Loitering Within Tents

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Loitering Within Tents

The British have a long and historic tradition of camping. Almost a love affair, in fact. Ever since Baden-Powell took the first ever boy scouts off to experience the bracing open-air life of Brownsea Island, without telling social services or conducting a risk assessment, right through to Barbara Windsor in Carry On Camping, or that 1960s TV classic, Nuts In May. There is a curious dichotomy in our attitude to spending time under canvas. On the one hand, itís all about rising at dawn, skinny-dipping in the lake, hiking 17 character-building miles and then cooking a hearty breakfast, usually black on one side and raw on the other, and in the evenings, singing Ging Gang Goolieround a convivial camp fire (or, even worse, Kumbaya). On the other hand, itís also slightly naughty, a dirty weekend on the cheap, with occasional nuances of accidental nudity. No wonder that many camp sites are a hotbed of cold feet and a scene of mislaid virginity. Then, of course, there is always the wonderful British climate, and the constant peril of creepy-crawlies, both of which are such an integral part of the great outdoors. Nowadays, "campingĒ embraces a very wide spectrum of experiences, from "glampingĒ in luxury to sleeping in a shelter made out of bracken and bent twigs, especially if you are Ray Mears.

Steve Rudd was musing on Tracy Emin one day, as one does from time to time, and in particular, about her famous tent, now lost in a fire at her warehouse, on which she had painstakingly embroidered the names of everyone she had ever slept with. It seemed to him that there was something particularly symbolic, almost iconic, in her choice of a tent to convey that information. Something very British. He realised, when he thought about it, how many of his own rites of passage, and how many crucial periods in his own life had been spent in tents, or had revolved around camping. Some 20,000 words later, the result was this slim volume.

Steve Rudd was born at a very early age, completely naked and unable to walk, talk, or fend for himself. He overcame these difficulties and started writing poetry while still at school. Fortunately, all of this early work has been lost. Four years in retail bookselling after graduation contained the career highlights of mistaking Philip Larkin for Eric Morecambe and failing to recognise Margaret Drabble, Phil Drabble, and Bob Monkhouse. Only one of them had written a book on badgers. These days, he spends most of his time having staring contests with the lino, feeding the squirrels, the cat, the dog and his wife, but not necessarily in that order, and wondering whatever happened to Abraham Lincolnís hat.