It seems to me that packing is the curse of the modern woman. At this time of year, it’s all we talk about. Packing to go on our holidays, or away for the weekend. We’re always packing. Lots of women I know even pack all their husbands’ stuff when they go away on work trips! They’re like the serious elite packers. I’m pretty in awe of those girls.
But why do WE do all the packing? We’re modern and liberated and equal, until it comes to suitcases, when we revert to age-old stereotypes.
How have the men got away with it for so long? They always criticize our packing, but never do it themselves. Or, for that matter, even contemplate the unpacking.
Personally, I hate packing. It stresses me out. And even though Emlyn has, on occasion, sweetly offered to do all the packing himself, that’s not a solution either. It would be MORE stressful trying to delegate the task to him than doing it myself.
I’ve tried various techniques, but the best one for me is not to think about it until the last possible minute and then to go for it. Ruthlessly. I refuse to pay the extortionate fees for taking bags in the hold on airplanes and so now my packing is like a logistical brain twister as I try and fit everything into five tiny hand luggage bags.
But there are some packing scenarios that require much more thought. And this biggest packing task of all is the one for the camping trip. That separates the girls from the women alright.
When we were kids, we always went camping for our summer holidays. I remember leaving our house and returning to it at least five times, as we’d always have forgotten something essential (even the dog once), as my parents got more and more irate. But I also remember sun-filled days in the Gower, and falling asleep to the sound of the adults laughing late into the night.
For a long time, I have eschewed the camping trip as far too much hassle, preferring instead to throw myself at the mercy of easyJet to take me and my offspring abroad for some sunshine. It wasn’t the camping I feared, but the packing for the camping which put me right off.
But recent times have made me reconsider this foreign holiday stance and I’ve reconnected with my inner camper.
In the old days it was a field and a tent and you made your own entertainment, but nowadays one goes to a music festival to get the real camping experience.
Look around and you’ll find out that everyone is doing it. Loads of people I know have signed up to Bestival years on the trot, but I’m relatively new to this malarkey.
Anyway, last weekend we trotted off to a field up the far reaches of the M11 to a child-friendly festival. It was so epically fab that I can’t help feeling that I’ve peaked a little too soon for the summer. Three nights of next to no sleep, serious partying and full on fun have wiped me out. And the kids too.
But despite a young girl at the sausage sandwich tent, who I overheard whispering to her companion, ‘Man, I’d never come to a festival when I’m like, forty!’, I can see why going to a festival with your kids is so popular. It’s like family therapy. The kids have fun and the adults have fun at the same time. Rules are relaxed. Bedtimes are thrown out of the window, along with teeth cleaning and washing. It reconnects you all in a shared experience which brings out the best in you all. And the kids get to see their Dads’ dancing at an age where they have time to get over the shock.
But of course it starts with the packing row. Everyone has a camping packing row. It comes with the turf. Because the camping pack-up always requires two people. You to gather all the stuff, him to pack it in the car. It goes something like this…
Him: ‘What on earth are you doing??? The car is FULL. What is all this STUFF??? There’s no room. We’re ready to go.’
You: ‘We’re not even remotely ready. There’s still all the kitchen stuff to put in as well.’
Him: ‘What kitchen stuff?’
You: ‘Du-uh! Cutlery, plates, bowl, cereal, tea bags. You know, all the stuff. And all the bedding too.’
Him: ‘Bedding! Bedding! Jesus Christ, woman! Who do you think I am? Houdini? There’s NO ROOM. You could have told me before.’
You: ‘If you paid even the slightest bit of attention, then you’d know we’re only a quarter of the way there on packing.’
Him: ‘What! What! Oh my God! What is that HUGE bag?’
Him: ‘Clothes??? What clothes do you need? It’s camping for God’s sake, not a fashion show.’
You: ‘Believe me. This is the bare minimum. Pyjamas for all three kids, spare knickers, socks, jeans, jumpers, swimming stuff, shorts, t-shirts, hot weather gear, wet weather gear. For your information, I’m only taking one change of clothes.’
Him: ‘Ahhhhhh! You’re deliberately sabotaging the packing. Now I’m going to have to reconfigure the boot. And you know damn well that if we don’t leave in half an hour we’ll get snarled up on the M25.’
But I think camping is worth it, in the end. Even just for the weekend. By the time we got there, hot and bothered with the kids sweating under piles of pillows and towels, the packing row had receded and excitement had taken over. Out came the tent and the table and chairs and we set up our home from home.
Soon my Blackberry had run out of juice and the outside world seemed like a far off country. The kids had shot off, already forming gangs, whilst we sat back in the camping chairs with a beer and our gang of mates to do some serious people-watching. We effortlessly took it in turns to watch the kids whilst we went off to explore the music tents and came back to the late night campfire to giggle – especially at the saucy silhouettes of some amorous campers in their tents.
Fortunately we were mostly blessed with the weather, until the last day when we had to pack up in the torrential rain, so the house is now full of soggy tent and bags of muddy clothes.
My beloved spouse had to reluctantly admit that we did, in fact, use every single item we took with us. But he still didn’t help un-pack. Except for the car, of course. Just the same as my Dad always did. And his Dad before him. Because – just like the loft, according to the comedian Michael McIntyre – that’s a male preserve, where the real hard work’s done. As if.