Oh dear, I have become one of those people.
You’ll have seen them if you’ve managed a few days away in a coastal community. Perhaps, like me, you also are one.
We’re pretty recognisable in our linen shorts and raffia thongs with our salt-encrusted hair piled into a top knot as we linger around the real estate agent’s window.
“Look at that,” we’ll exclaim to our partner or children, or even to ourselves.
And then we’ll all glue our noses to the window looking at the little teal fibro shack going for what we think is “a steal” or the hinterland property which comes with its own herd of goats.
As a city dweller I’ve spent years laughing at these sea dreamers – people who like to think they’d enjoy a sea change or a tree change but promptly forget their holiday fantasies the minute they step back into the office after Australia Day.
I scoffed at shows like SeaChange and 800 Words which painted every day as an opportunity for a surf, a coffee and some warm-hearted community problem-solving yet never showed July’s relentless rain or the stubbornness of the local council or the internet collapsing any time the wind blew harder than 20 knots.
But after years of dismissing these coastal towns and villages as cultural wastelands where the only entertainment is a chicken parmy and a meat tray raffle at the bowlo, suddenly all I want is a chicken parmy and a meat tray raffle at the bowlo.
Well, I’d also like good coffee and a shop selling boho dresses and a yoga studio but, blow me down, even the tiniest little hamlet offers this sort of amenity these days.
What’s more, you can walk to get your coffee or your jangly bracelets or your ashtanga hit, making the whole thing so eminently doable. It’s no wonder a lot of us have not just browsed the real estate windows but signed up for the sale alerts.
If COVID has shown me anything – other than the inside of my own home – it’s that urban living is massively overrated. And I live reasonably close to a beach!
Recently a friend texted on Sunday morning suggesting we meet for a swim. Unfortunately, my bike had a flat tyre so I had to drive but clearly the entire city had decided that the combination of a 28C day, blue sky and a relaxing of lockdown restrictions was all the encouragement needed to head to the same spot.
I drove around for 25 minutes looking for a park before abandoning the catch-up.
“I’m sorry but it’s just too stressful,” I texted, which felt pathetic despite being true.
I’m not sure if it’s the economic punch of the pandemic, the distance from family who I’ve now not seen for more than a year, the discomfort wrought by proximity or a summer governed by restrictions, but I suddenly feel the sharp edges of city life.
A $194 ticket and two points on my licence for overstaying four minutes in a parking zone felt like a hardness too far.
A woman had fainted in the optometrist as I waited to collect my contact lenses; the parking ticket gleefully issued by wardens lying in wait a sour reminder not to help anyone in distress.
Even the cultural citadels I’ve long embraced have lost their allure. Galleries require a booking, queues and constant steering through the spaces, theatres are so constrained their seat allocations are permanently “exhausted” and a trip to the cinema loses its appeal when you have to remove your mask to shove in a choc-top.
When I went to see The Dry I spent most of the session in discomfort because I was so concerned about squeezing past anyone to get to the loo.
Yet my ventures to regional climes are refreshingly free of these tensions. There the ocean swimmers turn obligatory fitness into a morning-long chinwag, the bakery will break open a packet of rolls to give you the exact number you need and the cafes are churning out old-school milkshakes rather than maniacally disinfecting every table and utensil.
Whether it’s Batemans Bay, Blueys, Bellingen, Burleigh, Bargara or beyond they’re barefoot and breathing in the days with a certainty that life doesn’t get much better than this.
Even the free campers – the only fly in the soothing ointment that is small town life – are dealt with swiftly, if not by a ranger then a local proficient at de-valving a tyre or four.
The only arguments are between those who claim their idyll is better than the next but they are united on one point: they all pity Byron Bay.
This is not my time to abandon city life. Who knows if it’ll ever be. But after 30 years in three of the world’s most enlivening cities the pandemic has posed an alluring alternative.
My neighbours moved their business and their two young sons to Bellingen last month. “Come and visit,” they implored.
“You’ll probably never leave.”
I’ve been wearing these oversized shirts all summer, either over a bikini or knotted over denim shorts. Cotton On has fab versions for $39 or LMND is great for fab shades of lavender, blush and royal blue.
Some loathe it but I’m always delighted by the abrupt temperature changes in the ocean or in a lake as you hit a pocket of warm or cold water. The magic of nature.
Some actors make better podcast hosts than most and David Tennant (Doctor Who/Broadchurch) is best in class at eliciting terrific anecdotes from his guests in David Tennant Does a Podcast. Tim Minchin’s musings on becoming a sex symbol are hilarious.