"This," sighed Mike - though 'sighed' might have been too energetic, it was certainly too emphatic, a verb - "is what I call a perfect holiday."
Bruce tried to suppress a shudder. He thought he'd been rather successful. It could have passed for a yawn.
Mike leaned out of the hammock. "Sorry. Am I boring you?"
"Not at all," Bruce responded. "Just the heat. You were saying?"
Mike gestured, proprietorially, at the chillybin, the barbie, the bach, the beach, the view, the Pacific, the universe beneath and around the belly he'd cultivated over three decades since he'd propped the Old Boys President's Grade scrum.
"All this. It's the Kiwi dream, isn't it? What more could a man want? This is why we go to work for 48 weeks of the year, 9 to 5, put up with all that shit from the boss."
Bruce thought this was probably not the time to point out that Mike had taken over his father's trucking company when the Old Man died, that his sister was the accountant, his brother was the operations manager, and their sons and daughters were dispersed through the family trust that owned the business, or that most of the 48 weeks and 70 hours, give or take, a week were spent "meeting clients" at the golf course or in the Cossy Club.
"So, Mike, what's the perfect day of the perfect holiday for you?" If he and Martha, and Mike and Brenda, were going to pledge four or five weeks of their life together, marking significant birthdays and anniversaries in some overly romanticized and undoubtedly misguided evocation of the Kiwi New Year in Provence or the Amalfi Coast or Hawaii, Bruce wanted to be prepared. At worst, aware.
"Strewth, mate, I'd have to think about that." The Daily Eyestrain's summer edition slipped off the torso that had once anchored a triallist for All Black hooker and nestled among the chippie packets in the kikuyu.
"Let's see. We'd be here, at the bach. I'd wake up around, oh, 8 or so. Brenny would be up already and cooking the breakfast - bacon, eggs, tomatoes, hash browns, good cuppa. I'd wander down to the dairy and get the Eyestrain and a loaf of bread. When I got back brekky would be on the table. She wouldn't give me death about a heart-attack breakfast.
"After that I might go for a swim. Down to the beach anyway. Bit of a walk to get over the breakfast. Come home, read the paper. The two of us like to go up to the shops, have a look around, probably bump into some mates.
"It's like that around here over New Year. People have been coming here for years, we all know one another and we like to catch up.
"Siesta in the afternoon. Tea time, we might have a barbecue here, or go down to the RSA or the club. They do a good steak, good fish and chips. They say it's local but that's a bit of a rort these days.
"There's a couple of boats that have quota, but they have to bring the flounder or whatever back here, send it over the hill to the official market to get the papers stamped, then Johnny drives it back and the local greasy sells it as fresh off the boat. If we're at the club Brenny'll have a couple of G&T's, I like my beers. Maybe a Scotch. Lucky we're just a few steps from home.
"This" - he gestured towards the cabbage tree and sunburned hydrangea - "might look like the wop-wops, but the local traffic cop has still got to meet his quota."
Bruce realized that Mike's perfect day was rapidly approaching a late middle-aged encounter with Brenda in circumstances he preferred not to envisage. "Sounds pretty much like, ah... " he improvised, "a slice of heaven, Mike."
"Had to argue with that, mate. So" - Mike rolled in the hammock, gazed into the esky, and mulled over his health and trauma insurance premiums - "if we're serious about this trip to Europe or whatever, what's your idea of a perfect holiday? Or whatever it was you said."
"Fair question." Bruce rewound his mind to the agriturismo in Umbria and the villa in Menerbes. "Let's see. We'd be in a farmhouse or a place we'd rented near the sea. Yes, when I woke up Martha would be getting the breakfast - probably prosciutto, or eggs, or melons, or something while I read the Guardian and New York Times on the iPad. You know, the sort of breakfast we never have time for when we're at home. Not that I'm saying a word against her home-cooked muesli, of course," he flustered.
"There's a pool at the villa so I'd probably have a swim. Or we might walk into the hills behind it. Lavender, thyme... " he gestured, horticulturally. "Then a read. I used to like to take a bunch of library books on holiday but these days they're all on the Kindle. Kobo. Whatever. Course, all these Mediterranean places close down for a couple of hours in the afternoon, so there's nothing else you can do except laze around the pool with a good book. Like you said, siesta.
"Afternoon, it's passegiata. You absolutely have to go up to the village and watch all the locals parading around, gossiping, 'Has Giuletta moved to Rome? Has she found a nice man yet?' Then you head to the Bar des Sports or whatever, and there's about seven generations of the Limoncello family, or whoever, going on about football and politics and some scandal involving the local mayor. All very loud and histrionic and Italian. Unless you're in France, of course, when it'll be about how the chef should have cooked the duck or the sauce for the lobster.
"When the sun goes down we'll find a local ristorante or bouchon for dinner. Whatever the local speciality is. Of course, the way that the food miles are going and the Med's been fished out, the vegetables have probably come from Turkey or the fish is from Japan. Or," he grinned, with a sudden pang about his last bouillabaisse in Marseilles, "Raglan."
Clarity is a bugger. Bruce realised what a pretentious, inner-city, middle-class, middle-aged git he sounded. At the same moment, Mike reached over and touched his arm. "Sounds like the perfect holiday to me. Let's do it."
TO BE CONTINUED