Archive for November 23rd, 2007

One more sleep!

So here it is at last, the election that has obsessed me for so many months. Tomorrow morning, just one sleep away!, I shall arise at seven to begin watching the election results coming in from Australia. I have waited eleven and a half years for this moment, the first federal election since 1993 where it looks as though Labor will actually win. The polls have been indicating a Labor landslide all year, though in the last two days the results seem to have narrowed considerably. Still, a Labor victory seems the most likely result at this stage, and that is certainly where the money is going with the betting agencies.

The recent Galaxy and Newspoll figures indicated a breakdown of 52/48 to Labor in the two-party preferred vote – this ought still to be enough to get Labor over the line, but it has produced a great deal of angst amongst those who have dared to believe that the end of Howard’s government could really be about to happen. I’m particularly enthusiastic to see this happen. Not out of any great sense of belief in the rather pissweak and watered down version of the Labor party on offer at this election, but because my dislike of the conservative Liberal/National coalition is so intense. Some years ago I would have been satisfied with any victory, just to get them out of power, but as the dangerous legacy of the years of misrule becomes ever more apparent, I’ve come to feel that only a complete massacre will be satisfying. The Liberal party has moved further right than at any point in its history since the war, and only a complete change of personnel or its collapse altogether as an organisation can be good for the Australian political landscape.

That said, considering the immensity of the task that was before Kevin Rudd when he assumed the leadership, even a narrow victory to Labor would be an incredible feat. It has been said that this would be the first time that a government had been thrown out in the middle of an economic boom, though, it could be said that really the economic boom commenced in the years immediately after the last recession and was well underway when Keating was defeated. Either way, considering his success at the last election, his general popularity (which I have always found utterly mystifying) and the well-known fact that Howard is as cunning as a shithouse rat, defeating the man Keating once dubbed “Lazarus with a triple bypass” would be a Herculean task.

Three years ago, when Howard defeated Latham with an increased majority, I had already given up hope of a change of government at this election. So convinced was I that we might have entered another Menzies era, I wrote a novel titled “Advance Australia Farewell,” set thirty years from now, in a future in which everything, inevitably, had gone to the dogs. It was designed to be a worst-case scenario forecast, to the point of being slightly farcical, sarcastic, sardonic and mordant; a story about a seventeen year-old boy who joins a group of professional beggars and eventually escapes as a refugee to New Zealand. By the time I finished the novel in June of last year, I realised that I had lost all hope of a positive future of Australia; that it was destined to become increasingly conservative, Christian, vapid, greedy, materialistic, anti-intellectual, intolerant and assertively nationalistic; that it was heading for environmental collapse. It was an extrapolation of the effects of a continuity of current policy and attitude; an extrapolation from a belief that conservative rule would not only continue, but would become more extreme.

With this forecast in mind, it seems remarkable that I am sitting here, the night before an Australia federal election, looking forward to a shift back towards the centre. It seems even more remarkable, after the devastating loss of the last election, that I am sitting here feeling a deep sense of disappointment, not that Labor might not win, but rather, that they might not win by a landslide.

There are good reasons, however, for desiring a significant majority, the most obvious of this is that a government with a secure mandate can afford to take more risks. What has been most disappointing about this Labor opposition is how risk-averse its entire strategy has been from the moment Kevin Rudd became opposition leader. Who would ever have imagined a Labor leader stating calmly and clearly that he was an economic conservative? It is certainly understandable considering the generally benevolent economic climate and the low level of unemployment that an opposition leader would need to reassure the public that this one positive to which the government laid claim could be sustained. Yet this cannot excuse the Tasmanian pulp mill, or the matching of government tax cuts, or, indeed, the entire Labor tax package. Howard made hay with Peter Garrett’s slip up, in which it was suggested that once Labor got into power they would “change it all”, but many Labor supporters, myself included, hope that Garrett was telling the truth. As Ross Gittins pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald several weeks ago, the sad truth with Kevin Rudd is that what you see is what you get.[1]

At least, however, this would suggest we might have a new prime minister who was honest and genuine and who was outspoken about the fact that the key to the future was education and acting sooner rather than later on climate change. In a recent article urging Australians to drive a stake “through the dark heart of Howard’s reactionary government,” the man Howard replaced, former Prime Minister Paul Keating, argued that this election was “a chance to rebuild after a decade of moral erosion.”

