Recently there's been a flurry of people doing the Robert Louis Stevenson thing and sleeping out under the stars. (Though without the donkey.) First there was Robert Macfarlane, nightwalking and open-air sleeping in his wonderful new book, The Wild Places. Now we have John Hee and Weird Darren making the most of those last few warm summer nights with their bivouac on a Dorset beach.
I love sleeping outdoors too - all that fresh air, the rush of the wind and the rain, the shriek of owls, the bark of foxes, gosh it can be noisy out there - but so far it's always been in a tent or some kind of shelter. Except on three occasions long ago. When I was very young.
The first was on the beach at Nice on the French Riviera. Lovely to drift off to sleep with the peaceful, hypnotic sound of waves slapping shingle. Not so good when a gang of opportunistic thieves descend on all the hippy overnighters and steal their valuables.
The second was on a riverside seat by the banks of the Seine in Paris - with a friend, two tramps and several bottles of cheap red wine for company. (No doubt I was pretending to be down and out like George Orwell. All very bohemian.) I woke with a start in the early hours of the morning - and found a rat actually sitting on top of my sleeping bag!
The third was on a street bench next to a tram stop in Frankfurt, Germany. No sleeping bag or bivvy sack involved at all this time - just the clothes I'd been wearing the night before in the Sinkkasten jazz club in Mainzstrasse. I woke to the hostile glares of Frankfurter businessmen on their way to work. I think an excessive amount of lager and wine had something to do with it.