I turned round to the dark mysterious and- on occasions - mischevious one sat in the back seat, looked him straight in the eye and said 'whatever you do, don't mention the ashes!'. He looked back at me waiting to see if there was the slightest possibility that I might be joking but after a few seconds he could tell I was wearing my 'I'm deadly serious face'......we had a problem. I stepped out of our beaten up Discovery and ventured back down the sandtrack to the glistening white but nevertheless stationery people carrier 50 yards away.........stuck in the sand!
Welcome to Fraser Island, an idylic place with incredible beaches and crystal blue sea but no roads. The locals call them tracks but even that's stretching it a bit - the rubber certainly does not hit the road in any way, shape or form! For those of you, like me, who still enjoy 'dune jumping' off the south beach at Alnmouth........this is the type of sand that makes up the tracks; not compacted builders merchant consistency oh no! You could take your bucket and spade all you like to this stuff but you'll not form so much as a moat never mind a castle. Amazing for throwing about like your in a Timotei commercial, but far from amazing to drive on even in a 4x4.
Back to the scene......Ultra Running Man had stepped out of stricken vehicle. A lack of rain on the island had made the sand even more difficult than usual to drive on; the vehicle was neither going back nor forward with the added problem that all the tracks are single - no overtaking spots or passing places here. We tried in vain to use the spades that are mandatory with every vehicle to get him going but to no avail. 'Ultra Marathon Woman' had ventured to take photos of the memorable event but thought better of it! As a result of our vain efforts, behind us there was a steady stream of 4x4's backing up.......all Aussies. Two days earlier we'd won back the Ashes in convincing fashion #awks....I wisely dispensed of my England cap on the back seat.
'G'day' he ventured. I was cautiously optimistic....he hadn't sworn at us.....but then again we hadn't said anything! 'We've got a problem' said Ultra Man in broad Geordie. (I wondered if the Aussies knew where Mark Wood came from but decided to keep that to myself) 'No probs mate, you're not the first and you won't be the last.'.... (and relax!!) He continued 'let's get your tyre pressures down and then we've got a towrope in the 'ute' to get you out'.
Tyre pressures lowered, tow rope attached, diff setting altered and with the wisdom that comes from probably having done this many many times before, said ute moved slowly backwards and as the rope strained, the glistening white machine once more became mobile. A bit more advice was dispensed by our new found Aussie pals and with a smile and a handshake we continued the journey with only 25k to go before we reached the beach!
I'd love to say that the rest of the day was problem free but I'd be lying. Driving on the beach was the easy part and was a fantastic way of releasing the tension from 2 hours solid concentration. Getting back however we were to encounter worse. Coming off the beach to get back on the track, I managed to beach the Disco big style and at a very jaunty angle. It would be 45 minutes before once again another kind Aussie family came to the rescue and got us going. Against us now was the light i.e there was none and driving in headlights brought a whole new dimension to driving in sand. At this point, the minions in our car were now obsessed with being eaten by dingoes! The dark and mysterious one ( who has become a fount of all knowledge lately!!) gave out every fact going - true or otherwise- that did little to calm the siuation. I vaguely remember agreeing to me and Ultra Man fighting off dingoes with spades if it came to it! One way or another, we made it back and Ultra man and I headed off to lie down in a darkened room with a cool beer in hand.
On the long, long flight back to the UK, in between short naps and Biff's feet kicking me in the ribs, I thought about many memories of our time in Oz and reflected on the Fraser Island experience. The phrase 'collective towrope' came to mind as the local aussie community took time out to get the poms out of a hole.
A strong community is worth it's weight in gold. I've seen it evidenced time and again in the little pocket where we live in Alnwick. A pulling together that sees individuals and families giving and giving but expecting nothing in return. A by product of this is a deepening of relationships, neighbours that become friends as we walk with each other through the journey of life with all it's ups and downs. The result - a closer, stronger community.
As a christian, I believe that God is a great believer in community. Jesus epitomised this in his three and a half years on earth. His band of brothers, disciples, group of misfits, call them what you will - they were community. Through all their differences (and they had a few) the bond between them grew and Jesus was very much at the heart of the group; He valued their friendship as much as they valued His.
It's a model that I want the church to be more like in 2015. A few of us go to Costa on a Thursday night for an hour. It's an opportunity to do shared lives and give people the chance to ask the bigger questions. There is no programme, it is all about relationships. Journeying with each other and trying to demonstrate the community based, relational Jesus that we see in the Gospels. We've got our hands on the towrope a few times to show that this faith thing is actually a way of life or, to quote a famous bank....'for the journey'