Going to the beach is one of the things that I am best at, nevertheless in Australia I practised going to the beach almost every day because I didn’t want to lose my touch.
Unless I was staying with friends, all accommodation whether it was hostel, hotel or airbnb was chosen specifically based upon how quickly I could walk to the beach.
I stopped wearing normal clothes and automatically dressed in bikini, sarong and flip flops each morning. The toenails were colourful, but not always immaculate, given how much contact they had with sand and salt water each day.
In the beach bag would be everything I needed for a day at the beach, sunscreen, a stripy towel, a good book, pen and paper and a selection of snack items that wouldn’t melt in the sun, like cherry tomatoes, passionfruit, raisin bread and a delicious fizzy mango drink which is probably the culprit for me losing my first adult tooth recently, but which I wish we could get in England nevertheless!
And that would be all I needed for a wonderful day. I’d go in and out of the sea several times, I’d read my book, I’d write my stories, I’d drink my fizzy mango drink and I’d eat my tomatoes. And there I would stay very happily until it was too dark to see the pages or swim in the sea anymore. Rumour has it that the sharks swim closer to the shore after dusk so midnight swims aren’t an option in Australia. But the sunsets were always nice.
And then the next day I’d get up and do it all over again.
Today I was going to the beach with Simone and her phone and her family. We’d had two false starts already, due to the extended present opening ceremony on Christmas Day, and then the Boxing Day Battle, but I’d been promised that today was the day.
It was a bit different to waking up in a hostel, putting on a sarong and walking out the door, because lots of things needed to happen first. Three children needed to be dressed and shouted at, Dean needed to sit and stare at his screen with apparently no sense of urgency that everyone else was busy getting ready, and Simone and her phone needed to speak to both Bec and Nay because apparently Tim had proposed to Kim on Christmas Day and somebody was going to have to break it to Jim.
An uneasy truce had formed in the house following yesterday’s Boxing Day Battle. Noelene and Simone shuffled around being overly polite to one another and asking each other’s permission about every ridiculous little thing to ensure they didn’t cause offence. Simone had already asked three times if it was really okay to open the good jam which made me feel sorry for the existing jam which was presumably considered bad by comparison.
The truce was good news for me, because it meant Noelene had relented, and instead of demanding us all back at the table in time for lunch, she had accepted that we might like to get lunch at the beach which meant plenty more time in the sea for me (or so I thought!).
In the car, we all had to be quiet so that Simone and her phone could console Jess who had apparently had a hideous Christmas, although from the sounds of it not nearly as hideous as the one I’d just endured with Simone and family.
Then we drove straight past the beach, through the town and pulled into the car park of an out-of-town shopping centre.
“I thought we were going to the beach,” said Simone.
“Patience,” said Dean patronisingly. “I’ve just got to get something.”
Dean mumbled something incomprehensible about technology.
“But we promised Caz we were taking her to the beach.”
“We are taking Caz to the beach,” he snapped. “Seriously, I could have been into the shop and got it by now if you’d just stop talking.”
“Yeah but we could have dropped Caz at the beach and met her there later.”
My thoughts exactly.
“If you don’t stop talking about the beach, then we’ll go straight home and nobody will go to the beach,” threatened Dean which I thought was incredibly unfair, seeing as the person who wanted to go to the beach most (me!) hadn’t made any fuss at all.
So we all trailed around the shop, following Dean as he picked up seemingly identical packages and frowned at them all before saying that it wasn’t really that important and he was going to leave it.
Inside I was screaming. If it wasn’t that important why were we wasting precious beach time in a shopping mall?
But hell was not over because despite her earlier concern that Dean had not immediately driven to the beach, Simone decided that whilst we were here she’d just have a look at the children’s clothes section, even though the kids had each received more clothes than they knew what to do with on Christmas Day. And then she had a quick look at the diaries, because surprise surprise, she didn’t really like the one Noelene had given her. And then just as we were finally leaving Simone remembered that despite the million hints she’d dropped, nobody had bought her a new coffee machine for Christmas, so then we had to go and have a look at those.
The kids were even less thrilled to be at the shops than I was, so we entertained ourselves by trying to manoeuvre ourselves up a nearby empty aisle by only standing on the blue squares on the floor, but then Simone clocked that the children were having fun and ordered them all to stand next to her and not speak, so that was the end of that.
Then it was decided that it was far too late to go to the beach without first having something to eat so we had to spend an hour at a pizza restaurant. The five year old got told off for his insightful observation that the garlic bread looked like it had a smiley face on it, then he got told off for using his straw to blow bubbles in his drink, the three year old got told off for copying, Dean and his screen ignored everyone and searched the internet for the technological thing he couldn’t find in the shops and then Bec phoned which of course took precedence over everything else and we were all threatened with being sent to sit in the car if we uttered one more word because Simone was trying to speak to Bec.
Eventually we got back into the swelteringly hot car and drove to the beach. It was 2:24. As I strode towards the beach, Dean said:
“Caz where are you going?”
“The beach,” I replied, wondering what cruel delaying tactic he could possibly throw my way now that the beach was literally a stone’s throw away.
“We’ve got to get changed,” he said, like I was stupid, and I discovered that not everyone intending to have a day at the beach puts their bathers (as the Australians like to call them) on under their clothes. We went into a changing room and I was tasked with getting all three children into their bathers, whilst Dean disappeared into a cubicle by himself and spent ages getting himself dressed and no doubt having some sneaky time alone with his screen, because there’s no way I undressed and dressed three small children quicker than he dressed himself.
