Francine and I are Francophiles of long-standing. About 30 years ago we used to enjoy travelling around France in a cheapo 4-person ridge tent. [Ed: A nominally 4-person ridge tent has just about enough space for two civilized people to be comfortable. Always divide a tent’s capacity by two.] That is to say, we mostly enjoyed travelling with a tent. Every now and then we would try to pitch our trusty tent on a campsite which seemed to consist of about 3cms turf laid on what could only be described as concrete. “Smack, smack, smack” went my mallet, “bend, bend, bend” went normal tent pegs. We persevered.
We had very close friends who were also Francophiles. Indeed, it was they who introduced me to the delights of camping in France. Our friends camped in relative luxury; they had a caravan. I couldn’t help but notice that, when they arrived on site, a few turns of the windlass to lower the corner steadies was pretty much all it took to get them settled. Not for them the sweaty brow induced by fighting to smack malleable tent pegs through impervious layers of concrete. Not only that but, when camping in the cooler dewy, autumnal days of September, they didn’t have to leather off a soaking wet tent before packing it up to move off.
I was sold; Francine and I invested in our first caravan and joined in the travelling luxury. Our first caravan was very basic but served us well. I particularly enjoyed not struggling with tent pegs. Eventually we upgraded to a van including a hot-water system and a shower. We began travelling further south to sunnier climes, occasionally in high summer when the Mediterranean sun was at its most powerful. A combination of my fair skin and thinning hair meant that a sunburned head was a serious danger. Reluctantly, I bit the bullet and invested in a sun-canopy. It ran the full length of our van and enabled us to sit in shade. I had returned to occasional fights with a few tent pegs but only a few – a mere four, to be precise. Besides, other than in the height of summer, we didn’t need to use it.
Here we are in The New Forest. It is September. The sun, when/if it actually shines, is not strong. A sun canopy for shade is regrettably unnecessary. When it rains [Ed: we are in England so there is no “if” involved in the rain], being in a forest, shoes get grubby and dirt can get tracked into Guillaume (our third caravan). For some time, Francine has been worrying away like a dog with a bone for a “porch awning”. I, as the person tasked with trying to drive bendy tent pegs through unyielding concrete, have been resisting. Dirt has been tracked in, male resistance is useless – “we” have visited Southampton and bought a porch awning. Being the eternal homemaker, Francine could not resist also buying this rather trite but, nontheless, cute(ish) doormat. Lucky Guillaume – two presents! 😯
In stark contrast to bendy tent pegs, modern bendy tent pole technology is brilliant. Three external, narrow, springy poles threaded through their correct sewn-in channels and our porch awning was basically erected. Now for the pegs to stop it blowing away. How many pegs come with a modestly sized, 2.5m/8ft x 2m/6ft porch awning? 45! 45 for Chrissakes!! Ever hopeful, I set about attacking the first peg: “smack, smack, smack”, “bend, bend, bend”. The peg had run into something harder than I’d ever encountered during my tenting years in France. Move the peg slightly – same result. Try somewhere else completely different – same result. The whole forest seems to be built on concrete. Do these bendy pegs have any thing resembling a sharp point to help them pierce the ground? No, they are perfectly blunt; totally flat; not even rounded. If only peg technology had kept pace with pole technology. Why do we do this to ourselves? I’d fixed this problem 25 years ago moving to a plain, unadorned caravan.
Gamely Francine leapt in the car and shot off to our most local camping supply shop. Then she went on to our second nearest camping store. Fortunately it was not a windy afternoon so I didn’t have to constantly hold down the yet-to-be-tethered canopy during her absence. Eventually she returned with pegs resembling 10ins/23cms hardened steel nails, complete with a sharp point. There are successfully pitched full canopies on site using exactly these devices so hopes rose. My trusty rubber mallet was clearly going to bounce straight off rock pegs attacking concrete so Francine also purchased a metal thumping device, to whit, a camping axe. (The only mallets available were either rubber or wood.) I managed to use the back of the axe as a hammer. Luckily I also managed to avoid burying the sharp end of the axe in my forehead whilst using the back as a hammer, and finally smacked in sufficient high-tech rock pegs to hold our super new porch awning. Phew!
Cost of porch awning complete with 45 bendy pegs: £89. (Quite astounding given the work and detail in it.)
Cost of 25 rock pegs and camping axe to pitch it on concrete: £22.
We’re (I’m) not tracking dirt into Guillaume any more. We (Francine) has somewhere to hang damp towels, washing, and to stand wet umbrellas and dirty walking shoes. The porch canopy is very good. It’ll be even better on reasonable soil.