Festival equipment – sleeping mats

I’m frequently amused/amazed/appalled to see people – often young women – struggling into a festival campsite, their arms overflowing with a duvet casually plucked from their bed at home.  Did they give any thought for the weather?  It would only take an inconveniently timed shower for their cosy duvet to turn into a frowsty and uncomfortable stew for the whole weekend.

It’s true that a skinful of cider will mean that when the evening finally ends you’ll be able to drop off to sleep on a fence panel – the thin edge.  But after a couple of hours of stentorian snoring (yes, you too, ladies), the anaesthetic begins to wear off. And it’s then that you start to become all too aware how hard and cold the earth is below your thin groundsheet.

So I’m going to start not, as you might imagine, with sleeping bags (that’ll be the next post), but with What Lies Beneath.

The cold, cold ground

When making their bedding from blankets, boy scouts of old were told “more below than above”.  And with good reason. Still air is a relatively poor conductor of heat.  But the cold ground will uncaringly suck all the warmth from your body like a vampire at an all-you-can-eat convent.

So you need something to sleep on which will not only insulate you but also ease the pain of the uneven (and quite possibly stony) earth digging into your sensitive parts.


The good news is you don’t have to cart in an armful of blankets. If you’re fairly hardy, you could opt for a simple thin foam sleeping mat, often known generically (like hoovers and portakabins) by the name of the original – the Karrimat. It’s a simple, body-sized foam pad about 8 or 9mm thick.

Here’s one rolled up and (at a much smaller scale) unrolled:


They are cheap, light and durable, and do the job perfectly well, as long as you’re prepared to rough it a bit.  Finding or kicking/digging a dent for your hip helps increase the comfort level.  But generally after a night on one of these you know you’ve been camping.

So could I suggest a rather more luxurious alternative?  You’re ahead of me, aren’t you?  You think I’m going to suggest an airbed, like this:


Actually, no. I’ve never been a fan of these.  I find them heavy, unwieldy and actually rather cold, which really is missing one of the points of having a mattress in the first place.

And you have to blow them up, which either means adding the extra weight of a pump, or spending an undignified period on your knees getting redder and redder as you employ mouth-to-lilo resuscitation.  That’s not a good look.

Self-inflating mattress

My choice is for a self-inflating mattress.  I know that this name conjures up a picture of something exploding into life like Otto the Autopilot in Airplane.


The reality is slightly less exciting, although still quite intriguing.

Self-inflating matresses look rather more like the simple hearty Karrimat, and certainly roll up almost as compactly.  But once you open the little valve in the corner, air rushes in without any effort on your part.  This is because the natural state of the foam which makes up these mats is to be inflated.

A few minutes later, you simply close the valve and you have a mattress that, as well as insulating you, will cushion your dance-weary body from the most punishing of surfaces.

The pioneer of this technology was the American firm Therm-a-Rest, I have two of their mats, and it’s fair to say that Which? magazine would probably class them as “good but pricey”.


There are a lot of imitators now.  I’ve recently upgraded my sons to self-inflating comfort with products from the small British company Alpkit. Like most manufacturers, they supply a number of different thicknesses. The boys have the Regular Airic (4cm deep, £35).  For ultimate comfort you might like to consider the Fat Airic (7cm deep, £45), but it is significantly heavier to carry in (1768g, as opposed to 1096g for the regular size).

Next post – sleeping bags

I hope that will have you settled in comfort – nay, luxury.  In my next post in this series, I’m going to talk about the thinking camper’s replacement duvet – the sleeping bag.


Festival tents – the pop-up did us proud

A while back, I wrote about buying a tent for festival and other camping and mentioned that I’d bought a pop-up tent – a Quecha 2 Seconds XL II.

It had done a good job in windy but dry weather at Camp Bestival.

But it’s just come back from a really tough test.  My middle son took it for a three and a half week drama camp in west Wales (with the wonderful Festival Arts organisation), and the weather has been shocking.  Day after day of rain, often heavy and frequently accompanied by strong winds.

Six tents (out of about twenty) collapsed during the camp.  The Quechua not only remained stable but also stayed watertight for the entire period.

I think that’s a pretty good test.

