Friday, March 03, 2006

On the road with the Olds

Have you ever, as a grown adult with family, home and responsibilities of your own, gone on a holiday with your parents? No, not with your partner and kids, but on your own, with your folks? I thought not.

Admittedly, ‘Having a holiday with Mum and Dad on my Own’ wasn’t actually on my list of things to do before I’m forty, but it was likely to be more achievable than having John Cusack and Jude Law as my in-house love buddies.

Mum was on the phone, giving me her usual weekly rundown: two sessions in the Lifeline second hand shop, CWA choir practice, Allan F’s malfunctioning organ (oooh errr missus) during Sunday’s church service, the value-for-money Tuesday night smorgasbord at the Grosvenor Hotel and accidentally letting a fart slip when bending over to roll her first ball at bowls that afternoon.

“We’re driving over to Melbourne next week – via Seymour, to meet your Uncle’s new girlfriend – and will be staying with RnR and Dr W in North Melbourne. We thought we’d take our time, see a few things, take it easy. You’ve got some free time and Love Chunks could take care of Sapphire – want to join us?”
“Oh, why yeah, I would. What the f-- sorry Mum – why the heck not?”

Thus, a week later, we three – Mum, Dad and me, in their sensible white Commodore acclaim were zooming through the Heysen tunnel out of Adelaide and on our way to Tailem Bend. It was 6am, so breakfast was not an option in my 5am preparations – was it too early to be pestering Dad with, “Hey Dad, can we stop at Tailem?”

My reticence was understandable, despite being 37, in possession of a university degree and an active member of an entirely separate household. You see, I had been a forced participant in many, many long drives and even longer holidays with these two people. From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, our trips were ones of tight timeframes, too constant car sickness and extreme frugality. Common responses thrown to the three of us sulking, starving or bladder-bursting kids in the back seat were:
“Look, if you’re hungry you’ll eat this apple/stale yo-yo biscuit/soggy tomato sandwich.”
“We are not made of money!”
“No, we’re not getting an ice-cream, they’re too dear. Have a barley sugar instead.”
“Why didn’t you go at the caravan park before we left?”
“Please tell me whoever vomited just then had enough time to find the empty ice-cream carton!”

I gingerly tapped his shoulder, gently asking, “Um, Dad, do you mind if I have a twinkle and a Farmers Union Feel Good iced coffee at Tailem? We would have done 110km by then, so…….” None of the above refrains were uttered by Dad in response, in fact nothing at all. For a moment there I’d forgotten that he was hard of hearing at the best of times, let alone in an air-conditioned car doing 120km up the freeway with the roof rack screaming in the breeze. After several louder efforts he said, “Yeah of course. I think we could all do with an FUIC right about now.”
“Or a cappuccino,” piped up Mum with purpose in her voice.

After passing through the thrilling roadhouses and wheat silo towns of Coomandook, Ki-Ki and Coonalpyn, the urge for re-caffeination and urination again overtook us. We pulled into the public ‘rest spot’ at Tintinara and did exactly that – emptied ourselves before walking across the highway to refill ourselves a minute later. Again with cappuccinos, but complemented this time not with custard tarts but with Kit-Kats and Maltesers.

It was my turn to take over the driving from Dad, which gave Mum and I a chance to have a chat without every second word being “Pardon?” because it’s a right old bugger being the poor sod in the back seat who can’t hear what’s being discussed in the front.
Mum fed me maltesers as we drove. “Ah, that’s the spirit. You can’t have fruit and salad on a long drive – it’s gotta be crap food all the way.”
Mum flinched slightly at the word ‘crap’ but nodded her agreement.
“Come on Mum, I’m a grown up now. I sometimes say words other than ‘Oh bunnies’, or ‘heck’, you know. But not in front of Sapphire of course,” I added hurriedly.
“Hmm, well, I don’t know that swearing is necessary. There’s so much bad language around these days…..”
“What was it that your own mother used to say, hmm Mum? Wasn’t it ‘stop fiddle arsing around’? Since when in 1930 was fiddle ARSE a nice phrase?”
She threw a malteser at me. Being a chocoholic, I caught it without taking my eyes off the road. Another point struck me. “Oh and Mum, you might not ever have said anything worse than ‘darnit’ but hell, you could certainly let ‘em rip in the car, couldn’t you? Until you confessed a few years back that it was you popping off like a motorbike in the car, we would have forever blamed them on little Thumb’s love of dried apricots!”

That’s what I love about Mum – she’s very conscious of proper behaviour, but once you get her laughing, she’ll nearly cack herself when the humour descends into Benny Hill and Bottom Burp territory.

Soon we were interrupted by a deep buzzing noise. What the hell was it – surely the car wasn't going to let us down? Before I could pull over, the noise was punctuated by small snorts. It was Dad, fast asleep in the back. “Aw bless him, he looks so peaceful and hey, at least we know he’s alive.”
“Oh MillyMoo you’re far too cheeky for your own good----“
“Yeah and you’re too farty--- Mum! Stop pinching me or we’ll have an accident!”

Dad woke up when we stopped for lunch at the curiously-named but rather cute little country town, Nhill. Mum took over the driving and he again settled into snore mode. God knows how with all of the coffee he’d sucked down.

Later that night as we were ensconced in our little 2 bedroom BnB cottage in Maldon, his restful time in the car had only served to ensure that he trudged a regular path to the bathroom and back. The cosy little cottage we were staying in was actually brand new: a wooden weatherboard mounted on stumps. Each step Dad took was like the percussion in a Johnny Cash song as it rattled the entire building: Boom Chugga chugga chugga Boom Chugga chugga chugga……. This brought back memories of our caravan holidays when someone would sproing off the front step in the direction of the ablutions block, leaving the van and its inhabitants to sit in surprise and wonder who the hell just shook them awake.

When the cottage had steadied itself again, the winds from the gully would then spiritedly blow through, flapping the outdoor blinds and the creaking clothesline. This would in turn rev up some of our neighbours, who would emit the occasional “Beeeaaaaah” from the paddock next door.

Once again, we had a 6am start to make it to Seymour for morning tea with Uncle Alan and a leisurely drive into North Melbourne. My under-eye bags that made it impossible to pinpoint me out as the daughter of our group and we left Maldon in a silent car, no chattering or lively banter and . At least not until Dad said, “Should we stop somewhere to get a cappuccino?”

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