Buckaroo, Kerplunk, straws and camels backs

When I was a kid Buckaroo and Kerplunk were popular games. Buckaroo involved a toy donkey. Players took turns to add items of equipment onto its back all the while hoping the donkey wouldn’t buck when they placed their item onto the burgeoning pile. After being stacked high with buckets, sacks, rope, spades and various other goodies, the donkey would eventually reach the point where it could bear no more and living up to the name of the game, would buck all the pieces off. Real life donkeys don’t seem to do this, they have heavy loads foist upon them until they’re barely able to walk. The phrase beast of burden is often applied to donkeys and it’s not difficult to see why. When I worked in France one of my French colleagues said, “you English, you are stupid. You work like the donkey and what for? You are working 50, 60, 70 hours and you do not complain. In France we do not do that, we are not like you stupid English donkeys and we are happier to have time away from the work.”  My colleague made a very good point!


Kerplunk was a Buckaroo situation in reverse. Thin plastic sticks held up marbles inside a tall cylinder. Players had to remove sticks without letting the marbles drop through. As pieces were removed so the weight of marbles increased until eventually someone would remove a stick causing all the marbles to fall. Kerplunk, game over. On another occasion in France I saw children aged around 8 years old aligned in crocodile fashion marching through the Metro station at Chatelet. They were shouting, chanting and carrying placards accompanied by a small number of adults. My French wasn’t good enough to understand all they said so I asked a French colleague to interpret and explain what these children were doing. Why were they marching through the subway stations? She told me the kids were with their teachers and they were protesting about education reforms; a reduction in the number of teachers and taught hours. I was amazed. I couldn’t imagine British 8 year olds taking part in a protest to maintain teaching hours or have more teachers. My colleague laughed. She said in France children learn to protest early and French people stand up for their rights and the things that matter to them such as education, fair remuneration, decent medical care and so on.


I cannot remember when I first heard the phrase ‘the straw that broke the camels back.’ It was sometime before I reached my teens but I’ve no idea when. The idiom is thought to stem from an Arabic proverb. The camel is another beast of burden and the straw that breaks its back is the final thing making the weight on its body unbearable. Instead of throwing off the load like Buckaroo, the camel sinks to the floor broken in half and presumably dies as a result of its heinous injury. Once again while working in France I came across a ‘straw that broke the camels back’ situation. A large French company undertook a programme of transformation, restructuring and changes to people’s roles. Some of the changes were radical and the impact on certain members of the workforce was quite dramatic. A number of employees couldn’t cope with the situation they found themselves in and committed suicide. I was deeply traumatised by this situation, not the first workplace suicide Id encountered.  In my early career a young guy in my workplace committed suicide. Afterwards everyone said they should’ve realised the signs, he was under too much pressure, withdrawn, silent and very unhappy looking. He hung himself from a stairwell.  People were shocked, they talked about the stress he must have felt and mused that he had no outlet for his distress. I remember thinking how sad that a young man, probably aged around 22, felt so alone with his problems that the best solution was to end his own life. I still think its sad that he died suffocating to death in dingy stairwell, his life slowly slipping away because the burden of living became too much for him to bear on his own.


It isn’t often that I feel like the Buckaroo donkey or overloaded camel. Normally I’ll bear a heavy load and keep moving forward but of late a series of events has been edging me ever closer to broken back territory. Although challenging, in isolation each event is manageable. Cancer, chemo, social exclusion, work issues, loss of friends, discrimination, the thought (and reality) of more surgery – all unpleasant but in isolation or limited combinations all bearable. Even when they happen in combination and quick succession they’re bearable as long as nothing else is dumped on top.


This week something else got dumped on top; two additional  significant challenges to further embellish the list. I checked my major life events against the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. A score of 300+ indicates a significant risk of illness. Unfortunately many of my major life events are a direct result of illness so my Holmes and Rahe score was already running at over 300. This weeks challenges have pushed it to over 500 and there’s very little I can  do about it except wonder at what level the scale moves from ‘risk of serious illness’ to ‘be sure to note your preference,  flames or earthworms.’


I opted for flames long ago so I can look on the bright side in that respect – at least I know what’s coming to me in the end! Being downbeat doesn’t really suit me but I am human and I have limits. There’s only so much crap I can take before I feel overwhelmed and the past year has been packed full of it. Fortunately I still have a few friends and family who stand by me and check in to see that I’m OK. The young guy I worked with felt abandoned, the employees in the French company had no-one to turn to and couldn’t see a positive future once their jobs had disappeared or changed beyond all recognition. My friends and family can’t undo the hardships and stress certain others are hellbent on creating in my life but their moral support means I’m not entirely alone and that’s important. It helps me maintain a Buckaroo mindset casting off the crap instead of slipping into the camel persona and being completely broken by the weight of the load.



Buckaroo! (Photo credit: unloveablesteve)



21 thoughts on “Buckaroo, Kerplunk, straws and camels backs

  1. Despite all the shite being thrown your way by people who should know better, you will come through this Tracy. Your health is more important than any job or any material asset. You have some extremely good friends around you, many of whom write their own blogs. All your friends and family are here to help and support you through any forthcoming challenges. You are stronger than you think and all will be well in the end. Love and {{{hugs}}}. Dad xoxoxox


  2. I remember buckaroo very well ,keep it up Tracy life is what we make it and sometime it doesn’tgo according to plan xxx


  3. Hey Buckaroo! I never had that one but I, too, had a Kerplunk. Though it must have been at least 40 years ago that I bought it I still recall that day clearly…prowling through ‘toyland’ with my few bills stuffed in the pants pockets until I finally figured out exactly what I wanted (actually it was more likely having to leave with something…anything because Mom finally lost patience waiting for me…whatever). Anyhow, back to kerplunk: Playing it was fun, no doubt but it was always a pain setting up those bloomin’ straws so you could play. You had to plan it out in advance if you wanted to get them all in there, else tyou would have to start the game with many straws out because the mess you’d made in the setup completely prevented you from getting all of them in. If you didn’t start with a plan the game would not be near as good; less turns before the frigging marbles all fell down. Now, finally, back to the REAL subject at hand. If there’s one thing I have learned about you from reading your posts over these past few months it’s that you do not take a haphazard approach to …anything. You always plan to get all the straws in the game. And you do! So, this week you have been thrown some unexpected curves. I, for one, believe that you will figure a way around. Not sure what it will be, but do know it will happen. Good luck.


