Garry may have avoided burning his finger last night while lifting his billy off the
campfire if a universally agreed upon name existed for the useful little camping item
he asked Dave to find for him.
Though, knowing Garry and his sometimes befuddled resourcefulness, I suspect he probably
grabbed the nearest stick or used the front of his t-shirt as an oven mitt to handle the billy…
Then again, Dave could have been pulling Garry’s leg by intentionally stalling his search in the
tent, hoping something funny might happen… We’ll never know…
Garry and Dave’s situation is not unique; many outdoor types have felt the same confusion
while communicating to others about this little camping item. Well, I’m here to say that
something has to be done! The lexicographers of the world need to unite to make this item broadly
known before somebody gets seriously hurt – let us put it in the dictionaries for goodness’ sake!
But what do you call a camping utensil which clamps onto the side of a billy or frypan as if it
were a handle? It really is a thingamabob, dooverlackie or what-do-you-call-it type of
item and conversation varies widely around campfires as to its nomenclature. Some common terms
are ‘billy grips’, ‘pot holders’, ‘billy lifters’, ‘billy tongs’, ‘handles’, ‘pan handle’, and to some of
my camping buddies they’re known as ‘clickers’.
For me, none of these definitions quite hit the mark. True, they grip, lift, hold and handle a billy.
But they are more like pliers than tongs with their hinge located between the handles and jaws
instead of behind the handles as in a pair of tongs; and pliers are a tool; and tongs a utensil
which picks up food, not cooking items. What might Dr Seuss have to say about this ridiculous
True also, they make a click if you rattle them, but this merely shows (a) my camping buddies
are dunderheads grappling to find an appropriate name; and/or (b) these little gismos are indeed an
odd item to give a good name.
You might as well invent or adapt a new word!
Well, believe it or not a word does kind of exist. For around ever-widening camping circles (particularly in Australia) this item is often colloquially known as either a ‘spondonicle’ or the plural ‘spondonicles’. I prefer the latter as in a pair thereof.
Information as to the origin of the actual camping item is scratchy – spondonicles have most likely been
fashioned out of bits of wire for decades – but the word spondonicle, as alluded to in bushwalking.org.au (2002), first appeared in a Three Stooges skit which goes:
[Larry as the surgeon and the other Stooges as nurses]
Larry: “Anaesthetic”[Stooge passes large rubber mallet, Larry dongs patient on the head]
Stooge [passes scalpel]: “Scalpel”
Stooge [passes scissors]: “Scissors”
Both Stooges in unison [rummaging frantically through piles of instruments]:”Spondonicle?!”
I read somewhere that Shakespeare also coined the word by saying “To spondonicle or not to spondonicle – that is the question.” but it came from an unreliable source, so don’t quote me on this…
Nevertheless, I reckon ‘spondonicle’ is a pretty funny word. I defy you to try saying ‘spondonicle’ without a smile on your face or in your mind! And try saying it to someone else at your camp-out and see if they don’t smile or laugh out loud!
Whether the Three Stooges invented the word ‘spondonicle’ or whether the connection is just another campfire yarn, there is certainly a strong element of slapstick about it. The other day (yes, around a campfire) I raised the word to a ten-year-old boy and his response, quite cleverly I thought, was that it sounded like the name of a dinosaur. I can see that!
Spondonicles have their specific application which they do very well. They are a
popular outdoor accessory item which come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and vary in
quality and price. Rumour has it an overzealous investment in the mass production of spondonicles
was the real reason Christopher Skase went bankrupt in the late ‘80s, but these days they are
readily available from most reputable camping distributors.
Last night my spondonicle developed its own cloaking device. Miraculously, it disappeared from my sight just before I was ready to pour my evening cup of billy-tea, only for it to reappear in a blindingly obvious spot this morning – I’ve since become suspicious Garry or Dave were up to their usual acts of tomfoolery. Don’t tell them but as payback while they were packing up I snuck a sizable rock into both their backpacks – so far they haven’t realised yet that they are carrying extra weight with them on today’s hike. Suckers! (And I’ll be blowed if I’m lending them my spondonicles tonight!)
Considered by some, including me, to be invaluable if you’re cooking on an open fire or camp stove, spondonicles are one of the first items in my backpack. They are small and lightweight and a worthwhile practical item – a little luxury for us outdoor types.
And now we’ve packed up camp and begun hiking as the sun rises in the sky for a beautiful
morning, what do my fellow Stooges have to say about this quirky
little camping accessory?