When my mother was pregnant with me, she was in some pre-natal class or some bollocks with 4 other couples. Those couples and their offspring have been family friends ever since. For a period of ‘some years’ (My memory is gobshite, leave me alone), the children and mothers went on an annual camping weekend in a place called Rendlesham Forest.
Okay, that should be the background done. Good. Moving on.
When repeating the same thing year in year out, memories start to get a little indistinct. Therefore, instead of even pretending to differentiate between years, I am going to jump all over the place and turn it into one mega-weekend. Because of course I am.
The general blueprint was always the same anyway: we’d turn up, avec paternal support to put all the tents up. After that, the men would be banished. Leaving 4 women, 6 children, and multiple bottles of white wine. The children would go and play in the woods. Violently. With big sticks. The adults would drink and chat or whatever bollocks. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, I was hitting my friends with big sticks in a forest.
After dinner, we would be made to wash up. We would argue. We would lose.
By Sunday at least one of the women wasn’t talking to at least another two, and us kids had split into allegiances based on who had the longest, sturdiest stick. This was almost always along gender lines. This is because we were massive bullies. The actual GENDER didn’t come into it, we were eight. Sexism was just a funny word because it had ‘sex’ in it. The blokes were just more bloody minded.
One memorable story is one time we’d appropriated a little stick ‘Den’ someone had made. One of my friends had such a beautifully honed propensity to bullshit back then that by this time we were completely convinced it had some near mythical relevance that completely enabled us to justify ‘owning’ it. Even though we didn’t even have the claim of having built the bloody thing.
One morning we arrived at the little den/hut/Bear Grylls style shelter thing to find 3 other kids there. 2 our age, one slightly younger. Due to reasons I could honestly not fully explain, we completely exploded at them. Ended up with some near apocalyptic stick fight.
That I started. I had a fucking awful temper on me as a kid. Tried to kill someone in my class at school once. Or twice. Multiple times. And all quite sincerely. But yes, stick fight:
Whilst we were talking with the usurpers, the little shite of a boy they were with was poking my shins with a stick. I was giving him the evil eye and waiting for him to stop. He didn’t. I eventually told him where to stick his stick. With great enjoyment and malice in his little hellspawn eyes, he raised the stick, looked me in the eyes, and poked it into my stomach. Hard.
I, using the temperament and good sense gingers are famous for, Absolutely Fucking Lost It. That’s the medical term, check the caps. I started laying into him with my stick. Absolutely whaling on him. I think my bullshitting friend stopped me with a shove, before immediately laying into the two older ones. Because that’s what a friend does. Stops you from murdering a child for no reason and then immediately blames the child’s older brother. I’ve got that right, yeah?
But all jokes aside, I spent the rest of the day feeling guilty about that. Or at least I did until I got poked in the eye by a stick and lost it again. Gingers, eh?
Incidentally, Bullshitting (I’m calling him Bullshitting now. Deal.) introduced me to Terry Pratchett on one of these trips. Quite by accident, and not in a way that I even realised until some time later, when he was ‘introduced’ to me again. On a Tesco trip he’d bought a copy of The Wee Free Men. Bullshitting didn’t read. To this day I’m not sure it’s been read.
This will have relevance again later, I promise.
One of the things that made the weekend interesting was one particular camping spot. It was smack in the middle of a wasp’s nest. For reasons unknown to me completely, we never moved pitch. We just stayed there. In the middle of ALL OF THE WASPS EVER. I left a glass of Orange Juice out after breakfast once. I’m pretty sure wasps still talk of the genocide I committed through my momentary act of carelessness. Honestly. Next time I saw that glass, it was more wasp corpse than glass. Although that isn’t saying much – it was a plastic glass.
Bullshitting was having the time of his life. He’d appropriated a spatula and was running around in glorious rapture using it as a rudimentary fly swat. And hitting the girls, because hey, we were eight. It was like a cultural responsibility to casually assault our peers.
One evening everything built up to one single, glorious image I wish to leave you with. The husbands had all come over for the night, and we were having a massive barbecue. The campsite was nearly empty, and there was space all around us.
After dinner, we all settled down to our activities. The adults had, randomly and without any provocation from us, decided to play a game of rugby over the empty plots. Because alcohol, in copious amounts, makes reason leave the room out of concern for its safety.
Bullshitting was settling into the business of cold heartedly murdering wasps with a spatula. One of the girls was shut in a tent with the food bag, looking out on the evening through the insect nest. I was reading a book that wasn’t mine and drinking a can of cream soda. The rest were elsewhere. Let’s say they were watching the adults, why not.
A movement caught the girl’s eye inside the tent.
A wasp caught the sweet smell of cream soda on my lips.
My mother caught the rugby ‘ball’.
My mother slips, and falls into the mud.
The movement solidifies into a wasp. Shut in the tent. With the girl hiding in a shut tent from the wasps. She is terrified of wasps.
The wasp heads toward the smell of cream soda.
Bullshitter notices this particular wasp, out of dozens.
My mother, buoyed by lukewarm white wine, starts laughing.
The girl notices her wasp.
My wasp lands on my lower lip.
Bullshitter fails to notice my wasp’s immediate surroundings.
The scream starts.
I am trying to freeze in horror and start in shock simultaneously.
Bullshitter starts his swing at the wasp.
And that, whilst laughing uproariously, is when my mother pissed herself.
I haven’t used any real names in case people have a problem with it – you never know, and this is the internet. Some of you are weird, guys.
Bullshitter is no longer a bullshitter. He is a lovely man. He was not as brattish as this reads. I am exaggerating for comedic effect. I do that.
He totally spent an entire weekend hitting everything in sight with a spatula or a big stick though.
We were eight, shush.
Actually I have no idea how old we were. Eight seemed convenient so I stuck too it. Fuck you, at least I’m consistent.