Cottage Living. That’s what the comic strip called it, such a charming little piece in six panels. Of course it did not show the washing, and the scrubbing and the hard bits, but then I am old enough and experienced enough to take those in my stride. Most days it is as effortless as giving it to a machine. One powered by electricity or by myself.
There is charm in this tiny living. The place is small. Barely enough steps to teach a toddler how to count and you are out of the back door again. But it does have a back door, and that is already a bonus. It is simple, and pretty and the California sun shines through its windows all day long. The nights are gently chill, enough to make me wish that the fireplace was functional. I am not going to try it, for the house is old, but it has been refurbished by builders who are new – they may not have done it right.
I have everything that I need here, just enough and no more. The kitchen is tiny, and there is only one frying pan, but then who needs more than that? The same colander is used to wash my greens and to drain the pasta – and that is more than enough. The cutlery does not match, but my guests do not mind, and I don’t mind it if they do. I have one comfy chair, and one straightbacked chair, all thanks to people who move about so much – away from this university town in America. The experience is not disjointed, I am not culturally misplaced and there is no dissonance. There is only the simplicity of life, and an occasional smile exchanged with a stranger as both of us head for the milk table with our coffee cups – we are both there for the free wifi, we know.
Is this happiness? To be here, on my chair dragged into the sun, surrounded by plants that are gently nodding in the cool breeze. The sun is warm, I am toasty in minutes. I can smell the delicious warmth of my skin, soaking it all the way up to my cold heart. It may open up, and I am waiting.
It is a strange place, no doubt. A meal cost me more than a small sofa, and a month of internet costs me half that much. Things that last are sold at the same price as things that will be gone in a day. Maybe the day matters to them as much as eternity – maybe that is what it means to be a young country. Every town has it’s number, I now realise. London and Berkeley are at 15. Everything is 15 here, as a base – pounds or dollars. Here in America, they said that there is a premium for convenience. True. But more than that – there is a penalty for not having space. If you cannot buy in bulk, you will be charged more. Students and the poor pay more, and that does not seem fair. Fair is not a word I hear much here, except in this university town. Even here, I hear of reparations, of rights, of reaching out – but it’s about the fight, not about being fair.
But it is a nice life, if you are living it simply. The cottage life is easy. There are few friends, even fewer visitors. There is little space and even fewer things. There is nothing of the flotsam and jetsam of life that makes it complex. You wake up and switch on the kettle and coffee maker. As they bubble and brew reassuringly, you crack that egg on the sizzling pan. Done and wiped up in a few, the day opens it’s doors. The sun shines in, inviting you to life. You choose – the inward one or the outward play. Tired, you pause a few hours later. A slice of cheese, a small avocado salad and more coffee that has been waiting for you. The day slips by smoothly – the hike, the trek, the shop, the write – they are all tantalisingly close. Reach out. A meal, soft lights, gentle conversation, a dream or a story, and one is ready to drift off. Nothing ruffles the feathers, there is nowhere to flock.
There is plenty in the lack.