Crushing and Pressing

It is nearing the end of Autumn and the weather should be turning cold but it is Fremantle, Western Australia. The sun does not disappoint. We need the rain. We will have to wait. So in the mean time…

Lee has been out collecting olives. With the help of children and parents, the orchard at Booyeembarra has been raked. These trees are only a few years old. To think they can live for centuries, even thousands of years. Their trunks will become gnarled, their branches thick. For now they are mere babies, but already they are bountiful. Despite the sandy soil or perhaps because of it. The branches have been rattled and the olives have been collected in large, colourful plastic tubs. Kilos and kilos of them. Aubergine purple. Firm fleshed. Tips of green.

In the schoolyard they will be soaked in a large wheelbarrow filled with water. Children will sort the sticks and leaves from the olive fruit and, washed clean, they are poured into the crusher.

Taste if you dare; the raw olive is unbearably bitter. I bite into an olive. It has soft white flesh with a pale buttery look, but its flavour is acrid and foul. How the ancient civilizations decided something tasting as smooth and fine as olive oil could be extracted from something so utterly rank is a mystery.

From the community enter Pete – he who has an olive oil making machine. He brings it to the school and sets it up on the sun drenched bitumen. He has a bushman’s hat. And a big smile. He instructs the children on the process. He has taken time out of his life to volunteer at the school and, in his giving, he is getting too. Afterwards he says how much he had enjoyed the day, was heartened to see the children so enthralled in learning, and how the experience has made him feel the planet is in good hands. All this; just by being with the kids.

From John Curtin Secondary College two interested teachers have crossed the road to help. Perhaps it is a chance to be away from the pimple-faced teenagers and relax in the easiness of the bright-skinned pre teens. To less grunts. Where boys are still happier in shorts. Girls still content with tied blue ribbons in ponytails. No lip piercings or tongue studded students giving them hell. Here in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden project they are learning too. In the sun to boot. Everyone is keen to unravel the secret of the olive.

Encircling the old cement troughs the children huddle around to hear how it’s done. The boys are perched on the window ledge peering down into the small vat. They are all eager to see what the small machine can do. They jostle and push to keep their space. They are jammed up close to one another. There is no personal space. It could be a nit field day. First the washed olives will be crushed, seeds and all, by the grinding machine. Like gravel in a mixer. It is noisy. The resultant pulp is given a tasting. Pete encourages everyone to have a try and cheerfully they do. Ohh man. Spitting. Screwed up faces. Gross. Next, the resultant paste must be mixed for forty minutes. This malaxing the paste, allows the small oil droplets to combine to form bigger droplets and is an indispensable phase. Waiting must be learned too. And outside in the sun with your mates, it is not a bad thing to do. Good things take time. Creating requires patience. Next the pulp is pressed, squeezed till its oil is set free. It is a slow process. The children imagine doing it by hand as once it must have been done. In large containers this liquid is then left to settle and to the surface rises the oil. Green and golden. This is scooped off by the spoonful and tipped into the coffee filter paper lined-funnels to collect the first press oil drip by slow drip. Into brown glass bottles the first spoonfuls of oil slowly collect. Maybe at the next kitchen garden the oil they use will be the one they have crushed and pressed today.

Okay so it isn’t fast and it isn’t easy, but it is completely magical. The oil came from the inedible tasting olive collected free from a park down the road and washed only an hour or so before.

Last week’s gardening crew is in the kitchen making the simple pasta that will be eaten for lunch. Today it is Linguine with lemon, basil leaves and Parmesan. They have zested and grated and squeezed. They have been surprised by the deliciousness of a combination of simple, peasant ingredients. It is earthy. It is fresh. Of course olive oil stars here too.

