Somewhat spaced-out after a stormy farewell to a friend, I drove back from the Blue Mountains on the 30th December, 2014. Barely had I opened the door at home, than my phone rang. ‘Colleen here. How would you like to come down for New Year’s Eve? We can sit on our balcony and watch the fireworks.’
My whoops of joy could be heard a block away. An evening that had looked like being a fizzer, had taken off like a rocket. ‘Love to.’ Though a bit surprised Colleen could see fireworks from her new balcony, I didn’t give it a second thought.
Colleen asked, ‘Will you be all right driving down?’
Normanhurst was only half an hour away. I assumed she must imagine I was upset over the quarrel. ‘Yes, I’ll be fine.’
My suitcase was still packed, so the morning of the following day, I put champagne and goodies into a cooler bag for the short journey.
Another call came from Colleen. ‘Everything all right?’
‘I’m just putting everything in the car. Leaving shortly.’
‘We’re at the swimming-pool. Bring your costume. And don’t forget your mobile. Call us when you arrive.’
Feeling light hearted, I drove off, reaching Normanhurst on the dot of eleven. It was a stretch to balance several bags loaded with goodies and a hand bag, while pulling my case along. At last I staggered to her front door, expecting her usual warm greeting. It was locked, the apartment clearly deserted. Maybe they were still at the pool? Confident they’d arrive any minute, I took out my French novel and began to read.
Fifteen minutes passed. Half an hour. Had something gone amiss? Rang a couple of times, but her mobile was turned off.
A neighbour’s pooch set up a frenzy of barking. An elderly woman called Polly came out. I told her I was waiting for Colleen.
‘Good luck. They’ve been away for days.’
I blinked. ‘But I spoke to Colleen this morning. Perhaps they returned late last night. She was at the pool.’
Polly shrugged. ‘Like a cuppa while you’re waiting?’
‘Thanks, but I’ll be fine.’ What could be keeping them ? Had Colleen forgotten she’d asked me to lunch and gone to her daughter’s place?”
With nowhere available to sit, I adjourned to a garden gazebo to await my hosts. Engrossed in my book, I suddenly heard a low whine, another and yet another. I was under attack by a squadron of mini mosquitoes, intent on getting their fill of my blood. I sprayed myself with Chanel No 5, it only made them more voracious.
I returned and sat on Colleen’s step. Polly’s dog kept yapping. I heard Polly tell him to be friendly.
‘I’ve got to go out in a minute to buy a new toaster,’ said Polly, her voice upbeat. ‘They don’t last these days. Not a very exciting mission, but there you are. Would you like to sit inside while you’re waiting?’
‘I’m okay. They’re bound to arrive soon.’
I overheard Polly talking to the pooch inside the apartment, ‘If I don’t go out somewhere I’ll go crazy.’
I felt bad for not accepting her earlier offer of tea, realizing she must be extremely depressed and lonely, as so many people are at these times of the year . One needs friends and family around. She and the terrier emerged. I admired Polly’s sandals, to make up for my earlier lack of insight.
I decided to sit in my car for awhile. Polly was just driving out, and stopped, briefly.
‘I’ve left you a fold-up chair. Didn’t know you’d come by car.’
Profuse thanks. At 12.30 my patience finally ran out. I dialled Colleen again.
She said, ‘I rang but you didn’t answer. Where are you?’
‘At your front door.’
‘You can’t be ; Michael’s been all around the apartment looking-’
‘I’m outside your apartment at Normanhurst.’
‘Normanhurst? We’re at the Entrance.’
‘The Entrance!’ No wonder I hadn’t seen them. For those not familiar with the area, it’s a beach resort on the NSW Central Coast, while I was in Sydney.
‘Why not come up?’
‘Now?’ I had no GPS, and, not having tackled the drive before, felt nervous about doing so. Then I pictured myself sipping champagne alone in front of the box on New Year’s Eve. Dammit, I thought, don’t be a wimp. ‘What Freeway Exit do I take?’
‘ It’s signposted Tuggerah, Wyong, the Entrance. There are about ten roundabouts on Wyong road before the turnoff.’
