Kiwi summers and camping are synonymous with each other. Almost everybody does it: Recently I watched broke schoolkids mulling over $17 tents at The Warehouse and, on the same day, saw a $200,000 Range Rover towing a kitsch 1970s caravan. Camping is part of our dream of egalitarian Kiwiness – it's something that, at least theoretically, transcends socio-economics.
Yet I've turned down a few invites to go camping this season. Just a few weeks ago I wrote about enjoying family camping as a child, but these days, I'm just not up for it anymore.
The main reason here is simple. Once you're camping with a group of friends or family, you're stuck. It's terrifically bad form to leave. You're normally in the middle of nowhere; having driven several hours to get there. You have also made a commitment for a certain number of days. To pack your stuff and leave unexpectedly would make you look like an insolent child; one who can't handle the bugs or the lack of showers and needs his or her mummy to take care of them. Also, you'd become the topic of conversation for days for those you left behind.
This is a knotty one for me is because I am an eternal "ghoster". I never like to say goodbye at any social occasion. I like to sneak away while others are at their peak so I don't have to endure any awkward farewells and I'll be forgotten about until the morning.
But you can't ghost when you're camping. Your fellow campers will literally fear you keeled over in a bush somewhere. So, when you've decided you have had enough of the outdoors, unless you want to fake a reason (like diarrhoea; always a goodie) you have to grin and bear the remainder of your camping commitment.
There's no sleeping in when you're camping, which, for me, is the absolute point of a holiday.
Unfortunately, I cannot hide my emotions. Not whilst camping nor in real life. When I am upset because my ankles have been eaten alive by mosquitoes, I can't just pretend I'm fine. When somebody has offended me with their drunken fireside chat, I shut down and sit there angry and uncomfortable. When I'm trying to get to sleep in my tent and I can hear others laughing into the wee hours, I'll lie there silently in rage until I finally snap and run out there shouting in my PJs.
I admit that this all makes me a bit of a precious old man, so I'm happy to own that. Not everybody can be easygoing. But my unwillingness to deal with uncomfortable social situations isn't the only reason I won't camp.
There's no sleeping in when you're camping, which, for me, is the absolute point of a holiday. Come 7.30am your tent is a plastic hotbox and neighbouring children have already been awake and playing for an hour, only metres from where your head lies. Made worse still if you're slightly hungover – which is most holiday mornings, by the way – and just want to doze coolly and quietly.
There's the dirt too. Dirt in your clothes, in your hair, in your food. Dirt and dust is, quite seriously, everywhere you stand, sit and lie when you camp. The soles of your feet are never not black. You also sweat constantly and are expected not to care, even when it mixes in with the dirt to create a paste.
I could go on. When you camp anywhere slightly civilised, you must deal with boy racers and unwanted music at all hours. There's saggy air mattresses, the constant losing of your stuff, a complete lack of climate control, an inevitable injury for someone in your party, and the bloody rain, which – when it happens during the Kiwi summer – goes on and on for days.
So to everybody out there in New Zealand right now camping, or about to embark on a camping trip: I wish you all the best. I hope your skin stays bite-free and unburnt, your back stays intact despite sleeping rough, you get to wash yourself sufficiently and frequently, and, if you decide to leave early, you have a more tactful excuse than faking food poisoning. You're all better Kiwis than I am.