Then again seated at the long table, the sun ever-present, elbows tucked at their sides, more because of the tight confines than the request for good manners, linguine is eaten and olive oil runs down chins…

 

 

Gorgeous Boys into Good Men

It is Tuesday afternoon in the middle of May. Time to collect the boy from the entrance of the Fremantle Arts Centre where we meet after school. I am always early and I look at my phone while I wait for him. The Virginia creeper has turned crimson. I take pictures with my phone of clouds and edit them with Instagram. The dog waits patiently too, on the warm bitumen, moving only if he has sat on a trail of ants. His nose is wet and twitching. Waiting for the smell of his boy. Sometimes he is tricked by the shape of another person coming down the hill and he gets up, prematurely, and starts wagging his bum. Then he realises it is not his human and flops back down. Then the familiar slap of his sand shoe. Then maybe the whiff that only a dog can sense. The smell of him hits the Murphy’s nose and the wag becomes sincere.

“How was the test?” It was NAPLAN today. Persuasive writing. The question was; Why cook at home? He was happy with his response. His kicker was that if you got really good at cooking you could become a contestant on Masterchef.

We have football. “Get your boots on.” I have his mouth guard. I have his things ready. It’s what I do.

After footy he is hot, even though it is getting dark and he has lots of bare skin. We arrive home and he is going to go over to the neighbour’s because I am off to a talk by Celia Lashlie; On Turning Gorgeous Boys into Good Men. From our car parking spot outside our fence we can see three dodgy types by the stairs that lead onto the park. Jasper says, Drunks Mum. My neighbour will give Jasper dinner and then Graham will pick him up when he finishes work at 7pm. Jasper is eager to get to the neighbour’s and play with his mate and wants to go over straight from the car. He wants to dump his boots on me. He wants me to hand him the house keys so he can race ahead. But I want him to wait for me, so I can lock my car. After all the drunks might be watching. Also I want him to put more clothes on. “No you cannot go over in your footy shorts and that top. Come inside and change into long pants and a wind cheater.” We have our familiar to and fro. He gets shitty with me. I persist.

It is so mundane and so well-known to mothers. We hate the sound of ourselves, but can’t turn ourselves off. I am thinking why can’t you just do what I want you to do.

He does some storming around but changes into jeans and a sweater and is over the fence and at the neighbour’s. Barely a good-bye. I think, well at least he is warm. I have half an hour before I need to leave to go to the talk. Long enough to heat some left-overs in the microwave, switch off the lounge room light and sit but the window and watch the drunks on the steps by the park. They are twenty feet away but it is as if they are in the next room. Hey, she yells. I sit in the dark with my Malaysian curry left-over on my lap and watch them while I eat. I am forking food into my mouth, and peering from my blackness through slatted cedar blinds, into the growing dusk and cooling night at three drunks on the steps, as if I am watching the television. Hey. A man sits half way up the limestone steps and in front of his splayed legs on the step below is a woman. Prancing about in front of them is a younger man. He is spider-like – perhaps he has sniffed something. He is leaner and taller than the other two. He wears black jeans and a singlet top. He could be in his late teens. The man seated is in a red t-shirt and he has pale skin and a three-day growth. He looks mid thirties. The woman is of an indiscriminate age – somewhere around her twenties or thirties. She has smudgy makeup and a pudgy torso. Her body has lost its youthfulness. She wears black leggings and a low-cut black top that reveals her cleavage and sagging breasts. Hey. The man she has wedged into has his hand across her bare front but is not really fondling her, more just drawing her back into him. Making sure she stays put. She cranes her neck back and around and they start kissing while the lanky man drains some liquid into the funnel of his mouth from the silver bladder from a cask of wine held high. Red shirt is sucking the face of the woman and lets his hand with the cigarette hang down near his side. Lanky man comes round to the base of the steps and eases the cigarette from the hand of red shirt. The couple break off from kissing and yell at one another. Hey. They have a phone between them and are holding it out from them and looking at it. I guess they’re taking a photo. The woman has a green and black checked cap on. Lanky man takes it from her head and she yells at him. Hey. Some tinny music plays from the phone and lanky man dances around in front of them. The couple go back to kissing. Lanky man squats down and watches them, swaying a little on his haunches.

I have to go.

It is getting dark.

The talk is at a posh boys school, full of other western suburb parents of teenage boys. Most of the women are blonde.

