Beyond the Bends

 

Pittwater

Pittwater and the Peninsula

This afternoon I took a lazy drive with my girls, wending our way up the Northern Beaches, heading beyond the Bends.

The sun is finally shining in Sydneytown after a week of relentless rain, and the temperature is on the rise too. Today we had no plans — just a vague idea about hopping in the car and driving north. And with The Bloke back at work and several more weeks of glorious summer ahead of us, that’s just what we did.

We cruised up the road, reveling in the beauty of the blue of the skies and the sea, taking it easy. One of the best things about summer holidays is not having to rush…

We stopped for lunch — burgers, because another great thing about the long summer break is getting to eat your main meal in the middle of the day if you feel like it — and then poked our heads into various shops before getting back into the car.

This time we headed briefly west, making the short trip across the peninsula from the beaches to Pittwater.  For me, it’s like taking a trip down Memory Lane…particularly when we drove past the holiday house that had once belonged to family friends when I was growing up. I found myself telling the kids that the first place I ever saw a koala in the wild was in their front yard, and then lost myself in a reverie of recollections as the road meandered down towards Clareville.

Christmas 2015 & Jan 2016 062

Summer skies…

The water was welcoming when we arrived, and the shade beneath the huge eucalpyts at the sand’s edge was deep.  We sat for a while, listening to the lapping water, watching the clustering cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon, searching for giant seed pods beneath the ancient trees. Time slows down during those moments…those lazy summer afternoons that new memories are made of…

Miss Malaprop fell asleep as we made our steady southbound journey home, while Marvel Girl stared dreamily out the window. And even now, as the first raindrops of that summer storm begin to fall, I still have a smile on my face.

Today, we had no plans…and it was wonderful…

Saltwater People

I Will Never Turn My Back on the Ocean...

The Surfers’ Code: I Will Never Turn My Back on the Ocean.

One of my life’s greatest joys is living close to the ocean.  Smelling the briny air each morning, feeling the salt on my skin after a swim, hearing the waves crashing onto the shore while I’m drifting off to sleep at night — these are all things that I love. Things I would have trouble giving up, or even trading for something else.

I don’t need to be in the sea, I just need to be near it. To see it, at the very least, every day. I love being able to bear witness to the ocean’s varying colours and moods, and I find security in the knowledge that the stormy grey chaos I see one day could very well be sun-tipped sapphire saltwater the next. Like life itself, the ocean is ever-changing.

When I see the ocean, I see power. I see a potent, expansive presence. We may speak of the good green earth on which we live, but it is no accident that anyone who has seen our world from space refers to it as the Blue Planet: more than seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by sea.

The ocean is a force to be reckoned with.  It is teeming with life, but is just as capable of taking life away. It gives and it takes, it ebbs and it flows. The ocean has hidden depths, far beyond our reach. There are mysteries beneath the waves that we may never see. The ocean, with all its power and its wonder, has my utmost respect.

The Bloke's rule of thumb...it's a good one, and he's sticking to it.

The Bloke’s rule of thumb…it’s a good one, and he’s sticking to it.

The Bloke has a different relationship with the sea to me: he needs to immerse himself in it. He rejoices in it, revels in it. My husband is happiest when he is swimming, surfing, snorkeling, or Scuba diving. Being in the water is his downtime, his exercise, his release — even his hangover cure. Given half the chance, I suspect he would live underwater if he could. Yet while we may connect to the sea in different ways, we both have a love of the ocean that is as strong as it is lifelong. And when we’re no longer here to see and ride the waves, our Wills specify exactly which part of the sea our ashes should be scattered over, so the ocean can claim us one last time.

Jacques Yves Cousteau once said that “the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever”. Our children have already been well and truly captured by the ocean, though perhaps, with the parents they have, they didn’t have much choice but to become saltwater people too. And while they may not yet know exactly what they need from the sea — to be in it, to be near it, to see it, or something else entirely — we are all loving the experience of allowing them to explore the ocean, inside and out. I don’t just mean they are learning to swim in the sea or in an oceanside rockpool, different as those experiences are from swimming in a backyard pool, they are also learning to negotiate waves, to understand tides, to recognise rips, to go with the flow.

Shaun Thompson...surfer, father, environmentalist, actor, author, businessman, legend.

Shaun Tomson…surfer, father, environmentalist, actor, author, businessman, legend.

And as they learn more about the ocean, our kids are also beginning to appreciate the Surfers’ Code — or my preferred version of it, which was set down by Shaun Tomson, the former world champion surfer who was an integral part of the Free Ride Generation, and a person I greatly admire. The tenets of the Surfers’ Code are as much lessons for life as they are for living with the sea, and the first of them is as simple as it is powerful: I will never turn my back on the ocean.

