Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Book Review: The Art of Camping.

The Art of Camping – The history and practice of sleeping under the stars

Author: Matthew De Abaitua
Published by Hamish Hamilton July 2011 

The Art of Camping captures the reader with a thoroughly researched, detailed and fascinating account of the origins of camping and its development as a recreational pastime.  Interspersed with the author’s anecdotes of his formative years as a camper, The Art of Camping evokes the spirit of the campfire and then douses the flames in the reality of modern day life.  An early description of a gallant logistical endeavour across London on public transport, fully laden with camping gear and small child, reflects not only the author's enthusiasm for his subject, but the lengths some people will go to, to enjoy a few nights under canvas.

De Abaitua’s childhood memories of a 2000 mile camping trip through France, squashed in the back of a beige Ford Cortina, and his more recent descriptions of ‘Dad-silence’ at the wheel of his own kit laden car, contrast sharply with the more wholesome, cooperative and disciplinarian outlook of those early pioneers of camping.  The author highlights a significant schism in the camping movement dating back to the end of the First World War.  Little more than a decade after Baden-Powell took a group of young boys for the first Scout camp in August 1907, another scout leader John Hargrave, left the patriotic, pseudo-militaristic Scout movement and went on to form a camping movement with a greater focus on nature, a progressive ethos and an inherent desire for social change.  The Art of Camping chooses (thankfully) to follow the latter trail, a path which veers toward the left of the political spectrum.

In the closing chapters, De Abaitua revisits the notion of real camping and the perfect tent.  For many campers today it may well be ‘the mystic charge of being outdoors’ that denotes ‘real camping’, but his closing observations on the detritus of a post festival field in Glastonbury and the new ‘disposable attitude’ many campers have to abandoning their equipment following a sojourn to the wilderness, illustrates how far removed some modern campers are from the ethos of the early pioneers.  It is not without irony that a pastime born from a desire for social change and equity has now developed into a multi-million pound industry and demands from some campsite owners for ‘bank holiday premiums’. 

This is a truly splendid book which not only marks out its author as an expert in his field, it leads the reader to conclude that Matthew De Abaitua is more than likely an expert in a field aswell. 

Josh Sutton
June 2011.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Inside Out

17 June 2011

I love it when Nan the Van starts first time. Like her namesake, she's always been a bright starter. On this particular occasion, I was ever more grateful for a hassle free start as I was heading for a rendezvous with a camera crew. I set out, with my tent and a bundle of nerves, on the road towards the North York Moors. A gentle run along the '64 round York and up over the Hole of Horcam and past the ever so secret RAF Fylingdales before dropping down to the coast into Robin Hood's Bay. Safe from ballistic missile attack and alien invaders (aparently that's what they do up at Fylingdales), I pulled up onto Hooks House Farm campsite to find the BBC's Jamie Coulson sitting outside his tiny green tent, warming a can of baked beans on his small camping stove. Looks like the Guyrope Gourmet arrived just in time. Jamie was being filmed, bemoaning the quality of his camping cuisine. All that was soon about to change. Cameraman, Phil Spencer, panned around to catch me pulling up in the van as I hopped out and shook Jamie's hand as though greeting a long lost friend.

I'd first met Jamie last year, in my former role as manager of a small domestic violence support service in the Yorkshire Dales. We'd discussed a piece for his programme 'Inside Out' looking at rural domestic violence. With business concluded, I'm not sure how, I managed swing the conversation around to camping and slipped him a Guyrope Gourmet business card. Much to my surprise, Jamie contacted me by email some time after that and suggested a piece on The Guyrope Gourmet for his programme. So here I was, some time later about to cook up a storm. Jamie and Phil had earlier been filming at Green's Bistro in Whitby, where the Chef & proprietor Rob Green had agreed to sample my wares on the campsite the following day. We filmed a few shots of me driving through the countryside in Nan the Van and discussed the very excellent BBC2 series, 'One Man & His Campervan' screened last year. I'd watched and enjoyed the whole series and admittedly been a little envious of Mr Dorey, but here I was driving past a film crew perched by the side of a small country lane. It's hard enough trying to keep the excited grin off your face and not look into the camera as you drive by, but the ambulance with flashing lights, two tow trucks and Sherman tank which all happened to be trundling along the road at the same time kind of spoilt the shot. Take two!

