Last Tuesday morning was windy and overcast. Not cold, but grey and not quite tempting enough for a morning swim. I tried for some yoga on the deck but was hounded after about half an hour by four small girls. Daisy clung to my legs and crawled under my hips in downward dog, hanging upside down, all blonde hair and baby soft skin, roughened by days in the sand. I get her to stretch her arms up to the sky and then bend down and touch her little toes, then we 'creep, creep, creep our hands forward with our bottom in the air' and there you have downward dog. We kneel down with our hands in prayer at heart centre and she says 'namaste' with me, though it sounds move like 'namma-day' which makes me smile. When they all left for the park, and the house was quiet and the breeze cool through the open doors, I made tea with honey and had a second breakfast of the last of the raspberry crumble. Thinking I better get out and soak up the day, I walked from the jetty past the headland and along the length of the next beach by myself, moments of cloudbusting grey and glimpses of bright silvery sun. I found cuttlefish and shells, driftwood and seaweed, but what I really wanted was coal. Sophie found some coal our first day at the beach, washed up, apparently, from a shipwreck in 1909 that killed 60-odd crewmen. Locals still find occasional pieces on the shore, more than a hundred years later which is about the best thing I've heard in months.
The others swam in the afternoon, when the sun came out and the temperature kicked up, but I stayed at home in the quiet. It was nice not to have to put suncream on, and pour through page after page of Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. I can't really write about it here, hard to know what to say of such a beautifully written, intelligent, heartbreaking and moving book. Only that reading it on holiday, where I can spend hours with it, not a few pages here and there before bed, was wonderful. It's reading your way into another world and it's impossible not to immerse yourself in it.
By Wednesday, the last day of the year, the sun high and ready for adventure, we drove into Innes with Brown's Beach in mind. I love the drive, the low-lying scrub, salt lakes and dusty roads, and only twenty minutes away. I hadn't been to Brown's before, not since I was younger, so was overwhelmed by how stunning it was - without hesitation the most beautiful beach I've ever been to. I suppose it depends what your thing is, but the sprawling national park, the slow walk down the hill, the long stretch of coast, the rock pools and softest sand, and clear, plunging blue water was a kind of perfection. I'd barely put my hat on when Ehren found two starfish on the rocks. Gloriously indulgent dips in the cool water, handstands in the sand, shell-seeking, salt and vinegar crisps under the beach tent, a little frisbee, not too many tantrums, some laying out in the shade with my sister for a whole ten minutes while the smalls were occupied with something else - it was a pretty perfect way to end the year.
We got home in the late afternoon and I put on a slow roast lamb while we played Scrabble and ate what cheese was left. We walked down to the beach for sparklers at sunset, the last of the light and the locals cleaning squid in the shallow water. The girls scootered home and went down to bed like a tonne of bricks, all the saltwater and running done with. We opened a bottle of soave , and later a Sicilian grillo I had brought, and had big piles of potatoes and salad with the lamb for dinner, and a bottle or two of Croser. We talked and laughed, worried and reminisced and wondered, and I brushed my teeth at 11:50 so I could go straight to sleep once it struck midnight and I'd said my happy's and hugged it all out. It was all just right.
Most of the rest of the time was spent beach-ing and walking, riding bikes, a pub lunch for the best fish and chips with cold like a dream pints of Coopers Pale Ale, and a bit of midnight fishing for the boys. The old house was a lovely mess of towels, clothes, small sandals, books and coloured pencils. I spent a lot of time on the couch, weaving or reading - I love the books you find at holiday rentals. They had some local histories, a Japanese cultural guide, short stories by DH Lawrence and the complete poems of Robert Lowell. I nearly cried when I read Water:
It was a Maine lobster town - Each morning boatloads of hands pushed off for granite quarries on the islands,
and left dozens of bleak white frame houses stuck like oyster shells on a hill of rock,
and below us, the sea lapped the raw little match-stick mazes of a weir where the fish for bait were trapped.
Remember? We sat on a slab of rock. From the distance in time, it seems the colour or iris, rotting and turning purpler,
but it was only the usual tray rock turning the usual green when drenched by the sea.
The sea drenched the rock at our feet all day, and kept tearing away flake after flake.
One night you dreamed you were a mermaid clinging to a wharf-pile, and trying to pull off the barnacles with your hands. We wished our two souls might return like gulls to the rock. In the end, the water was too cold for us.
Just a few pages in and only the third I read from the collection, but I stopped there. It doesn't get any better than that.LAST YEAR AT YORKE'S.