Hung about with rucksack, sleeping bag and camp-mat, Clara runs back for a last hug before taking her place in the mini-bus. She's off to Cub Camp for the first time and preparations for this intrepid trip to Chalfont St Peter have taken most of the week.
First there was the thrilling business of assembling the kit. The official what-to-take list from the Scouting Association is balm to my daughter's orderly soul, and she ticks off the items as they go into the kit-bag like a stern recording angel. Knife, fork and spoon are conscientiously labelled with sticking plaster; new batteries are packed, separate from torch, in the regulation manner. ("Can you imagine, Mum, if there was a Midnight Emergency and the batteries had run out?")
When, as a last-minute surprise, I produce a miniature wash-kit - an airline freebie from an upgraded flight - Clara's happiness is complete. "It's perfect," she pronounces. "Compact and lightweight!"
Naturally, there's been a dry-run with the new sleeping bag (the one we had doesn't have a stuff-sac and the list does say "stuff-sac"). Conor, at six, is too young for the official trip but enters into the spirit of the thing by setting up camp in his bedroom with the old sleeping bag - he doesn't give a stuff for sacs - and a tent improvised from a blanket taped to the radiator. Alerted by a curious clanking from the bottom of the sleeping bag as he hauls it from kitchen to bedroom, I look in to find him, at nine o'clock on a Thursday night, crosslegged in his bivouac, forking up sardines from the tin. "Aw, Mum," he protests as I bundle him back to bed and confiscate his squirrelled cache of cornflakes, two cans of sweetcorn and a litre of milk, "the Famous Five always have sardines when they're camping."
"The Famous Five," I tell him, "didn't have school in the morning. Tomorrow night, when Clara's at camp, you can sleep in your tent. Right now, it's bed."
In the event, it's me who doesn't sleep. How, I wonder, around 3am, when I have exhausted every potential camping disaster from pot-holing accidents to lurking paedophiles, can parents bear to send eight-year-olds away to school for months at a time? It's bad enough waving Clara off into the wide world for two nights.
The weekend passes awfully slowly. When drizzle sets in on Saturday night, I catch myself shaking my fist at the sky. But Clara, on her return, has passed to a place beyond weather, high on the memories of toasted marshmallows and midnight talent shows in the tent. And there are presents - a bag of Skittles (his favourite sweets) for Con and for me a fridge magnet in the shape of a rabbit. "I didn't miss you at all, Mum," says Clara, shovelling in roast potatoes on Sunday evening, "but I did think about you."
Which sounds, to me, like a result.
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