Thursday, March 18, 2010

Just the spot

In between obsessive litter ninja-ing, paid article research and writing, chocolate reviewing (Easter is my favourite time of year), running, worrying about Sapphire (things are better, but 'Worry' is permanently on my Position Description), saving the garden one bucket of old shower water at a time and babysitting, the strangest reminiscences pop up.

It was 1978 and I was nine-and-a-half years old, wearing hand-me-down jeans and a bright red skivvy that I kept tugging away from my neck to ease the choking sensation an old top one-size-too-small was inflicting on me.

We were returning from a week camping in the Flinders Ranges.

Mum and Dad had just purchased their dream car (well Dad's at least) - a Toyota Landcruiser; a big hulking truck-like vehicle coloured not unlike a giant metal Cadbury Top Deck block. Dad had welded his own roof-rack complete with a side ladder painted a shiny black enamel and a huge bull bar that could raze houses to the ground, let alone any stray roadkill.

The result of an inheritance, the financial windfall also allowed us to move from our old boy scout tent accommodating only three with the two leftovers shivering in home-made sleeping bags (two blankets stitched together by Mum) on the front bench seats of the EH holden to a brand new mission-brown tent. This canvas luxury item had an inner lining that created two separate bedrooms and space to stand up in whilst pulling on your jeans and shoes. There was even a window made from clear plastic that was revealed when the zip was pulled and we all had inflatable mattresses and shiny blue sleeping bags.

Sleeping bags' range of temperature control puzzled me then and continues to puzzle me now. It always seemed like I was drenched in sweat at night time, but would wake up early in the morning with chattering teeth and icy feet and the scary 'Aaaagh!' reaction before realising that the bag had twisted and the hood was now covering my face.

Transport and sleep weren't the only things under consideration during our trip. Mum's domestic needs were also taken care of. In addition to the card tables and folding chairs was a bright orange double gas burning stove (that would always blow out) and hand-held toasting forks (again made by Dad, this time without a welder but just some strong hands and several wire coat hangers).

Unfortunately, camping food in the 1970s was basic at best. The only milk available was the powdered version that Mum spooned into an old mayonnaise jar and shook vigorously. This was then poured all over our bowls of meusli that we'd reluctantly receive in white enamel bowls. I used to fancy that I could still taste a hint of mayo during breakfast but it was difficult to tell with the nuts and bolts posing as 'healthy and sustaining cereal' and what was known as 'milk' but tasted like warm curdled vomit.

Lunch - after a hearty walk, of course - tended to be toasted sandwiches if we were at the fire or, for a change, fresh cheese and tomato sandwiches, with bread that by day three had started to dry and curl up at the edges and required considerable jaw strength to chew through. Apples, carrot sticks and Yo-Yo biscuits (the boring ones from Arnotts, not the home made variety) completed the meal.

Dinner - again, after a hearty walk or a play in the creek bed trying to catch yabbies or hop across the stones - was to fill us up, not to entertain or enlighten our taste buds. It would again feature toast or potatoes wrapped in foil and cooked in the coals and usually baked beans, chicken noodle soup from a packet or barbecued sausages.

Despite all this, the food actually tasted delicious. There's nothing like a piece of toast that you've held over the fire yourself using a slightly dusty stick and dropped into the ash at least once. Or a sausage, blackened and taut on the outside and pink and icky on the inside, dipped into the baked beans and eaten in the dark. Or when Dad showed us how to make damper for the first time and we were each given big warm chunks slathered in butter and jam.

However, a week of this dust-covered diet and using a toilet that meant walking off into the bush with a spade and a few squares of toilet paper (and, invariably, returning with fragrantly splattered ankles and hands not washed all that thoroughly on the edges of the creek) meant that eventually my digestive system started to react.

It was our last day and Dad was intent on driving home with as few stops as possible. He and Mum were always very strict about making sure that we all 'went' before he set off and no other trips were to be tolerated unless the car needed more petrol.

My bowels weren't prepared to fit into this tight timeframe.

I leaned forward and tapped him on his shoulder. "Dad, can you please stop so that I can go to the toilet?"

Dad was never someone you back-chatted or argued with. He was a high school teacher and spent most of his waking hours dealing with sulky teenage cheek, and 'grizzling' at home was never tolerated. I knew all this, but the churning sensation below my belly button meant that another tentative shoulder tap was needed.

"Um, Dad, I went before we left and I really need---"
"I said NO!" His hands were gripping the steering wheel in the classic 10am and 2pm position and there was no room for negotiation. Or stopping.

As we all discover when we have our first attack of diarrhoea, it doesn't slow down or wait for any man, however strict.

To my horror, my personal plumbing went into overdrive and I, well, erupted.

The stinking orange sludge exploded over the back of my jeans onto the car seat and flowed, lava-like, over to my horrified younger brother. Some of the satanic sludge was splattered onto the circular stereo speaker in the door (these were the very latest and greatest thing in car cassette sound systems) and.....

........ the piece de resistance

...... was noticing, amongst the stench, screaming and horror

...... a tiny mustard-like blob that had settled like a topaz jewel on the back of my father's neck.

