Being fifty-something, I know that catching up with friends is one of life’s joys.
Last weekend, we set off on what has become an annual affair to catch up with old friends, Paul and Julie.
We set off early, picking up Jeff before sharing the half hour drive to the Queenscliff ferry terminal. We head across the bay to Sorrento and then on to Rosebud where Paul and Julie are summering in their caravan.
At the terminal I surrender a fare voucher won in a photo caption competition and Jeff flashes his Seniors Card. The foot passenger fare is very reasonable and, with discounts and vouchers, we’ve done particularly well. High five.
We board the ferry and Jeff pushes ahead through the crowd (seasoned traveller that he is) to secure us seats on the comfy chairs adjacent to the door-sized windows. We settle in for the forty minute journey, chatting about our plans to head out to a restaurant for lunch.
It’s a beautiful day on the bay. I’m entranced by the activity … jet-skiers, fishing boats, dive charter boats and the sister ferry saluting as she passes on her return journey to Queenscliff.
We reach Sorrento and I note (to myself) how pretty it is over this side of the bay. The holiday resort town is bustling on this sunny Sunday!
Paul collects us in his car and we crawl our way through the traffic to the caravan where Julie is waiting.
There are hugs and hellos, happy new years and how have you beens?
There’s an esky bursting with coldies and a couple of chickens twirling on the spit. Paul and Julie have surprised us with a “stay-in” lunch rather than us having to head back out to the bustle.
It’s not really a surprise.
They do it every year.
Every year we come empty-handed.
The guys settle into upmarket camp chairs in the “man cave” – a netted pop-up room that provides plenty of air movement (without the mosquitos).
Julie and I adjourn to the caravan to make cuppas and have some girlie chat.
Mr P, Jeff and Paul are old work colleagues. In another life, they were all drivers for the same company before the “big redundo” hit in 1998 and they were forced to carve new professional lives. We manage to get together two or three times a year … it means a lot for these guys to chat; their shared job and redundancy experience is an important part of their lives … and their stories.
We laugh our way through lunch and most of the afternoon. The easy conversation of old friends fills the air in the “man cave”, pushing back the road noise and happy squeals from the beach.
Just before it’s time for the last ferry back, we head out for our customary walk around the caravan park and along the beach.
I am so outdoorsy-sy (not). I have armored myself with sunscreen, insect repellent and a straw hat.
I am to the outdoors as the canary in the cage is to the coalmine. I am always “first blood” for mosquitos; the first (sometimes only) one to be bitten and the harbinger of doom announcing: “the mossies are out!” – every time. I recently spent three days (including Christmas Day) drugged out on anti-histamines and slathered in Calamine Lotion (remember that?) after an outdoor evening soiree caught me unawares.
I’m the litmus paper for sunburn, too … always the first to feel the pink heat on my shoulders or my nose. By the time I notice and warn others of the danger, I know I have gone too far and that within a few hours I will be sporting painful patches of bright red sunburn (which will peel itchily within a few days, exposing lily white skin, again).
It’s the kind of sacrifices we canaries in cages have to make. Some make much greater sacrifices.
This time, in the caravan park, I’m prepared.
As we saunter beyond the communal toilet block, the earth starts to give away to sand beneath my Birkenstocks. We push through a narrow heathy strip and onto the beach where the bay unfolds before us in all its glistening glory.
We wander around, snap some photos and soak up the beachy-ness.
As we amble back through the park, the guys fall back a little and their conversation turns, as it always does, to Stevie.
Stevie was part of the old crew, too. He was tragically lost to depression in 2005 and these gatherings never finish without some Stevie reminiscing. It’s part of the reason this group catches up after all these years. I’m certain of it. The guys know they need to talk and chat and keep an eye out for one another.
In a weird way, Stevie was their canary in the cage. He made the danger of depression real for all of them.
By the time we reach the caravan, it’s time to go. There’s just a minute for a final laugh-filled try-out of the ridiculously expensive reclining camp chairs before we all, including Julie, squidge into the car for the ride back to the ferry terminal.
On the jetty, there are goodbyes and good lucks, hugs and handshakes, plans and promises.
Paul and Julie linger on the pier and wave us on as the ferry groans its way out from the dock and into the bay.
The three of us settle in by the door-sized windows for the forty minute journey home.
When we reach Queenscliff, I note (to myself) how pretty it is on this side of the bay, with the seagulls … and the canaries.