Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sticky Cordial

Lord knows my parents did their best to ensure that as a family we got to travel and see as much of Australia and Europe as possible.

As I get older and learn that the average Aussie family has two incomes and is buying a house more than nine times their annual earnings; compared to a generation ago of families living on income in a house worth three times their income, I am even more grateful for the opportunities that Mum and Dad - a high school teacher and stay-at-home Mum respectively - gave us three kids.

Many many hours were spent jostling for a fair third of the back seat in the car with my older brother Robert and younger brother David. Most of our trips were from Murray Bridge to Adelaide for school holiday shopping and visits to Grandparents and all involved at least two-out-of-three of us kids throwing up.

Before getting in the car, Dad would collar us and somehow ensure that we each swallowed a pink motion sickness tablet. Sometimes it was hidden in a spoonful of ice-cream or honey, but the unmistakeably acrid chemical taste was impossible to disguise. In the car itself, Mum's wise organisation skills made it clear that she had little faith in the medications Dad enforced. She kept three clean ice-cream cartons, some paper serviettes and a cordial bottle filled with water for the inevitable stop at the Information Bay just before the toll gate. The winding road through the hills would eventually have claimed all of us kids by then, and she'd sigh wearily and set to emptying and rinsing out the cartons in front of the boomerang-shaped sign welcoming all travellers to the capital of South Australia.

Longer trips were fortunate only in that the possibility of vomiting was unlikely. I'm not sure of the reason why, but a chuck-up would almost have been preferable to the boredom, frustration and violence that always erupted. At least in the back seat.

The long hauls to Barmera for the summer holidays via the least scenic route in the state - Karoonda, Alawoona and limitless vistas of scungy, dusty Mallee scrub - were made even more unbearable by it always being over 40C when we set off. In the late 1970s, car air conditioning was unheard of, and in addition to having a sopping wet t-shirt slicked to your back you also had to lay beach towels on the vinyl seats and steering wheel in order to avoid having your sizzling skin stick to the surface.

These days, if I'm bored - normally when accompanying Love Chunks and Sapphire to a footy game - food is my saviour. Chips, ice-cream, coffee, chocolate, pies etc can all be spaced out enough to ensure that my mouth and stomach are being well entertained. Unfortunately whilst growing up, my parents were not loaded with much spare cash, and the concept of stopping off at a service station for anything other than to fill up the car with petrol was not negotiable. No shop-bought ice-blocks or packets of chips for us.

"Come on now, if you're hungry you can have a YoYo biscuit," Mum would say, brandishing a much-dented, tartan-patterned shortbread tin packed with the least tasty biscuits known to children-kind at that time. They were like eating a bathroom tile and just as interesting. I'd wistfully move my gaze from the rich kids in the next car slurping their Razzes and Sunnyboys to the tin, whining, "I don't feel like a yo-yo. Is there anything else to eat?"
"Yes, I've cut up some apples and there's some bananas if you're hungry."
Great. Sensible fruit as a snack was about as appealing as being given a live squid and asked to fashion it into a wearable balaklava.
"Anything else, Mum?"

This was the time that out would come the sentence that every kid expects - and knows - will emerge from their mother's mouth, but hopes it will not be so in this particular instance: "If you don't want a biscuit or some fruit, you can't be hungry then."
"If you're thirsty, we've got some orange cordial." Warm, sticky and served in the anodised cups in a zip-edged holder that every self-respecting Australian glovebox contained.

"Oh. I'm OK, thanks." No such luck scoring a Farmers Union Iced Coffee either.

Seeing that food was never likely to provide much of a diversion during the drive, we siblings would instead concentrate on seat territory. WHACK went Robert's arm onto my leg if it even dared stray a centimetre into his designated area. I'd very early on accepted that his two year age difference meant that I'd never beat him in a physical contest, so I took out my revenge on David instead. WHACK! "Move over you hog!"

Eventually, the seat space negotiations would degenerate into random acts of violence; namely slaps, dead legs, chinese burns, poking and pushing. Larry, Curly and Moe would have been impressed by our ability to give and receive all sorts of fisticuffs in such a confined space.
"Stop it you kids," Mum would tiredly call from the front.

Dad used to get madder, but he was far less potent because he had to keep at least one hand on the wheel and preferably both eyes on the road. He would try and keep his right hand busy steering and his left would vaguely swing around behind him in the vain hope he'd make contact with at least one of his three fighting children. Again, he'd utter those immortal, fatherly words heard on many a long journey: "If you kids don't stop fighting, I'll give you something to fight about."

Mostly we ignored him, because we were expert at leaning into each other and dodging his 'smack hand.' The squealing, accusations, yelling and slapping sounds would normally wind up a few minutes later anyway. David would be crying, I'd be sulking and Robert would be told to sit in the front and swap seats with Mum.

One particularly searingly hot day however, the fight continued, even when Dad threatened to "Stop the car and you'll all be WALKING to Barmera!" Yeah right, we three clearly communicated to each other via rolled eyes - it's only 200km away and it's 43C, so, like, we can really see that you'll be doing that to us, old man. So, we continued our stress-release strategy of pinching, punching and squabbling away, getting louder and louder by the second when all of a sudden -- WHOOSH -- Mum hurled three cups of warm orange cordial over her right shoulder into our faces.

She got the result she wanted immediately: total silence. We sat the remaining two hours in the backseat, all speechless, indignant and getting uncomfortably stickier by the second. I can't, with any honesty, write that her technique cured us off backseat argy-bargying forever, but it sure as hell meant that the stint along the Hay Plain was a very relaxing one from the vantage point of the front seats.

In sunny Scotland, 1981


ashleigh said...

Oh thank you, I wish I could write as well. This sounds just like my childhood.

Except my father DID make us get out and walk at one stage or other: "right you lot, I had it with you, you can walk. OUT." Out we went. He;d go about 1 km down the road and wait. "The used up your energy?"

AND THEN we spent 6 months on the road touring UK and Europe. How my parents managed this (2 parents and 3 children) I'll never know. I couldn't do it.

davey said...

We saw lots of Australia, though my parents didn't take me anywhere OS. I've still found a taste for travel later in life, my friends who did see countries when they were young end up going back to the same places to relive the memories.

Milly, have you taken Sapphire travelling overseas yet? Planning to?

I tend to agree with Ashleigh, it'd be tough.