For some reason all the children on our campsite have started saying ‘Hello’ to me? The boy in the chalet across from our pitch, the children belonging to a Belgian couple just down from our pitch, the group of 14 or so pre-teens camping along the way (part of a youth group from Grenoble) are all the latest examples of this ‘phenomena’. I was on the way down to the shower block yesterday morning when one of the Youth Leaders from the group from Grenoble called me over. ‘The kids have a question for you?’ he said. ‘What is your name?’ I am asked. ‘James’ I reply (I don’t want to resurrect the ‘Jules et Jim’ confusion of other campsites). My answer creates a hubbub of chatter amongst them. I see them looking at my scar … I think I hear the name ‘Bond’ mentioned … it would seem that the rumour from the swimming pool about me being a member of the SAS who was wounded in the course of being on Her Majesty’s Secret Service has been preferred to me having heart trouble and zip fasteners? Is this all really happening or am I actually turning into Walter Mitty?
Of course superheroes’ main objective in life is to help people. So being helpful is a concept that I have tried to take into everyday life with me. This is especially so when it comes to being a member of the ‘camping village’. It all really began at the campsite in Bayonne a couple of years ago – the campsite run by ‘Herr Flick’ (regular readers of our holiday blogs will understand) – when we found ourselves allotted a pitch several metres from the nearest electric point? Our electric cable, although very long itself, was simply just not long enough to bridge the gap between said electric point and our tent. Herr Flick was very sorry (well not that sorry actually) but there was absolutely nothing that could be done about it. Fortunately for us, just across from our pitch was a very nice British family – Simon and Charlotte (and their two children, Jasmine and Charlie) – who had a spare extension cable which they were not using and (since the time we were due to stay on this campsite coincided exactly) they were able to lend it to us for the duration of our stay. We were able to repay this kindness a couple of days later when Simon discovered that they had left their sun umbrella at home and we were able to lend them one of ours (we always seem to carry two with us for some reason).
This kind of ‘communal helpfulness’ amongst fellow campers is one the reasons we like camping so much. Camping seems to bring out the best in people and over the week (or two) in one campsite together a communal spirit is developed. We make it a point of trying to be helpful to our neighbours (without being annoyingly so) when we set up camp anywhere. We take as our inspiration the actions of Jesus himself whom (we are told in the Bible) ‘went around doing good’ (Acts 10:38). ‘Being helpful’ however can sometimes backfire, although it also often creates humour, and teaches us good lessons.
When we were at the campsite in Lourmarin, Julia went out of her way to help ‘Svetlana Putin’ the young Russian girl who was cycling round France. I wrote about her in a previous blog you may recall. Julia was so concerned that Svetlana wasn’t coping too well that she ended up fussing over her like a ‘mother hen’. Svetlana was very appreciative, however, and gave us several bars of chocolate in return (she couldn’t fit them in with all the stuff she was attempting to carry on her bicycle anyway). We are still enjoying them a couple of weeks later. Unfortunately Julia somehow managed to lose her reading glasses in the process. Fortunately she had a spare pair with her but these were her very favourites. We cannot find them anywhere. Perhaps they are on their way to Russia?
Here in our current campsite in the Camargue we tried to help a young girl from a Vietnamese-French background. She was camping with some girlfriends and had somehow managed to lose her mobile phone and was in a panic about it. She managed to create a bit of an atmosphere of distrust suggesting that it had actually been stolen? Julia managed to calm her down a bit and restore some sanity to the situation. We met her a couple of days later in the swimming pool … complete with mobile phone which (needless to say) she had actually left lying around under a pile of clothes in their tent? At the end of the week she (and a friend) sought us out. They had done some washing only to discover they didn’t have a washing line … did we have one that they could borrow. Julia lent her one of ours … a cute contraption that looks a bit like a yoyo which you can wind out to the length you want. We were surprised when they returned it again shortly after. Was it no good? We know the sun is really hot here but could their washing have dried that quickly? ‘No’ the girl replies ‘it was great!’ and then says something that we only get the gist of … something about cutting off what was needed? We think no more about it and put the washing line back in its storage pouch. Today, when we have done our own washing, I go to set up the said washing line. When I wind the cord out … there is only eight inches of cord left? Fortunately we always carry various washing lines with us!
Over this whole camping tour de France we have been able to help English people with their French and French people with their English. We have translated menus, explained where the good places to go are, directed people to the best supermarkets, fixed computers, helped people ‘get on line’, mended chairs, helped to erect tents and take them down again (those ‘pop up tents’ can be a real menace) … and on one occasion we even ‘baby sat’ a bull dog! We have also received a lot of help from others when we too have needed it … and made some good new friends in the process.
Today I came across a French family who had just arrived. They were setting up their tent – father, mother and two small children. One of the guys from the staff here was there as well. There are lots of ‘Ooh la la-ing’ accompanied by Gallic shrugs. I take a guess what the problem is … and butt in. ‘Do you have a problem with your electricity?’ I ask. ‘Yes’ the staff member explains ‘their electric cable is five meters too short … and we do not have any extension leads?’ ‘Don’t worry!’ I say, ‘I have a spare extension lead with me!’ Simon and Charlotte would be very proud of me!
I am on my way back from doing the washing up. I have a loaded bowl and I am moving slowly. One thing super heroes like me have learned whilst here in the blazing hot Camargue is that the heat quickly saps your strength … so it is best to move slowly. A new family have arrived and pitched their tent just by the wash up area. Their son (in his late teens/early 20s I guess) sees this super hero moving very slowly … and comes bounding over to me. ‘Is your load very heavy?’ he asks in a genuinely concerned way, ‘Let me carry it for you … I like to be helpful!’
We are Reverend Binney, we are.