It was gratifying to hear one of the kids call, “Never turn your back on the ocean!” to her sister the other day, just in time to stop her getting wiped out by a wave. It might have only been shorebreak, but knowing that the principle had been absorbed brought a smile to my face. One day, hopefully, they will take this and the other precepts set down by Tomson and apply them to their lives as much as they do to being in the surf: I will take the drop with commitment…I will watch out for other surfers…I will paddle back out…There will always be another wave…

After all, as Anne Morrow Lindberg wrote,”The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea”.

Then again, for some of us, the sea itself is a gift.

Lux Veris

Spring 2015 021

Morning on the Corso…this is Spring in Sydney

I love the light at this time of year, when bleached skies and metallic seas signal the onset of Summer. There is something uniquely Australian about the quality of that light: an intrinsic brightness with a shine and sheen that we recognise — instantly — as being the light of our homeland.

Pilots call it ‘severe clear’, a term used to describe conditions of unlimited visibility, but it’s a remarkably accurate expression. There is nothing subtle about the light in the Antipodes: here the sun blazes, the heat blinds.

In Sydney we appear to have skipped straight past Spring, with the temperatures in recent days soaring into the thirties. Around here, the beaches have been packed and the Manly Jazz Festival has been in full swing. It’s great weather for jazz, and for Jamiroquai too. While Winter might make us head for the mellow tunes of Milky Chance, Spring and Summer have us cranking up the car stereo, and reaching for Robin Schulz and Ministry of Sound Annuals. At this time of year my rear view mirror often provides glimpses of Marvel Girl busting out her best dance moves (quite a range, considering the confines of her car seat) while Miss Malaprop sings along — in her own words, as usual — thinking she can rap just as well as Nicki Minaj (she so can’t).

It’s been fantastic weather for footy, too, with last Sunday going down in the history books as a golden day in Australian sport: first the Wallabies won at Twickenham and sent the hapless Poms packing out of the Rugby World Cup, and then the North Queensland Cowboys took home their first NRL premiership in spectacular fashion with Johnathan Thurston kicking them to victory over the Brisbane Broncos with a field goal in extra time. It was a Grand Final for the ages, and one I won’t forget.

But then again, the October Long Weekend always has a touch of enchantment about it, because every year at 2:00am on the first Sunday of October, a magical thing occurs: Daylight Saving Time begins. Well, that is to say, it begins here in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania — for some obscure reason (still unknown to the rest of the states and territories along the Eastern Seaboard) Queensland doesn’t participate. To be fair, they always have done things a bit differently up there…though not even I am game to mention the Bjelke-Petersen years…

Still, for the rest of us, the beginning of Daylight Saving Time means longer days and lingering twilight. It means trips to the beach after school, it means barbecues and a few quiet beers at dusk. And for a lot of Australian kids, it means going to bed when it’s still light.

Strangely enough, some of my most vivid childhood memories are of lying beneath my window in my bed as the golden light of day slowly faded into the deep tropical green of evening. I can still hear the last raucous squawks of roosting lorrikeets, and the rhythmic thunk of the filter in the neighbours’ pool after someone popped in for one last swim. I can still see the inky silhouettes of trees on the horizon, and the first twinklings of the stars high above. Only when I had seen the Southern Cross wheel its way above my head would I close my eyes and sleep, secure in the knowledge that I was truly home.

Ahhh…that light, again. Severe clear by day, warm and inviting by night. And while Dorothea Mackellar may be justly famous for summing up what Australia is like in “My Country”, I think — oddly enough — that it was Wordsworth who understood just what I experienced as a child, even if he felt it a few miles above Tintern Abbey instead of in Sydney:

My local rockpool...photo credit Yury Prokopenko

My local rockpool…photo credit Yury Prokopenko

         …And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.


			

The Little Things about Home

ShowerSchool holidays are over once again, much to the disappointment and chagrin of our entire household. It seems somehow fitting that today, the day the kids have returned to school, the rain is pouring from a grey-stained sky while the wind is gusting close to gale force.

We snuck away south for the second week of the holidays, lured by the beaches of Bendalong and Mollymook and of days filled with surf and sand.  As with many of our other beachside holidays, The Bloke would have stayed away for three weeks if he could but, strangely enough, after four or five days the kids were asking when we were heading back to old Sydneytown — not because they were dissatisfied with the experience, but just because after a full and busy first term at school they have really enjoyed spending time pottering around at home.

And here’s the thing: I love being at home too.

Much as I enjoy getting away, I have been guilty of occasionally referring to vacations with children (especially children of the small variety) as being rather more like “same gig, different venue” than “relaxing, restorative break”…particularly if said getaways involve foreign languages, flat batteries on any devices possessing small screens, or more than four consecutive hours of travel. Throw in a lack of appropriate snack food (because they’ve eaten everything you packed and nearly started on the wrappers too) and sometimes it seems it would be far, far simpler to just stay home.

