I was due to go back to my newly renovated house in Melbourne today and had been gearing up for a while, bracing myself even for the rigours of city life. But when I learnt that the painting was way behind schedule and that one of the shower screen panels and a pedestal basin had to be replaced, I was only too happy to postpone my return for another week. Well, what could I do? How would I manage the increasingly bumptious Bertie (all the beach romps and sea air are making him super fit and harder to tire out) around paint pots and wet surfaces? I was envisaging white paint on his paws and nose and chocolate brown hairs trapped in newly painted walls.
So, I’m still here with the pounding of the ocean my bedtime lullaby, the chatter of birds my morning wake-up call and starlit skies unblemished by light pollution my night-time vista. And this week’s full moon sunsets have coloured the sky magnificent shades of purple and pink. Gaining an extra week here feels like precious time I have stolen back. You see, I’ve rather fallen in love with life on the Surf Coast and haven’t really missed city life at all.
Life is gentler here, quieter, slower and calmer and it feels GOOD. I’m not missing the traffic, the cacophony of caffeinated chatter and clattering of coffee cups in Melbourne’s many ‘go-to’ cafes, nor the one-upmanship and competitiveness about who is busiest or the most tired, the running around from thing to thing, the tail chasing and endless pursuit of the latest thing in retail, culture, sport, fashion or food. It’s easy to get trapped in wanting to keep up with it all and follow the crowd.
Here my phone rings less, I write fewer lists, am less wakeful in the night and am more focused in my work. Some of the concrete-like tension in my neck and shoulders has softened, and I’ve become fitter, even running (well more or less) up the steep beach steps and doing mini jogs with Bertie. I’ve had moments of feeling like I did when I was a child; more carefree and in the moment without one eye constantly on tomorrow.
There’s a more laidback vibe here what with all the surfer dudes, coastal dwellers and retirees, and things are less of a drama without the intensity of urban living. The other day, for example, I lost my internet connection and didn’t know why. I was working on a big project with a tight deadline but took it all in my stride. I drove up the hill to see if it was a signal problem (it wasn’t), so then rang my ISP provider and finally Telstra – whose 4G WI-FI device I am using here – only to find out I had run out of credit! It turns out that video calls on Skype gobble up lots of data. Lesson learned. Anyway, I lost about half a day but remained unperturbed, instead of going into a spin and wasting time and energy.
Yes, I know, I’m being escapist and can’t run away from my other life forever. If I had moved here permanently, I would no doubt have regretted it by now, and felt I was missing out on the many advantages of city living. I’m talking as someone who has had a brief taste of country/coastal life and enjoyed it knowing my other life and everyone in it would still be there when I got back.
But I think it goes deeper. I grew up in small rural villages in England or on the edge of small towns. Rolling green fields, country walks, dogs, tuning in to the seasons, peace and quiet were all part of my landscape – all low key stuff rather than the high-jinx and high-life. I think perhaps I’m a sociable loner who needs regular periods of solitude, preferably in nature, in between interacting with others.
That’s why I so enjoyed reading Ailsa Piper’s account of walking the Camino (Sinning Across Spain) and her quest for solitude. Many fellow walkers wanted to be her friend and to barge in on her space. Ailsa was one of the writers at the recent Lighthouse Literary Fest in Fairhaven. She talked about the city as having no gaps and compared it to music in elevators; one of the many ways we block out silence.
I’m going to luxuriate in the space, silence and serenity of my coastal surrounds this weekend. But, and here’s the social loner in action, there are a few excitements planned as well. A trip to Torquay tonight to see the local acting troupe in Twelve Angry Jurors, dinner with a writer and wine-maker tomorrow night and an opportunity to get up close and personal with a bee hive on Sunday.