Of Tents, Colds and Courses

Hello dear blogging friends, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? The past few weeks have been both hectic and stressful chez Litlove but I can at least report some good news: my son did well in his exams and is heading off to university in London in a couple of weeks time. This is adding to the current madness, of course, as we try to get him prepared for self-sufficiency. Today we were shopping for all the kitchen equipment he’ll need, and my son does like to look at everything, ideally twice, and have a good think before he comes to any serious decisions, like what kind of can opener he should have. This all triggers immense nostalgia for me, as I remember so well doing the same things (if quicker) with my mother in preparation for leaving home. It was twenty-five years ago and I’ve squeezed quite a lot into that time, but in some ways it still feels like yesterday. And then there are times when I am reminded that I have left adolescence far, far behind.

My son’s treat for his exams was a ticket to the Reading music festival. When he suggested it we struggled to prevent our jaws hitting the ground as it was not at all the sort of thing he normally likes. But his friends were keen to go and he thought he’d like to try the experience. The idea of four days camping interspersed with standing in the middle of an 80,000 strong crowd for hours at a stretch qualifies as one of the inner rings of hell in my mind, so it was very difficult to picture him having a nice time. Nor did it help that he had had one of the worst getaways I’ve ever been put through. He emerged from the cocoon of his bed at about midday on the day of departure, obviously believing that he could sling a few things in a bag in half an hour. Mr Litlove had enthusiastically retrieved his old rucksack and tent and camping stove from the attic, and these were joined on the kitchen floor with a heap of clothes and an array of food. Our son was horrified to hear of the prices in the main enclosure and steadfastly refused to pay them, an admirable economic sentiment, but a disaster as far as packing went. By the time I had returned from the supermarket with a pack of socks (having discovered a laundry crisis that could not be fixed in an hour), he had filled the rucksack to bursting whilst essential items such as his sleeping bag and Wellington boots were still on the floor. This rucksack he had managed, somehow, to get on his back.

‘This’ll be fine, won’t it?’ said my son, swaying slightly in the breeze. He looked like a reed that an over-ambitious stag beetle had climbed up and bent to a 45-degree angle.

‘Are you completely mad?’ I asked.

I was beginning to feel like I was in one of those dreadful game shows in which contestants have to build a raft out of tin cans and knitting wool that will transport their survival supplies downriver for a week in the jungle. Together we got him out of the rucksack and lowered it to the floor. I surveyed the chaos in the kitchen, the ticking clock and decided it was time to panic. So we rang Mr Litlove and demanded his help. ‘You can’t leave me to pack his rucksack to go camping,’ I complained. I’d been in a tent once, aged 12 and sworn never, ever again. ‘That really is the blind leading the blind.’

‘I think you’re underestimating me,’ said my son, crossly. ‘I can carry the rucksack just fine.’ This was a cunning trump card to produce in an argument. But I went and found a wheeled suitcase and transferred his clothes to that, making the rucksack a bit lighter. After all, how much does a weekend’s supply of chicken noodle cupasoup weigh? And Mr Litlove came home and attached the tent to hanging straps at the bottom of the rucksack, freeing up some space for the sleeping bag. By which point our son’s friends were texting him from the railway station and so we hurried out the door.

Mr Litlove rang us ten minutes later, saying he was holding a festival ticket in his hand, having found it on the kitchen table and perhaps he should drop it off at the station on his way back to work? Even our son had to put his head in his hands at that point.

So I was not feeling particularly optimistic as we embarked on the long Bank Holiday weekend. Mr Litlove and I were unusually tired, the dental work I’d had a couple of weeks back had left me with some neuralgia, and although we knew we ought to be doing something to celebrate four days of holiday, we sat about dozing over our books and watching the torrential rain that had begun to fall. Every few years the newspapers gleefully print pictures of festival-goers knee-deep in swamps of mud, and I couldn’t help wondering what the conditions were like in Reading. We’d heard once from our son who had reported that the special transfer bus from the station had travelled for all of five minutes to the campsite gates, leaving them an hour and a half walk to the place where they could pitch their tents. I was beset by images of mud-coated teenagers returning to waterlogged tents, forced to watch packets of cupasoup float past on the tide.

