The world in a real estate window
We are at a holiday destination, it’s fish ‘n’ chips night, the order has been placed (remember to ask for an extra shake of salt) … what to do for the next 15 minutes?
Staring at the soft-drinks fridge is an option; a more enticing one is a stroll down the main street, hoping to find a real estate agent. Check out the town’s housing and, as they say, do the maths: what sort of spread could I afford here for the price of a humble capital-city flat? At the very least, it will be an interesting new fact for dinnerparty conversation. But what is it about some places that you can see yourself living there? Perusal of the real estate becomes more intense.
On a motoring trip in Britain, I’m on a literary riff. The “This is the place” muse is speaking loudly to me in Dorchester, in southwest England, heart of Thomas Hardy country. Vibrant green surrounds, a main street with handsome town hall, pubs, corn exchange and, nearby, a magnificent market. A popular Indian restaurant is right alongside a real estate agent, so that’s the staple for the next few nights.
In the end, I settle for buying a copy of a Hardy novel I have not read, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Dorchester being his model for Casterbridge in all its descriptive detail. It is the Penguin Classics edition of the book, exactly the same as one I could buy in Australia, but I lug it around in my suitcase, my own piece of Dorchester real estate. It sits nicely on the bookcase’s Hardy Parade, alongside a 1967 Pan “now-a-major-motion-picture” edition of Far From the Madding Crowd, with Julie Christie (of the high cheekbones and 1960s hair and makeup) on the cover.
A few days later, the talkative muse is insistent that Laugharne, in Wales, is “the place”. Dylan Thomas lived here and no one in town is about to let you forget it. But it is splendid … the Taf estuary, a castle ruin, inviting pubs, Thomas’s Boathouse (now a museum) and clifftop cabin where he worked. Laugharne was an inspiration for Llareggub (or Llaregyb in modest early editions; read it backwards), the village in which his classic radio play Under Milk Wood is set.
“At the sea-end of town,” a voice relates, “Mr and Mrs Floyd, the cocklers, are sleeping as quiet as death, side by wrinkled side, toothless, salt and brown, like two old kippers in a box.”
That was 1953. Surely the Floyds have moved on by now; maybe their house is for sale. But imagine my tussles with custodians of the literary imagination should I wish to install the must-haves of modern living, a gymnasium, media room and infinity pool. Besides which, what do I do here other than dream my life away? I understand why Thomas liked to slip off to New York.
The little chunk of real estate I buy is an embossed bookmark with which to freshen up a dog-eared copy of the play I have had since high school.
On a motoring trip in Britain, I’m on a literary riff