Tim Key: 'We built a fire and foraged for food in a Tesco Metro a 15-minute drive away'


Click to follow
The Independent Online

I love camping, me. I went with my friends from home last week to escape the smoke and gather some nonsense to put in my column for The Independent Magazine. We camped in a Kentish wood full of bluebells. It was actually idyllic.

I was forced to do Scouts when I was little, luckily, so I know my way around a camping weekend and I spent the morning getting my kit together. I crammed my sleeping bag into Asda's equivalent of a bag for life, I charged up my phone till it bulged and I set off for the station in high spirits, only stopping to undo my padded shirt and put it round my waist, and to go back for my tent which I'd forgotten in the excitement.

Once in Kent, I met five other strapping goons who I'd gone to school with in the 1990s and we pitched our tents among the pretty flowers. We were so far from the horrors of urban life that the colour was restored to our faces as we grappled with poles, hid each other's pegs and prodded each other in the nads with long, fallen branches. Little Bear had brought flimsy camping chairs with him and we balanced on those and took stock. It was fun and games, sure, but we had a night to survive, and although we were on an official campsite, we were miles from the reception bit, so effectively alone and at the mercy of attack from flora and – particularly – fauna. Amid the banter you could see fear in, for example, Big Band's eyes.

My dad was a massive camper in the 1960s; famous for his hardy bell tent. Even in strong winds and driving rain, it still stood firm. Held rigid by the guy ropes and, in particularly tough conditions, by my dad gripping the ridgepole and screaming for the rain to stop. By the time I met the poor sod, he'd got married to my mum and been forced to upgrade. He was now pulling an archaic looking trailer tent round the country and when me and my brother asked about the old days with his bell tent he would go quiet and tell us to help him put the awning up.

Back in Kent, we built a fire and foraged for food in a Tesco Metro a 15-minute drive away. We're a resourceful half dozen and we managed to gather bread, Daddies Sauce and Tesco's own-brand Pringles. Hilariously, we also sourced a lettuce! We booted this lettuce about and devoured the 'Pringles' as the meat cooked. The minted lamb leg steaks sizzled and spat, and as we drank greedily from our well of continental lagers, it struck me that, like Ray Mears, we were surviving. Here we were, in the wilds, six town-mice, and surviving just like Ray! And also, we were doing it without the support of a production team.

Darkness fell and we became scared and went into our separate tents. Because there was a slight breeze and we'd rushed to put them up, the tents started slithering around a bit in the night, and there were possible animal noises. We're actually genuinely all quite brave people, but when you're in a new county and you literally can't hear any roads in the distance, your mind can start playing tricks. I could hear crying from Bones's tent as the reality of being at one with nature kicked in. Then I heard a zip from Big Band's little home. And then I heard the unmistakable sound of an accountant pouring out. It had become too much for him. He had quit.

We found out in the morning that the temperatures had done for Big Band. It had plummeted to 8C and he had plodded back to his car in his long johns to listen to the radio and warm up a bit.

Big Band returned to camp tired but not defeated around 11ish. Crucially, he had survived. By scavenging for Polos in his Merc, he had survived. In fact, we all had and we spent a couple of hours high-fiving the point. We hadn't thought to bring pans, mugs, milk or coffee so, frustratingly, even though we had water, we couldn't make coffee with it. So we hauled down our tents, deflated our air beds, and headed back to the horrors of urban life, because a couple of us had barbecues to go to and Big Band needed a cuddle from his long-term girlfriend.