The Brautigan stories

4. One star camping

Before I get to raise the subject of one star camping I need to say something about how I got to the one star campsite.

One day, a few years ago, I read something in one of the fat Sunday newspapers about the perfect car. A journalist owned the ‘perfect’ car and he was telling us why it was so perfect; it made for a good story. The perfect car wasn’t a big Maserati or a vintage Aston Martin. No, it was an Alfa Romeo. I learned that the Alfa was quick and red and graced with the cool elegance of Italian design. The car dated back to the early 70s when cars still had some sort of personality. His quick, red, open-top, leather-seated roadster certainly had loads of personality.

Well, I too drive the perfect car. It’s a black Volkswagen Bora and it goes like the wind. Before I bought it someone had added a supercharger to the engine and when the supercharger kicks in the car takes off like a javelin hurled from the fires of hell. The black Bora rockets along the motorways of Europe and that’s how I got to the one star campsite on the Atlantic coast of France.

The campsite was near to Bordeaux. It did not have a name but simply bore the letters GCU. Under the letters GCU was the one star. A one star campsite is defined in terms of the basic nature of its amenities. In this case there were no amenities – apart from some showers, a communal toilet block (communal not in the sense that you did your business together but in the sense that all the lavatories were adjacent to each other so you could, for example, hear people evacuating their bowels) and a place to wash dishes. The dish-washing place had twelve basins each endowed with a single cold tap. Then, at one end of a row of basins was the lone hot water tap. The one star campsite had a primitive back-to-basics feel about it.

BUT there was one thing that made the one star campsite a model for the future: it was pretty much self-reliant. At 11 a.m., once a week, all the people in the campsite were summoned to a meeting. At the meeting someone took hold of a microphone and asked for volunteers to do all the chores for the forthcoming week. And the people liked volunteering to do the chores because it gave them a chance to get to know their fellow campers and to have a feel-good sense that the world really did have a viable alternative to the something-for-nothing, winner-take-all culture that has engulfed the Western world.

Since I couldn’t really understand what the man who had the microphone was saying I didn’t manage to volunteer to do anything. So, I could have spent the week in an alienated chore-less state. I could have had a guilt-trip every time I saw an old man hosing down the communal lavatories. But the campsite was right on the edge of the ocean and, down on the beach, I soon forgot the routines of one star camping: The waves kept rolling in and as they broke upon the shore it seemed to me that each carried the soul of a drowned sailor, a soul returned at last to the peace and silence of earth and stone.

[Date: August 2012]

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