The world in a real es­tate win­dow

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRA­HAM ER­BACHER Susan Kuro­sawa is on leave.

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

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