Competitive camping and raw worship

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.
– “Yep.”
– “Kettle?”
– “Of course.”
– “Washing up liquid?”
– “Absolutely.”

She took a narrow lead by destroying me in the “out-of-date food” micro-category. Given the questionable nutritional quality of out-of-date food, and its danger to our health on a trip already fraught with danger, being in the wild outdoors, only a narrow lead could be awarded.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?”
– “Yeah.”
– “Cereal??”
– “Mmm hmm.”
– “BLANKET?”
– “Yup!”

– “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.

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.”

Boom.

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

Camping and Emergency Loo Roll

A week or two ago we welcomed an old friend back to Edinburgh – the traditional Scottish Summer.

The greatest, hottest, driest summer since records began, or at least since 1976, is on the wane, it seems. No more unprecedented experiences like selecting the second button on the electric shower, to make the water cool enough to step into. On a number of recent occasions, my thirty minute drive into work has necessitated the use of the holy trinity of sunglasses, windscreen wipers and headlights. Sometimes all at the same time.

With spectacular timing, our old friend has reemerged just in time for me to go camping for the first time in over twenty years. Admittedly a mere nine years ago I did go camping with my Sister and her burgeoning family, but that doesn’t count, since all the camping infrastructure (and a great deal of stately-home-infrastructure to boot) was laid on.

On this occasion I have had to give a great deal more thought to the supply and provisions.

Wiseman, after hearing of my camping intentions, and slowly lowering his eyebrow, kindly loaned me his tent, and camping stove, and various other arcane implements, the usefulness of which, I imagine, will become apparent at around 2am.

After one tutorial on the camping stove, and none on the actual tent-building, I reckon I am ready.

I wandered through Tesco, looking for camping-style easy-to-cook meal solutions, pretending to myself that this was vastly different to what I normally look for in Tesco.

In a flash of inspiration, I picked up some loo roll, for emergencies. Shea Butter ‘flavour’. Four rolls. You can’t be too careful with these things. And some paper towels. And a dustpan and brush. Must return the tent in good nick to Wiseman, or I’ll never hear the end of it.

My companion on this particular trip, to the Openskies worship festival in N Ireland, is Ickle Bef. We conferred about what we were bringing for the first time at 10pm last night. This was possibly leaving it a little late. Ickle confided she was bringing two camping stoves. I feel this is overcooking it slightly.

Loading the car at 6:15am this morning, I noticed that Ickle had her own dustpan and brush. I suspect the duplication, some of which is important for decency’s sake, like having our own tents for example, won’t stop there. I do hope she has her own Shea Butter loo roll, though, because I might need all four of mine. Depending on how the cooking goes, on our multiplicity of stoves, I guess.

Now, on the ferry, halfway across the Irish Sea, the sun is shining, and I wonder what could possibly go wrong. Ickle Bef is out on deck, wisely banking some solo time.

Openskies’ website states that campers have access to showers, charging points, and the presence of the Lord. You can’t ask for more than that, really.

Camping? I feel recklessly optimistic. Bring it on.

Did I remember to pack the tent?

Camping and Clapton

“We’re going camping for the weekend!” Alison had announced a week or two ago.  So I did have some warning, but nothing quite prepared me.  Alison and Sebastian collected me from the City Airport in the Passat Estate, which was packed to the gunnels with all manner of camping equipment, and some equipment not conventionally associated with camping.  Like king size duvets, for example.  “I don’t really do camping,” my sister explained.  There was barely room for my luggage.  I was glad I had decided to travel light.
Camping on the south coast of England is somewhat different to my previous camping expeditions in Scotland and Ireland.  The ground, not to mention the air, is somehow drier and warmer.  After a pleasant lunch of baguettes and pork pies, Angela and I set to work on putting up the tent, while Alison blew up the airbeds and made a cafetière of coffee.
Later I poked my head into the tent to find my sister kitting out the beds with organic Egyptian cotton sheets.  Like she says, she doesn’t really do camping.
But we all did it, and survived.  Despite a decent thunderstorm threatening to rip the tent away from its moorings in the early hours of Monday morning, apparently.  I was oblivious to it all.  Ah, the value of good earplugs.
We retreated back to London yesterday, once the tent had dried out a bit.  I showered and changed and shot straight out again.  I had tickets for Eric Clapton, and I didn’t want to be late.  I wasn’t, as it turned out, and it was a great night.  I was there with my friend Iain, who also accompanied me to see Clapton this time last year, in Hyde Park.  This time round, it all felt a little more… civilised… which was, I suppose, entirely reasonable and to be expected given that it was in the Royal Albert Hall.  A magnificent venue, and we had brilliant seats, but all in all I preferred last year.  The band was slightly different this time, Doyle Bramhall II having been replaced by Andy Fairweather-Low, who was curiously subdued throughout, only getting a solo spot once, towards the very end.  In my experience, a band feeds off its audience to a large extent, and with a crowd of well-behaved mostly forty-to-sixty-somethings, all sitting down, as compared with last year’s younger, sunshine-and-alcohol-fuelled crowd, nothing was going to get set alight.  And with Clapton on the seventh night of an eleven night stint, I suppose the band were going to be on auto-pilot to a certain extent anyway.  ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ was certainly an unwelcome addition to the set-list from where I was sitting, and the acoustic version of ‘Layla’, while great in its own right, is not quite as, um, electric as the original.  Anyway, it was a good experience, and I’m glad I was there.
Today was a chance to recharge the batteries a little, although I ventured into the East End in the afternoon.  Got a little lost, and found myself passing the end of St Mary Axe, a street which houses the organisation that regulates my profession.  I considered popping up to their offices to see if any of their staff were doing enough work to merit our scandalous retention fee, but opted to try and find a record shop instead.  I ended up in a hip coffee shop on Brick Lane.
“Black coffee, please.”
“Americano or filter?”
“Americano.”
The girl hesitated as her eyes fixed on my t-shirt.
“Can I read your t-shirt?”
The strap of my man-bag was obscuring the anti-Starbucks logo.  She was clearly concerned that it was an actual Starbucks t-shirt I was wearing.  I moved the strap.
“Oh, that’s cool.  We like that.”  Her colleague behind the counter chuckled.
Phew.  I was relieved that I was considered ok to drink coffee there.  I glanced up at the board on the wall above the counter to discover  “Chav Coffee (filter)” in the list of drinks available. Phew, again.  I settled down at a table with a left-behind copy of the Guardian, and tried to look nonchalant.
Tomorrow sees my second visit to a renowned London arena in three days. This time it’s Lord’s, for a Twenty20 thrash between Middlesex and Kent, where the newly-installed floodlights at the home of cricket are set to be used for the first time.  And I get to catch up with another old friend.  This holiday lark is just the thing.