Last week, I was at Focus. HTB’s version of the essential summer festival experience that British Christians seem strangely addicted to. It was inspiring and fun – lots of fun – even though my birthday fell in the middle of it and even though it required nearly a week of camping.
I strongly dislike camping, but have ways of making it bearable. This was my second Focus and my third week-long Christian camping festival – a tent large enough to stand up in is an essential. My own sleeping pod, not shared with anyone else, is also crucial for introvert sanity over what’s an extremely long time with a lot of people. A thermal mug has to be carried at all times (you never know when you might find tea-making facilities) as does a phone charger (take advantage of all the electricity you can find). After last year’s experience, I knew some of the tricks of Focus that would make life happier – like showering after families had left for children’s activities and making good use of the campsite chill-out marquee’s urns and tea supply.
However, despite these lessons, I found myself succumbing to several #campingwoes over the first few days…
- Realising at 10pm that I’d not got around to pegging out the two unpegged guy ropes I’d spotted when I’d left the tent that morning. (At the end of a day of high winds, thunderstorms and hail.)
- Queues for showers because I couldn’t wait till after families departed. Two mornings running, I waited for over 20 minutes at half past six in the morning. I don’t do queues at such a time. Nor do I do friendly Christian chit-chat.
- Running late for something that started at 7.15am because leaving 45mins (after a brief run) to have a shower & dress wasn’t enough because of the queue.
- Desperately needing caffeine and breakfast while running late (above) and because of lateness, not checking whether the urn in the chill-out tent had hot water in it. Result? Tepid tea and a porridge pot whose porridge was simply flakes of oats floating in lukewarm water.
- The chill-out tent running out of UHT milk pots on Tuesday morning and not replacing them till Thursday (the final day). [Though God bless the man at 7am on Tuesday morning who let me have the very last one as I'd already made my tea and he insisted that black tea was much, much worse than black coffee.]
- More than one late-night trip to the bathroom block when I found myself in an adjacent cubicle to a child being ill.
- Being awoken on the very first morning by a small boy right outside my tent screaming that his brother was “SO OUT LBW!”. I’d have been more annoyed, but I quite enjoyed the irony that there was no way he could’ve been out LBW because they weren’t playing cricket with stumps…
The reason these camping woes become so woeful is because the majority of people at Focus aren’t actually camping. Most people at Focus are in caravans – sophisticated static caravans with electricity, hot water, showers, beds and cooking facilities. The camping, as far as camping goes, was fine. It wasn’t too wet or too cold, I slept comfortably and soundly, no one’s tent collapsed, but…
Some people in the queue for showers alongside me one morning put it well: “The problem is, you have a shower and feel a lot less skanky, but then you walk up to the main site and see all the people who didn’t have to queue for showers and even had access to hair-styling implements, and you feel skanky all over again. At least when you’re all camping, you’re all skanky in the same way.”
And they’re right. At Greenbelt and New Wine virtually everyone camps and faces the same challenges. At Focus, it’s as though there’s a dual-class society, where one has life an awful lot easier than the others. It’s a tough one. Too many people come to Focus to fit in the caravans available and the caravan option is pricey – camping is a lot cheaper. But it’s also a lot tougher as you don’t have a place to retreat to when it rains or somewhere to store and cook decent food or where you can look after your child in the evening in comfort. [I don't have a child - just to clarify - but I was camping with people who did.]
However, if you have generous friends in caravans, things improve. One wet evening, a family opened up their home to a hoard of campers who cooked a range of food in their kitchen and ate it all crammed into their lounge while rain poured down outside. My birthday morning began with breakfast in another spacious caravan and a highlight of the week was an evening spent babysitting a young caravan inhabitant. But when you’re in a caravan, you have a base – an address. You can say to friends you’ve just bumped into “oh, you must pop along to 21 Beech Walk – we’ll be having drinks later!”, telling them that you’re a blue tent just adjacent to the fishing pond doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
If I was offered a caravan, would I take it? Probably, although I’m sure I’d have massive caravan guilt. Also, it would depend who I was sharing with (introvertedness strikes again) and whether it was an old model or a swanky Ikea inspired one.
Then again, it’s almost irrelevant as next year Focus moves down south to Camber Sands where there are chalets not caravans, and I have no idea if I’ll be going as it all depends on which church decides to give me a job next summer…