Keating writes:

“He (Howard) has turned out to be the most divisive prime minister in our history. Not simply a conservative maintaining the status quo, but a militant reactionary bent upon turning the clock back. Turning it back against social inclusion, cooperation at the workplace, the alignment of our foreign policies towards Asia, providing a truthful and honourable basis for our reconciliation, accepting the notion that all prime ministers since Menzies had: Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and me: that our ethnic diversity had made us better and stronger and the nation’s leitmotif was tolerance. Howard has trodden those values into the ground.”

Keating is correct when he states that “Cynicism and deceitfulness have been the defining characteristics of John Howard and his Government.”[2] Personally I think the worst aspect of this government has its aggressive, insular, nationalism and parochialism. The Cronulla riots were a direct and very obvious consequence of this, but I could list countless other, smaller, everyday examples of aggressive nationalism. By way of an example, an old friend, an Australian of German Jewish descent, when visiting Bondi Beach was asked “How did you find the water mate?” When he replied, “It was okay,” the response that was thrown back at him was “well I bet it’s bloody better than wherever you’re from,” which was odd, considering he was from Bondi Junction.

I left Australia because I no longer felt comfortable amongst Australians. The rampant parochialism made it feel further away from the rest of the world than ever before. In a time when growing connectivity ought to have been increasing tolerance, it seemed as though xenophobia, which had so easily re-asserted itself under Howard’s first government thanks to his lukewarm condemnations of Pauline Hanson and which was later augmented by the Howard government’s fear-mongering hypocrisy on terrorism, was becoming more firmly rooted in Australian society. I can only hope, should Rudd win tomorrow, that a change of government will lead to a significant change of tone; less bombastic rhetoric, and a renewed drive for tolerance and social inclusion.

Last weekend, in a desperate need for some popcorn entertainment, I went to see the film “Beowulf ”. When Beowulf first arrives on the shores of Denmark, he makes the bold statement that “I’m here to kill your monster.” I sincerely hope that Kevin Rudd, like Beowulf, can kill the monster tomorrow, before much more harm is done. One more sleep!

It only remains for me to make a prediction. Taking into account all the polls and the analysis of various psephologists, and putting aside my fear of BoBos (Bohemian Bourgeoisie who make a noise in the polls, then turn up and vote conservative) I’m plumping for a Labor win, somewhat narrower than hoped: c. 81 seats to 67. I’m also hoping for a significant increase in the Green vote and, ideally, the addition of as many as six Greens to the Senate. I’ll happily take five, or even four, so long as they hold the balance of power. This can only exert a positive influence, in my mind. Mark Latham might have called this a “Seinfeld election” about nothing, but the truth is that a very great deal is really at stake. The very fact that we are still talking about Kyoto, without having moved beyond it, is indicative of how far behind Australia has fallen. A change of government might provide the momentum needed to catch up fast.

Bring it on!


[1] Sydney Morning Herald, October 24, 2007 “A Smarter Vision for the Future: Not Ruddy Likely.”

[2] Sydney Morning Herald, November 22, 2007. “A Chance to Rebuild after a Decade of Moral Erosion.”

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December 2006

There was a Spaniard, a German, an Australian and an Irishman in a house with only one toilet. Sound like a joke? Welcome to 8 Primrose Street, Cambridge.

Yes, the Sturton Street years have ended and the Primrose Street years have begun. Well, they began a while ago now, at the start of December. I have been slack in keeping in touch of late. Happy holidays and all that. Brace yourselves for a bit of an extended update. Much of what follows might be old news for some of you, but for the sake of the uninformed I shall hop, skip and jump over some old ground. For all your sakes, I shall try to keep it brief, and clean.

Firstly. Do any of you remember Leif Garret? Things didn’t really work out for him in the end once he got into the gear and on the bottle.


Anyway, it so happens that my German housemate is called Leif, and our resident Irishman goes by the name of Garrett. No kidding.

