Friday 2 September 2011

Campaign for Real Catholic Camping

We've just returned from a camping trip in the North of England where mud is thicker, stickier and, well, muddier than it is down in the soft southern climes that we're used to. It was cold and it rained and the wind howled up on the moors but we were safe and warm and cozy in our very Catholic tent.

Catholic tent?

Well, if you can split digital technology into Catholic and Protestant as Umberto Eco apparently did* then I don't see why you can't have Catholic tents. And if there is such a thing as a Catholic tent, then my lovely bell tent is it. Here's why:

  • Tried and tested - design hasn't changed significantly since the 12th C, and not at all since the 18th. The design is simple and elegant, strong and utterly weatherproof. There are modern versions -- we can call then Episcopalian bell tents if you like -- with nylon guy-ropes (ugh!) instead of hemp, and spring-loaded metal poles instead of wooden ones,  and zips (zips!) instead of dutch lacing, and rubber mud-flaps instead of hessian, but these are about as Catholic as a Barbie Doll in a Biretta  and quite frankly if you aren't going to have the real thing you'd be as well going the whole hog and getting a nylon pop-up tent.
  • It's often the last tent standing: we've been the only tent remaining after severe weather on several occasions over the years, when our fellow campers have blown-away, had plastic (poly-carbon-wotsit) tent-poles snap, had leaky roofs, wind-torn nylon walls and have been forced to pack up, our tent has remained solidly anchored, built to withstand whatever weather it encounters.
  • People are curious / hostile / amused by it at first, but often impressed in the long run. We're often asked "why" we chose this tent over a "normal" one - the answer is easy: it's fast to pitch (one person can do it in 10 minutes, two in 5), utterly weather-proof, has beautiful light inside, is warm in the cold and cool in the warmth, and, for those of a green bent, is utterly ecologically sound - it can always be repaired easily if need be, but if abandoned, it will eventually break down leaving only a few metal eyelets to show that it existed. I have a friend in her late 50s who has a bell tent that her parents acquired when she was 10; they had been given it second hand from a woman who had owned it for at least 30 years before that. My friend still uses her tent several times a year and reckons that her children will be using it for decades once she's past her camping days.

Bell tents are simple yet robust - traditionally they slept up to 13 men each, each sleeping with his feet up to the central pole. They're inexpensive to buy, and last pretty much forever. If you forget to bring your pole, you can do as a friend of mine did and simply cut down a sapling and use it in place of a pole. Bell tents are still used by the army for relief work in trouble spots, particularly camps for displaced persons, as they're robust, yet comfortable enough for a family to live in, if need be, for an extended period. The light that comes through the white canvas is lovely as well. They do have a downside -- they're heavy: you wouldn't want to go hiking with one, but as most people go camping in a car, the downside isn't really relevant.

Oh, and every Catholic tent needs a good Catholic flag! I highly recommend getting a telescopic flagpole to take camping with you, and flying the Papal flag: we've been doing it for years. The supervisor at the top secret location we were camping in said to me on our last morning, "You know, your papal flag has caused no end of consternation this week"  (verbatim). I think he meant interest, not consternation, but what I thought was most curious was that people had *recognised* the flag. Is Lancashire still Catholic at heart?  Apparently he had been asked if there was a "Catholic group" camping, "no, just a Catholic family" he'd told people. Usually we just get hippies hiking past saying "cool flag, man" clearly not having a clue what it is. People fly all sorts of crazy things around their tents when camping - we've got some whirly-dragonflies and a windsock as well as some colourful bunting -- so why not a papal flag as well? Why not give it a try next time you're camping?


I want some papal bunting too. I noticed that Father Simon Henry has some particularly fine bunting made from miniature papal flags at the entrance of St Catherine Labouré when we traveled across Lancashire for Mass there last Sunday. It was well worth the trek for the Sunday morning Low Latin Mass, lovely to see Fr. Simon again as well as meeting a priest friend of his. We were given a really warm welcome, despite being slightly scruffy, having spent several nights in a muddy field on the moors.

The church is a really good example of how a previously soul-less modernist space can be salvaged with a little thought and some traditionally-minded reordering (or should that be retro-ordering?). The wooden High Altar is particularly fine, and there's a lovely statue of St Catherine Labouré. I wanted to get a closer look at the Tabernacle but it was obscured by the Mass cards; it looked rather beautiful from what I could see and I'm going to keep an eye out next time we're up there.


**(btw, I'm so not an Apple person, largely because I find their "hey, are you a cool Apple sort of person like us or some kind dorky loser who uses a PC?" campaign offensive. Not to mention that the last time I upgraded my computer (admittedly 4 years ago so things may have changed), it would have cost twice as much to have the same spec on an Apple as it did on a Dell. I decided that I was happy to be an unhip-PC-using dork and save a grand).

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