Deaf Dad: The joy of camping – and our visit to the Sign Circle festival!

Posted on August 2, 2013

I think every family reaches a certain point, when the kids are just a little more mobile – and you no longer need quite to drag quite so much baggage around with you anymore, when you start to think that going camping is a really good idea.

This is us, right now.

After all, what could be better for the kids than being outdoors all day, getting fresh air, playing with other children their age, and eating al fresco?

Growing up, my family went camping every summer and I remember idyllic evening meals and hot days by the sea, which was only a short stroll away.

Not forgetting one night in the south of France when there was a huge storm and our tent was illuminated by flashes of lightning. My two brothers and I signed in between cracks of thunder. It was weirdly fragmented – like strobe signing – but very funny indeed.

The mere mention of going camping got our daughters excited. They’d seen the camping episode of Peppa Pig, you see.

“When you want to cook Daddy, you just get two sticks and rub them together and it makes fire! It’s easy!” our eldest said.

I asked her if this is what Daddy Pig had done and she nodded, enthusiastically. Presumably Daddy Pig had run out of gas at the time.

What sparked the idea of going camping was the prospect of this year’s Sign Circle camping festival, a festival full of Deaf visitors and performers who sign. All our friends were going, with their families.

Two years ago, when the last festival took place, we’d considered it, but concluded that our youngest was a bit too young (she was 9 months old at the time). Or maybe, being honest, we weren’t sure we could hack the four hour drive and carrying her around once we got there.

This time, the kids now 4 and 2 years old and very hyperactive, and with us all living a lot closer (an hour’s drive away) we booked our tickets. Having made the commitment, set about buying and borrowing all the things we’d need.

The main thing we needed, obviously, was a tent. There seemed to be so many options online. In the end we decided to buy one that looked like it would have enough room for us all if there should be a rainy day.

From my parents, who are seasoned campers, we borrowed just about everything else. Gas canister, cooking gear, cool box, kettle, water bottle.

On top of that we bought a fold-up table and chairs, lights for nighttime (how else would we sign and lipread each other?) sleeping bags, and a lot more besides.

Soon, we’d agreed to go ‘trial camping’ in Haworth, with good friends who live nearby, to see how easy our tent would be to put up.

I’ve got to be honest. It was pretty torturous. Somehow the poles at each side wouldn’t quite connect to their peg on the ground. But, after a three-person effort, we got there in the end, consoling ourselves with a glass of wine and pure hope that we’d get faster and better next time.

Little did we know until we’d put it up just how big our tent would turn out to be. Check out our car for scale…


I must admit, I felt more than a bit self-conscious about it. Most of the tents around us were only half the size. One joker on Facebook even complimented us for taking a mobile garage for our car (!)

The upside was that during the trial weekend, the kids had the time of their lives. They played until late, ran around the tents, and loved snuggling up in their section of the tent at the end of the day.

Sign Circle , last weekend, was even better. As you might imagine, the kids had so many more tents to explore, made lots more friends, and enjoyed all the activities of the festival – not least meeting their hero, Ashley, one of the presenters of the CBeebies sign poetry show Magic Hands!

As for the adults, well we enjoyed our evening drinks and chatter, the performances we saw, and making new friends of our own. On a personal level, I met a lot of people I’ve met digitally – on Twitter, Facebook and email – and found them to be even nicer in person than they are online.

By the time we’d packed up and driven home on Monday, we were pleasantly exhausted. I would write more, but another contributor is planning to write about the festival, so I’ll leave it to her. Plus I think I’m still recovering now, four days later.

I’m still not sure why camping’s so tiring. Maybe it’s how physical camping is, with putting tents up and so on. Or maybe it’s the fact that to even nip to the loo you have to walk a quarter of a mile. Or maybe, as one person suggested, it’s simply the fresh air.

The exhaustion aside, there is something amazing about being outside, even when you’re inside. Feeling the fresh air on your face. Plus camping’s social, because you can’t help but chat to the people next door (John and Louise – hi! Hope you got home ok!).

For the kids, it really is freedom. Freedom from being cooped up in the house, being pushed along in a pram or going to nursery. They can wander around, play, and be a bit cheeky from time to time (I’m still looking for a vital tent part that one child ran off with!). Which are all very good things.

So my conclusion is: camping’s great. If you have a family and you’re thinking about going camping, give it a try.

You’ll be knackered at the end, you may struggle to fit everything you brought with you back in the car (you may even struggle to start your car) but you won’t regret it.

Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned the films My Song, Coming Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

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