Celia Lashlie tells the audience of would-be perfect parents that we need to let go. Over two hours of stories she tells us that we need to help boys find their own intuition and learn to access their own feelings by not riding over the top of them with our mother-need to fill in the empty space. If we ask them a question about how they feel we might need to wait two days for them to answer it, but leave the space for silence. There was a lot of knowing laughter as she held a mirror up to us mothers. Descriptions of women nagging men to put out the rubbish could easily have been from my house. In our desire and want to keep our boys safe we take away their ability to look after themselves. She told the fathers that the boys would walk over broken glass to have themselves seen by them. Fathers; see your boys. She told mothers that we stood atop a box of love. As she illuminated us to ourselves there was that spine tingling feeling and that moist eyed awareness that what she spoke of was wise and true.

When I got home the drunks had gone. The steps were empty and cold, the silver bag deflated and left. I wondered about the parents of the drunks. And who do they parent now?

 

 

 

 

An Old Diary…Part 2

One of the sisters has flown home across the continent. They can’t be much further apart and still on the same land mass. Still. The sisters are sisters. She stayed for the garage sale. Perhaps they made enough to cover the price of the skip. But it wasn’t about the money. It was just to get rid of the stuff. Lots remains. Funny how fussy the charities are. They don’t want chipped crockery. Bacteria live there. The sofa can’t have lost its spring. Someone might sue them if, by sitting on it, they injure themselves. Virtually no one will come out and look at the bed. Even after assurances that there are no stains. Not a one. Someone suggests a charity that helps the refugees. But they decline. Paraquad, a charity for wheelchair users, says they will come out. A time is arranged.

The sister, the one in a wheelchair herself, is waiting. She is there on time. She has made sure of it. She is watering the garden to prepare the house for sale. The lawn is crunchy brown in parts. But maybe it can be revived. Green. Buyers like green. It is a long time since she lay on grass. Tyres on turf is not the same thing. Always above and distant. Not really connected. As a child she lay on the lawn. Her midriff showing and the grass spiking her belly. Her fingers delved the dirt and she found the small black beetles that scurried amongst the blades. She called them tickle beetles, because held in the closed fist they squirmed across the skin and tickled the palm. Eventually she let them go. On the grass of the back yard she learnt to do a forward roll. Her head down on the grass, palms pricked by the spikes of buffalo blades, tree bark crunching down the back of your top.

The scheduled time comes and goes. She rings them. They came, apparently, before the allotted time and finding the house empty drove away.

“But I am here now and waiting,” she says. “I have been waiting for you in a house I can no longer bear the sight of. I have been scrubbing skirting boards and vacuuming and I am over it now and I just want you to collect the bed so I can finish the cleaning and go.”

“Well the bed is supposed to be out of the house, you know.”

“No I did not know that,” she answers. “No one told me that. I can’t get it out of the house. I am in a wheelchair!”

“Well the workers can’t enter a house,” she sounds aghast. “Someone should have told you that. Occupational health and safety,” she parrots.

It appears they can only collect the bed, if they deem it collectable at all, from the verge.

The sister is livid. She puts the mobile phone down on her lap and lets the small voice of the woman speak to the air. The woman is asking if she is still there and perhaps they can arrange another time but the sister refuses to hang up the phone or put it to her ear. Like a fly at a sore a small buzz comes from the phone. The woman, she hopes, is exasperated. Suffer, she thinks, suffer.

Suddenly overwhelmed by all that she still has to do and the fact that she has wasted her time and still the bed is sitting in the front room, she is crying in the front garden of the old house. She is screaming obscenities at no one – just the grass and the wilting rose bushes. But a lawnmower man from the neighbouring house is a witness to the woman’s meltdown and is brave enough to cross into the yard and ask if he can help her. She is snotty and bleary-eyed and very unattractive. She probably looks like a crazy.

“It’s okay,” she manages to say, “it’s just someone has let me down, and I am very angry about it.”

