Article Title:Calum's Vinegar Hill diary
Author or Credit:Calum Bennachie
Published on:7th January 2010 - 10:05 pm
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Story ID:8371
Text:Vinegar Hill stalwart - and 'condom fairy' - Calum Bennachie reports back with notes and gossip from his eventful stay at the Manawatu's annual LGBT summer camping hotspot.   Getting there Two days before leaving for Vinegar Hill, the weather forecast, was not exactly the best, yet when the day of departure dawned it was bright, sunny and fabulous - and stayed that way all day. The trip up went really well. We got there about 3pm, after leaving Wellington at 11am (with lunch in Levin) and using 5/8ths of a tank of petrol. We were met by Carl's brother Paul, Paul's son Rowan, and their friends Clinton and Brian. Carl and I were able to get our own tents up - Carl's tent being twice the size of the tent he had the previous year, which was twice the size of the tent he had the year before. This made us wonder what size tent he would have next year. We got the cooking gazebo up (6mx3m), and the 3 gazebos (3mx3m each) making up the dining and relaxation area, along with the single 3mx3m gazebo in front of the van and Clinton and Brian's camper van. Most of the kitchen was set up and we had most of our camp established by 6pm. As usual I had forgotten something. This time it was the duvet – not so bad as I did have sleeping bags, but after the night decided it was definitely time to go back to Wellington and pick it up. The birds started their 'cheepy cheep whistley whistle' thing at 4am, which, while expected and had been hopefully accounted for, still woke me up. Louder than living in the city centre! We had a look around camp after most people got up at 10am, and decided we needed a few tarpaulins and an extra gazebo to store the food in. So a net gazebo was added to the side of the kitchen gazebo, as well as tarpaulins; silk stage drops added to the entertainment area, and a giant rainbow flag added to the sides of that as well. To stabilise two of the 3mx3m gazebos that made up the entertainment area we put a 3.2mx9.8m tarpaulin over the top of them. This made the area underneath waterproof and safe.   Christmas Day Again with the cheepy cheep whistley whistle thing at 4am! I would have thought that after two mornings, I'd be able to sleep through it. But again, a glorious day. And Christmas Day at that. I went into Palmerston North to see my sister's family and have Christmas lunch with them, and that went well, then returned to camp to meet Carl and Paul's parents, and Clinton's father. We were all gathered for Christmas dinner and had a fabulous time. The parents all stayed for a couple of days. Boxing Day was fantastic. We went floating down the river, then just did things around our campsite, and visited others around the camp. I put up the spare tent, which, with the repositioning of the trailer, blocked off more of the riverside from prying eyes: one can't have strange eyes looking at one's campsite! A civil union at Vinegar Hill The day after was sunny – at least to start with. Clouds came over later when Carl and I, and a few volunteers, were building the maze. A few spots of rain came over as I was getting ready to go to the Wedding – probably the last Civil Union of the decade, and only the second held for campers during the period of the camp. Mitch and Toni plighted their troth at the lodge down river from the campsite to become Mrs and Mrs Freeman, on the banks of the Rangitikei River, with drinks being held at the lodge, and the reception held in a marquee beside it. The rain held off until the dinner was being eaten, so we were all safe from that. Everyone present had a great time.   The wedding cake! This was also the day the shop opened. Run by Bar4U, it had been authorised by the Manawatu District Council prior to the Queen talking to the council, and stocked meat (in 10 packs- too large for most campsites), ice ($1 more than Hunterville), cigarettes (one brand only, not favoured by most), a selection of soft drinks in cans and a selection of lollies and ice blocks. They also sold condoms for $4 a packet. River adventures On the 28th, the skies remained overcast, and rain was occasional during the day, but cleared late afternoon. We had looked at the river at around 3pm, and it seemed OK for rafting, but by 4pm, it was in flood. It was the logs floating down that put us off going. Half an hour later, it was even higher, and by 5pm had risen another 50cm. Some were beginning to worry - the place had flooded in 2004. Mike from over the road, and far closer to the river than us, seemed to be particularly concerned. The parents had all left the day before so were missing this excitement. Going for a walk to the other end of the camp (almost among the straights), we spoke with Heta and his group, enjoying a gin (of course), and observed the further rise of the river. However, by the time we got back to our campsite, it had begun to fall, and after dinner it had fallen more than a metre from its high point, and continued to drop. By the time the Queen opened the maze, it was almost down to its normal level, having risen about two metres in total. It only had 25cm left to drop. This was the first day we did the condom run, and some were delivered to the shop. I wonder if they were actually able to sell any of their condoms