Call Of The Wild

Family holiday, Tent and campfire, forest, mountains, full moon

Sam takes his family on a back-to-nature camping holiday in an effort to wean them all from their screens – even if he has to drown in the attempt!

Sam gazed around the lounge at the three zombies he shared his home with.

His son, Charlie, currently mid-battle with an alien. His daughter, Matilda, staring at a picture of her own face with computer-generated cat ears and cat nose. And his wife, Lucy, who was being hypnotised by some people in an East End boozer who kept shouting “Get outta maah pub!”

Sam sighed.

School holiday season was approaching and it was making him feel nostalgic.

He loved school holidays when he was a boy; weekends camping in the New Forest with his Dad, summer breaks sailing their old dinghy along the shallows of the Devon coastline, or exploring rock-pools of Cornish coves.

When had everything changed?

The last time the four of them had a family day out, Matilda announced her social media life was about to go into crisis because she couldn’t get a 4G signal.

He and Lucy had both booked a week off work to coincide with the kids’ school holidays, and he had just decided exactly how they were going to spend it.

“We’re going away on holiday next week,” Sam announced, brightly.

Three heads popped up like meerkats, staring at him in surprise.

“To Disneyland?” asked Charlie, excitement in his voice.

Sam nearly choked on his coffee.

“No,” he spluttered. “Not to Disneyland. Better actually – we’re going camping.”

A groan rumbled around the lounge like a dinosaur in pain.

“I am not going camping.” Matilda folded her arms in defiance. She’d already made plans for a shopping trip with her friends.

“James in my class, his parents are taking him to the Maldives for the holidays. I want to go to the Maldives,” Charlie whined.

Matilda scoffed. “You don’t even know where the Maldives are on a map.”

“Yes I do – because I’m the clever one in the family.” He pulled a face at her.

Sam scowled. “Do James’s parents have room for one more?”

Charlie pondered this. “I doubt it – he’s got quite an extended family.”

“Looks like you’re going camping with us then.”

Lucy had remained unusually quiet up to this point.

“Sam, we haven’t got a tent. Tents are very expensive.”

She still had one eye on the Queen Vic’s landlord.

“We’ll borrow my brother’s tent.” Sam rubbed his hands together triumphantly. “This is going to be our best holiday yet. You’ll see!”

“Wouldn’t be difficult,” mumbled Matilda, as three pairs of eyes went back to fighting aliens, looking at the face of a cat/girl, and watching two women wearing leopard print leggings have a scrap. “We only ever go to Auntie Holly’s house. And it always rains.”

They were five days into their family holiday.

Sam had driven them up to the Lake District in their decrepit estate car, camping equipment squeezed into every available space, suitcases rattling on the roof-rack.

With much cajoling, ultimatums, and tantrums that were worthy of an acting award, Sam had managed to awaken the “outdoor adventurers” in his wife and children.

They’d spent the past few days begrudgingly exploring the breathtaking mountain trails, cycling along tranquil country lanes, and – oh yes – embracing the misfortune of having to walk through a field of cows to get to the toilets in the middle of the night!

Despite all this, as Sam sat in his foldable camping chair, a kettle bubbling away on the gas stove, he still didn’t feel they’d quite entered into the spirit of a good old-fashioned camping holiday.

He gazed at their little group clustered by their tent among green fields, and felt disappointed.

Charlie was lost in battle on his handheld games console, Matilda swiped her finger across her electronic tablet, and Lucy had her nose buried in a Kindle.

They were together, but still all doing their own things.

“How about a boat trip on the lake this afternoon?”

His bright, hopeful voice drowned out the whistling of the kettle.

Matilda briefly glanced up.

“No. Way. It’s bad enough you dragged us through a holiday time-warp back to 1940, just so you can relive your youth. I’m not going to risk drowning as well.”

Sam gasped. “1940? I’m not that old!”

Lucy peeked over her book, a twinkle in her eye. “You’re fifty this year, dear.”

Sam glared at her.

“Charlie, what about you? Fancy being my captain’s mate on the high seas?”

Charlie groaned, flinging his games console to the ground.

“Might as well, the zombies have crushed my planet.”

