The wise mother of an old friend of mine famously dismissed camping as “a complicated way of getting wet” and, after several failed attempts to disprove this theory, I am nowadays inclined to agree with her - which is why my preferred accommodation, when exploring the countryside, is my campervan. I have noticed, however, that the recent, extended spell of dry, sunny weather, combined with a spate of public holidays, has resulted in a rash of ‘reverse city breaks’ and I can reliably report (from the swivelling seat at the front of the campervan) that the practice of camping is currently thriving - which is good news for the local economy of many a rural community.
In our own exploration of the rural idyll, we met up with friends on a fully booked-out campsite just outside Bishops Castle - that gem of a small market-town in the Welsh Marches. We parked our campervans in a formation reminiscent of pioneer wagon trains on the American prairies, served ourselves gin and tonic, weighed up our neighbours and evaluated their varying types of equipment. Some, I concluded, would have brought with them a pop-up privet hedge had such a thing been on sale in their local camping centre. One item we all had in common, however, was fine, dry weather - an essential requirement for a satisfactory camping experience.
Those of you who are perplexed as to the purpose of camping will now be asking questions such as “So what?”, or “Then what?”- the answers to which are of a soporific nature and, perhaps, best left to professors of sociology. Those of you who are not troubled by such esoteric issues will probably want to know more about the facilities on offer since it is well known that they vary considerably from one place to another. This particular site had the advantage of being on a hill-top and, therefore, had great views of the surrounding countryside. Balanced against this, however, was an almost total lack of water pressure in the showers and a merciless exposure to the prevailing wind (neither of which is of concern to campervanners, by the way).
Any niggles, in my view, were cancelled out by the site’s close proximity to Bishops Castle which boasts (among other attractions) that Holy Grail for lovers of real ale - The Three Tuns, Britain’s oldest licensed pub and brewery. As if this were not enough, my delight was compounded by the discovery of a pub around the corner which was staging a three-day event of live music with a bar dedicated to locally made ales and ciders. That evening, unable to recruit a companion, I rolled down the hill solo to take advantage of this unexpected culture-fest. Entry was free (a mixed blessing, since free entry usually promises amateurism,) so my expectations in respect of the performance were modest as I tried to make up my mind whether to have an evening of ale or cider.
Having decided on the ale, I began to take notice of the assembling audience. It comprised people of all ages and types. In front of me a small group of excited Hooray Henrys joshed each other, one of them declaring that this was the best pub he had ever been in - ever! Their city accents cut sharply into the softer burr of the local voices and they were oblivious to the anxious-looking chap of around forty who stood nearby wearing a top hat over his shoulder-length hair and a one-piece black body-stocking with a white skeleton printed on it. Most of the rest of the audience, apart from a couple of single ladies out together, had not really bothered to dress for the occasion which was a shame because, when The Smoking Aces finally took the stage, it was apparent that they had gone to a lot of trouble in that respect.
Their act offered very authentic-sounding, crowd-pleasing 1950’s rock ‘n roll - complete with appropriate costumes and a replica cylindrical, chrome, slotted microphone. Far from being amateur, this was a polished performance by talented musicians and the audience loved it. The Hooray Henrys were captivated by the irresistible simplicity of the rhythms, their clumsy, drunken dancing revealing its origins in the clubbing circuit, while the man in the skeleton suit claimed his dance-partner and showed off their exhibition-standard jive techniques. The two single ladies swayed rhythmically and looked around occasionally, hoping, I was sure, for a dashing partner to approach with a smile and a polite “May I?” All the while, grey-haired old-timers, having long ago given up on the jive, tapped their feet, smiled wistfully and inwardly assessed the authenticity of the songs compared with the original recordings stashed in their attics.
The end of the gig coincided happily with the limit of my capacity for ale consumption and I made light work of the ten-minute up-hill trek with the encore reverberating in my head – The Smoking Aces’ inspired version of the original ‘Hound Dog’ as performed by Big Mama Thornton. Bow-Wow!