Portia and Babe

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So there I was, minding my own business, working on illustrations for the next installment.

Caravan

Caravan for hire at the campsite on Tukurua Road

I’d noticed that Wayne had moved one of the caravans down to the beachfront part of the campsite, where I am, but I hadn’t noticed the car pulling up.

Tony had drawn the short straw.

Tony and Trish have been here the whole time I have. They’ve been looking after the place while Wayne and Leigh (the campsite managers) take a break during the off season.

They are very comfortably set up in their converted bus. They’re also Wingers, like me. (I’ve explained ‘Wingers’ before, but if you missed it, it was in this post ).

One of the distinctive things about Wingers is that they’ll always help out if someone’s got a problem… and by the time I next looked up from my work, Tony was there, doing his bit.

‘Portia’ and ‘Babe’ had arrived… but didn’t seem to know quite what to do next.

I started to walk over to help, but then diverted myself; suddenly and irresistibly compelled to explore the beach like I’d only just arrived.

Some days you just get lucky.

Tony was patiently explaining how things worked to two very unlikely looking campers… who were looking at the small caravan, utterly aghast.

I’m not sure which city they were from, there aren’t many choices. Wellington or Christchurch would be the closest places capable of producing Laté Ladies of this calibre… but these days I think even the most genteel of folk from Christchurch are a bit more durable than these two appeared to be.

He connected up the electricity and gas bottle for them, but I could see their mounting discomfort as he started talking about water tanks and hose pipes. He lost them completely as he explained how to empty the toilet cassette.

The ‘girls’, perhaps in their mid-thirties, were hopelessly bewildered in an alien world.

They couldn’t understand any of it. Why wasn’t there hot water coming out of the taps? Where were the bedrooms? Where was the carpet? and, I am NOT sitting on THAT!

What they genuinely appeared to be most confused about was that they were on grass, next to trees, under the sky… outside.

I had the distinct impression they thought they’d booked an indoor caravan… that they weren’t expecting to find it sitting out there… in the middle of a field. It might have looked wonderfully romantic in the brochure, but the reality was a completely different thing.

Tony had done everything he could for them. I felt particularly sorry for him as he adjusted the undercarriage braces to their fullest extent once more, and was trying to explain that this was as level as it was going to get.

I’m pretty certain they didn’t grasp the idea that there was more hill than there was leg adjustment. Their expectation seemed to be that if you twizzeled the levelling screw things properly they would somehow overcome the incline. Tony was clearly incompetent… perhaps there was someone else.

I was hiding.

They could barely bring themselves to go inside the caravan, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting between it and their car.

Portia was the type that had gone to a private school. It had cost a lot of money but she hadn’t really embraced the opportunity. She was one of those girls on school camps with the make-up and the hair dryer, the ones that shrieked at creepy crawlies, the ones that wouldn’t swing across the creek on a rope, the ones that didn’t like canoeing because the helmet crushed their hair. They were a clique, and moved around in a knot. There was always a space around them, a force field that repelled lesser ones, and aspiring clique-ants. You could feel the breeze shift as the air of superiority wafted from them.

If Babe hadn’t been in that clique, she’d been in a similar one.

Their distress was compounded by the lack of communication. It seemed somehow very urgent to be able to explain to their friends precisely how they were heroically prevailing over the most appalling of circumstances… but pace as she might, Portia couldn’t find a signal.

I could have told them that they could get a signal on the other side of the kitchen block, and I’m normally helpful like that, but on this occasion it somehow slipped my mind.

While they seemed to be completely unprepared for staying overnight in a caravan (I think they were expecting beds, mattresses, pillows, sheets and duvet’s… I saw no sign of sleeping bags), they were absolutely on top of the food situation.

Two long stemmed, large-bowl wine glasses wrapped in white napkins appeared from the rear seat, and then Babe lifted a small chilly bin from the back of the car. I heard the ice rattle and slump, and the clinking of its companions as the first bottle came out. Babe, flushed with the excitement of achievement, triumphantly presented her selection; ‘Chard’ to start I think, Bubbles for the strawberries’

The little fold-up table was overflowing with all the essentials; Lebanese bread, cheeses, prosciutto, smoked meats, olives, summer fruits, and various tubs of that mysterious looking stuff that you only see in delicatessens.

Whilst they had more picnic than Fortnum and Mason’s, they struggled mightily setting the table appropriately.

There was no serving platter, no cheese board, no cheese knife, no ice bucket, and no olive fork… I mean… really!

It was nearly sunset before I finally walked over and said hello.

