In praise of a sedentary life

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In the winter of 2017, my husband and I compared notes about whether this was indeed the coldest winter we had known with temperatures plunging in some places to near zero.

Even rugged up under four layers, it still felt cold.

At times like this your impulse is to stay home or if you can afford, make your way to warm places like Queensland or the top of Australia.

But we were not feeling flush at this time with a down turn in my husband’s work and my usual reluctance to travel too far from home, so we decided on some place nearby.

I do it every time we travel. In my head, I compare the internals of the hotel in which we stay with its typical set up of one small on suite bathroom, hidden jug in cupboard with two cups, two glasses, two spoons and several sachets of tea and dried coffee, to home.

The usual pods of long life milk unnecessarily stuck where the eggs should sit in the fridge are never enough for me who likes her tea milky, but at least this time the Vue Grand in Queenscliff went upmarket with Twining’s tea, instead of the unfamiliar brands from bulk supermarkets like Aldi.

We breakfasted here in the downstairs dining room on the latest shift possible at 9.15 am or so before a day of roaming the area to Portarlington and nearby Swan Bay in the hope of some beach walks; wind in our hair, salt on our cheeks and a sprinkle of sun, however inadequate, to make the whole thing seem more beautiful. Though the sea on a grey day has its own beauties, when the rain and sleet bash onto your face, it’s hard to enjoy them.

These days my husband, if offered the chance, can sleep for twelve hours, which amazes me given I wake after eight. To me this is a generous sleep and more than enough to keep me alert the next day. But he wants more.

We talk about it sometimes, my concern that sleep is his escape into oblivion, that same oblivion his father sought all those years ago when he took to his bed after retirement and spent day after day secretly slugging from a sherry bottle and listening to the horse races.

Maybe his father thought gambling a legitimate way to augment his pension once he stopped the nine to five drudge of a job with the local council, doing whatever people who work in overalls do.

I never thought to ask. It didn’t seem relevant but these days as I watch my husband slide into a life of less activity, I wonder what it was his father did to while away the hours and what it might be that could keep another man going, especially when I figure my husband of the high intellect must have got his brains from someone.

Perhaps it’s true, as I’ve read elsewhere, we get our IQs from our mothers.

This idea would offend my father who was convinced my mother was one of the stupidest and most unintelligent people who ever lived.

Why then did my father marry her?

Did he not reckon on this when he first decided he would convert to Catholicism in order to claim her as his bride?

Was that not a foolhardy act?

Or was he drawn to the respectability of my mother and her family? Their clean living ways? Their religious convictions and the gentle aspect of a family of seven children, two of whom became Franciscan priests, and parents who managed to keep all their children dedicated to the church even into adulthood and for some even after they migrated to Australia and far from home.

My father was the first from his newly adopted family to drop his faith, until years later when he was on the edge of death and had stopped drinking and decided maybe he needed something to help get him through all those doubts we all have about what it is like to be no more.

In winter, the main street of Queenscliff, lined on either side with the usual array of food stops and junk shops disguised as antiques, was all but closed at 4.30 in the afternoon given trade was so slow.

We walked up and down then in search of the best place for our evening meal, the only thought: how to get a half decent feed at a reasonable cost. They tend to charge more in the country and much as they try to emulate the restaurants and cafes in the city, they never quite succeed. You pay more for less.

This place throbs with bodies at the height of summer, but like most places by the beach it all but closes up for the short cold months after Easter through to Cup Day in November when the cash registers start to clang again and the locals grit their teeth against the onslaught.

Much as they might try not to complain – most of them rely on the tourists – the arrival of the locusts, year after year interrupts their quiet lifestyle and cause an irritation many of them cannot bear.

In winter they can forgive us for traipsing the streets. They’re grateful even that a few city folk might venture so far into the cold to enjoy a winter holiday by the beach.

This then is another trip I have made to appease those who consider my life at home too sedentary. They want me to stay on the move before my body seizes up altogether, but I prefer to travel only in my mind.

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8 Comments on In praise of a sedentary life

  1. Andrew
    September 25, 2017 at 9:39 pm (3 months ago)

    The pub is ok. Mine host is a patient of my sister’s partner and he is also connected to my family home town and is know by family, but not me. We once had a nice meal there.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      September 27, 2017 at 11:56 am (3 months ago)

      The Grand Vue, if that’s the pub to which you allude, Andrew was once owned by the wonderful Mietta who died tragically in a car accident. Her death goes back several years, before your time perhaps, but she aimed to transform the place and for a while I believe she did. But now it seems to hark back to the grand old days and is not so grand anymore. Interesting the six degrees of separation here. Thanks, Andrew.