So, news. The curtain was closing on the Sturton street years and I spent a week inspecting rooms, then ended up taking the first one I’d looked at. I saw some of the most bizarre living arrangements in the process. All these poor little postgrads tucked in together in tiny houses. One house I inspected, courtesy of a Frenchman by the name of Antoine, was a tiny, triangular building with a bar downstairs which the owner had bought from a pub and installed himself. The room itself had been advertised as a “nice double room”, but it was smaller than a coach toilet, had a built-in “double” bed that was not as long as the average fully grown male, had one square foot of floorspace, and was currently occupied by a Chilean Catholic fanatic who had crucifixes, bibles, saints and virgins strewn all about the place. Yes, nice if you are a Dwarven monk perhaps, though not at three hundred and fifty quid a month…

So, it turned out I’d already struck gold without realising it, for the first house I’d inspected was Primrose street, and as my search went on, it grew more and more attractive. When I saw it the second time, I was amazed at my initial reticence. It is a lovely room with French doors opening into the backyard, built-in bookshelves and sturdy, if functional furniture. Perfect for someone who likes living like a monk, only not as a dwarf and without all the religious bollocks.

My housemates are cool – Leif is a material scientist from Karlsruhe who is into punk and rock and rides a skateboard to the lab. Garrett is a champion who is doing something or other seriously technical with plastics, and as for Ignasi the Spaniard, he’s busily working at translating help menus into Spanish for a computing firm. It must be tough because he seems to need to watch a lot of soccer.

The winter has been particularly mild. It waved a few threatening fists in December, but then grew shy and we had the mildest January on record. “Mild” is one of those special English euphemisms for weather which is not particularly menacing and essentially means “unhostile”. We had a morning of snow about six weeks ago, but that was that.

Over Christmas I had the pleasure of minding a rabbit (a fine French Lop for all you rabbit enthusiasts), the darling of someone I met in a book club I have recently joined (first up, Knut Hamsum – “Mysteries”, then Hemingway – “For whom the Bell Tolls”, next is J.M. Coetzee – “The Master of Petersburg”). Many of you will be familiar with my obsession with giant rabbits, yet Milo was, I’m sorry to say, of normal size. The one advantage was that he costs a whole lot less in carrots.

More news: A couple of months ago I also extended my visa for another five years. The home office have recently made a few changes to the visa renewal system. You no longer have to turn up at five in the morning and stand for six hours in a rainswept queue with a thousand other applicants and asylum seekers at Lunar House in East Croydon, which is, incidentally, the most sublunary building ever constructed. Instead, you phone them up, make an appointment, join a much shorter and faster moving queue at Lunar House in East Croydon, still the most sublunary building ever constructed, and pay five hundred pounds for the privilege, whether they accept your application or not.

Fortunately, they did accept my application and I emerged clutching a passport stamped with leave to remain and work until 2012, by which time, of course, we’ll all be working on orbital space platforms. So, as I said to my colleagues at work, I’m practically a Pom.

In order to celebrate, I planned a couple of holidays, or, campaigns, as it were. First was the Benelux countries plus France. I’d been away too long, so flew into Amsterdam about a month ago, stocked up on fresh air-sealed, Venezuelan magic mushrooms and other Dutch delicacies, then went off to look at great art and windmills. First, to Haarlem, home of the Frans Hals Museum, but also home to some very nice weather. I was thus inclined to drift along the canals and soak up the sun. Australians living in England during the winter become like reptiles the moment the sun is out… Time to bake bod, as Clive James said. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I went down to Delft (home of Vermeer, as in Girl with a Pearl Earring, and no, Simon Tracey, not Girl with a Pearl Necklace), to Rotterdam, to Breda, to Roosendaal, and then on into Belgium, through Antwerp, and from there direct to Bruges, where I had some great hallucinations and nearly froze to death in this splendid hub of the high medieval cloth trade. I then nearly froze to death in Ghent, walking around with permanent ice-cream headache – didn’t bring a coat, see. The problem with having a bulky camera, spare lenses, laptop, adaptors, cables, mouse, power leads… something’s gotta give, and this time it was clothing. Still, I made it to Brussels, at which point it began snowing heavily. I put on four tee-shirts, a long-sleeved cotton top, and a hooded, fleecy-cotton track top, but by Christ, it was still not enough. Thankfully when I arrived in Paris I met up with Kathy who had kindly brought me a coat from home. So, things worked out in the end, and, as you can see, I lived to tell the tale. Paris was as great as ever, although I have come to the conclusion that the coffee there is way overpriced and utter shite as well. It’s almost as bad as English coffee, in fact, sacré bleu!, I think it’s worse. Dan Chez, you’ll be pleased to know that Rue Mouffetard is still there and still swinging.

