The Return: A Room Of My Own

12 Aug

I dedicate this post to Sabine. We met in Sardinia when Stuart and I stayed at the beach hotel Sabine works in. When she heard of my ‘gap year’ Sabine said how much she’d love to travel but that she couldn’t conceive of going on her own. She felt stuck. I told her she would be absolutely fine on her own. I urged her to make a plan and just do it. Some months later I received an excited email from Sabine in Australia. She’d done it! She’d started her gap year in Thailand, Malaysia and India and she was having an amazing time. She went on to travel in the US and Europe. This coming October she will be in Morocco. Congratulazioni Sabine!


I’m back where I started. It’s only to be expected. Restlessness. Two exciting, transformative years of discovery; people, places, but more importantly, myself.

To recap (skip the next paragraph if you’ve been with me since the beginning):

August 17, 2011: Age 55 I quit my job and depart Brisbane, Australia, to travel solo in Africa and the myriad adventures that follow. Except for a brief return to our family home in Indooroopilly when it was sold, to pack up and store the contents, I’ve not had a home of my own. I was happy with that. You don’t realise the money, time and energy sucked into caring for property and possessions until you no longer have to.

August 1, 2013: I return to a brand new, modern house in Brisbane we bought last May while in Europe. As an aside may I offer advice from experience should you ever find yourself in a similar position. Never buy a property long distance unless you enjoy frustration. You may think with modern banking and telecommunications it would be a snap. Quite the contrary. It was an ordeal that kept me up many nights trying to communicate with people in Australia. Endless trips to out of the way solicitors for certifications. Public libraries and offices for copying and scanning. Postal services to send the numerous original copies of documentation required by Australian law. Then Royal Mail failed to deliver. Paperless society my arse!

Without my father at the Gold Coast and our sons (Tristan then in Brisbane and Cameron in Melbourne) acting on our behalf it would all have fallen through. I confess, sometimes I willed it to. Part of me prefers to be a gypsy.

So here I am in a large, shiny, new suburban house with the contents of the old house around me trying to make sense of this space and all our possessions. The primary emotion is guilt that I have so much. Can’t hide from reality. One in two hundred Australians are homeless. My government is demonising asylum seekers who try to come to Australia by boat by sticking them in tents and demountables on a malarial tropical island. I try to process those facts and figure out a way to live with myself. I will resolve it somehow I know.

The wall of boxes threatens to overwhelm me. My previous efforts at culling proved inadequate. What looks charming in a 1930s Queenslander style house is odd in this contemporary dwelling. Eighteen months of non-AC storage yellowed and mildewed linens, lamp shades, towels. Amidst the mess I make four general piles. Stuff that stays. Stuff that goes to the opp shop. Stuff to throw away. Stuff to sell (aah, there’s the germ of an idea).

I create small oases of order, starting with the kitchen. Moving on to my clothes I become confused. How does one woman accumulate 15 jackets/coats? Ah, yes, my husband bought half of them for me. The man loves leather jackets. I impose a six month embargo on myself for buying new clothes.

Other tasks are equally baffling. Ten packets of multiple keys. None of them labelled. Spend an hour trying to sort and label them and still have keys left over. No idea what they open.

I’m still in vigilant travel mode. Carry my handbag everywhere with me. Even room to room at home. It sits beside me when I sleep. The bag holds everything I need to function, including my passport and ipad. The idea of being without it causes me anxiety.

I fight the habit of washing my knickers every night. The new washing machine mocks me.

I lock the front door when I’m home, something Stuart scoffs at. It’s not that I feel menace, it’s just a habit from travelling alone.

My delight in having a kitchen is short lived. The fancy European gas stove top only works when it feels like it. I’m reduced to boiling eggs in the microwave while I wait for the service person.

On the positive side I’m entranced by the view high up from the back of the house where we spend most of the time, in the lounge, verandah and kitchen. By day it’s 180 degrees of blue sky, green hills and houses, but as the sun starts to drop the hills and sky flame orange and white. Minute by minute colours deepen to red and a black slash that picks out the undulating line of hills. Finally house and street lights twinkle in the blackness.

My other joy is a room of my own. If you haven’t read Virginia Woolf’s 1928 essay, ‘A Room of One’s Own’, I recommend it. It’s her earliest and best non-fiction writing. ‘Room’ is her metaphor for the socio-economic circumstances that permit women to write fiction. Woolf wittily and cogently deconstructs the status of male and female writers from the earliest to her contemporaries and outlines a way towards equality. It’s still apt.

My actual room is not for writing, that I can do anywhere since I no longer have the demands of children and my current work is flexible (more on that next time). The room I’ve claimed is a wood floored, lightfilled studio at the top of the house. It’s an ideal space for flamenco dancing, yoga and meditation. It will also be home to some of my most treasured possessions, photos of family and friends, and mementos of special people and places.

Unpacking on my own is emotionally draining. I hardly recognise the pretty, slim, blonde woman in photos taken in California. And who is that tanned, young, handsome man with the beard? So many pictures open the floodgates. I find a box of multiples of the three original music CDs Cameron recorded and listen to them while I work. Damn he is good! Then I open a packet of letters home to my parents. Mum kept them all and gave them back to me last year when I visited. I’d been in such a rush I just dumped them into a packing box.

The earliest letter is dated 1978 as I was starting my studies at Salford University in the UK and Stu was working in Calais, France. We both commuted weekly from our home in London. The last letter was written in 1996. Countless tissue thin airmail pages and aerograms chronicle our years in Europe, California, Japan, Malaysia and my seven-month stint studying in Indonesia. I got lost in them for a large part of yesterday. The most touching detail the births and early years of our sons, Cameron in London in 1981 and Tristan in Laguna Beach, California in 1984. I’d forgotten so much, especially the hectic nature of our expat lives, with both of us working plus extra-curricular activities. How did we fit it all in? I never kept a journal so this is a treasure trove.

Age has brought me the realisation that not everything must be done today. Sometimes procrastination has a purpose. I listen to my biorhythms instead of forcing things. Taking the time to sleep, stretch and think. Who cares if the house isn’t spick and span? Order will be restored eventually. Meantime I daydream about delivery of the mozaic tiled fountain I bought in Fez. It should arrive in September. There is an ideal spot on the verandah for it. Surrounded by plants in ceramic pots it will create a miniature kasbah in Queensland. I see myself sitting there in the sunshine planning our next overseas travel adventure.

Footnote: For those following Stuart’s health saga, he consulted with his prostate cancer specialist, Dr John Yaxley, this week and has been given the all clear. He’ll continue his six monthly PSA blood tests and an MRI check in October 2014. Stuart knows how lucky he is believe me!

His discomfort in the nether regions has been tracked backed to referred pain from pressure on the pudendal nerve caused by a long standing spinal disc problem exacerbated by travel. He’s being seen by a physiotherapist who specialises in treating just that and is already feeling better after two weeks of specific exercises and stretching. Two courses of antibiotics for nought!

My studio ‘before’.


Hooked on sunsets.


20130813-084840.jpgWhat to do with the legacy of five years in Japan….so much of this stuff…

An Englishman’s home is his castle.

A shadow of my former self.

The new Brisbane skyline.

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