I’d decided to reread Barbara Erskine’s Lady of Hay, a historical novel I’d read aged 18 and loved, on the grounds it might be comforting. But it was a bit silly the second time around, though the historical parts were quite good.

‘I’ve got to the part where Matilda, Lady of Hay and her son have been left to die in an oubliette by the wicked King John,’ I told Mr Litlove.

‘See? Someone’s having a worse time this weekend than you.’

And yet, when I thought of it, I couldn’t help but make the analogy between an oubliette and a peapod tent, and wonder whether our son and his girlfriend were slowly fading away from hunger and fatigue and a chronic inability to look after themselves effectively.

Never had I been so glad to see two people as I was to see the happy campers late on Monday afternoon. No, the rain had only been at night in Reading, and the days had been hot enough to dry it up fast. Yes, they’d run out of mentholated spirits for the camping stove on Saturday evening. Yes, they’d had fun. No, they probably wouldn’t camp again. Sleeping had been so hard that they’d ended up in bed by eleven pm some nights, an outrageous concession for teenagers keen to party.

I think they must have lived off dry breakfast cereal for the last 48 hours of the trip as I spent the next ten days cooking and yet never producing enough food to satisfy their appetites. Our son’s girlfriend rapidly came down with a nasty throat virus as a result of too much exposure to the elements (she was staying with us because her family had gone on holiday). Small, voiceless and just about nocturnal, we might not have even known she was in the house apart from the coughing, by which means we could track her from room to room. Inevitably our son caught it off her and is coughing still, the Reading legacy lasting longer than I might have guessed. But a couple of nights ago, he called us to the computer to watch a brief shot of video, taken from the festival and uploaded to the BBC website. There we saw his white t-shirt, bobbing up and down in the midst of the enormous crowd.

‘Yup,’ he said proudly, ‘I was there.’

One final thing I should mention: I recently embarked on a three-month creative non-fiction writing course and so posting here will of necessity be constrained. In fact, I am not at all sure what life will be like over the next few months as we all adjust to very different routines. But I’m hoping to post once a week, just to keep in touch and let you know what’s happening. I’ve missed you all and been so touched by the emails sent by friends wondering where I was. The book blogging community is so lovely and supportive – big hugs to you all.

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56 thoughts on “Of Tents, Colds and Courses

  1. Wow, so many things to say!

    I hope the tooth pain has subsided. It’s not a party.

    So happy to hear your son is a) going off to college, b) got to go to Reading (so jealous), and c) has a nice girlfriend who we can now nickname Camille.

    As far as this here blog, be bold post some of your CNF writing when you can’t sit down for your usual, thorough review. We promise, we’ll only snicker a little bit :)

    Welcome back, my friend.

    • Ohh Leah, it’s lovely to hear from you, and I’m still laughing about Camille – that’s brilliant! I tell you, I am already rewriting my first assignment for the course, so I’ll be doing well if I get away with only a little snickering! :) I’ll let you know what the experience of the course is like, that’s for sure. My tooth seems a bit better… just keep your fingers crossed is all I can risk saying!

  2. Oh I am SO pleased to see your post! I was really very worried about you, but couldn’t find an email address… And then I am afraid I meanly laughed while reading about your poor son’s packing experiences. And the Lady of Hay in the oubliette.

    I’m sorry that life has been hectic and stressful and that you have been suffering from neuralgia, I do hope that’s all easing up now. Also hope that life is adjusting to your son being away at university. And, of course, that you are enjoying your creative non-fiction course. What fun! as Milly-Molly-Mandy would say. Knock their socks off.

    • Dear Helen, you’re quite right! I took down the email address a while back and forgot to put it back up – duh. The one thing about bad experience is that you CAN laugh about them once they’re over. It seems a shame that nice experiences aren’t as funny. Still, I’d settle very happily for banal and quiet right now, and cross your fingers that there’ll actually be some of that! I will miss my son loads, but not at 3.30 in the morning, when he finally decides to come to bed and my maternal radar picks him up….

  3. 1) been there ,done that with the festival packing and had to buy D #1 a new pack for the Canadian wilderness 30 minutes before she had to be at Heathrow and decided to pack ‘in the morning’.