***

June 15th 1964; Alex to Esperance. Left his pipe in car ash tray. Cripple attacked by dog over the road and feathers pulled out galore.

I picture my mother discovering the injured chicken, already a charity case. Cripple. Too slow to escape like the other hens into the safety of the chicken coop. Red on white. A stressed bird. Open beaked. The grass scattered with the bloodied feathers. Does she chase the mongrel dog up the driveway?

June 30th 1964; 10 st 5lbs put on 7lbs – disgraceful

That’s me – the cause of the swelling. The one turning her ashamed of her weight gain.

July 6th 1964; Fay sick. Slight loss liquor. Stay in bed for 2-3 days. Dr Anderson. I sponged her.

Then for the following days she visits the neighbour, three houses down and across the road, a woman she nursed with … Sponged Fay.Sponged Fay. Fay Depressed. Lisa very grizzly. Fay to Devonleigh. ? Miscarriage.

Years later this is the woman who house we go to while our parents go to the movies. She lets us watch her cook, a cigarette always in her hand. She has a piano in the front room and we play on it. She has a teenage son who chases us around the house. We hide under the queen bed in the parents’ room. We watch his feet from beneath the bed. We are in the dark, lying on carpet, breathing hard. He says, “I wonder where those little girls could be?” We are squirming with excitement and fear. I can’t recall him catching us. Richie. We sleep over, top to tail, two to a bed. The sleepout has louvred windows and brown chenille bedspreads. Breakfast is different from home.

July 13th 1964; No word re Fay yet and then two days later Fay lost babe. 8.30pm. Boy. Lived 1/4 hour.

August 1st 1964; Alex bought new Rotary lawn mower. Cut lawn. Cut hedge. Fence made for Lisa side drive.

August 14th 1964; Mama Pulmonary Oedema Fremantle Hospital.

I am about to be born and my mother is losing her mother.

August 18th 1964; Mama clot! very ill. Her writing is clogged with fear. She writes that she visits everyday and she shows slight improvement but that the old woman is very irritable. After another two weeks in Fremantle Hospital her mother’s sister Jean is left to arrange convalescence home.

September 7th 1964; caesarean Nicole born 12.45pm

September 19th 1964; Returned home. Feel jolly weak but will soon recover. 8st 12lbs. And then the diary goes blank. Not another entry all year.

I know her mother doesn’t die till I am about 18 months old. She lingers on with her heart failing in the nursing home. My mother must visit her on the bus with two small children in tow. Fay remains my mother’s friend to this day. She survived a melanoma and a heavy smoking habit. For the remainder of 1964 my mother is too busy to even make her notes. She has a toddler and a baby and a dying mother…


Fairy Bread

Even though Jasper is turning ten and has grown up in so many ways, he still wants fairy bread for his birthday party.

As he is leaving out the door, on his way to school, I ask him what food he wants me to make for the party.

“Chips. Chocolate crackles. Fairy bread.”

What about the party bags?

“Sour snakes,” comes the reply. Has he got product in his hair? Is that a swagger?

Fairy bread must be made with the whitest of breads. It has no nutritional value. Zilch. It is exceedingly bad for you. It must take years to travel through your intestine, so absolutely free it is of fibre. The bread must be buttered, never spread with margarine, evenly to the crusts (which can be cut off later least the children ingest any roughage whatsoever) and then the bread is tipped over into a dinner plate of hundreds and thousands. The little bits of colourful sugar glue themselves in a single, even layer to the bread, like miniature eggs that only bliss bombs could emerge from, and voila the creation is complete. Sugar on air.

Watch those skateboards fly after that consumption.

It makes me think of my favourite party foods. It was not Fairy Bread. Perhaps my longing was most for the Butterfly cakes that my mother made. Melt in the mouth cup cakes, their tops cut off and dissected to make two wings that sat atop a splodge of fresh cream and finally the whole thing dusted with icing sugar. Even small, we could get them into our mouths in one enormous bite.

Do you remember your favourite childhood party food….

 

Are Montessori kids weird?

