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The Catstycam Blog

  • So You Want To Try Camping? Read on ...

    I love camping! There's something about sleeping in a field that works for me. Early memories of holidays without parents in north Wales, a farm by the sea and, my, how tents have improved since those days.

    In those days you actually did sleep under cotton canvas, no zips, no sewn in groundsheets and only single skin, no fly sheets...pah!...campers these days, they don't know they're born!

    Apart from the obvious benefit of life in the fresh air, close to nature and all that, camping is a cost-effective way of taking a much needed break from the daily grind, spending time with friends and family in a unique environment, an investment in your physical and mental well being.
    So... Tents. Assuming your camping holiday is on a campsite with toilets and showers, communal washing up and food preparation areas, and is in the Easter to Autumn holiday period, in the UK.

    There is a massive choice of  tents on offer these days.

    Family tents : Dome tents, where the poles cross over each other are very stable, they offer flexible designs which can incorporate 'bedrooms' off a central area which can be used as a 'living room', and can be used for cooking or communal activity.  It has been known to rain on occasion in this country so a bit of sheltered space can be a real advantage.

    Tunnel tents, as the name suggests, tend to be designed on a longitudinal floorplan and give good headroom but need to be well pegged out with guylines, they are not free standing and can be less stable.

    Both styles should have a waterproof outer skin and a breathable inner tent, usually in the form of  'hanging bedrooms' which are attached inside the outer, after it has been set up.

    The bedrooms will have a sewn in groundsheet which is waterproof and normally has a side wall of around six inches, also waterproof, just in case your pitch becomes a puddle. The 'door' will be a zip entry and could have a mesh layer to keep the flying thingies out! You can usually buy a 'footprint' groundsheet which fits the shape of the tent, and can be used to add protection to the tent's fitted groundsheet, put it under the groundsheet.

    Tent manufacturers, in my opinion, tend to underestimate the amount of space a real family needs to be comfortable, so if possible go up a size i.e. a six person tent will be a good size for a four person group.

    Try to visit one of the stores where you can see the tent and walk around in it, check the seams, double stitching for strength, fibre glass poles are common and are fine, but alloy/steel poles are stronger and lighter (but more expensive). Ripstop mesh in the tent material will stop small tears becoming gaping holes, but, again, costs more. Are the poles colour co-ordinated to help with erecting it after a long journey and the family wanting to get to the beach, and you looking forward to a cuppa?

    Smaller tents: Two or three person tents, backpacking tents, festival tents; also a large selection available at very cheap prices. Essentially same thoughts about these tents when buying your first tent. You can also still get the traditional ridge tent e.g. the Vango Force Ten, my first 'proper' tent, the triangular shape still used as the symbol for campsites throughout the world, and now retro tents like teepees are coming onto the market, I've even seen a tent that looks like a VW Campervan!

    Bear in mind the size issue, the quality of materials and manufacture as above, weight could be an issue so consider alloy poles, and you won't be standing up either, so how's the back these days?

    There's nothing to be afraid of here, it's a lot of common sense and not being afraid to ask for help and advice, gradually you will build up your own ideas and preferences. At Catstycam, The Outdoor Shop we carry a selection of smaller tents and lots of camping accessories and, of course, we are happy to advise.

    When you have made your choice and bought your tent, try putting it up and down a couple of times before you venture out on your first trip, get a feel for it and make sure the pegs and poles are all present and correct!

    Next thing you need to think about is what you need to do to make your tent a comfortable home from home.

    But that's for another day.

    Stay tuned.

  • The Background Static Of Perpetual Discontent

    Is this all there is?

    In my salad days I spent a year in Paris, working as a teacher of English by day, and eating, drinking and indulging in other other life shortening stuff by night. Every working day I walked past Notre Dame cathedral on my way to work and always smiled politely (hangover permitting) into the lens of the many video cameras held by that day's batch of Japanese tourists.

    I guess I must have starred in hours of boring home movie footage in Tokyo in the seventies.

    Something else that always put a smile on my face was the plaster(of Paris?) gargoyles that were on sale in the souvenir shops by the cathedral. One in particular wasn't so much ugly or frightening, but rather gave the impression of being really brassed off with life. There it was, squatting on one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture in one of the most beautiful cities of the world... and it looked terminally fed up!

    Architecturally speaking, gargoyles were part of the channeling system to disperse the rainwater that fell onto the cathedral roof. The medieval builders, in collaboration with the priests-never missing an opportunity to make sure that people were made aware of their station in life i.e. miserable sinners put on earth to suffer- turned them into nasty demons who spat and peed down on the great unwashed of Paris...charming. Our words gurgle and gargle are derived from these stone  creatures.

    But I digress ... not like me at all!

    I'm not sure I'll be able to link this one into Catstycam, the Outdoor Shop, other than to thank them for sponsoring this particular bit of nonsense.

