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He is going away.  It’s nothing dramatic or permanent – he’s just ducking off to spend time in a far-flung corner of the globe, except it’s not that far-flung, though it is a place he’s looking forward to knowing well.  Once there he will think and dream, he’ll immerse himself in his imagination; he might even get lost, but that’s okay, because it’s always good to be found again.  But there has been so much to do – what a chore going away actually is.

There’s been the whole matter of organising a house-sitter.  It’s easy these days, what with the internet and all, but you do have to do interviews, or, in his case, let the Old Lady of the House and Cat the Ripper do the interviewing for him.  And they did such a wonderful job, selecting a mother-and-daughter combination who even offered to weed his wild garden if necessary.

Then there’s the house-work.  He’s scrubbed the bath and bathroom floor; he’s un-blocked drains in sinks.  He’s cleaned the oven (what a terrible task that is – a domestic OH&S nightmare).  He’s replaced light-globes that haven’t worked for months; we are all so busy that even changing a globe poses a seemingly insurmountable time-management problem.  He’s wiped out the fridge – there was a sludgy detritus beneath the fruit-and-vegetable drawer and more than once he thought he would vomit – and he’s dusted away cobwebs on paintings, and washed rugs, and got a man in to fix the garage door.

Then he turned his attention to other important matters.  He’s made sure that his bills are going to be sent by email, he put up a No Junk Mail sign on the letterbox so the house-sitters wouldn’t have to hold on to a dreadful collection of advertising material until his return.  Yesterday he prepared a How To Look After My House Information Booklet so the trusty guardians of his home will know exactly what to do and when, and what not to worry about.  For example, the loud chomping at night at the back door is not a knife-wielding maniac but a hungry possum.

But there is more to do.  He is late – very late – in sending birthday presents to his nephews and niece, which he better do now otherwise there will be an embarrassing, if not disastrous, situation by the time he comes back.  There are friends to see and a lawn to mow.  And The Old Lady of the House already knows something is up: she’s staring at him with her big brown eyes as if she’s going to be dumped again; normally she sleeps in his study but lately she hasn’t been budging from her bed in his bedroom.

Still the work isn’t finished.  His mp3 player has gone on the blink – is there time to replace it?  And what about accessing the internet: does he really need to buy one of those flash-drive dongle things for his laptop?  (Oh God, technology.  It’s such a battle.)  But none of this will stop him going away.

Philip Larkin wrote that ‘Home is so sad.  It stays as it was left/Shaped to the comfort of the last to go/As if to win them back’.

He – the leaver – is looking forward to going away.

But then being won over again.

(A shorter version of this piece was published in Panorama, Canberra Times on 26 June 2010.  PS. I’m not actually going away – I wrote this in early April before heading off to spend a month in Tasmania.)

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The past