KEEP­ING UP AP­PEAR­ANCES

IT TAKES A ROAD TRIP TO TEM­PO­RAR­ILY FREE ANNABELLE HICK­SON FROM HER HOME IM­PROVE­MENT OB­SES­SION.

Country Style - - A DAY IN THE COUNTRY - Annabelle Hick­son lives with her fam­ily on a pecan farm in the Du­maresq Val­ley in NSW. Fol­low her on In­sta­gram @annabelle­hick­son

I CAN­NOT TELL you how many times a day I think about what I can do to im­prove my house. Not to make it more ef­fi­cient, less dusty or maybe mouse-proof, but just to make it more beau­ti­ful and some­how big­ger, while leav­ing the foot­print un­changed. So much think­ing (al­most zero ac­tual ac­tion, mind you) and I would very much like it to stop. Shel­ter is one thing. As is com­fort. But this con­stant ping­ing in my head of: “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to knock out that wall and shift our bedroom into here”, or “Ev­ery­thing will be okay once I have sanded and lime washed the cy­press pine flfloor­boards and don’t have to look at that orange any­more”, or “Why are those alu­minium win­dows so damn ugly?” I mean, can’t I just sit down and have a cup of tea with warm socks on my feet and read He­len Garner with a gen­eral sense of grat­i­tude that I have a roof over my head. What I fifind par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing about this house ob­ses­sion is how it is purely fo­cused on aes­thet­ics and al­lo­cates no time to func­tional im­prove­ments. As I type, there are three win­dows with holes in them. One is boarded up with card­board. Dust seems to pour into the house in reg­u­lar waves. The flfloor in the kitchen is, as some­one kindly pointed out, a shed slab. It looks lovely to me, al­though I will con­cede it has an al­fresco-com­mu­nal-kitchen-car­a­van-park vibe and is gritty un­der­foot. As for the home­made bench­tops (“Don’t seal them,” I had al­most screamed. “I don’t want that glossy look!”), I cer­tainly got what I asked for. Any­thing you chop on them be­comes schnitzeled with crum­bling, sandy ce­ment. And in be­tween the fi­first and sec­ond draft of writ­ing this, when I went out to hang the wash­ing, I came back in­side and com­pletely smashed my head (nearly lost a tooth) on the slid­ing glass door where I had re­fused to put safety stick­ers be­cause they looked ugly. I am quite lit­er­ally dream­ing of Cole­fax and Fowler chintz while sit­ting in a cold house with a great big lump on my fore­head and my daugh­ter looks at me with sad eyes as she bites into a sandy piece of rock­melon. This is what hap­pens when you use your sur­round­ings to prop up your own self-worth, but don’t have the bud­get and or­gan­i­sa­tional skills to match up to what you think it ought to look like. So, when is it go­ing to stop, all this wish­ing for up­hol­stered bed­heads with match­ing cur­tains? When will I make a few phone calls and get the prac­ti­cal stuffff sorted? And when will I stop think­ing about housey in­te­rior things for good and be OK with be­ing me with­out all the trap­pings? Well, I know when: when I don’t live in a house. When I live in a van. In an­other coun­try. On a tem­po­rary ba­sis. My fam­ily and I just spent two sweet weeks cruis­ing around New Zealand in a camper­van. Lake Tekapo was good, but hav­ing a break from all this ridicu­lous in­ter­nal chat about where to shift the sofa was even bet­ter. The joy­ous relief of just be­ing with my hus­band and kids in our box, cruis­ing around with noth­ing to prove and noth­ing to do was a sal­va­tion for my soul. The van was the van. I was not the van. It did not mat­ter a jot that the cur­tains were ghastly. The cur­tains stopped the light pour­ing in while we slept in our lit­tle drawer-like spa­ces, and I was grate­ful for them. The mini kitchen, where you could cook eggs and touch the toi­let at the same time, was also pretty hideous, aes­thet­i­cally and ro­man­ti­cally speak­ing. But when friends came over for a risotto un­der the awning, I didn’t feel the need to ca­su­ally slip into con­ver­sa­tion phrases to ease my shame, such as, “Oh, we’ll get around to re­plac­ing the join­ery one day. Where did you get your mar­ble bench­tops?” This must be what it is like to live in a way where you do not see your home as an ex­ten­sion of who you are, or who you want to be. When you don’t need to pro­tect your vul­ner­a­ble in­ter­nal self with ar­mour made of the clothes you wear, the kind of house you live in and the sort of car you drive. Ah, the bliss. But, of course, then I started eye­ing offff the neigh­bour­ing car­a­van’s ar­ti­fi­fi­cial turf door­mat and I knew I would never be en­tirely free of these chains.

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