Escape to the country
I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘Escape to the Country’, that absurdly middle-class ‘reality’ show that seeks to match-make ‘retired architect turned olive grower George’ with his dream 4 acre block in Somerset.
My favourite part is not how they always manage to film on one of England’s three annual sunny days (though that is impressive) but the ‘Mystery House’. The premise is magically simple. Say George wants a 2 bed / 2 bath rustic farmhouse with a northerly aspect and easy-upkeep for his retirement. Two of the houses will be that (give or take an extra downstairs loo).
The ‘Mystery House’ - conventionally showcased last - would, in George’s case, be a run down French-style chateau with 15 bedrooms, no internal plumbing and a goat farm. In other words, it’s always nothing that the person has said they want.
Nine times out of ten, George will pick the goat farm.
But despite my love for the show I’d certainly never thought about escaping to the country myself.
I mean, blimey.
I grew up in Sydney. I mean, really Sydney… inner-city Sydney. Formative years in a Surry Hills terrace (with a cat named Riley after the street we lived on), adolescence in a slightly bigger terrace in the slightly wilder fronds of Redfern.
Over the past year or so though, my feelings towards the country changed.
I blame my mother.
(when in doubt)
She was writing a book about farming. She was thinking about buying a place. And so we went. And went again. Every second weekend for several months.
Mudgee. Gulgong. Braidwood. Araluen. Cooma. Goulbourn. Collector.
Through these expeditions & their repetition, I found myself softening. To the quiet. To the heat. To the kindness with which strangers were treated (which is so not Sydney it’s not funny).
To the way the stillness would creep inside you after a couple of days and quiet your soul. To the contentment that brought.
So then I thought, maybe I could live in the country. More than, maybe I would live in the country. Maybe when I was 40 and married and a successful ceramist? Maybe when I was 30 and not-married-but-ideally-not-single and a burgeoning force in the art world?
….or you know, maybe when I was 26 and a single unemployed art student?
So it goes.
And so it came to pass that last Friday I finished up my last day as a downtown city lawyer completely out of fucks but with the most beautiful bouquet of flowers I’ve ever seen. The next morning the flowers and I both moved - to the country.
It was a bit unexpected. Even once I decided to head to ANU and accept all the Canberra it entailed, I still assumed that I would naturally seek out the densest, grungiest, most urban block of concrete that Canberra had going and call it mine. Convenient, central & clean is what I wanted.
But then a very good friend bought a house in the country with her long-term partner who turned out to be less long-term than anticipated. And so it was her & a fluffy cat occupying the little white and green weatherboard cottage surrounded by picket fencing that I moved in with.
And now, after two days of birdsong and dead foxes along the road on the drive into town… two days of strangers waving hello (not the hard actions of the city demanding attention but softer, reticent and just a little warm).
Two days and it is still weird. The change is fresh and weird and overwhelming in the way the country air is so clean it hurts my lungs if I breathe too deeply in the chilly early mornings.
I feel that I have done a George and chosen ‘the Mystery House’. No goats, but I might yet soften to a chicken or two.
Proper country like. Blimey.