A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly
Like icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm
Maybe I’ve never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitude
And looking down on everything
I crashed into his arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm
Friday, December 27, 2013
Kicking back on 'Rananim Farm.'
Well what a 2013. Going overseas for a year was the
best decision I ever made- in conjunction with my family, of course. We received
the letter, or offer, in the mail just seven days before the new year. I remember
thinking, what a lovely, quaint way to receive an invitation. I really expected,
when I received it, it would be by email. I have kept the envelope and all. It is
bright red with a pen and ink drawing of the moon and stars on the reverse,
drawn by a child. One of the children in the commune, as it turned out. It filled
everyone here with excitement.
In the morning we watched the first half an hour of
this new surreal film called ‘Gravity.’ The weightlessness in space and the
beautiful blue universe got us all thinking about planes, and then we were off,
by taxi, to the airport.
I fished out the original invitation again when were
nestled onto the plane. ‘NEED A CHALLENGE?’, it stated. ‘SICK OF CARS AND
ADVERTISING AND HOLLOWNESS AND VACANT STARES ON PEOPLE’S FACES? HAD ENOUGH OF
LOUD MOBILE PHONE CONVERSATIONS AND TRAFFIC AND WALLS AND FENCES AND KEYS AND
LOCKED DOORS AND SUSPICIOUS GLANCES? OF WASTE AND POLLUTION AND PEOPLE SELLING
AND BUYING HOUSES AND CRAP ON TELEVISION AND ON FM MORNING BREAKFAST RADIO? OF
GETTING UP USELESSLY EARLY EVERY DAY AND BEING TOO EXHAUSTED FOR REFLECTION AND
RELAXATION AND REST AND RUNNING? MISSING BOOKS AND READING AND FRESH AIR AND
GRASS AND MOUNTAINS AND BLUE WATER AND CONVERSATION AND CONTEMPLATION? WELL ‘RANANIM
FARM’ IS FOR YOU.’
As a family we discussed it for about three days. I piled
on enormous pressure. First we had to get neighbours to agree to mow the lawn
and water the plants. My wife was dubious about how little money we would
allegedly need. The children felt that they would miss their ‘things’ but I was
able to convince them that for one year ‘things’ would not be important
anymore. I spent the last days before our departure sitting amongst the old
books in the bookcase in my bedroom, and watched a bit of Simon and Garfunkel
on youtube. My wife rang as many people as she could squeeze in and the
children played on the backyard swing until their hands had little callouses
all over their sorry red palms.
The plane journey was painless enough. Our children
were quite mature even before our trip. The youngest wasn’t bothered at all by
the air 24 hour flight to England. She roamed up and down the corridor of the
plane with the only ‘thing’ she was allowed to take, which was ‘Dolly’ nestled
inside a little pink plastic pram.
At Heathrow we caught a Northern line train to Central
London. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. There we were, a family of four wearing
nervous, expectant expressions, carrying four wrinkled blue backpacks amidst business
men and women holding expensive suitcases and nudging mobile phones.
Another train at Waterloo Station spat us out towards
the Devon countryside, and eventually to ‘Rananim Farm.’ It might sound clichéd,
I know, but there was a rainbow sitting above a green hill when we arrived, and
the indigo was particularly indigo, and the green particularly green. The farm
itself was red brick, ancient, and oblong in size. There were all these little
segments, each with a tiny window and at one there was a happy child peering
out. As fate would have it, she would become my eldest daughter’s best friend.
Over the next several hours, and days, I learnt the
fairly simple drill of what life on ‘Rananim Farm’ was all about. It remained
simple for all four of us, over the whole of the twelve beautiful months we spent
there. I’m not exactly sure what my wife and children did when they weren’t
with me. Part of the ‘Rananim philosophy’ was to spend time alone in contemplation
and the company of crosswords and books. There was time allocated for this
every day, as well as time engaged with the community. A typical day on the farm for me throughout
most of the twelve months was as follows:
9:00 AM- rise and breakfast with the community. Sitting
at long trestle tables and eating the produce we had grown and reading interesting
books like ‘Glorious Devon’ and ‘Glorious Cornwall’.
11 AM- working with the community on the vast communal
crops, vegetable gardens and helping to clean each other’s rooms and prepare
for the coming meals.
1 PM- eating a healthy lunch with the community, at a
different trestle table than the one before.
2PM- an hour spent with the family or someone or some
people of your choice. Usually a walk across fields, watching your reflection
in the lake, or listening to music in the cabins behind the hills.
