A family beach holiday [compound adj]: an annual event in which the potential for calamity escalates by a multiple of the number of participants who have their own ideas of how it should be conducted. Part two.
Belty allowed our little family a week in his inherited beach house in exchange for a modest handful of local currency. Having transported a substantial portion of our worldly goods to the Barney’s Cape cottage, we settled in for the first night. My hilarious anointing of a locked room as ‘The Torture Chamber’ appears to be backfiring on me. Our twin offspring are convinced that they can hear nefarious deeds taking place in there and, eschewing fear, they demand right of entry. Jan snuggles them into [our] bed while I, their Protector, go outside to check if the noises they heard emanate from elsewhere on the property. A parked dilapidated penny-farthing bicycle briefly distracts me, but not enough to miss the faint glow lighting the cartoon curtains behind the windows of the locked Torture Chamber. Now, read on.
Had I not looked up then, I might have missed the shadow that scampered from window to window. There was a series of clumps so close together it was difficult to tell them apart. The non-discerning listener may have heard them as a sole, but comprehensive, thump. Then the light vanished. I felt my sphincter tighten.
There are some who are born fully-equipped to deal with the sudden disruptions to the daily drudge; there are others who acquire those skills from rude experience. I am not those people. Panic is my go-to state. I ran through the screendoor into the house without opening it. I can show you the scars.
Picture it. Me, 100-metre-sprint-panting, bleeding from fresh wounds; Jan, looking up from her dog-eared copy of the ironically-titled novel, Infinite Jest, an eyebrow cocked quizzically; Meander and Mayhem safely, and completely, asleep on my side of the bed. It was the couch for me, as Jan thumbed me in that direction.
Still rattled, I sipped my way into the vat of fine scotch I had purloined from the house bar while I planned the strategy that would protect my little family from whatever-the-hell-was-behind-that-door. I sat upright, facing the locked room, a garden spade resting across my knees, and immediately fell asleep. As the Nameless Dread was about to sink its fangs into my helpless leaden body, it began to cackle and I awoke enough to make out Jan in the kitchen, glass in hand sharing a laugh with a large silhouette showing me its back.
Yes, it was Steven Maurice Belt [‘Not guilty, your Worship.’] and my wife sniggering over the prank they, in collusion with my children, had successfully subjected me to. I allowed unconsciousness to claim me once again.
As he and Jan had decided, Belty had arrived at the house hours earlier and settled into The Torture Chamber. The rest of the charade, with the complicity of the kids, was fairly straightforward. The low light of a shaded lamp, a bit of banging about, a grunt or two and the fix was in.
The penny-farthing propped against the side of the house was a signifier. Whenever Belty was in residence, the ancient velocipede was liberated from the shed informing the township that Belty was back and things were likely to get a bit interesting.
The sight of Belty’s huge frame clad in a bathing costume, circa 1920, clambering aboard his ‘big boy bike’, as he was pleased to call it, was not for the faint-hearted. Especially as dawn had barely finished its work and breakfast had yet to begin. Still, he was out of the house and likely to be so for much of the day. The life-saver’s cap tied at a jaunty angle looked like a small handkerchief on his massive head. He was bound for the Barney’s Cape Surf Club where he would take up a position in the watchtower. Apart from the odd sortie to ‘cool off’, alternating between pub and shoreline, he would remain there until the sun did a runner.
Within seconds of the last cornflake vanishing into a grateful maw, Meander and Mayhem were togged, sunscreened and ready to roll. Their parents, drifting into a second cup of coffee and mulling over the contents of a shared newspaper, were less so. Jan, suffering from last night’s shared hilarity-fest, suggested/insisted I take the first watch and hit the sand. But take the beach umbrella and some fresh water [‘no, water!’] in the esky along with Nutritious Snacks and back-up sunscreen. She would arrive around lunchtime with food appropriate to that time of day. I hear ‘ham sandwiches’ but don’t tell the kids.
I love the beach. Always have. From the early days of riding 10-foot fibreglass planks with wooden stringers [‘who’s going to help me carry my board to the water?’] in indifferent freezing surf, clad only in T-shirts and cutoffs, to the later rippings-up of 8-foot tubes waxed to a 6-foot tri-fin thruster and sporting a full front-zip steamer. I have slept on beaches, enjoyed adolescent fumblings on beaches and been on beaches when the night sky was so dark, vertigo insisted I crawl to the carpark to find some indicator that would tell me which way was up. I even once set fire to a beach in winter, when a warming blaze escaped its poorly-rocked perimeter. I was a Beach Excitement Machine.
Now, some years later, I’m back. That’s me over there, steamer stripped to the waist, strange protuberances attempting to escape the Bintang singlet Jan hates me wearing. My hat says ‘jungle fighter’ but doesn’t mean it. I am introducing two eight-year-olds to the pleasures of the drip castle between the short bouts of boogie boarding I am too exhausted to maintain.
The beach is littered with high viz doodads, mushroom fields of tiny blue tents, the odd inept bout of beach cricket, youth glued to phones, middle-aged men and women in shameless displays of bodies that have done some hard yards and about now could use a bit of exercise, if child rearing hadn’t exhausted them beyond this possibility.
Jan has failed to materialise. Even the approving stares of mothers admiring my parenting skills and dedication – ‘if only my husband was like you’ – are wearing off. If only I could join those recalcitrants, ankle deep, arms folded, cradling a tin, rocking back on their heels, staring at the horizon, searching for elusive superlatives to one-up descriptions of Steve Smith’s first innings at the ‘G, while their offspring risk their lives in a myriad of ways.
‘No one was watching us when we were kids and we survived.’ Except for those who didn’t.
I am burnt and knackered and the young woman soaking up rays on a towel next to us looks up from her phone long enough to tell me it is mid-afternoon. Then a shadow falls across the sandy drippy residence nominated as Count Dracula’s summer castle, accompanied by the sweetest smell a summer can offer. Hot chips. It’s Belty to the rescue. Stuff those infants with saturated fat and salt and [gag] tomato sauce. The guaranteed lifter to a long-day flag.
A sheepish Jan arrives. She says nothing about us poisoning the children and allows us a beer from the cooler bag she has slung across her shoulder. Generously, she invites the children on a crab hunt while the menfolk rest up and ruminate over the cricket.
Meander and Mayhem would prefer it if daddy would take them boogie boarding. Again. Jan shrugs, takes the icy, refreshing, quenching, reinvigorating, delicious beer from my hand, nods towards the incoming tide and says, ‘off you go’.
This might continue…©slightlyangryguy.com