For four days, three meals a day, I sat down at a table already set, with salt and pepper and handmade ceramics and coffee all within reach, foraged foliage and linen napkins decorating the table and endless bowls of homemade granola and other things that tasted better than I make at home. If I wanted the butter, I said so, and it appeared. When I was full, I pushed my plate slightly to the side, got up and walked away and sometimes had a nap wrapped in linen bedding on a bed I did not make. It was what I think it is like to be one of my children, but without the anxious mother at the kitchen sink stooped under the weight of a newly issued and very complicated kindergarten show-and-tell timetable.
My husband put me onto a podcast called The Long Now and in it was a talk on the emerging creator economy. Whereas the first half of the 20th century was defined by manufacturing stuff for the industrial economy and the second half by whipping up the desire for all the stuff in the consumerism economy (how did my ancestors survive the 10,000 odd years of human urbanisation before me without a vacuum cleaner fitting designed to groom their shedding dog. I am looking at my contraption right now and the answer is clear. Very easily.) Now, as the podcast explains, we find ourselves in a world where it is not the stuff or the desire for the stuff itself that is scarce - there's plenty of that - it is things like engagement and experience that we want. The creator economy.
While the podcast was a very macro talk, and therefore not of huge interest to the self absorbed like me, I was able to relate it back to my own little micro world, where it is clear that experience is becoming more valuable than stuff. I've got plenty of stuff. Most of it is stacked in moving boxes in the shed. As we speak all that stuff is being repurposed into a high density residential complex for an expanding population of rats and mice who are very pleased with the generous supply of nesting materials including lecture notes from university subjects called Death and Burial in the Classical World and several boxes of soft, hole-ridden jumpers labelled "for gardening".
To my surprise and also in part disgust, I could not care less.
What feels important and worthwhile more and more is the experience over the acquisition of stuff, although I cannot entirely break free from my consumer roots and deny the thrill, even if it's short-lived, that comes with buying something new.
But here and now, where experience is king, the four-day Slow Living Byron retreat that I have just returned home from, is the castle.
When I say retreat, I mean retreat. I barely lifted a finger. The food, cooked by Studio Neon's Aaron (who is the type of guy that is flown business class to cook for people, who has worked for Gordon Ramsay and cooked for the Queen etc) was out of this world. In between eating there was time to walk, swim and chat and sleep in lovely Happy Glamper canvas bell tents all the way from the Mornington Peninsular.
And above all there were photography lessons from the super talented Australian photographer Luisa Brimble. More photography and also styling from Beth Kirby behind the incredible blog Local Milk, foraging, dyeing and weaving with Rebekka Seale who is from heaven above, and with Lean, who comes from the same place and writes the excellent blog Lean and Meadow, assisting all along the way.
To be able to not only have access to these people and their skills, but to also hang out with them was nothing short of a privilege.
And the other participants (ladies, always ladies) were a delight. I often find new group situations so exhausting. The beginning of a school year, the first day of a new job. Day one at a mothers' group when you haven't slept, like, at all is almost too much to handle, stirring up similar feelings to those brought on by combination-permutation grids where you had to work out something awful like how many different ways there are to distribute three cups of coffee between eight tired mothers. All the different, new social combinations fry my mind. But this group - which I guess had already gone through a sort of compatibility sieve in that we had all enrolled in a four day slow living course in the first place - was a breeze to be with. Overcome with sentimentality as I left the course, after enjoying everyone's company so much, I declared I loved them all. Then I dedicated an instagram photo to one of the girls. I should be embarrassed, but such was the buena onda of the group I totally stand by this inexcusable gushing.
So here I am at home, full up to the very top, with ideas swirling thanks to new friends and experiences, the gentle, slow-release buzz you feel after making a connection with like-minded people humming away and Bruce Springsteen's Hungry Heart playing on repeat, now against my will, in my head ... not the most melodically diverse of his tunes, but I cannot fault his lyrics.
Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don't make no difference what nobody says
Ain't nobody like to be alone
Everybody's got a hungry heart
Thank you so much everyone for an amazing few days and to anyone out there who is considering doing something like this, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Experiences like these help take the edge off that hungry heart.