the Grey Nomads (part two)


By Audrey Sanderson
As Promised

Quickly trying to quieten everyone down for fear of waking the entire site up I opened the door to reassure the dog everything was fine and stop him from barking. He was on a longish length of plastic rope so he could move round the ground under the van but not stray onto the adjoining sites. As soon as the door was opened, quick as a flash he jumped inside and shook himself. It had been raining and he was wet through. He jumped on top of Annie’s bed trying to get to my son. My daughter at the other end asked why sooty was wet. He heard her voice and tried getting to her. Annie started screaming she was in a mad house, John still trying to untangle himself from sheets and the table top and chaos reigned. I felt sure the manager would be along any minute to evict us. I told the kids to stay where they were, told Annie to stop yelling and told John to stop messing about on the floor. Once more our bed was remade with instruction for John not to move once he was in the bed. Annie said the dog had to be put outside. Cries from both kids he had to stay inside because it was raining. I pulled the covers over my head and pretended I was at home in my own bed.
The next morning full of aches and pains from resting on a hard makeshift bed I cooked breakfast. Told everyone to go outside while I cleaned the dishes and made the beds. I needed housework to be on my own and try to get some sanity back in my life. Making the kids beds I found out the canvas extensions of the van that covered their beds were full of pinholes and all the bedding was wet. Dear God, I could not face another day like yesterday. I went to the office and asked the manager if we could stay an extra day and night as the caravan had leaked rain water over the kids beds and I had to dry all the bedding. He said sure we could, no problem. I asked if there had been any complaints about the noise we made. He said there was no one occupying the adjacent sites to us and he’d vaguely heard the dog bark a couple of times during the night. So back to the van and stripped beds and hung everything on the clothes lines including the thin mattresses. The family came back with John eager to get on the road again. Wasn’t thrilled when I informed him we’d be staying an extra day. I told him he and his mother could sleep in the kids wet beds and the kids could sleep with me on the floor if he insisted on moving that day. That problem soon solved. We went to an animal sanctuary for the day. Not many tourists and plenty of room to walk around and they hadn’t objected to the dog so long as he was kept on the lead. No worries I held onto the lead all the time we were there. Annie was delighted with seeing kangaroos for the first time, lots of photographs taken with the parakeets and lorakeets feeding from the kids hands. The first time since leaving home no mumbling and grumbling and the kids as happy as larry. The dog pulled on the lead all the time. Too bad sooty, you’re going where I go. Annie didn’t object when we unpacked the picnic box as there was no other people around as we sat and ate lunch. The contented feel didn’t last into the afternoon. I wasn’t taking a real lot of notice why Annie had gone quiet. I was just glad she wasn’t criticising anything. Only when the kids came running back did I realise why she was quiet. Both excited and grabbing my hand urging me to come and look at the donkeys giving each other piggy back rides did it dawn on me why she was mumbling to herself and tut tutting. It was spring and animals were doing what animals do in spring. I told the kids not to go near the donkeys because they could get annoyed and we’d move further round the park to see other things. It must have been happy hour for the entire animal kingdom, everywhere we looked they were all at it. I saw the funny side of it, Annie didn’t. She even told John to go and get the keepers and make the animals stop what they were doing. At least she didn’t blame me for their antics. Of course she wanted to leave immediately so we made our way towards the exit. It wasn’t a zoo with concrete paths and animals in cages. The animals were fairly tame and used to tourists and the park was on about 10 acres. It was a long steady walk to the exit with Annie tutting and saying everything was disgusting and she wished she’d stayed at the caravan. I wished she had too. The rest of the day and evening passed without incident. The next day we would be facing another long day on the road. Inwardly I groaned at the thought of it. The next morning we packed everything away. Only got to disconnect the power and switch off the gas bottle before closing down the pop up van. That van had a mind of it’s own. God knows how long it had been sitting in a shed waiting for some idiot to come along and hire it but once it was opened up it refused to be closed down again. It was well into the afternoon before another R.A.C.Q. man fixed it. He replaced things and said they were rusted. He’d send the bill to the hire company with a strong letter telling the owner to overhaul his vans before hiring them out again. So another night spent at Hervey Bay. I tuned out to Annie’s whinging and moaning and cooked the evening meal. The next day dawned and with it the forecast of storms for the next 2 days.
That’s it, I’d had enough. While the kids were playing in the kids playground area and Annie writing more letters I said it would be foolish to stay in a caravan with the type of storms we get and either he could take us home or me and the kids would catch a train or bus back to Brisbane. He didn’t want to be in a van through any vicious storms so agreed we’d head off back home after lunch. We set off in bright sunshine. We hadn’t told Annie we were going back home either and she didn’t realise we were going south instead of north. No short cuts we stuck to the highway and followed the signs to Brisbane. Thunderous black clouds loomed on the horizon as we drove towards them.
