Surprise Stew

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

A deserved rest came to an end - abruptly.

Submitted: December 19, 2017

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Submitted: December 19, 2017



The three groups of young men came together after a month in different areas within the mountains of the Ruahine Range. Henry’s party of eight had been making fly-camps for hunters who were expected in the area in a couple of months’ time. All of the twenty nine needed to rest because while they were young, fit and resilient, they had worked bloody hard, seven days a week; sometimes they had worked the point of exhaustion and with rations that were below par. A lesson in humiliation, they used to say among themselves, a part of the education process.

It was a sunny day and they lounged about, some in the sun, others in the shade. In groups telling lies about how hard they had worked and the adventures they experienced, including lies about the number of animals that had been shot. It was good to have their boots off and their stinking, sweat-stained shirts too! There was a river nearby and some washed bodies while others washed clothes. The bellbirds pealed and the kakas cawed as they flew from one side of the valley to the other.

Don, the boss came back from his truck, he had been in communication with District Office by way for the radio. He called everyone in to tell them that the Minister of Forests was going to helicopter in with a couple of his henchmen and a newspaper reporter with his camera. Apparently he had heard good things about the twenty nine after they had assisted in the aftermath of a storm. He wanted a photo op and expected a ‘camp dinner’ whatever that was, to them it was simply everyday food. None of the twenty nine were particularly political, it was too early in the young lives to be passionate. They held no respect for shiny-bum-bureaucrats either, so the news went down like a lead balloon!

Henry and his crew were set the task of building a table long enough to house the shiny-bums and a couple to spare for Don and his off-sider. Henry was adept at lashing, the lack or rope wasn’t a worry, there was plenty of flax along the river. Mitch and his crew were sent off to return with venison back-steaks, although there was already a venison stew bubbling over the fire. Stew wasn’t good enough for the minister! Ross and his crew were to make the campsite spick and span, and tighten the guy-ropes on the tents so they had no wrinkles in them. And Gordy took his crew with slashers and a couple of axes to clear a good helicopter pad.

Confidence oozed out of the Minister as he walked around the campsite, looking everything up and down as if he knew what he was looking at. All the while the reporter clicked his camera, poking the lens in peoples’ faces. Mitch had to bring out his Mauser for the Minister stick his finger into the breech while the reporter tried to get the spelling right on his pad. Rex had to lie down with his jungle carbine and pretend he was shooting at deer. Why they photographed that rifle, nobody could work out because other than Henry’s illegal .304, Rex’s rifle was the least accurate in the whole group!

Big-heartedly, the Minister had brought a couple of bottles of beer and a bottle of whiskey to share between the shiny-bums, Don and his offsider. He couldn’t fit any more into the chopper because of weight limitations; so he said. So they sat at the table drinking while the twenty nine watched on gnashing their teeth. The Minister made it plain that he was hungry and the smell of back-steaks frying in butter gave him tidal-wave-stomach-juices!

While the big noises were going to dine on back-steaks, onions and an array of fried vegetables, the twenty nine were going to have the venison stew and ‘plastic spud’, which was a dehydrated potato that tasted rat-shit! They sat on logs or their rolled up sleeping bags with their deep plates in their laps with spoons at the ready. Reg came out of the cooking tent awkwardly carrying a dixie-pan. He was making his way past the high table when the Minister stopped him, and asked if he could sample the stew.

‘No sir,’ Reg replied courteously, ‘this is not for you. Sir’ he added as an afterthought.

‘Now look, I’m here to get a feeling of how things are for you boys,’ insisted the Minister, ‘give me a taste!’ Which to Reg, was as close to an order as you can get.

The Minister dipped his spoon into the dixie with all the authority a man in control. He took a mouthful! The performance he put on had the twenty nine rolling in the aisles, (had there been any)! The Minister spat! He spat out the contents of his mouth and washed it out with beer, swilling and spitting several times. The unflappable Reg just stood there, all the time still proffering the dixie.

‘That’s disgusting!’ exclaimed the Minister, ‘It tastes like bloody dishwater!’

‘It should,’ replied Reg, ‘because that’s what it is!’

The twenty nine rolled around again.

Reg had been making his way to the waste-pit, and Henry had erected the table right over the path! The story never reached the newspaper.


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