Speeding along at 110 K, I felt carefree and confident. Yippee! Off to have some fun. Mustn’t miss the sign…
Soon I was on Wyong road. It would be a cinch, unless I accidentally took a side road. Ten roundabouts came and went. I was still counting. Had I missed the turnoff? I was rewarded by a big, green sign. Good, still on track.
After about the eighteenth roundabout, a side road lead towards The Entrance. At Long Jetty came new doubts. I couldn’t recall seeing that village last time someone had driven me. There was only one choice: press on.
Then – miracle of miracles – I found myself driving through The Entrance shopping centre. There had to be a right turn to reach the boardwalk parade. Of course, too late I saw it. A Police van was parked nearby. With Double Demerit points for infringements during summer, I daren’t make an illegal U-Turn.
Drove around the block, up a hill, took a few false moves, turned my nose towards the ocean and I found myself at the Dolphin Apartments. It was already after 2PM
Dialled Col’s mobile number. She was surprised to hear I was right outside.
Michael had thoughtfully parked his car out front at 6am to ensure I had a spot!
They hugged me in congratulation. ‘You’ve done it,’
Must confess I felt pleased, given earlier doubts.
I was ravenous, having eating only a few bites of cheese and biscuits before setting out. On the balcony we devoured a scrumptious late lunch – watermelon, grapes, strawberries, mini quiche, saveloys, pizza…
Overhead, a lone pelican soared on thermals, children waded and built sandcastles. I heard the soothing shush and splash of waves, the breeze caressing my arms, bringing the delightful aroma of the deep.
Late that afternoon we strolled down to the shopping centre where families had already set up tables, chairs and picnic baskets on the waterfront lawns, in readiness for the fireworks. We enjoyed live music from a singer and guitarist while kids danced and others enjoyed the holiday fashion parade of passers by, everything from teenagers in impossible heels and leopard costume hats to the elegance of long dresses – basic black, to every colour, length and hemline imaginable. The constabulary strolled by, big and blue with pistols on prominent display. It was a no-alcohol zone for families, so trouble should be minimal.
That evening we sat on the balcony under a lopsided moon. Families and chattering children crowded the promenade, waiting. We polished off several bottles of bubbly, with a variety of cheeses, quince paste, dips, biscuits, chips, mango, strawberries, pomegranate…
Colleen had devised our own private smoking ceremony. First we wrote down on slips of paper what one wished to change or get rid of in the coming year. Then we set them alight in a special container; where they were devoured by the flames. It was amazing how long it took for the smoke to dissipate – luckily, we didn’t set off the smoke alarm.
Out front, eager voices, young and old, gave a number of excited countdowns to the 9 pm fireworks display. At last, cheers, whistles and shouts of joy greeted the real thing.
There is always a feeling of innocent pleasure as red, green, yellow and purple waterfalls drip from the sky, and fountains of light, explode into a thousand points of disappearing colour.
The midnight fireworks from Sydney Harbour on TV were even more splendid. We loved the icon of a beating heart and light bulb on the bridge, the theme of inspiration being just what we needed for our literary efforts in 2015.
On New Year’s Day, on a stroll along the beach, we poured the ashes of 2014, made the previous evening, into the waves, pleased to see them sucked away immediately by the strong undertow. The wishes, confined to the deep, were out of our hands
And my return journey to Sydney? I stopped several times on the way to seek directions; everyone advising me to look for the big roundabout. It had gained the power of myth before I finally found it. Spinning along Wyong road, I felt confident the tricky part of my trip was over.
I followed a sign for the Freeway, exultant, telling myself to, Put it there, kid! A long turn left, then I increased revs. At 110k, and I was on my way. Sort of. A big green sign informed me I was heading for Newcastle, not Sydney.
At a food stop, where I’d stopped to confirm my error, an Aussie bloke said, ‘Take the next exit at Sparkes road. About a 1K.’
Again I sped up to 110 K. Why didn’t that damn fool driver ahead of me join the Freeway, instead of blocking my entry?
Sparkes Road, no sign. Must be a right turn. Yippee! There it is.
Doing 110 K. Sydney, here I come!