Simone had not joined us in the changing room because she had decided that this was the perfect opportunity to have it out with her sister Sarah. Sarah had spent several hours with us on Christmas Day, being ignored by everyone except me. And although Simone had ample time on Christmas Day to extend an olive branch, scratch out Sarah’s eyes or do whatever needed to be done to resolve the sisterly dispute, Simone had decided that ignoring Sarah was the best course of action. Until now, because obviously the best time to shout at your sister is on the phone in a public place when all three of your children need to get dressed and the British visitor is about to lose the plot if anyone does anything else that delays her precious beach trip any further.
Once dressed, we found a spot to put all our things and went straight down to the sea. The one year old was crying that she didn’t like it, and it occurred to Dean that this was probably the first time she’d ever been to the beach. But instead of consoling her, he saw the opportunity to give the five year old a science lesson.
The five year old had jumped up and wrapped his arms and legs around me so that I could carry him into the sea. We were only up to my knees and therefore very reluctant to turn back when Dean called us, but dutifully we did.
“Do you know what sand is made out of?” he asked the five year old.
“But do you know what makes the sand?”
“No,” and it didn’t sound like the five year old cared either.
“Sand is made from glass.”
“What? No it isn’t.”
“Don’t argue with me,” said Dean, crossly.
I left the poor 5 year old to his unwanted science lesson and took myself off for a swim whilst I had the chance. Geelong has an enclosure (with bars to keep the sharks out) and I swam as deep as I could, used the diving boards and then swam into shallower water to see if I could rescue the 5 year old from science.
Simone was off the phone and wearing her bathers. She strode down beach, picked up the squealing 1 year old, then strode into the water towards me. As she reached me, she held the child horizontally in the air, then with a swooping action dunked the poor child under the water for a second before pulling her out again. The 1 year old started screaming blue murder.
“It’s what you have to do to get babies used to the water,” Simone said when she saw my shocked face.
I was pretty sure that you’re only supposed to do that to fairly new babies and that to get 1 year olds who are nearly 2 used to the water, you were probably supposed to have brought them to the beach several times already and made it seem like a lovely fun and safe place to be instead of randomly bringing them to a beach with no explanation and submerging them in the water without warning when they’re already terrified.
I swam back towards Dean and the five year old.
“Do you want me to take him out for a proper swim?” I asked.
“Yes!” said the 5 year old.
“No” said Dean. “We’re getting out.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m going to stay in a bit longer.”
So I took myself back out to the deep end and had a lovely time, and the next time I looked back at the shore, there was Dean and the five year old, fully dressed and waving at me to come closer.
“You need to get out, we’re leaving,” said Dean as soon as I was in earshot.
What? But we’ve only just arrived.
Back at the bags, a quick look at my phone confirmed it was 2:49. Twenty-five minutes earlier we’d been heading into the changing rooms. What happened to endless swims and games of french cricket, ice creams, sandcastles and all the other things that make a childhood?
“Come on,” said Dean impatiently.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Because. We brought you to the beach and now we’re going home.”
“What are we going to do for the rest of the day?”
“Nothing. Come on, everyone else is in the car already.”
Dean has no idea about a lot of things. Here are just four of the many things that he will never know:
- Laying on a towel whilst the sun dries your sea soaked body is one of the best things in the world.
- Hurriedly drying yourself with an ineffective microfibre travel towel whilst an angry man tells you to hurry up is definitely not one of the best things in the world.
- Long hair and bikini tops that are wet with salt water can totally ruin a T-shirt if you don’t dry yourself properly first.
- Today I’d been wearing a brand T-shirt that I bought in Adelaide less than a week ago and there was no way I was going to ruin it by putting it on now and letting it absorb all the salt water.
I put my towel around me, picked up my bag and walked barefoot to the car. I opened the door, felt the heat escape and decided there was no way I was getting in.
“I think I’ll stay here,” I announced breezily to everyone in the car.
“Because I love the beach and I’m not ready to leave,” I replied. “And we’re not doing anything else today are we?”
“Well we might,” Simone sounded offended.
“We’re not leaving you here,” protested Dean as if it was the most ludicrous idea in the world. “How will you get home?”
“Train,” I replied.
“But you don’t know how to get to my parents’ house from the train station.”
“We can’t leave you here by yourself. What if something happens?”
There was a definite danger that something might happen – if they left me here by myself I might actually have fun and enjoy myself for the rest of the afternoon whilst the rest of them had a miserable time at home.
Simone interjected: “Honey. First, Caz just went travelling round South Australia all by herself and nothing happened. Second, you can’t tell Caz what to do because she’s 2 years older than you and third, is this what you’re going to be like when the girls are teenagers? Because I have to say I’m finding it quite adorable.”
At no point in all the time I knew him was I ever at risk of finding Dean even slightly adorable.
“We’re the ones who’ll have to phone her Mum if something happens to her,” he snapped in a very unadorable way.
“That’s a good point,” said Simone. “You should give us your Mum’s number.”
“Fine,” I said.
“I don’t understand,” said Dean as I programmed my Mum’s number into Simone’s precious phone. “We brought you to the beach. What more do you want?”
“I’ll see you later,” I replied because Dean had just asked a question that he would never ever understand the answer to.
And off I went. And Dean’s biggest fears came true because lots of things happened. I swam in the sea. I bought an ice cream, I lay on my towel and I read my book. Which happened to have the most appropriate title ever:
What a good idea, I thought. I think I will make Travelling Alone my new year’s resolution.
And so I did.
I just had to get through New Year’s Eve first…. tune in next time to find out how awful that was!