It's been a long weekend here in South Oz, and we three decided to make it even longer by taking the Friday off as well. Officially we're given the Monday off to celebrate the queen's birthday, but seeing as she's about as relevant as Neighbours is to the Rhodes Scholarship, we're just grateful to have one last public holiday until October.
Love Chunks, bless his sweet, strong-willed little soul, had his heart fixed on camping in the Flinders Ranges. He had mentioned it to me a few times over the past couple of months, which resulted in me stammering and backing away, saying stuff like "Oh, I haven't checked my diary yet," or "I'll have to check with my boss that I can get that time off, you know what she's like..."
She's very generous, bugger it. The camping trip was on. LC made doubly and triply sure by taking Sapphire with him to his own personal mecca: Ray's Outdoors. Normally he and I have a rule about how and when we choose to splash our hard-earned cash around - ie by talking about it together first. When it comes to Ray's Outdoors, however it seems that all rules are null and void. The two of them drove home in a groaning station wagon chock-a-block full of night lights, gas cylinders, propane bottles, a two burner stove, trestle table, toasting forks and a three-roomed tent designed to house eight people.
It was all for my comfort, you see. The tent would be big enough for Sapphire to have her own play space, us to have ours, and a central bit to keep our gear dry or to sit in if the weather turned bad. And look! The stove is wind proof; the toasting forks will prevent you from scorching your mitts and the night light has a handy recharger..... His blue eyes were sparkling with joy as he showed me his purchases - how could I spoil it all and screech: YOU BOUGHT WHAT WITH OUR HOUSE RENOVATION MONEY? WHY COULDN'T WE JUST GO TO THE NOVOTEL IN QUEENSLAND?
And so we left our warm, solid, comfortable home in the wee hours of Friday morning and drove to Mambray Creek. Not the most scenic of drives: we were treated to the very worst of Adelaide's suburbs, the delights of one-hotel-hole Dublin, the roadhouses of Port Wakefield, the tyre Loch Ness Monster at Salt Lake and the Garden Gnome Museum just outside of Port Pirie (sorry Sapphire, we'll go and visit there next time). All of this served a useful purpose, because Mambray Creek is a lovely spot that is made even more gorgeous after such an eye-straining drive like that.
Love Chunks managed to set the tent up without any swear words. I was enormously proud of him because it took ages and had more bendy bits in it than Paris Hilton with her ankles behind her ears. Then the real work began:
- Pumping up the mattresses - thankfully taken care of by a tiny yellow plastic blower thingy (from Ray's, of course) attached to the car's cigarette lighter
- Setting up the pantry (3 boxes), sink (2 buckets), kitchen (card table with 20 litre bottle of rain water and gas stove on it)
- Getting water for the dishes and hand-washing ablutions
- Putting up the tarp for the kitchen
- Finding firewood and starting up the fire; and
- Worst of all - trying out the long drop toilets.
Long drop toilets are, in theory, a wonderful idea. Huge long holes dug into the ground in order to save water, any unnecessary bush-squats or fluttering scraps of loo paper from littering the pristine camping grounds. The downside is the smell. Days, weeks, months, years of intermingled faecal matter produces a malodorous cocktail strong enough to smack you across the face as soon as you catch sight the tiny little tin shed. Lifting up the seat is another level of pain altogether. If the outpouring of grateful blowflies won't kill you, the sheer stench will.
A quick splash of freezing cold water on the hands was it for hygiene before wiping them on my already-grubby trakkie daks on the way back to camp. Love Chunks had done his utmost to counteract the required visits to the 'Palace of Pong' - he brought along wine and chocolate.
In hindsight I can see that the warmth of the fire, the pleasure of the chocolate and the bottle of red wine helped me combat the freezing cold that night. You see, my sleeping bag lied to me. It claimed that it could keep me warm in temperatures of up to -5C. Bulls**t! LC was snoring beside me, and Sapphire was murmuring in her dreams two layers of canvas away, and I was clenched in an agonised foetal position, vainly hoping that my staying motionless would somehow stop the shivering.
But again, LC was ahead of me. As I got up to do a retarded dance in the tent in order to get dressed before getting frostbite, he was making coffee. This glorious beverage was awaiting me by the fire just as Sapphire and I got back from the Palace of Pong, both white-faced and unnaturally silent.
And so it continued for the next three days - LC anticipating what potential event might cause me to whinge, and being sure to provide a panacea for it before my negativity could make itself heard. Two things though, we were in agreement about: how bloody COLD it was and how much we both longed for a hot shower.
The cold we fought by wearing all of our clothes to bed and draping our coats over our sleeping bags. I even got the rubber-lined car blanket out and placed it underneath us, trying to stop the cold ground from continually kneeing me in the kidneys (after all, I most definitely did NOT want to visit the P of P at midnight).
The shower issue was unavoidable until we returned home. Each day my hair was stickier and greasier, my eyes more filled with crackly eye-boogers and the rings around my neck were unflatteringly emphasised with dirt clumps. Sapphire looked completely unaffected - even after a long, sweaty hike - but LC and I looked like 100-year Worzel Gummidges. It also seemed that the usual dragon breath produced by most human beings first thing upon waking is exceeded by Camp Breath that lasts all day. If the P of P or unwashed BO doesn't get you, the Back-to-Nature Breath will.
Romance under canvas? You'd have to be blind, desperate and have no nose whatsoever. What charms LC did possess were hidden under stubble, three layers of clothing and a sleeping bag hood done up so tightly he looked like a matroska doll. Let's not just pick on him: I was either wearing a sky blue beanie and resembling a disgruntled potato, or let him see my hair in all it's campfire glory - sticky, wild and stringy. My nose was in constant moist drip mode and my poo-catcher grey tracksuit pants were enough to store wood in. Love may be blind, but it takes a hike on camping holidays.
Was it enjoyable? Sort of. Was it worth all of the long drive, the set up, the packing up, the driving back home, the unpacking, tidying up, washing? Dunno. Did Love Chunks and Sapphire enjoy it? Yes, they absolutely loved it. This last sentence was the most important piece of information I had to keep in mind in order to squelch any "I want a hot shower, a warm bed and a clean toilet NOW" whinges from emerging.