When you write a blog and you check your statistics you can see how people ended up on your site. You can see a list of search engine terms readers put into Google to end up pecking thechookhouse floor.

Like when they have searched for Guns. Imagine their dismay when they end up reading of small boys collecting branches and bits of old wood. Of a balcony full of adults while below on the dunes children run amok searching out wood for pistols and rifles freshly washed up from the sea and dropped from the Pines. This is because I wrote a piece about small boys marauding with stick guns on our holiday isle, Rottnest Island, and called it Young Guns. No doubt people searching for guns were not meaning this innocent, old fashioned play with driftwood.

Also having written about my son leaving his Montessori school I have found people searching for; Are Montesorri children weird? My short answer is No.  And perhaps a little affronted – how dare they? They are ordinary kids given a chance to learn in a non-competitive environment. They are self-determined, love to learn for learning’s sake and think tests and bells and a scheduled morning tea are a little strange. Because Montessori schooling is not the norm in Australia it has been mystified by those who don’t know it and people get an impression it is a flaky, hippy kind of education where children simply do as they please. This is the view of people outside of Montessori.

Jasper sees the difference in his new school. He sees that kids are less attentive to learning, need to be reigned in constantly by teachers and show little self direction. Strangely, even acknowledging these inadequacies, he is happy at his new government school. He likes the bigger social engagement. He likes the soft ball at lunch time and the kicking around the playground waiting for the bell to signal the start of the day. He tells me he is one of the four in the class to get all his spelling correct, something he would have had no notion of previously.

Montessori has given him resilience to work independently, something that is well ingrained in him now and hopefully cannot be eroded.

But if there are people searching this query perhaps there is some truth in the belief. Perhaps it is weird to not be motivated by tests and gold stars. Perhaps we are so used to pushing children to strive and do better and beat their peers we don’t know how good they are at pushing themselves. My conclusion is that parents are weird. Being a parent is weird. Being weird is weird. I am weird.

So now if someone is again searching whether or not Montessori kids are weird, the first place they might end up is here. Not weird, just given a different way of looking at what it is to learn.

 

Dutch Doll

She has white blonde hair. Once she owned a red felt hat, but it has long gone. An arm is missing and a peg, for a wind-up key that no longer exists, pokes painfully from her moulded plastic spine. She has blue eyes and dainty painted lips. I cannot remember what movement or sound she made when her key was turned. How long did that part of her work? She was a precious thing. She stood on a shelf. She was to be looked at. Not fiddled with. In her red boots and her gauze undergarments. Standing looking out, plaits to her elbows.

 

Changing Schools

Yesterday was the first day of the school year and Jasper had gone off in the car with his father to his school where he has gone since he was three years old. At three he was blonder and rounder in the face. His shorts went past his knees. His back pack was almost as big as he was. It is a Montessori school. It is by the beach. It has children speaking in hushed voices. It has teachers called by their first name. It sets no homework. He can wear his board shorts. It has no races and no tests. And yet.

The phone rings and the principle of a close (but out of area) local government school tells me she has a place for Jasper available in grade five. This morning she got an email to say someone is not returning to the school. There is a place if we want and it is okay for him to come in late. But he has gone to school.

I ring Graham and tell him. We will tell Jasper together after school.

I feel sick in the guts.

I am not good at change.

When we tell him the news he looks shocked but quickly his face changes to excitement. He is keen to be moving on. He says he has been at Montessori a long time – in fact as long as most children are in primary school – and is ready for a change. He wants to be in a team. He would like the independence of walking to and from school. He already plays cricket and football with boys that attend the school.

During the day Graham and I go to enrol in the new school and I ask to see the classroom he will be in. The school is a hundred years old. The building is limestone, no doubt quarried from the ground down the hill. In the hallway sepia toned photos of old footballers adorn the walls. The secretary leads us through the corridor, its walls covered by back packs hanging from hooks. On either side are classrooms choc-full of desks in rows. A white board up the front. Children in uniforms; blue shorts, white polo shirts. In one classroom each desk has a helium filled balloon tied to it. I see a male teacher wearing a tie.