      Reply
  2. Karen C
    September 27, 2017 at 8:16 am (3 months ago)

    I write this from my warm bed where I have been awake since 5.30am. I feel guilty that I am not walking or doing something more active, but I only do what makes me happy these days, not what relieves my guilt.
    I had a less than happy trip to Europe this year where I longed to be back in dreary, cold bleak Melbourne. I learned that I love Melbourne in winter and vow never to leave again.
    I was also miserable being a tourist, the economic dependence on tourism and the total indifference of the industry. They need us, they don’t want us.
    My husband and I had a discussion very early in our marriage when he made a flippant remark about my intellect. I knew that if I continually accepted tongue-in-cheek digs like that i would eventually come to believe it was true and lose my self-respect.
    And so our marriage continued happily. He with a wife who stood her ground and I with a husband who deserved and appreciated the best.
    I do envy people who can achieve 8 hours sleep, but I’m sure anymore than that must get boring.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      September 27, 2017 at 11:58 am (3 months ago)

      Good to hear you’re having some rest, Karen. And I concur with your experience of travel abroad. It looks like fun from here but once you’re in it, it’s something else again. The tortures of being a tourist. Not for the likes of us, it seems. Thanks, Karen.

      Reply
  3. Christine
    September 28, 2017 at 3:49 pm (2 months ago)

    In defence of travel. So many different ways to do it. Tour, I mean. And abroad. I tend to eschew the great tourist spots and the hawkers and poke around the back lanes and country areas and, in visiting such places, imagine lives past and learn. My latest little adventure ( I am in UK right now) was going to Durham Cathedral and seeing the various versions of the Magna Carta, also alongside other bits and pieces explaining the arrival of Christianity in Britain… and yesterday, Hadrian’s wall. Travel is marvellous in the mind, but also the materialisation of those adventures through travel, with careful planning, is deeply enriching.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      September 29, 2017 at 8:29 am (2 months ago)

      Good on you, Christine. Of course travel is a good thing, as long as you tend to its you tend to all things, thoughtfully. There are the ugly tourists and there are those wonderful ones who enrich the places they visit with their interest and enthusiasm. Still, I’m not one of them. Enjoy your holiday in the UK, Christine. I’m enjoying your FaceBook pictures.

      Reply
  4. Jim Murdoch
    September 29, 2017 at 12:37 am (2 months ago)

    No one exercises enough. And not only old folk. But when I was working I was, at least, active and over a day comfortably covered the minimum requirements. It all adds up. Now I hardly leave the house and when I do I notice the difference. I wonder how many years earlier I’ll die because of this. That’s what they tell us. But then I remember the years I’ll lose will be at the end of my life and Christ knows what’ll be wrong with me by then. I might even be glad to shuffle off a year or two early. My parents died in their mid-seventies. I forget the actual ages. And I’ve forgotten the years again. My goal is 75 which is only seventeen years from now. I mean I could get knocked down tomorrow—I’m meeting my daughter for lunch in Glasgow—but hopefully not. Hopefully I’m manage to eke out a few extra years and as long as I’m not in too much pain and haven’t misplaced my mind I’m okay with that. It’s all about quality of life. And that’s a hard thing to measure. Or at least it’s a hard thing to compare. Is your life qualitier than mine? I suppose it depends on what matters to you. Do you have what matters in sufficient quantities? I have enough TV, enough music, enough books and I actually have more than enough time although I don’t always make the most of it. Bad me. I used to worry that one day I’d end up in a room in a retirement home and wouldn’t have space for a lifetime’s worth of possessions but since we’re now in the digital age most of what’s important to me can fit inside a few tin boxes each no bigger than an old VHS cassette case. I like looking at my shelves full of books and CDs but they’re really only decoration nowadays. God alone knows the last time I opened an actual dictionary when once upon a time a day didn’t pass and I’d be in there and often just for the fun of it. No, none of that matter much.

    Like your husband I often sleep for eleven or twelve hours in a day although rarely in a row. My current pattern—it never stays the same for long—is a hour or two from eleven at night until one in the morning and then I’ll be up all night going back to bed by eight usually and it’s not unusual for me to sleep right through until half-one or even half-two. Tomorrow will be fun since I’ll need to be in the city centre for half-twelve. I don’t think of sleep as an escape. I actually resent it especially since it does a very poor job of refreshing me. I mean, why bother?

    I didn’t get my IQ from my mum. I suspect I didn’t get it from my dad either who, like your father, didn’t think much of his wife’s intelligence. Dad wasn’t stupid but he was… limited in his thinking. Mum mostly gave up thinking and contented herself with being occupied; it filled the time. Religion suited her. It saved her time. If she wanted to know what was right or wrong she could simply look it up or ask my dad which was easier. I know I deeply saddened her when I decided to go my own way at the end and a part of me wishes I could’ve hung on for a couple more years to let her die in peace. Her life revolved around “the truth” but most of the truths she had to live with didn’t bring her any kind of joy. It’s why I’ve very little time for it.

    Being no more doesn’t worry me. Never having been might trouble me a little. Never having meant would bother me even more.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      September 29, 2017 at 8:27 am (2 months ago)

      My mother was very much of the view that you need not worry too much about fads to do with eating properly and exercise, Jim, because they change constantly. She tells the story of how after the birth of one of her children in Holland, her doctor sat at the end of her bed and they enjoyed a cigarette together. We live in strangely puritanical times that are also decadent with an almost anything goes mentality. It can be very confusing. I’m all for doing the best we can on our own terms while factoring in the needs of others and I suppose some pressure from societal norms, but hopefully not too much pressure. Thanks, Jim.

      Reply

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