22 January 2014


The cool change blew in this afternoon as the forecasters predicted that it would and the temperature dropped ten degrees in twenty minutes. That’s when everything startled rattling. We gathered up towels and tee shirts that were threatening to blow up onto the dunes and we moved indoors where we all got comfortable. We found our own spots around the house and we swaddled up in yak blankets and did our own things. Kids came and went. They are big kids now – young adults really - lurking in that shadowy cusp of awkwardness and assertiveness as they leave behind their childhood.

I heard bursts of loud chatter and raucous laughter from the little corner that I had claimed as my own. There were some voices that I recognised and others that I didn’t but I liked the noise.

It was the sound of Summer holidays

My favourite niece Georgina just blew by in a mass of hair and attitude and she asked me, “Are you writing about me again Uncle Peter?”

I assured her that I was not.

“Oh go on,” she implored.

The girls have boyfriends and the boys have girlfriends in tow this year and there are other relatives and friends staying as well. It is a full house. There is a lot of chatter and noise and laughter around and before the change blew in the weather had been hot and dry so we have been more or less living on the beach.

It is what we do in Summer. It is what we have always done.

The cold on-shore wind has blown sand up over the dunes and it is piled in mounds on doorsteps. In some places it dances in little whirlwinds.

It is everywhere.

Towels have blown off the balustrade and surfboards have toppled. Window awnings are shaking and rattling.

I have tried to remain mostly oblivious to the adolescent emotions that have surrounded me since my arrival. I am a veteran of many many Summers now so I know all too well that the holiday season exacerbates emotions. Ends of school, work and a long year of anything and everything create moods of elation and celebration. 

It is sun time. 

It is fun time.

It is young time.

Georgina just walked into the room again and demanded that I write about her. I will therefore recant the story of my favourite niece when she was three and a half years old. Fourteen years ago. At three and a half George was loud and gregarious and hilarious.

She still is.

Way back then she had a mass of curly hair and two missing front teeth that gave her a gorgeously cute lisp. After enduring a long flight to Honolulu to visit Uncle Berty, Georgina was reluctantly sitting on the very demure and proper Aunty Dana’s knee with a very grumpy face. She was jet lagged and furious with her older brother Ben.

“What’s wrong sweetheart?” Aunty Dana asked in her sweet Southern drawl

“Why the sad face?”

“Ben thtole my penthils” George replied.

“Ahm sure he’ll give them back Georgina”

“I don’t want them”

“Aww your brother Benny loves you Georgie”

Dana squeezed Georgie when she said this and George squirmed.

“I don’t love him” George replied churlishly

“Oh why Georgie?”

“Coth heth’s a cockthucker”

There remains some dispute as to whether Dana dropped Georgie in shock at this point or if she in fact threw her to the ground. Either way Georgina fell backwards and cracked her head. She bled like a stabbed pig and screamed like a banshee and we all spent the next six hours at the Honolulu hospital. 

She made a full recovery.

Or did she?

Nice one George.

She just read this and has now stormed off in mock huffiness and indignation.

My brother his literally swept passed me with a broom and now he is rinsing dishes whist he makes toast.

He loves to sweep and clean and cook.

He is a nurturer and a nester.

I love him deeply.

I love him dearly.

Yet his incessant cleaning is an annoyance at times.

Georgie marched back into the room again and she pushed away my Mac and curled up on my lap. I asked her if she still loved her boyfriend Rory and she told me that she did. I asked her if she loved him the same amount or more as six months ago when their relationship was first consummated and she paused in contemplation then told me she thought she loved him about the same. When I suggested that perhaps she should love him more she hesitated again before she told me that she thought that maybe she did then.

Love him more.

We agreed that love needed to grow for a relationship to endure and I then pushed her gently from my knees and asked her not to come back for a while because I wanted to write. She gave me an enormous hug and a smacking kiss and she said, “I love you Uncle Peter”

I returned her hug and teared up a little bit and told her that I loved her too. 

She then stormed off again.

Practically living on the beach is not difficult - particularly when you are residing only a few dozen paces from the shore. The track over the dunes is an overgrown one but it is well worn in summer and grasses are quickly trampled down. Meals and drinks and ice are easily and quickly shunted to our spot in the sand and showers and toilets and refrigeration are but short hops away.

Days commence with walks and swims and surfs depending on the tides and time of arising. Someone is usually up before the sun. The thump and wash of the waves is a peaceful and somehow reassuring constant that is also alluring. It’s sound beckons and calls and it lulls and soothes.

The sand heats up quickly when the sun rises and by mid morning the beach fills with swimmers and surfers and families settling in for the day. Radios are turned on and cricket commentary is triumphant and joyous as the English continue to be given a thumping on our home turf.

The Ashes have been returned.

Summer sounds are waves crashing and children laughing and seagulls shrieking. They are the distant buzz of lawnmowers and the splashing and thwacks of belly flops in suburban swimming pools. Summer is being lulled to sleep by a cacophony of cicadas trilling and chirping their symphonies in a uniquely Australian lullaby. Summer is the smell of barbeques and frangipani and fresh-mowed grass. It is the sting of sand as beach towels are shaken. It is the taste of watermelon and ice-cream and strawberries.  

We all got hungry late in the afternoon so I sent Georgie and Totty out into the garden to pick basil that was grown in big pots out on the back verandah. Two boys who I didn’t know were made to peel and crush six gloves of garlic while another boy who I did know – for he was my nephew Ben - grated Parmesan cheese from a huge hard block that I had bought the day before. I stepped into the walk-in pantry to grab the cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil that I needed for my world famous pesto sauce but I closed the door behind me so that I could also prepare the secret ingredient that distinguishes my great pesto from simply good pesto.

I then whipped together all of the ingredients in a big food processor while the kids watched. The delicious aroma of basil was released in the first spin, and it became even more pungent when the garlic and cheese and oil were added. The children were all alert to the secret ingredient and I made them turn their back whilst I added it to the spinning sauce.

I use my grandmother’s recipe for my pesto sauce who in turn had the recipe passed down to her from her grandmother. When we were each passed on the recipe we swore to never to divulge the secret ingredient to anyone other than the people we loved.

I have taken this vow very seriously.

As the sun began to set about a dozen of us sat around my big mahogany table and we ate bowls of penne noodles smothered in the pesto sauce. We ate it with hot crisp bread sticks and a fresh garden salad and we washed it all down with a couple of cheeky little bottles of chianti.

It was the taste of Summer.

It was the taste of home.