Who are you?

I am now outdoorsy. Just thought you might like to know. I have come back from three nights of camping and I am alive, despite some heavy rain. It’s a miracle.

I wish I had taken a funny pictures of me by a tent in the rain but I was in a bad mood at the time and didn’t think of it. I did however take a picture of my new walking boots.

My friend and I bought matching pairs in the Mountain Warehouse in Lyme Regis. They were on sale. They were the most practical things I’d ever bought. (Apart from a cordless vacuum cleaner in lockdown. John Lewis own brand. £100. Brilliant).

I also bought a hip flask for the medicinal whiskey and something called a Spork.

When we got to the camp site it was pouring with rain and the friend who was driving from London with our tents was running three hours late and I had a teeny tiny sense of humour failure.

I didn’t know how to put up tents and didn’t want to try in the dark. I felt embarrassed by how nervous it all made me but then another friend put it up for us in two minutes and the problem was solved.

I went to sleep wearing the two pairs of long johns and two thermal vests I’d ordered from amazon for the trip. They were worn under my puffa coat. I was still cold. I lay in the dark worrying I’d get sick but we woke up in sunshine and I was fine.

Well, I got burnt because it didn’t occur to me to bring sunscreen but otherwise I was fine. We went for a long walk and a friend slipped on a rock and had to go to A&E but thank God, she was fine too.

I had bought nuts, bread rolls and cereal bars to eat but friends had brought stoves and offered me pasta. I actually ate better than I do at home. In the evenings we drank hot chocolates and sang by fires. We looked at the stars and chatted about nothing and everything.

On the second evening, I looked at us all around the fire and felt like we were in an ad for outdoor clothing. Look at all these happy wholesome outdoorsy people sitting by the fire being happy outdoorsy people! And now I was one of them!

My sister couldn’t get her head around this development. ‘I just put the heating on. Are you alive?’ she texted from London on Saturday.

‘Yes.’ I replied.

‘Are you sick yet?’ a friend texted the same day.

‘No!’ I replied.

‘Not even a sore throat?’ she asked.

‘No!!’

‘WHO ARE YOU?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know!’

And it felt good not to know who I was.

Maybe the ideas we have about ourselves are all pretty flimsy, based on nothing much at all.

I like hotels not camping. I like shopping not hiking. I like pasta not mushrooms. I like Taylor Swift not rock… We hang our identity on our likes and dislikes but how do we make these decisions? Half the time I don’t like things I’ve never even tried.

Maybe there are a load of things we’d like if we just had a go. Or maybe we need to update our ideas about who we are. Remember that we evolve.

For years mum hated pets. She grew up on a farm where animals were functional, they were not members of the family. Under great duress she got us a dog when we were children and he nearly broke her.

Rambo was a Jack Russell who liked to pee on every cream sofa and rug we had (it was the 80s, we had a lot of cream sofas and rugs) and kept running out into the main road we lived on. No matter how diligent we were at locking gates, he found a way out. The little genius. Eventually the police knocked at the door and told mum that she had to do something about the dog or there would be a serious traffic accident.

So poor Rambo went back to the RSPCA.

Fast forward twenty odd years and my mum now spends half her days looking after my sisters’ pets and the neighbours’ cats.

When I walk into her flat and see her chatting to my sister’s puppy, I feel like I’m looking at an alien.

‘Who are you?’ I ask her, just as my friend did me.

She laughs and says that life is unpredictable. Which, of course it is.

This weekend I thought about dad. When we were kids we came home one day to find a camper van outside our door. Dad had always dreamt of hitting the road and living a simple life and this was going to be the start of making that dream a reality.

The camper van never left our driveway. My sisters and I would have sleepovers in it with friends but dad never used it. Not even once. He was always working and eventually the van went.

Years later, when I was living at home trying to write the book, dad came home from Aldi with a pop up tent. The dream was still alive.

‘Look at it! £10! You just pop it up! You could go anywhere, just pitch it on the side of the road and you’re done!’

I pictured him camping on the side of the M25 eating a sandwich from a service station. I rolled my eyes.

We popped it open on the driveway and just kind of looked at the navy nylon dome. Dad didn’t get in because his back was bad.

‘Do you want a go?’ he asked me.

‘Not really.’ I said. ‘I’ve got to get back to work.’

Then we couldn’t figure out how to fold it back down. In the end we stuffed it back in the boot of his car, using the boot lid to shove it down, like a jack in the box.

He died a couple of months later – the tent still in the boot.

So now I’m about to get mega heavy and also cliched and remind us all that it’s silly not to try out new things when we are alive. Really what’s the worst that can happen? You try something you don’t like or which makes you feel a bit scared and out of your comfort zone? So what? Even if it bombs you’ll feel alive… and there are no campsites in heaven.

Although, just as I typed that I am having the thought: maybe there are camp sites in the sky.

Maybe dad was also in his Aldi pop up tent this weekend, listening to the rain and marvelling at his new walking boots that were 40 per cent off.

Maybe now he is outdoorsy too.

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