So, this brings us perilously close to the present. Last night I flew back from Venice after another campaign, this time across northern Italy. It was a madly ambitious itinerary, but I managed it with style and aplomb. I flew into Bergamo last Sunday morning on a 0630 flight and arrived at nine-ish. I checked out the town, ah, the sun! It was seventeen degrees – have you any idea how amazing seventeen degrees can be given the right circumstances? I was sweating as I ascended to the high, old town, shooting like a madman in the high-contrast blaze. I hung about for a few hours, then split to Como, on Lake Como, funnily enough. Como is a nice resort town in the northern lakes region of Italy – it’s only a bit over an hour north of Milan on the local trains, which, incidentally, are dirt cheap and highly efficient. I’ve always found public transport to be exceptionally good in Italy, just in case you needed to know. I also find that a modicum of snuff can be most efficacious.

So, from there to Milan the next morning, straight to the Duomo and straight back out. Milan looked like a big, grinding, stinkhole overrun with far too many cars and people. I didn’t see any models, unfortunately, except maybe one, but she was German. It was your typical big Italian city – dirty, loud, chaotic, and – why, oh god, why, can no one in Italy do neat concrete formwork? Even the Workers’ Socialist Democratic Republic Paradise of 6 Furber Road puts them to shame.

I fled to Verona, via Brescia, where I bolted into town with shouts of “move it soldier!” and “go, marine, go!” to see an eighth-century rotunda. Had a tight train connection, see. Verona, by contrast to Milan, feels like it was briefly run by the Swiss. It is not only beautiful but it has the third largest Roman arena in western Europe. It also has a lovely Roman bridge and a whole swag of fourth to eighth-century churches, which is just the sort of thing to float my boat. I also had the good fortune of accidentally booking the same hotel I booked when I last stayed here in  2001, which is cheap and slap bang in the heart of the old town. Locanda Catullo, take it from me – it might be one star, but it’s one hell of a star. Plus, any hotel named after a Roman poet has already got a head start. That’s Catullus, mind you.

From Verona to Mantua – nice, but dull; I dug it for two hours then took the train to Bologna, which was big, dirty, smelly, chaotic, (poor concrete formwork), but also totally entrancing. Bologna’s one of those places you get in Italy where everyone has had a go at decorating it, but what is most noticeable is how grandiose the projects there were once the papacy got their hands on it. That said, the main basilica, of San Petronio, is the fifth largest church in the world, and would be larger still if the papacy had not decreed that it should not be larger than St Peters. Consequently, after beginning construction in 1392, it was never finished – the façade is only half clad with marble and the top half shows bare brick. From the sides protrude the vestigial beginnings of apses which were never added. The papacy decided that the land should instead be used for the university – hear hear! Bologna also has over forty kilometres of arcades and porticos. It also has a marvellous fifth-century church which has been joined to two Romanesque churches to make a conglomerate maze of chapels, apses, rotundas and cloisters. I nearly shot my bolt at that point. Bologna is a very interesting place, and, of course, home of the famous hot sauce. Sadly, I could not bring myself to order it, though I did not weep for this.

Next stop was Ravenna, which in the early fifth century became the capital of the western Roman Empire. It was hopping around a bit at that stage according to expedients: Milan, Arles, Trier, but for a good long while it was in Ravenna and, accordingly, the town was splendidly adorned. Ravenna has the greatest collection of late Roman mosaics in situ that you can find. The sixth-century church of San Vitale has to be seen to be believed. It is a riot of colour – mosaics, being comprised of tiles of glass and glazed clay, do not fade, and consequently, none of the original impact has been lost despite fifteen-hundred odd years having gone by. There are several baptisteries, mausoleums, first to fourth-century houses etc, which still retain their entire mosaic adornment. Anyway, just bloody well go to Ravenna and check it out yourselves, although, be careful, because, the following morning, on my way back from a sunrise bolt to Rimini to photograph a Roman bridge and Arch of Augustus down the sun-struck decumanus, I was arrested at the train station when a sniffer dog took an interest in my bag!