Because let’s face it: there are some things that make staying home worthwhile.  Really.  They’re generally only little things, but they’re often the ones that really count.

Here are a few little things that I think make staying at home utterly superb:

1. Home is where your pillow is. Some say that the best thing about coming home from holidays is sleeping in your own bed, but for me, being able to rest your head on your own pillow is just as important — if not more so. In the interests of full disclosure, I suspect the main reason that the humble pillow tops this list of little things is that I forgot to pack my mine when we went to Mollymook. I remembered to take Junior Monopoly, clothes pegs and two kinds of sunscreen, but I forgot my wonderfully comfortable pillow. Returning home, I greeted it like a long lost friend. (Yes, I may even have hugged it.) A good pillow is life-affirming.  

2. Home is where the second drawer in the kitchen contains everything you need. Ah…the much maligned second drawer. Every home has one, but it is not until you’re on vacation that you suddenly (and sometimes desperately, when children are involved) need something from that crazy, cluttered drawer.  Cling wrap, for example, or a knife that is actually capable of cutting. Band aids, rubber bands, a piece of string, blu tak, salad servers, a screwdriver — I defy you to think of a single holiday with kids when for some bizarre reason or another, you didn’t need something from the second drawer of your kitchen at home.

3. Home is where the chargers are. The chargers? Yes, the chargers…all the chargers. The phone charger, the regular camera charger, the video camera charger, the laptop charger, the iPod, iPad and Leap-pad chargers, the Kindle charger, even the bluetooth speaker charger.  In this dizzying digital age, attempting a vacation without packing a vicious snarl of electrical cables is virtually impossible, and heaven help you if you leave one behind — unless, of course, you want to leave them at home and unplug (gasp!) as well as unwind?! The fact that said chargers occupy one person’s quota of carry-on luggage is beside the point…at least at home, you know where they all are.  Either that, or you have enough other cables and bits on hand to Macgyver up something that connects to a standard power point…

4. Home is where you fully understand how the shower works. This brilliant thought is not actually one of mine (you can find more like it here), but the more I think about it the more I know it to be true. At home, you know exactly where to position the shower head or the flick mixer, or how many times to turn the taps, or whatever it is that you do in your shower, to make it just how you like it. Because God knows there aren’t many finer things on this green earth than a hot shower.

5. Home is where you know the exact location of the chocolate stash. Quite honestly, I don’t think this point requires any further elaboration. Besides, I have no wish to inadvertently set off The Bloke’s already highly tuned chocolate sensor to the presence of any confectionary that may or may not be present in our home.

So there you have it: five little things that make staying at home simply wonderful, and wonderfully simple.

Feel free to leave a comment if I’ve left your favourite out!

Blue Jai

We Turned Left

For years now, when time and money allows, The Bloke and I have been going on various little holidays up and down the eastern coast of this Great Southern Land.  Generally speaking we head north from the Big Smoke, seeking surf and serenity at one of any number of beaches that we count as favourites (the list is extensive and ever-expanding).  Why we choose to vacation beside the sea when our family home is located less than a kilometre from the nearest beach may be a mystery to many, but it’s a pattern that has remained unchanged since the arrival of Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop.  And what it usually means is that every school holidays, the family piles into the car and we drive along the Pacific Highway as far north as we intend to go, then turn right and head for whichever stretch of coastline is currently taking our fancy.

Until this holiday.

You see, some time ago, some bright spark (who may or may not be the author of this blog) was having yet another whinge about her husband’s surfboard collection – or quiver, to use the correct terminology in surfing wankery parlance – which, like a certain list of favourite beaches, is extensive and ever-expanding.  She was, she said, sick to death of sand being tracked through every holiday rental and of surfboards being strapped to the station wagon roof.  And so, in deepest midwinter, she booked a different kind of holiday for the family’s post-Christmas summer jaunt: an inland holiday, beside a meandering river and surrounded by rolling hills.  Not quite a farm stay, but one that involved charming pursuits like horse riding, bush walking, canoeing and perhaps even a spot of platypus watching.

Now, you must understand, booking any sort of vacation invariably — and immediately — involves The Bloke asking the two all-important questions about the destination I have chosen, namely: is there any surf, closely followed by just how good is that surf.  (Yes, yes, it was me having the whinge about the ridiculous number of surfboards he owns.)  I freely admit that I frequently engage in a spot of melodramatic eye rolling while answering these questions about the proposed location as briefly and perfunctorily as I can.  My responses never extend to pointless minutiae relating to the number of breaks at the chosen beach or whether they are left or right handed or whatever, but generally involve some glib quip about the fact that they’re not going to stop making waves any time soon, so he can take what he gets.