My memory becomes hazy at this stage, no doubt the result of a wise decision by my sub-conscious to repress it but we did of course stop; mercifully near a flowing creek. Somehow Mum managed to sloosh the worst of it off the seat, door and my brother and bury most of my clothes so that I made the rest of the trip back home entirely nude and wrapped in the picnic blanket. Robert and David sat so far away from me that Robert had the perfect imprint of the clean speaker on his upper thigh and David ostentatiously gripped his nose tight shut. I sobbed and shivered.

What I do remember very clearly is that I never told them about the spot on Dad's neck.

It still makes me smile.

I love you, Dad!


Benjamin Solah said...

Did you pick the colour of the text on purpose?

Kudos for having the guts to reveal that story. Every kid should be armed with this story so they can tell their parents in the event they won't stop the car.

Kath Lockett said...

Hah YES, Benjamin, I did - well spotted!

...actually it was a bit more, um, orange than that, but when I tried it out on the blog page it was eye-acheingly unreadable...

Vanessa said...

I was feeling all warm and fuzzy reminiscing about 1970's camping and then wham, you put an end to that. I loved the description although hard to read over my lunch!

River said...

Thankfully I never had to endure camping trips when young, the closest we came to outdoor adventurew was sleeping on the front porch on hot summer nights when the inside of hew house was too unbearable. We'd be wiped all over with vinegar to discourage mosquitoes and always woke up hungering for fish'n'chips. So no dodgy bowels and nether region explosions for me. But I did get carsick and trips for us meant either travelling with a bucket in my lap, or lying down across the backseat trying to sleep.
Sleeping bags? I couldn't sleep in one if you paid me $1million. The thought of being trapped inside something so close brings me out in panicky cold sweat, just like the time my parka zip stuck and K ripped the thing open to get me out because I was panicking.
Powdered milk? Evil. EVIL I say.
The piece de resistance:home made yo-yo biscuits. I've never heard of them, do you have a recipe? Please?

River said...

Uh-oh, typos. My left forefinger is heavily bandaided due to painfully cracked skin.

Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

Fabulous story :0)

I've never actually been camping myself. The nearest I got was a trip to Northern France where we stayed in a big caravan on a camping site, which had all of its own facilities.

The campers in tents always looked miserable in the morning and had to trudge through muddy fields to use the showers and loos. I never quite got what was so good about sleeping in a freezing tent - particularly in Northern France where the weather is so much like England and torrential rain can appear whenever there is a "Y" in the day.

I imagine it being more fun Down Under.




Cat J B said...

Some of that sounds like my family camping in the 80's/90's. We, however, drove in a bright red toyota van, with roof racks and a trailer behind, traveling circus style.

Great story, definitely has the ewwwwww factor though!

Chestnut Mare said...

That is a really beaut photo of your brothers fishing....

Rowe said...

Oh for f*ck sake, why didn't he just stop! How awful you had to experience that, Kath when it could have been prevented...

Baino said...

Good god woman! Sounds like that commercial on TV at the moment in relation to the 'number three's'! Love the reminiscing about camping. I never did it as a child, we were posh and had a 'caravan'. Camped a lot when the kids were younger though, I miss it too.

JahTeh said...

Kath, I felt your pain. Trapped in the sand dunes of the 90 mile beach with sand falling into the hole I kept digging and no toilet paper. I remembered a book on the back seat of the car and ripped some pages out and who, in that situation, would look at the page numbers or the words 'The End'. I swear my uncle probably went to his grave wondering who dun it, both the murder and page ripping.

Pandora Behr said...

There must be something about parents of the seventies taking the tribe away on the road - glad I wasn't the only one. I remember getting into trouble for leaving jellyfish under the car seat, mid summer on the way back from Robe - well before cars had air conditioning. Great story.

Karen Fayeth said...

Ah camping with the folks, a fine tradition.

We had a small trailer that we towed behind the truck. When parked, we had to use a turning rod to "pop up" the top part for sleeping. Good times.

My mom served us powdered milk throughout my childhood, home and away. I believe it led to my current hatred of milk. Just saying.

And the dad who won't stop was my dad too. I didn't have any "events" as you did, however, by about age 7 I would stop the intake of any fluids for about a day prior to any trip to avoid the inevitable.

And though we had air conditioning in the car, my father refused to use it. We lived in the high desert where it gets very hot. Nope, no a/c. Ugh!

Jack42 said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. My memory of camping is rather better. My dad used to cut up wood and start a fire for breakfast and we would have Bacon and eggs on toast done over the fire. I would awake to the delicious aroma of cooking bacon and would float out of my sleeping bag wafting along on the delightful breeze. Our family considered it a personal challenge to have the most luxurious meals we could when camping.

By the way, I've cracked the mystery of the sleeping bags. In Canada it was cold, damned cold and our sleeping bags were warm all night and we woke up all cozy. However, one time we were in the Okanagan and it was like Australia, warm to hot (seriously, like 38 degrees!) and the sleeping bag was sweltering and then in the morning I was shivering. The problem was that I sweated so much through the night that the bag was sodden and became a heat conductor. In the early hours of the morning this thermal short circuit made me cool off and hence the shivering!

Wally The Walrus said...

Camping - greatly overrated.

After building up civilisation for about 10,000 hours to have nice warm houses and refrigerators and decent food and nice beds, why, oh why, is there any appeal at all in living in a tent and cooking over an open fire.

Done all that when I was a child. No interest in ever doing it again.