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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

One Time at Band Camp!

When one of the five kids went on school camp I regarded it as a sort of mini holiday for me. Sure I still had four of them at home, but even as little as one absentee seemed to change the entire dynamic of the household. 

There was one less school lunch to make, one less dinner to cook, and one less pugnacious dissident to wrangle with. 

While other mothers stood clinging to their kids outside the bus I would be disappearing in a cloud of exhaust fumes, throwing their sleeping bag out the car window and fleeing the scene like a fugitive.

I never worried about them because I knew their outstanding teachers were taking perfectly good care of them. I suppose there was that time Lulu’s teacher rang from a rainforest bivouac to let me know that Lulu was currently at the ambulance station having a leech removed from her eyeball, but not to worry because it was all under control. 

Apparently if the leech works its way behind the eye it can cause the eyeball to pop out of its socket, but I didn't know that at the time so I wasn't too concerned.

I suppose there was also the ‘mystery stink incident’ after Hagar returned from camp one year. 

I had cleaned out the filthy clothes from his backpack, washed his sleeping bag and removed a cattle tick from his armpit but an insidious and rising stench continued to linger in his bedroom. 
After days of exasperated investigation the item was at last unearthed. 

Hagar had been on a cattle station and had observed a session of 'earmarking cattle' where they crop the poor cow’s ear. I discovered a five day old lump of cow, lovingly wrapped in a tissue in Hagar’s underwear drawer. 

The most harrowing school camp I ever experienced, however, was the one I had to show up to, as a teacher. I detest camping and unless I am staying in a four to five star hotel, loathe spending the night away from my soft bed and creature comforts.

My teaching buddy, a fit, young and newly engaged young man, O’Reilly, was champing at the bit to get into the spirit of the occasion. O’Reilly is the type of bloke who will make a brilliant Dad and I think he thought of this camp as a bit of a practice run. 

We were taking our two classes of ten year old students and were in charge of about sixty kids all up. Our destination was a family operated cattle farm about 150 miles out of town, that regularly accommodated school groups for three day stays. 

Rural life and bucolic experiences were on the agenda including bush walks, orienteering, cattle branding and milking cows. 

Now I would have done ANYTHING to get out of going on this camp but the Deputy Principal ignored my anxious petitions. So while O’Reilly bounded on to the bus with joy de vivre, I grudgingly boarded with my sleeping bag feeling a tad depressed.

On the first night our hosts (who really were the most quintessentially humble, lovely and hospitable, graziers you could imagine) forgot to turn on the hot water so the girls all had to have cold showers. 

I’m a girl too. 

It was winter out west and it was a tad chilly. You really can’t wash the conditioner out of your hair in a cold shower can you? 

O'Reilly and the boys all had hot showers though.

“Great! Meatloaf for dinner tonight, Pinky. I love Meatloaf!” proclaimed a chipper O’Reilly at the dining hall.

Vegetarian meatloaf? I optimistically mused. Unlikely on a cattle station, particularly when it has the word ‘meat’ in it.

We all sat down together in the dining room and for some silly reason I kept desperately reaching for my wine glass and coming up with thin air. 

Meanwhile, O’Reilly was having the time of his life, breathing in the country air and talking footy with the grazier.

My responsibility that evening was to supervise the girls’ dormitory and O’Reilly the boys’. 

Now apart from the homesick tears, a few quiet disputes and two little girls who kept giggling endearingly after lights out, I have to say I had a pretty good sleep. 

Must be my excellent mothering skills, I thought. Either that or the mild tranquillizer I took.

Next morning bright as a beaver I bounced out of the dorm cheerful in the knowledge that one third of the camp was already over. 
“Morning!” I chirped at O’Reilly.

I took a closer look at him. He was literally grey. With big, blue bags under the eyes he squinted at me in the sunlight, 

“Not a real good night Pinky. The boys were up and down all night and I haven’t had a wink of sleep. I'm buggered!”

Welcome to my world, O'Reilly. I thought in a slightly mean-spirited manner.