Last Sunday my husband asked to be excused for the day to participate in an extreme off road buggy competition. The buggy is a relatively new toy in his arsenal of motor related toys and accessories. In light of the fact that I was in England last weekend while he held the fort admirably, I thought it churlish to say no – though every inch of me was crying out:
‘Why are these events always on Sundays? Why do they always take up the entire day? Why is it that before and after each event you decide to spend many hours modifying your ‘teen speed’ machine? Why is it that you spend more of your spare time with your friend the mechanic (see previous post) who you actually pay cash to keep you company and whose front teeth are missing, than you do with your own children?’ OK, I admit, the latter comment was a cheap shot. My mother in law repeatedly tells me: ‘But you knew what he was like before you married him.’ My retort has always been a rather whinging: ‘yes, but I didn’t really know then the extent of the obsession with engines…I thought it a passing fancy, I thought he might have got over it by now.’
As loyal supporters, we should have gone along to watch the racing on Sunday, but I’ve had some bitter experiences over the past nine years and the novelty has somewhat worn off. Once, when we lived in Tanzania years ago, my husband volunteered to run a check point during an out of town safari rally. His job was to spend the day noting down competitors’ times etc. At that point, one daughter was two years old and the other only six weeks. The sensible thing for me would have been to stay home, but instead we came along to the rally because at the time I was more terrified of being stuck at home without adult company, with a toddler and new baby to deal with in tropical heat. In retrospect, to go was possibly not the right decision.
What happened was, I spent the day convinced that the toddling two year old would be run over by speeding rally cars that were kicking up meters high clouds of choking dust and huddling in our car with the air conditioning blasting (it was sweltering outside) trying to breast feed the new baby as all the people in the surrounding village turned their attention from the rally cars to unabashed staring in at me, whilst I attempted to get my new baby to ‘latch on’ to a cracked nipple. At first I was modestly throwing a cloth around my shoulders in an attempt to maintain my dignity in the face of so many curious onlookers but by the end of the day I was way past caring and the villagers saw everything there was to see. I doubt it was a pretty sight, but obviously more engaging that rally cars.
Once before, I have driven an hour with our daughters at four and two years old, whilst also eight months pregnant only to catch my husband on his last lap of the race roll his four wheel drive rally car end over end, then climb out, all mud splattered, saying with bravado:
‘It’s really not as bad as it looks.’
In fact, the car was a write off.
On another occasion he drove the intermediate course with Granny, Grandad and the three girls all in the back of our regular road car. There were aghast expressions from the spectating crowd:
'Look! there's a baby in there!'
I have camped a few times in the name of; ‘extreme off roading’ in locations with no water and only thorn trees for shade, again with small children, fighting off boredom and sitting in plumes of dust as cars, quads and motorbikes raced by. It’s a relief when the ordeal is over and we’ve endured it as a family physically unscathed (but mentally scarred). Being pushed to the point of giving the children Fanta Orange all day to keep them happy in the full knowledge that they will then be hyperactive, organising meals on the hoof at ground/dirt level and being snagged on wait-a-bit thorns when trying to squat in the bushes are not amongst my happiest memories. I used to be a London girl!
Generally it’s a rally in itself for me to reach these events. I often have to engage four wheel drive in order to get through muddy patches and this added stress holds no excitement for me. Only three weeks ago on Sunday we decided to go and watch my husband in a one day four wheel drive ‘Quattro Charge’. We packed a picnic and set out with my visiting from UK parents and the three children to drive out of town to get to the venue, an old stone quarry. First we were snarled in traffic trying to get out of Nairobi via the Industrial area, it transpired that someone had driven off a bridge and plummeted down onto the railway track below some hours earlier. Many cars were pulling up on the hard shoulder with their occupants abandoning their vehicles preferring to stand and watch the recovery effort by police and fire engines, thus causing absolute chaos on the road. Once we’d crawled passed the rubber necking sideshow, we got caught up in road works and a diversion clogged up with heavy Lorries. To cut a long story short, after an hour and a half of frustration we turned around and wound up eating our picnic back home at 3.30 in the afternoon feeling a bit defeated.
Last weekend I was wise not to even consider a trip out to Athi River to watch the ‘Rally Raid’. On Sunday morning, when stocking up on supplies, the owner of the local supermarket quizzed me accusingly about why I was not out supporting my husband. Don’t ask me how he knew my husband was competing; suffice to say it is a small town. I felt almost totally guiltless when I replied:
‘Are you kidding me! It’s raining, there are road works down there and I have three little girls with me.’
‘The road works aren’t that bad’ he said, realising that there was no sense in fighting.
By the afternoon I had slipped into an almost comatose state, past caring that the children had been watching Cartoon Network for two hours and the time to wake the baby had come and gone an hour ago. It was blisss. The only nagging thought that was spoiling things was by that time was: ‘I wonder if our health insurance covers dangerous sports?’
I was disturbed from my reverie when I received a text from a friend saying: ‘You have remembered that it’s Savanna’s birthday party this afternoon? It started an hour ago.’ I had totally forgotten.
Suddenly it was all systems go. I pulled a present from the drawer, couldn’t find wrapping paper, but dusted down an old ‘Barbie’ gift bag that was hanging on the back of my daughters bedroom door. When I ran the present under the nose of the middle daughter she said: ‘I think Savanna has already got one of those.’ But at this late stage it was a case of:
‘Never mind, doesn’t matter, haven’t got anything else, it’s this or nothing.’
We then woke the baby, piled everyone in the car and shot off to a kid friendly activity.
Apparently the buggy race went well until the last lap when my husband broke a shock absorber, got a fleck of flying mud in his eye (he had removed his goggles) and had to drive round heroically one handed with the other clasped over his face. By the time he finished he was in agony. Lucky the trusty mechanic was with him, as he took over the driving home with the mud clogged buggy being towed behind – the only problem was that the buggy lost a wheel along the way and it took and hour to bodge it back together on the road side to get it home. For the last two days my husband has been sheepishly wearing an eye patch, as on Sunday night the eye had swollen tight shut. He got his name in the local papers though, albeit miss spelt as usual.
It’s Tuesday evening, 6.45pm and my husband is outside in the garage with his best friend the mechanic now, surveying the damage. My answer to the obsession? Write a blog!
p.s. My mother in law says I should write somewhere on this post: ' but I love him really!' - which of course I do.... goes without saying!...