The Grey Nomads (part one)

by

THE GREY NOMADS (PART ONE)
BY AUDREY SANDERSON
(OUR EAST LEEDS LASS IN AUSTRALI)

As Audrey’s tale is lovely and long and we do not wish to exceed our wordage levels this will be part one and part two will appear on the 15th of this month. I hope you can wait.

As the northern hemisphere is getting ready for winter we in the southern part of the world are looking forward to spring. Time to start thinking of holidays away from home. Many people have mobile homes, a far cry from the caravans of the 60s and 70s. Lots of retired people have mobile homes and spend their time leisurely travelling round Australia all year. They have a nickname; The Grey Nomads. All jokes aside, lots of them love travelling to a new place every week. I don’t happen to be one of them. I don’t enjoy camping of any kind. Packing bed linen, cooking utensils, crockery and everything else one has to take on these trips is too much hassle for me. Towing all this stuff to a camp site and having to erect tents or stabilising a caravan, then having to cook meals on a dolls house size stove in a tiny space is not my idea of having a good time.
The first and last time we towed a caravan was when my mother-in-law came to visit us 3 years after we had emigrated to Brisbane.
My children were still young and were over the moon that Grandma was coming to stay with us. At long last they had a grandma of their own they could show off to the neighbourhood kids.

Annie was the type of mother-in-law comedians get plenty of mileage from. Her son was the apple of her eye and could do no wrong. I, the daughter-in-law could do nothing right. It was nothing personal, whoever had married him would have been in the same category.
Out to impress his mother my husband said we would take her to Cairns and show her the Great Barrier Reef. No money to splash out on five star hotels he said we would hire a caravan and could stop at various places on our journey north.
He made enquiries about caravan hire and chose a pop up one. It was like a large tin box that folded out into a caravan suitable for 6 people. The first thing we needed was a tow bar on the car. No problem getting one fixed, plenty of problems later.
A week after she arrived we went to pick up the hired van. The man assured us our car would be able to pull it without any problems. No problem at all pulling it, the problem started as soon as John tried reversing it into the back yard. He’d never towed anything before and couldn’t understand why the van turned in the opposite direction to which way he turned the steering wheel. I moved everyone inside the house as he vainly tried many times reversing, getting more frustrated and angrier by the minute. There was a vacant lot at the side of our house and eventually the car and van was parked at a peculiar angle and we had lunch. The plan was I would pack the van with all we were taking with us on the 2 week holiday ready for departing early the next morning. John was a shift worker and would be home around 11 p.m. that night.
Problem No. 2 & 3. It took him ages to disengage the van from the car and of course made him late for work. When he tried starting the car he got no response at all. With all the revving of engine and attempts at reversing I was surprised there was any rubber left on the tyres. After much ripping and cursing he phoned the auto club and the R.A.C.Q. man told him the clutch was burnt out. He called a cab and went to work.
My evening was spent with 2 tearful kids and a mother-in-law who kept repeating it wasn’t John’s fault. After the kids were finally asleep Annie asked why the couch was still piled high with bed linen, a box of crockery and a large box of groceries on the dining table and hoped it was all going to be cleared away before John arrived home from work. In a semi quiet tone that I could muster at that time of the night I asked where she thought I should put everything. She critized everything I did and I was in no mood for it after all the happenings of the day. She turned the full glare on me and said John works very hard the least I could do was to make sure the house was tidy and a meal waiting for him when he came home from work. And then the smirk,” I always had a meal ready for him before he got married.” Resisting the urge to strangle her I quietly said ” The kitchens over there, go for it. I’m going to bed. Let me know where you shove all the stuff on the couch because it’s all got to come out again in the morning.” She had been in Australia a week…..only another 5 and a half weeks left before she went home.
Being a Friday when the drama happened no work on the car could be started until the following Monday. I did move the pile of bed linen etc. from the lounge into our bedroom where John complained about living in a second hand shop. After a new clutch was fitted and a lesson in reversing a caravan from the guy at the garage we left home at 6:30 Friday morning. Only a week later than planned but never mind everything was neatly packed in the tin box, luggage in the boot, grandma and two kids in the back, expert at nothing behind the steering wheel and me and the small dog in the passenger seat. Yes,we took the dog with us as well.
The first place we stopped was Gympie. The expert at nothing’s idea to stop there.

