Inspired by the following Decamot items:
crater, weather watcher, tongue, ball, philanthropist, reward, mug, Wales, anaconda, barn
"Are we nearly there yet?" asked Adam, the youngest person in the car.
"Not quite dear," replied Jane, his mother. "But we are nearly at our halfway stop aren't we darling?”
"Well," replied David, her husband. "I had hoped to get a little further before stopping."
"I think the troops could do with a little R and R, and I see there's a service station marked on that signpost in 17 miles."
"All those in favour of stopping at the next service station," said David. "Say 'Aye'!"
Without hesitation, a chorus of four "Ayes" came from the two rear rows of seats of the MPV.
"OK," said David. "Next service station it is. But let's play a little game. We all guess how long it'll take to get there. Whoever's closest gets a reward.
Within seconds Tiffany, the eldest child said "17 minutes exactly if you keep going at your current speed. But legally you could do it in 14 minutes and 34 seconds if you put right your foot down just a little bit more, although it would affect your MPG efficiency."
"Wow, that was quickly worked out," said Jane. "Very impressive."
"Not really Mum. It's all on the web: National speed limits are on www.gov.uk, we're in a car without a trailer or caravan on a motorway, so we could go up 70mph; I got the multiplication factor from www.smartconversion.com; and the MPG stuff's on www.fuel-economy.co.uk. I then used my Calculator app. The Internet's a wonderful thing, don't you think? Dad?"
Knowing that she was trying to bait him, David ignored his daughter's comment. But he did press his foot down a little more on the accelerator. Twelve and half minutes later, David was reversing into a parking space at the service station. He then made big show of looking at his watch.
"So you weren't quite right, were you, O Cartographer in Chief?"
"Only cos you cheated, Dad."
Tiffany sighed. "OK, 'Entertainments Officer'. And now 'Law Breaker'. I saw the needle creep over 80, even if Mum," she paused for a second to correct herself. "Even if the 'Morale Officer' pretended not to."
David had been eagerly anticipating this trip since Christmas. He could still recall the look of delight on the faces of the family when they'd unwrapped the large present from him to the whole family: A Hi-Gear Anaconda Elite-6 family tent. At least, he told himself that the five blank, dumb-struck faces contained looks of delight.
He'd been hinting for weeks that he'd bought them all something that they could enjoy together. After many questions from them, and hints from him, the general consensus was that it must be holiday related, involve going to a different country, and entail multiple leisure pursuits. The kids assumed it would be a one or two week break somewhere sunny, with a pool and maybe a beach nearby. Well you would, wouldn't you?
But then, just after the Christmas tree went up, a very large present appeared marked simply "To the Family, from Dad." He'd filled the silence that followed its unwrapping with a detailed explanation of what he had in mind:
A good old fashioned family camping holiday: they'd sleep in a tent, cook evening meals on an open fire, toast marsh mellows on skewers, sing songs round the camp fire. And most importantly, they'd leave all their phones, iPads, the satnav and any other Internet related devices switched off for the duration of the holiday. They'd travel by map and compass. And they'd commune with nature.
He knew just the place: Abergavenny. He'd done his Duke of Edinburgh Award Expedition there while at university 20 years before and loved the landscape of the nearby Brecon Beacons. So would they. And what's more, he'd found a farm with a campsite, several miles outside the town, part way up the mountain, which specialised in outdoor pursuits. They offered paint ball adventures, quad biking, hiking, archery, fishery, animal husbandry, dry stone-walling, and rock climbing.
"Surprised?" he asked in conclusion.
"Well I certainly wasn't expecting a family camping holiday," replied Jane. "In South Wales. At Easter."
In preparation for the holiday, David had assigned a role for each member of the family. There was nothing random about these assignments, each was intended to suit their skills and aspirations.
Tiffany, 14, wanted to be an RAF Pilot, so her role was Cartographer in Chief; she would look after all the maps and plan the routes, both for driving and hiking.
William, 12, was a gifted model and machine maker. Most children his age would merely operate remote control cars, planes and drones; he would strip down their engines, study their parts, rebuild them with enhancements, and then operate them via apps on his iPhone. So naturally, David gave him the role of Chief Engineer.
Adam, the youngest, was a very unusual 8 year old. He had a passion for food. Not a childlike passion for junk food, but for healthy food. From a very young age, he was forever eating raw carrots. As he grew older, he developed a liking for broccoli, spinach, beans and salad. He often helped in the kitchen at home, and even advised on flavour combinations and cooking techniques. He rarely ate sweets. So the natural role for him was Provisions Officer.
The toughest of his children to come up with a role for was 10 year old Katherine. She was a delightful child, everyone said so. Nothing ever got her down. She was a happy-go-lucky, will-o'-the wisp type character. And undeniably scatty. She would always be the life and soul of any party, but you wouldn't trust her to organise one. In a moment of inspiration he came up with the perfect role for her: Weather Watcher. She would just have to keep her eye on what the weather would be like, and advise if they needed to make any last minute changes to their plans, like pack extra woollies, or take high-factor sun cream.
