Róisín Ingle on a tent for life
‘Those four hours lying on the ground praying for an end to the bumcha bumcha bumcha bass dance beats will haunt me forever’
It’s orange. It’s battered. It’s what’s known in the business – the camping business – as a two-second tent. It’s the kind that used to be whispered about in awed voices. You’d hear tell of these impossible-sounding objects, purchased in the hallowed outdoorsy continental European-based sports chain Decathalon. These days there’s a branch in Belfast but a decade ago it was one of those abroad-only places, as covetable as H&M, before they came here and we got all blasé about their competitively priced foreign wares.
Must be seven years since I finagled a friend’s parents on holiday in France to bring one of the tents back with them. (Thanks Joan and Shane.) It was an essential purchase at the time because myself and my boyfriend were doing a two-week Buddhist silent walking retreat, a Yatra, in France. (Momentary pause here to marvel that this was once the kind of thing I used to do on a whim.) The Yatra involved pitching your tent in a different farmer’s field every night. With a conventional two-hour tent your heart would be broken when you went to assemble it each evening. With the two-second model, you just took it out of the bag, threw it in the general direction of the ground where it would spring up, fully formed.
People were jealous of us on the Yatra. You’d see them trying to be all Zen, muttering under their breath as they watched us erect our tent in two seconds while they struggled, grim-faced, with their lines and poles. We were trying to be all Zen too so we only sniggered smugly to ourselves a tiny bit as we went off in search of the evening meal, our accommodation sorted in seconds. We’ve taken it all over Ireland since, from Kerry to Derry.
The tent lives behind a sofa now and doesn’t get that much use except as a pop-up den for the children. During the summer we brought it to lovely Louisburgh and threw it up in the garden of our friend’s cottage. The next morning it was gone, taken off by the wind. I mourned that tent the way normal people might mourn the loss of an engagement ring.
My boyfriend drove all over Co Mayo, searching hedgerows and ditches but it had vanished. The next day we heard joyful screeches from the children and watched through a window as a neighbouring farmer carrying something orange far away in the distance came closer. The tent had returned, a lot more ragged but even more loved than ever.
Last weekend I lugged it to Electric Picnic and popped it up close to what looked like a cafe, where in the morning, I cunningly deduced, I’d be within staggering distance of a breakfast roll. It turned out to be the place that opened latest in the whole festival and those four hours lying on the ground praying for an end to the bumcha bumcha bumcha bass dance beats will haunt me forever.
In the morning I had the bleary-eyed realisation that I’d never camped alone with the two-second tent. The unfortunate consequence of this is an inability to tackle certain essential camping chores. And it turns out there’s a knack to popping the tent back in the bag. A knack I don’t have as I discovered after the 11th attempt. In a mild panic I scoured the site for someone with the same tent. I found one guy but he didn’t even have the circular bag, never mind the wherewithal to pop it down correctly. “Let me know when you find out how to do it,” he said.
“Battery going, can’t put tent in bag,” I texted home from my dying phone. The response: “Pull four ends together, turn round to vertical position (small circle at top), put hand at circle the other holding ends and fold circle under. Don’t be afraid if you think it feels like you’re breaking it.” Which might as well have been Swahili.
A few minutes later I managed to lose the circular bag. “You’ve lost the bag, just lose the tent,” said a fellow camper, in a perfect piece of Zen festival philosophy. And I knew what he meant about letting go and yet . . . lose the tent? I’d be losing part of my soul. I retraced my steps. Found the bag. Read the text message 20 times before channelling the Dalai Lama by way of Bear Grylls. Then I popped that two-second tent back in the bag in about two seconds. Afterwards I stood in a crowded field hugging a circular bag, feeling that anything – furniture-assembly, mental arithmetic, writing a winning Eurovision song, climbing Everest – was possible.