The weather forecaster wasn’t wrong when he said a big storm was imminent. The storm was coming in fast with the wind blowing leaves off the trees and swirling round the car. We were heading straight towards it. Master brain said we’d drive through it and we’d be right. I said the weather report was for storms not A storm. Being practically alongside the Pacific Ocean anything could happen in a storm….usually bad things. I told him to turn off the highway pretty damn quick and get somewhere we could get the caravan tethered down securely. We got it into a caravan park somewhere between Moroochydore and Caloundra. Both great holiday resorts but not that day as the wind grew stronger and dust, leaves swirled all round us. This storm is going to be a bad one. The wind swirls in cyclones and God Help us if this developers into one. Only two other caravans in the park, they were both firmly tied down with thick ropes and chains. He stopped the car outside the managers office and I dived out of it and rushed inside. The manager asked no questions, told me to get in the car and follow him, he’d show us where to park. He set off in a cloud of dust and we followed. Only a short distance and we were alongside the shower block. He was dragging ropes and chains out of his vehicle and yelled at my husband to pop the van up before it was too late to get organised. The van obeyed first time. The kids stayed inside the car with the dog. Annie got out saying she wanted to help. I told her to checkout the shower block. I didn’t have a clue how to tie down a van and did what the manager told us to do. He, of course had done it many times and knew exactly what needed doing. He barked orders, we jumped to it. The car was unhitched, the van levelled and not only tied to a big metal ring in the ground it had chains and ropes thrown over the top and tied to other big metal rings in the ground. When all was secured he asked if we had anything to eat in the van and had we plenty of water. I said we had enough food for a couple of days. He grinned, told us to get everyone inside the van and to hold on tight. He wished us the best of luck and said ” See you in the morning ” and off he went in another cloud of dust just as the first big fat drops of rain started to fall. I opened the car door, grabbed the dog in my arms and told the kids to run inside the caravan because we were going to have another adventure. Of course the husband was first inside the van. Gee, he didn’t want to get wet. In the space of 2 minutes the rain was pouring down. I told the kids to get up on one of the beds and hold on to the dog. Very exciting. WOW mum’s letting us have Sooty the dog in bed with us. Sooty had his ears flattened to his head and didn’t look as happy as the kids. Couldn’t fool Sooty with tales of an adventure. It was obvious to me too the next few hours were not going to be pleasant. The Lord and master had sat down and asked what I was going to make for dinner seeing as we’d be there all night. Before I could give him a sarcastic reply one of the kids asked why Grandma wasn’t inside the van with us. O Dear God she must still be in the shower block. I told him he’d better go and get her before the thunder and lightening started as she’d be frightened out of her wits. He just sat there. I yelled ” Go and get her NOW before you have to swim to get her ” He stood up and asked where a raincoat was. I snapped my fingers ” Sorry, my magic powers have deserted me. Along with my patiences it’s disappeared. I wouldn’t wait any longer if I was you.” He opened the door as the first flash of lightening crackled over head. Straight after the thunder banged and clanged. I heard a scream, pushed him out the door and closed it before he could turn and come back in. I heard them both yelling minutes later and opened the door again. Both absolutely dripping wet and Annie as mad as a hornet. She demanded to know why I hadn’t gone and got her before it started to rain. Why I had taken so long to fix the caravan. And why had I left her outside all on her own. I said I was sorry I didn’t realise she thought she needed a written invitation. I sure as hell didn’t send her one to come to Australia. I nearly laughed as well. Her thin hair was plastered to her head and dripping down her face. A puddle had formed on the floor where she stood and she had on her superior luck as she always did when she listed all my faults. Her magnificent son was also dripping water onto the floor and asked again what was for the evening meal. I said sweetly we would be having delicious ham sandwiches and cold water. To rub salt in the wounds I said Sooty would be having steak as he didn’t mind eating it raw. It was the first time I felt like smiling on that very long day. Annie said she wanted privacy while she changed out of her wet clothes. Her son said he also was going to change before he caught pneumonia.
My ex-husband never had a cold or a headache. If he sneezed twice he was on the verge of pneumonia and a headache could be the start of tumour of the brain. I told him to turn off the flash light to save his mother’s modesty. She said should wouldn’t be able to see anything. I said the alternative was to brave the storm and get changed in the shower block. She turned her back and started stripping off. He did the same as he did at home ” Audrey, where’s my clean shirt and socks ” I told him they were in the suitcase in the car alongside his mothers suitcase. While this exchange of words was going on the caravan was swaying, thunder and lightening going off every 5 minutes and you couldn’t hear yourself think for the noise of the wind and rain pounding down.
