the camel incident

Maybe it’s time we spoke about the camel.

Childhood is a minefield of trauma. Which is why psychiatrists make so much money. Still, there are somethings you don’t mention to a paid mental health professional. Things like a deep, wet-your-pants kind of terror invoked by camels.

Majestic horses of the desert meandering from oasis to oasis. Very Lawrence of Arabia. Mirages of pyramids, Persian carpets and mystic scents of myrrh and sandalwood. All beautiful images, but nothing I needed to personally experience.

You see, there was this camel. An odoriferous, spittle-coated camel. We eyed each other with wary hesitation. My parents felt that a camel ride was essential to our travel through India. Neither the camel nor I shared this sentiment. It was the only thing we agreed upon.

In the face of united parental excitement I had no choice but to be dejectedly deposited on the back of said camel. Let’s give him a name. Curtis. I was unceremoniously boosted on to Curtis. Curtis turned his, sprayed me with ropes to spit and we locked eyes. I think that’s the moment Curtis and. I decided to loathe each other.

Also camels are biologically not engineered to carry the human form. That’s why they have a hump. It’s clearly not meant to balance a saddle precariously on top of.

And then, it stood up.

Not in one fluid motion . It stood up on one side leaving me horizontal with the sand and then stood up on the other, careening me over to stare at another patch of identical sand.

That’s when the tears started.

It hadn’t even moved yet.

And then it did.

That’s when the screaming started.

I begged. I pleaded with God, my mother and every single deity to please let me get off.

My mother in between bouts of uncontrollable laughter refused to allow me to dismount until she had snapped my photo for posterity.

And then, her film ran out. So, she had to reload the camera.

My mouth was stuck opened now in silent screams due to my voice having given out. What seemed like an eternity later I was unceremoniously dumped upon the ground by the maleficent beast of the underworld.

I got my parents back though. They gave some rupees to spend at the market. So, I bought a python. I had to take it back. But the look on their faces was absolutely priceless.

Actually, I think mother said, “Darling. I don’t think we’ll get it past Customs.”


Parents and Elephants. They never forget.

Parenting 1

Parents are special.

They love us.

We love them.

Parenting 3

This is prudent, because parents know more about us than we do.

All those years we don’t remember?

They do.

And being clever, they keep this blackmail material closely hoarded and bring it out to share at the worst possible moments.

My parents’ favourite fallbacks are:

  • Victoria and Judas Asparagus.
  • Victoria and the Camel.
  • Victoria and the Time She Ran Away.

Let’s tackle them one by one shall we?

Victoria and Judas Asparagus.


As a small child and even now, I have a deep and intense loathing for asparagus.

Asparagus represents all that is bad and evil in the world.

Also, as is the wont of many small children, when I did not understand a word I just used the closest one I did in its place.

For some nefarious reason, no member of my family thought to correct this.

As a result, in Religious Education class when asked who betrayed Jesus, I put my hand up. This was a BIG deal. I did not speak in class. Ever. Of course, flabbergasted by my eagerness, the teacher picked me to answer.

Who betrayed Jesus?

Judas Asparagus.

Victoria and the Camel.

My parents took me on the most amazing trip through the Far East at about the age of 9.

The trip was memorable for not only the incredible places and people we met, but also by my innate ability to find trouble wherever we went.

fold up bed

It started in Taiwan. I was to share a room with my parents and the hotel kindly provided a fold out bed.

I sat on the bed.

I lay down on the bed.

The bed swallowed me whole.

Like a carnivorous child eating bed.

My parents laughed so hard it was a while before I was rescued.

The hotel sent another one. It ate me too.

My father was now exasperated and he tried out the third one. It ate him. He was not amused.

jawsBy the time we got to Thailand my parents were in need of some adult time.

I was left alone in the hotel room with two specific instructions.

The first, do not order room service.

The second, do not watch Jaws on the TV.

I had never heard of room service. A few hours and pretty much the entire menu later I was a room service expert.

Fletch Lives was also finished and Jaws was starting.

smoke rings

Thirty minutes into Jaws, I fled the hotel room in my PJs and headed for the cabaret where my parents were.

We don’t call them cabarets anymore.

These days we call them Ping Pong Shows.

I was not scarred for life, just deeply curious how anyone could blow smoke rings out that part of their anatomy, a conundrum that bothers me to this day.

Finally after extricating me from in-depth negotiations in an Indian bizarre involving the going price for a fully grown python, my parents were nearing breaking point.

And so we come to the camel.

We were somewhere in India. By somewhere I mean a small roadhouse next to a very long straight road populated by trees on either side, desolation beyond, vultures perched on every branch and trains of camels slowly plodding along with no visible human interaction.

dancing bearsIt was there in this sandalwood scented oasis that a travelling circus, no doubt smelling the sweet scent of tourists came to rest.

They had a dancing bear. I was entranced. (Yes, now I know it is horrible and cruel.) The bear and I lay and cuddled in the hot sun.

I was wrapped up in a python from head to toe and having the time of my life.

Until my parents emerged into the shimmering heat.

My father has an intense fear of snakes. I was unwrapped.

In a parental display meant to avoid and unhappiness on my behalf I was offloaded onto the back of a recalcitrant camel.

The camel did not smell good.

The camel had festoons of saliva instead of reins.

The camel swayed from side to side in a manner nothing like a horse or a bear.

I asked nicely. “Please may I get off?”.

“Just a few more pictures!” shouted my mother encouragingly.

camel 2After about 20 minutes of sweaty, camel swaying hell I was in tears.

Not quiet, fragile tears, but all out hysterical weeping frenzy.

My mother put a new roll of film into her camera.

Periodically she takes these shots out to show people.

My father still takes enormous pleasure in showing me camels, pictures of them, statues of them, movies of them…

It is safe to say I hate camels as much as he hates pythons.

Victoria and the Time She Ran Away.

beginners-guide-the-running-away-from-homeI DID NOT RUN AWAY! The car broke down. The phones were down. What was I supposed to do? Walk home?

Oh, I don’t know why I bother.

It has provided entertainment at my 21st birthday party, my wedding and one day no doubt my funeral.

I’ve written about it before. You can read it here if you like.

It was nothing like the time I really did try to run away.

ice cream

I packed my little brown suitcase and set off.

Only I wasn’t allowed to cross the road.

So, I just walked around and around the block until my dad pulled up in his car and offered to take me out for an ice-cream.

The painted elephant

“How would you feel about moving to India?” asked the husband in an offhand way.

It got me to remembering my first grand adventure when my parents slipped me out of school for three months and we explored the sub-continent.

My parents got Delhi Belly,  I didn’t.

I saw what a Thai lady can do with a ping-pong ball (I wandered into the cabaret by mistake).

I almost got swallowed alive by a folding bed.

It was amazing.

I sat and mused remembering when

I rode an elephant and then

I was ignominiously placed on a camel

And wept and wept holding on to the saddle

While my mother in fits of hysterical laughter

Snapped photos of my trauma for ever after

I remember the scent of sandalwood and cedar

Sweet Campa Cola and the fresh lime soda

Flocks of green parrots that filled the sky

And lurking vultures watching the road go by

I swung on a python and danced with a bear

Until even my father shuddered in fear

I sat in traffic waiting for cows

While drivers made an unholy row

I drank my tea with water buffalo milk

Not a flavour that went down like silk

I walked in the footsteps of ancient kings

I wore silver chains and bells and rings

I felt the mystery, the magic in the air

Hot spices and flavours to good to share

There were tigers watching from the trees

And monkeys that chattered and giggled at me

I wish I could take you there

And dance through the streets without a care