I feel as if I am stepping back into my own childhood. This school is not dissimilar to the primary school I attended. With its jarrah boards and it large sash windows, open hoping to catch the breeze. The air is not moving today and it is still and close in the classrooms. I feel a prick of fear. A deer in the headlights kind of panic.

What if I am wrong?

This is my parenting fear. Perennial. What if I am making the wrong decision for him? Graham seems not to have all this anxiety flooding through him. I thank God we are not both the same. Some one is calm and rational. I cannot speak to anyone about Jasper leaving the school without crying. I blubber about it throughout the day.

 

 

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.

Young Guns

What is it about Boys and Guns?

So much pleasure from the finding of sticks that look and feel like guns. They scramble the dunes looking for the best bits of driftwood to make the most perfect revolver. The wood is metal grey, worn smooth by salt and sun. The wanted pistol moulds into the hand, with a snug trigger, a round muzzle and angled grip. In the end they have an arsenal lined up against a sandy coloured rottnest wall. Sorted into piles of mine and yours. Perhaps they could buy a bag from the store to carry them home in. Small hand guns, bigger rifles, bazookas, rocket launches.

At five in the morning two boys leave the chalet through their bedroom window to go back down onto the dunes to look for more weapons. Get an advantage on the enemy. The sand is night-cool on their feet. Shiny black King Skinks scuttle through the undergrowth. Parents have midnighted their room with the heavy curtains drawn tight. When the small boys get up the older two will have an advantage. Better guns.

ps Check out the stick guns

Rottnest Recollections

Jasper – skinny, ribby, already sun burnt by the weakened sun on the first day. Out under cloudy skies there is beach cricket. Wobbly driftwood for stumps. Rashies stretched to knee length dresses. Then a strange rain shower. Never before in November. Short, fast, but wet all the same. A hurried retreat to the chalets. Rain pock-marks the ocean. The children take turns to have a meltdown. Bolognese is being cooked all along the lane. Disobedient children have the law laid down; No quokka hunting for them. Evan asks if we intend shooting the quokkas we find. Smell the frying onions. Men playing twelve bar blues on the ukes.

***

Young boys go past on the shore with brand new bikes. In the salt water. Their wheels make a delicious noise on the hard, wet sand. They leave a trail as if pushed through setting cement. We raise our eyebrows. We all know it will be bad. Minutes later a clothed woman is chasing them down the beach. Next comes a father. Marching the boys back, wheeling their bikes now, one still manages to get it in the sea. Lap lap splash – a wave on the wheel. Then the father – “I told you to fricking keep it out of the fricking water.” – using all his will power not to swear as he passes us. Other adults. He has used it all up. He yanks on an upper arm, jerking the boy and bike further from the water’s edge, and then slaps the boy hard across the back of his legs. The boy is felled. An axe to a tree. To his knees he drops on the sand, buckling over. Wincing with pain perhaps, but with humiliation more.

***

Sam is five. He has cherub cheeks. His eyelashes are pale tipped. He loves Star Wars. On the nightly Quokka hunt he tells onlookers sipping wine on their balcony – “Jedi Business. Go back to your drinks.” Tim buys him a soft quokka toy, instantly disliked by White Ted, but friends with the more amenable Blue Ted. White Ted is grounded for 14 days for trying to kill quokka ( Sam explains – bears eat meat and quokkas are meat ), but the bad bear won’t stay in his bag. White Ted keeps undoing the zippers and needs to be given to Tim in order to remain grounded.

***

White caps signal the increasing wind. The once peaceful, calm ocean turns to dirty rough water. On the horizon grey clouds stamp down like stained feet. Sam, pale face, stays back in the chalet with me while the others take on the head wind on their bikes. He is entrenched in war fare on Graham’s iphone, using his thumbs, dexterously, straw bale hair and strawberry blushed cheeks. He is pouting while he works; “what the hell”,  his expletive when war doesn’t go his way. Outside I can hear a father say, “keep swimming, keep swimming,” urging children, stick-like and freezing to continue on.