When I was 23 years old I boarded an aeroplane for the first time. This was in 1988 and planes were not a new thing, I had just never needed to use one before. As a child with five siblings and a father with worse money skills than even me, we always went places where it was cheap. We usually went to Dorset on camping holidays, sometimes to stay in a caravan on a farm, but never anywhere that needed air transport.
The mode of transport we used was a VW camper because it was the only vehicle big enough to fit all of the family at the same time. This being the time before health and safety and before rigorous vehicle inspections, my dad got away with turning one of the bench seats around so it faced the other way and fixing a table between so we could play board games with each other on the long journey. It was long because the microbus was slow, roads weren’t what they are now, and because one of my sisters always made good on her promise to be car-sick every time. This meant plenty of stops to hose the vomit out of the back of the bus, we always arrived at the campsite with the smell of sick permeating everyone’s clothing.
Another favourite destination was The New Forest. The ancient woodland that was planted, presumably not in person, by William the Conqueror. This was before the days when thoughtless twats had set fire to the place so many times that restrictions of movement ended the freestyle feel of camping in the wild. The New Forest is a big place, and we used to drive into the woods for a bit then stop, put up the enormous, old-style canvas tent, complete with metal poles and all, and start to fight with each other just like at home.
One of the features of this wood are the wild ponies that roam unchecked everywhere. They really are, or were then, wild and untamed, hence, dangerous and unpredictable. Ignoring the advice of my father to keep well clear of these animals a very excited four-year old me went running up to a group of these creatures shouting ‘forest ponies’ which according to family lore I actually pronounced ‘orris stonies’. I don’t remember how I pronounced it so I’ll go with this version. Anyway, the upshot of this was that the one closest to me promptly kicked out with it’s rear legs and threw me through the air for some distance. I have hated horses since.
Because we were camping a long way from any sanitary facilities, the toilet was a hole in the ground with a tall, narrow tent over it. The toilet tent it was imaginatively called. Using this place to evacuate ones bowels was quite unpleasant if you were used to better, and even back in the late sixties we were used to slightly better. One of my sisters caused great consternation by not going to the toilet for three days, my parents got so worried that she was seriously ill, they took her to the local hospital to be examined. As soon as she was within range of a proper toilet she let go and released the lot. History doesn’t relate whether my parents were relieved or angry. Personally, I think she showed a high degree of sanity and wished I could hold my poo for that long.
The best part of the holidays in the forest were the rope swings that my father would make. He would tie a small log to a rope and throw it over the branch of one of the trees. He’d then tie the other end of the rope to the log and hey-presto, a rope swing. These branches were often thirty feet up so the resulting swing had a long travel, as the youngest, as I was in those days before the younger two arrived to ruin my life, I was the easiest to push and went the highest. I can still remember the rush as the leaf-strewn forest floor flew by below me. When I was young I suffered many head injuries, I was seriously concussed regularly, but I never fell off one of those swings.
My children have been all over the world on holidays. I wanted to show them some of the things that exist outside everyday life, I wish I had frequent flyer points for their air-miles. They are blase about air travel having made the fourteen-hour trip between London and Phnom Penh, where their mother is from, more times than I can be bothered to count. They have been all over our home country too, often camping. They rose up in rebellion the last time I dragged them to Cornwall where I was attempting yet another gruelling ultra-marathon, and said no more camping daddy. I am ebaying the tent in relief.
That first trip I made on a plane was when I went on a youthful adventure. I bought a one-way ticket to Australia, the country of my forebears, with the intention of ‘having a look around’. My odyssey lasted twelve years before I came back to suburban England with my tail between my legs and an extensive heroin habit. All my youthful enthusiasm had been wrung out of me, and the process of life has been significantly less flamboyant since. There has been a modicum of success but I haven’t been successful in getting in touch with that person who left in 1988. Recently I thought he was re-emerging and occasionally with the right stimulation I feel light as a feather.