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Anne Townsend

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Fantasies are compelling

Fantasies can become addictive as we are in control of the outcome. Unlike real life which is messy and unpredictable, fantasies see us becoming the cooked up version of our ideal selves that we remain convinced will transform our lives into sheer perfection.

Some people manage to live their entire lives side by side with reality. Stuck in the past (which they often remember as better, happier) or casting an ever hopeful spotlight on the future, they see the present as some kind of waiting room. As they say, real life happens while we’re making other plans.

My fantasies are becoming so predictable, so painstakingly repetitive, that I have to wonder what took me so long to catch on. Whether I am plotting my escape to Oman, India, Cairo, Saudi Arabia or Lamma Island, or whether I am planning a few weeks in Betty’s Bay, Bot River or the Karoo, this is the hopeful list of goodies that emerge:

  1. Meaningful employment (lucrative, enjoyable and glamorous).
  2. Write my book  (break occasionally to rest my fingers).
  3. Live frugally (despite high earnings).
  4. Exist on a semi-permanent detox of raw food and stir fries (lots of apples).
  5. Have a low-key stream of loyal friends and fascinating newcomers over to visit.
  6. Exercise daily, preferably outdoors (hiking, jogging) and indoors (swimming).
  7. Lose weight and sculpt physique to resemble Gisele Bundchen (beware of over-training).
  8. Mui Mui to frolic in scenic natural settings bonding with other canines.
  9. Blend my former life as global nomad with tentative local persona.
  10. Get it all together.
Somehow nothing can convince me that once the above effortlessly falls into place, my life won’t be bliss 24/7. Remarkably, I do occasionally manage to incorporate a few items on my list into my life. From time to time, I socialize, eat healthily, exercise and work. Occasionally I write for hours a day. I look up, notice the light has shifted from the front window to the back porch, and realize that I have not glanced at my watch for half a day.
Surreptitiously, awkwardly, I am becoming attuned to the local mores and less reluctant to say ‘I live here now, at least until May 2012.’ I read Facebook status updates of friends abroad and it feels remote. (‘Packing for six weeks in France!!! So little time as have just returned from heavenly drive to Repulse Bay with the roof down!!! Would rather spend the summer in Hong Kong!!!’) The tug of envy and longing has abated. (The irritation at the boast disguised as a complaint remains). I get text messages from my globetrotting executive former student who seems to spend his entire existence in first class airport lounges, in India, South America, New York, London, Johannesburg and Dubai, And I feel relieved to be engaged in vicarious travel as opposed to crouching in a confined space eating plastic chicken with a baby fork next to a snoring stranger. (‘Landed at Dubai Airport an hour ago. Very hot here, even inside the airport building. The Arabs really know how to do things well. Emirates Airlines is world class. Now I’m sitting gobsmacked by what’s around me, waiting for my connecting flight to India.’
I have a long chat to a friend who has just returned from a year in Korea and is tossing up between prospective jobs in Hawaii, Seoul, Hong Kong and UCT. ‘A few weeks in Cape Town and I am so ready to move on,’ he says.
And what I am realizing, with a fair amount of alarm, is that real life seldom meets up with the fantasy. My fantasies do not take into account that once I have exactly what I have schemed for weeks, months, even years to organize, the texture of reality often feels substantially different to the original plan. My fantasies rarely acknowledge that Anne is in fact a loner, prone to huddling under three duvets, with lemon pie and black coffee, wondering what else she can concoct for the next few hours to prevent writing, exercising, or finding gainful employment. That Anne is prone to shopping, taking long drives, and driving around gyms instead of entering them, to avoid writing her book.
In Hong Kong I had a recurring fantasy of living in the Karoo, hanging out at farmers’ markets and whipping up banoffi pie for grateful city friends. Last week (in Bot River), as I sat next to a crackling fire in a farm stall, surrounded by miles of craggy mountains, swirling mist, and  rusty trucks carrying freshly cut logs and bleating sheep to nearby farms, I wondered why it hadn’t occurred to me before. The Atlanta in Bangkok! That’s where my book would get written as my fingers ceaselessly moved across the page and the keyboard for eight hours a day. Wait, let’s get real. Six hours a day, with occasional breaks for Thai massages, green curry and chilled coconut milk.
What was I thinking, holed up in a small town in winter with snow on the mountain?
Bangkok: hot, steamy, torrid, packed, a ceaseless mass of heaving traffic, hookers, tourists, misplaced Westerners and monks-in-training. Sleazy, hectic, soothing, familiar.
Everything will always fall into place, somewhere else, some time in the future. And what I fail to notice is that right now, right here, when I least expect it, everything totally comes together. I don’t need to be in Korea or Kuwait to gain perspective on my life in the City Bowl. Spending a month in a small town, 80 minutes’ drive from my home, gives me enough distance to see what I already have in Cape Town. It also gives me ample time to appreciate what lies on my doorstep a spectacular road trip away.
A train is rumbling by in Bot River. Mui Mui is sprawled out in the sun, next to a lavender bush on the back verandah, gazing at the wild birds hopping on the bird feeder. My dinner guests arrive shortly. The theme for our dinner is Roots and Transition. Chicken pie and basil salad, baby potatoes and lemon tart. Stained glass windows, a flickering candle and a hopeful Oriental doggy sniffing the air.
It’s not green papaya salad with beef satay, washed down with iced mint and lemon tea on the crowded sidewalk of a Thai back alley, lit up with neon, smelling of gasoline.
But it will just have to do.
(Photo Credit Anne Townsend, Bot River)

Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    August 20th, 2012 @09:54 #

    Also lovely :)

    Chicken and lemon tart? You're totally settling in. Your dinner sounds much much better than the (transitory) Thai sidewalk.

  • Anne Townsend
    Anne Townsend
    August 20th, 2012 @10:51 #

    I've always thought of myself as fearless.... why is planting a petunia so terrifying...?? LOVED your piece in 'Home Away', btw. It was very helpful to me at the height of my 'nomadic angst.'

    And as for your comment that: 'Even Parisians are friendlier than Londoners. Parisians are not threatened by South Africans. The French practically kiss you when you say Afrique du Sud, so glad are they that you are not Anglais'. Having worked under one roof, for seven years, with the French and the British in Hong Kong, I finally got it when I read those lines. The penny dropped. You've so nailed it.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    August 20th, 2012 @19:47 #

    After a nomadic life ("if I can't have kids, at least I can take full advantage of Perpetual Freedom", was a grim mantra for many moons), I have suddenly put down the kind of roots associated with thousand-year-old baobab trees. I literally quail with horror at the thought of travel, once the yearned-for lover. So I really enjoyed this piece. AND Kitty's Home Away story.

  • Anne Townsend
    Anne Townsend
    August 20th, 2012 @20:23 #


  • Anne Townsend
    Anne Townsend
    August 20th, 2012 @20:28 #

    Gosh, how did you make the shift, Helen? Maybe I should plant a tree in my garden; so far it's just seedlings. I wake up at 4:00am in the torrential rains wondering if they're OK, tempted to stand over them with an umbrella.

    I have a condition called geographic fallacy. I genuinely believe that if I change location, I'll have a new/better set of habits at the other end. I don't even have to move continents; it can be a few weeks in a small town where I believe I'll jog every morning and write for 5 hrs a day. I haven't jogged in years. Decades...

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">tiah</a>
    August 21st, 2012 @12:13 #

    An umbrella! The thing is, I know people who probably would do that.

    I'm so sick of moving that I've send to Husband (partially serious) that if current job doesn't work he can go and just send the money. I made him buy MANY trees after we moved into the house last year.

    So when China was tossed out there recently (6 months to a year) I felt guilty for shuddering because - it's an opportunity! - and I didn't want to seize it. Felt better when other person confessed being rather content at present, too.

    The problem with 'moving will change your life' is that, thus far - I keep packing me.

    So I picked a place where me (and the rest of the gang) fit best. I still don't fit, exactly. But appear to be tolerated and accommodated for better than other areas. Which is rather nice.


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