Beach Baby


Daily I walk the port. It remains cold, despite the onset of spring. A biting wind. The dog has been let off his leash more lately, but, having found the odd chicken bone or two he has taken to wandering away and searching for himself. After all what is more fun than scrounging. Innate dog. His recall is dwindling and it will need some reinforcing with roast chicken of my own.

Still. Nose to the ground he is searching the grassed areas where people tend to eat and leave their scraps. I see him, triumphant, munching, rudely open-mouthed, on something. Ignoring me. Lead back on. We walk the boardwalk by the beach.


I see a couple – the man has a baby held to his chest. It looks just born – its hair still plastered down like it has freshly emerged from an egg sack. Even from a distance there’s a newly hatched wetness to its slick of black hair. His large hand cups its skull and presses it into that dip between his neck and shoulder.

I think of the wind assaulting it, pushing at its eyelids. On the beach a woman (the mother, I guess) is in all black – leotards and top – and has her legs wide apart and is stretching to her side, this way, then that. He moves around her with the baby jiggling and thrusting its hungry head into his udderless shoulder. Skin-warmth the vaguest of similarities. Leotard is intent on her exercise – staring straight out into the ocean, her hair an angry blonde storm.

The man has baggy brown pants on – probably cheesecloth – and they bristle in the wind. He has long white arms. I wonder how much fun they are having. He looks cold, but ever so patient. I wonder if they have argued about her time, his time. I wonder if this is her saying I need this space. His way of making it up to her after a suburban meltdown.

Take the baby home, I think. Wrap it in warmth. Soothe it with mohair and mother, real milk. It makes me recall my own mother – shocked at the fact that new mothers no longer have a lying in period – where they stay home, after the birth, and simply look after the newborn, propped up in bed with a mountain of pillows, feed sleep feed. I am turning into my mother. Enough exercise already.

I think of Alain de Botton’s new novel The Course of Love and his writing, “love is a skill and not an enthusiasm.” This father has skill, standing back in the dunes watching the mother bend and twist. He hunkers down so the baby is protected and waits. He waits while she struts the sand. Punching it with the soles of her perfect feet. Asking the world why? More bending.

Still. I think do your yoga, eat your chia, somewhere else, somewhere warm. Leave the seaweed-strewn beach that is cold and bitter to walkers of dogs with thick coats. Dogs made for wind and rain.

Will We Survive?

from sea breezeAs Perth suffers a record heat wave we hunker in our stone cottage. The sun is beating down on its walls and its tin roof would most definitely fry an egg. In the morning, before it has reached 35, we go to the dog beach. All shapes run up and down the black sand track that is the the wet shore line. Some have ridiculously short legs so their chests make contact with sand. Others have long slender stiletto legs, tiptoeing through the foam. The ocean is delicious. Salty and cool. We stay in till we have chilled right through. A bikini clad woman, rakishly thin but with fake bososms like soft balls, walks up and down the beach.

Then back home to a dark house. The blinds are down and all the rooms darkened the way my mother taught me to. Graham has hung a shade cloth out the back and even covered the east facing lounge window with a blue beach towel to stop the assault of the morning sun. But when the nights offer no relief it is hard to keep the house cool. Slowly the thermometer climbs so that indoors, at its worse, it is 32 degrees. Overhead fans stay on day and night. No cooking can be done. Even boiling the kettle seems foolish. I sit in a wet shirt by the fan.

The dog knows the coolest spot in the house; choosing to lie in the hallway on the jarrah boards. He barely moves all day.

It is Australia Day and people in other parts of the country are having outdoor BBQs and picnics. But Perth people are hiding in doors, out of the sun, if they have any sense. Some drunks persist under the heavy shade of the peppermints on the park, their beer as hot and yellow as horse piss.

The tennis and the cricket are on. Sharapova is making her characteristic high pitched I’m-having-an-orgasm wooooh as she hits each ball. Unbearable. Back to the cricket.

We are once again contemplating air conditioning. We had it when Jasper was a baby and I was seriously addicted. It made the heat outside so much worse. I became trapped in the range of my air conditioner. Unable to leave its side. I might as well have been tethered to it. Since it died a few years ago it is just an ugly non functional thing on the wall. A reminder of the once refrigerated air that flowed from it. It’s motor outside is the base from which wasps have built a nest.

So we hold off. We want to be able to go without. We want to do our bit to conserve energy. There is always the movies where I know I will be cold, be forced to slide on the cardigan I have brought with me for just this chilly feeling.


Summer in the Seventies

The summer holiday of our childhood is bursting with the beach.

An easterly blowing. The blue, flat and calm. The sand already blistering. White hot.

We arrive when a car park in the shade of the Norfolks is easy to find. We leave before the sea breeze roughens the ocean’s surface.

My mother is under a beach umbrella, expertly secured in the sand by my father. There she is, as if skewered to the beach in a one piece black and white polka dot swimming costume.  A Big Floppy hat. The butter white muscles of her thighs portray her low energy and her equally spongy tummy a cause for chiding from my father.

She barely goes in. Just a dip, to cool off. Never a stroke. Her hair stays dry; only the curls at the back of her neck are moistened by the salty water. Then back to the towel, the shade, the David Niven.

My father swims. He lifts and throws us into the water. He lurks beneath us; a deep sea monster. His body garden-hard. We swim beneath him, through the arch of his legs. He carries us. All without sunscreen. Brown as nuts. Taut like children ought to be. Able to peel off skin like dried Clag glue. There is the endless digging of holes in sand. The collapsing of castles. The making of moats. Buckets of fan shells, as ordinary as snails, collected and taken home. Loved. Kept. Eventually thrown away as they become chipped and faded.

The walk to the Holden is longer and hotter because of the shaded park. Accompanied by the slap slap of thongs. Shake the towels. No sand in the car. Blue vinyl seats are melting. A still damp towel is laid down to stop the scorching of bare thighs. Still skin sticks to car seats. Windows down. An ice-cream from the deli on the drive home. Mum – Hazelnut Roll, Dad – Peter’s Drumstick. Us – Giant Sandwich. Perfect for the child unable to bite into cold ice-cream.

We rinse off under the hose on the back lawn. We must let it run cold first or else get burnt by the hot water that shoots from the soft as snake rubber. We let the run-off water douse the lawn. We strip off to reveal lobster white skin. Bathers are hung out to dry on the Hills Hoist ready for the next day, their lycra thinning to mesh. Someone is harassed to turn off the tap and stop wasting water. The day is too hot for bird song. Nothing moves. The chooks, open beaked, camp in the shade of the lemon tree. Gum leaves limply dangle.

We have lunch on trays on laps while the cricket plays on the telly. Richie Benaud. Caught Marsh bowled Lillee. Cricketers without helmets. Fielding in white toweling hats. Big Moustaches. A flair to their pants. The house is cool and dark. Corn fritters with tomato sauce. All the bamboo blinds are down on the outside. The whir of a fan inside. Too hot for outside. Lie on linoleum then. Shorty shorts and cotton tops. Lemon cordial with ice blocks. Never too hot for Dad. Always something to do in his garage or garden, whatever the weather. Despite Mum’s pleading to rest awhile and read his Day of The Jackal Christmas present. Gardening clothes on. Not seen again till tea time.

Three females inside, watching Mum’s soaps or else drawing with textas and using the Husqvarna to make pot holders and place mats. Unjamming the bobbin of a wodge of twisted thread. Writing aerograms to grandparents overseas and sorting through postage stamps to put in the new album.