British family out camping, ca. 1930. Photo via Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images
Hot House

Out with the in-crowd

How badly can one camping trip go?

This article is taken from the May 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

So it happened — the unsolicited school camping trip. I say unsolicited, but that’s not really the right word. To recap, this was an entirely unnecessary, utterly non-compulsory trip instigated by the cool kids’ parents at Hector’s school. One of the dads came up with it, and created a separate parents’ WhatsApp group to invite a select group of us on said trip. 

And suddenly it went from one man’s terrible idea, to “a thing” that was indeed happening. I said no to start with, even though I could feel the elite nature of the whole thing swaying me. As in, if we said no, or pretended to be busy, would Hector be excluded from the “right” clique for the rest of his school career — potentially adult life? 

It was actually even more nightmarish than I’d imagined

The thing is, and I think we all know this deep down, what happens in prep school emphatically does not stay in prep school. There will inevitably be some dickhead child who goes on to senior school with your child, who makes sure everyone there knows about the time they wet themselves in Year 3 or whatever. 

And said child will probably also turn up in Nepal on their gap year, and at their Oxford college, and eventually on the same graduate training scheme in the City. It doesn’t even need to be as obvious as that. The dickhead boy(s) or girl(s) can just make it abundantly clear that your child was not part of the in-crowd at prep school.

I didn’t say any of this to Will about the camping trip, as he would have given me his standard response about “over-thinking” the children’s lives. Partly because he probably would have been the dickhead child in the situation himself, and partly because he wanted to go on the camping trip anyway. So off we all went to the New Forest, me, Will, Hector and Lyra, for the Easter Bank Holiday. Minnie got out of it by wangling a late skiing holiday with her own in-crowd friends. 

It was actually even more nightmarish than I’d imagined. Lyra, who is not a camping natural (Will blames me, I blame her oligarch-heavy Hampstead prep) immediately developed some kind of allergy to bracken. So while I was manically trying to acquire antihistamine and manage her anxiety, Will was kicking back with the terrible media dads (Hector’s school is less nouveau, more pro-“pastoral care” than Lyra’s). 

We were the insane family who started screaming about anaphylaxis and called the police

And being so desperate to impress, he didn’t realise Hector had got separated and lost from his so- called friends. Cue massive two-hour search, culminating in the police being summoned and then dismissed as Hector had been found weeping under a bush. Obviously I was hysterical by this point, but we had to go through the motions of a lols freezing barbecue and then sleep in a tent. 

Yes, of course, it was the huge kind with actual mattresses and everything, but it was far from ideal. And, as feared, I encountered Roscoe’s mother on a dawn pee trip, who engaged me in a whole chat about whether I was ok and whether Hector may or may not have suffered trauma in his time under the bush. The next day a dad got a ukulele out, at which point I forced Will to pretend our burglar alarm had gone off to get out of there.

So that went well. The whole object of the exercise was to ensure Hector’s lasting membership of the in-crowd. And instead we were the insane family who started by screaming about anaphylaxis, then called the police and then left early. #Blessed

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