When you get to my age, birthdays don’t mean a lot (to me anyway … it may have something to do with the fact that I’ve had so many of the bloody things).
My most recent anniversary, though, was a special one. Not for any particular reason other than the location and the company.
Day three of our camping trip dawned with yet another beautiful outlook (my philosophy is that every day is beautiful) once the fog had moved to greener pastures.
Once a smoke was rolled and a pee was peed, the fire was given a new lease of life and the billy was doing its duty, it was time to contemplate just where the past year had gone. And Christ, it had gone quickly (they do once you attain a certain level of maturity).
Any thoughts of the past disappeared when Liam suggested bacon, eggs and toast should be mandatory.
“I’ll make a pot of espresso,” I said, “That should kick-start things.”
“I reckon that, given it’s your birthday, we should celebrate with a strong coffee with a decent splash of Jack in it,” said Liam.
Bourbon and coffee? I was all for it, which I guess negates the suggestion of maturity I made a couple of paragraphs ago. No matter. It was to be our only strong drink for about eight hours so what’s the harm?
Bacon, bum nuts (they're eggs to the uninitiated) and toast, coffee and bourbon (yeah, it had a wonderfully warming effect), the river doing its thing just metres away, the fire warming our toes, cockatoos holding what seemed like ridiculously loud conversations … it’s hard to imagine a better start to any day.
A couple of cups and tea and a smoke or two rounded out breakfast before the dishes beckoned and then a trip to town to get supplies.
Once we hit the main road and got reception, my phone did its thing with a gaggle of messages (can you have a gaggle of messages? Don’t care if you can’t) and calls to wish me a happy birthday. Speaking of collective nouns, I had a great friend (he’s now propped up at the great bar in the sky) who had, to my mind, the best collective noun ever. Every day at the office at about 12.30, he’d say: “I’m off for a collapse of brandies.” Just thought I’d like to share that with you.
Given that we were in town, it seemed like a good idea to do the pub lunch thing. A country pub chicken parma was the order of the day for me and bangers and mash for Liam. While we waited for the kitchen to do its thing, we decided a game of pool was in order. Liam won. That in itself is not usually the norm. There’s history there. I have the inherent ability to get into his head when we are playing pool and he, there’s no other way to say this, chokes. Years ago when we were in Munich, we were in a bar playing pool and I beat him 14 games in a row, often from seemingly hopeless positions. He was a very angry young man. (About 12 years ago when I was a regular at the local pub, I played two games against former world snooker champ Eddie Charlton before interviewing him for a story, but that’s something for another day.)
With pool and lunch done, we headed to the supermarket to get supplies. Given that we’d indulged in a fair amount of dead beast during our time on the river, we decided to go healthy. I was going to make vegetable soup. We bought a shite load of same and wandered back to camp.
The afternoon seemed like a good time to lock the hubs and do some four-wheel-drive exploring (gathering firewood along the way) of the many and varied tracks around the area. We took both vehicles.
It was a good thing, given my lack of experience in 4WDing (Liam did plenty in Vanuatu). There’s no better way to learn that just doing it. I took the LandCruiser to places it had never been. “I’ve just run out of track,” I said to Liam on the UHF. “You’re in a bloody LandCruiser,” he said, “make a track.” I did.
By the time we were all tracked out (and had a good supply of firewood), beer o’clock loomed.
There’s something pretty special about having a beer, sitting by a fire and peeling and chopping vegetables. I filled the camp oven with river water, chucked in carrots, cabbage, potatoes, broccoli, pumpkin, peas, chickpeas, cannellini beans, parsnip, swede, a couple of bottles of passata (OK, I didn’t throw in the bottles) and some salt. A couple of hours on the fire and voila, it was done. It was as thick as an English soccer hooligan, and tasted bloody excellent. Each of us armed with a big chunk of baguette and a glass of wine or seven didn’t lessen the experience. We can play.
And play Liam did ... the guitar anyway and we tried to write a song based around the lone black swan that had been cruising the river in our neck of the woods. It was a great way to end the day.
The days rolled into each other with the sort of ease I’m looking forward to on the road. We did what we had to do. No pressure, no deadlines, no TV, no radio, nothing but good food, good wine and good company. About the only productive thing we did was give the generator a test run, which was great. It’s not as noisy as I thought it would be.
The lightest moment of the whole trip (and there were plenty, including a mouse doing the breaststroke in a bucket one morning and me doing a Homer Simpson impersonation by treating a glow stick as a cigarette) came when Liam said: “Bugger it. I can’t be here by the water all week and not have a swim.”
It was beautifully sunny although the water, I reckoned, was at the wrong end of the temperature scale. He put on his boardies and, with a determined look on his face, marched into the water. OK, he was ankle deep. “Shit,” he said, “this is painfully cold. It actually hurts.” They’re not words I usually hear from him … he’s a fearless bugger. He splashed himself and then turned and said: “Nah, I can’t do it.”
We did give the LandCruiser a chance to do its stuff one afternoon and took it on a track along the river bank. The beast climbed over fallen trees, up rises that I once wouldn’t have dreamed of doing, and ended up negotiating terrain that could only be done in a four-wheel-drive. Shit, it was fun.
As always, though, the fun comes to an end, as did our week and before we knew it, it was time to break camp and point the vehicles in the direction of home. I suggested that rather than cook breakfast, we should pack and head to Yarrawonga and let someone else do the cooking. It was a good move.
We were sitting on the footpath outside a cafe, waiting for our food to arrive, when I heard my name. It was my friend, Tom, who lives in the town. I hadn’t seen him for a while. We used to go camping together with our young families. Tom hadn’t seen Liam since he was about 10. It was a great catch-up before we hit the road, bound for Toolleen to catch up with our great friends Jodie and Stef, with whom we’d stay the night and have a bite to drink.
I can’t say we enjoyed the drive. The traffic in Shepparton was shitful, not helped, I guess, by the police and media throng at a siege being staged by some bloke dressed in a Medieval costume. I can’t remember seeing so many coppers in one place.
The view as we negotiated the road to the farm was a cracker and worth the price of admission.
It was wonderful to see Jodie and Stef. It had been Pfarr (that’s their name) too long between drinks, something that was rectified immediately we’d arrived.
If the drinks were good (and they were), then Jodie’s food took things to a whole new level. Simply, it was the best vegetarian food that Liam and I had ever eaten. The girl’s a genius.
I opted to sleep in the swag despite the offer of the couch in a warm room (it must be a bloke thing) while Liam had the spare bed. It was good to be reacquainted with the swag … and waking to the view was a bonus, but not as big a bonus as Jodie’s breakfast. Poached eggs (we went to get the eggs from a woman down the road), homemade hollandaise, toast and the best homemade baked beans with feta. Again, the girl’s a genius.
As is her husband, Stef, who arrived back from a neighbour’s vineyard armed with a grapevine cutting. “This is the start of our vineyard,” he said. They are going to plant out a few hectares and give it a serious crack. All power to them.
All too soon, it was time to head for the big smoke, armed with bottles of Jodie’s homemade (with home-grown ingredients) kasoundi, and capsicum and courgette chutney, both of which are delicious.
Then came the sad part of the week. It was over. Time for a reality check and time to hit the office again. Roll on the next camping trip.