Show his mother what used to be a small gold mining town looked liked and he didn’t want to overheat the car either. At that stage I didn’t know anything about cars. We had a walk round the town and Annie like most pommie tourists was only interested in the shops and comparing prices to english ones. Everyone had a visit to the toilets including the dog and back into the car and on our way again. I can’t remember where we were on the highway when every car who passed us tooted the horn and waved. The kids thought it was great and waved back. Half a dozen cars must have passed and then a small van pulled in front of us and stopped. He slammed on the brakes and missed crashing into them. Two young women climbed out laughing their heads off. I thought he was going to explode. He wrenched open the door and started yelling at them. The girls were holding each other up laughing and pointing at the van. He took no notice and asked what the hell did they think they were doing demanding an explanation. Annie sitting in the back doing her Queen Mother impersonation, the kids asking why the ladies had stopped us and why were they laughing so much. I got out to find out what it was all about. One girl turned me round facing the way we had come from and between gales of laughter spluttered ” All your sheets and pillows are on the roadside down the highway ” As I focused I could see white material fluttering at the side of the road. The other girl between fits of laughter said ” Every time you went over a bump the lid of the van popped up and something fell out.” They collapsed in each others arms as they screamed laughing. I told John we’d have to go back and pick everything up. He said he couldn’t turn the car and van round. I yelled at him I didn’t want him to I wanted him to walk back and help me. He couldn’t leave the car unattended with his mother, the kids and the dog inside so I gathered all our belongings up and staggered back with dusty sheets and pillows and the accompaniment of tooting horns from passing motorists. The laughing girls had departed and I could see the funny side from their perspective. Was not laughing when I reached our car and no one got out to help me. I dumped everything on the bonnet and climbed into the passenger seat. Annie asked what was going to happen now. I said I neither knew nor cared but it would be a good idea if we went back home and dumped the caravan back at the hire place. She jumped to John’s defence before I said another word ” It wasn’t John’s fault Audrey. It could happen to anyone.” I’d already had a week of her snipping and sniping at me and me holding back smart replies today was not the day to imply it was my fault. ” Correct me if I’m wrong but did you do the final check of the van to make sure everything was locked down tight? I have been too busy packing, switching off electric and water, locking up the house, making sure everyone had everything and sorting the dog out too and HE was making sure the van was locked as I didn’t know what I was doing because the guy had shown him, not me how to sort the van out. Well now’s your chance super brain organise that lot on the bonnet because I’m not moving.” She told me I was being childish. I turned to face her ” You can help him. You’re good at telling people how things should be done. Now’s YOUR chance to shine.” She pushed the kids out of the way and climbed out, the dog tried to follow her so I smacked him on the head and shoved him between my feet. That would be all we needed, the dog getting run over. John was still sitting behind the wheel. I shoved him as well ” Are you going to sit there all day or do you think the fairy with the magic wand is going to drive up and make it all disappear?” He got out. I wound up the windows so they couldn’t hear me laughing. John wanted to open up the caravan and bundle it all inside. Annie said the damn caravan had caused enough problems and to shove it all in the boot. No room inside the boot. The pair of them started arguing.
The kids were getting to the teary stage again ” Are we really going to go back home? We wanted to see all the fishes in a ride on a boat with a glass bottom.” I said we’d get there eventually and just think of all these mishaps as an adventure and all the stories they would be able to tell the neighbourhood kids when we got back.
