Wednesday, 10 January 2007

House on a Hill

By Dennis Ogden

(This short story was a chosen to be published in "Streets of me Childhood" as part of the Victorian Seniors Festival Short Story Competition 2006)

Isn’t it strange that with age, except for the inappropriate and disrespectful effect of gravity on flesh and body parts, everything seems to go up – the cost of living, petrol, newspapers, bread and milk, blood pressure and cholesterol! Not only that, but the older you get, the steeper seems the rise. We can do naught but pay, pare back or put up with it. But, when up is really up, I mean as in height, elevation, nose-bleed stuff, then age reveals just how ill-prepared one is to strive to these greater heights. I’m not talking about ‘heaven’ just yet, but if you live on a hill like I do, some days the ascent takes on a similar outer earth experience.

About a year ago I, in my na├»ve wisdom, decided to follow the sea-change trend and move permanently into my coastal holiday house on the Bellarine Peninsula. But, oh no, not a beachfront, step-directly-onto-the-sand (hope there’s no Tsunami tomorrow) type of beach house, but one cut into the side of a hill!

Nice view, I thought. A short stroll to the beach, I thought. Private, I thought. The irony of thirty-nine steps, reminding me of the iconic 1935 Hitchcock film of John Buchan’s novel, not a problem, I thought. The car living at ground level, not a problem, I thought. But that was twenty years ago.

Now, I’m not an ancient ‘senior’ but a relatively recent recipient of my ‘senior’s card’, so when the removalist van arrived with my city furniture and the tonnage of books, I thought I’d cut down the cost by assisting – after all, the heavy stuff can be carried up the stairway to my ‘heaven’ by the two sumo wrestler guys in the truck. Well only one sumo type actually, as the other guy was rather wiry but obviously strong, apart from the fact that a calf muscle had been removed from one leg in an industrial accident. Unable to work any more in that industry, all he can do now is tote heavy furniture around – strange, I thought.

Well, if I ever had a head for numbers like add, subtract and multiply, I would not have tendered my help, but since trading in my mental arithmetic for a calculator many generations ago, I’m still trying to figure out how many steps I went up and down that day. I can but brag that I did about the same number of trips as did the two professionals, but I must confess they were carrying sofas, a fridge, washing machine, mattress, etc. But hey, there has to be some sort of handicap in this calculation!

Anyway the outcome was that I had settled in to my coastal address on the hill. The recently extended decking offered a sweeping view all the way to Queenscliff and the distant mountains of the Mornington Peninsula. A great vista over a local mellow vino.

But one has to eat, shop, visit and do the odd bit of external work and I still had thirty-nine steps to put up (and down) with. This is how I found the true value of my move – I became fitter. Together with the ocean-fresh air cleansing the big city grime from my lungs, I was forced to exercise simply to survive. Not that I actually noticed it initially, mind you. Fitness seems to creep up on you if you do exercise regularly and the only thing you notice is that, on reflection of the day’s activities, you realise you’ve done much more than you thought. But the true realisation of my growing fitness was in its comparison. Friends who visited, salespeople, religious spruikers, tradesmen and the postman who needed a signature on a piece of registered mail, all gasped for breath after just one climb up my thirty-nine steps.

Now, as the evening sun sets and I sit on my decking, vino in hand, listening to the surf crashing onto nearby sand and the home-coming gossip of the multitude of birds who share this elevation, I think to myself, nice view, only a short stroll to the beach, the car comfortable at ground level, but best of all, my thirty-nine steps have deterred any unwelcome callers and ensured my treasured privacy.

Now all I need to do is to find out how to stop the ever-increasing number of unwelcome marketing phone calls!

© Dennis Ogden 2006