I REMEMBER GOING to Bathurst one Easter for the bike races — maybe it was 1978 — and was totally determined to be prepared — really prepared. That year, the ‘roughing it’ at Bathurst would be done in relative luxury because I had purchased a tent. Yep, walked right into a disposals store in Manly, dropped 45 smackeroosters on the counter and said, “I’ll take that one, matey!”
Of course, by the late 1970s, there wasn’t really that much in the way of disposed-of ex-army gear left on the shelves of disposal stores; lots of cheap crap from China and other places was replacing the high-quality but basic gear Aussie servicemen took to war decades ago. So I bought a nylon tent with a ‘Made in China’ sticker on it.
Proud as punch, I was, and swaggering back to The Mighty Norton. I even gave a self-satisfied head wobble to indicate that all bases were covered.
See, I’d invited Little Cathy along for a ride over the mountains on a flash Norton Commando and I reckoned my chances of Lil’ Cath being a good sport over the weekend would dramatically improve if we had a little nylon love shack to retire to after all partying duties were completed. Ha! It turned out to be just another reminder that some people and forward planning just don’t go together — grab what you can as life passes randomly by, I say!
The Mighty Norton was magnificent as it transported us over the Blue Mountains and onto the hallowed mountain at Bathurst. We partied, drank, smoked, partied, and did some ripper donuts — oh yeah, all day and all of the night!
But interspersed in all that fun was the final proof for me that I should never plan things. Scottish poet Robert Burns explained it awkwardly with ‘The best laid plans of mice and men oft get totally fooked up’.
The Bathurst bike races that year were mostly dry, but some serious precipitation was working its way towards the legendary Mount Panorama. It turned from a sunny day to gloomy, overcast bastard of an afternoon in short order.
“No worries, Darlin’, I’ll just set up the tent now,” I spoke soothingly to Little Cath.
It was about that point of the weekend when it tragically turned into turd on toast.
I really made it look like I was some kind of Bushmaster or something, surveying the lay of the land for the best place to pitch a brand new, disposal store tent.
“Yep,” I hmmmed and harrrrrred. “Right here with the door flaps facing away from where the storm clouds were rolling in.”
The truth was, I’d spotted a previous tent site which already had an attractive trench dug out to channel any unwanted rain away.
After ripping off plastic covers and emptying contents onto the deck, a strange, uneasy feeling was building — not enough paraphernalia fell out with the tent material. Plastic ropes were present, but no sign of tent pegs, which, as anyone who has ever been camping would know, are a fairly significant part of the whole tent pitching scenario.
Just bloody beautiful — no bloody tent pegs!
Improvise, adapt and overcome is what the US Marines would say, so we said it too, and began swiping large logs from the campsite’s wood pile. Those hefty bastards would surely be able to replace the crappy little tent pegs; only needed eight logs for the eight ropes, but eight logs is damned near half a tree, and by the time I had the eight large, wooden makeshift tent pegs in place, the weather had got past the threatening stage and was verbally abusing us with thunder and even spitting on us. Huge, big, gobbie raindrops were thudding onto the dusty ground, about one per square meter.
That’s when we discovered our next tent defect — there were meant to be six aluminium poles; two would have little plastic cups on one end so they wouldn’t slice into the ground, two more would’ve fitted on top of those with a step-down section to gently slide into the further two top poles which had little pointy bits to slip peacefully into the eyelets provided at each end of the tent. WRONG! We had two pointed-ended top poles, just one bottom pole and absolutely no freakin’ middle poles! That’s right — out of six poles in the inventory, only three were present. I suppose it was a better batting average than nought out of eight for the tent pegs!
By now, the storm was looking bigger and badder, with more rain to the square meter and some raindrops were even falling on our heads.
“Righty-oh, Cath,” I said as authoritatively as I could. “Let’s get inside and make do with what we’ve got.”
We climbed inside that shitful excuse for a tent and it was a hopeless joke. With eight short logs trapping eight long ropes, the best we could do was to back in arse-first, then try to erect the trio of wrong poles into the zippered door end of the nylon debacle.
Then good old God played his masterstroke by sending down enough water to break droughts — just as we discovered our sub-standard and wobbly pole had no corresponding bloody eyelet featured in the design at the front end. Oh, sure, just above the zippered door was the wee triangular tag, beautifully stitched and correctly placed, but the dirty, rotten Third-World pricks who constructed this shabby shitter of a camping essential had failed to punch in an eyelet — PRICKS!
The rain became torrential, I became furious, and we just sat there like idiots holding a wobbly pole into an eyeletless tent and got drenched.
See, nylon tents are sorta waterproof — right up until the nylon makes contact with something, or in this case, someone. If the same scene had occurred in a Hollywood movie, the lighting would’ve been better and we’d chuckle briefly until our eyes met. We’d stare lustfully into each other’s peepers then engage in a deep and passionate embrace and then the credits would roll. But there was no director yelling “Action!’ and no romantic music building to a crescendo. This was Bathurst on a mountain in the rain, we were huddled together in a collapsed tent and feeling like complete dickheads.
At that stage, I said a little prayer to My God Above. It went like this: “Listen, Pal, I tried my best, I planned things right and you go and pull this stunt — very friggin’ funny. I’m never going to plan ahead ever again…”
And I rarely have planned ahead since then.
There wasn’t even much of a plan on the Tuesday after Easter when I strode back into the Manly Disposals Store in Sydney Road to demand a full refund, and maybe even an apology.
“Sorry, sir, no cash refunds, exactly as the sign up there says,” the crusty old bugger of a Disposals Store Owner said.
He even tried to accuse me of having lost the missing tent pegs and poles, but the non-existent eyelet made him grudgingly make concessions. “You can exchange this faulty tent for anything in shop up to the value of $45,” he conceded tersely. “Of course,” he added hopefully, “If you want something more expensive, cash adjustment is fine…”
I argued the toss, but soon realised from his accent there was absolutely no chance he would be easily separated from his money. It was a cultural thing. I didn’t want any olive drab compasses or two burner camp stoves; I just want my Bugs Bunny back in my skyrocket.
And then, I spotted it, the only thing in the disposal store that I would be remotely interested in — a nasty-looking machete in a leather scabbard. The girls and I had been having a few weirdoes hanging around our place at odd hours so it seemed like a good idea at the time (and the drunken buffoons I’d drag back to the share house had nothing on the buffoons the female flatmates would drag home on a promise).
I pointed out the blade and the grumpy, tight-arse prick grabbed a ladder, mentioned it was exactly $45 dollars as well, and began to make his way up the vintage wooden ladder.
Now I’m telling the absolute truth here. This was not planned, just a spur of the moment decision to buy the only thing I wanted at that time from this store, but I think maybe Grumpy Prick read something else, some deeper meaning into it. He stopped suddenly on the second step of the ladder, turned and looked at me, then changed his mind.
“Oh, what the hey!” he said cheerfully. “Don’t worry about exchanging for something you don’t really want, I’ll give you a full cash refund…”
I don’t know if my one good eye had a crazy glint in it, or that he just had a bad feeling that I’d planned a frenzied machete attack on an innocent yet obstreperous shopkeeper, but I whacked that $45 bucks in real money back into the wallet and walked out of that shop a winner.
Could’ve done with a machete or something similar a few weeks later, though, when I came face to face with an intruder, about 2 am on a Sunday, but that’s another story…
Photo by Holty’s Photos.