A pre-Christmas holiday

I went on holiday last week. Work was getting antsy about high leave balances, and I was fed up with work, so it was a mutually agreeable arrangement.

I found a lovely wee cottage to rent about an hour north of home, and I booked it for 4 days. I decided to start my holiday on Sunday afternoon because it was better than rushing out of work on Friday and dealing with traffic, and it was way better than a normal Sunday afternoon spent contemplating the week of work ahead.

The cottage was lovely, well equipped and clean and private. There was a table and two chairs outside under a verandah, with an outlook over a small field of lavender. It was warm and sunny. I sat outside with a cup of tea and a book and felt the tension letting go.

I replaced the tea with a glass of wine. I sat. I listened to the birds and looked at the lavender and sipped the wine. I felt the warmth seeping into my bones.

I went fly fishing one afternoon in the nearby river. I stood in the water casting and watching the strike indicator bob along until it was time to retrieve it and cast again. Rinse and repeat. I went to the beach and sat on the sand and looked at the shells and the small waves and the clouds and the people way down the other end of the beach. I let the sun warm me. I read. I took a nap in the shade of some silver birches. I watched a hedgehog make his way over the gravel driveway to the cool dark shade of my car and onward to the hedge. I made salads for dinner.

On other words, I went away for a week and did nothing and it was wonderful.


Being alone with a friend, in a good way

Being alone with a friend sounds like either an oxymoron, or “friend” really means wanna-be partner. However, in this case, it’s neither.

Last weekend was the end of a long and and tiring week and I had reached the bottom of my battery. In an effort to recharge I spent most of Saturday in or on my bed trying to feel like doing something vaguely productive or interesting, and failing. Sunday was looking like it was heading the same way.

And then I got an offer I couldn’t refuse, from my friend and former colleague Ingrid.

Let me tell you a bit about her. We worked together for about a year, and we hit it off straight away. We worked really well together, swapping work back and forth and handing things off seamlessly. We knew we’d honed our craft when no one could tell the difference between our work.

Ingrid is far more artistic than me. She’s had a long history of design and craft, draws and paints well, makes all kinds of things, is a dab hand with power tools, and has a whole large room dedicated to and set up for making things.

One day we were discussing our idea of fun activities and I learned that she routinely packs her car with essentials of various kinds (varied according to the activity du jour) and drives somewhere with a view, preferably without too many people, sits in the back of her car and eats her chosen food and does her chosen activity – be that read, do a cryptic crossword, draw, paint, photograph, collect shells, knit, write, whatever.

I thought this was the coolest thing I’d heard. I immediately wondered why I’d never thought to do this as a regular thing.

Ingrid left work, deciding that 9-5 was not for her, so we arranged to see one another for Elevenses every week on my work-from-home day to keep in touch and just because that’s what you do with friends.

We missed the previous week’s Elevenses because I had something on, so instead she suggested we do something on Sunday. She proposed a car trip. How perfect.

We drove to brunch, then out to a nearby rocky bay she had recently discovered. We bought some cakes for afternoon tea, and parked on the foreshore to watch the waves and the birds. We went for a walk to collect shells and interesting things to draw (including two crab ‘skeletons’). We sat in the car and did two cryptic crosswords. Then we drove home. It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Solo car picnics might be my new favourite thing.

Being alone with a friend is like being by yourself but better because you’re doing what you like doing but you’ve got someone there who enjoys it as much as you. You’re not at odds, one person feeling restless and bored (them) while the other (me) feels like they’re getting pressured to race around and Do Things just for the sake of it.

It was fun, relaxing and interesting, and I felt like I had Done Something with my weekend that had recharged me. A win all round.

Land visit

I just got home from a visit to the farm. I met with the farmer and drive around with him, discussing grass, cows, politics (he started it – our election is next week and water and farmers are hot topics), fencing and other suitably agricultural topics. He’s a nice man and clearly loves land and loves watching healthy animals grow.

The land is looking lovely, green and lush. The cows are happy and getting fat. The weather was sunny and much warmer than here, and it really was a glorious place to be.

I’ve pretty much decided where the house will go now, and I’ve discussed new fencing and planting the gullies with the farmer, who agrees it’s a good plan. So now I have to set various balls in motion.

But right now I need sleep. It’s a lot of driving, there and back in a weekend, and I was dead on my feet on Friday as it was.

A restorative sleep, then on with the planning.

The irony of moving out of town to live alone

I have now gone unconditional on the land, so there’s no going back! Not that I want to. I’m planning and dreaming and tying myself up in knots over logistics. It’s fun. 

A curious phenomenon: I have told friends about this purchase and my plan to build a small house and retreat there to live a quiet and solo life. And everyone’s first reaction? “I’ll come and visit you!”

The irony of it. I am frankly quite delighted and weirdly flattered, or is it encouraged ? that so many people are interested in my plans and excited for me, while also being excited they’ve now got a cheap or free place to stay when they travel up that way. (They’re wrong about free: the guest accommodation will be part of my income so they will have to pay, although at reduced rates). 

But it’s not my intention in moving there to have a constant stream of guests. I want to live alone. And that means being alone for more of the time, much more of the time, than being with people. 

In reality I doubt this will be the inundation it sounds like at the moment, with everyone excited and the idea of it all brimming with possibilities. Already, friends travelling up that way have asked for the address to go check it out. 

This is all fine right now. And maybe I’m reading too much into people’s enthusiasm. What I’m concerned about for myself is being able to pace myself, to regulate the amount of visitor time I have, to ensure that I have enough time alone. 

I cannot do back to back weekends with visitors. Last weekend’s tramping trip was great but it was enough people contact for several weeks. Having friends to stay in my house is hard going for me. Entertaining people – being responsible for showing them a good time – is exhausting. 

I am going to need an approach to having people to stay that makes it clear they are on their own in terms of entertaining themselves from after breakfast until dinner time or even until next morning. I need to know I can retreat to my own space and get on with my own projects without being interrupted or forced to socialise. 

In fact I think this approach can be very freeing for guests too. They can do their thing and not feel dependent on me. The fact they’ll have to have a car to even stay there means they’ll have that freedom without needing me to drive them. 

Ironic that, in planning for my great escape, my first need is to protect my privacy and solitude.