The Stolen Tent

Joan Walton

When my daughter, Rachel, was about six years of age, we arranged to go on holiday to France with friends who had two young children. We had a four-berth caravan and a tent that slept six. The friends were to borrow our tent. As we lived in the Midlands and they were travelling from Dorset, we arranged to meet them at the port, prior to taking the boat over the Channel. 

 We drove down overnight and stopped in a lay-by for an early morning breakfast. The tent was in the caravan, and, as was our custom, we took it out and put it under the caravan to give us room inside.  Whilst we were eating, a minibus pulled up behind us. I realised that my daughter was paying them a lot of attention out of the window, and saw that one of them was relieving himself close to our van. I closed the curtains, telling Rachel to get on with her breakfast. When we had finished, we went to fetch the tent, to find it had gone. The young men had apparently not only relieved themselves but had relieved us of our belongings! This put us in a fairly dreadful situation. Our friends were dependent on us for their accommodation. We were none of us well off in those days and could not afford to either buy another tent nor pay for alternative accommodation. The caravan was hardly big enough for us, far less sleep four additional people. 

At our wit’s end, we decided we might as well go to the campsite we were booked onto, as there seemed no better alternative. When we reached there, I asked the person at reception whether she knew of anywhere we could hire a tent very cheaply, as ours had just been stolen. The woman gave us a strange look and said we were in luck. A family had left the day before and had given her their tent prior to leaving. Apparently they were to buy a new tent for their next holiday and would have no use for their old one. They thought she might be able to find someone who would have use for it. The woman had not had this happen to her before and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it; so when we turned up, she was glad to have it taken.  That was coincidental enough, but the real shock came when we saw the tent.  Ours was about 20 years old, blue and orange with two sleeping compartments, good quality but well worn with two or three tears in different places. This tent was virtually identical: same age, colour, size, condition–to all intents and purposes, the same tent.  It wasn’t ; the tears were in different places.  But if you didn’t know the other tent as we did, and put the two together, you couldn’t have told the difference. We were staggered.   

I remember vividly thinking that if I had doubted there being a Power that lay behind our daily experience, I should not do so again. The whole thing just seemed to go far beyond the bounds of meaningless coincidence.   

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