I was crossing the grass on my way to the beach. In my day-pack I had a flask of coffee, a packet of biscuits, and a box of fire-lighters (just in case). Under my arm I had my rocking chair. I call it my rocking chair because it’s never been quite the same since I reversed over it.

‘I’m going to have a fire on the beach. If you like that sort of thing you’re welcome to join me.’

Total confusion.

I didn’t get that. For me this was the sort of decision that would be made before the thought even reached my conscious mind. There’s a beach, a sunset, and a fire… It’s ‘I’ll be there! do we need more wood?’, what is there to think about?

It was not simple for them though; I could see the cogs turning.

For a start they had no idea how to dress for the occasion. The last time they’d seen a fire on a beach it was in a brazier. They’d worn sarongs, drunk cocktails and talked over the locals singing for them in the moonlight.

My proposition simply didn’t align with their experience. It was a completely different thing but with the same name. There were no cocktails, no candles, no palm trees, and they might never get that smell of wood-smoke from their hair and clothes… and then there was this scruffy old fart in the Swanndri, with the battered rucksack and the broken chair… was he going to sing to them?

On balance, they concluded they wouldn’t thank you… it was too cold.

I tried hard to mask my bewilderment, but I think I failed. Fire… Too cold… No, I just couldn’t make that one work.

Perhaps they misunderstood which sort of fire I meant; I was talking about the hot sort, not the cold sort.

I tried to remove it from my mind; it was beyond baffling.

Ten minutes later, I had flames a metre high and was growing a base of embers that would presently incinerate even the most reluctant of waterlogged driftwood. Five minutes later the fire was so cold that I had to back my chair up and take my coat off.

I was still struggling with the whole cold fire thing when Portia came past with something fluffy on a length of string. I hadn’t noticed the dog earlier, and I’m reluctant to call it such, but I’ve no doubt that that’s what it was… a dog.

It was a tiny deformed creature. I presume it had been abandoned by its mother as a runt, and by the look of its flattened face it had spent most of its life with its now absent nose pressed hard against the pane of the pet shop window.

I’d seen our cat bring back bigger, and better specimens.

It had to be a pedigree; Portia couldn’t have a mongrel.

Most breeds are selectively improved to serve a particular purpose, but this thing appeared bred to the point of complete uselessness. It existed only to be looked at and petted. It needed someone else to feed it and groom it to survive. I lost my train of thought momentarily and came back wondering if I was talking about Portia or the runt.

I think the same was true for both.

I’m not very good on dog breeds, but I think it was a Louis Vuitton.

I sat by the fire, and enjoyed sounds of the night; the waves washing out on the sand ahead, and the wekas fossicking in the foliage behind. The stars came out one by one, soon to be hidden again by a huge golden moon that rose out of the sea.

‘I had a lucky escape there’ I thought to myself. I felt fortunate to have just my own company this evening.

I was sitting there by a hot fire (it was definitely not the cold sort), with my fingers around a steaming mug of coffee, a packet of dark chocolate digestives, the ocean, the wekas and the night sky.

The fire glowed and cracked, sending the occasional spark rising up to meet the stars. Moonlight rippled across the calm sea, and the waves folded gently onto the sand. Every few minutes a pair of more-pork’s checked in with each other. “I’m over here mate”… then a pause, then “yes mate, and I’m over here”. They kept calling to each other every few minutes, just to make sure the other was OK. Neither of them moved to the other. It was far too nice a night for rushing around like that.

What a privilege it was to be there.

Thirty paces behind me Portia and Babe were in a shed on wheels, in a field, in the middle of nowhere; it was ghastly…. and those bloody birds!

It was still morning when they left, but only just. It took time to put their faces in order, but it was arranging the accessories that posed the major challenge; country chic?, arty mystique? beach casual? … in the end they opted for the tried and tested. ‘You can’t go wrong with a bit of Bling’ said Babe. She obviously still had no idea of where she was.

Breakfast was carefully timed for Brunch, by then they could be certain that the Bistro in Takaka would not only be open, but would have patronage. After all, there’s no point in doing Bling if there’s no-one there to look at you, is there?

What was achieved in an hour and a half could have been done far better in three, if only cell coverage had permitted wider consultation.

By the time they were ordering their Eggs Benedict and Trim Laté, I had my pack on my back and was lengthening my stride along a broad and empty sun-bleached beach. I was off in search of a long abandoned clifftop lookout, hidden somewhere in the bush ahead.

I have no doubt whatsoever that we both thought we had the better deal.

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