‘CAMPING’, THE ACT OF leaving one’s house to sleep outdoors, for the sole purpose of recreation, is a very recent thing in human history, that nobody did before the Victorian era. It’s associated with the late 19th century development of cities and the anti-urbanism that is part of ‘modernity’, that grab-bag of new attitudes to living as an industrial species. I enjoy the irony that I, a professional old building noticer, really enjoy it.

Of course people have always slept rough, deliberately and out of need: but before people left their houses to ‘go camping’ there were only conditions like ‘being homeless’, work-like activities like ‘travel’, and leisure-activities like ‘hunting’ and ‘pilgrimage’, not to mention the camping that was part of the most ancient kinds of war. The Romans ‘camped’ all the time, but unlike us, they set up for the night behind a palisade, and drew up a small city instead of deliberately leaving city-ness behind. It took absolute sickos like Baden-Powell and the youth movements in Europe to actually rough it for the fun of it; and the kind of things the Edwardians and Wilhelmine young people enjoyed—singing masculine anthems in khaki shorts or lederhosen, their knapsacks on their backs—is probably best left in that vigorous era.

Nowadays ‘camping’ is a colossal industry of commodities, marketing, holiday planning, and worst of all, ‘lifestyle’ influencers. Ugh. Can’t we just cook meat on fires?

A camping grill over a wood fire, with a large piece of pork cooking on a sheet of aluminium foil

A camping grill over a wood fire, with two hamburger patties and a circular pan with fried onions

Build a fire, a hot one, with a three or four decent-sized pieces of hardwood. Let it flare up and create a decent base of heat, then let it burn down for a base of coals. Great. What you want is a big thermal mass without the flames and smoke that go with fast incomplete combustion. Now put your metal cooking grill over the top and make your dinner. Pictured: first, a pork loin done in chilli, lemongrass, fish sauce and sugar marinade, and second, the makings of hamburgers.

Now that’s civilisation.



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