August 21, 2011
It’s a grey day, but I’m bathed in abundant natural light. The morning sun, having shifted across the Dijon mustard tiles and the royal blue Persian rug, now hides behind the clouds yesterday was supposed to bring. Outside my wide, elevated, east and south-facing windows, is a peaceful expanse of back yards and flourishing trees; their branches gearing up for spring. Being at the back of the building, the traffic sounds reach me like a distant, muffled wind. It’s peaceful enough that the birdsong is paramount, and my little old fridge keeps largely to itself.
I moved here just yesterday, to this sweet little studio in Glebe, and already I’m in love with the place. After a month of searching, considering many options, of sharing or flying solo, I inspected this place last Saturday morning and instantly saw the potential. I had actually come to inspect this unit the week before, yet in a moment of folly wrote the address down as Glebe Point Road and found myself wandering into someone’s house. Having missed the inspection time, I was ready to give it up for dead. When no one subsequently applied, I was further inclined to pass pre-emptive judgement that the place was, in fact, undesirable. Yet my at times insatiable curiosity got the better of me, and thank goodness it did.
The previous situation, a large, friendly share-house on Queen’s Park, had been good in every regard with the exception of its outlook. The room, whilst nice in itself, faced onto a brick wall which made it oppressively gloomy during the day. The neighbours’ front door was also a short distance from my window, and their constant comings and goings, their children’s tendency to practice recorder badly and bounce basketballs outside on the path, and their recent acquisition of a small, yappy dog were driving me bonkers. When I returned from visiting my brother in Brisbane, where I had slept on a wide, comfortable, solid wood queen-sized bed in a room gold with morning sunlight and myriad magpies singing like squeaky swings outside the window, I knew instantly that I could wait no longer. I had to get out, and so I did, fleeing briefly to the ancestral home so I might find a new place at leisure, without the pressure of having to fix a departure date. The Workers’ Socialist Democratic Republic Paradise (hereafter, WSDRP) as our family home is known, proved again to be both wonderfully welcoming and convenient in a time of transition.
Today is my birthday and it is very pleasing to wake up in such a lovely place. Even the onset of heavy weather only fills me with a greater sense of romance. There is nothing quite so well suited to making a place feel homely, than to sit reading by a rain-lashed window. The move here was very smooth, and my regular helper and good friend Paul again deserves my great thanks for his efforts in driving me and my belongings. I ought also to thank the Holden Commodore, which impressed me with its capacity – especially when I slotted my half-sized fridge across the back seat; a fridge, incidentally, which my much-missed French Nana gave to me in 1993 when she moved into my old room at the WSDRP. It still works like a charm, despite having been left on in the laundry for the last six years to form a vast, solid-core iceblock around the small freezer compartment. Paul helped me to load and unload the car, whilst I did all the carrying work. My zeal, pace, energy and efficiency, earned me the nicknames Conan the Removalist and The Removalator. There is definitely something to be said for keeping fit and developing one’s upper body strength!
Moving into a place has always been one of my very favourite activities, whilst, conversely, moving out is one of the least enjoyable. This move had in fact begun on Wednesday, the day I signed the lease. After finishing teaching at one, I went straight to Surry Hills to purchase a bed and a desk, the core furniture I lacked, having lived since returning from England in furnished houses. I was in something of a hurry to do so as I was signing the lease in Concord at three o’clock, and I wanted the furniture delivered later that afternoon. It made sense to have the furniture delivered directly to the new address, and thus obviate the need for a removal truck, which I would not otherwise require.
The range of furniture available in the store proved disappointingly small. The business had relocated from Bronte, and, having been to their previous store, which covered three storeys, I had expected a wide range of beds and desks. Yet instead I found a single storey, quite sparsely stocked. It was in this that I was unexpectedly and unknowingly fortunate. The choices lay at either end of the scale and, remembering one of my favourite Chinese proverbs, “The bitter taste of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of a good bargain,” I knew I would regret the cheaper, aesthetically poor choice. After all, what had been lacking in my last place was aesthetics.
So it was that, after wandering around the shop floor, stepping repeatedly past the big, grey-beard drowsy dog, I knew I had no choice but to buy the solid and stylish wooden queen bed I had been eyeing for the last five minutes. Not far from it was a wonderfully weathered old wooden desk of epic size, yet slender legged and not too brutish. The one seemed the natural corollary to the other, so I mentioned my interest and cut a deal with the chap, who gave me a very nice discount. On top of this, he promised he would deliver at six thirty, and since I was to be his sole helper in unloading the goods, he would not charge for the delivery. It was, after all, a sweet bargain, but for quality.
I took a train to Burwood and walked out to Concord to sign the lease. It rained all the way – which one of my Korean students tells me is a good sign when moving house. As someone who loves the rain, I felt quite content as I returned via a long and congested bus-ride down Parramatta Road to Glebe. The brake-lights hung through the humid window in a world as sullen and grey as lamb fat. I felt an oddly peaceful eagerness, knowing I had time to kill before the delivery.
