My brother lives about 20 minutes from my house. Yet in that short distance it seems as though he lives three hours away as the setting is so different.
My house is in an old suburb about 20 minutes from the GPO. A standard block abutting three others. Main road is at the end of my street. There is always a quiet hum of traffic, even in the middle of the night. The train line is only one street behind us and trains go up and down from 5.00am in the morning until last one at about midnight. There is a Fire Station nearby and often there will be a wail of sirens to wake me up from a sleep. We are walking distance to everything. Somehow, despite the fact that we are so close to another person, we manage to live a fairly private life without too many neighbourly interruptions.
My brother, though just 20 minutes away, lives in an area where market gardens once prevailed. His block is about an acre in size as are all the blocks up his street, which is about 1km long I am sure. At the end of his street is a very busy road, however by the time you drive down to his house all evidence of traffic and suburban life just disappears. He lives there with his wife and two children in this semi-idyllic state. They have fruit trees. chickens, vegetable garden and lots of grass to run around on. Right down the back he has his “shed”. Shed is a polite way of saying “HUGE workshop”.
The Workshop. Well, I suppose it is every man’s dream. A giant work shed. When he first moved to the property it was a chicken shed on a big scale and there was a lot of work to do cleaning it out. Now it is a home away from home. He has a television and cane chairs down there and shares his solitude with black, fat and hairy spiders that sit on the rafters and look down at him. The place is full of timber, tools, paints and lacquers, work benches and anything else you can imagine. He makes furniture and windows and doors and all sorts of things that he needs for jobs. He gets lovely pieces of timber that are second hand and more beautiful than anything you could buy new with their lovely aged glow that comes through once the grey surface is sanded back and a coat of oil rubbed in. I suppose that this is where he escapes to when he needs peace and quiet.
At the rear of his block is a giant market garden. Huge hothouses with their thick plastic covering that ripples when the wind blows along the surface. Vast expanses of green vegetable or flower matter growing. The fence is all but fallen down and thick t-trees and other gnarly and twisted vegetation have created a natural type of fence – perhaps an Australian version of the English hedgerow. Diagonally across the road from him some people have sheep and further up the road someone has a cow in their front yard. The neighbour on one side grows gerbera’s for the florist industry. The neighbour’s house is very old, Victorian and has featured in the odd movie. To mow my brother’s lawn with a ride on mower takes about two hours.
The other day I went there and waited for him for about 15 minutes. In that time I walked down the backyard to the chicken shed where the hens clucked my arrival and watched me peer in at them. I then walked up to the front of the house and stood looking up and down the empty road in front. It was completely devoid of any human noise. I could hear the silence of nature. Birds, insects, sheep and the wind in the trees. The ringing sound of sun drugged crickets and the crunch of dry grass and twigs as I walked back and forth looking at the dry ground littered with gum leaves. It was so hot and so quiet I felt as though I were only a child visiting my parents friends in Dookie where that same peaceful atmosphere was everywhere.
I love that idea of having a big block away from the main suburbs but still close to a busy strip shop or impersonal shopping centre. I try to condense that feeling in my own small surburban patch but not always with success. It is quite often that I will be hanging out the washing and hear my neighbour clear his throat or that sharp yap of a nearby dog and the sound of a door opening and shutting. When the lady next door hangs out her washing, I hear the squeak of the hoist as she winds it up or down and the flap of clothes as the wind dries them off. Whilst that may seem too close for some, there is also a comfort in being near to human beings. Sort of a confirmation of the whole process of society and the odd kind of semi dependence we have on each other. A comfort and a stress all wrapped into one.
Sometimes when I am out amongst crowds of people I find that not only the noise but the chaos of all those human beings exuding their emotions and verbalising at the one time is so overwhelming I just want to get home to the solitude I have created in my own house. I have learnt over the years to zone out when there is no escape otherwise I would be too anxious to leave the house.
Escapism – the best way is to perfect the art of it in your head. I have it almost down to perfection.