The kids said the rain was making them wet and could they climb down from the bed. They’d been so quiet I’d forgotten their bed was under the canvas end of the caravan. The bed hadn’t been made up so who cared if the mattress got wet again. We were all huddled in the only dry spot in the middle of the van. Time to reorganise. Sheets and blankets were folded inside the bench seat. At least we would have something to keep us warm and dry for the rest of the night. Gave Annie a blanket first to cover her modesty. Handed one to the shivering husband. Told the kids to eat their sandwiches and then wrap a blanket round themselves and lay down on the bench seats because thats where they were sleeping that night. In unison Mother and Son ” Where am I sleeping?” A short reply ” We won’t be sleeping at all ”
The wind started roaring, the van swayed more and the dog started howling. Mother and Son were staunch catholics I told them they’d better start praying. I was scared enough for the 5 of us without the dog howling. I sat on the floor with the dog in my arms. Thank God my kids could sleep through anything and anywhere. Holding onto Sooty at least stopped him from howling. Annie started writing another letter. The van was like being on a roller coaster. When I said the person she was writing to wouldn’t be able to read it as the van was rocking from side to side and her hand writing wasn’t the best at any time. She said we were being stupid, a bit of rain never hurt anyone and she’d been in worse storms than the one outside. I said I’d lived in England for 27 years and never heard of anyone being in a cyclone. She’d never been anywhere farther than Blackpool.
I fully expected her to whinge all night but she was very quiet. Normally I’m not scared of tropical storms but I’d never had to spend a night outside in any and I was terrified of what might happen if the ropes and chains didn’t hold the van down. The husband kept whinging he was hungry. I said if he ate what food we had everyone would be hungry the next morning. Keeping my fingers well and truly crossed we lived to see the next morning. Thank God the manager had placed us near the solid concrete building of the shower block. All through the night I could hear branches snapping off trees and crashing onto the ground. I tried to remember how close we were to the trees. Must have been sheer exhaustion I dozed off around 4 a.m. The dog woke me up around 6 a.m. licking my face. He started wriggling and obviously wanted to be let outside. The van wasn’t rocking and rolling and was still upright. I cautiously opened the door and let him out. Talk about lucky! All around us massive branches on the ground, mountains of leaves stuck to everything, the ground like a paddling pool. Sooty didn’t like getting his paws wet and stood sniffing the air and looking at me. ” You can behave yourself too. If you want to go have a wee you’re on your own ” and nudged him out the door. Two minutes later he’s back inside the van. I was ready for him and grabbed him with a cloth before he jumped on the kids. I wasn’t until I put him on the floor I realised I’d used Annie’s dress to wipe his paws. Thankfully she was still asleep and I wasn’t threatened with the firing squad.
The weather here is extreme, no half measures. It’s either a drought or a flood, monsoon rains or a bush fire, scorching heat in summer with the occasional cyclone thrown in now and again. When the drama of a cyclone is over it feels like the weather is making a mockery as it is nice and calm, the sun is shining and the sky a beautiful blue with not a cloud in sight.
We found out later just how lucky we had been. We were between two cyclones (only small ones) and they didn’t merge.
The manager of the caravan park wouldn’t take any money for letting us use the park overnight and asked where we we going to next. It hadn’t dawned on me he thought we were all tourists travelling round in a shaky caravan. I handed him a few dollars and told him to have a drink on me and said we were going back to Brisbane and giving the guy who’d hired the van to us a roasting and get our money back. He grinned and asked if the old lady lived with us. I said she was the one on holiday, I was just the servant. He laughed and said his mother-in-law had been the same and he’d moved from Sydney to Caloundra to get away from her. I said we’d emigrated 12,000 miles and she still followed us. He stopped laughing ” Is she staying?” I wasn’t laughing either ” One of us is going to use the return ticket. Either she goes or I do ” He said I’d better make sure she got on the plane or take the kids with me if I left. I asked what made him think the kids didn’t like her.
While we were packing up the van he said the kids asked him how he was going to remove all the tree branches all over the place. He’d told them a mate was coming over with his truck and going to help him. Then he’d asked my son why he wasn’t at school. Friendly as kids were back then he’d said Grandma was staying with them. The little girl had said she didn’t like Grandma anymore because she wouldn’t let them do anything. He asked why. She’d said she didn’t know but she kept tut tutting all the time. He didn’t understand and asked what she meant by tutting. She made the noise and the little boy explained ” You know, just like Skippy does ” and he tut tutted as well. The man was laughing as he told me the young fella had said not to tell mum but when Grandma couldn’t hear them they called her Skippy the english kangaroo. I said my kids were very polite because I felt like calling her a lot worse than Skippy.
After Annie returned to England we had letters from some of the rellies she’d wrote to while she was here. They thought it was hilarious I was scared of a bit of thunder and lightening. Annie had thought she would have seen more kangaroos than she did. She’d missed not having a fish’n’chip shop near where I lived. She’d liked the house we live in but it would have been so much better with a tennis court in the back garden and why wouldn’t I allow John to have one? I laughed out loud when I read that. He didn’t know how to play tennis and his idea of exercise was getting up to switch the T.V. channel. If we’d have had one she’d probably have expected me to serve cucumber sandwiches with the crusts removed of course and me dressed up in a flouncy hat. long gloves and a flowing silk dress.

