Sunday, 2 February 2014

Concentration Camping

Camping. It’s a rite of passage apparently. Something that, in American society (or so certain kinds of movies would have you believe) fathers do with their sons to help them develop into men – because Americans still need to be able to survive in the wilderness, catching fish with their teeth, wrestling bears and the like.

It’s different here in the UK of course. I never went camping with my dad. I never went camping at all until I reached the grand old age of 24, and if I had gone with my dad I would have found the whole experience to be quite different from that portrayed in the American films I’d grown up with – we don’t have any bears for a start, and as for camping in the wilderness… it can be more like camping on a council estate (which is the British equivalent of a wild, untamed wilderness), since in most cases campsites seem to be simply fields where people go for a cheap holiday and to drink lots of lager, eat lots of barbequed food and sit about being lairy, all side by side. Am I saying it’s a microcosm of British society? Well, I wasn’t, but now I think about it, I suppose I could be.

Don’t get me wrong though; camping is fun, I just haven’t really figured out what’s fun about it yet. Is it the sounds of people snoring from across the field? No… is it waking up at three in the morning with a screaming bladder and having to weigh up the benefits of emptying it against the inconvenience of getting dressed lying down and then traipsing to the toilet block in the cold and or dark and or wet? No, it’s not that either. Is it the way you can never be sure of the weather, but how much fun you have depends on it? Is it the kids that wake you up with their screaming and squealing at 7 in the morning? Or the way it takes ages to do anything? How it’s difficult to get clean, stay clean, feel clean?

rocking it with the Stoli
No, it’s none of those things, but in spite of those things, it’s good. It’s just something that people do in order to get a change of scenery, and that in itself does them a world of good. There’s always something new to see (and laugh at)… and it’s a great excuse for drinking with your friends.

A couple of weekends past, Mrs Cake and I decided to go camping on Anglesey, North Wales. I was dispatched to Aldi to pick up some bottled beers for the missus, and while I did so I started thinking about which of my spirits would be going with us. The winner: Stolichnaya. There’s no point in taking your single malts when you’ll be drinking from plastic beakers. I also picked up some Holsten Pils for me.

Ok, rules. First, find the flattest pitch possible, as far away as possible from other campers, always have your first beer while erecting the tent, reward yourself with a 2nd beer as soon as the tent is up and carry an open can of beer around with you at all times. Those seem pretty universal.
an empty shoe makes a handy drinks holder

We stayed this time at a site near the town of Moelfre, overlooking an enormous beach. It was a peaceful site – in fact it would turn out to be too peaceful…

After a couple of beers and dinner, I rolled a joint and we took it and a couple of cups of vodka down to the beach for an early evening stroll, returning a little while later with a happy buzz and a propensity for hysterics.

As the light faded and we sat outside the tent that night, watching not very much in particular happen, chatting and drinking a little more, I wondered – what’s it all about? Not life no, but why were we there? We were just sitting in a field, not doing anything. And so was everyone else. We were having a nice time, but couldn’t we have been having a nice time at home?

We could be having a nice time at home, but while there would be more to entertain us, it wouldn’t be the same – we wouldn’t be having quite such a nice time. It’s the same reason you go on holiday.

As the evening wore on, we moved our chairs into the shelter of the tent and continued the fun.

“This is great, isn’t it?” I said. “It’s dead peaceful and relaxing, there’s no lairy people about, it’s just really nice.”

Right at that moment a man popped his head round and said, “just to let you know, it’s a very still night and your voices carry a long way – you can be heard up to a quarter of a mile away, so you know – just to let you know…”

So we were being reprimanded for being noisy. It seems that for once we were the lairy ones. We looked around us and realised everyone else on the entire campsite had gone to bed, and it was only 10.45! What the… it’s Friday night! Why’s everyone gone to bed?