at $4 a packet of 12 without lube. The next day, the river remained down, maybe 20cm above normal, and, though faster than usual, we were able to go rafting. The river was a bit grubby, but that didn't deter us or several others. The condom fairies were busy this night, which was movie night, and I had a couple of gins while enjoying the show, and a gin or two afterwards. As usual, the 30th started with cheepy cheep whistley whistling birds at 4am. Normally I can sleep through this after two days on camp, but not this year. Grrr, hissy fits! Sunny to start with, it began to get cloudy. We went swimming and rafting down the river, telling a group of four lesbians who joined us part way to avoid the car (a relic of the February 2004 floods), just past the str8 beach. We gave them lots of hints when it came up, go to the left or right of that white water. Go to the left. Go to the left! GO TO THE LEFT!!! Then Oops!, they went right over the centre of it, ripping a 10cm wide by 30cm long hole in the bottom of the lilo the four of them were on. They did all bravely go down with their ship though. Well, they had no choice, really – it was there, then blink: it wasn't. They were however, rescued by Brian, Paul and Clinton, and dropped off at a beach downstream beside another lesbian camp.   The condom fairies were again busy that night – I'm sure there are more handed out at this stage of the camp than usual. Carl and Paul's parents arrived in time for dinner. The Fashion in the Field competition was held on this night, and was won by young Rome - 3 years old and dressed by his mother and the others in his campsite. Second was Adam and his mate (who really should have won in my [ahem] humble opinion!). The rain came down, in earnest, just as the final part of The Price Is Right ended. A New Year - and a new Queen! New Year's Eve morning was grey. Examinations later in the day discovered the maze had been used, however, despite the overnight downpour. I did, however, get a rafting expedition completed before the Queen's Council at 4pm. It was amazing how many interruptions we got while that was on though. Security features insisted upon by the Manawatu District Council and the Police meant that campers had to be issued with a wrist band, and cars had to have number plate stickers and windscreen sticker. The cordon was at the Crossroads, where Terry and Peter had their camp, opposite the shop. Terry and Peter had motion sensors, which the police made use of. Several people were caught trying to get in that way at night, some of them caught several times. One wonders why they didn't try the bush behind the shop.   All hail new Queen Aaron! The entertainment started on cue at 9.30pm, after the bonfire was started around 9pm. The shows continued, the prizes were given, and then it was time for the coronation of the new queen. Queen Aaron was duly announced to the applause and cheers of the crowd and duly crowned by the outgoing Queen. I went around with the condom basket after that, which was also an excuse to avoid scary man who had been following me for most of the night. At one point, some of the str8 people from the other end had been hassling some of the gay guys in the grandstand. They shut up after former Queen Daniel and Miss Taro Patch got up on stage and challenged them, with a spotlight on them. They seemed to be very unsure of themselves when a man in a dress challenges them to a fight. Wonder why! Queen Aaron was the 25th Queen of Vinegar Hill, a camp that has been going for the gay community since 1977. People are nominated for the role of queen by the former Queens present at the camp, and nominees are taken from those who (a) have been going to the camp for a number of years (at least three consecutive years); and, most importantly (b) who have provided considerable service to the queen(s) or the camp over that period. 2010 begins At 1pm on the first day of 2010, the Queen did her progress around the campsite, after which we went rafting, noticing the large number of now empty campsites in the camp. Steve took Benz home before we went rafting, saying he had really enjoyed it, and would really like to come back next year. If this was camping, this was what he liked. By the time the condom round was done, there were even more holes in the camp. Usually around one third of the campsites are empty at the end of the 1st, but this year, it seemed like one half. The exodus had started in earnest. On pack-up day, I didn't sleep in... too much. Just in case there was rain (like last year), we took down all the gazebos (except the kitchen one) and all the tents (except the spare one, which I slept in). We enjoyed the movies the Queen Aaron played that night, the last one being Can't Stop the Music, the story of the Village People. What's this? I slept till 6am! No cheepy cheep whistley whistle woke me. Finally, on the last day, I was able to sleep through the cheepy cheep whistley whistle at 4am. We packed up the kitchen after brunch, and repacked the trailer properly. We went for a swim to get rid of the yucky sweaty feeling after all that work in bright hot sunny shine had left.   We left the camp at midday, and I was back home in Wellington at 5pm. Home from a memorable Vinegar Hill 2009-2010 - and needing a holiday to recover! Calum Bennachie - 7th January 2010    
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