Annie rapped on the car window ” Are you just going to sit there. Get out here and help.” I wound down the window ” I can’t make anymore space where there is none to be had ” and wound up the window. John came to the drivers side and wrenched open the door, the dog made a dive for it. I yelled at him to close the door before the dog got run over. He slammed it shut and started yelling. With the dog in my arms I climbed out. ” The only solution is to put the pillows on the back shelf and the sheets on your lap.” He threw pillows into the back of the car telling the kids to put them on the back shelf and closed the door. The sheets were still in a bundle so I said they had to be folded if they were going to have them on their laps. I climbed back inside the car while mother and son looked at each other. They folded them in a fashion and once more we were on the road again. Much complaining from Annie and the word ridicules frequently mentioned. The kids started giggling saying we were camping inside the car and all their friends would think it funny when they told them. I looked over my shoulder to see how everyone was coping. All I saw was white sheets not very neatly folded. I asked where the pale blue ones were. Annie snarled ” They’re on the floor. I’ll be damned if I’m travelling hundreds of miles holding them.” Sweetly I said ” That’s all right then so long as you haven’t left them behind because the pale blue ones are what’s going on your bed.”
We travelled for almost an hour with no one speaking. It was slow going as this happened long before freeways were built and it was only a dual road highway. Annie asked when we were stopping for a cup of tea. I said we needed to travel as far as we could as Cairns was about a 3000 mile trip. Parking with towing a caravan in a town would be a problem and no cafes along the highway like there was in England. Super brain said no problem at all. We had our own supplies with us, he’d pull off the road and I could make lunch for us all. We pulled into a clearing with council picnic tables and with the dog on his lead the kids took him for a walk. Annie fussing round unclipping the locks on the tin box, John winding the handle to pop up the top. I told him not to bother pulling the side bits out. All I needed was room to make sandwiches as we wouldn’t be staying long. He said he would connect the gas bottles and we could have a proper lunch. What he called a proper lunch was something cooked. I was fighting a losing battle. I refused to cook steak or chops and said it would be something on toast. Not very happy as I foraged through boxes looking for cans of baked beans and eggs, the fry pan and cooking utensils. I told Annie to set out cutlery on one of the picnic tables in the park. She refused ” There’s a perfectly good table inside the van. I’m not eating in the open air with all those other people watching.” Couldn’t have his mother upset so he said he might as well open up the rest of the van and we’d eat in comfort. Annie had a smug look, I had a face like thunder. Everyone had been fed, cups of tea swallowed, time to pack up and get on the move again. Annie, kids and dog inside the car, super brain started winding the handle to collapse the roof. Clunk, clunk ground the machinery. Only one side went down. He wound it up again. No problem winding it up. Still only one side would fold down. Like it or not Annie we sure have an audience now. The other families in the park called out advice. My suggestion to give it a good thump went unheeded. The protruding side was shook, checked for obstructions and still refused to budge. The other families after having a look too went on their way as it was plain to see we wasn’t going to solve the predicament we were in. Miles from anywhere, no public phones, mobile phones hadn’t been invented at that stage. Got everyone out of the car again, it was going to be a long afternoon. Annie didn’t help matters by continually saying she was having a nice time and it was very peaceful in the park in the sunshine. After lots of yelling from John and statements of not his fault he said he would unhitch the car and try to find a garage. He told me to stay with the van and he wouldn’t be long. Not on your life. He’d probably forget where he’d left us and I wasn’t going to spend the night