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!