The Unbearable Heaviness of Washing-up Bowls

We were camping with my family last weekend when my sister suddenly held up  an old, red washing-up bowl.

” Remember this?” she said.

My brother grinned.

” The famous  washing-up bowl  How could I forget it.You remember, right?” he asked, turning to me,. 

I stared at the hard, round plastic bowl,  willing this obviously important shared childhood memory to emerge from the ever spreading mist of my forgotten moments..

” Of course you remember,” said my sister, helping me ” this bowl and the motorbike.”

” Oh yes,” I said,  trying to sound convincing, “the washing-up bowl and the motorbike…”

And suddenly I did remember it: a sunny day spent lounging on a camp site in the South of France many years ago. 

As was often the case, my mum was watching some fellow campers packing up.

 It was a complicated process with tent and sleeping bags and worldly possessions scattered all over the ground, waiting to be tightly rolled into tiny balls.

The luggage had to take up as little space as possible because these were not just your average, every day,  chuck-it-all in-the-boot-of-a-car campers.

These were cool, leather-jacketed, sun-glass-wearing, biker campers.

While we went to the swimming pool or played table-tennis, mum sat outside our tent. waiting.

She watched transfixed as the bikers reduced their week-long home to a few small bags

” What I want to know,” she said, when I returned, ” what I want to know, is how are they going to fit that washing-up bowl onto their bike.”

She was pointing at a plain, red bowl, standing on the ground next to the tightly packed sleeping bags and the neatly rolled tent. 

It looked old-fashioned standing there- too solid, too unfoldable to be part of the bikers’ modern, compact world.

I grabbed the table-tennis bats I had come to collect..

“They’ve probably got a special bag or something,” I said, running off to join the others.

” See you at lunch?”

But when we returned, hot and hungry half an hour later, the bowl was still in the same place on the ground..

 “Perhaps they’re keeping a special space underneath the rest of the luggage  just for the bowl,” she said.

” Perhaps one of them is going to wear it instead of a helmet,” suggested my brother, reaching for the bread and ham.

” Can we go to the beach this afternoon?” asked my sister, making a long, salami sandwich.

” Sure,” said dad and turned to mum.

” Shall we take the lilo?”

” I don’t think there’s going to be room,” said mum.

” What do you mean,” said dad, confused, “It’s tiny. It’s not even blown-up yet.”

Mum turned her eyes back to us.

” Why would you blow up a washing-up bowl?” she asked.

We all stared at her.

” Why would we take a washing-up bowl to the beach? asked dad.

But mum wasn’t listening.

Her gaze had returned to our biker neighbours.

” Look,” she said, ” they’re almost ready.  Everything is on the motorbike except for the washing-up bowl. Maybe one of them is going to carry it on their lap.

I watched doubtfully as the ” biker-chick,” now wearing leather trousers as well as her leather jacket, clicked her helmet into place and swung her leg over the bike behind her boyfriend.

” I think she’s too cool for washing-up bowl holding mum,” I said.

” Well what are they going to do then?” said mum disappointment and slight panic rising in her voice.” Perhaps they’ve forgotten about it.  Maybe I should go and tell them.” They’ll miss it when they get to their next camp-site. How will they wash-up.”

” Perhaps they don’t need it anymore,” I said.

” Of course they need it,” said mum, ” how will they wash-up without it?”

“Perhaps they’re going out for dinner for the rest of their lives,” I said.

Before mum could answer, the bike engine roared into life.

Glancing behind her, the biker-chic checked the empty space where their tent had been 

For a moment her eyes lingered on the lone, red bowl.

” She’s seen it,” sighed mum,” thank goodness.”

But instead of rescuing the bowl, she tapped her boyfriend on the shoulder and pulled down her visor.

He kicked away the stand and leaving a trail of dust and churned up grass, they roared, leather-clad into the  blue-skied, Southern French distance.

For a moment the silence echoed around us.

We sat in front of our heavy-framed, three-bedroomed tent eating our lunch. 

While next to us the dust settled on the lonely, unwanted red washing-up bowl, too solid and unbearably heavy to be part of a life full of adventure and freedom and motorbikes.

Putting down her baguette, mum stood up. 

” Well,” she said, ” if they don’t want it, we might as well have it.  You can’t have too many washing-up bowls.”

And walking over, she picked it up and started filling it with our used cups.

And my sister has never stopped using it on their camping holidays since.

And between that French holiday and now, we have all of us, travelled and had adventures. 

We have made new lives in new countries.

We have left behind unnecessary possessions and wandered the world.

But in the end, there has always been something comforting about coming home.

Something reassuring about knowing that somewhere, on some forgotten campsite, there will always be a round, solid , unchanging, slightly too heavy washing-up bowl waiting to welcome us back.



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