Thursday, April 05, 2007

One of the things I've hugely enjoyed about leaving the great daily commute up to London and working from home, is a growing sense of community. My typical day begins rising with the (enthusiastically loud) birds in the line of trees just over our back hedge, and once the giri has left for work I knuckle down to a few hours work. On a good day I will have accomplished oodles by lunch, on a bad day I will have stared blankly at the screen or found that the ironing pile, the dishes, or scrubbing out the bathtub are ever so much more interesting. By the afternoon I'm getting cabin fever and will walk into town (a 20 minute brisk stroll), and now that the weather's fine it is still light when I get back so the garden magnetically attracts, pulling me in with the joys of weeding (actually, I hate weeding but find it strangely therapeutic). Then it is about time to start cooking dinner, or re-heating the leftovers.

What has changed drastically is my lifestyle. Where once I was on the train by 7am and returning at 9 or 9:30pm, I rarely rush anywhere now. It wasn't until I stopped insane commuting that I realized just how tired and stressed I was, and (unless needs must) I will never opt for a commute again. Almost all our shopping was supermarket-based surrounded by hordes of other people rushing to accomplish the same mission (get in and out as quickly as possible). I'm not knocking it, just explaining how it was. I still pop into the supermarket, as there are some things I can't get anywhere else, but I'm much more focussed on small, local businesses these days. The charming result of this, is a genuine engagement with community which I'd not even particularly noticed was missing.

Yesterday, for example, chatting to a distinguished looking gentleman I've known about town for the past ten months or so, I discovered he had offered the first university-level African and Caribbean literature course in the UK back in the 1950s! How amazing! We mentally raced through our bookshelves and will be trading bits and bobs shortly. I love that at the local farmers' market which runs six days a week, the baker, the cheese stall holder, and the veg stall staff all know us (not well, of course, but enough that it is a beginning); the Bangladeshi grocer gives us freebies of chillies and ginger (he's the only place in town to get paneer, bitter gourd, tiny baby brinjals and curry leaves for Indian cooking); the Kenyan Indian newsagent family are charming (we've progressed to me being chided if I don't look like I've just come from the gym when I pop by for my paper); then there are the staff at the wholefood store, the librarians (of course - I practically live there) and the retired clergy...

Small town life - it exists despite itself, but you have to know where to look, and you have to have time. I have to thank the giri for that: giving me time while he slogs away for the both of us.
THE WORD (from LABORATORIES OF THE SPIRIT) by R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

A pen appeared, and the god said:
'Write what it is to be
man.' And my hand hovered
long over the bare page.

until there, like footprints
of the lost traveller, letters
took shape on the page's
blankness, and I spelled out

the word 'lonely'. And my hand moved
to erase it; but the voices
of all those waiting at life's
window cried out loud: 'It is true.'

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Anonymous Maxine said...

great post! Speaking as one trapped in commuting hell for all too long, I was both mesmerised and envious -- not envious in a negative way, but envious of the "non commuting state" you are most wondefully in.

9:06 pm  
Anonymous Ann said...

It is begining to look as if my working life style is about to change drastically and yesterday I decided that I was actually quite excited about this. Your post has just reinforced that feeling.

8:07 am  
Anonymous danielle said...

Just being live in Canterbury? How cool. I don't blame you for not wanting to commute. That sounds like a horribly long day. They day you describe working from home sounds so much saner!!

11:10 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Maxine - I know all about that kind of envy as I used to suffer from it! I hope one day you'll find a kinder commute, or some other way to work things out.

Ann - glad this helped; it is a state of loveliness which I heartily commend (although you do have to be careful about managing your time, if you're planning to work from home, and that has its own drawbacks!).

Danielle, I do indeed live in Canterbury - a lovely place, and one I highly recommend for a visit, should you make it across the pond. I should warn you though that in England a place is determined a "city" if it has a cathedral. So calling Canterbury a city, is being decidedly generous.It is a small place, but it does have loads to see and do.

8:20 am  

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