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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 70 - Chateau du Brac

Gayle Woodward and her family enjoy another camping holiday - but not Chateau du Brac, local hooch sold by a crafty shopkeeper.

To read more vivid chapters of Gayle's popular autobiogrpahy - a work still in progress - please click on Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad wine in the menu on this page.

In 1989 we holidayed at a new campsite at Karikari Beach in the Far North. This was a farm park with a beach boundary, where the farmer, in the summer, cleared out his sheep and cattle, mowed the grass and let campers onto his property. Mary and Peter had been camping there for years and had urged us to join them. Karyn had her friend Rachel come along. Mark grudgingly was with us but Jeff was now holidaying alone with his mates.

The tents were pitched in the semicircle with the doors all opening into a central meeting area. The sun shone daily and the sand hills we had to cross, to the beautiful white arc of glistening sand that was Karikari Beach, were hot under our bare feet. We would scamper to another patch of beach grass or throw our beach towels down to give our feet some solace.

At night we would eat together seated in a big circle. Karyn and Rachel, with the cousins, were the camp dishwashers. The shower block, a rough and primitive affair, had hot water available for a few hours in the early evening. So the girls would collect all plates and cups and pots and fry pans into a large bowl, from all the families in our group and carry them to the outdoor sink at the shower block. They would join other youngsters from other campsites and there was general merriment with much giggling and the flicking of tea towels as the job got done. Then these young people would melt off into the deepening twilight of the sand below the camp.

The adults would open bottles of wine and other alcohol and tell tall stories and sing. When we required Karyn and Rachel to return home to the camp, Woody would give a piercing whistle “Da da da dar da!” to which came faint but clear answering whistle from Karyn “De de!”

During the hot days a relentless breeze would blow in from the sea. The sand under foot in the camp was whipped up into the air making it necessary to cover one’s mug or plate to stop sand entering one's tea or food. It was all fun and I loved sleeping at night in the tent which had now been upgraded to one with netting windows with a flap of canvas which could be rolled up or down. There was a plasticized floor and three rooms, two for sleeping and one for cooking and food storage.

The men were sent to the local shops to buy some extra boxes of beer. There the crafty shopkeeper urged them to sample some local hooch which he called port. In the heat and frivolity of the day the men thought it tasted delicious. It was cheap and they each purchased a flagon of the stuff. Little did they know; almost every campsite in our camp had a male who had been taken in by this charlatan shopkeeper.

Back at camp we were all passed a sample of the red liquid. Grimaces all round and much gagging and groaning followed. ‘What is it?’’ we gasped through raw throats. Peter came back quickly with a new name. “Chateau du Brac” he announced. The Chateau du Brac name sped like wild fire around the camp. Later that night, various campers would loom out of the darkness as they entered our drinking area, lit by gas lamps. “Anybody wanna buy some Chateau du Brac?” was asked and offered many times that night. It was generally agreed that the ‘port’ was most useful for cleaning greasy BBQ plates and other major cleaning chores. In the end it was tipped down drains when we got home to Auckland. It is probable that our drains got a very good clean out! Chateau du Brac has ever since become a generic name for any cheap and nasty alcoholic beverage we come across.

Another evening, a group of happy young men entered the glare of our lounge area. Their names, they told us, were Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark and Mark. They walked a bit groggily and had most likely had a few two many drinks that night. Peter was a friendly host and offered the closest Mark, who was sitting on a foam chilly bin at the time, a bottle of vodka. Peter thought that Mark would add some mixer to his drink but Mark had another idea. He placed the half empty bottle to his lips and gulped the rest of the liquid down his throat. We all stared as he smiled and slumped from the chilly bin to the grass where he fell fast asleep. The rest of the Marks were nonplussed. They told us they could sing the whole of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. They did, word perfectly and had the rest of us urging them on. When Woody said he loved The Pogue’s ‘Dirty Old Town’, the Marks sang that right through too. It was a glittering night full of fun and frivolity with people of different ages and types and often people who one would never meet in the course of one’s ordinary town life. Such was beach camping. The experience is a very typical New Zealand type of holiday.

We returned home suntanned and rested. The guitar music and full lyrics of Dirty Old Town arrived in the mail for Woody and we resumed our working and school life.


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