These, however, are not normal times and we throw ourselves into planning with uncharacteristic energy.
Surely, I reason, camping qualifies as a form of home-schooling? Tent styling aside (valuable “new media” expertise), there might be bushcraft and survival skills involved, fostering the sort of resilience we all require when searching the shops for eggs or loo roll.
“If I was camping in my garden, I’d go all out,” Charlie Gladstone tells me. Gladstone is co-founder of the Good Life Experience, a festival that celebrates the great outdoors. “I’d get some hay bales to sit on,” he says, pointing out you can actually purchase the “full-on country feel” from Amazon Prime.
“Build a hot tub,” he suggests next. “It’s easy. Get an old metal bath on eBay, raise it six inches on some breeze blocks and steady with gravel and sand.
“Fill it with water, light a fire underneath, stoke it and hey presto, an outdoor bath. If that’s too much then get a solar shower so you can live the full experience; they cost around £5.”
Reality, however, raises its ugly head. Our garden is too titchy not only for a DIY hot tub, but for our own bell tent. The latter is a prize possession, given to me as a 30th birthday present by my extended family. It has since done us proud for, well, a significant number of years – tall enough to stand in, breathable, indestructible and simple enough for even me to erect. It is, however, too wide for our narrow yard.
So instead, we test the same company’s cosier, 10ft model. One upside of garden camping, I realise, is that you need not limit home comforts to those that can squeeze into the car.
So into the new tent we pile four camp beds, every single duvet, blanket, pillow and cushion. And the dog.
It is a tight squeeze. But decorated with festoon lights and a string of pom-poms stolen from the children’s bunk beds, it looks invitingly like a sultan’s tent (supposing you squint, blurring out the dilapidated fence behind).
Food being an essential element of camping, I ask Sian Tucker for advice next. Tucker runs Fforest, a luxurious camp in west Wales that holds outdoor feasts for its guests. If I were free to camp anywhere in the world, Fforest would be high on the list.
Tucker suggests campfire popcorn as an easy but exciting snack for kids. So when we fail to prod the barbecue into doing anything more than lightly toast the sausages, it doesn’t matter much.
Back garden camping gives access to your own kitchen. We put the supper in the oven, grab some ice from the freezer, and have another gin and tonic while the kids roast marshmallows and make popcorn over the fire pit.
Our one schoolboy error is to eat too early, at 6pm, leaving a long stretch until darkness descends at 8.30pm. Time that’s tough to fill in a garden the size of a swimming pool and tempts you to sneak inside for a spot of telly.
Instead, we have a long bath and brush our teeth in our clean bathroom, then put on two layers of clothes, burrow under a sea of duvets and zip up the tent. The Latvian builders from two doors down are having a sing-song. A siren wails. The foxes shriek. Temperatures drop dramatically. But just as the comfort of my bed begins to call from 20 paces away, a blanket of silence descends.
We wake to birdsong and shadows of leaves dancing across our canvas ceiling. We could be in bucolic Somerset instead of cramped east London. Except that, instead of facing a morning of car packing, bickering and traffic jams, we can stumble into our sitting room and switch on the heating. I could get used to this kind of camping.
Join the Great British Camp Out this bank holiday and donate: justgiving.com/fundraising/greatbritishcampout
Sian Tucker’s campfire popcorn
This easy-to-make popcorn will be a hit with the kids.
Prep time: 1 minute
- 1 bag of corn kernels
- Sprinkle of salt or sugar
- Take two matching metal sieves, each with a metal loop so you can hinge them securely together with wire.
- Leave enough flexibility to open and close. Use more wire to lash one sieve handle to a long stick.
- Add a handful of corn kernels into the bottom sieve, close the top and secure. Hold the basket over your fire and let the popping begin.
- When the corn has all popped, wait for the metal to cool before carefully opening the sieves. Add a sprinkle of salt or sugar.