The Nicklebys: A Story for Catholic Children
by: Sue Felton


It is spring. The weather is getting warmer. Mum says it is the perfect time of year to go on a beach holiday. "If we travel up the coast, the weather will be just right for playing on the sand and splashing in the sea," she says. "If we wait until summer, we won't be able to spend long in the sun before everyone gets burnt."

Now all Mum has to do is find a suitable beach house. "I want a house right near the sand, then we can go down to the sea as many times a day as we like," she says. Mum turns on the computer and starts to search for a holiday house using the Internet.

It doesn't take long before Mum finds the perfect place. She calls the family and they gather around to look at a photograph of the house she has found. It is a white two story beach house. It has large glass windows opening onto views of golden sand and sparkling blue sea. ""Wow!" exclaims Dad. "It looks perfect." Even the name of the beach sounds perfect: Palm Tree Beach.

So it is all decided. Mum books the beach house for a whole week. Dad arranges to have time off work. The children search the toy boxes for all their sand toys, and their wardrobes for suitable holiday clothes. Then they start counting off the days.

Then one morning, as soon as Joe wakes up, he shouts, "We're going to the beach today!" Immediately everyone is awake and hurrying to get dressed. They all look out the window to check the weather. The sky is clear. The sun is shining. It looks like perfect holiday weather.

All the packed bags are standing near the front door. There are bags of clothes, bags of sand toys, bags of swimming gear and beach towels, bags of board games to play in the evenings and a bag containing a picnic to eat on the journey. Dad looks at all these bags and wonders how eight people and all the luggage is going to fit into the van. "Do we really need to take so much stuff?" asks Dad. It appears everything is absolutely essential and Dad spends a long time filling the van boot and poking odd items under the seats. "It's going to be a bit of a squashy ride," he says, but no one minds in the least.

Some of the pets have already been taken to Granny's house. "Isn't Granny wonderful?' says Edward. "She doesn't like mice or rats, but she is going to look after ours for us while we are away." The fish have special blocks of food that will last for a week and the axolotls have a supply of live fish that they will chase and catch whenever they are hungry. Mrs Kerry is going to come over each day and feed the guinea pigs and the birds that are in cages in the garden. She is also going to water the plants. Everything is organized.

It is time to set off. "Into the van, everyone!" shouts Dad and all the children scramble over the bags into their seats. Seatbelts are fastened. Annie is buckled into her car seat. Mum hands round water bottles in case anyone gets thirsty while travelling. Mum settles into the front passenger seat. But where is Dad? He has gone back to the house to check he has locked all the doors.

"Come on, Dad!" all the children yell.

Dad appears, climbs into the driver's seat, adjusts his mirrors and seat belt and puts the van into reverse. They are off! But then Dad puts his foot on the brake and the van screeches to a halt. He turns to Mum, "Did you count everyone?" he asks. "Do we have all the children?"

"All the children are in their seats," reassures Mum. "No one is going to miss the beach holiday." So Dad sets off again. He is already tired and they have only travelled to the bottom of the driveway.

"It's a long way to Palm Tree Beach," explains Mum. "It's going to take a long time to get there. Dad has decided we will travel as far as Stanwell today. We are going to stay in a motel tonight. Tomorrow we will arrive at the beach house." None of the children have ever stayed in a motel before. The holiday is turning into a real adventure.

Dad drives out of their village heading towards the freeway. Soon they are whizzing along with the breeze blowing through the open van windows. Joe and Edward are car spotting. They each have a pad of paper and they are writing down how many different types of car they can see. Kate's head is buried in her book. Celeste and Lizzie are playing eye-spy. And Annie has fallen asleep.

Mum is staring out the window. Green paddocks of cows are racing past. And then houses, surrounded by bushes and trees. Then the scenery changes again. Mum can see bill boards and large buildings. Mum explains they are getting close to the city. "We have to travel through the city and out the other side," explains Mum. "Then we will travel through the country towards the coast. Stanwell is a town near the coast."

"Tomorrow," continues Dad, "we'll leave the motel and we'll continue up the coast until we come to Palm Tree Beach."

The closer they get to the city, the more cars there are. This makes Edward and Joe's car spotting game much more interesting but Dad does not like the traffic at all. Cars are racing along, darting in and out of the lanes and Dad has to concentrate hard. Mum does not like all the smoky air which is coming through the window. Annie is starting to squirm in her seat. She wants to get out. She's had enough of being in the van. Celeste isn't happy either. She has turned pale.

"Mum!" shouts Kate." "I think Celeste is car sick!"

"Quick! Pull over!" Mum yells at Dad.

"Where?" asks Dad, frantically looking for a suitable stopping place on the side of the freeway.

The van screeches to a halt. The sliding door bangs back and Kate pushes Celeste out into the open. Mum jumps out of her seat and holds on to Celeste. It doesn't feel very safe on the side of the road. Trucks keep on roaring by, sending blasts of air against the side of the van. The van rocks from side to side. Mum's hair is blowing in her face and her clothes are flapping around her. But all the air has revived Celeste. Colour is returning to her face. She is feeling better.