Here’s a poem I once wrote about Parramatta Road in 2005, which I throw in here by way of diversion.
These tired shops will never bring
slow-walking couples, blithe and entwined,
such is the hustle, the bash and the hiss;
heaves of freight, rubber and metal,
rolling petroleum, fog of exhaust.
as the bitumen warms,
as this smeared, groaning gully
fills freshly with urgent trumpets,
this stretched fan-belt girdle,
this gasoline funnel, this road
is like Christ risen
on a noose.
Having arrived at the apartment and determined which keys were which, I found it ever so slightly smaller than I remembered. I realised now that the bed was not going to fit where I had originally intended it to go, and felt a momentary uncertainty about my decision both to purchase such a large bed and to rent this flat in the first place. I became concerned about sleeping in the same space as a fridge. Were they not prone to groaning and rumbling throughout the night? Was I not someone who could not bear the almost inaudible hum of a device on standby; someone with a phobia of ticking clocks – who on earth wishes to hear their life disappearing like that? Would sleeping with a fridge be impossible? Would it unnerve me, disturb me, send me bats? I pushed this fear aside. The space was very nice, with great light; it was clean, peaceful and harmonious, and I trusted my ability to make it very nice indeed. Sleeping with a fridge, bah! If it bugged me, I could always turn it off at night and no doubt all would keep til the morrow.
With two hours to kill, I set off for Vinnies on Glebe Point Road and proceeded to buy up all the floral granny plates I could find. I also bought some cups, saucers, mugs, glasses, a milk jug, silver sugar bowl and a large painted tray with a lacquered fruit fresco as its base. Using this tray, I carried my collection of crockery and utensils back through the rain to the apartment. After washing and stacking it on the sink, I sat down to read The Butcher’s Wife by Li Ang; a gripping, yet very visceral novel which I would recommend, though not without reservations.
At six thirty the chap was outside with the furniture. Together we brought the various parts of the bed in without any difficulty. The desk however, being all of one piece, proved more of an obstacle. Unable to fit through the door, the only option was to haul it up through the back window. What followed was equal parts comic and heroic. With me at the top hauling on the ropes, and the chap from the store standing below on a piece of backyard furniture and trying to hold the desk steady over his head, we managed to get it through the back window after much straining. Sadly, in my wrestle to drag the desk through, I cracked the glass of one of the window panes.
Come Saturday, I finally had the chance to put everything in order and decorate my new home. It took only two hours to order the furniture, put books on shelves, hang clothes, fill drawers, make the bed, lay the rug, stock the kitchen cupboards and bathroom cabinet, and set up my computer. The next few hours were then spent decorating; arranging photographic prints, hanging poster reproductions of artworks, deciding which tea-towels to display…
And so here I am on Sunday morning, feeling almost indecently pleased with myself. The birds are singing, the light is glorious, the outlook soothing, the drizzle calming, the bed exceedingly comfortable. In such a short space of time I have already recovered a long-lost sense of equilibrium. The absence of pressure or interruption, the freedom from other agendas, the serenity of complete overlordship over one’s domain, have flooded me with relief. For years previously I had lived alone in apartments and houses, and it had always given me a far stronger sense of self. The last time I lived alone was in Glebe, just eight doors down the road from my current address. Indeed, if I look out the back window, I can see the balcony of my old flat. That was famously given the nickname “Cornieworld”, and it was a most excellent place in which I wrote a great deal, including my second-last novel. Funnily enough, the above poem was also written whilst living there. I was extremely happy in Cornieworld, though I stayed only a year as my growing disappointment with John Howard’s Australia inclined me to move back to Cambridge.
Since 2006 I have shared houses with others, and whilst this has been largely a pleasurable experience, I have not in all that time felt entirely at home. Even in the most relaxed and friendly of households, there is a need to keep up appearances. Even with the most open-minded and casual people, there is an awareness that one is observed in one’s own home. Occasional inconveniences and disturbances occur that are beyond one’s control; the bathroom is busy, the stove-top full, the oven in use, the kitchen is full of people when one is really not in the mood for conversation, and does not wish to be seen looking so tired and frumpy. All these things take their toll, and despite the good company of housemates, it is not possible to choose at which times one has this company.
Already, just one day into my new house, on the first day of the 39th year of my life, I feel transformed. There is no one above me and no one below me, for despite being on the second floor, below is the laundry and a store-room. I can step as heavily as I please, play music loudly, speak without fear of being overheard, and nor do I seem to hear anyone else. My new, old furniture looks magnificent; the pot plants, the rug, the photographs, the book spines, the tea-towels, cups and saucers, the wooden chair, the bedside table, the trio of soft toys, Bilby, Platty and Bünchen sitting beside me, all fill me with a sense of wholeness.
When I said I was moving back to Glebe, my old friend Simon, knowing how much I love the area, said “Ah, you’re going home!” And, for the first time in years, I really do feel as though I am at home. And that little old friend of mine, that ever durable, long-lasting fridge, makes barely a sound at all.