    • You know Maurice I never really thought about Kerplunk like this (its a very long time since I played) but you’re right, you had to use a planned approach otherwise the game would play out in just a few moves. Your comment has helped enormously. There is some big cr*ppy stuff going on and I feel very betrayed by the people behind the situations I’m now faced with but I’m working my way through it and whatever happens, I will find a way through. Thank you for reminding me that even with something as frustrating as Kerplunk, it was still possible to get all those straws in once you planned it out 🙂


  4. Omg, it must be a planetary alignment. I’ve had a couple of days like that, too and I’ve just decided I’m going to go with it, I just published my own version of overwhelming shit and then I read this and am crying. Tracy, you’ve just managed to help me shake my gloom. It’s ok for us to have shitty days. It’s ok for us to feel like the straw is spun gold and weighs an inordinate amount. To be able to express this (god I’m crying), HELPS. I’m hosting a pity party for one tonight and you can be an honorary guest. Just don’t drink my wine, I’m rationing lol. A big hug is sent your way right this very minute. You are a buckaroo. Kick it, sister. Kick it right in the box xo


    • I’m sorry you’re having some bad days too. You’d think the cancer would be a big enough burden for us to bear wouldn’t you and unnecessary crap with extra crap on top might be kept away from us, especially when its within someone’s gift to make that the case. I was with you at the pity party and had a ration of wine… after being tee total for close on a year, I was tempted to succumb to an alcohol induced moment of oblivion… but I know I’d feel bad afterwards given alcohol is another of the things we aren’t meant to do. I’m trying to get my act together, to get a plan like Maurice said and to work my way through it. I hope the same for you, get back on top and lick the crappy bits right out of your life. Sending love and hugs, we are better than this and we will conquer this bad patch. xoxoxo


  5. You’ve earned the right to buck things off even without the extras that have been piled on recently. I am so sorry that you are having to go through this. But I also know that you’ve shown incredible strength and balance. You will find your footing, I just know it!


    • Thanks Elizabeth…. its pretty tough when you think you’ve come so far then someone decides to throw a whole heap of extras on top. I know you know how it feels given all the twists and turns you had to deal with last year. I know I’ll get through because that’s what I do, but sometimes it does feel so damned difficult.


  6. Hi Tracy, it is easy for others to say you’ll be fine but, when you are living through it fine is a far stretch away. Life is not always kind, as human beings we seek peace, pleasure and to be appreciated. When that starts to breakdown we feel caught, you are caught right now and need to find the small things you can still appreciate, whether that is the different grains of sand in the sidewalk or a freshly blossoming tree for spring, find those things that remain the same unchanged that have brought you pleasure in the past to help lift your spirit to see tomorrow, a day that may bring change to the burdens you now carry. Dd


    • Hi Dd, My Dad and I have a different take on the word fine courtesy of a MacMillan nurse. She said fine really means F’ed off, insecure, neurotic & emotional…. and we know cancer can definitely make you feel fine! I was staying with my son (that’s a whole different story) and looked out the window this morning to see that in spite of the inclement weather there are daffodils coming up around the lone tree in the courtyard of his apartment block. They look a little stunted but they’re flowering and they’re still pretty. You’re right that those little things raise the spirits even if the spirits are stunned by recent events. Next year the daffodils will come back again and they’ll keep coming back in spite of everything that gets thrown at them. I’m holding on to that thought.


    • Thank you Jo, sometimes things are unnecessarily tough and after the mammoth climb my energy is not a high as usual. The kindness and support you show makes a big difference and helps repair the damage.


  7. Oh Tracy, you have every right to be annoyed and frustrated at this point. Take deep breaths or sit quiet for a bit – the stress really isn’t good for you. I’ll send you good karma from here and as a fellow donkey I think you’re doing a wonderful job carrying the burdens you’ve been dealt. xo


    • Thank you Mae, you know what this is like. We donkeys can bear a heavy load for a long time but sometimes we just need a break, the good karma and a warm safe place to rest.


    • I know you’re having a tough time too and send you much love and strength for what lies ahead. I was so saddened by your news. It’s hard to to see you getting more of life’s difficulties than anyone should have to contend with and if I could make them go away I would banish them in a flash xoxo


  8. Buck on, Tracy. You have far more support than you know. I’m sorry about the new surprises, but I do know that God only gives us what we can handle, and you, my dear, can handle a lot. Let us know if there is anything we can do to help lighten your load. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo


    • I’m normally quite resilient but every now and then I get overloaded. When the extra burden is uncalled for/unnecessary it makes it so much more difficult to accept. But accept it I must and find a way to move forward. I saw your photo of Fox – I know you weren’t smiling after clearing up the surprise gift but his happy face made me smile and that alone helps.Time for me to clear up the surprise gift I’ve been given, knowing you care brings strength and hope to see me through.


      • Like I said before, Tracy, PLEASE let us know if there is anything we can do to help. We all need help from time to time, but sometimes we aren’t sure who or when to ask. I’m letting you know that you can ask for my help anytime. {{{hugs}}} Kozo


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