So, as described below, my first two WWOOFing adventures went like a dream; lovely people who welcomed me into their homes, gave me some nice-to-pleasantly-grubby jobs, with lots of time off.
My third WWOOF experience was with a Swiss/Australian family with four kids under 8. All adorable as heck, from affectionate, smiley baby Tya all the way up to the pretty, imperious Yaysia. They lived on a big, sloping property in a magical, leafy, mountainy, rivery spot, with no TV and a hand-made pizza oven. It was a deliberately child-centric household - and as a direct result (I believe) of being listened to and considered equally important as their parents, the children were well-behaved, clever, and utterly secure in themselves. It was idyllic.
My first day, and the father of this little Swiss-Oz clan gives me my first project: find the septic tank. OK, I say, I like digging. It's in this vicinity, he says, pointing to where the plumber has spray-painted a patch of violets bright pink. Alright, I say, undaunted. About half a metre down. No problem.
First, I relocate the violets. Easy-peasy. Dig them up in neat square patches, gentle with the roots, carry them down to a new designated spot halfway down the slope. Under the soft soil of the violet patch, I hit clay. Hard-packed, typical Victorian-style clay, the kind I used to eat as a baby while my parents sweated over their own back garden. No worries, I think, and put my back into it. Then I hit the rocks.
Lord, the rocks. Have you ever tried digging up a patch of clay that is filled with rocks? With a shovel? It's virtually impossible. I struggle on fruitlessly for several hours.
I need a pick, I tell the owner, when he returns briefly from his job of pruning branches that are overhanging the spa. Nup, he replies. I can't have you going through the tank. You'll just have to find the edges of the rocks and dig them out. OK. I'm not defeated yet, I am working up a good sweat but I still have some energy. So I try to find the edges of the rocks that I keep hitting every time I try to jam the shovel into the ground, but it's pretty hard because this ground is basically 80% rock; if there are edges down there, they are obscured by more rocks.
So I keep relocating more violets, making the hole wider and wider, and slowly, incredibly slowly, I manage to dig out some rocks, smaller fist-sized ones at first, then I keep widening the hole until I find the edges of some of the bigger rocks. By this time I am trembling from the constant jarring of the spade handle that vibrates up my shoulder, and I have to stop regularly to catch my breath. Sweat is pouring off me. Determined (pig-headededly so), I keep going, angry with the rocks now as I am with the owner for palming off this sh*t job. There is a lot of internal swearing as Fyn has decided he is king of the growing mound of dirt and rocks piled next to me, and babbles away happily unaware of my struggles.
I manage to unearth half of one rock that is the size of a basketball - and the rest of it is still lodged in the clay. I slam the shovel into the clay around it again and again, trying to find a bit that gives. There is none. I go wider. The rock reveals itself to be the size of two basketballs. I collapse on the swing set, heart pounding, face red. The owner comes up and asks me if I could use a break. I look at him, unable to speak, and nod.
"Why don't you and Sofia (the Finnish au pair who is also staying with them) go and collect the logs I cut last weekend down the back of the property, and bring them up to the wood shed."
Sofia and I spend the rest of the afternoon lugging barrowfuls of logs uphill. We take it in turns to heave the barrow, but the other person still needs to pull it from the front as it is so heavy it is splitting under the weight.
I know how it feels.
* * * * *
There is one saving grace at the end of this sorry tale: this man; this man whose vague, hippy, work-shy ways are seriously starting to grate on me, this man who nearly breaks my back by working me so hard on my first day, spends his weekdays working at the Cadbury factory.
After carting twelve loads of wood, I stagger into the lounge room, where his wife looks a little stunned at my appearance and tells me I look shattered. I am too tired to reply, so I just smile weakly and collapse into the nearest chair with a groan, legs trembling and back aching.
Without a word, she hurries into the kitchen to collect the box of chocolate that they keep for WWOOFers, brimming with Time Outs and Crunchies, and places it next to my chair.