I make no apology.
After our ridiculous and overlong journey to Curringa Farm, and the unprecedented hospitality bestowed on us by owners Tim and Jane, it was a pleasure to have a rest day. Philippa wasn't happy, however, her bodywork having turned from a healthy scarlet to a muddy grey on our journey along the least-used road in Tasmania, a thick layer of gravel cemented in every corner of her chassis. The sight of her might have been comical that morning had we not been so terrified of being found out by our rental company. We had very obviously driven off-road, something we were absolutely not to do. In the absence of a hose, we found a mop and bucket and mopped her down, dabbing her gently so as to not bruise her pride. She had the day to bask in the sun, and she seemed to have forgiven us by the next day.
Our accommodation, a self-catered cottage overlooking a private lake, was one of three on site, cut off from the rest of the farm. It was a quiet and secluded retreat. We were surrounded by grassland, rolling hills and trees stripped of bark by possums. We had more space than we knew what to do with: a large, fully-kitted kitchen and living room complex with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, electric blankets and even a hot tub. Miles from major settlement and beyond mobile phone reception, we even had a large screen HD television with digital reception. But I wasn't interested in the television. I wanted to explore.
We walked down to the lake, past a small makeshift enclosure at the bottom of the hill in which Tim and Jane were rehabilitating a wombat for a wildlife charity. He seemed quite content for us to watch him, so long as we stayed downwind.
In the afternoon I climbed a hill. It wasn't just any hill, but one that towered over a landscape already teeming with contour lines. The views from the top , I assumed, would be spectacular. So, leaving Rachel to catch up on some telly, during which time she unexpectedly prepared a feast, I began my adventure. Through the fields I walked, unnerving the sheep as I went, until I found myself at the base of the hill. It turned out to be a lot steeper than I had reckoned on, but I perservered, puffing and panting to the end, intent on reaching its rarely-climbed peak, a view on the world that would belong only to me. Even here, on a farm, it still felt like wilderness. For that very moment, it was all mine.
Well, mine and that of the herd of cows that were waiting for me at the top.
I stared out over my kingdom, over the river Derwent as it kinks around the base of the hill and splits to form the lake on which our cottage stood, over the green pasture that rolls for miles, remembering the mountains and lakes to the north, the forests to the west and the city to the east. It was a dragon and a hobbit short of Middle Earth, I remember thinking. The air was thin up there.
It took all afternoon to recover from my exertions, so we relaxed on the sofas, making the most of the cottage's DVD collection. On arrival we had been assured by Jane, who had checked with her son, that the DVD selection was pretty good. But her son was only little, so this pretty good selection amounted to two musicals, a collection of Looney Tunes cartoons, About a Boy (in Japanese) and Stuart Little.
And I don't care admitting it. I rather enjoyed Chicago and Mamma Mia!
In the evening, summoned by a possum on our balcony, we went for a walk in the dark on a wildlife quest. Every so often, if we stayed very still and quiet, we would catch a glimpse of a wild possum staring at us in mild curiosity, pausing to say hello before hastily vanishing to safety. We could occasionally hear kookaburras, and where the sheep had been in the daytime a group of creatures departed from us with that most Australian of gaits - a bounce. They were too far away to identify, but we hoped, based on what we had been told, that they were potoroos, although they may have been wallabies. It was down by the lake, the water still and the night dark and quiet, that we made our most surprising discovery. Something - we had no idea what - pierced the silence with a bloodcurdling shriek. It truly sent shivers down our spines. It sounded like death itself calling for an ambush. What on earth could it have been? What on Middle Earth could it have been? Was it a Nazgûl, one of Sauron's most terrible servants coming to get us? We suddenly felt very isolated and very, very alone.
Turns out, we learned later, that it was only a parrot, but it was enough to make us head home immediately and bolt the door!
In a final act for my birthday, I had a bath in the hot tub. The water was brown - it came directly from the water table that is rich in tannins from all the gum trees - and it flowed slowly. The bath had pumps, jets and fancy buttons, and, being me (and getting impatient), I couldn't resist pressing them all. But I did so before the water level had passed a critical volume. Six streams of dirty water fired at varying angles - all of them up - at the walls. Three streams came from one end, three from the other, a veritable projection of water everywhere but the bath. It was at this moment that Rachel came in to say hello. In seconds, though it felt much longer, the room flooded. Frustratingly, to turn the jets off you had first to cycle through all of the other power levels, each of them progressively stronger. With the room's ambient lighting it was quite some scene.
But I don't care, because I was having fun.