Yes, it seems he detected evidence of my trip to the Netherlands, so I had the curious privilege of going off with some Italian policemen for half an hour while they searched me and my sack. Fortunately, unlike several other famous expeditions of Benny the Mule, I was not carrying anything at all. They were very polite about it, even apologetic, and we found the time to swap a few jokes, although I didn’t tell them the ones about the Carabinieri, who are notoriously thick as pigshit.

So, from Ravenna, to the piece de resistance… Venice. Ah, what a dream… The sun blazed, the accordions played, the gondoliers gondoliered, the waters glinted, and for two and a half days I was back in my favourite dream. I took fifteen hundred photos (recently passed the 10000 mark since leaving Australia), drank a few litres of wine, ate a big hunk of cheese, inhaled a few pizzas, knocked off a few hundred cakes, smoked a pack of cigarettes, and had the requisite ball one has in Venice. It was all too good and I even got a bit of a farmer’s tan, but yesterday afternoon I had to leave. Flew out of Treviso at ten thirty and got home just after one last night, and that’s about that. So, there you go, that’s me in a nutshell. I’m still working for the Cambridge City Council selling tickets for the Corn Exchange. If you’re curious:


Finishing my sixth novel – been on the final chapter for a month now, too many distractions… and otherwise, just hangin’ out. When should I expect you?

Adios amigos, kiss kiss,


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Apples and Pears




Now, where was I? Back at the end of July, sleeping on the floor in W8 Lawn Bowls court… Ah, the Pembroke years, how long ago that all seems…

So, the interview went well and International Programs at Pembroke gave me the golden handshake. I was back in the system. In twenty-four hours I went from sleeping on the floor on the sly in college and dodging the bedders in the morning to having the right to demand a room at a moment’s notice. Marvellous. But there was one thing. The job. I had to learn to co-lecture a third-year university course on South African fiction, including four novels, two short stories and ten poems I’d never read, in a week. Needless to say, I was packing death.

On the 25th of July, Chris and I left behind our room in Lawn Bowls court. No more would I wake to the roar of two cement trucks parked in the street at the back of college; no more would I emerge from the shower to gaze across the contrastingly quiet lushness of Pembroke college’s overgrown quads. We moved into 5 All Saints Passage – a run-down old four-storey flat above Ray Newman’s Gentlemen’s Hairdresser. It was a strange place, tall and thin. It began in darkness, towards the back of the passage behind the shop, where one musty door led to the cellar (with a note to the effect that two of the stairs had gone) and another, up towards the light. Up the first flight were my room and the bathroom with the pigeons living in the skylight. My room looked out through a ten-foot high arched window onto the narrow passage, with Trinity College on the other side and the carved faces of saints all down its length. It was a dark room, but high-ceilinged and comfortable, and it was also free.

Upstairs from there was the small lounge and kitchen, and at last, the view opened up. For, once above my level, the rear of the flat rose above all the neighbouring buildings and looked right out across the roofs to Castle Hill and the Saint John’s chapel tower. It was a splendid view, which improved further as one ventured up to the top level where the master bedroom and study were located. Naturally Chris took the best rooms. We moved in in a flurry one afternoon and immediately established the ritual of sitting in the tiny cast iron balcony overlooking the passage, drinking. The third floor provided an enviable vantage point and came quickly to be a favourite spot.

Thus began the All Saint’s Passage years. They were busy times. I was working full time at the pub for that final week of July and in my spare time, getting stuck into reading King Solomon’s Mines while trying to finish my novel. Thankfully I finally got there and sent it off… now, the waiting game… Finding it difficult to prep myself for teaching without an active internet connection in the flat, I decided to get a room from Pembroke after all and they came good, though the room left a lot to be desired. It was on the top floor of a complete warren of a college house on Pembroke Street, directly opposite Pembroke, which afforded views of the mossy ceramic tiles opposite and the spires of the college buildings, but not much else. Another two feet and it would have been spectacular. It was so small that only Harry Potter might have found it expansive, yet it did have a live broadband internet connection and, like everything in this town, it wasn’t at all far from home. It was also free. My “office” soon became a second home.

