Thursday, December 06, 2007
I've got camping to do...
(Warning:'s this post contains toilet humour)
Some unkind people (lots, in fact) occasionally (OK, often) ask me: "What exactly DOES Mrs Blog do all day in Africa while you're writing your next Number 2 (in Exclusive Books, O.R. Tambo International Airport) bestseller, Mr Blog?"
Good question. She does not, despite the impression the above picture may give, spend all day snoozing in her hammock. No, Legion of Fans, that's Mrs B passed out, overcome with exhaustion, after a hard day's camping.
Camping is not all toasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories around the fire, LOF (in fact, I've never toasted marshmallows or told a ghost story in my life). It's hard work. Damn hard work.
OK... I may be exaggerating slightly, but the simple fact is that the simple act of living takes twice as long (or more) when you're living under canvas (or polypropylene, as we do).
As I type this, the industrious Mrs B is opening the door of the tent. In a house, one turns a knob and the door opens. Right now, the small but perfectly formed Mrs B is working her little biceps out big-time, trying to roll up the front flap of the tent. Next, she's standing on tippy toes trying to secure it. This whole action has taken two minutes and 23 seconds. That is, in fact, two minutes and 22 seconds longer than the equivalent action would have taken in a house or flat.
She is (bless her giraffe pattern socks) now serving me breakfast - a toasted sandwich from the Pretoriuskop Takeaway shop. Back in the wide brown land (Australia) she would pop two pieces of bread in the toaster and push down the thingy. Hey presto, toast in a matter of seconds. Here, she had to walk through the rain to the shop, some 300 metres away, queue, repeat herself twice so the African lady behind the cash register could understand her Australian accent (or, as I'm not there, perhaps talk in her posh faux Zimbabwean madam accent that I constantly chide her about) and wait for the slow but perfectly formed sandwich to be produced. She must then trudge back through the herd of impalas and their babies, fight off rampaging vervet monkies, sidestep the pack of dwarf mongoose that currently infests the campsite, talk to the neighbours about the weather and animals we have spotted on our respective game drives, and, finally, unzip the flyscreen.
Phew! I'm tired just thinking about it, and all I've done is sit here blogging (while pretending to write my new Number 2 besteller).
And don't even think about the romantic notion of toasting bread on the camp fire. If your camping experience is limited to one wet Easter weekend on the New South Wales south coast per year, then standing around a smoky fire in soggy clothes drying out a wet slice of Tip Top Low GI-Plus might be fun, but try doing it every day and the novelty will soon wear off.
I've even given up barbequeing (braaiing for the RSA residents among us) with wood. It takes an hour to burn a pile of wood down to useable coals and here in southern Africa you are either deforesting the country of native hardwood or (worse) having to use store-bought "Alien Invader" firewood (wattle and other non-indigenous species of tree which are quite rightly being eradicated, but have the cooking longevity and intensity of burning wet cardboard).
Lest you all think I am a lazy slob who is waited upon hand and foot, I can assure you that I, too, have a list of camping chores as long as a guy rope to complete every day. Dig that rain trench; fill that Land Rover gearbox with oil; lift that charcoal; tote that bail; get a little drunk and land in jail - yes, LOF, it's hard work living the life of the grey-templed nomad.
But what, I hear you ask, of the toilet humour? (And we take a break to welcome you random googlers - shame on you). Like I said, everything, even the most basic of human functions, takes longer when camping. There is the long walk to the ablution block for a shower, and the even longer walk back when you realise you've forgotten your soap or towel or shirt; or some Kiwi backpacker has stolen the toilet paper and you need to go to the loo.
There is the queue for the shower when the three young siblings from one family take over all the cubicles and insist on singing and throwing wet underpants at each other over the walls or, worse, when the overland truck of dishevelled dreadlocked backpackers arrives from Mali and the occupants get their first taste of hot water in three months (or, as famously happened to Mrs Blog one day, two female backpackers decide to take a LONG shower TOGETHER!).
There is a little secret, however, known only to long-term campers. I feel guilty even mentioning it, but those of you who have spent more than one night in the bush will know what I mean if incline my head slightly, raise an eyebrow, and then nod towards....
The rule about the bucket is as simple as it is inflexible. You use it - you clean it. So, those minutes saved in the middle of the night will be stripped back from you tenfold the next day and you will pay, dearly LOF, for those few brief moments of blissful relief.
Why not use a tree, I hear Ali G ask? Acceptable, in moderation (you don't want to use the same tree for 28 days in a row, believe me), but the moment you find that darkly shadowed spot, away from the tent, will be the precise moment the six-year-olds from next door's caravan decide it's time to go spotlighting for wild animals along the camp fence. No, far too much explaining to do and potential for criminal conviction if one goes down the tree root (pun intended).
Our young-ish friend Jane, aged 23-and-a-bit, was exposed to the rigours of camping at the tail end of the recent Mrs Blog Birthday Festival. She stayed with us for three nights - the longest time she'd spent out in the woods ever, and the first since a Year 9 School excursion (which she was still young enough to remember) during which there was, apparently, some marshmallow toasting.
She found, as we know, that it's hard work, but rewarding, in a masochistic sort of way. She learned to make a fire with charcoal (and ended up looking like Beyonce); posed with a hammer in her hand poised over a tent peg for a photo opportunity; discovered to her immense relief that there was a power point for her hair dryer in the ladies' ablution block; and fell asleep outdoors, on the grass, in the rain, during a party in the camp ground (so overcome was she with the serious work of camping).
In fact, she coined a lovely phrase that I intend to use lots in the years to come. When phoning her family back home in Australia to recount her cooking/tent pegging/hair drying escapades she signed off the call, with a degree of earnest urgency, as follows: "Gotta go, I've got camping to do".