David assigned himself the role of Entertainments Officer, and to Jane he assigned the role of Morale Officer.
A week before the holiday, David gathered the family around the dining table to make sure that everything was set for their week in Wales. He started with Tiffany.
"Have you sorted out a route for us to take next Saturday?"
"The AA Route Planner site suggested the M4 for most of the route. And before you ask, I've plotted the route on your road map book, so I won't need to refer to my phone as we go along, even though that would be so much simpler," replied Tiffany. "I've also used your swanky new OS map for Abergavenny and the Black Mountains so that I can direct you from the edge of civilization to the back of beyond, which I believe is where we'll be staying."
"Splendid," said David. "Will: how did your test pitching of the Anaconda Elite-6 go?"
"Very well. I got my scouting friends to pop over and we put it up in the back garden."
"How long did it take?"
"It's supposed to take 30 minutes, we did it in 45."
"That's doesn't sound too bad for a first attempt."
"Adam. I'll take you to the supermarket on Friday after work and we'll get some survival food for the family. I'll let you take the trolley round the store and I'll meet you at the checkout to pay."
"And finally Kate: What's the weather going to be like?"
To everyone's amazement, Katherine produced a sheet of printed paper from which she proceeded to read: "Minimum temperature will be 10 degrees, and a possible maximum of 18. Light rain is possible on the Saturday that we travel down there, and also again on Tuesday. Otherwise fine, with a light breeze most days."
"Wow," said David, pleasantly surprised. "That's not much less than London at the moment."
"Looks like we're in for a treat," concluded Jane.
And everything had gone smoothly. Until they got Wales. Getting to Abergavenny had been straight forward enough. Tiffany's timings and distance calculations were spot on. They'd taken the M4 into Wales and then turned North on the A4042. They'd driven through Abergavenny and found the correct turning just before Llanwenarth. But finding the farm proved more problematic.
According to the OS map, where there was meant to be a thicket of trees, there were none and when they were supposed to take the third track on the right, there were only two tracks. They eventually had to stop the car, place the map on the bonnet and use the compass to identify exactly where they were by triangulating their location with two prominent peeks. As they were extrapolating where the farm was, Tiffany suggested that it would be so simple to just use the satnav for this final part of the journey.
"But where would the fun be in that?" said David. "Besides, the whole point of this old-school holiday is to make you all less reliant on these devices. It's good to learn how to cope in the event of either losing them or their power supply. You can always rely on a map, it doesn't require a power supply and so can't stop working."
They got to the farmhouse just after 4pm, ninety minutes later than Tiffany had predicted. It was gloomy, windy, and a light rain had started to fall.
"Hello, we're the Robinsons," said David when the farmer opened the door.
"Welcome to Bleak Farm," said the farmer. "How lovely to see you. You've got the pick of the campsite, you'll be the only ones here tonight. We expect to have a handful of caravanners arriving tomorrow, but we don't normally get campers this time of year; you must be a hardy bunch." The farmer looked up at the sky. "It looks a bit ominous don't it? I'd like to be able to offer you our guest rooms, but unfortunately we're fully booked. We're expecting a small group of lads to arrive later this evening; they're heading off on a practise expedition tomorrow morning, and want to get a good sleep the night before."
"Oh don't worry about us," said David. "We'll weather the weather."
"Feel free to cook in the barn. There’s nothing worse than preparing food in the rain."
By the time they'd selected a spot to pitch the Anaconda Elite-6, the rain had gotten heavier and the wind had picked up a bit. While four members of the party struggled to erect the tent, the Morale Officer and the Provisions Officer headed into the barn to prepare an evening meal for the six of them, and that was no less of a struggle. Jane was alarmed to discover that in the food bags that Adam had packed were oven-ready fries, pizzas, and several bags of fresh vegetables.
"Adam, I thought Dad said you were to get survival food," Jane commented.
"Well there is a jar of olives," replied Adam with a smile on his face.
His mother looked at him blankly.
"To add to the pizzas," he explained. "I couldn't survive without those."
"And these?" Jane held up a box of Cheerios.
"That was my one indulgence: I like to melt them on my tongue at breakfast."
Jane grabbed Adam by the hand.
"Come on, let's go see if the farmer can help us out at all. We'll be a little more adventurous tomorrow when the weather picks up."
By 6:30, the tent was finally standing. By 7:00, a huge pile of toasted sandwiches and a cauldron of soup provided by the farmer's wife had been demolished. By 7:30, David had given up trying to persuade the family to play any games; they were just too tired. By 8:00, they'd all decided to have an early night. By 8:30, the whole family were cosily crammed into the Anaconda Elite-6. And all the while, the wind kept getting stronger and the rain heavier. The regular pitter-patter of the rain drops on the canvas was hypnotic and meant that by 9, they were all asleep. At 9:30, they were all woken up again as the wind, which had now turned into a strong gale, whisked away the tent and sent it flying off into the night.
