We stayed at several “chateaux sites” in the years spent on family camping holidays in Europe, where the campsites were in the grounds of large country houses.
One of these sites had the tents pitched amongst the trees of an old plum orchard, and we were staying there in August.
What do you get in August, in orchards?
Wasps, that’s what. Hundreds and hundreds of bloody furious French wasps. They terrorised the little neighbourhood of tents in our particular avenue of trees, and it wasn’t long before we discovered why.
Their nest was about twenty feet from the front of our tent.
The orchard had been irrigated by a clever grid of buried clay pipes that ran in lines along each avenue, branching off to water individual trees. When the campsite had been established, sections of these pipes had been dug up to allow cars access to the space between trees, where the tents were pitched.
The result of this were long, open ended sections of pipe, left buried under small humps in the grass. And it was in one of these lengths of pipe that the enemy had taken up residence.
We were camped next to another English family with children our age, and our respective fathers had a council of war, which produced an audacious plan to vanquish the foe and bring peace back to the camp.
It had been observed that the wasps returned to their tubular homestead around sundown, so the two intrepid warriors lay in wait until they had seen a great many of the stripy little bastards dive into the hole in the grass. When the returning hoard had dried to a trickle, our fathers pounced.
Their weapons? A can of petrol and a manhole cover.
As our neighbour placed the heavy iron disc over one end of the buried pipe, Dad poured the contents of the can down their escape hatch. After a dramatic pause, a match arced into the mouth of the tunnel and…
…is the only word to describe the resulting sound, accompanied by a blast of flame, smoke, and charred wasp corpses which shot out of the ground at a 45° angle, while the now lethal manhole cover took off straight up, rising to a height of about ten feet before coming back to earth with a clang.
Followed by silence.
Peace reigned once more and there were celebratory drinks all round.
But if there was one thing we looked forward to more than anything else, it was “Nightwalk”.
I’ve still never really understood where it originated, but we encountered it in several places, considerable distances apart.
Our family had now grown, and there were four of us in the kids tent, making the logistics more complicated, but we still had it down to a fine art.
All the youngsters on site would wait quietly until their parents had either retired to their own beds or were otherwise occupied, then the escape would swing into operation.
Crawling silently under the flap of the tent, to avoid the giveaway sound of the noisy zip opening, we would steal away into the dark, to meet up with other escapees of various nationalities from all over the site, and go roaming around the outer reaches of the grounds.
On one particular site, built on very sandy soil, the clubhouse’s “cellar” was on the back of the bar and had a rough plank door that barely reached the ground. With a bit of gentle scraping under the door, enough of a hollow was excavated to allow a slim 15 year old (who shall remain anonymous) to wiggle through and pass out a few bottles of vin de paintstripper to his waiting accomplices.
I very clearly recall sitting on a stone wall, pleasantly smashed on free plonk, chatting to my recently acquired step-brother, thinking; "This is what going on holiday should be like".
I also clearly recall my first wine hangover the next morning.
But when you’re kids, you just don’t have the time to be hungover. The sun is shining, the pool is open, and that cute Dutch girl you flirted with last night is going to be there…
And summer went on forever.
For Anthony and Martin the Wasp Slayer.
Illustration: Sting in the Tale _ by Ho