I'm ashamed to admit that I have never, ever taken part a protest. My mother once showed me a cluster of anti-apartheid badges, souvenirs of a youth spent regularly on the march, and I thought that one day I would do the same. But from the Iraq demos to the Slut Walk, all the major protests of my age have passed me by, mostly while I sat on the sofa and read about them in the papers. I swore to mend my apathetic ways but, at the risk of sounding like an entitled idiot, I know there's little on earth that could get me nestling under nylon with the Occupy London protesters this winter. (In fact, it appears that there's not much that could coax them to sleep there either. Thermal imagery seems to show that the camp is 90% empty at night.)
Every summer holiday as a child was spent in the beautiful but otherworldly Outer Hebrides, side-stepping sheep decomposing in bogs and huddling behind wind-breakers to eat baps filled in almost equal measure with tuna, mango chutney and sand. I wouldn't have had it any other way and, although we never camped, I think it made me a sturdy little creature. My favourite ever school trip involved being left on an island to sleep in a cave and boil whelks for supper, and I relished the one-step-from-hysteria camaraderie of D of E (despite an incident in which I set the entrance of a tent on fire while my friend was reading a magazine inside.) During university I spent my summers merrily lugging a tent around Greece and Croatia, sleeping off obscene volumes of coke and red wine mixture on roll-mats spattered with dirt and thrice-melted bars of Milka.
Yet something happened, namely living in London and working in the media, which turned me into a mattress-needy hothouse pansy. Nowadays I can't drop off unless I'm wearing an aeroplane mask with wax stoppers in my ears, and camping is yet another former skill which I seem to have lost forever, like the ability to do backbend walkover flips or to parallel park. A few years ago I skipped off to Bestival, an autumn festival on the Isle of Wight, with essentially the same bag I'd returned from Ibiza with a few days before. I had the choice of three types of head-garland and a clutch of glittery eyeliners, but spent my nights tying spare leggings under my chin like a bonnet, with the simple aim of not dying on my way to the chemical toilet.
Thus when I went to stay with a big group of old friends at a wooden hut in a Welsh valley, I parked myself straight into one of the few beds available, grinning like a self-contended bed-grub while most of the rest piled into a huge tent outside. However the next morning a girl crept into my room with the kind of nervous, rictus smile that can only ever mean someone's done something that they know will send you batshit in about 30 seconds time.
"You know you forgot your bag and left in the entrance of the tent? Well, it was unzipped..."
Oh no. Had everything got soaked?
"No, no...well not quite. I was quite drunk and I may have poked my head out in the middle of the night and...done a little sick in it."
Quite a lot of sick, as it turned out. So there I was, in a wooden hut, with no hot water and no clothes that weren't embellished with little nuggets of bile except some M&S polar bear pajamas circa 1995. And so, my love for four stone walls became entrenched.
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