Shirley Ridson reminisces about one unforgettable summer in the 1970s

BY SHIRLEY RIDSON

The sight of 200 naked lesbians and bisexual women overwhelmed us as we arrived at the summer camp on the island of Sejero, Denmark in 1978.

I was 35 and had seen an advert for the camp. Because my partner at the time was committed at work, I persuaded a teacher friend, who was between partners, to accompany me.

We set off by car from Yorkshire and spent a night en route for Denmark, under canvas. I called the camp to ask about booking but they told us to “just turn up”. The next day we arrived at the ferry terminal for the island. Leaving the car and tent, we thought we would enter into the spirit of the place on foot and with minimal belongings. At the harbour we identified possible women going to the camp, but on arrival at the island they all set off in cars. We were left to make our own way. However to our relief, one car turned back and the woman said she would deliver her companions and return for us.

The camp was shaped like a large question mark with cars at the tail and tents around the curve. It was bursting at the seams with every tent filled, but we managed to squeeze in – although we felt like intruders as there were women making love and poorly women trying to sleep. We were quite overcome with mixed emotions of amazement and shock.

The following morning, my friend went back to the mainland to collect our car so that we could pitch our tent and have our own space and privacy.

The camp had two large huts, one for the preparation of food and the other for ablutions and the sole telephone on the site. I noticed that whoever was in this hut when the phone rang would answer it and then shriek, “Renata from Frankfurt.. telephon!” and Renata would yell “Coming!” I was never encouraged to shout as a child so was reluctant to undertake this challenge when I found myself alone in the shed with the telephone ringing. To my chagrin, I waited a few moments then told the caller, “Sorry, she can’t hear me!” There was a brief thunderstorm at the time, the only rain we experienced during our stay. The ablutions hut had an open side, a bit like a veranda with strings of toothbrushes across it. I took my brush back to our tent each time.

It was a short walk to the sea, which was warm and crystal clear. We could swim accompanied by the gentle sound of humming and guitars strumming as women got together to harmonise. The island was unspoilt – I do hope it still is.

One evening, the cooks decided to put us at tables marked with all the star signs, perhaps to encourage us to mix. I sat with the other 11 Capricorns and we discussed their attributes, but most of the women were German so I missed the relevant facts! Most star signs had approximately the same number of women except for Aquarius, which was poorly represented.  The Pisces group started doing swimming motions around the circle, followed by the Cancers doing crab impressions. We Capricorns failed to join in and someone said it was a characteristic of our birth sign!

The meal was followed by music, drums, bottles, spoons and plates all banging in unison, whilst some women danced like dervishes around a bowl of fire.

Each day there were workshops and yoga sessions as well as singing, playing music and simply chatting to each other. During our stay there was a meeting of the whole camp when they asked for volunteers to make evening meals. The Norwegians, Swedes, Germans and Danes, who made up the majority, had already volunteered. So we two, together with the small number of others from England, Australia and France, offered to make up a group to undertake this daunting task.

We decided to make cheese and curry sauces with hardboiled eggs, rice and salad. We assembled our group early and having swept the tables clean and deterred a lot of wasps, we began by frying a large number of onions. My friend and I made the sauces. We had enormous cauldron-like cooking pans set over gas burners. Into each, we emptied pack after pack of fat, followed by handfuls of flour. By pure guesswork we made a roux. Added the milk and to our joy and surprise, there was not a lump to be seen.

When making sauce now, I am reminded of this occasion but I had never before, nor have I since, made enough for 200 servings. The women were full of praise for our meal. We heard they had been dubious about our ability to produce a palatable meal, being English. We made so much they were able to have seconds, which went down well.

Towards the end of our stay, another meeting of the whole camp was called. The Danish women told us they had organised the camp for several years. They were concerned that the camp was only licensed to take 60 women and they were finding it hard to get women to travel to Copenhagen to obtain the enormous supplies of food needed for such a large numbers. In fact, their success was the major cause of their problems. In the light of this, they  needed women from other countries to offer to host a similar camp.

I decided to pursue the possibility in the UK and that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say, I asked a lot of questions there and spent time getting names and addresses.

To be continued…

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