Here’s an exercise for you: go for a walk. Find a place where you can stand and spin 360 degrees without seeing any sign of civilisation. There should be no roads, no people, no rooftops. You’ll probably need to stand in a ditch of some kind to achieve this. Good? Now just for a minute, pretend that you are the only person on Earth. It’s just you. Anything could happen and, for a little while, you’d be ignorant. Maybe the world will vanish while you’re standing in your ditch, but you won’t notice until you return to find it gone.
There’s a fair chance that you’ll find this exercise to be rather difficult. Even if you’re open to the idea of imagining the whole world disappearing, you still have to find an appropriate ditch. The fact is that you can only do it somewhere that is, generally speaking, in the middle of nowhere, the kind of place that’s officially designated “rural”, if not “regional”.
If you’re in the city, you can experience what I consider to be the exact opposite of the above experience. Find a shop. It needs to be a small shop, the kind that might have been a hallway in a past life. Go to this shop when it is really busy. There will be lots of people. Now, for a moment, feel completely overwhelmed by the volume of them, overwhelmed by how not
alone you are. There are so many
people and they’re all so anonymous and close together.
Now I don’t know about you, but one of these things makes me feel calm and in control and peaceful. The other tends to make me feel quite anxious. You can probably guess which is which.
I grew up in Grafton. Technically speaking, Grafton is a “city” but it’s a small enough place that you can’t go down the street without bumping into someone you know. When I had my wisdom teeth out, both the dental assistant and the anaesthetist’s assistant were people I went to school with. It’s the kind of town which you either leave at the age of eighteen or you never leave at all. The cicadas are almost deafening when it’s hot and the streets are lined with trees. When I was at school the most common adjective used to describe it was “a hole” (is that an adjective?) but I’ve always disagreed. I could write tourism brochures for the place (Grafton: home of the oldest operating split-level cinema in the southern hemisphere, the oldest floral festival in Australia and Australia’s 11th
Prime Minister). I love it here.
When I moved out of home, I picked my next destination carefully. Newcastle wasn’t
the city and one of the things I love about the place is how stubbornly it pretends to be a country town. A lot of shops close on Sundays and you don’t have to drive very far at all to see a paddock. The suburb we live in is quiet and leafy and filled with families. On the other hand, there’s also three cafes within walking distance of my house.
Newcastle was always meant to be a stepping stone. I’ve been avoiding moving to the city for quite a long time.
I know there are endless advantages to living in the city. In Melbourne I’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to comedy. I can eat dumplings whenever I want. The public transport will work. It is, however, impossible to escape the fact that with each move I have drastically increased my chance of being stabbed while drastically decreasing the number of stars I can see from my veranda.
The other day I was wondering something. Are there people who read the classic children’s tale “Town Mouse, Country Mouse” (specifically Beatrix Potter’s version
) and are not immediately drawn to the plump little Country Mouse with his giant strawberries? Sure, the Town Mouse had tea parties, whatever, but he didn’t get to sleep in a peapod
I am a country mouse. I’ve always viewed the big smoke less as a destination and more as an inevitable pit-stop. I was always going to end up there, I accepted that a long time ago, but I’ve never envisaged myself staying
. Not forever. I’d visit, for a while (just like Country Mouse) but eventually I’d find my way back.
Right now, I’m bracing myself for the part of the story where we leave all the peapods behind.
I’m not too worried, not really. The moral of this children’s story after all, is that in order to appreciate what you have, you need to venture forth and discover what the grass is like on the other side of the fence.
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