I could feel their eyes burning
a hole in me. I turned round and there they were. Six glaring
eyes, set in bulging faces framed by Peruvian hats, knitted
bobbles swaying in the wind. A silent family tableaux sitting
in a blue bulbous tent. Staring out of the door. At me.
They sat on three legged stools. And stared. They stared
at Matthew and Cameron as they bed danced. They stared as
I locked the bikes. They stared at Stuart as he went for
a shower. We were out stared and went to the pub to get
out of their gaze.
Cameron was awake early crying for
milk. Shivering, I hauled myself out of bed. Jump, jump,
jump, I crossed the lino floor dressed only in my sleeping
bag, like a naturist in the school sack race, shoulders
bare, clutching the sleeping bag to my chest. I quietly
slid open the door to retrieve the milk for Cameron's bottle
and there they were. In their tent. In their Peruvian hats.
Still staring. Still on their three little stools. Wide
awake, wide eyed and watching my every move. Pulling my
sleeping bag to me with one hand, eyes down to avoid theirs,
I grabbed the milk, and jump, jumped back into the cabin.
Then I twitched the net curtains to get a better look at
them, and caught their attention once again. Even through
the net the older woman's gaze bore through my skin. She
was bulky and squat, the loose skin around her face and
jaws gathered in by the flaps on her colourful knitted hat.
Long blond straggly hair hung on her shoulders. Next to
her, balancing his lower half on his ridiculously small
stool, sat a round faced man with a belly to match; and
next to him a grinning woman in her forties with the hair
around her hat viciously cropped as though with gardening
shears. Two hours later while we packed up, they were still
staring, and as we left they recorded our departure on video.
"What are they staring at? Haven't
they got anything else to do with their sad little lives?
Nosey buggers. Look at those stupid Peruvian hats." I muttered
irritably as we cycled away. When travelling, there are
some people it's a pleasure to see again while others are
worth cycling long distances to avoid. We hoped to put a
few miles between us and the Starers.
We drew up at Lake Tekapo two days
later and stopped for supplies. A familiar car was in the
supermarket car park with three bulging faces staring out
through the windscreen.
"I don't believe it. It's them. Quick, look the other way."
"What way? Who is it?" Stuart asked, swerving to avoid me
and hitting the kerb. Crunch.
Three Peruvian hatted heads moved forward to get a better
"Who the hell have I just crashed to avoid?" Stuart asked
"The Starers." I gestured towards the car.
"Oh bum. Lets go."
We checked in at the campsite and were assigned our pitch,
with a great view of the Lake and immediately opposite a
bulbous blue tent with three stools outside.
There is little privacy on a campsite
at the best of times. As cyclists, we are unable to retreat
to a car if things all go pear shaped, and after a long
days riding it's not unusual for one of us to have a tiredness
induced temper tantrum. I have always found my children's
public tantrums pretty embarrassing and do anything to avoid
one but this one was unavoidable. Matthew had a splinter
lodged in a finger and was screaming at the top of his voice,
"It hurts, it really hurts, get it out Mum." All attempts
to grab his hand and examine the problem were met with roars
of pain. As Matthew refused to move into the tent, Stuart
went to get the first aid kit, while I tried to calm my
son down knowing we were in for trouble. While Cameron takes
every knock and bruise cheerfully, Matthew is the opposite.
When the kids had their vaccinations, Cameron was happily
sucking a lolly two minutes later, while Matthew was still
upset about it after several hours.
Stuart returned with the first
aid kit. "Where are the tweezers, they've gone. Have you
been plucking your eyebrows with them?"
"Nope," I replied pulling out a tube of Savlon as Matthew
screamed louder. A small crowd of onlookers circled like
gulls attracted by the commotion, the Starers towards the
"You've taken them out of the medical kit haven't you?"
"I told you I haven't." I shouted back, struggling to make
myself heard above Matthew's roar. I searched the bag for
a needle or pin.
"Oh for gods sake, do they look as though they've been plucked?"
I replied angrily.
Stuart examined my eyebrows while I located a needle in
the bottom of the first aid kit. "No, they're all over the
"Shut up then."
"Shut up, you're stupid and filthy," shouted Cameron, his
face pressed into mine, as Matthew stamped his feet and
roared. "It really hurts, get it out."
Circling for flesh at the scene
of the splintered finger
The three stools seemed to edge
nearer. A small group of campers behind them shuffled forwards.
Around the arena furtive glances, tutting, whispering and
pointing while a bold little girl from a nearby caravan
just walked right up for a ringside seat.
"Look Matthew, hold still, I'm just going to take out the
"No. No, NO, NO, don't touch me, DON'T DO THIS." I shivered
at the thought of having to hurt him further with the needle.
The onlookers exchanged disapproving looks as I instructed
Stuart to hold Matthew while I stabbed at his finger with
the needle. It was a prolonged operation as Matthew kicked,
screamed and fought. Cameron, never averse to a punch up
with his brother suddenly grew protective. "Get off my brudder,"
he joined in the wailing, pulling at my arms. I could see
the Starers' eyes almost popping out of their Peruvian clad
heads in disgust at my child beating. I cursed them sitting
in judgment over me.
"Stop it, stop it mum DON'T DO THIS." Matthew beat his fist
into me. I began to get angry with him. It was only a splinter
and my son was a big girl's blouse.
"It's a splinter that's all. Just hold still will you."
"Stop it mum, STOP IT," wailed Matthew.
"Stop it you're stupid and filthy,"shouted Cameron.
"They're the stupid and filthy ones," I gestured to the
Peruvian hats, while digging the needle into Matthew's skin.
"I've got it; it's out."
I walked to the tent, shaking with
embarrassment, trying to avoid the campers' stares. "It
was a splinter. In his finger. I had to get it out," I tried
to explain when they caught my eye, "He's just a drama queen,
very sensitive. That's all." Tears welled up. I paused at
the tent to regain my composure, and a brightly knitted
hat popped up from a stool. I looked up with contempt, awaiting
her condemnation of my parenting and surgical skills.
"I once had a splinter in my foot. Made my toe swell up.
Blister had to be popped by the doctor. Very painful, green
stuff everywhere." The youngest Starer was smiling excitedly.
"Nasty things splinters. You did well to get it out." I
could have kissed her. She had not judged, just stared.
Embarrassed for my judgments about her family, I unzipped
the tent where Matthew was happily examining his new Bob
The Builder plaster as though nothing had occurred. Outside,
the stools were lined up as the Starers returned to their
tent. Suddenly I felt like they were watching out for us.
Guardian angels in knitted Peruvian hats. Staring, not judging.