Over the next hour or so Mrs Cake and I went through a series of emotions and thought processes:
-          Yeah, perhaps we were being a bit loud…
-          It is after 10.30 (though we didn’t realise it at the time), and the campsite rules did state ‘no noise after 10.30’…
-          We weren’t being that loud!
-          It’s not like we were shouting and swearing!
-          We might have been jokingly singing that Taylor Swift Trouble song… you know, with the screaming goats.
-          How dare they!
-          Oh christ, was everyone able to hear what we were saying?
-          You couldn’t have heard us a quarter of a mile away! The edge of the campsite isn’t that far!
-          Ah, it’s all right, he was kind of nice about it…
-          What a dick.
Yeah, a bit neurotic as someone whose had a few drinks and a joint might be… We kept ourselves a little quieter on the Saturday night, though an incredibly Manc couple came over to tell us we weren’t being that loud after all, which was nice. They had been reprimanded for having a fire in a barbeque, which someone else had earlier told them was ok. They compared the way the site was run to a concentration camp with its military discipline and iron fist. You could see the family home at the top end, and the Manc guy came over later to point out that the owner was standing in his conservatory, surveying the site with a pair of binoculars, like Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List.

It wasn’t the first time we’d heard the comparison – at the end of a walk to a nearby pub on the Saturday we’d met an older couple who had asked where we were staying and described the campsite as militaristic.

shower beer
Ah well, we still had a nice time and a good laugh, and that’s what it’s all about, eh? Yeah. And I was able to get a shower-beer in – because the showers were warm and impeccably clean, so military discipline is good for something.

A couple of weeks later we camped with our friends Paul and Victoria in a field, behind a pub in Derbyshire. This was a very different affair – more space, no noise restrictions… and a pub, of course.

We’d been booze shopping beforehand again, and this time we’d decided to try Asda just for a change, and because they tend to have better deals on spirits than Tesco. I had £30 burning a hole in my pocket and an intention to buy some gold rum.

My idea had been to not buy two bottles, but I forgot this when I was having trouble making a decision and Mrs Cake said, “you could buy two bottles”, so I did and here’s what I ended up drinking that weekend in Derbyshire.

Mount Gay Eclipse
Class: Gold
Origin: Barbados
ABV: 40%
Price: £13

Presentation: I like the bottle shape –rectangular with rounded shoulders – and it has a distinctive label depicting a map of Barbados. It’s very recognisable.

Thoughts: I’ve read quite a few nice things about this (user reviews on retail sites, blog reviews and the like) but I can’t for the life of me understand why. To my palate this is rough, grainy, thin and not particularly complex. It may have a 2.5% advantage, but it also lacks the sweetness of Bacardi Gold, which I would normally tend to look down on. I would actually prefer to like the Mount Gay Eclipse to that, but I don’t. I’m not saying it’s a bad rum, but it’s only good for mixing or for your hip flask.

Liberty Ship
Class: dark
Origin: unspecified
ABV: 37.5%
Price: £10
Presentation: There’s nothing fancy here. It’s a very basic bottle with a very basic label depicting a compass.

Thoughts: I have to say I’m more impressed with this one than with the Mount Gay. Maybe it’s the lower expectations and I know that for £10 it can’t be up to much, but for my taste, there’s more going on here. Perhaps there should be, given that it is of the dark variety…

On the nose I’m getting balsamic vinegar, and in terms of palate it is dry and spicy. It’s still not special, and it won’t get much use beyond cocktails and the hip flask but it is marginally the better of my two camping purchases. In direct comparisons with dark rums of a similar price point though, Lambs (thought slightly more expensive in general) is preferable.

I did take both bottles camping, and opened both, though I’m not sure why. One would surely have sufficed. Perhaps I wanted to make sure there was some left for when we got home, and there would be more likelihood of this if I dipped into two bottles instead of relying on one. That must be it.

I know, it being the middle of winter that this maybe isn’t the right time to be posting on this topic, but such is arbitrary way in which I work. I mean, it doesn’t matter; once it’s posted it’s there forever, so it will be relevant when spring rolls around again.

And uh... yes, that’s it for now. Have a good week!

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