    What on earth is that title all about? Well, I found out that static, that fuzzy noise you used to get between radio stations on old transistor radios is actually incredibly stretched light waves which came into being at the beginning of the universe, the remnants of the moment of creation, 13.7 billion years old.

    But it isn't meant literally of course, it's more that nagging feeling that you get that things aren't quite as they should/could be, that sommat's not quite right, something's missing, we just need to .... and then it will be good, whatever 'it' is.

    We'll be fine, we're 'glass half full' kind of folk, positive, go getters blah di blah di blah.

    Let's just make sure that what we want, what we are aiming for, where we hope to be next week, next year, at some point in the future is actually what we want, and not what someone else has persuaded us we should be striving for.

    At my age I shouldn't be doing this, I should be ... .

    When I get to ... I'll have... and ... .

    When are you going to settle down and start... ?

    Anyone who is anyone has ... , what's wrong with you?

    By now you should be ...  .

    A wise person once said that the only thing worse than not getting what you want, is getting what you want. Soon you realise that you want something else, something better, and it starts again.

    Oh, by the way, has anyone ever actually found this place we call the future? The place where everything turns out to be OK, and we all get what we want after having put things off in the meantime. Somewhere over the rainbow??

    All right, on a practical level we have to assume a future time so we can set the alarm clock, book the holiday, make the dental appointment...accepted. But the past and the future are just memories and assumptions... we can only ever operate in the present, there is only now.

    It seems to be part of the human condition, at least up to now, that we defer our gratification, that we put up with being less happy, or even unhappy, in the present because we have this vague notion that it'll all get sorted in the future.

    Don't get me wrong, I haven't worked it out, I don't go round smiling in that " I know something that you don't"  kind of way that certain 'spiritual' persons do. And I'm not saying that things will always be not quite what we want and never can be. But maybe we ought to work out that it's here in the present that that we are and always will be,

    we can't be anywhere else in time.

    To the best of my knowledge that gargoyle is still there, it's been over eight hundred years now and he's never managed a smile, I wonder what he's waiting for.

  • Tech Care, Lambs Ont Menu and the Second Law Of Thermodynamics.

    Pretty soon it will be February half term then a hop, a skip and a jump will take us into the Easter holidays, the campsites will open, the BBC will wheel out the 'Blue Peter for grown-ups' presenters and we'll get 'Springwatch' with all those cute little birds, badgers and otters...again.

    We'll see the fluffy little lambs pogo-ing among the daffs and onto the menus of the local hotels, and HOORAH the days will get longer than the nights!

    It's about this time of year when the less disciplined of us, and that's probably a significant section of the population, sheepishly recall (did you get what I did there?) all those good intentions of getting fitter and healthier by communing with Nature and braving the elements, aided by all that outdoor gear that promised to keep us warm and dry...whatever the weather.

    That outdoor gear, so carefully selected and researched for its breathability, its insulating properties, its sheer weatherproofness, waits patiently for the call to protect its owner...and it is still waiting faithfully, dutifully.

    But wait, I hear you cry, that gear was the best I could afford, I may not have got out and about for a little while but neither has it! It'll be there when I get the chance to plan a walk, whatever the weather; a couple of rainy day walks over Christmas, an odd weekend in the fells, where's the harm in that? It'll all be as good as new, a bit of dried up mud on the boots, the odd scuff on the overtrousers, the jacket carefully chucked in the back of the airing cupboard after its brief holiday in the back of the car, at sub-zero temperatures, what could possibly affect its performance?

    To which one would have to retort, the second law of thermodynamics!

    Clearly, with such an educated and informed readership one hardly needs to go into too much detail, suffice to say that, whether we like it or not, it's all been downhill since the Big Bang. Like a massive clockwork mechanism, fully wound at the start of the universe, the second law tells us that everything is gradually winding down... don't worry, there's still a way to go...so nothing remains stable, on any level, and will eventually achieve equilibrium like a pendulum which simply runs out of energy and stops...forever.

    But, it's just a theory based on observation, deduction, experimentation and hard evidence...if you prefer not to believe it you can always pop into your local church, mosque or synagogue and get another version.

    Anyway, to get to the point, it's probably a good time now to invest a bit of time, after having invested a lot of dosh, in spring cleaning your kit. At Catstycam, The Outdoor Shop we stock a whole range of cleaning and waterproofing products.

    Nikwax Tech Wash will pamper your breathable garments and wash out that grit and dust that is slowly clogging the micropores.

    TX.Direct will restore that waterproof layer that makes the raindrops cascade off your clothing.

    Your boots, whether fabric or leather will benefit from Waterproofing Wax for Leather, and cleaning products to get rid of that dried up mud that is clogging up the natural breathability are also available at both our shops in the Ullswater valley.

    Just call in any time if you want a bit of advice on keeping your gear at the top of its game...

    maybe we all need to get out a bit more!

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