Camping. Another stepfamily adventure

Recently I chalked up another chapter in the #dontrecognisemylife story of my new blended family.


Before every person that knows me rejects this as an elaborate and completely preposterous fabrication dreamed up to plug a rather large void between blog posts, let me clarify that it was GLAMPING. A spacious tent, erected by those who actually possess the required expertise. Quality manchester. Soft furnishings. Carefully curated decorative touches. Hot water bottles snugly encased in something hand-knitted. Sufficient power to support hair appliances, multi-device charging, bedside lamps and HEATING!

It’s taken a long time for creative entrepreneurs to carve out a niche variation on standard canvas-based hospitality that is sufficiently evolved to tempt me back into camping life. My last foray into this world was three decades ago, where I joined like-minded 18 year old friends, newly emancipated from our parents by virtue of freshly-issued drivers licences and ready to spend supermarket-checkout-wages on a cheap campsite. The concept of a share-economy was decades away from becoming a thing, but we were all well aware of the outrageous value represented by a flagon of Para Port when divided between a gaggle of inexperienced drinkers. Fueled by abundant, cheap fortified spirits and Midnight Oil albums on repeat, memories were made.

And now we have glamping.

Just as I learned in the 80s the limitations of an inexperienced liver at the hands of an unconstrained flow of cheap booze, I’ve now learned that communing with nature protected by only a thin veneer of canvas can continue to be a source  of life-lessons. Throw an energetic twelve year old stepchild into your tent and there’s an unexpected layer of nuance in the learnings. Here are a few of those lessons.

I am unsuited to confined spaces

I have a fairly lengthy list of life-skill limitations. These have compounded as I’ve matured. It began with a lack of control of my intestinal contents on fairground spinny rides and the inevitability of fairy floss attaching to my hair. Early career limitations involved an inability to speak to superiors without blushing, becoming unpredictably inarticulate or spraying them with incidental spittle.  For all the investment and earnest advice from Australia’s finest hardware stores I’ve remained inept at the most basic of DIY home-maintenance tasks. There were lessons gleaned from an emergency room visit and eight weeks in plaster  after I fell on the basketball court, not at the hands of a hard-tackling opponent, but by inexplicably falling while running down the sidelines without the ball or another human within twenty metres. The purchase of a wooden-based bed with merciless corners six years ago has still not trained me in the agility to avoid, on average, a bi-weekly new shin bruise.

Spending time in a tent, however,  has reaffirmed that in a confined space I operate with all the finesse of a graceless yak.

My first act, crushing a wineglass stem into forlorn shards with an errant ugg boot was something anyone could have done. I’m convinced glass breakage is something that the glamping purveyors fully expect and routinely budget for.

Something a little more advanced on the scale of camping carnage was my careless hand gesture that emptied a flower vase of water into the central powerboard and shut down the entire tent’s electricals.

You need low-fi games

I can’t explain how many different ways I tried to contingency-plan my way through the lack of wi-fi in a tent. Step-parenthood is similar to parenthood in that it teaches you the sheer horror that can result from a bored tween who is severed from their technology.

I did explain that tents don’t have wi-fi. That the people around you are rarely likely to offer up hackable private wi-fi. That even the combined efforts of our family mobile data usage plans would wither under the weight of what is required for a pre-teen to compete in whatever it is that they do in a bout of Fortnite. And also, there was no TV.

Having managed all expectations, we employed the best of low-data-usage apps to navigate those literally dark hours between sunset and a reasonable bedtime.

Strangely enough, entertainment can still ensue from traditional games like charades, even if the charade topic is now delivered by a $0.99 app rather than a cheeky little box of cards.

My skill level at such games is still entry-level. I was halfway to the answer –  knowing that the back end of the answer was ‘shark’. I regarded closely the stepchild vigorously pointing to a white chrysanthemum (now laying parched in its jar after all the water was drained in the powerboard spillage incident).

He was subtly trying to convey that the full answer was the Great White.

I responded confidently with that slightly less ubiquitous, yet equally fearsome creature of the sea – the Flower Shark.

Catering works differently

If you were embarking on a lengthy glamping stay, you’d either need a fairly limitless eating-out budget or some serious planning around camping-compatible meals.

For the sake of one night, I felt disinclined to invest in keeping Esky ice up to anything more perishable than a bottle of Rose. Given our proximity to Melbourne winter, I was also naturally averse to committing time in an outdoor BBQ and camp kitchen to conjure up dinner. Instead I determined that all meals would be outsourced. Whilst husband and stepchild huddled over an iPhone, trying to watch a soccer league final that I’d failed to factor into the entertainment contingency planning, I was relegated to hunter/gatherer status when it came to the evening meal.

My life skills failed me when it came to home delivery in the context of a specific camp site. I valiantly pushed past my menu app’s failure to recognise my current location and apply very persistent efforts to deliver me pizza from my regular local outlet some 150km away. I pondered whether the caravan park would enforce the rigorous algorithms I was used to in my CBD carparking world and fail to deal with letting another vehicle in with our access pin without our vehicle with that same access pin having exited and leaving us trapped with the delivery guy, huddled collectively around shared pizza on campsite 180 until daybreak.

So I stood, nonchalantly leaning against the caravan park reception veranda pillar, clad in camping-appropriate  hoodie and inside-tent Uggs, awaiting the pizza delivery guy. I was  on the verge of holding up an airport style sign saying ‘La Porchetta’ lest I be mistaken for a shoddily clad lady of the night trawling for camper rough trade.

Boys in tents

My last learning, which is not news to anyone who cohabitates closely with near-teen boys, is their prolific ability to transform pizza and Pepsi into toxic gaseous fumes that can easily engulf an unaccustomed stepmother. Having been blessed with a house with adequate ventilation and only populated by a child on an every-other-weekend basis, I was not accustomed to such concentrated fumes.

Having now been indoctrinated, I feel compelled to defend every methane-emitting bovine accused of being at the heart of global warming and advise them that they should lawyer up and start singing like a canary about their human teenage toxin-emitting accomplices.

Glamping. Just another source of (overly fragrant) blended family experiences.