This train of thought came from a photo I saw recently…
I started going to Quaker Camp when I was very young. I don’t really remember the early ones, when I was very small. I only know that I caused my grandmother, Diana, more than her fair share of grief. I was a stubborn and somewhat contrary child so if she wanted me to eat the vegetables, I would refuse, if she wanted to go for a mountain walk, I would refuse, and so on. I imagine I didn’t make life altogether easy at times.
As I got older, it became a very important place for me. I would count down the days until we packed up the car to go. I felt sick to my stomach with excitement and nerves as we searched for the wooden sign on the side of the road, pointing us to the right field. I knew I was going to see my friends, but because I only saw them once a year I used to panic that it would be different, that they wouldn’t want to talk to me this year, that they would have forgotten me. But they never did.
In my teens, it was a haven. But we were typical teenagers. We would spend our whole time wanting to go to the nearest towns for a shower or to go to the cinema, grumbling when it was our duty day and complaining loudly every morning when we were woken unceremoniously by children banging on pan lids. Incidentally, as a kid, banging the pan lids in the morning was the be all and end all of camping! You would wait for duty day, just to wake everyone up with a rude clanging and bashing and yelling simply because you were allowed to!! Adults would actually give you the tools, it was amazing. As a teenager, you hated the little blighters with every fibre of your being when they bashed and banged and shouted at 7am outside your tent. Oh the pain!
It was only so bad because we’d have been up late the night before, of course. Not drinking or smoking or anything like that, simply lying out by the campfire, looking at the stars and talking all sorts of rubbish. It was, magical. It wasn’t until the evenings that we would really appreciate where we were. After supper, the campfire would be lit, cocoa would be made and everyone would start vying for the best spots by the fire. As it got later into the evening, people would drift off to their tents leaving the teenagers and “cool” adults to spend hours putting the world to rights. I have memories of the odd few appearing after “watching the sunset”, which we later realised was code for going to the pub!
I used to argue with Di-Di about what we were doing during the day. She would want to go on walks and cycle rides, but I did not. I never did. The thing is, and I remember this and know this with clarity, I was never trying to be difficult. I’m not sure she ever really understood, but what I always loved best about being at Camp, was being at Camp. I felt so relaxed on the campsite, just sitting with a book or some music, or someone to talk to. I didn’t feel the need to leave the site, I was content there. There was a peace that came from being there and I relished it.
It’s been years since I went. I used to feel so emotional when I left at the end of the week or two weeks, to go home again. The lure of hot showers and sofas and flushing toilets, while incredible thoughts, never seemed enough when I thought about the friends and experiences and freedom left behind. And when I was younger, I couldn’t imagine a summer coming around where I didn’t go. Of course, life has a nasty habit of getting in the way and for the past five or six years, I haven’t been in a position where I’ve been able to attend. There were always new faces coming through, so I’m not entirely sure there would be many campers left who would remember me these days.
I hope the teenagers who go now really appreciate their time there. If their experiences are anything like as wonderful and heart warming and soul affirming as mine were, I am happy for them. I used to come away with such incredible peace of mind. Hurts and worries just kind of melted into insignificance, because that open warmth that was shared around the circle would fill you up.
As I type this, my little dog is stretching her head across my middle, and a paw is sneaking onto the keyboard. Life has changed for me in so many ways, but I will never lose that piece of me that was made at Camp. I learned so much there, gained so much and, I hope, gave a fair bit back too. I hope everyone there this year, and in those to come, soaks up every moment of it and loves it. One day they may have their memories jogged by a photo on facebook and find themselves thinking fondly on summers gone by, filled with beautiful faces and stunning places.
I’m glad for my memories.
Thank you, Friends, for being my friends.