When A Camp Goes Wrong – Life On The Road In The UK

By: Aaron James Robinson

So today I’m going to tell you a “fun” story of the only time I’ve ever visited Bath.

Let me preface this by saying that 90% of the time, camps go off without a hitch. We rock up, do our work, eat, hang out, sleep, and move on to the next town. But things don’t always go to plan. During the peak of the season, sometimes available accommodation is limited, sometimes mistakes are made, sometimes rings/vans/cars just fail. I’m not going to name names, or mention the specific camps we travelled to, nor is this a slight on the city of Bath, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a hell of a time.

It was peak season, my first time visiting the UK in 2018. The wrestling company I worked for was desperate for drivers, especially van drivers that could take wrestling rings around the country. I’d had some experience driving vans, and some experience driving rings to venues, and I wanted to make myself as valuable as possible, so I offered to help out. It ended up being a lot more stressful than I ever thought. 

Growing up in Australia, I was used to wide open roads, even smaller country roads tend to be accommodating for larger vehicles, as long as you’re fine navigating largely dirt roads. The more remote you get in the UK, the more you come across single lane roads through farmland and towns where limited parking means you have to navigate around tons of parked cars. It stressed the hell out of me, travelling in a massive vehicle that I wasn’t used to, navigating types of roads I wasn’t used to, in a country I was still trying to familiarise myself with. By the end of each trip, I’d be a wrecked bundle of nerves, dripping in sweat, and it would take ages for me to calm down.

One two day trip had us doing shows in the Southwest of England. With both camps fully booked out, our usual routine of staying at the camps we were performing at were nixed. The usual reserved rooms were still being used by bands that were performing that night. Instead we were to stay in Bath, where a hostel had been organised to house all the wrestlers, with plenty of parking nearby to house the van. I was tired after driving all day, both before and after the camp, and was absolutely shattered. Still, driving into Bath for the first time was mesmerising; seeing massive, sprawling Georgian buildings up and down giant hillsides, I felt like I’d travelled to another world.

Pulling into the city centre, it quickly became clear that the team’s other driver had become lost, leading to us driving around in circles for around half an hour, already stressed out from the previous day, the city quickly began to lose its appeal. When we finally neared the accommodation, it was obvious we weren’t in the nice part of town. The car park was full of people smoking crack, nervously talking to themselves. I was starting to question what I’d got myself into. Following the team’s other driver, he took a wrong turn to a private tunnel for a loading dock, with big signs everywhere saying not to enter. He quickly did a three point turn and got away from there. But in a massive van, we weren’t so lucky. 

As I tried to formulate whether or not I’d illegally enter private property so I could turn around inside, or try to awkwardly reverse up a massive ramp, a homeless man seemingly appeared out of nowhere. He climbed over a fence that separated the carpark and the river, and asked if we needed help. Before I could answer, he saw our predicament “Oh, you want me to run inside and see if there’s a place you can turn around?” I didn’t know what to say, it didn’t seem like a good idea for the homeless guy to enter private property, but before I could answer, he disappeared inside the tunnel. For the next minute or so, we tried to figure out what he was doing by the river, which seemed completely inaccessible, with a steep incline leading to the water. When all of a sudden he appeared out of the darkened tunnel “doesn’t look like you can turn around in there!” It didn’t matter, I wasn’t going to wait any longer. I thanked him, and drove into the tunnel. Luckily the road eventually led to a private car park with enough room to turn around, making our way back we awkwardly waved at a security guard who chuckled as we made our escape back to the hostel.

Entering the hostel, we met our next obstacle. Everyone in the group needed IDs to get in. I had my passport and Aussie drivers licence with me, but a couple of the others hadn’t bought anything. We rang the office and tried to sort something out “both camps are fully booked, as are most hotels in the city, can they sleep in the car?” We looked at the car park full of homeless addicts and decided it probably wasn’t the best idea. Tired, stressed and hungry, we made the group decision to move on to the next camp and see if they had any last minute cancellations. Another two hours on the road, the sun was going down, and so were our spirits. 

Finally rocking up at the next camp late at night, things were starting to wrap up. We rushed around, trying to see if anything was available. No dice. The camp staff were friendly, and tried to get us housed in the same accommodation as the band that was playing, but it was too late. We were going to have to sleep in the car and the ring van, in the part of the camp normally reserved for caravans and camper vans. With most of the local restaurants closed, we ordered take out from a nearby fish and chip shop. Freezing, tired, stressed, thirsty and hungry, we waited over an hour before our cold, stale burgers and chips were delivered. I didn’t care. We demolished the food and made our way back to the ring van.

Now you might think that with all the padding required for a ring, you might be able to make something semi comfortable to sleep on. You would be wrong. For 20 minutes or so, three of us tried to move around the matts on top of the bulky metal frame of the ring to make enough space for us all to sleep. We were packed in like sardines, with our legs hanging off the side of the available matts. None of us could move more than a few inches in either direction. I don’t think I slept more than a few minutes. But we tried, in vain, to make it work.

The next day was a bit nicer. We showered at the communal showers, had breakfast at the camp cafe, did the show, and headed back on the road home. I was a wreck, but I pushed on, knowing that I had a comfy bed at home waiting for me. We were all exhausted, but we all knew that at least it would make for an interesting story. I’ve got plenty of stories of things going wrong at camps, but few went quite as bad as this.

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