Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Willing Exiles

From time to time it happens that a man wakes up one day and decides he has had enough. Enough, but of what? Enough of everything, everything that is except his wife, his dog and his books. And so he shuts up his house and pays his last power bill and has the telephone disconnected, and then he takes his wife and his dog and his books and goes to a lonely spit of land jutting into a vast and empty harbour that most people have never heard of and here he settles down for a time to reflect on just what it’s all about.

Now, it just so happens, too, that a woman will wake up one day and feel the same way as that man I just described, and should she by a stroke of good fortune be his wife, then this makes for a smoother time of it for everyone. The days are well behind us when a man could simply pack up his wife along with his dog and books and carry them all off to the middle of nowhere. Nowadays, he needs her permission, and I suppose that’s the way it ought to be.

In any case, that is what we did. We came to a place no roads lead to, and where there are no roads once you get here. And that’s not all there isn’t. There are no shops, no cinema, no schools (although there remains a deserted school-house), no traffic jams or rush hours, no honking of horns or the blaring of sirens, none of that persistent background hum that all cities make which never ceases, there is no electricity and no phones.

What is there? Paddocks cut by a vast wetland, steep hills and grassy dunes, the tide that comes in and goes out, the mud-flats that appear and then disappear, the grazing sheep and the wild horses, the geese, the goats, the pigs. In the place of the ceaseless background hum of the city is the ceaseless background drone of the surf along the coast. The world here extends only as far as the eye can see, which is to the horizon in one direction, and to the hills everywhere else. It’s a small world but it’s more than big enough.


And so a man can sit and watch the tide come in and watch it go out again, he can listen to the warbling of the magpies and the droning of the surf, he can wake when the sun comes up and go to bed, after he puts out the lantern, when it’s dark. Maybe not for the rest of his days, but for a time at least, and for that time at least he can hear himself think. And what does he think about, now that he can actually hear himself think? He thinks about the insanity of the world beyond, a world no one meant to create but one which we all helped to construct, as if we were prisoners who had unwittingly built our own prison. And he wonders why he would ever return to that.

And yet he will. He’ll pack up his wife and his dog and his books and he’ll go back to all that. What a thing a man is.

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