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Anne Townsend

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Creating space in your new home


Are you a newcomer in a small town? Are you settling into life as a rural resident, having fled the ‘city’? Look no further than these tried-and-tested tips from a Barrydaler.

You will be regarded as fresh meat for your first few months. Don’t let it go to your head. It has nothing to do with charm, looks, wealth or intelligence. It means that you’re fresh, easy pickings, and¬†people will try and recruit you into their camp. Keep a low profile. Take sides, never. Stick to yourself, keep your own counsel, and give it 12 – 18 months before you take sides. Sides will be taken. Ruthlessly. If you’re hoping to sit on the fence, go back to the ‘city.’ Small town life requires invigorating taking of sides. It comes naturally, but only after at least a year. Then, take sides, and budge, never, from your position.

You will be accused of having City Manners. Again. Don’t let this go to your head. It simply means you are energetic, punctual, successful, a go-getter, and almost definitely from Cape Town or Johannesburg. It will be used against you. Let this accidental compliment land where it belongs: on your methodical, organized ears. Try and hang on to your City Manners for as long as ‘rural’ life allows. Don’t slide into rural apathy or languid late-coming. We need City Manners. They are our link to civilization.

You will be invited to barbeques (commonly known as ‘braais’), to dinner parties, and, even though you’re only 45, you will be invited to play bowls at The Recreation Club. Try to decline as politely as possible. Once you’ve made too many new friends, too soon, getting rid of them can prove impossible, or at least, challenging. Decline invitations, (it gets easier wth practice), and once you’ve sussed out who’s who (give it 12 – 18 months), either accept an invitation or two (if they’re still coming your way) or take the plunge and have a Belated Home-Warming. Invitation Only. Small towners have a habit of arriving unannounced, uninvited, and taking over your dinner bash.

Security is considerably more relaxed than in the big cities. Sadly, crime can seem to intensify in a small town. You actually know the person who gets robbed, beaten up, slandered or bullied. It’s not just a name. It’s a familiar face, it may even be an out-of-towner who spent several months up the road, and you feel their pain. Empathy increases in direct proportion to intimacy. Small towns foster intimacy. Be prepared to ‘feel’ more.

You will be regarded as a representative of your former home. You will be lumped together with Capetonians, or Joh’burgers, or the British. As with all stereotyping, wait it out. Your true self will make an appearance, in due course, and you will be seen as an actual real, live person, with your own ways, your own views, and your own manners.

Seventeen months now I have resided in Barrydale. Much of my time is spent, alone, in nature, or alone, at home. On the rare occasion that I encounter neighbours, residents, and the many visitors to my new home, I have learnt to appear inscrutable, neutral, friendly, and invisible. It’s an art that takes a while to master. You can do this, too.


photos of barrydale @ annetownsend#








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