... out of the frying pan ...

Course it's easy to romanticize the camping life ... all that unmediated experience of what Europeans sometimes called The Nature. With three kids and two adults it's often more like perpetual housework in the open. While your inadvertent neighbours do theirs in the same open. We ended up quite close to a family of four. They were from Ingleburn and so perhaps connected to the military ... their gear was state of the art and brand new. He was a Pom, don't know what she was. One of their kids, the girl, Charlotte, 18 months old, spent all her time in a fold-out playpen in the screened kitchen tent. We only heard her in the half hour scream that signalled dinner-then-sleep at end of day. Never really saw her at all. The boy, Thomas, was about 7 and he was a dutiful kid with pyromaniacal tendencies who spent every hour and minute that he could at the fire. He was nice enough but drove me crazy in the end: all he wanted to do was feed the flames but was unable to do so without asking permission to immolate every leaf, every twig, each banksia cone ... one night, might have been the first, just as Charlotte's screams were winding down to sleepy oblivion another child started up, as if in dysfunctional stereo. Another family of four had come to park their camper van on our other side and this was their 18 month old son. Jakob, I think. He was different because he screamed more or less all the time. Sometimes the older boy, name unknown, about 6, joined in; but not often. They were German, from far to the south, near the Swiss border. He, Dad, didn't have much English and spent his down time reading with fierce concentration. She had worked for a year at ANU in Canberra and was fluent. We thought Jakob must have been teething but when Dad was asked about it he said: Yes, teething ... always the teething. Later she confirmed: He's always like that, she said. With a shrug and a look of sad resignation. In fact it seemed that the miserable child was so inconsolable that they had simply given up attending to his cries of distress. He stomped around falling over and crying and picking himself up again. Tipping head first off chairs and burning himself on hot mugs. One morning, perhaps attracted by the smell, both kids ended up over with us. It was early and I was cooking pancakes with bacon. I gave the older boy a pancake, which he carried away to eat. Then Jakob came up. He was hungry too so I fed him - not much, just morsels, but he kept coming back for more. It was good because there was no crying then. Later he put a few little bits and pieces on the fire. But his brother was sent for him and the screaming resumed. We went away after that, kayaking perhaps, I don't recall. When we returned the Germans had gone. But on the ground next to the cooking area there was a frying pan. It must have been in recompense for - something. The fire? The bits of food? The desultory conversation about where they might go next that was good for children? It seemed a strange and mysterious gift: we already had two frying pans, and only one element on the gas stove. And wouldn't they have needed it? Anyway, it's efficient, light, with a no-stick membrane and a firm handle. I used it last night to make a curry. And, now, naturally, I will never cook in it without thinking of sad Germans and poor Jakob's endless wailing.

1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

What a sad story, of loss and dislocation. Those hungry children are with me still.