Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

'You know why you're having trouble putting that tent up?' I was struggling against the wind, and probably should have practised at home, but my new neighour from across the field had his own theory. I was glad to see him come over because I was beginning to have doubts about the whole venture.

There were only two poles, crossing in the centre and fixed at the ends to form a dome. The poles were made up of sections and I'd just bent one of the metal sleeves where they joined. Now how was I going to slide it through the outer sleeve, as per instructions, without piercing the material?

My granddaugher, meantime, had grown tired of holding one end of the sleeve, and was watching from the car. She came out when a wiry man, rather bald and short of teeth, appeared from behind a wind-break with his nine year old daughter, Paige. He was joined by two others - a weather-beaten camping hand and a tall young man in a T-shirt. It was my cue to stand aside while the three men discussed what was to be done about the bent pole. 'I think I've got some tape that will hold it', said the elderly one and fairly skipped back to his caravan. I noticed most of the other campers in the field were in caravans with awnings.

In no time, it seemed, the tape was applied and the tent erected. Although it had a somewhat lopsided appearance like a house in a 1930s German Expressionist film, it seemed stable, especially with guy-ropes in place. One corner seemed liable to collapse but the car was shielding it from the worst of the wind. I'd buy myself one of those stripey wind-breaks as soon as I could.

'What you really need is a replacement section. I thought I saw one up on the hillside.' And the nimble old man disappeared. While we waited, Paige's father told me this was his seventh year at the site, usually staying six weeks or so until the beginning of September. The one in the T-shirt laughed and said it was his first, and last, season. I could imagine it would make for a cheap and pleasant holiday, with lots of places to ramble nearby and the sea not far away. We saw the families later in the neighbouring village , eating fish and chips.

The potential replacement from the hill was thicker than the existing segments. It didn't seem worth the bother of dismantling it all to see if it would fit, despite the old man's offering to do just that. So I thanked them all for their help and we set to pumping up the mattresses.

'Well, that's one lesson learned', said the man as he left. 'Don't try to put a tent up in the wind!'

What I'd learned, or been reminded of, was the kindness of strangers and their willingness to help.

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