My artwork has arrived

My tiny little part in the Twit2art project, which I wrote about last month has arrived.

In fact it arrived ten days ago, but because my MacBook got soaked to the skin my blogging has been rather disrupted – as was my composure, for a while.

But all is fine now, and so – I’m happy to say – is Twit2art #39:

As well as being an enterprising artist, Jan Leenders was a pleasure to deal with.

He’s currently up to number 52 – which will cost the client 52 euros.  Get in there quick!

What happens when your computer gets soaking wet

I had a very worrying experience a few days ago – but it has a happy ending that should reassure all computer users.

While walking around Norwich on holiday, I was carrying my MacBook in a rucksack and was caught in torrential rain. I should have found cover but my focus was elsewhere. I had a good coat and waterproof boots on, so I continued to trudge on through the deluge.

What a stupid thing to do.

I might have been dry enough but I should have known of old that a rucksack provides minimal protection from anything but a light shower.

Wet Mac

So when I finally got indoors, I found that the bottom of the laptop section of my bag (it’s one of those Targus ones, specifically designed for carrying a computer) was literally sloshing with water, and my Mac was soaked.

I dried it off with my handkerchief as best I could, and had a cursory attempt to dry it further with a hot air hand drier.

If I’d been in a more receptive mood, I might have enjoyed the comic picture of one man in a disabled toilet, trying to keep the automatic drier working with one hand, while with the other balancing a laptop a sufficient distance from the drier (ie near floor level) not to roast it.

Sadly my sense of humour was in temporary abeyance. Can’t think why.

So I returned to the table, trying to avoid the suspicious glances of the customers, who clearly could only think of one reason why a bloke should take a computer into a toilet with him. And then with some trepidation I started it up.

It worked!

For about ten minutes.

Then it shut itself down and wouldn’t start up again.

Backing up – what a good idea

It’s at this point that all my intentions to back stuff up started to taunt me. Yes, I’ll get a big memory iPod rather than just my little Nano. Yes, I’ll buy an external hard drive. Yes, I’ll upgrade to Leopard so I can use Time Machine. Mm… all of those would have been very good ideas.

Too late now.

I borrowed another machine and shared my pain with my Twitter friends. The general consensus seemed to be that I shouldn’t have switched it on at all, which didn’t give me much comfort.

But they directed my to some forums where this had happened to other people.

Dry it out

One suggestion was to seal it in a bag with dry rice, which supposedly would draw the dampness out. I haven’t tried this, but sealing it in a bag with its own moisture doesn’t seem very sensible to me

I just took the advice to dry it out for several days before trying again. I took the battery out and left it and the computer in a warm room for 48 hours and tried not to think about it.

When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I slotted the battery back in and pressed the “on” button.
It came on. And has continued to work perfectly.

I may have been lucky but if it ever happens to you it’s a course of action I heartily recommend. Although it’ll never happen to you, because you’ll keep your laptop in a neoprene skin, double wrapped in polythene and leave it at home if it rains.

Oh, and this method works for iPod Nanos too. Guess what else was in the rucksack…

The unexpected in the Peak District

high edge and dowel dale

This weekend I was meant to be learning to paraglide, but the weather (strong winds) had other ideas, so the two-day course was aborted after the first morning.

As I was in the Peak District and wearing boots, I made the best of it and spent the rest of the day walking.  It was a day for the unexpected:

arms stash at harpur hill

More things I saw on my impromptu walk


The next day I wandered round the spa town of Buxton:

buxton baths

the crescent, buxton

More shots of Buxton

It wasn’t the weekend I’d expected, but I had a great time. And I’ve still got a day and a half of paragliding to look forward to.

11 hours on the number 11 bus

This is a brilliantly mad idea.  Eleven hours on Birmingham’s number 11 bus route on 11 November.

It’s a proposal from Jon Bounds of Birmingham: It’s Not Shit, who has been promoting this wonderful city in his own idiosyncratic way for the last six years.

Sadly I can’t make it (Archers scriptmeeting that day).  But I did once take my sons for an outing on that iconic 26 mile round trip.  Why?  They’re still asking me that question.

Now I can tell them that they should feel lucky I didn’t take them for 11 hours.