I knocked together a paella of sorts and Phil took some shots of me chopping onions while trying to answer Jamie's questions about what the Guyrope Gourmet is all about. There might be some truth in the rumour that men can't multi task! And Torquemada wasn't making things easy for me. Ingredients prepared, I switched the sharp knife for my Ukulele and hit 'em with a rendition of Scooby Doo. That threw them off the scent a bit! We tucked into the grub, drank a couple of beers and laughed a lot as Phil went tumbling backwards over a guyrope. If only he'd had his camera on his shoulder!

Phil retired to his nearby B&B and I went off to do the washing up, whilst Jamie fiddled around with his own camera, still laughing at the sight of Phil's mishap. They say the camera adds pounds, so I was pretty sure it would reveal a hangover. Not prepared to risk it, I turned in early.

The next morning we'd arranged to meet a local fisherman by the name of Richard who'd agreed to meet us on the slipway at high tide and sell us a couple of lobsters. Whilst we were there I filled a bottle of seawater for cooking the beasts, and of course managed to get myself soaking wet in the process. Richard duly arrived bang on time in his small dingy. Obviously an expert boatman, he managed to pull up to the slipway in gentle rolling waves, hop out of his boat with a crate of that morning's catch, sort me out with a couple of crustaceans and hop back in all in a space of about three minutes.

With the lobsters stored under a wet towel in a coolbox, we set off for Whitby in search of a starter for the afternoon meal. I knew that with a local chef coming to taste my meal I had to provide more than one course. I'd decided on panchetta wrapped scallops while driving up the day before, so we called into Sandgate Seafoods in Whitby for half a dozen king scallops. A shot of me crossing the swing bridge in the town centre and a strolling piece to camera extolling the virtues of seafood and marvelling at the display of sharks jaws in the shop window and we were ready to head back to camp. I have to admit to enjoying the attention of passers-by as we were filming in the street. My TV nerves dissipated as I focussed on the project in hand and rather enjoyed the buzz of filming with cooers and hand wavers all around. It's a bit like busking in the street for the first time, you just crack on with it and the coins start falling into your hat, only in this case it was more a matter of the words falling into your head.

Back at camp, I began prepping the ingredients for the tomato sauce, while Jamie helped out by wrapping the scallops in a slice of panchetta and impaling them on a couple of wooden skewers (two skewers makes them easier to turn in the pan). The secret to a good tomato sauce is about forty minutes, so that went on first. Another little piece to camera and a word of thanks and appreciation to the lobsters for giving up their lives and they were sitting in a large pan of boiling seawater, dead before I'd got the lid on.

It was then that the weather took a dramatic turn. Jamie caught my attention asking me if 'that was normal?', pointing to the side of my tent which had blown flat in the most brisk of winds. A squall of biblical proportions had blown up out of nowhere, with rain lashing down and Phil worrying about his camera, I managed to carry on as usual. There's no point in trying to pretend that British weather is reliable. It's a recognised camping hazard, but the show went on.

Around three thirty, Rob Green showed up and the sun broke from behind a cloud. To describe this award winning chef stepping in full 'whites' from his car with a ray of sunshine beaming down upon his head, bathing the grass around him in radiant light, might seem a little dramatic to some, but that's how it was! Jamie introduced us, Josh, meet Rob Green, National Seafood Chef of the Year! Thanks for not telling me that bit Jamie!

Rob took a seat at the table and I presented a starter of panchetta wrapped scallops on a bed of home grown (picked from my garden the day before) rocket and shaved parmesan, followed by a main of Lobster with linguini and a home made tomato sauce. It's true to say that the desert of strawberries and whipped cream served on a digestive biscuit fell victim to the almighty squall, but that didn't seem to matter. As Rob tucked in to the first scallop my heart was racing like a contestant in the final of Masterchef. I did a double take as the good

sir proclaimed my scallops 'cooked to perfection'. Squeeze me! 

Then on to the lobster. 'You've put a bit of lemon zest in the sauce, I like that, simple ingredients speaking for themselves'. I felt like running off and doing a silly little dance around the campsite. The National Seafood Chef of the Year liked my food. 'I'd be happy with this in a restaurant, let alone in a field' he said. I nearly cried!

To say that this experience was uplifting would be an understatement. Jamie shot a final piece to camera as Rob and I chatted in the foreground about the complications of cooking with basic equipment, and that was that.

The programme will air on BBC1 in October and I'm obviously looking forward to it mildly to say the least. I'm not sure how I will come across on camera, I'm not sure I won't look like a contrived tosser, I'm not sure what others will make of it, but quite frankly I don't give a damn! I had the time of my life. I did what I set out to do, cooked some bloody good food in a field!