out there with two little kids and a small dog. Annie had volunteered to go with him so he wouldn’t be on his own. Much as I would have liked having a couple of hours without her company I wasn’t going to do it in the middle of nowhere. We found a garage eventually. They man in charge had no idea how to fix an uncooperative caravan and suggested calling the R.A.C.Q. once more. The auto club man told him to stay at the garage and he would join us there and all drive back to the park. When he arrived he asked if our membership covered us for towing either a boat, trailer or caravan. Of course it didn’t, we’d never towed anything before. He said he couldn’t help us unless we paid the extra. Blood out of a stone comes to mind whenever money was mentioned to John. He argued with the man. The man got back in his breakdown truck and switched on the engine. He then saw the two kids holding the dogs lead. He leant out of the window ” Lady, do you need me to give you a ride to the train station or are you going to tell your husband to pay up if not you’re going to be here on the garage forecourt all night.” Annie said the man was extremely rude and he couldn’t leave us there all night. I told her to shut up or we wouldn’t be going anywhere. I hissed at John ” Pay the man NOW before I accept his offer of a ride to the train station.”
The man got the tin box repaired and on our travels we went once more. I said no more stopping for snacks and the next time we stopped would be at a caravan park for the evening. The expert at nothing said to make up the lost time we would take a short cut. He’d looked at the road map and said we would cut across country and join the coast road. We did that at the next right hand turn. The bitumen road soon turned into a dusty track with many potholes, tree roots and was one of the most terrifying drives I had ever been on. It would have been pretty bad in a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We had an ordinary sedan towing a large tin box. The track was narrow and steep and any minute I thought we’d go over the edge with the weight of the tin box. We survived and once again on a bitumen road I said we would be stopping at the first caravan site we came to for I had had enough for one day. We arrived at Hervey Bay caravan site around 4:30 in the afternoon. Super brain said there was plenty of daylight left and we should push on. I told him he would be going without me and the kids if he did. The manager of the site helped us get settled, connected us to the power and I faced having to get the evening meal on the table. After we’d eaten I left mother and son washing dishes while I took the kids to the shower block. Kids dressed in pyjamas we came back to our temporary home on wheels to find mother-in-law writing a letter, husband laid on one of the beds reading a book. How cozy. I told them both they would have to move as the kids were going to bed. Protests from the expert caravan due, they were relaxing after a very fraughtful day. I said they’d have to get rid of their fraught feelings somewhere else as the beds needed making up and there wasn’t room to swing a cat inside the van. The two kids were sleeping on the extension bits either end of the van when it was opened up, Annie on a bench seat made up into a bed and Mum and Dad had to convert two bench seats and the top of the table into a double bed. Lots of giggling from both kids after they were in bed. The other beds made up and as it was black as pitch outside I said everyone go to sleep we would be up early next morning. My husband was a heavy built man and couldn’t get comfortable in the makeshift bed. Tossing and turning he dislodged the table top and we went crashing to the floor tangled up in sheets and blankets. The kids woke up screaming, Annie yelling ‘ What’s up now ‘ in her thick yorkshire accent and the dog barking his head off outside under the van. We should have taken that caravan back the day we picked it up and couldn’t reverse it. So far it had cost us around $600 in garage repairs and R.A.C.Q. membership fees. God knows how much in petrol. And we were only at Hervey Bay, about a 2½ journey from where we lived!
*********************************************************
Look forward to part two of the grey nomads on the fifteenth of this month. Can you wait?