Friends of ours invited us to their place for a party. They thought their elderly father who lived with them would have more in common with Annie as all our friends were the same age as us and all had young kids. Pop was a great guy and we all got on with him terrifically. His three grand children were teenagers and it was always lively at their house.
At the airport on her departure she said she was glad she had seen the house her son lived in. Turned to me and said ” You needn’t think introducing me to Geoff’s father was going to influence me into staying here. No one could every replace my husband. He was a saint.” He must have been to put up with her. I wouldn’t have inflicted her on anyone, least of all ‘ Pop ‘ He had heaps of friends and sure wasn’t looking for a wife. I said it was all in her mind Pop didn’t need a wife. I got a scathing look and the kids started laughing because she started tutting and they both said ” Good bye Granny Skippy ” as she went through the boarding gate. She hated to be called Granny and coupled with Skippy as well I bet it really made her day.
John went off the idea of buying our own caravan so we could have leisurely trips away each weekend. Leisure!!! A year later he had another idea of buying a boat ” We could cruise round all the small islands near Brisbane each weekend ” The kids wanted to know who Walter Mitty was when I said that’s what I’d name the boat if he bought one and i hoped he’d enjoy his solo voyages down the Brisbane river.

5 Responses to “the Grey Nomads (part two)”

  1. peterwwood Says:

    all I’ve got to say Audrey is, ‘It’s the greatest story ever told!’

  2. aussiepom Says:

    Thank you for your very kind words Pete. I’m glad everyone who writes for you and those who read our stories has a sense of humour

  3. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    I enjoyed your story Audrey, although you obviously didn’t, you can have some scary moments when your Camping and Caravaning. I once remember camping in Grisdale Beck at the base of Helvellyn, we went into Patterdale to do some shoping and when we came back the tents and contentents had just blown away in the gale raging down the valley. We slept in the Farmers Barn that night, amongst all of the local residents, you know the ones with long tails, we got fed up, we couldn’tsleep so we climbed up to the top of Helvellyn at midnight and watched the Sunrise, then we went into Kendal and bought another tent, gluttons for punishment….lol…xx..

  4. Edward Blackwell.. Says:

    This collapsible Caravan sounds an awsome piece of equipment, can’t say I’ve ever seen one, but I can imagining the towing and frowing when your touring it must have be soul destroying, and trying to cook under those condition almost impossible, all in all I think you did well to cope with the situation…take care…xx..

  5. aussiepom Says:

    None of it was pleasant at the time Eddie but had plenty of laughs about it since.
    I had a million more Frank Spencer ideas to deal with but none as scary as that one. I’ve never towed anything since and never owned a boat. He went off the idea of cruising when I said he’d be on his own. I might be a bit crazy but I’m not stupid. The R.A.C.Q. don’t rescue boats and the ocean is full of sharks. One of our neighbours owned a small aeroplane…need I say more? I told him he could play Biggles on his own too

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