The next step was to sort out my finances and get some transport. Barclays Bank love Cambridge students, whatever vintage, and without even blinking they gave me a five hundred pound interest-free overdraft. At last I was solvent. In pounds! It all seemed to be falling into place. Pembroke handed me a meal card with two hundred and fifty quid on it and told me to stuff myself as often and as much as I liked at their expense. I bought myself a sturdy, fast, reconditioned second-hand mountain bike and before you knew it, the kid was back. As Sacha Coles once famously said, “Ich bin hell on wheels.”

So, July 31, the teaching began. I thought I might vomit my innards out from nerves during my first class, especially when, having hoped for a tutorial-style discussion, it became clear that my seven Californians had arrived only two days before and were half dead with jet-lag and I was forced to give a lecture. Thankfully the one thing I’ve always had up my sleeve is the ability to talk seemingly without pause for hours on end, and, once I got going, all was well. Our first week was hellishly busy and we soared through South African history, poetry, foundation myths, post-colonialism, a deconstruction of imperialism, critical theory, the kitchen sink… and wound up with a relaxed class fuelled by Western Cape Pinotage and Billtong, during which we watched a documentary on Sofia Town.

Our teaching all took place in Downing College – new by Cambridge standards, being only a couple of hundred years old, but gloriously spacious with the largest court of all, bordered by simple, neo-classical buildings and thus having the aspect of an enormous, grassy agora. Once our students warmed up and got into the swing of it, they proved to be an excellent bunch – one of whom was called Randy, haw haw. Chris and I relished the opportunity both to bash Apartheid and to use glaring examples of imperial rape and pillage by genocidal megalomaniacs such as Cecil Rhodes (when you think Rhodes scholarship, imagine there being such a thing as a Hitler scholarship…), to give our Americans clear examples of precisely how America behaves these days, without ever even mentioning America! Ah, the subtlety of education… That said, I got the impression that our students didn’t lean towards Bush in the last election, assuming they were old enough to vote then, that is, and if they had leaned that way, it was likely only because they were drunk.

So teaching was a great buzz – the environment, the students, the material (if you haven’t read Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country or J. M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K. then I can’t recommend them highly enough), the free dinners… and since they were sorting me out rather nicely and I wasn’t paying rent, I cut down to about fifteen hours a week at the pub, which became more a social occasion than anything else. Indeed, I turned up Saturday night for a “celebrity shift”.

So, eventually things wound up with a great formal dinner and rapturous applause which brought tears to my eyes – naturally culminating in the sort of laid on, pissed-up binge the colleges always responsibly encourage. The following day Chris flew back to South Africa for a month. Within two days all the American students, who had been such great drinking buddies, were gone. I finished at the Anchor. I had no mates. I had to turn in the keys to my “office.” It was heartrending. Then one day my college meal card stopped working. The system had tossed me kicking and screaming back into the streets.

Then my bike got stolen – sheered clean from the fence with bolt cutters. A word of advice – don’t park next to a construction site. Naturally I was pissed and was forced to storm from one place to the next, glaring at every red bike with a keen eye for mischief. Then it dawned on me as I was steaming through the market square one morning that every step I took just rubbed salt into the wound, so I went and bought another bike. To warp slightly an old adage, if your bike gets nicked, get straight back up and go buy a new one. Or a new second hand one, that is. Plus the biggest, most fuck off lock ever invented. This time around I bought a twenty-year old Raleigh. It’s built like a tank and goes like a frolicking filly in a harvest-time pasture. The kid was back, again…

Then I got the flu, but it was a blessing in disguise. Having no job at the time I lay in bed on the top floor for a week with my lap-top, writing like mad and reading up a storm; staring here and there across the pigeon-soiled roofs. It was a golden age, if brief. Cook, eat, shower, read, cook, eat, shower, write, sleep, wake up, go for run, duck out for a sly beer hoping my sensible side won’t notice, sleep… I was enjoying myself so much in this great old musty flat that I hung on for an extra weekend and finally moved out late on a Sunday afternoon in early September.

It was dark in the passage. The gun was heavy in my pocket…

Oh, sorry, wrong story…

I stood outside Ray Newman’s, pondering his forty-six years of service, pondering the paradox of his sign which read “Modern Hairdresser” and had done for the same forty-six years, pondering his worn-through linoleum floor, thinking hard on how I’d miss all my pigeon buddies who cooed, shat and shagged shamelessly outside our windows on the rooftops and chimneys, thinking of the good times and the bad, the camembert, sauerkraut stench from the Polish cheese shop next to Ray’s, wondering what the next episode had in store for me, wondering how long I could go without having a conversation with someone, wondering how I’d get by without any mates at all…

It was bliss.

