Not so long ago I spent nine days camping by the beach. I didn’t write. I checked social media sporadically. I posted a few photos of the beach and the cute take-away coffee cups that I drove 40 minutes each morning to acquire. Mostly I just hung out with my family and friends.
And as I took a break from writing there were stories all around me. Holiday places are like that. Hotels and airports and camp-grounds, full of people and possibility. All travel is fertile ground for guessing at stories and making your own.
The morning we left we encountered so many tiny annoyances that they strung together into a comic narrative. The service station’s air pressure thingie was out of order and we had to go somewhere else. The coffee line was ludicrously long. The closest BCF was out of gas. The next nearest didn’t do gas (thank goodness I phoned first). The one 20 minutes away had gas. I made my way out there only to realise at the counter that I had forgotten my purse. When we finally arrived at the camp-ground, with a tent in tow rather than caravan or trailer, we were regarded with suspicion and told that if our tent didn’t fit properly we would have to move from our beach-front, caravan-preferred, next-to-our-friends site. Thankfully, we fit perfectly.
Every morning the bush curlews would mock a person trying to sleep beyond 4am (5am in NSW to be fair) and I would make my way to the bathroom. The guy in the caravan behind us would be on his way to work in a van advertising carpentry. I wondered about his story. Was this temporary accommodation for an out of town job? Or was this how he lived permanently? His life in a caravan, a modern day nomad travelling light and living wherever the weather was good and the view was beautiful. Did he have all the answers? Of course, for most, having a caravan boils down to whether or not you can afford it, and not everybody can.
An elderly couple were either holidaying or living in another nearby caravan. They would eat their dinner in their tiny courtyard on a rickety old table with proper cutlery and crystal wine glasses. Starched napkins would not have surprised me. Another time I walked past and he sat bare-chested at the same table as she shaved his chin and neck with a cut-throat razor. I looked away from a moment so intimate and he grinned and waved. I wondered at their life and what brought them to this point. It seemed like a love story.
I guessed at the stories held in each of the caravans themselves. Especially the ones dating back to the sixties and seventies, all pastel and sun-bleached. What had they seen?
One morning we walked down the beach and discovered a large shelter on the dunes made from driftwood and tree branches. An abandoned park bench nestled into it. Who had made it? Why? Did someone regard it as a kind of home? A small black notebook was wedged into the fork of one of the branches. What secrets did it hold?
As I imagined stories weaving around me, my kids were creating their own. Their own memories of catching waves and dancing with sparkling water. Memories of running free and barefoot in the sunshine. Of spending endless days with their friends. The novelty of having both parents close by and at the same time never bugging anyone about being bored. The thrill of living close to nature – complete with snakes, shark scares and bush wees. Cuddling in close when the heavy rain sounded almost cyclonic against the tarpaulin at night-time. Coming home, brown despite constant sunscreen, tired despite plenty of sleep and eager to go camping again as soon as possible.