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11 Responses to “The Grey Nomads (part one)”

  1. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    Wow Audrey what a great story, I’ve done a lot of cammping and caravaning in my time but nothing as exciting as this, can’t wait to hear the conclusion..thank you for sharing…xx..

  2. Dave Carncross Says:

    God almighty Audrey. I am reading this in bed and just had to get up before I peed myself laughing. Can’t wait for part two.

  3. aussiepom Says:

    As I said previously Eddie, like an episode with Frank Spencer. Have you heard of the tropical storms and cyclones we get in Queensland? Tune in on the 15th.

  4. Eric Says:

    Great story , as usual, Audrey. Stacks of comedic events but I’ll wager you didn’t find them very funny at the time. Later on of course, they become hilarious tales to relive with the kids & friends. I’ve never done camping (except for one nightmare episode with the boy scouts) or caravanning & you’ve just convinced me that I’ve probably had a lucky escape.
    Looking forward to part two

  5. peterwwood Says:

    Great story Audrey. It reminds me of the time when the family was young. We were off to Lime Regis for a self catering holiday. I had a Cortina Estate and in it were: Brenda and I, two kids, my mam and dad and two huge old English sheepdogs. I had hired a roof rack because the car was so full that we had to put all the cases and the food for the holiday on top. It was raining so I put a plastic cover over the lot. I was bombing along at 90 in the fast lane. (shows how long ago that was – the slow lane is too fast for me today). I heard a sort of ‘zip’ and thought, the plastic sheet has gone but when I looked in the wing mirror the whole caboodle – roof rack, .cases and food were sitting in the fast lane of the M1.I had to run back along the hard shoulder and wait until there was a gap in the traffic to rescue it.
    It’s a good job there was nothing behind me to hit or I would have been put in nick for an unsecure load. As it was the roof rack was knackered and I had to pile everything in to an already over bulging car. Needless to say Brenda has never let me fit a roof rack since..

  6. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    That reminds me of a similar event Peter, we were going camping in Scotland for a fortnight, with my Sister her Husband and her family, two girls and two boys, and they had hired a roof rack to carry most of their gear, and tied it up in a ground sheet to keep it all dry, I was towing our Sailing dingy a 14-6″ clinker built hull, with all the sails mast etc. stowed on bord. We hit the M6 put our foot down and doing a fair lick, and their roof rack came off and landed in the middle lane of the M6, fortunately it was late in the evening and traffic was light, so we pulled over, took off the awning on the boat, picked up the roof rack in tact, and put it in the boat, and drove all the way to Portree on Isle of Skye, we had a great time it was that time of year when the Sun never seems to set up there, we camped at a Camp site on the cliffs called Shullishada…be about 1972…

  7. aussiepom Says:

    I wish we could have lost the tin box as soon as we left Brisbane gentlemen. The thing didn’t want to be separated from our car even when we took it back to the hire place

  8. peterwwood Says:

    Audrey’s tale makes you think back and you realize when you were young you sailed into things – you were ‘up for owt’ With years on your back you can think about things too deeply and everything seems to becomes a potential pitfall..

  9. Gloria Blakey Says:

    What a tale Audrey can’t wait for part two it sounds just like carry on camping I must say I have never fancied camping I like my home comforts too much, I can’t do with the creepy crawlies.

    I don’t know how you remember these stories, but it makes interesting reading, hurry up and send part two the suspense is killing me!!!

  10. Doug Farnill Says:

    What a time you had Audrey. And, as I remember from driving up that main east-coast road in the early 1960’s, the road was hardly wide enough in parts to allow the north and south streams of traffic to pass. I went up to Cairns in 1962, I think, and time and again I had to go off the paved edge into the gravel to avoid head-on encounters. It was a common thing, and with the gravel thrown up and cars travelling at a combined speed of about 200kph, there were piles of smashed windscreen were every few meters. I was in a little VW and suffered a smashed screen. The thought of towing a caravan on those roads chills my blood.

  11. aussiepom Says:

    Nearly 60 years later Doug the Bruce Highway hasn’t changed all that much. It’s now a freeway ( Motorway ) but as soon as the summer storms start it floods and you can be stranded on the highway at Townsville for days. It’s not just the water you have to contend with it’s what flood water brings with it, crocodiles, snakes and all the fallen trees knocked down in it’s path. Driving in Australia is not for the faint hearted. Thank God for the Aussie sense of humour though. They are the greatest people and in a crisis none better for giving a helping hand. The dry humour of Aussies is prevalent in an old movie called ” They’re a Weird Mob ” made in the 60s and a more recent one called ”
    Kenny ” made in 2006 if you get to see them you can see how the phrase ‘ No Worries Mate ‘ really fits an Australian, nothing phases them. Both movies are about everyday guys coping with life in Australia and very funny. Crocodile Dundee was funny but we don’t all live in the outback and wrestle crocodiles for an afternoons entertainment.
    Some of us have wrestled trying to separate a caravan and a car and on another occasion tried launching a boat and succeeded launching the trailer as well.

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