Being friends with my lifelong chum Gina can sometimes feel like a sentence in a labour camp as May and I discover on a visit to Curl Curl on the northern shore.”Blimey you have to work hard before you get fed in Hotel Gina” says May, sweat dripping and loaded with shopping. Gina is cycling the repaired bike home it was our mission to collect. Described as a 20 minute stroll through a shady park, our trek through industrial melting concrete streets at a cracking pace covered nearly five miles. Now weighed down with almost severed hands carrying ten bags of enough food for lunch after a visit to Aldi, we decide to take the humanitarian option of catching a bus. When May is told of our plan to swim a mile from Manly Beach to Shelly Beach and back at 7.am the next morning she is broken, “what swim across an open sea through shark infested waters before breakfast?” she is aghast and spontaneously mutinies.
The next day me and Gina and Miki meet at the far end of Manly Beach in the early sun. Dozens of people of all ages gather. Everyone is laughing and smiling. Suddenly a voice shouts, “LET’S GO” and we all dive through warm waves to a green plateau of heaving swell and around a headland of rocks to follow a dazzling path through the sea to a distant shore. It’s a good job I forget my goggles the first time we swim the daily Bold and Beautiful so I don’t shiver my timbers seeing the giant sting rays and sharks lazily gliding underneath, even though there are tons of water between us. Their distant shapes swimming far, far below, going about their business and apparently uninterested in the tiny human fish on the surface. It is one of the best experiences of my life. The next time we are joined by Jess and Sammy. Our daughters have always expected to have the time of their life with us, and they do.
Earlier this year two of our four daughters in Australia were expecting three babies. And now two more baby girls arrive from England to add to the dynamic dynasty of our beloved shared families. Without thinking we grandparent to the rescue as the young parents take a much-needed break. Between feeding the parrots that arrive every morning and evening to covering the kids with suncream, it’s a full time job. Throwing the children in the sea cools them down. They need constant nourishment and nappy changes between naps.
As Gina serves rice crispies to three year old Mary Bess, I notice Billie Grace enjoying something crunchier from the floor and successfully hook a small cockroach out of her mouth. Billie’s first birthday isn’t till the 25 January, but she is already walking and covering ground as fast as a wallaby. She bounds out to the garden to scoop up some cockatoo poo for breakfast, which grandfather James swishes away in the nick of time with a handy hose pipe. She’s going to be great in ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Outta Here’ when she grows up. We are already a Big Brother houseful on the holiday of a lifetime.
Our families are growing like wild bamboo over here, taking root and spreading freely across the fertile terrain, covering and healing old wounds and filling empty wombs with new matriarchal lines. But more of this when we away to the Blue Mountains next week.
Nature abhors a vacuum and in the here and now the latest Australian babies Jazz and Sienna open their eyes to a New World in which their loving parents believe anything and everything is possible for their daughters to achieve. We’ll second that when its time to hand them over and open a chilled bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Here in surfers paradise, where people clearly and visibly value their children, playgrounds feature seesaws with a central surfboard to teach kids how to balance. There are crazy mirrors, walkie talkies, sculptures, art and games. Everyone is playing outside.
I harness Mary Bess into a flying machine to release her inner trapeze artist. As grandparents we have the patience of saints and wisdom of elders.
Swimming back to Manly on the second Bold and Beautiful proves trickier as you have to get back through the breaking waves. But as each surging wave takes me closer, I realise I am travelling back to life again on waves of contractions. Through the breaking waters to gasp my first lungful of air. The last powerful wave knocks me over but as I somersault into a breach position feet first, just as I was born over sixty years ago in Sidmouth, they land on firm sand and I make it. Snatched from a death of cramps or eaten by a great white on the way to Shelly Beach. Or anyone having to say at a service of remembrance, “and as Mal’s ship disappears over the horizon and the friends and family seeing her off are overcome with sadness, a glad cheer from those waiting on the other side will be welcoming her ashore”.
In the meantime back on Manly Beach my time isn’t up yet and us grown-ups are learning to have fun all over again. With the strength of Hercules and the anticipation of Bacchus. Understanding that parenting is the most joyous life sentence of all.