Camping, it turned out, was actually pretty good.


© 2012 Kay Lawrence.


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