You will know that my van has a tailgate.  This is great – I lift it up – pull out the little stove and the drawers and I’m cooking on gas.  Now this is lovely when the sun is shining and the wind is nothing more than a gentle breeze.   I’ve worked out a way to make my early morning first cup of tea without exposing me in my PJs to the world but keeping the rain off my toast is a different matter.

Enter phase two of the great van experience.  A tailgate awning of course.  Now, if you’ve got a couple of hours to spare you can enter the world of tent enthusiasts and work out which tent is right for you.  And what’s more, once you have identified the correct tent you can spend another two hours (at least) watching a young man on YouTube make erection look effortless.  Let me rephrase that – you can watch a man show you how to put up the tent.

I ordered the tent from that shop that entices you to buy things you never knew you needed and collected it.  Never the one to show weakness I carried it to my van.  It was very heavy.  And then it dawned on me.  Having checked with this weekend’s campsite that the pitch was big enough for my van and the tent – I had no idea how to actually tether the thing to the van nor how to apply the YouTube lesson to this box full of nylon sheets.

My van is parked on the road – I don’t have a driveway – but the vicar does.  The vicar had let slip that he is no stranger to the art of camping.  Does tent pitching fall into the remit of ‘pastoral care’ I wondered?  He had already fallen under the spell of ‘would you like to see my van’ so a reasonable follow up question was ‘can I pitch my tent on your drive?’ I thought.  At this point I did think of Alan Bennett and his ‘Lady in the Van’ but thought it best not to mention that particular book.  Of course he said to pop round and we could sort it out, he muttered ‘it can’t be that difficult’.

I’m not given to panic attacks (well, nothing that I gulp of ‘Rescue Remedy’ won’t sort out) but I did have one of those awful moments that any of us who have been in dysfunctional relationships will recognize.  Those moments of awful fear when you just know that the planned task will prove to be ‘far too difficult’, the instructions will be ‘absolute rubbish’ and somehow it’s all your fault.  When I arrived on the vicar’s drive I suddenly felt the need to share this anxiety with him.  He looked as if he understood and said I had nothing to worry about.

We unpacked acres of nylon sheeting and yards of tapes.  With his quiet guidance we found the top from the bottom and the front from the back.  It needed tying onto the bars on the roof of the van.  There is no way that I was going to reach (I’m now less than five feet tall) but the vicar is in the sort of six foot category – undaunted I produced my kitchen stool from the van and tied my ends up.

This tent is inflatable.  I would never have found the valve on my own but together we sifted through the unfamiliar folds and lo and behold – there it was.  I can’t tell you the excitement of watching this thing rise up.  I was in charge of the pump (‘what’s this green bit on the gauge for?’ I asked somewhat naively – yes, you guessed – it means stop – that’s enough for now).  The rest was simple.  The tent pegs that came with it are very basic (apparently) – but I now have a set of very superior pegs and the right sort of hammer.  I also have a chair in which I can lounge and a tiny table that will go next to it for my drink.  Thanks for the loan vicar, you must come round for tea one day.

This tent has windows and curtains, it has fly shields and Velcro to double seal the joins.  So – the tailgate is up and the tent is over it.  I have doubled my living space and guaranteed a snug little area to cook and sit in.

I noticed a slight look of panic in the very patient vicar’s face and could see that it was time to take the whole lot down and free up his drive. Miraculously – we got it all back into the bag.

Written by Marion, hosted by Carrie 

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