Monday, 7 January 2008

The sights you see when you haven't got a gun

This was an expression my mother, an oldfashioned Scotswoman, would use when she saw something (or, more often, someone) that, in her opinion, should be shot. And, having spent a few days with a random – very random – cross-section of my fellow human beings, I know how she felt.

We went, my teenage children and I, away for the New Year to a riverside-based camp where I assumed we would see in 2008 to the bucolic sounds of birdlife and the passing lap of water. My mistake. Instead, we shared quarters with 68 other people many of whom, under normal circumstances, I would shoot on sight.

There was the sadly ubiquitous Cellphone Man, who apparently didn’t notice that all the other people there had actually switched off their phones for the duration or, better, left them at home. He was the palooka who, as we were paddling in an alarming (to my mind) flotilla of 35 two-man inflatable canoes down the river, called up his various buddies and held identical – and identically irritating – one-sided conversations that went roughly like this: ‘Hey, bru! What you doing? Really? Me? I’m on the river? Ja, I swear, bru! Ja, away from civilisation, hey? Ja! Ja! What? I can’t hear you. Ja, I’m in a canoe, hey, bru! I’m paddling down a river, hey! Ja! Just a break away from everything, you check? Hey? What? I can’t hear you. What? You’re breaking up…’

Every bit as murder-inducing was Laptop Man, who we assumed must be a highly sought-after international brain surgeon or at the very least a lawyer whose client was possibly shortly to be sentenced to death. But no. He was a real-estate agent. (’Nuff said.) This excuse for a human being set up his laptop on the bar – and let me stress: this was IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE while most of the world was on holiday – and conducted Very Important Business on it for hours each night while other, less important people (ie, us) tried to get past him to order our GnTs from the barman.

Espresso Man was also a bit of a piss-off. Although the camp had a 24-hour refreshment station offering every beverage under the sun, including pretty good filter coffee, this wasn’t good enough for Espresso Man, who would ostentatiously set up his own personal one-cup espresso machine (purchased, as he reminded anyone who cared to listen, In Italy Itself) every morning and then bother the busy staff for water, coffee grounds, a suitably sized cup, etc.

There was the Skinny Blonde Mommy around whose elegant feet gambolled three small children – but never for long, since SBM had brought her nanny with her. Nanny ran herself ragged after her tiny charges all day and then was billeted at night in a nasty little dome-tent pitched on a slope, while SBM and her family slept in relative luxury in a chalet. (My good old South African guilt kept kicking in – I disliked lolling about and being fed and going for river trips and generally being thoroughly spoilt while Nanny worked her butt off.)

There were The Shriekers, a mom-and-daughter combo (ages about 45 and 12, respectively) who dressed identically, and whose simultaneous reaction to anything and everything – getting wet, seeing a bird, facing a rapid, being called for lunch – was a series of ear-piercing little screams that could be heard for a radius of about 10km.

There was the Jewish Princess with a voice that could cut glass, who was under the impression that she and her party of 11 were simply far, far more important than anyone else there. So on New Year’s Eve, when our transitory party of seven (we did make a few friends along the way) tried to ‘book’ seats together for dinner, she simply swept the handbags reserving two of the chairs aside and whined, ‘We’re tweeeeelve people, you’re only seven – can’t you find somewhere eeeeeelse to sit?’ As it turned out, we couldn’t – not together. But fighting for our rightful places might likely have turned to fisticuffs, and none of us wanted to risk being raked by the JP’s blood-red foot-long fingernails.

There were two parties who made for much entertainment, however. The one we dubbed Our Plump Friends was a husband-and-wife duo whose combined weight we could only guess at but which would easily have tipped the scales at over 200kg. This loving pair pawed each other ceaselessly and then really let their hair down on New Year’s Eve, knocking back a couple of bottles of red followed by a series of shots and several glasses of hard tack. They then danced their socks off (other dancers kept well clear) while groping each other pornographically, before staggering off to their chalet, where they made loud and clearly enthusiastic love. They warmed my heart.

Another party consisted of about a dozen people ranging in age from a babe in arms to a terrifying septuagenarian with gigantic breasts and an ankle chain. This extended family sported a vast array of tattoos, on practically all members save the baby; most impressive was a young teenager with what we assumed to be the Spur man (a fierce-looking Red Indian warrior) that covered her entire back. Eager and ebullient, this family got pissed every evening on self-supplied Cape Velvet Cream and all (save, I assume, the baby) smoked like trains, including in the communal dining room where polite coughs and elaborate fannings of the air from the other 50 diners did nothing to stem the smoke tide.

On one of our river trips, the guides set up a kind of makeshift slip-and-slide for the kids, by turning one of the inflatable canoes upside-down on the river bank. The eight or so adults in the Tattooed Family Party weren’t at all fazed by the guides’ stressing that the slide was for the kids only, and launched themselves with frankly dangerous gusto down the slide, scattering sunglasses, footwear and small children as they went, screaming their heads off and landing in various potentially neck-breaking positions in the water. And they turned the New Year’s Eve bash into a circus when one of the 30-somethings climbed up on the bar – and then, not satisfied with this display of exhibitionism, somehow contrived to hang upside-down from the rafters, narrowly avoiding setting her hair on fire. It was wonderful.

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angel said...

at least you had ample entertainment... LOL
i wanna come with you next time, i'll take notes on how to "people-watch" properly!

meggie said...

Great post. Thoroughly enjoyed meeting all those bizarro folk on your holiday!

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