    2) Glad you’re back – been watching out for you (while relaxing in Mallorca).

    3) OMG sooo jel re course. Almost booked myself on a memoir one recently but got scared.

    • Mrs C! It is fabulous to hear from you, and I much appreciate the solidarity – #1 is absolutely the kind of thing I end up doing far too often. I will come and hear all about Mallorca and can only encourage you fervently to do a memoir course – you’d be brilliant at it!

  4. Good to see you back. I was persuaded to buy my 16 year-old a Reading ticket too, but by the time it came round she had sold the ticket and bought one for a dance music festival instead. Teenage tastes can change in the time it takes a ticket to arrive in the post.

  5. So glad to see your post–I was beginning to wonder if a search party needed to be deployed! :) Congrats to your son–how exciting and scary at the same time. Sounds like his trip to Reading was just the thing to wrap up the summer and have fun with friends before embarking on a new road in life! It’s amazing how many can openers stores actually DO sell–quite a dilemma whether to go for inexpensive or practical….I tend to agonize over those sorts of decisions as well-though am usually only choosing one item and not a whole kitchen-worth! Hope you are well–dental issues are never fun to deal with. And I had a chuckle over the oubliette remark–I must remember that when I am having a particularly bad day. Good luck on the NF writing course–hope you’ll tell us all about it.

    • What a lovely comment, Danielle, what a dear heart you are! The can opener question really was quite complicated! And remains as yet unfixed, but we still have 10 days to go, so…. there’s hope! My teeth are feeling a bit better, so keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’m already rewriting my first assignment for the course. It’s going to be a long three months! But I’m evidently going to learn a lot. I will certainly let you know how it goes.

  6. Hi! Congrats to your son and good luck buying all the kitchen things! I am quite the opposite to him–I want to look at one version of the item and purchase it hastily be finished. But I hope he’s happy as a clam and has gotten the best can opener on the market.

    • Dear Jenny. When you next move house and need a whole new bunch of gadgets, I will happily come shopping with you. We’re not quite there with the can opener yet, but it will come right in the end! :)

  7. Glad to see you back. I remember so well the shopping for kitchen equipment and sorting out pans etc. when my son went off to university. But I suspect he lived off take-aways and toasted sandwiches – I gave him my toastie maker! He still likes those.

    • Heh! I’ve heard toast described as the ‘thin white line between a young man and starvation’, and have a nasty feeling this will hold true for my son as well…. His grandma has just given him a toaster with toasted sandwich bags, so he is on his way down that route. It’s such a rite of passage though, isn’t it? All the shopping and preparation. Thank you for dropping by – it’s lovely to hear from you.

  8. Glad to see you back and well. Congratulations to your son. Had been wondering how he had gone on. My daughter made it to York to study history. Same pre-uni chaos here!

    • I have you to thank for the course – it’s a Lee Gutkind one, and I hadn’t heard of him until you mentioned him. I’ll definitely let you know what it’s like. I missed you, too, and it’s nice to be back.

  9. The Bears have but one word for their friend, A but unfortunately for them I have refused to type it. Just because they don’t like camping (so bad for the fur, my dear) is no reason to be rude about those that do. Hell is not deep enough.

    • Oh too funny – camping is just so awful! I know lots of people love it, and very brave, hardy people they are too. I really have to take care of my fur these days, so tell the Bears I know just what they mean.

  10. I’m so glad you took time to let us know about your world. I shudder at the thought my own son would want to do something like that one day, but he probably will and I will cringe for the whole time. You did very well. Please let us know how your writing course goes!

    • Just about everything else my son has wanted to do hasn’t been to hair-raising. This was the only one that had me really worried! So it often ends up better than one fears. Now of course, I probably won’t know the worst until it’s over, and can’t decide if that’s better or worse! Who knew parenting was so full of these pitfalls!! I will definitely let you know how the writing course goes – at the moment, I am getting a lot of practice at rewriting….

  11. Every teen needs a long weekend with friends adventure like you son had so it can become a mythic adventure in a year or two and something to tell his own children about one day :)

  12. After packing up my daughter for London (she is there until December) and my son for college two hours away, your packing story was more than usually hilarious to me. The house gets awfully quiet after all that ruckus.

