I put it to Ickle Bef that I couldn’t quite recall if I had packed my tent.
– “That’s ok,” she reassured me. “You can sleep in the lee of mine.”
What a generous offer. IB’s tent was so tiny as to afford lee to perhaps my lower shins.
Having not over-communicated with each other in the run-up to this camping odyssey, the duplication of camping items did indeed turn out to be significant. Ickle, of course, had to turn it into a competition.
– “Did you bring saucepans?” I wondered.
– “Of course.”
– “Washing up liquid?”
She took a narrow lead by destroying me in the “out-of-date food” micro-category. Given the questionable nutritional quality of out-of-date food, and its danger to our health on a trip already fraught with danger, being in the wild outdoors, only a narrow lead could be awarded.
– “Hand gel?”
– “Mmm hmm.”
– “Chopping board?” she enquired.
Dang. I was now slipping behind to the tune of one chopping board and a few past-their-sell-by-date items. Time to play my trump card.
– “Black pepper?”
Her face fell. Triumphantly, I applied the coup de grâce.
– “PINE NUTS?!?”
Her shoulders slumped. I dialled for my smuggest expression.
Then she produced the fairy lights.
Game, set, and match.
I set about that evening’s pasta dinner with one of the sporks I had on loan from Wiseman. In a misplaced attempt at being grown-up, I initially attempted using the -ork but quickly realised that the sp- was much more efficient.
We returned to our tents after the evening session. They were easy to find, being the only ones in the whole field with fairy lights entwined around the guy ropes.
It was a cloudless, starry night. I might have paused to appreciate the grandeur and majesty of creation, but it was baltic. The mercury plummeted to 7C that night. That’s only 2 degrees warmer than a fridge.
Saturday morning I queued for the use of one of the four showers available to the several hundred campers. It was, I discovered, one of those showers with binary water temperature settings. I spent a few minutes, shivering, with hand held under the freezing water, until it warmed up slightly. Stepping properly into the flow of water, I realised it hadn’t actually warmed up – my hand had gone numb and couldn’t feel the cold any more. The rest of my body could, however.
I jumped back out. A few seconds later, it did warm up. I jumped back into the stream and started lathering up. At which point the temperature shot straight through Comfortably Warm like an express train through a rural station, and onwards to Scalding Hot. Fast enough to be one of those French trains. I jumped out again. Fiddled with the dial. No effect whatsoever.
Eventually the temperature train, maintaining its enigmatic French unpredictability, came back the other way, entirely of its own volition and at a time that suited it, and not me, and in the few seconds it took to rocket through Comfortably Warm I managed to rinse off most of the lather.
Ickle Bef and I breakfasted in the sunshine that day.
The following morning, we breakfasted in a steady drizzle. Sitting with one’s back to the drizzle direction, with one’s rain jacket hood up, one can get quite effectively drenched before one realises one is wet at all.
As the drizzle intensified, we packed up our arsenal of camping stoves and retreated damply to the coffee shop, with its array of sizeable traybakes. Anyone who’s been to Northern Ireland, or been hosted by a Northern Irish hostess*, will surely be aware of the Province’s not-unwarranted reputation as producer of the world’s best traybakes.
(*I apologise for any perceived sexism there, but let’s be fair, the astonishing quality and volume of Northern Ireland’s traybake output can not be attributed to N Irish men.)
This cafe was determined to not only maintain, but enhance, Northern Ireland’s reputation. I passed by the giant muffins, and the titanic caramel squares, and enquired as to the ethnicity of the enormous scones. Two types, I was told. Strawberry, and Mars Bar.
I leaned in, and cupped my ear.
– “What did you say?”
– “Mars Bar.”
We spent a great deal of time at the weekend, Ickle Bef and I, along with several hundred others, worshipping our hearts out in a big tent.
I spoke on childlikeness a few weeks back at my church, and this weekend I learned a bit more about it. Or at least, I learned something about the practice of it. Practical learning is the best learning, I reckon. This mostly looked like me dancing like a complete loon in worship. This is not something I’ve historically embraced, having preferred to value my dignity.
Dignity, for me, has been a shroud I’ve used to mask the life within. Dignity is a wonderful thing, but mostly maintaining my dignity has come at the expense of rawly expressing my worship. And the desire to maintain my dignity has been instigated and fuelled by the fear of what others would think.
We learn, as Christians living in our society, to live our lives without risk. We have learned to live in such a way as to mitigate against personal risk, financial risk, emotional risk, relational risk.
We have done this out of fear, I suspect. Fear of looking foolish, fear of the unknown, fear of not having enough, fear of getting hurt. Fear of God not providing for us, not coming through for us.
The antidote to fear is love. Perfect love casts out fear. If God is truly a God of love, and he really is our Father, then we have nothing (literally nothing) to fear.
This weekend, the love-fear scales tipped a little more towards love. My love for Jesus has gradually begun to outweigh my fear of what others might think.
It’s a journey, this Christian life. Sometimes it feels like treading water, like little progress is being made. Other times, it feels like strides have been taken. This is one of those times.
You’re my author, my maker // My ransom, my Saviour // My refuge, my hiding place
You’re my helper, my healer // My blessed redeemer // My answer, my saving grace
You’re my hope, in the shadows // My strength, in the battle // My anchor, for all my days
And You stand, by my side // And You stood, in my place // Jesus, no other name // No, only Jesus, no other name
– Sean Curran