On Camping with friends..

22 04 2009

Camping is THE quintessential middle class family thing to do and with good reason, I’d suggest. What other mode of holiday can you justify an appalling lack of personal hygiene, cheering whilst your beloved children play with fire (and consume truckloads of preservatives and sugar right before bedtime) and sit in a chair for the greater part of the day without anyone raising an eyebrow?

Now the naysayers that I have conversed with about this primeval cornerstone of modern western family culture suggest that we are certifiable for leaving our quarter-acre blocks to live on land a fraction of the size and willingly choose neighbours who are less than a horselength away, separated by a micron of nylon. To which my standard reply would be “yeah well anyway, did you know you have a massive booger up your nose??”. This usually buys me enough time to think of something a little more relevant like: “Yes, granted. BUT THEY ARE CAMPERS!! IT’S OK!!”.

Now this is undoubtedly the most salient of points. The folk you willingly choose to live amongst for a few days in the bush are campers. At home we get the Sunday Dawn Lawn Manicurists, firing up the diesel, 4000CC ride on to lop the quixote-like blade of grass that dared grow since the lawn was “trimmed” at 11PM on Friday night. We get the teenage kid whose drum playing resembles an earthquake in a Scanpan factory. We turn the TV up over Shane and Shazza variously screaming over the remote, wailing over whose turn it is to scoop pooch’s poop from the dining table or (and this is where we risk industrial deafness from our TVs) the sound of these paragons of marital dysfunction making up again.

Of course, OUR neighbourhood is wonderful. We go camping.

This is not to suggest that  one can’t experience bad campers. Fortunately,  these fall into a couple of easily identifiable tribes. The first, and through painful experience, the most evil, are the water skiers. Water skiers have that part of the brain that feels guilt over burning fossil fuels incised with a high-powered angle grinder. They have no compunction at all using the annual production capacity of the Northwest Shelf for an easter break. They will run boats all day and generators most of the night to power full sized fridges, microwaves and even the odd plasma screen, leaving just enough power to blare the entire repertoire of the Angels and AC/DC throughout the unfortunate campsite. If you see a boat, the rule is, don’t even let down your jockey wheel, get-the-hell-out-of-there.

Now more subtle but equally annoying are the childless aging hippies with a green conscience that circles their campsite like the rings of Saturn. Their abode is modest, their meals smell of boiled tofu, jasmine and sandalwood sticks. They won’t keep you up at night, nor will they awaken you at 4:00 AM when they creep out of the crisp blackness to catch the first glimpse of a lyrebird taking its dawn dump but listen carefully and you will hear the dripping disdain upon their return as you fry up the bacon you found floating on top of the water in your esky on the third day.

“Uggh, smell that, Pig murderers clogging their arteries with saturated fats and Nitrites, I may vomit, darling!”, “Are they the urchins we saw swinging from that endangered Richmond Birdwing Vine yesterday?”, “Can you BELIEVE that with our planet choking on its last legs that they are burning logs!!!’.

It’s fine for the first half an hour and then it feels like ants crawling under your skin. What’s worse are the pangs of guilt you feel when emptying your bacon rind and prawn heads into their immaculately cleaned Jerry can, all ready for the next camping trip as they take their last toilet trip. Or, alternatively, jamming a potato up their Volvo exhaust and catching the hippies blowing a fuse all on film for the off-chance you get some “Australias Funniest Videos” footage.

There are, however, the camping heroes as well. Fine folk often in Patrols or Landys who simply call everything with wheels (including wheelchairs) “vehicles”. These guys can make a drum of cold water burn. They have higher degrees in tarpology which would enable them to cover Wimbledon faster than you could utter the phrase “looks like we’re in for a spot of rain”. These same folk would stuff their own children in gloveboxes to give you a lift over a flooded creek and would give you their last drop of milk for your milo because your daughter poured yours all over the fire to put it out.

Yes, they are the silver-backs of the camping world. Recently we had cause to thank more than a few of these fine middle-class Australians when we enjoyed the wettest camping experience since Noah’s neighbours hollered “check out our new Jayco, mate!” as the clouds rolled in.

In camping you find your real mates. Those who will sit around a fire and drink deep their warm milo in enamel mugs as they drink deep of each other’s lives. As their children play and get dirty and scratched and enthralled by the world around them. Those who delight in having only the earthy (somewhat smelly) communication with those right there and none electronically. There are no phones to answer, no emails bleating like a spoilt child for your response, no TV saturating your senses with things you don’t want to see, know about or buy.

There’s just you and your friends, morning noon and night giving each other undivided attention and the time to really catch up enough to remember why its nice to have them six feet away and only separated by nylon.

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