I might have mentioned that we’re about to embark upon our fourteenth house move. Reactions to the move have varied: the Princess has begun twitching so I will need to up her anxiety medication, and she and Kurt rock on her bed together whenever I pack a box. The old man has locked himself inside his office until our move date.
We’re heading back to where we started our journey in Australia, back to a community, a slower pace of life and (hopefully) a slightly slower rent, which means we have more options to do as little as possible. It’s not quite the downsize I imagined a few months ago when we first made the plan and foolishly assumed that if we moved an hour out of the city, the kids wouldn’t be able to leave home fast enough – no, we’ll be moving to a smaller house with two more adults than we thought we’d have – in other words, a typically, logical Simmonds plan.
So, not a sea change or a downsize exactly, more a move away from the Big Smoke back to old habits, in the arms of old friends as we grow old together. The area is one of many parts of Australia nicknamed God’s Country – all equally justified – a small piece of paradise on the tip of a peninsula, with the sort of stunning coastal beauty of the landscape in Big Little Lies, if you saw the series. With beautiful beaches that have golden sands evolved from the sandstone rock that the water washes up upon, its quaint little towns are packed to the brim with home décor shops, cafes and wonderful restaurants, and the only sound on a quiet day is the clanging of the yacht masts in the breeze.
Our oldest friends have stayed put, so it’s where our heart beats the strongest in this country we have adopted as home. In the seven years we lived in the area, I carved more meaningful memories than at any other time of my life. The beach does that for me.
To access paradise, you have to drive along a stunning, winding road around the side of rock, known locally at The Bends, and it is a local custom to celebrate events and good news such as weddings and birthdays, on personalized banners along the route. What you have to imagine, though, is how dangerous the stretch of road is by foot. Often busy with local and holiday traffic, with sharp drops down cliffs to the beach on one side, it’s not the sort of place you stop to take in the view or have a pee.
Several years ago, as we approached NC’s eighteenth-birthday, I tried almost everything in my power to cajole the old man to hang out some banners along the “road of death” to celebrate the occasion. Understandably, he wasn’t keen. Neither of us is that impulsive type of parent prepared to flout the law for our daughter’s happiness, and we worried about being caught by the police, falling off the ladder, (necessary to climb the telegraph pole), and even writing the wrong words, hence scarring our child for life. In other words, we overthought it, (like most things), and eventually talked ourselves out of it like we do most decisions, apart from minor ones such as moving to the other side of the world with two kids in tow and no jobs.
It didn’t matter: we had other festivities organized and I knew that the last thing NC expected, (or perhaps wanted), was some awkward public declaration of her parents’ affection splattered for the world to see. Which was why it was such a shock, riding on the school bus on the morning of her birthday, for her to see first one banner, then another, then another, each engraved with her name, a big red heart and the number eighteen.
Now, I am certain that at no point did NC consider that we were responsible – which we weren’t, for reasons that are obvious. And at no time either, did I think that the old man had manned the fuck up and climbed a ladder under the cover of darkness. In fact, it was NC’s best friend who donned crampons under cover of darkness and climbed those telegraph poles like a Ninja, risking life over limb, in a gesture of friendship that has become part of Simmonds folklore and symbolizes everything we have missed since our sabbatical down south.
‘Remember when Jaz put those signs up on the Bends?’ we still say, as incredulous as we were that day.