It may seem odd to you but while putting away my winter clothing I am put in mind of our annual camping holiday in late July.Â Unlike people living in the USA, those of us living in Ireland (and other North Atlantic island climates) need to keep a weather eye on what will â€“ in all eventualities â€“ suit a capricious climate.
Let me explain. Back in 1993 my beloved and I decided to camp in Wales â€“ a beautiful country with mountains and seaside. In the middle of the night I woke out of a strange dream, one where I was lying in our tent and my sleeping bag was covered in snow. On waking, this may not have been the literal truth, but it was freezing! Luckily, we had bought the Sunday newspaper and I insulated my sleeping bag with the News, Review, Travel and Jobs sections and settled back to sleep.
This was highly instructive, and I have never again been caught unawares or under-prepared.
In a damp and often showery climate you need to pack not only the sunhat, sun block (yes, you can get sun stroke in Ireland!), insect repellent, wind up flashlight and first aid kit â€“ you need to think about how water repellent is your outerwear, inner wear, footwear, tent and other kit. I pack an umbrella as well as an axe, a woolly hat as well as shorts. As Iâ€™ve aged I have loudly insisted that I must have a tent with a height that allows me to stand upright in the morning and to get dressed without doing acrobatic contortions. Iâ€™m too old for this crawling into the day for my cup of tea anymore!
Tony and I camp with a wonderful group promoting sustainable living and â€˜walking lightly on the land’, called Earthsong. For nine days we drum, sing, dance, hold evening cabarets, attend any number of workshops as well as camp in small circles of about twenty-five people. We have hot showers that are heated from a wood stove, an onsite shop in a tent, yurts for workshop space, Indian teepees for childrenâ€™s play out of the rain, a cafÃ© in another tent as well as a canvas sauna! Needless to say the toilet facilities are of the compost variety and they kindly provide childrenâ€™s height facilities for the more height challenged camper.
In our small camp circle we share the cooking (so that it does feel like a holiday from the usual domestic grind), the mealtime clear ups, keep on eye on each otherâ€™s kids, pool our supplies and gradually knit into a neighbourhood. I am still in touch with past circle members and we have joyous reunions when we discover which of us has returned to this summerâ€™s camp.
We need the axe to cut out a communal campfire in the fieldâ€™s turf. Being an inveterate recycler I cannibalised some old oven racks to create different heights for slow cooking or faster boils. A breezeblock, handy rock or some of that sod can balance the racks over the fire.
I believe some of my enduring popularity in circles is that I have a good collection of cast iron cookware, including my cherished Dutch Oven. This pot has provided numerous curries, bean stews and soups to nourish up to twenty-five people at suppertime.Â Its finest hour was in 2009 when we discovered that one little girl was going to have her fifth birthday during camp. One of our number was a Somali refugee woman well experienced with creating any kind of meal over an open fire. The Dutch Oven was the perfect vehicle for baking a birthday cake! We all watched in wonder and respect to see just how versatile open campfire cooking can be. My ambition this year is to bake a batch of Irish Soda Bread using my Dutch Oven.
So I am having happy reminiscences as I pack away the thermal underwear, the woolly hats, and the heavy sweaters.Â As I put them into the â€˜out of seasonâ€™ storage drawers I put one pair of thermals, the fingerless gloves, my fleece pajamas towards the front of the drawer. You can never trust Irish weather. I might need to pack them.
Iâ€™ve never been caught out since that camping trip in Wales and been short of a layer for anyÂ – and every â€“ climatic eventuality.