3PM- joining a ‘conversation panel’ of your choice. There
were several groupings of people, each according to his interest or expertise. The
groups were about 6-7 people in size.People
were rotated. The ‘conversation panels’
I chose to join were invariably music, literature or film oriented, and
sometimes politics or religion if my mood required it. Some of the memorable
discussion topics included ‘Christian Atheism’, ‘the films of Ingmar Bergman V
the films of Woody Allen’, ‘the most progressive rock artists from the 60’s and
70’s’, and ‘stream of consciousness writing in twentieth century Literature.’
5 PM- working with the community again to prepare the
evening meal, and, if still daylight, a half hour helping to maintain the
garden and the food crops.
6 PM- eating dinner with members of the community. A different
grouping from the earlier sessions, and cleaning up on a rotational basis.
7 PM- family (or close friends) time- usually
discussions, cuddles, or simply resting.
8 PM until late- time allocated for reading, crossword
puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, music, writing letters, etc- my favourite part of the day.
The only variance from days like the one described
above was when members of the community agreed to take a day’s break from the
farm and walked off to explore other parts of the English countryside. An old,
ramshackle bus was housed on another part of the farm, and that was
occasionally used for trips to a neighbouring district or county. Small groups,
or families, were known to sometimes visit areas of natural beauty in counties
as far from Devon as Somerset or Cornwall.
The children’s conversation groups to be a little
moralistic at times. Discussion topics such as ‘the moral dangers lurking in Disney’,
or ‘modern day Princesses- feminine or feminist?’ (I was only privy to the
female topics) were all the rage, and even though my children were young, they
enjoyed them because it meant looking at Disney images in old scrapbooks
someone had brought along.
Locals tended to be suspicious about the goings on at ‘Rananim
Farm.’ It reminded me of Orwell’s famous novella, and the way in which
neighbouring farms would gossip about what was being played out at ‘Animal
Farm.’ One day a local reporter even came along. She was young and ambitious
and hung around like a bad smell for several hours, and even tried to slip into
one of the adult discussion forums. I think, from memory, it was titled ‘the
insidiousness of the outside world’, or words to that effect. The article in
the paper a couple of days later said that the people on the farm had ‘Communist
leanings’!, and an accompanying editorial noted that none of the members of our
idyllic group seemed to contribute in any tangible way to society. This was
despite, the letter said, that there were teachers, musicians, gardeners,
massage therapists, climate change officers and even a fireman on the farm. Well,
that made all of us smirk because whilst we were possibly not adding anything to
general society in terms of services, and so on, were weren’t taking anything
away either. We were, in the true spirit of Ralph Waldo Emerson,
self-sufficient, and that was exciting. The word ‘rananim’ was also speculated
upon. The young journalist seemed to think that there was a hint of revolution
in the word. The article did include one aspect that did please all of us. It noted
that there didn’t really seem to be a ‘leader’ or ‘head’ as such on the farm,
and that was something we were all proud of.
At some stage during the winter, when our resolve was
being tested by spoiled crops and freezing rooms, a letter came from my brother
which I read gleefully to all concerned. It was like manna from heaven.
‘Dear P (it read)
I have no idea what you are up to with J and your two
young girls, but all I can say is don’t hurry home. I am writing this in the
car on Punt Road whilst I am driving, believe it or not! It is safe to do so
because the car edges further towards the city every few minutes, but it’s only
about a metre or so, and if I turned the engine off I could almost roll all the
way. Besides the disgusting traffic, I should also tell you that there is
nothing that is any good in the news. I read ‘The Age’ online today, and the
cover story was about two kids being abducted from their bedrooms the day
before Christmas. On page three there was the story of the mother taking the
Education Department to court because of the severe cyber bullying that was
happening at their children’s school. Then if that isn’t enough, some
desperate, unhappy people have arrived from their war torn country and have
been put straight into a detention centre (read jail) and told they might be
stuck there for years because of their troubles.’
The letter went on about some family news, and finished
with this: ‘Write to me soon if you are interested in hearing about some more
peculiarities from our alien world.’
It was the escape from all of that, but as well as the camaraderie,
the closeness, the tranquillity and the harmony that made me cry real tears one
mild evening during December. Our time on ‘Rananim Farm’ was coming to an end,
and all four of us would miss it greatly. We were all worried about heading
back home to Melbourne, but we knew our golden places were waiting to be filled
by a horticulturalist and her partner and children, next in line for the most
magical year of their lives.