By 9:45, six sodden members of the Robinson family had been ushered into the farmer's kitchen, and were being wrapped in blankets and plied with mugs of hot chocolate.
"This really is most kind of you," said Jane.
"Think nothing of," said the farmer's wife. "And we can put you up in the guest rooms."
"What about the party of young lads?"
"Oh they called an hour ago to say that they'd decided to cancel," said the farmer. "Because of the weather!"
"We've only got the three guest rooms," said the farmer's wife. "But as long as your girls don't mind sharing with each other, and your boys don't either, you're all set."
"Well that really is most kind." Jane turned to the children: "Once you've finished your drinks, you four really ought to go up to bed."
"Oh it's still early yet," said the farmer. "It's not much passed 10, and it is first day of their holiday. We've plenty of entertainment here we can offer you. "
"You mean board games and cards?" asked David, hopefully.
"Well we do have those," replied the farmer. "But I was thinking along more modern lines. We have Sky Sports and Sky Movies if that's of any interest."
"And we have a very fast broadband connection," added the farmer's wife.
The faces of the four youngest members of the Robinson family lit up, and four pairs of hands reached for a variety of phones and iPads.
"The Internet's a wonderful thing, don't you think?" continued the farmer's wife.
"Except when it gives you misleading information," commented David.
He sidled over to his youngest daughter
"Can you show me the site you looked at for the week's weather?"
"Here it is," Kate replied. "I bookmarked it. Sydney's new weather site for South Wales." She handed her father her iPad.
"Ah," said David having looked at the screen for just a few seconds. "I think I know what the problem is. You're actually looking at the weather site of Sydney, New South Wales."
"That's what I said, isn't it?"
"No you sausage," said Tiffany. "Sydney's a city in New South Wales, Australia. You can't blame the Internet for that mistake, Dad. And I'm sure we'd have been here on time if you'd only let me use the GPS on my phone, or the satnav in your car."
"You found us by map work alone?" asked the farmer. "I'm very impressed."
"We did get stuck when looking for a clump of trees," said Tiffany.
"Parson's Thicket?" asked the farmer.
"Yes, that's right."
"It burnt down last summer," said the farmer.
"And then we found two tracks, but the map indicated that we needed to take the third."
"Ah!" said the farmer. "There used to be three tracks, but the potholes had become the size of craters and the council funds don't stretch this far outside of Abergavenny. Finding some kindly philanthropist willing to help out financially seemed unlikely, so I decided to close off the third track for safety’s sake."
"So that means the map's wrong," said Tiffany, with a hint of triumph in her voice.
"Yes I'm afraid it is. I told Ordnance Survey, but they said that the changes were so minor, they didn't yet merit an update to the map - they need at least 10 such changes on a sheet before they can justify a reprint. I always instruct our visitors to use a satnav if they have one."
Seven days later, Tiffany and Will were helping their dad pack the car in preparation for their return home.
The week had really flown by. The morning after the great storm, the farmer had taken Tiffany and Adam around his vast farm in the cabin of his tractor in search of the lost tent. Meanwhile, the farmer's wife had given Will and Kate lessons on riding quad bikes. Shortly before midday, Will had received a text message from Tiffany saying that they'd located the tent, but it was stuck up a tree and needed his help to get it back down again. Could he get to them with Kate, some climbing rope, and a bow and arrow? Will was delighted to oblige. He and his younger sister had leapt onto one of the quad bikes with the requested equipment and tracked down the farmer, their siblings and the stricken Anaconda Elite-6 using the Location Finder App on his iPhone. They had arrived within 15 minutes of receiving Tiffany's message.
The farmer had attached one end of climbing rope to an arrow and used the bow to fire the rope over a suitably strong branch. He had then shown Tiffany and Will how to use the rope to scale the tree, while Adam and Kate remained on the ground steadying the ropes and calling out advice as to how to release the tent. It took the five of them working together about an hour to retrieve the tent. The next day, they'd erected the tent in the barn to let it dry, and the farmer's wife had shown them how to repair the holes that the tent's impromptu flight had caused. The day after that, she helped them to them paint a waterproof resin over the tent. The one thing they hadn't done with the tent, however, was to sleep in it. The farmer's wife had insisted they remained in the guest rooms; nobody had demurred!
They had spent the remaining four days alternating between helping in the farm in the mornings and engaging in outdoor pursuits in the afternoons.
And now it was finally time to go home. Jane finished thanking the farmer's wife for her hospitality and was heading towards the car with Kate in tow. Suddenly a chicken shot out of the barn with Adam in hot pursuit. When he saw the fully loaded car, he stopped dead in his tracks. He ran up to it.
"Dad," he called out excitedly. "Can we come again next year?"
David turned to his wife. She smiled. He then turned to other members of the Robinson family. "What do you think kids?"
Kate and Will beamed broadly, but it was Tiffany who spoke first.
"Only if we're better prepared next time, and book the guest rooms in advance!"