'I sleep a lot better when I’ve got a good roof over my head’
There he stands, the four year-old, as proud as a peacock in the black-and-white photo. Behind him is a white tent, standing low but defiantly upright. Theo Fortgens, now 72, started camping as a toddler and has never stopped. Ask what his favourite tent is and he’ll you it’s the ones he himself once sewed from TenCate outdoor fabric.
‘This is a Carl Denig’, Theo Fortgens continues, while holding up the old photo. ‘That was my aunt’s. I often used to go camping with her in Egmond (NL).’ He can vivdly remember how things went in those days. Fridge and TV in the tent? Certainly not! ‘You didn’t have a car then, so all your stuff went in a camping box, which you gave to Van Gend & Loos (a transport company) to take to the camping site. And there you put up your tent, with the box inside it.’
The tent was on the beach, pitched as high as possible against the dunes. That was, however, no guarantee that you’d keep your feet dry. ‘The tide shifted and sometimes there was a spring tide, and in the worst case that happened at night’, he recollects. ‘Then we had to get everything quickly out of the tent, roll up the sides and retreat behind the dunes until the water level went down again. That really made a deep impression on me.’ The camping bug had firmly taken hold. As a teenager he swopped his aunt’s small single-walled tent for a better alternative: a self-made, double-walled tent. ‘I bought the tent cloth at Ten Cate’, Theo Fortgens tells us. At that time the name was written as two separate words. ‘I knew someone who worked in purchasing there. The only problem was that the cloth was then only 1.08 metres wide, so I bought a length of two hundred metres. One part of this I sold on, and from the rest I sewed my own tent on a rickety old sewing machine that someone had got rid of.’
Peace and space
That tent was indestructible. If a certain young lady – who was later to become his wife - had not come along, he would have been happy to continue camping in that little tent for years. It was, however, too small. You could just about fit in with the two of you, but since Mrs Fortgens had never been camping until she met Theo, that was a bit more than she could take. Theo went off to Ten Cate again and once more bought a substantial roll of tent cloth – orange, this time –and set about sewing it, for the second time. After all, he was never going to give up camping! ‘It’s the peace, the wide expanse of sea and the space around you’, says Theo Fortgens. ‘with as few people as possible near you. You step out of your tent and you’re already where you want to be. But ask a hundred campers whythey go camping and you’ll get a hundred different answers. Young people who go to Lowlands (a Dutch music and performing arts festival) only need a roof and then they throw the tent away after three days. At a scouting event you live in it together with your group. When I’m on holiday I live in my tent and then you have to have good quality material.’
After the children were born, the orange tent was stowed away in the attic and – for the first time ever - Theo Fortgens actually bought a tent: a Swedish model. Ten years later this was replaced by a folding caravan when holes began to appear in the tent he had bought. Camping in a tent is something he now only does for scouting events - he has been an active member since he was a boy. Scouting tents are, as a standard feature, made of TenCate material, he informs us. What is it that makes this cloth different from that of other brands? ‘You can feel it’, says Theo. ‘When you rub your fingers over it, you can feel that the cloth is more densely woven - much more densely than that Swedish tent or the front extension of our caravan, for example’ He still has both the tents he sewed himself. They’re now fifty and thirty years old, and his son uses the larger of the two. That cloth just does not wear out. ‘And that’s what you need when you go camping’, he feels. ‘Camping is being at one with nature; you have to accept whatever weather comes your way. When it’s raining outside, I sleep a lot better knowing that I’ve got a good roof over my head,.’
The TenCate tent cloth of those days has obviously developed considerably in the course of so many years. Thanks to constant innovation, the outdoor fabrics from TenCate are not only waterproof but also inherently fire resistant, dirt resistant, insect repellant and, not forgetting that they can be personalised with whatever print you choose. ‘I would really have liked that’, Theo grins. ‘If I could now select a print, I’d pick one that would have people thinking, “whatever are they doing in there?”’, he says, accompanied by a grin and a wink. Then, to be serious: ‘If TenCate can come up with a lightweight tent cloth with the quality of the heavier types, a lot of campers would welcome that. And try to develop tent cloth that you can get electricity from, so you can charge your mobile phone! Is that futuristic? No, it’s not. After all, could we have imagined just five years ago all the things you can get nowadays?’