I will also admit that I do recall feeling inordinately pleased with myself that I had somehow persuaded The Bloke that an inland holiday would be a wonderful experience for the whole family – enriching, even – a welcome change from whatever stretch of coast we would have headed to otherwise. It felt truly exhilarating, and more than a little sacrilegious.  Until the months rolled by and Christmas came and went, and suddenly we were pulling out of the driveway and heading north in the station wagon once more, sans surfboards on the roof.

And then we turned left.

No one could have been more surprised as I was when we finally arrived at our new, inland, holiday destination.  After some dithering from the front desk staff we were directed to our cabin, our home for the next six nights.  I must admit that my breath did catch slightly when we pulled up to that dingy brown shack, which bore little or no resemblance to the smart little cottages featured on the resort’s website and glossy brochure, and I might even have groaned aloud when we finally managed to yank open the ancient sliding door and peered in.  The entire cabin was outfitted in what might best be described as Soviet-style grey: the kitchen cupboards, the threadbare bed linen on the kids’ bunks (which were not made up beyond a base sheet), the sagging vinyl couch in the living room — all grey.  That said, I did note that the colour scheme matched the relentlessly pouring rain outside, and soon found an exception to the rule in the towels that had been provided, which were an unusual shade of…tan…or perhaps something slightly murkier.

And yet, while I stalked around trying to cram food for a family of four into the tiny, rusting bar fridge (the website had depicted a clean, well-lit cabin with a gleaming full sized fridge), the kids were already enthusing about the prospect of sleeping in bunk beds and The Bloke was happily eyeing off the (steadily rising) river and was unpacking the girls’ wetsuits.  To their credit, they largely ignored the dark mutterings of She Who Books The Holiday Accommodation about the Trade Practices Act and false and misleading advertising and, bless them, had already got on with the business of making the best of things.

It took me the better part of two days, a decent massage and the sun coming out for me to get out of my funk.  And when I was finally able to shrug it off, I was able appreciate the holiday my lovely family were already enjoying.  We bushwalked, led the kids around paddocks on horses (a dream come true for Marvel Girl), rode inner tubes down the river, went canoeing and platypus spotting (though saw none), made a couple of trips to the swimming pool in the nearest country town, visited a local farm to meet the animals up close (this had to be done twice it the girls loved it so much), and finally got down and boogied (like it was 1999 in Miss Malaprop’s case) at the bush dance in the resort’s wool shed on New Year’s Eve.

And despite our less than appealing lodgings, the surrounding countryside was beautiful and the overall experience was an enriching one — not least because it made me take a long, hard look at myself.  I know I won’t be in any rush to return to that particular resort, but I am glad I dug my heels in and pushed for a different kind of holiday: one that let Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop discover a whole new world.

I’ve already booked our next two holidays.  Not surprisingly, they’re both by the beach.  But down the track, when the urge takes us, I suspect we might just turn left again.

Riverwood Downs mostly 045

The Flags are Up!

The Flags are UpSummer.  Glorious, sultry, turbulent summer — the subject of this Great Southern Land’s greatest love affair.

The season we yearn for, along every seaside centimetre of this vast island’s perimeter, in this sand and saltwater obsessed nation of coast-clingers.  Our time of glorious wonder, complete with severe clear skies and the solace of a seabreeze on a sweltering day.

It’s on its way.

Anyone born within cooee of the coast can tell you the signs.  It’s not just the rising temperature, the lengthening days, the lingering golden light of evening.

It’s the flags going up at the start of the Surf Lifesaving Season, and the banners advertising registration days for Nippers.  It’s in the sharp briny scent of the sea, the smell of sunscreen and surfboard wax.

It’s in the first incessant, maddening calls of the koel.  The thwock of cricket balls in the nets at the local park, as footballs are ditched in favour of willowtree bats and dreams of one day wearing the baggy green.  The crash of the screen door after the kids have been reminded for the zillionth time not to let the mozzies in.  The satisfying crunch of a Stelvin cap unscrewing from the top of a crisp Sav Blanc on a Saturday afternoon.

It’s the slide into Daylight Saving Time on the October long weekend, when altering the clock also requires adjusting your headspace, signalling the start of the great unwinding of the end of the year. The deep exhalation as we shuck off out shoes and slip into thongs — we’re talking footwear, here, people — secure in the knowledge that once the race that stops the nation is run on the first Tuesday in November it’s just a few short weeks until the rounds of office parties and Christmas drinks begin.

It’s in the grin that tugs at the corners of your mouth on the first really hot day, knowing that soon enough there will be six weeks of school holidays, of tracking towel-slung to and from the beach, of backyard barbecues and endless lawn mowing, of a whole season of sand being trailed through the house and ever-present in the shower recess, and nights so warm that the sheets are kicked off every bed in the house as cicadas shrill and the Southern Cross wheels overhead in the deep Antipodean darkness.

I felt that grin today.

Ah, Summer.  It’s really on its way.