What do you do about sanitation?

The nearest thing we got to camping when I was a child was the idyllic holiday in a gypsy caravan when I think my parents slept in a tent. I was very young so although some of the details are wonderfully vivid, a lot is just vague images and rememberings. The reason we never camped was that my dad had done way too much of it when he was in the army during the war, often in dreadful, horrible conditions, in France, in Italy, in Greece, in North Africa, so for our holidays, apart from the gypsy caravan, we went each year to a holiday – think ‘Hi-de-Hi!‘ and you’ve very close to what it was like.

My sister and I did go camping with my Aunty Audrey, however, I’m not sure how often, but on one occasion we went to Derbyshire to see the Ladybower Reservoir  when its water level dropped so the village which had been flooded when it was constructed was visible.  Another time we stayed at a farm which was called Nutwood and I was very excited as Rupert bear lived in Nutwood! I remember little about it except the weather was very wet, and I was intrigued that the men’s ‘toilet’ was a hole in the ground with a canvas screen round it.

The reason I have been thinking about camping in the past is that I’ve been reading through ‘The Happy Housewife’ by Ruth Drew again. My edition was published in the 1960’s but Ruth herself very sadly died in 1960, so much of the writing is from much earlier in her life. I’m looking at the chapter ‘Holidays in general and caravanning in particular’. It was very primitive in those days, and many of the campsites were little more than fields. Thinking of the toilets at Nutwood, here is Ruth’s instruction on an important point people often asked her about:

But to get back to the point – here’s an important one people often ask about. What do you do about sanitation, they say. Well, quite briefly, the simple answer is a good pit – and whatever kind of shelter you like to rig up. (That means remembering to take a spade with you, by the way.) If you want to be very civilised about this, the people who make what I think are called ‘chemical closets’ – make a small variety of these things especially for campers. If you have one, housed in a little tent, then you’re very well set up.
Then there’s the problem of how to cope with rubbish. We find that pits are the best answer to the problem, too. Some kinds you can burn, if you’re in a place where a fire’s permissible. But things like vegetable peelings we put in a deep pit – and keep covered with earth as it fills up. It’s a good idea to park some flat stones or something on top to stop farm dogs having the time of their lives in a very unappetising way. Tins, too, we flatten and bury in another pit. And here’s a last point about this digging business: when you make those pits, begin by cutting the turf out carefully in chunks. Then when the camp site’s getting its final tidy, back go the turf lids, daisies and all.

This passage has brought back another memory, camping with the guides and the first job was to dig the ‘lats’, i.e. the latrines! My featured image is of my mum and her sisters who were all keen girl guides and who went camping, no doubt digging latrines and making rubbish pits in which to put their vegetable peelings and flattened tins!

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