Sam knew exactly how he felt.

Two hours later, the four of them were sailing across Lake Windermere.

The sun glistened on the ripples, the mountains either side stretched up into a cerulean sky, and the light breeze pushed the billowing white sails of their boat back to the lake’s jetty, Sam at the helm.

“This is so cool, Dad,” Charlie’s face tilted skywards mirroring the sun’s beaming smile. “I can’t believe I’ve never been sailing before.”

Sam glanced over his shoulder, catching the relaxed and happy grin on his wife’s face, the worries of daily life washing away.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Charlie. I used to go sailing with my dad all the time when I was your age.”

“Can I steer the boat, Dad?”

Matilda grabbed the helm with her usual teenage sense of entitlement. But this time Sam didn’t mind one bit. His heart filled with pride.

Finally, a part of the holiday they were all enjoying. And not one smartphone, games console, or TV screen in sight.

“Course you can, love. Watch the sail as we turn, though.” He looked around the boat, ensuring the safety of his fellow adventurers. “Everyone, when I say so, we all need to – ”

“Duck!” shouted Lucy, panic crashing into her face as the sail winged from one side of the boat to the other, knocking Sam straight overboard!

“Man overboard!” shouted Charlie.

Three sets of eyes stared anxiously over the side of the boat.

Suddenly Sam’s life-jacket floated him round port side of the vessel, his hands and legs flapping about like a duck.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Lucy reached down her arm for him to cling on to. “Are you OK? You look like you’re in shock.”

Sam burst out laughing so uncontrollably he was making waves against the boat.

Suddenly nothing seemed to matter anymore – he’d done it. The sailing had brought them all back together again.

Even if it had ended with him going for an unexpected, and very cold, swim.

Matilda and Charlie exchanged looks. “Do you think he’s suffering from hypothermia?”

“Help me pull him back into the boat,” instructed Lucy.

“Mind you don’t fall in as well, though. Charlie, can you drive this thing? Let’s get him back ashore.”

“Sail, Mum. It’s sail a boat,” Charlie corrected, rolling his eyes.

“Are you OK sweetheart?” Lucy’s eyes met Sam’s as he sat next to her, shivering, covered in lake-water debris.

Sam grinned. “Never been better. I’ve got my family, we’re on holiday, and I’ve even managed to wean you all off your gadgets – if only for a couple of hours. What more could I ask for?”

Lucy slid her arms around his shoulders and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.

“We love you, Sam, I hope you know that, even if we don’t always show it. If anything ever happened to you, I don’t know what we’d do.”

Sam’s eyes met Lucy’s, and he rested his hand on hers.

“You lot are my world, Lucy. I don’t plan on going anywhere just yet.”

They sat in a row on the wall outside the campsite’s takeaway, Sam with a towel around his shoulders, as they all munched their way through boxes of fish and chips.

“Have you had enough of camping yet, darling?” Lucy sceptically arched an eyebrow.

Matilda and Charlie looked at their dad and giggled.

Sam stuffed a chip in his mouth, ignoring them.

“I just wanted to show you that life doesn’t have to revolve around technology all the time. I wanted you to enjoy the holidays I used to love.”

“And we have.” Lucy rested her hand on his arm. “It’s been lovely to get away.”

Sam smiled.

“Yeah Dad, it hasn’t been that bad,” added Matilda – almost brightly, he thought.

“That’s teenager code for she’s had a good holiday,” whispered Lucy.

Sam grinned. “And what about you Charlie?”

Charlie looked up. “I’d say sailing’s been the best so far. It was sooo funny when you fell in the water!”

Matilda snorted.

Sam rolled his eyes, wryly. “Glad to have been so entertaining.”

“So, where to for holidays next year, kids?” asked Lucy with anticipation.

“I hear Disney’s very nice,” offered Charlie, a flicker of hope in his little face. “Apparently they’ve got this new ride and it’s just like literally being in a computer game.”

Lucy and Matilda burst out laughing.

“I tried,” sighed Sam, shaking his head in exasperation. “You can’t say I didn’t try…”

Our My Weekly Favourites series of summery short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.

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