Even if you were lucky enough to avoid getting sick with Covid, there is a general consensus that we’ve all been changed by the pandemic, and the most popular consensus around what’s changed is that, after a year of sitting inside and scrolling through Netflix, we have forgotten how to deal with each other. “I’ve lost the ability to engage with anyone who isn’t my cat,” a friend texted. “Does the vaccine also make you want to see people?” the American TV writer Gary Janetti recently asked on Instagram, and the verdict from his 900,000 followers was a resounding no.
Well, I don’t feel like that. I’m desperate to see everyone again, and my conversation skills are the same as they ever were, which is to say, they aren’t going to give Noël Coward any posthumous insecurity, but my friends tolerate them. Sure, I have even less to talk about than usual (“What have I been up to? Oh, keeping busy, updating my Deliveroo app”), but I still want to throw a massive party. Last summer I thought maybe living through a pandemic would give me new depths. But, no, I just want to get completely wrecked with all my favourite people. And if the music’s loud enough, they won’t hear how boring I am these days. Win-win.
However, I am not unchanged. On the contrary, I have gone through a profound alteration over the past year. Regular readers (hello, my parents) will know that what I lack in actual religious belief, I make up for in extremely strong opinions about holidays. “My beach holiday is out, but I draw the line at camping” was the headline above this column last July, next to a photo of my face. Well, it turns out my line lasts only eight months, because last week I went camping. My great-uncles fought in the resistance for five years, endured enormous hardship and risked death to defend their country. I lasted one year without a holiday before I betrayed myself.
Not long ago, in the depths of the hell we call winter 2021, I was talking with one of my neighbours in the local park and she mentioned that she had booked a cottage on a farm for the summer. “There are loads of activities for kids: swimming, a playground – ” she began, but alas, she could reveal no more details because I was now shaking her by the shoulders, demanding she tell me where, for the love of God, this cottage was. She squeaked out the number and I called it to book an Easter holiday. “Our cottages are already booked,” the owner said, “but we’ve got a glamping tent, if you’d like to try that.”
Second only to “mumpreneur”, “glamping” is my least favourite word, one that makes me want to abandon the modern world, carve a loom out of sticks and live among sheep. Plus, we’ve already established my feelings about camping. And yet, despite these deeply held convictions, the words, “I’ll take it!” jumped out of my mouth with the eagerness of a mumpreneur Instagramming her glamping holiday. And so, desperate to get out of my house, to see something that wasn’t the local park, I went glamping.
The first thing to say about glamping is that it turns out to have more differences from camping than just two letters. My sister and I once went camping, in a pop-up tent at Glastonbury, and I was such a nightmare, complaining nonstop about the cold/the wet/the nonexistent toilet situation, that we didn’t speak for three months afterwards. My glamping tent, by contrast, had a proper bed, a wood-burning stove and running water. Yes, it was freezing at night but it was also kind of – who am I any more? – cosy. It wasn’t the beach, but lying in front of a fire, watching my kids toast marshmallows… well, I’ve definitely had worse evenings. (Although if the bed had broken, I’d have been back home before you could say “Bear Grylls”. Marshmallow schmarshmallow.)
I recently read an amusing interview with Salman Rushdie in which he was asked what good can come out of lockdown: “Did our ancestors ask themselves what good would come out of the Black Death? Why this need to believe there’s always a positive side to a global calamity?” I’m with Big Salman on this: not every experience has to be turned into an inspirational “Live Laugh Love”-style poster. Lockdown hasn’t crushed me, but it definitely hasn’t enhanced me. It did, however, make me go glamping, and, while I can’t promise I’ll do it again once real holidays are finally allowed, it was different. And, as Phil Connors says in Groundhog Day, a film that truly anticipated the lockdown experience, anything different is good.