    • Oh it does, doesn’t it? I’m thinking of you, in the calm after the storm and sending every good wish for your son and daughter on their respective adventures. I hope they both have a wonderful time.

  13. Happy to see you are back. I loved your “son goes camping” story. These are just the type of things we remember with great delight; they get funnier and funnier as we get farther and farther from them in time. Hope the writing course is rewarding! Let us know how it goes.

    • Grad, aren’t they just? I think it’s one of the nicer parts of being human, the way that the bad things fall out of memory and the humour, pathos and love remains. I have much to tell about the writing course already, and hope to post on it soon.

  14. It’s nice to hear from you again! I’m glad things are okay with you, but sorry about the hecticness and stress. Your creative nonfiction course sounds great, and I hope you enjoy it immensely!

    • I’ve been loving your pictures of Cormac online and it’s been frustrating not to get over to leave proper comments on your posts. I will get there in time! The course should be fun, in a challenging sort of way… I’m trying not to be too scared! :-)

  15. Yay! My favourite blogger is back! So glad all is well, dear Litlove.

    Hope your tooth hurries up its healing process and gives you lesser and lesser trouble.

    Reading about your son and all your travails around his trip was so amusing (sorry?) and more importantly made me even more determined to keep the number of our future offsprings to one–I keep telling my husband we, neither of us, is equipped to handle two or more!

    Also, can you please finish up the CNF as soon as possible course and get on to writing a collection of essays like the one you just wrote above? i just e-mailed my husband that this is my idea of funny! :P

    • Dear Juhi, you are SUCH a dear heart! And I owe you a list of reading recommendations – I think it is a question I will open up to the lovely readers here. Sometimes the mills of the reading room grind slowly, but we get there in the end! Bless you for being so encouraging. My son has always struck me as funny, which you will find is probably the default maternal setting, thank goodness! I think you’ll be a properly lovely mummy, whenever you decide the time is right.

  16. I was so pleased to see a post from you–and such an amusing one, too! I’d been thinking about you and hoping you were well.

    When it comes to kitchen gadget shopping I’d rather have fewer choices. If I’m given lots of options, I tend to agonize, but if there are only one or two can openers at the store, I’m perfectly happy to take what they have and never think of it again. My favorite stores tend to be small because I don’t get the option of agonizing.

    • Bless you, my friend. And I completely get the fewer options, thing. I was myself stymied by a range of cheese graters, none of which looked like I thought a cheese grater should. But there were loads of them! I ended up getting a grater in a shop where there were only two options, so I know exactly what you mean….

    • I think they had a pretty good time at the festival – the music part was mostly good, even if the camping was rough! Bless you for your kind wishes, I do appreciate them. :)

    • Ha, with you about the camping! It’s personal essays and creative non-fiction, and I’m not entirely sure how the latter will play out. The first big assignment has been a personal essay, in which I have learned that I shy firmly away from being personal! I’m pretty sure, though, that they will keep the door open to us writing about more or less what we like, so long as we practice certain structures (dual narratives, messing with chronology and so on – I admit I’m drawn to the circus tricks though they turn out to be hard to do…) . I’ll definitely be writing about how it goes.

  17. Great to see you back and hear your stories again. And I’m sorry your son won’t go camping again since it does make for a good story! At this age I can think of nothing worse but at that age, it’s almost an essential rite of passage. I’m also relieved to hear that you’re still going to continue blogging. The blogosphere would be so much less fun without you. But I think once a week is possibly a good compromise. Hope you enjoy the course. :-)

    • Oh, dear Pete, I will always be here one way or another! Isn’t it interesting how one grows past the age for certain things. I remember hitting 25 and thinking that never again would I sleep on someone’s floor. The course is already interesting. I’m wondering how much I can get away with writing about other people on it here. I’m longing to gossip, but discretion is undoubtedly the better part of valour, etc, etc. Perhaps I will have to disguise them lightly or something! ;)

  18. How good to have you back. I’ve just packed off my twins to colleges on the East Coast from California so if we moved back to London we’d be as close to them there! Looking forward to reading your weekly posts and enjoy your writing course.

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