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…

    To qualify as an Australian beach, four essential elements must be apparent. Everyone gets a small squadron of flies to accompany them throughout the day; it’s our birthright. There must be saltwater sufficiently concentrated to burn the eyes, abundant fine sand for the occupancy of all orifices [orifi?], and a glorious parade of barely clad humanity, all armed with a shame bypass. Count me among them.

    Steven Maurice Belt [‘Not guilty, your Worship’] thought my little family would benefit from some time at the seaside. For the one-off price of ‘a gorilla’ [appropriately a gambler’s endearing term for $1000] he would allow the rental of his coastal villa for one week. That he had a summer home was dubious, that it might be habitable was unlikely and while the price was below market rates, it was still out of reach for us.

    I demurred.

    Belty immediately halved the freight to a ‘monkey’ and showed me a photo of a crisp two-storey beach house surrounded by native plants and children at play on mown lawns. I recognised the picture from a recent post on Wotif and slipped him the entire $238 lurking in my wallet on the proviso he say nothing to Jan. Her opinion of Belty is cautious at best, and that I should consign our offspring to a dwelling that has his dabs on it is tantamount to an admission of catastrophic mental collapse for which I would be duly, and properly, castigated.

    Beach session

    So we loaded up the Merc Rustbucket [she: ‘we’re not going in that, are we?’] and a trailer [me: ‘we’re not taking all that, are we?’]. Well, yes and yes, because Jan’s absurd Korean Car from The Future with its Digital Connectivity, 30-Star Safety Rating, Zoned Air Conditioning, Driver Override Systems, Biometric Vehicle Access, Active Window Displays, Reconfigurable Body Panels and Lucky Solid Gold Reliability Guarantee has two shortcomings – it fits 3.28 humans and towing a four-wheeled trailer [the minimum necessary for ‘all that’] would rip the guts out of it.

    An inventory of the trailer contents: five bicycles [‘she’ll grow into it’], a high-vis salad of beachwear, arcane ‘equipment’ and four boogie boards [‘we’ll just put a bit of tape on that one’], the contents of our kitchen [‘I couldn’t bear it if they didn’t have an automatic orange squeezer’], the contents of the children’s wardrobes [‘what if it snows? It has been known to happen…’], all bed clothes [‘he’s peeing the bed again’], all toys [‘you know what happens when they’re asked to share’], a pharmacy of medicines, ointments and unguents [‘have you seen what a jumping jack ant can do!?’], enough food to nourish a minor army for a month [‘do you know what food costs outside of the metropolis?’] and the disintegrating copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest that has been a reliable companion on all holidays since Jan bought it in 1996 [‘This time, I’ll finish it.’].

    I took a couple of changes of underwear, a spare tee, my wedding shorts, two cases of Carhew’s Full Grunt Ale [‘you won’t find this in a beachside bottle-o’] and the last nine bottles of Armpit Squeeze Shiraz 2017, the fruits of Belty’s Inhouse Re-bottling Programme for Urchin [read ‘stolen’] Wines.

    Son of a beach

    Rain is not a problem when travelling to a beachside holiday. There is enough residual excitement to quell any in-vehicle insubordination. Even the two-dollar tarp being ripped from its moorings and sent kiting into the black black sky, exposing the contents of the trailer to the weather’s wit, was barely enough to elicit a slightly raised eyebrow. No, optimism was the order of the day.

    Barney’s Cape is a finger jammed in the Tasman Sea. No more than three kilometers long, it is a mere 562 metres wide. Its long beach coast faces north, its skinny arms protrude east-west, its arse faces south. Literally. Until just seven years ago its sewage departed assorted dunnies via a long concrete pipe and was dumped, untreated, onto an unsuspecting ocean floor. Longtime holiday residents regarded the regular arrival of bloated fish carcasses on their southern rock beach as a slightly irritating local phenomena and immediately turned away to face the Cape’s northern coast. The arrival of moneyed tradies looking for a relatively cheap location for their ostentatious holiday homes soon put a stop to that, and the local council was obliged to install proper waste management. To pay for it, rates were jacked up to usurious levels driving out families who had cacked in that ocean for generations.

    Typically, against the flow, the Belts had managed to cling on to their singular property through a series of complicated ‘deals and arrangements’. Belty’s father had spent enough drunken hours with two of the county’s councillors to shift a bit of the light earth covering their foibles – one with a weakness for cooking the books, the other the perpetrator of a mysterious crime that remains a head scratcher for the local plod to this day.

    Life’s a beach

    Whilst not the one in Belty’s crumpled photo [surprise!], the house was sufficiently beachy and intact and roomy and era-appointed [circa 1977], to allow me to abandon the arguments I had prepared to defend my hasty decision. Even the key [‘under the poinsettia tub’] was exactly where Belty had promised. Twenty minutes later we were in, spread like a wodge of Vegemite on a slice of cheap white bread. Beds had been claimed, shortcomings alerted [‘I only get SOS in here!’], devices tested [‘What kind of TV is this, dad?’; ‘It’s a cathode ray tube TV, my son.’] appointments admired [‘Is that a candlewick bedspread!?’] mysteries identified [‘Why is this door locked, dad?’; ‘Well that must be the torture chamber.’] and parameters established [me: ‘You can go anywhere, anytime.’ She: ‘Silly daddy’s being an irresponsible dickhead, again.’].

    Beach slapped

    A sleepless night of clinging to the bed’s edges to avoid sliding into our mattress’ central ravine was further compromised by scrudgings and tappings emanating from the ‘torture chamber’. Then came the sudden landing in our already crowded bed’s middle ditch of two wide-eyed smallish bodies, not frightened but keen to pick the lock of the sealed room. Because there was noise coming from there and it was the noise of torture.

    Now, I admit I am blessed to have fathered twin fearless beings that happen to be two halves of one mind machine. That they share rest, allowing the communal think device unfettered continuity, can be testing. I call them Meander and Mayhem, not as names of individuals, but as an interchangeable collective noun for the force of nature that our offspring unload on an unsuspecting world. Jan thinks that I am a ‘loose unit’ with a taste for encouraging chaos. She proves it by asking me, ‘What are their given names?’ It is a question that I have difficulty answering quickly.

    I quiet them all and we listen. Nothing but the sound of surf collapsing on the shore and the odd errant gull defying nature’s demands that birds fall silent at dark. Jan escorts the protesting QCs back to bed, mustering them with scalpel-cut psychobabble and escalating threat horizons. She’s still got it.

    A real beach

    I don shorts, find thongs and head outside to check the perimeter. A rabbit boings through the torchlight beam ratcheting up my nervous system to High Alert. The sealed room occupies the leeward corner of the house and has curtained windows on each side of that right angle. Two empty milk crates are spilled on the ground in front, and resting on the back wall the sight of a rusting penny-farthing bicycle challenges my synapses.

    So taken am I by this ancient velocipede, I almost miss the faint glow lighting the cartoon motif of the curtains covering the torture chamber’s windows.

    To be continued. ©

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