Another glorious and blue-eyed morning on the far side of the universe in the Dark Continent. This morning I woke early and threw open my curtains, then sat down on a zendo cushion chewed around the rim by unmindful puppies and meditated for 45 minutes. After that I had some wild Kenyan coffee and a cup of green tea to calm down the thrill of the wild coffee. Then I tidied the spare room because we have city guests coming to stay. In my next life I am coming back sober from the get-go and houseproud. I found pruning shears under the bed, an extra copy of As Bill Sees It, lonely unmatched socks in twirly patterns and the lid of a pale green Le Creuset pot I lost four years ago. And after that I sat down on the swept floor of the spare room and meditated again because my head was in a bad Hating-the-Inner-Slob mood.
As the unforgettable and unforgotten David Foster Wallace puts it:
‘As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about “teaching you how to think” is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: “Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.’
City guests sometimes known as friends turn up frazzled from the traffic on the highways. They sit in the garden and smell the musk roses and listen to birds. They wonder aloud why they don’t live out in the country, why everyone does not live this way. They have long baths in soft unpolluted country water and cups of tea and sticky buns. Then they say shyly that they want to pop across to the chemist for something. The lone star chemist closes at noon most days. The guests get restless. They want to go out and drink espresso at fabulous buzzy little cafes and nibble on sushi and look at glamorous celebs mingling and thronging in shopping malls. They cannot believe I live without television or video. They don’t want to listen to sublime Bach on the old grungy player. I let them do Internet shopping online. They want to do exciting clubby things when it gets dark and everyone in the village goes to sleep. The country air makes them yawn. They go to bed and the owl keeps them awake in the small hours. They get up and jog around misty vineyards but miss the traffic noise and grey fumes. The quiet becomes a little sinister. They miss the crowds and the delis and the ambulance sirens. There are large spiders lurking under the eaves and fruit bats that swoop through the garden at twilight. Cobras under the plumbago bushes at the back of the garden. And yet despite the dangers, nothing much happens. They find their own thoughts boring. Nothing to buy, nobody to fight with, nothing to do. The old mirror in the bathroom makes them look fat. They make implausible excuses and dash back to the city with relief at the crack of dawn on Sunday.
It is of course a retake on Beatrix Potter’s story of Johnny Town Mouse and Timmy Willie the little country mouse. (I once had a wonky tricycle I called Timmy Willie because it preferred ditches to the road.)