The Holiday House

Elizabeth Quinn writes about her favourite place.

We all have a place that we like the most. It can be a certain table in a favourite cafe, or a special desk at the local library, or a room of our own where we take refuge from the world. My special place is a house. It does not belong to me (although for the first 10 years of his life, my oldest son thought that it did), but it is mine as surely as if my name were on the title deeds.

My house is in a coastal town that we discovered almost 30 years ago, before marriage and children. Thanks to a fastidious local council, the town has remained largely unchanged. It is free of high-rise apartments and fast-food outlets, other than the Chinese restaurant on the highway that has been there as long as we’ve known the place. And no, I will not be naming this place: a paradise advertised is a paradise lost.

We loved the place at first sight, and tested out a variety of different rental properties to accommodate our growing family. In the course of the past 30 years, we have occasionally abandoned our nirvana for glitzier destinations, but since we discovered the A-frame house, we have been faithful to it. It is not luxurious by any means. Its design guarantees that in hot weather the top-floor bedrooms are stifling. The single bathroom and family living area ensure that we are thrown together as a family in a way that we manage to avoid at home. But by sheer good luck, each one of us loves the place with a passion – no mean feat in a family whose younger generation ranges in age from 12 to 20. There has never been any talk from our children of being too old to come on the family holiday, despite the 22-hour drive that tests even the most patient among us. Five Quinns in a car for that amount of time is never pretty.

It’s a family tradition to play ‘spot the road sign’ that first mentions our destination by name. The subsequent sighting of the 50km zone that borders our town is always accompanied by the ceremonial playing of that well-known road song ‘I’m on my way from misery to happiness today’, complete with ‘uh-huhs’ at full volume from the chorus in the back. On arrival at the house, there is much falling out of car doors and kissing of tarmacs. This is followed by an initial house inspection just to reassure ourselves that nothing has changed. (New benchtops caused us some alarm one year, and there was once talk of air-conditioning that thankfully proved false.) After that, the car is unpacked, the beds are made up, and the fun begins…

In the depths of winter, my family plays a game to keep our spirits up. It’s called ‘What’s the best thing about X?’ (X being our holiday destination) or ‘What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get to X?’ For my daughter, it’s walking across the footbridge into town to borrow some books from the little rainbow-coloured library that used to be a church. For the boys, it’s heading to the beach for a spot of surfing and, on a good day, swimming with dolphins. For my husband, it’s a leisurely stroll to the pub for a quiet ale before dinner. (He has left instructions in his will that his ashes are to be scattered in the beer garden.) My idea of heaven, you ask? It’s to sit in the front garden after a long morning walk, watching over the comings and goings of my brood and the changing tides of the river, and reading the newspaper from cover to cover. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

The A-frame house is integral to our enjoyment of the town of X. We have discovered this incontrovertible fact as the result of our painful experience on one occasion when the house was unavailable, due to a previous booking by someone else. Oh yes, we tried to fill the void by renting a townhouse at the top end of the rental market (two living areas and three bathrooms!), but to no avail. We rattled around the designer rooms like five lost souls, and spent our days loitering around the A-frame house looking daggers at the hapless family ensconced within its beloved four walls. They never sat in the garden, or even went to the beach, as far as we could see. Piles of boards, flippers and fishing rods never graced the front verandah during their tenancy. They seemed to spend their days going for drives in the car. They didn’t deserve the A-frame and, judging by the stricken looks on their faces whenever a member of my family actually caught them at home, they knew it.

After that miserable holiday, we have a standing arrangement with the real-estate agent. It is our privilege as the current tenants to book for the same three weeks next year, and the year after that, and forever more as far as we are concerned. We know there is a big wide world out there to be explored, and maybe one day we will venture further afield – as long as we can sublet the A-frame. To friends. Who can keep a secret. Who will never attempt to set foot there again. Ever.

Illustration by Jody Pratt