Site Behaviour

                ‘Flight Behaviour’ is a recent novel by the established American writer, Barbara Kingsolver. It is a noble attempt to use fiction to bring climate change issues into popular consciousness, although somehow it fails to grip the imagination. Barbara must have worked hard on her research, insinuating much scientific jargon and information into the story, but it is this very insertion of earnest scientific knowledge that reduces the impact of the story, rendering it clunky and uneven. The story concerns the plight of thousands of Monarch butterflies deflected from their normal migratory course from Mexico to the Appalachian Mountains, an event that is celebrated by the local community who are unaware of the catastrophe it portends.

                As I finished the book I reflected on the migration that we now make as summer comes to an end, in search of a warmer climate, along with hundreds of other Northern Europeans fleeing Autumn’s first chilly blasts. There are Germans, Netherlanders, Danish, Czechs, Belgians and more. They are here with us along the Mediterranean coasts of France, Spain or Portugal, filling up the camp sites and exhibiting what I now like to think of as ‘Site Behaviour’.

                After many years of staying on campsites, first with tent and now with a camper van, I’ve had plenty of time to study site behaviour and etiquette. Take shower blocks, for instance. It is customary to greet anyone you encounter within the shower facility, using the language of the host country. A mumbled, hasty ‘Bonjour’ is enough [since we are in France] and eye contact, if any, should be brief. You should not launch into lengthy discussions about the weather or travel plans, or which part of the UK you are from whilst your companion is applying deodorant or cleaning their teeth. This being France, shower blocks are not divided into genders so you must expect to have to sidle past a urinal or a man at a basin trimming nasal hair on your way into a cubicle.

                You may have to carry toilet tissue to the block with you, in which case no one will be in any doubt as to your intention. A way around this for those sensitive to anyone knowing their purpose is to stuff a wodge of tissue into your pocket. Years of less-than-luxurious travel have taught me never to go anywhere without a tissue in my pocket.

                Many [particularly women] make their morning/evening trip to the ablutions wearing such attire as they might habitually sport at home; in other words they wear a dressing gown, slippers and often-curlers. In Yorkshire, UK recently there was an inexplicable plethora of Onesies on show. Myself, I do not own either dressing gown or slippers, and have never mastered the art of curlers, so a version of day wear [shorts and T-shirt] suffices.

                A site is a transient village, inhabitants changing daily, their temporary homes, paraphernalia or pets a subject of interest for those already established. What might they be preparing on their elaborate barbecue? Why do we see the husband and never the wife? For some, the activity involved in setting up, building the awning, hammering in pegs, putting up a washing line, adjusting the awning, oiling the bikes, putting up a wind break, taking it down-these are the end itself, the reason for the trip. These scenes are the soap opera that is a camp site. Long may they continue!

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Out with the Old, In with the New.

                Whilst lolling around in our favourite music pub on Saturday night an acquaintance [friend of a friend] bumped into me and introduced me to her new beau. Now this acquaintance is a very attractive, vivacious lady, but is of a similar age to myself-in other words-of mature years. It did occur to me later that we have seen her with a number of new beaux, and that either she suffers from ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome or that her determination is a victory of optimism over experience. In any case she may be kissing more frogs than is necessary or desirable.

                But I digress. This particular new man is called Gerry-or Alan-or something but the thing I remember about the introduction was that he is from Brentford. Now there is only one ‘ping’ in my brain at the mention of Brentford and that ‘ping’ is Brentford Nylons, the mainstay of bedding supplies in the 1960s and 1970s.

                My parents seemed to be in the grip of an obsession with Brentford Nylons for more than ten years. All of our beds were clothed in items from this mail order company. The sheets were made from an odious material called bri nylon which was a peculiarly nasty material to sleep between, being both cold and slithery on entry and horribly sweaty within minutes. Some of the sheets had a curious fuzzy texture and would snag on toenails or crackle with static electricity. There would also be matching, quilted bedspreads with frilly nylon skirts. My parents favoured pale blue and lemon yellow so these were the colours that dominated the airing cupboard during that period.

                Not content with mere bedding in this material my mother took the further step of equipping both herself and me in quilted, lemon dressing gowns, one of the most extremely unpleasant, unflattering and uncomfortable garments it has been my misfortune to wear since the invention of the collapsible, folding, transparent rain hood of earlier years. They were also a fire hazard, meaning that any foray into the proximity of the open coal fire-for instance, en route to switch on the TV for ‘The Billy Cotton Band Show’- was flirting with death.

                In time bri nylon was eclipsed by the new miracle in sheeting that was ‘polycotton’. Polycotton was an improvement in that it did not make your hair stand on end or stick to you, but had its own discomforts in the form of unpleasant, scratchy little bobbles which appeared after a few goes in the twin tub. At last piled up sheets and blankets gave way to the miracle that is the duvet-all the way from ‘the continent’. Indeed, this is what we called them at first-continental quilts.

                All this change demonstrates the progress that textiles have made, and not only in bedding. These days sheets and duvet covers are cool, smooth, easily laundered items in any design, colour, size or pattern imaginable. I like to get ours in a certain, Scandinavian home furnishing chain that shall be nameless.

                I wonder if thingy from Brentford will endure as long as the nylons company? Or will he be making way for a newer product? Thank goodness I didn’t blurt out ‘Brentford Nylons’ when I was introduced!