My own childhood holidays in Blairgowrie, on the Victorian coastline, were restorative for me and the memories continue to nourish me now. These are some of my recollections.
My family’s beach house has a driveway so steep you could abseil down it. Once you’ve maneuvered the car up there, you drag bags into the house, which is filled with rad seventies furniture. There’s a sort of salty carpet smell inside and you can find loose board game pieces stuffed down the side of the couch. I always sleep so deeply at the beach house. As I drift further into dreams, I hear the waves crashing--at the cliff’s edge, at my window, then under my bed until I am sleeping on top of the waves themselves.
In the mornings the light that hits my face is a cotton colour. Above me the convex of tartan material outlining my brother’s form, is interlocked with springs. My hand crawls out from the stuffy cocoon of my sleeping bag to touch the cool plaster wall beside me. Blinking slowly, I allow the morning magpie songs to creep into my consciousness.
Eventually, I slip on my encrusted thongs to pad towards the screen door, stricken with punctures. As I stagger outside, the salt air immediately thickens my hair. The smell is intoxicating so early in the day. Slow preparations take place: feeding the magpies, applying sunscreen that clots in globs on your skin, adjusting hats that don’t quite fit and bathers that have stretched out of shape. Faded psychedelic towels and plastic-fragranced water are packed into a backpack. A certain portion of the bag is kept spare for the essential collecting of gleaming, spiral shells, and rocks that resemble things.
We walk on paths where the sand has crept up into flowerbeds and the fur of people’s pets. The shore warns it will consume anything that should try to make itself too comfortable. I’m so glad that there is a street with my name* in Blairgowrie.
From the aged wooden steps, your first step into the sand is like a little jolt of lightning. You become encompassed by the urge to run around, skip over seaweed, handstand if you can manage it and fall down if you can’t. Nothing can calm you until the moment that your gaze falls out over the sea. It spans out to infinity and when it rains the whole sea looks like a horizontal waterfall.
The moments of feet dipped in sand have to be appreciated because nearby far sharper footing heeds the return of flimsy thongs. An intricate carpet of prickly grounding guides through the rock towers. Now and then you can stumble upon a sandy cove, a break from the sharp footing and threatening waves. These coves are filled with shells, like lost jewellery, resting in piles everywhere. It is impossible to carry as much as you want to take home. I would always rest there, dipping my hands in and out of these trinkets, waiting for the tide to move out. That change would signal the re-emergence of the rock pools, ready for inspection.
In the rock pools, I always sought to find only two things; starfish and anemones. They were the things I was allowed to touch; only gently mind you. One sensation would be leathery skin and the other slimy suckers that pulled at my fingers before retreating from the threat of something so big. Each rock pool was always so strikingly unique. Some were inviting, cavernous pools that had opaque, mirror-like surfaces and warned of lurking octopi. Others were big frothy baths, muddled with rubbery seaweed and a sense of jollity. Even the smallest pools contained life; crustacean legs peeping out of a crevice or a sighing sea plant conceding to the tide’s tempo.
My brother and I would edge into the water, a flood of glacial fluid to the legs, tummy and eventually neck. The challenge was to get to the place where the waves were not breaking, merely bobbing up and down. Out there the water felt thicker. It swayed you slowly and nothing splashed your eyes shut or forced salt water up your nose.
Playing in the ocean is addictive. After being cleansed, lifted to a float, doused with cloudy water and swayed like a silver pendulum, it is hard to revisit the shore. Upon returning there the sand always clings to every part of your wet body, as you attempt to pull on clothes that become immediately clammy. In the water, I had felt that I possessed mermaid-like hair that swirled like slender seaweed around my head. As soon as I met with the wind, my hair retained its weighty, rope-like quality.
Back at the beach house the corroded, blue tap turned on cold water that to us felt
like a hot spring. No matter how carefully we washed that night, sand would always turn up in our beds the next morning. After a day of being immersed in water I could never understand why I was so overcome by thirst when I finally reached the kitchen. While our hair was still drying, we would hop around the house in our sleeping bags to keep warm. This normally resulted in a silly game of arm-less, leg-less wrestling where there are no winners.
On the last night at the beach house, I would lie in bed licking the skin on the back of my hand, intrigued by how salty it tasted. By then, the waves didn’t have to find me; I was already reaching out to them. I would glide off my bed, out the window and down to the shore until I was sleeping upon the crest of the tide. Pulled into dreams, I drifted further and further out until I cannot see the shore anymore. My senses absorbing the sensation of sleeping on the waves, for the last time in a long while.
By the time we are at the stage of loading up the car to go home we are too relaxed to object to leaving. As my parents gaze down at the large station wagon and narrow driveway on the hill, my brother and I silently bid farewell to spiders we’d named so as not to be scared of them and the pools of water that contained all the aliens we ever hoped to see. On the car ride home, we slept; sand in our towels, under our nails and in our socks. A message from the beach.
*Dana Avenue - which has a track at the end of the street that winds down to Bridgewater Bay
If you would like to share memories of blue spaces (places with bodies of water) with me, I would love to hear. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org