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The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David


The Last Laugh... 

    I’d obviously made my point: when we got to the camping site, various boys were assigned to help me put up the tent.  Had they pitched a tent before?  No.  Did they know what they were doing?  No.  Would they like 5 euros to bugger off and leave me to get on with it?  Is the Pope a Catholic.

    My prime concern was to find a nice quiet spot where we wouldn’t be woken early in the morning by clockwork coffee makers, Bloody Bird Twitter, or Happy Campers heading for the shower block.  Having resigned myself to the worst, I wasn’t too bothered about shade, or stones, or pine needles.  Whatever I did, I knew I would be as uncomfortable as a cat in a goldfish bowl all week long.

    And so it proved.  The local bar had air conditioning but nothing else: no internet connection, no magazines, no elegant snacks, no comfortable chairs.  The village was just as bad.  No cybercafe, no wine-bar, no cinema, no take-away Thai.  Just butchers and bakers and pharmacies.

    The camp site was on the agricultural side, too.  Muck heaps, dawn tractors, smelly fields and Spartan facilities.

    But I didn’t care.  I honestly didn’t.  I’d expected the mosquitoes, the early morning whistling, the lost lavatory paper, the nettles, the inedible food, the warm white wine, the twisted ankles, the terrible jokes, everything.  I was up for it.  Nothing bothered me.

    In fact I enjoyed getting some of my own back – bouncing out of bed up hideously early and singing merrily as the coffee was mouldering on the gas ring, making terrible jokes about the showers being infested with crocodiles, being unforgivably cheery when it rained the first night and everyone got wet because the tents weren’t properly pegged down and no-one had brought an umbrella.

    Seeing as bars were out of the question, I found a place to swim.  What did I care if the clay river bed made the water look like sour milk?  What did I care if the mud at the bottom was a metre deep?  Did I mind being stung by a wasp?  Finding ants in my peanuts?  Getting this month’s Vogue covered in mayo?  Nope.  Not a bit of it.  I positively revelled in it.  I even surprised myself, I was so hearty, so bursting with good cheer and Girl Guide fervour.

    So much so, that when I overheard a guy in the bar (well, yes I had to go there from time to time, just to keep my reputation intact)... so when I heard that rain was forecast, I resolved to say nothing.  The sky was blue, the sun was shining.  No-one would ever guess that thunder was on the way.

    Wrong.  Our brave leader had check the weather by phone and discovered the awful truth: we were in the path of a veritable monsoon.  Were we to stay, we would be flooded out, drowned.  People were already whisking their sleeping bags out of their tents.

    "Doesn't look like rain to me...  Perhaps the meteo is wrong?  I'm staying, anyway.  I'm loving this camping lark,” I chirruped.  “It’ll be fun paddling in the middle of the night.  We can sleep in the showers!  Big Six breakfast tomorrow I reckon.  Eggs, bacon, sausages..."

    They went on packing and within an hour or so, they were gone.  It was only when I was sitting in solitary glory in the middle of a totally silent camp site, that I wondered - had they really been frightened by the spectre of rain?

    Or was it something I said?



Next column will be uploaded around 1st Sept.


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