The van is no longer on the freeway. It is travelling through the city on a three lane road with lots of traffic lights. Every set of traffic lights turns red just as Dad comes to it. Dad stops and starts, and stops and starts, and stops and starts. Dad sighs. Annie cries. She has had enough. Mum has had enough too. "Let's look for somewhere to stop for lunch," she suggests. "Stop car spotting, boys. Start park spotting."

The boys are successful. They see a little patch of green wedged between the tall buildings. The van leaps out of the lane of fast moving traffic into the park. With a sigh of relief, Dad turns off the engine. He is exhausted. Mum unpacks the picnic while the children stretch their legs. Everyone eats lunch. Dad checks the map one last time before ordering everyone back into the van. Annie protests and has to be held down while Kate buckles up her seat belt. Then they are off once more. Mum suggests the children sing songs to distract Annie. Soon Annie drifts back off to sleep and it is now Mum who sighs with relief.

After a long time, the city is left behind. The buildings disappear and the children can see bush again on either side of the freeway. Then Dad says to watch out for the river. Coming around a bend in the road, the river comes into sight. An enormous bridge spans the river. Dad drives onto the bridge and the children peer downwards at the water below them. It is sparkling blue in the sunlight. Edward is looking at the map. He can see that Stanwell is not far from the bridge.

"Not long now," encourages Mum. "We'll soon be at our motel. It's called The Peaceful Place. Watch out for it."

"There it is!" cries Kate.

"It can't be!" protests Mum. "That motel is right at a busy round-about. It doesn't look like a peaceful place at all. It's a really noisy place."

But unfortunately, it is the right motel. Dodging the trucks and cars, Dad pulls into the motel's parking area. He climbs out wearily and heads to reception to get the keys to their rooms.

"We've got two rooms," explains Mum. "One for me and the girls and one for Dad and the boys."

Dad returns with the keys and they discover that their two rooms are at opposite ends of the motel. The children race between the two rooms while Mum and Dad unpack the van. They bounce on the beds, open all the cupboard doors to see what is inside, examine the contents of the small fridges and then turn on the televisions flipping between the channels. They discover tiny bars of soap and fluffy soft towels lying on the neatly made beds. They find a toaster, mugs and a kettle in a cupboard. There are sachets of coffee, tea bags and little packets of biscuits.

The children are making lots of noise. "That's enough!" shouts Dad. "Everyone outside!" The children line up outside the door of Dad's motel room. The room is in disarray. Dad looks like he is about to shout some more. Mum hurries along to sort things out. She suggests they walk along to the shops to find a café where they can have some dinner.

By the time dinner is finished, Annie is almost asleep. Mum announces it is bedtime for everyone. It has been a long day. Dad and the boys say goodnight and disappear into their room. In Mum's room everyone is trying to decide where to sleep.

"Celeste can have the top bunk. Lizzie can sleep on the bottom. Kate can have the single bed and Annie and I will share the double bed," decides Mum. A short while later Mum wishes she had the single bed. Annie keeps kicking her. Everyone tosses and turns for a long time. Every few minutes a truck roars past the motel and it is difficult to fall asleep. But eventually eyes begin to close, and no one can stay awake a moment longer.

The next morning, Mum is in a deep sleep. She wants to stay asleep but Annie is wide awake. Annie is hungry and wants some breakfast. Mum crawls out of bed and looks for the bread and jam. She is going to make toast for breakfast. She opens the cupboard and plugs in the toaster. She slips two slices of bread into the toaster. Feeling thirsty, she fills the kettle with water. Suddenly the smoke alarm starts screaming. EEEEEK! EEEEEK! Annie is frightened and starts to cry. The other girls put their hands over their ears. Mum turns off the toaster. She grabs a tea towel and waves it at the smoke detector. The ear-piercing noise stops. Mum looks at the toast. It hasn't turned brown. She presses it back into the toaster. EEEEEEK! EEEEEEK! Mum waves the tea towel again. The noise stops. She looks at the bread. It is still isn't brown.

"I think we will have jam sandwiches for breakfast," decides Mum. She makes herself a mug of tea and pours glasses of milk for the girls. Then everyone climbs back into their beds. They say grace and then eat breakfast. "Don't worry about crumbs," says Mum.

The girls are dressed and repacking their bags when Dad and the boys appear at their door. Lizzie starts to tell Dad how Mum set off the smoke alarm twice.

"Dad set the smoke alarm off six times!" says Joe. "We had jam sandwiches for breakfast."

It is time to set off again. After a few morning prayers, Dad stows away all the bags in the van and the children climb into their seats. Soon they will be at the beach.

The van races north along the coast road. There isn't much traffic and they make good time. By late morning, Mum says they are almost there. Dad turns off the main highway and heads down a narrow steep, windy road. Mum hopes Celeste will not be car sick before they reach the bottom. But Celeste is too excited to feel sick. She is watching out for her first view of the sea. So are all the other children. And then Dad drives around the last bend and there is the ocean. The children all cheer. And Mum feels very relieved they have arrived. It has been a long, long, tiring journey.

Dad soon finds the beach house. It looks exactly like it did on the Internet. Dad parks the van on the driveway and the children all push and shove trying to be the first to get out. They look around. Yes, the house is right across from the beach. And there is a playground next to the beach. Mum has spotted a café on a pier over the sea. Everything is perfect. The long journey is forgotten. Mum and Dad forget how tired they are. They know they are going to have a perfect beach holiday.

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