What better to do in the country than establish a cult?

by Michele Hewitson / 19 September, 2017

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The author's last vase of wintersweet. Photo/Greg Dixon

In the spirit of the age of narcissism, Michele Hewitson has set out to build a cult – The Cult of Mindlessness.

“What is a weekend?” that old scene-stealer, Downton Abbey’s Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, once enquired.

What a good question. A better one might be: when is a weekend? Don’t ask me. Since moving to the country, I mostly have no idea what day of the week it is. Yes, I know. This is shameless showing off. Not knowing the day of the week is entirely indulgent and an absolute luxury. I swan about, doing next to nothing, pretending to be the Dowager Countess of Masterton.

When we first announced we were going to move to the country, people asked what we were going to do. “How am I supposed to know?” I replied, which wasn’t entirely reassuring to them – or to me.

So I decided I would become one of those country-based entrepreneurs you’re always reading about, who do amazing things and make amazing amounts of money from their picturesque country barns. We don’t have a barn. And I didn’t have an idea, amazing or otherwise. We do have an assortment of sheds. I had an idea: I could set up a petting zoo in one of the sheds.

Obviously I never had any intention of setting up a petting zoo. That would have involved small people visiting, and we moved to the country to get away from small, medium-sized and large people. But it was an answer.

A few people professed to take this answer seriously. Or perhaps they regarded the idea of two through-and-through townies moving to the country as such whimsical dottiness that the idea of setting up a petting zoo in the middle of nowhere seemed entirely possible.

What, they asked, was I going to populate my zoo with? The cat, a sparrow and a dead rabbit, I said. That dead rabbit should have given the game away, but at least one person (hello, my dear dad-in-law!) still thought I was, er, dead serious.

I have since had another entrepreneurial idea, and I think this one is a winner: I am going to set up a cult. In the spirit of the age of narcissism, my cult will be called The Cult of Mindlessness. I am the right person to lead such a cult. I practise meditative mindlessness every day in the country – which is the reason I no longer know what day of the week it is.

This is because I am too busy, in a mindless way, doing country things. I spend hours watching Greg cutting up wood. Then we haul and stack the wood. Then I go and look at the garden and the sheep. I pull a weed. I spend hours making Nigella Lawson’s custard creams. Then I eat them.

But mostly what I do is what every gardener does in the winter: I garden in my mind. Winter is the ideal time to move to a new garden. You can’t actually garden: it’s too wet and you have to wait and watch to see what is in your new garden and where the light falls and what grows in a Wairarapa garden.

Also, you have to read dozens of catalogues and visit online plant shops and send emails to The Artist and The Gardener about what you’ve just bought: a swag of almost black Iris chrysographes and crazy, fluffy, garishly pink Filipendula rubra and pots of more tasteful Nepeta “Six Hills Giant” – and so it begins and, happily, never ends.

The last vase of wintersweet – which smells of spices and incense – has been picked, as has the first of the hellebores. The house is full of daphne. The early tulips and the Christmas lilies, in their pots, are up.

I go and look at these every morning, drifting about with a cup of tea, my nose twitching, like a live rabbit, at the faint scent of spring to come. I am practising what I plan to preach: bliss-making mindlessness on any day of the week – or on the weekend.

This article was first published in the August 12, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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