SCMP Monday, June 18, 2001

The healthy horror of camping


There's nothing like taking your family on a camping trip - getting away from civilisation, sleeping under the open sky, looking up into the heavens and gazing upon an awe-inspiring vista of millions and millions of . . . what ARE those things? Bats? Huge mosquitoes? Oh my God! They've taken little Ashley!
So perhaps it's better not to sleep under the open sky. But you should still go camping, because it's the best way to get close to nature, with "nature" defined as "anything that you would kill if it got inside your house". Exposure to nature is healthy, especially for children. Kids today spend far too many hours sitting around indoors, watching moronic TV shows such as The Evening News. By stark contrast, when I was a youngster, growing up in the small rural town of Armonk, New York, in a house surrounded by rustic woodland, I spent countless carefree hours roaming free in my bedroom, learning to make flatulence noises with my armpit. But I'm sure if I HAD gone outside and interacted with nature, I would be a healthier person today.
Let's start planning your family camping trip right now.
Q. What equipment will I need to go camping?
A. You need a tent. Tent sizes are measured in units of men, as in "a three-man tent", a "four-man tent" and so on; this tells you how many men are required to erect the tent if they are all professional tent engineers equipped with Tent Viagra. Even then, the tent will collapse under unusual weather conditions, such as rain, or nightfall. You will also need a hatchet, for the spiders, and a credit card, for the motel.
Q. Where should I go camping?
A. The United States has a spectacular national park system with millions of unspoiled acres, where wildlife is protected by strict federal laws. So unless you want to become Purina Bear Chow, you should avoid these places.
You want a commercial facility with a name like "The Stop 'n' Squat Kountry Kampground", where large animals cannot penetrate because they won't fit through the 15cm gaps between the Winnebago recreational vehicles. And when pitching your tent, remember the "old woodsman's" rule of thumb: you want to be upwind of your neighbour's generator exhaust, but able to see his satellite TV.
Q. How much food should I take?
A. A lot. You'll be providing food not only for your family, but also for the entire raccoon community. And please do not be so stupid as to think you can keep your food away from the raccoons. Raccoons are the most intelligent life form on Earth, as was proven in the October 2000 world chess championship match in London, where a raccoon not only defeated reigning champion Garry Kasparov in six moves, but also took his sandwich.
I know what raccoons are capable of. When I was a boy in rural Armonk, our garbage cans were regularly terrorised by a gang of brilliant criminal raccoons. I recall being awakened at 3am by loud noises and looking out the window to see, by moonlight, my father, a peace-loving Presbyterian minister, charging around in the bushes in his pyjamas, wildly swinging a baseball bat and saying non-Presbyterian words. Of course, he did not get the raccoons; you NEVER get the raccoons. The raccoons were safe in their secret headquarters, recording my father via high-resolution night-vision videotape technology that humans would not develop for another 25 years.
That particular video is still hugely popular on Raccoon Entertainment TV ("Tonight we present the classic episode, Crazed Minister In Pyjamas").
Ten years later, I was a counsellor at Camp Sharparoon, which meant that I had to go camping in the woods with a group of boys and a nutritionally balanced food supply consisting of 75,000 small boxes of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. I tried to protect our food at night via the Boy Scout handbook technique of suspending it from a rope strung between two trees; the raccoons, who were monitoring me via tiny cameras hidden in pine cones, thought this was hilarious. When darkness fell, they got the food down in seconds, using lasers. It would not surprise me to learn that they had paid the Boy Scouts to put that technique in the handbook.
Q. What if I get lost in the woods?
A. The first thing you must do is get your bearings. If you don't have a compass, stand very still, and listen very carefully, until you hear this sound: "Eh-eh-eh". That is Canada. Whatever you do, don't go that way.