To Die For

This page written circa 13 August, 2007.

Yet another of our friends has passed a remark that amounts to saying "you are living a lifestyle that most of us would kill for". It is hard to believe at times, such as when I am putting on gum boots to walk across squelchy, poo-studded ground to play trains in the workshop or figuring out what to do with a dead sheep. On the other hand, listening to birdsong in the spa and giving a small lamb his bottle of milk are two charming activities. Tom Lehrer remarked of a certain woman named Alma that "the body that reached her embalmer was one that had known how to live", and the body that reaches mine will likewise have trodden more paths than most.

At dinner recently, Pawan confided that "nobody thought anyone with a CV like yours would really come to a place like this". Once again I launched into my spiel about how Kay "wanted to do the rural thing", how I had reduced confidence in the US$ (just now being vindicated as CA real estate prices falter, the US$ reaches NZ$1.34 and A$1.18, and China seeks to "dampen speculation it will conduct a massive sell-off of U.S. dollar holdings"), how we decided that if we were to move we might as well make it a big move, how UoW needed someone who could do just what I am good at doing, and how NZ seemed to be a rising star. All good reasons.

So I ask myself why, in the light of all these things, do Kay and I still occasionally wonder "what have we done"? We are expecting the completion of the extension to make life much better. All the same, Kay asked me "what do we do if we find after it is all finished that we really liked living in America better than living here?". Go back, is the answer, I expect. Warwick is going back to work in Europe; Sydney cannot offer a good enough situation, not in engineering anyway. Thank goodness this situation is less intense in academia.

Australia and New Zealand have problems, but they are mostly associated with service, and I'll wager New Zealand is faring better that Australia and the UK, the current coal-miner's strike notwithstanding. A recent blog in the SMH ran thus: Sure, it's irritating when you have to book a taxi via a machine and it can't understand your tipsy slurring or your foreign accent. And those automated switchboards are annoying. But machines don't deliver their service with a side order of resentment, anger and schadenfreude. They don't vent their frustrations about poor pay and crap working conditions (and anyway, that's no excuse - some of the politest, most compassionate people I know are minimum wage workers, just as some of the rudest are millionaires). Well, duh. Foremost among the nations of the world in understanding service, Americans long ago realised the value of service, and so reinforced its quality by making financial survival dependent upon it. This simply has not happened in Australia, and it has yet to happen here. More so in Australia than New Zealand do you find service so vile that a machine looks preferable!

So what bugs me about this lifestyle? Why am I not yet convinced?
If Kay has a weakness, it is the willingness to take on too much responsibility. I did not like maintining a suburban garden when I lived in the 'burbs of Sydney, then I loved the lack of horticultural responsibility that came with an apartment, but now we face 5.5 acres of prime responsibility. We have two mobs of sheep, a flurry of lambs, a cunning alpine goat, 2 cats, a coop of chickens, a pen of ducks, and I live under the threat of a calf. There is a pool and a spa and a coal-fired central-heating system and a driveway that gets potholes. The pool desperately needs solar heating. There are rows of new plants that Kay has bought but has yet to plant and a large vegetable patch that needs no small amount of attention. We have just added thousands of dollars of fence to manage stock. The builder of the extension requires frequent pushing, and expresses doubt when reminded that we have guests in 4 weeks, after having estimated 6 weeks for the job when he started 10 weeks ago. The creek has burst a levee---turning our island into a peninsula---and wading chest-high near the breach makes it clear that the repair is not about to be accomlished by manual labour any time soon. The instruments on my dashboard of life point to an overload.

Me, I'm off to work.

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