The last lovely gasp of sum­mer by the sea­side

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - PA­TRI­CIA MOORE

SUM­MER is al­most over and we are see­ing it off with a last big fam­ily beach week­end.

Fol­low­ing a faint grey Google map in search of the house we’ve rented on the in­ter­net, we anx­iously pon­der what’s re­ally im­plied by ‘‘close to the beach’’. We find it one block from the sea.

Soon the un­cles, the aunty and the baby ar­rive with boo­gie boards, surf­boards and a gi­ant plas­tic leaf. The kids are baf­fled.

‘‘It is a sun and wind shel­ter,’’ the aunty ex­plains.

We all head for the beach. The kids refuse sun­hats and sun­screen. The adults threaten ex­ile un­der the gi­ant leaf. The kids sulk. But in the surf, lo­tion, hats and sulks are quickly for­got­ten. The sun sinks on chat­ter­ing teeth and blue lips.

Back at the house, the bar­bie siz­zles, the grown-ups talk past one an­other and the kids plug in to the Plays­ta­tion. The chef can’t quite co-or­di­nate the cui­sine, so the dis­grun­tled veg­e­tar­ian eats last and alone. While the aunty holds forth on multi-pro­cess­ing, the chef sulks and a bat­tle breaks out around the Plays­ta­tion.

A quiet evening stroll along the sand dunes fails to calm the kids and winds the adults up to fever pitch on the ques­tion of coastal reveg­e­ta­tion. Back at the house the tele­vi­sion movie is un­der- scored by thumps and wails from the bunkroom, hissed threats from the hall­way and an air­ing of the un­cles’ knowl­edge of Chi­nese cinema. At mid­night the baby is the last man stand­ing.

De­spite grand plans for an early team start, only a bach­e­lor un­cle is out the door by 9am, surf­board un­der his arm. En­vi­ous eyes fol­low his es­cape.

The mood in the house is tense. Some­one has for­got­ten to bring the cof­fee ma­chine.

It’s past 11am be­fore the first group ar­rives on a beach whipped by a wind chilled by white-capped waves and whistling with fly­ing sand. Just when their burn­ing eyes and lac­er­ated bod­ies can take no more, the aunty turns up with the gi­ant leaf. She plants it tri­umphantly in the sand. But, like the real thing, the plas­tic leaf flaps wildly in the wind.

The kids chase its elu­sive shadow in mad cir­cles. They kick up a storm. The adults shriek and bury their heads. The baby bawls. Ev­ery­one gives up and heads for the house.

More storms

blow

in

over lunch. Some­one has for­got­ten the Plays­ta­tion charger. The kids stare re­sent­fully. The adults glare ac­cus­ingly. Just in time, an­other bach­e­lor un­cle turns up with the cof­fee ma­chine and the charger. He dis­tracts the adults with espres­sos. The kids with­draw with the charger. Peace reigns.

Down on the beach the wind has dropped. A sand­cas­tle con­struc­tion project gets un­der way. With com­bined adult di­rec­tion and a co-op­er­a­tive force of child labour, tur­rets, bridges and a moat emerge. It’s the envy of the beach.

The baby dis­cov­ers the mir­a­cle of sand. He digs his hand in and runs it through his fin­gers. Ev­ery­one mar­vels at the mir­a­cle of ba­bies.

For the rest of the af­ter­noon, great fun is had by all.

That evening the veg­e­tar­ian launches into his lentil burg­ers and the car­ni­vores at­tack their lamb chops in con­cert. The chef basks in the warm glow of the aunty’s ap­proval.

Now back in the city, mem­o­ries of the big fam­ily beach week­end ping from phone to phone.

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