A Day On the Beach

OD. The possibilities to overdose on substances of any thinkable kind seem almost endless. Even harmless looking things can drive you round the bend and plant a nice little neurosis in your system, so that every further exposure to said thing can cause anything from a slight stomach irritation to nausea and projectile vomiting. You only have to think of Daily Talk Shows. Only recently, during my holidays in Greece, I have developed a new, spontaneously occurring OD-neurosis - the "I overdosed on young families"-syndrome.

It is quite easy to overdose on young families; this can be achieved with as simple a quest as a day on the beach, preferably a beach close to the hotels that cater for young families. If you are quite early in the morning you might get a quite hour or so together with the pensioners. It takes young families a while to get to the beach. There is a reason for this - it takes them ages to pack. Once the morning hour of silence and peace is over, the young family invasion sets in. At first playful and cute little Vanessa-Eloise and Kevin seem nice enough. But that first impression fades as soon as the mother beast takes over the commanding of the troops. The parental base (two deck chairs, sunshade) is built up and turned towards the sun under her command. And then the sand base has to be shielded and fortified or something with everything that has been packed meticulously only five minutes ago. At this point I start to wonder whether the UNO has ever paid attention to young families in its disarmament debates. It should have. Just packing towels, bathing suits and shovel/bucket ensemble in miniatures for the little ones won't do. No, the parental sand base oozes a declaration of war on good taste.

Careful observation of the enemy leads to the following absolute minimum requirement equipment: bottles in abundance, an amount of cookies that could end world hunger, a pram resembling a high-tech tank, a buggy for walks on the beach (as if the mother beast would ever leave the base when anything she needs or demands she communicates via yelling at the top of her screeching voice), different sized balls (for artillery purposes, no doubt), emergency medicine, the newest collection of children's toys for the beach, rubber ring and water wings, snorkel and mask (for the husband) and finally the husband who serves as pack mule and scout drone. I am left wondering, whether the family plan does take airspace as a source of risk into enough consideration. I am sure, there must have been some little space left for a kite in the luggage, which the husband/father (let's hope it's the same person) could operate in his additional function, air traffic controller. The imaginary picket fence always travels with you.

After finishing constructing their sand base little Vanessa-Eloise is let free to roam the beach, meaning the next two meters away from the base. Anything beyond seems to mean certain death, I conclude from the siren-like quality of her mother's voice: "Vanessa-Eloise! Stay here!" This method will make sure that Vanessa learns from an early age on, what a crappy name she has. Life isn't much kinder to Kevin; he is constantly forced to change his swimming trunks and keep his toys nice and clean at the base.

I try to let my eyes drift away from the picket fence debacle and look out, to the horizon. But the more I avert my eyes from the family sand bases, the louder the constant nagging of Vanessa-Eloise's mother penetrates my ears. The only sounds that can cut through that siren are the techno beats originating from a beach bar. Education seems to rank highly among mother's prime interests. During the intermissions between her preventive vocal blasts against Vanessa-Eloise's trailing off to some quiet spot on the beach, the monster mum reads Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code". There you can see a good example of how to prepare yourself, so that your children will receive a decent, on scientific facts based education.

At this point, after my presentation of some of my soft spots for young families, you might have become tired of my nagging and might want to argue that I could have chosen my place on the beach more cleverly. But, a remote spot on the beach does not prevent you from young families of the "Kevin should have staid home alone"-variety crashing over you like a wreckage. A saying goes, "Optimism is just lack of information!" And this applies very much to your average beach situation in Greece.

OK, to stop the constant inner complaints I have had for the last half hour, I try out some strategies of avoidance. I don't have the necessary constitution needed when you are contacted by young families. After 10 minutes my interest in their younglings drops dramatically. And little Vanessa-Eloise still needs to be reminded every odd 20 seconds or so that the sand is very hot. I can't bear so much human tragedy; the little girl obviously must suffer from a nerve-related disease that impairs her sense of temperature. Consternated I turn my back and try to read that crime novel that has been lying around at home for a while but always seemed to thick to read. I thought the holidays in the sun would be ideal for it and in my then still naïve mind I saw myself on a remote beach, reading, only the ocean makes a roaring sound. But little did I know back then. I might have the time, but some peace and quiet is not part of the arrangement. I should have trained for this task, e.g. reading exercises in a techno disco might have helped. At least the book gives me cover; I don't have to deal with Vanessa-Eloise's constant attention seeking behaviour. She stands no chance of beating the fascination of Dan Brown, at least not on more than a high pitched, verbal level. Maybe she should try some insane code.

I have almost given in to my fate, when another young family crosses the territory of the neighbouring sand base. Immediately the usual chitchatter between young parents breaks loose. "How old? How was your birth experience? …" I start to fear the answers even more than the questions. I don't need, no, I don't want to know this. I start to sympathise with the serial killer in my crime novel - at some point in his life before the killings, he must have spent a day on the beach next to several young families. Since I strongly believe in non-violent solutions, I decide to go for a swim. But first I have to take out my contact lenses; this leaves the young family assembly in a nice colour blur. At that moment I realise that even my grandmother's battery powered hearing aid had its major advantages: it had an ON/OFF button.

I grab my snorkel and mask and run into the sea. Any more extended method of entering the cold sea water might prevent me from going in there at all. I still hear Vanessa-Eloise crying, because no one will let her put her feet into the water, let alone go into the water with her. The sea itself is also covered in a vocal chorus that consists of crying, laughter, screaming, and educating. I am starting to get the impression that modern man/woman has forgotten to appreciate some decent peace and quiet. Well, in a couple of seconds that will be no longer my concern. I make a final impression above the surface: I spit into my mask with full fervour and wash it out again. This is supposed to prevent the glasses of the mask from misting over too soon and if this doesn't work, it still looks sort of professional and utterly disgusting at the same time. This is a combination you won't often encounter.

Wow, I'm under water. The stillness is only broken by a distant deep roaring and flushing sound of the sea. Beautiful! There is not much to see on this spot though. I snorkel around, enjoying the peace, until I am cold through and through. I swim to the shore - and I don't forget to empty my bladder on the way out of the water. If you find this revolting, always remember where all the fish in the sea go about their little or big businesses. If you should find this too extreme, think of Vanessa-Eloise and Kevin. They roam naked in their habitat, spraying over the marks that stray dogs put everywhere on the beach.

Cooled down I return to my territory, just in time not to miss the occasion when mother decides to take Kevin for a walk in the pram, model McLaren (I am not making this up…). The packing-up is immense and I am beginning to hope that this leads to a permanent retreat of one family. But the discussion I am made to overhear by sheer shrillness makes it very clear that they will all be back. Before I seriously overdose on young families, I decide that this might be the right time to suffer my defeat and declare MY permanent retreat. I pack my things, which takes only about ten seconds. I strongly start to doubt, whether I would embrace motherhood, and menopause doesn't seem such a bad idea all of a sudden. Children, OK, but their parents? Run while you can! I start to understand the group of Swedes, that has seized the hotel swimming pool for the last two days. Particularly their daily intake of beer seems a reasonable choice by now. Obviously, this couldn't be attributed singly to the obscenely cheap booze you can get in Greece, compared to prices in Scandinavian countries. These beer excesses appear to be of a preventional nature as well, drink beer - be deaf. I get a couple of "Mythos" beer from the next kiosk and join the Swedes. The land of silent myth is not far away from me now.

© Carol Ernst (June 2006)

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