The rain pelted noisily on the tin
roof of the sparsely furnished cabin. Sodden clothes hung
off every hook, rail and chair, desperately trying to dry
out in the steamy atmosphere. A cheap plastic Tupperware
carton lay on the table brimming over with golden ready
salted crisps. Next to it, a plate of cheese and crackers
and a bowl of chopped apple. "We're ready," shouted the
kids excitedly. "Are you ready Daddy?" "Yes, we're ready,
but we're not coming out until everyone's singing." Stuart
pulled back the dividing curtain on the cabin bedroom and
came out arm in arm with his brother, specially dressed
for the occasion in cycling gear and an orange helmet. "Happy
birthday Uncle Robert, happy birthday to you." We all sang
and cheered. But Robert didn't look all that impressed,
or indeed very happy, his skin anaemic in the harsh striplight.
Matthew and Cameron ran to him, gave him a big hug, then
pushed him into a chair. "Would you like something to eat
Uncle Robert?" Cam thrust a cheesy cracker in his direction.
Suddenly their uncle lurched forward to the floor, as though
to be sick, then fell in a heap onto his cycling helmet.
"I think Uncle Robert didn't like cheese." Cameron explained,
jumping on the body of the helmeted figure. "Has Uncle Robert
been drinking beer Dad?, " asked Matthew with concern.
It had all started with a family
size packet of crisps. After a long days cycling we still
hadn't reached our destination; a wild camp halfway up a
steep mountain road on the excessively hilly Coromandel
peninsula. We had to push on, as we needed to catch a ferry
from Coromandel Town to Auckland that only runs once a week
. But the kids were restless and complaining they'd spent
enough time in their buggies. So, like all good Dads, Stuart
went shopping for bribes. He returned clutching the large
bag of ready salted, a block of cheese and some Cookie Bear
biscuits. "Right guys, it's another hour or so in the buggy
I'm afraid," The protests were raised immediately, "Ah,
but listen now, when we get there we are going to put up
the tent and have a…..tent party" The children's whining
stopped immediately. "A tent party, yes!" they cried, jumping
up and down on the bag of crisps.
We got on our way, accompanied by
blackening skies. But before we'd turned the first corner
it began to hail, and we'd picked up a strong coastal headwind.
We were hopeless adversaries against the onset of dark and
a storm and both knew without discussing it that we wouldn't
be going much further that night.
Riders in the storm
We turned around and headed back
to a campsite in the town we'd just come from. By the time
we arrived we were soaked and a tent just didn't seem a
viable option, so we booked a small cabin. But the children
were distraught. They had been promised a tent party. As
Cameron lay on the floor and screamed, Stuart and I put
our heads together to come up with alternative entertainment
for a stormy night. "Isn't it your brother's birthday today?"
I asked Stuart, "Why don't we have a party for him?" The
idea went down well, especially when we explained that Uncle
Rob was going to be a surprise guest at his own birthday
Games of musical bumps, musical
statues, and pass the puppy; everyone won a round apart
from poor Uncle Robert who sat with his head between his
legs. Now and again Matthew would help lift him, prop him
up and give him a comforting hug. "Did you have a horrible
flight Uncle Robert? Are you still feeling sick?" At the
end of the party, when all the food had been eaten, and
all the crisps trodden into the carpet, it was bedtime for
exhausted children. "Thank you for a lovely party Uncle
Robert," Cameron dutifully gave his Uncle a goodnight kiss.
"Ah," said Matthew, "now we all need a pillow for bedtime.
Sorry about this Uncle Robert." He tugged at one of his
Uncle's plump arms, almost pulling it out of it's sleeve.
Then he changed his mind and delved for Uncle Rob's head,
grabbed it out of it's neck socket and hit his brother over
the head with it. "Hey, don't do that," said Cameron, hauling
Uncle Robert's bulky right leg out of his trousers. The
other leg came out easily as it was thin and less feathered
than the rest. Uncle Robert was dismantled in less than
thirty seconds, and the children were tucked up in bed with
various parts of his makeshift body.
Uncle Rob, the mysteriously shaped guest of honour arrives
for his party
We made a cup of tea and toasted
Stuart's brother, fast asleep in England. "Robert feels
a long way away tonight," Stuart remarked. "He was here
in spirit," I said, rearranging Robert's head to get a bit
more comfortable on my chair. "It was a fun party." As the
rain continued to beat down on the tin roof, I felt thankful
for my own family who through a bit of imagination could
turn a set of manky old pillows into a special guest from
England, and create a two hour party out of a packet of
ready salted crisps.