We spent a blissful and relaxing day at The Bach today, with Josh's parents John and Sharon and his mum's best friend Jo(who is a small gnome of a lady with a huge smile, crinkly eyes and a heart of gold).
Maddy was so ecstatic about going that she even decided that 'Puppy' could stay at home with the kitten for the day: her most loved creature, Puppy is a smelly, worn, once-white now very grey soft toy, who should be incinerated for hygiene reasons, but who even Josh and I are very attached to now. He has an inscrutable solemn face, with black eyes once smooth and glossy but now hazy and misted over with cataracts. His nose is small and perfectly placed at the bottom of his face, just above his simple line mouth, and his ears droop somewhat mournfully, framing his muzzle. His neck will be the first part of his body to go, thin and threadbare from being grasped gently and held lovingly over the past four years.
(Because of the way my mind works - naturally and continuously preparing for doom and woeful tidings of loved ones - it has occurred to me many times that if something should ever happen to Maddy, Puppy would be that 'security blanket' for me, you would probably see glimpses of him in my handbag or at night you might find me holding onto him for dear life... )
So our darling Puppy stayed at home to keep the new kitten Margot company, and Maddy screeched his goodbyes to us on his behalf as we trooped out of the house. For her own company she clutched two small plastic sharks in her fist - their names are, rather obviously, Little Maddy and Little Sierra(my niece). Lewis is more easily placated when it comes to 'special things': he is only now starting to get attached to his toy, which we gave him for Christmas, and he is only seemingly attached to it because we faithfully place them in the cot together for every nap time and night. He(as-yet nameless toy) is far and away the most good-looking, creatively designed and aesthetically pleasing of Lewis' toys, so we are trying to encourage a bond to form... So Lewis left the house with his dummy firmly in place after hastily scurrying into his room to get it upon imminent news of departure, ready to throw himself at the world with both hands stretched out for the opportunities(crumbs, morsels, possibly a whole biscuit, a leaf, branch or small fascinating rock)that would most certainly come.
Josh and I were the most loaded down with belongings, from towels and togs to cameras, a milk bottle, a horror novel that I am currently devouring, to more mundane items.... And at the last minute I changed my mind about which sunglasses I needed, and threw in my new pink floral scarf, which is light and lovely and looks like sorbet - in my mind envisioning a world where I would actually feel enough self-confidence to wind it madly around my head like a bohemian beauty.
The kids were angelic as we drove 'onwards and upwards' to the Whangaparaoa(yes it has that many 'A's in it!!) Peninsula, one of the last remaining outposts of Northern Auckland's 'holiday home' history. Amongst the new and vile creations of 'beige' or 'donkey' stucco are old baches of weatherboard in fading cheery colours of baby blue or yellow, nestled into easy-care gardens of cheap, garish blooms and shrubs. The main road crawls along the ridge of the peninsula, feeding into small winding lanes that creep carefully down to the beaches and bays on the left, or towards the mangroves that fill the inlet. Occasional outcrops of shops occur, with tattoo and beauty parlours alongside ancient dairies, their eye-like windows long since covered in layer upon layer of magazine covers and TipTop ads.
The road to Arkles Bay stretches up and over the ridge before winding carefully down to the flat of the beach road. This is the haven of people who lovingly tended their baches and holiday homes seasonally for years while their families were at home, and have now relinquished busy working lives for the slow, somewhat endless span of retirement, falling back and retreating to their summer holds to prune their colourless roses and have meetings about what kind of letterbox to erect.
'Our' bach is one of the newer creations, about 6 years old now, slowly and lovingly built up from scratch by Josh's dad in his spare time. It perches against the backdrop of Arkles somewhat precariously, on a steep section that provides stunning views of the world(the very small world). Slightly in front and to one side, a giant pohutakawa tre stands with amazing twisted branches, the kind of tree that as a child I liked to imagine housing not only small dwellings but whole villages of small creatures, the broad beams lit up by hundreds of tiny twinkling lights... reality is so dull in comparison!
The inside of the house is spare and clean, but with Sharon's aesthetic touch clearly seen in the white-washed table and chairs, blue and white gingham trimmings, a large blackboard sign on the wall, wicker baskets piled up in the corners - the nautical theme is subtle and charming. Being the lover of colour that I am, I would probably tire quickly of it, but I still wish that I could 'steal the look' to bring that refreshed, healthy sea-and-fresh-air into our house....
We proceeded to spend the rest of the day in that heady rhythm of nothingness: reading our books while Lewis napped, congregating at the table outside to make sandwiches, making endless cups of tea which we ate with moist slabs of leftover christmas cake … Finally someone managed to take charge and everyone was dressed in their version of swimwear, and duly coated with milky sunscreen. The 7 of us – it didn’t feel like that many because we were quiet and relaxed, only the children breaking our trance-like state with shrieks of laughter and babbling stories – swam and swam and swam, until Maddy and Lewis started to shiver and the sun started to look overwhelmed with dreary clouds.
Then we trooped back up the hill again, Lewis wet curls and pink nose and lips, Maddy clutching her towel around her and her two sharks, and peeled off wet cold togs. Sharon ran warm water in the white butchers sink – which was installed because it had always been her dream to have one, especially for the purpose of bathing baby descendants, but which had claimed the life of many a crockery piece in the process – and we deposited Lewis into marinate. So for half an hour Josh grilled sausages outside, I read my book in peace and Lewis and Maddy took turns squatting in the sink, pouring tumblers of warm soapy water over their soft white tummies, while Sharon chopped veggies and watched closely.
And then dinner: savoury sausages with corn-on-the-cob, fresh salad and hot chips wrapped in paper. Every single one of us wolfed our rations down and had seconds, even Maddy finishing a whole sausage and plate of chips, each piece carefully marked with a dot of bright tomato sauce. And after dinner, the kids almost took themselves to bed, happily settling down to Josh’s lovely voice singing My God is So Big, and we adults spent the evening reading – again – and playing Balderdash over more cups of tea and christmas cake.
Finally it became chilly, and John won the game – whatever his various strengths, he is not a gracious winner – and we packed our bags, scooped the children out of bed and set off home. The stars obligingly twinkled, and Josh and I sang softly – so cheesy but it does spontaneously happen sometimes – as we drove back down the silent and deserted motorway, and quickly, very quickly it seemed, I was standing at the top of the shell stairs at our home holding Maddy, as we gazed delightedly up at the night sky. Both of the angels went off to bed again without a sound, and Josh and I crashed into our silent and brooding, horribly messy lounge, and here we are still.
And again I am left with that feeling of having glimpsed life as it could be, as it should be even, and not knowing how to translate it into reality at home. Is it possible? I’m not sure. I know we have far too many belongings, and far too little good storage, but these are not excuses that bear up under scrutiny. The search for domestic bliss continues…