Another juvenile pastime of my youth was camping. I had never been in the Cubs or Scouts but I did enjoy the flutter of woven canvas on a Summers night.
Camping evolved with age. As essential as being able to fix a bike puncture, erecting a tent and spending a night under the stars was a rite of passage for us all.
Camping was first practised inside. This was achieved by creating a tented structure out of a clothes maiden and a bed sheet. The inside was lined with cushions and pillows and you and your best mate would stay up all night with torches discussing important matters of the day such as whether Magpie was better than Blue Peter or whether you should introduce your Action Man to next door's Barbie.
Only when this nomadic tenting was mastered could you progress to the next big canvas challenge, taking it outside one sunny weekend!
Rigging up your first proper tent in the garden on a summers Saturday evening was as de rigeur as telling your older brother's gitlfriend that he never had a bath. But it wasn't easy was it!
Not only did you have to contend with all the normal camping tackle like pegs and guide ropes, you had to deal with three separate layers in the Sixties. None of your namby pamby instant folders you get today. No, this was proper camping like they did in the Foreign Legion, like you'd read about in Look and Learn comics.
The tent of the Sixties came in the following three parts, which you had to build from the ground up: a ground sheet or floor [usually a big crinkly tarp], the main tent or ceiling [which you must NEVER touch inside in case it rained on you all night from that single spot] and the fly sheet or what I liked to call the roof. All three had a life of their own, billowed like mainsails in the slightest wind and never went together properly.
After about six hours of supposedly strengthening your character with a rubber mallet and a million guide-ropes the tent would finally be erected and standing tall like a knight's pavilion with your sock-standard blowing in the evening breeze you and your bezzy mate would enter its rarefied air for the first time. Tardis-like, its vastness instantly awed you and you swore never to live anywhere else except in that khaki tent in the garden, cos it was just brill!
After dragging in your sleeping bags, coats, comics, radio, pop and sack of sweets, the pair of you would snuggle down for a hugely important sesh of reading Whizzer and Chips, whilst stuffing your faces with Lions Sport Mixture and slurping burptastic Tizer.
However, as darkness descended and the burping contest had been won, the atmosphere slowly changed for the worse in the tent. The steely juvenile resolve of the early evening began to dissolve like sherbert in the rain. When the first owl hoot was heard the Pifco torches were grabbed and panned round the tent in blind terror.
Only when our addled brains had made sense of being actually outside at NIGHT could we settle again and resume our sleeping bag tales of who we'd asked out and who'd said yes. Being in that folded canvas was somehow like a confessional. We spilled the beans on everything that night.
Sleep came and we were at last at one with Nature. And then - IT happened! Something hit the tent! Again - and there again! Yells and bellows were heard around the place and it suddenly felt like a medieval siege. We expected trebuche'd firebombs to consume us at any minute and we began to scream like we'd never screamed before! Only then, in the darkest pit of our desolation, would the hidden enemy reveal themselves,with the unmistakable chuckling and guffawing of my older Brothers and their cretinous cronies, who had raided next door's apple tree for ammo.
As we shrieked 'You retarded bastards!' and wiped away the beginnings of tears, we could hear the horde retreating down the garden and into the house, no doubt in search of apres-scare beers and salted nuts in the kitchen. Mum and Dad were watching the Midnight Movie and so blissfully unaware of what was going on in their own backyard.
Back in the tent and licking our wounds, we faced the most difficult decision we had ever faced up that point in out spotty existence - should we stay or should we go? Should we soldier on into the dark night and face whatever further dunces and devils may claw at our zipper or forsake our cotton room and return once more to the warm bosom of my centrally-heated home and ask Mum to make us some chicken soup [for we would be chickens lets face it!].
The decision was made. And so with iron wills we made our choice in the darkness.
Chicken soup had never tasted so damn good as that Summer's night long ago!