Throughout August, on many days and nights in the “office”, I had searched like a bastard to find a place to live, written countless e-mails in response to ads and gone to inspections. I was fortunate in striking gold on my second visit. In order to sew things up and stop fretting about where I would wind up, I accepted the offer there and then and agreed to move into a lovely house with two other people roughly my age.

And hence we come to the start of the famous Sturton Street years, which ought to be ongoing for at least the next three or four months. The people I moved in with are lovely, or so it would appear from brief acquaintance: Sonia, who owns the house, is a clinical psychologist and Pete, the other housemate is an ecologist. Both are very bright and cool and, it seems, never here. Sonia left two days after I moved in to go to Philadelphia for a month where she is working on a joint research project, and Pete who, in my first three weeks here was away six days out of seven doing wildlife surveys for environmental impact studies, (“Off to do another bat survey”, he says… “off to watch badgers and water voles in Lancashire…”) has just set off on holiday and won’t be back until the second week of October. So essentially I’ve had the house to myself, and since it took my new employer ages to sort out confirming the start date for my next job (Cambridge Corn Exchange, box office, customer service, shit-kicking), which is in fact, tomorrow, Monday, the 24th or whatever it is, I’ve been living here entirely by myself, having no obligations, writing and reading in the sun all day and going out for increasingly epic cycles and runs, soothed here and there by the odd puff of “zorl”.

And it’s a very nice house. The backyard is long and grassy and full of interesting plants. There is a fine young apple tree which has just this month produced its best fruit ever (apparently) and hence I’ve been stuffing myself full of apples. And pears, for there is also a towering great pear tree in the middle of the yard which rains down pears like you wouldn’t believe; ten to fifteen a day. Many that I find are hapless, bruised, cracked, already spoiled things, and many others get got by the squirrels before I can save them. Yet the sheer number has ensured a steady oversupply. To avoid having to throw them out, and also taking into consideration that many are rather too small and bitter, I’ve taken to stewing them en masse. Now I have to eat them with every meal just to get through them. Pears on my cereal, a bowl of pears after lunch, a bowl of pears and cream after dinner, a bowl here and there just for the hell of it. So much for my fear that things might go pear-shaped, boom boom.

I had long feared that living this side of Parker’s Piece meant living on the wrong side of the tracks, as it were. Yet this end of town holds the Anglia Ruskin University, which is “the other” university in Cambridge. The cool thing about that is that the students aren’t all complete toffs and nerds and are more like your regular university undergrads; dreadlocks, smoking pot, doing coke, dodging lectures and hanging out in cafes, hanging around street corners, making films about each other, chain smoking in the local cemetery, trying to work out how the hell they’re going to pay off their student loans to cover increasingly exorbitant tuition fees… they’re also mostly foreign which makes Mill Road – the local version of King Street, Newtown, a regular Babel. Throw in all the awesome Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Malaysian and Chinese shops around here, and you get a pretty good result all round. So it’s a cool area, and oddly enough, feels a lot more like a student area than the centre of town, which is dominated by the University of Cambridge. It also has quaint old pubs and houses – row after row of the bastards.

So, as yet the Sturton Street years have been good years. Unfortunately, however, all things must pass, as George Harrison said (and did, for that matter). Come tomorrow I’ll be back at work in a dull job. Still, worse things happen at sea, and what the hell, there’s novels and poetry and photography to keep me going and the money has to come from somewhere… Plus, there is the exciting fact that next week a Cuban student will be arriving here who needs somewhere to stay and will be living for a couple of weeks in the study. Gus – any tips on how best to entertain him?

Orright, Comrades, I’ve chewed your ears long enough, be off with you, and best wishes in all endeavours.

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No Fixed Address



Firstly, I hope this finds you all well and happy into the bargain.

I’ve been living rather a nomadic life for the last few weeks, but things are about to settle down into a more regular rhythm. After returning from The Sausagelands, I had a week before my friend Chris’ lease expired on his flat which had been my base camp since arriving at the end of May. It was a strange place to live in, with possibly the most poorly designed kitchen in the world, low ceilings, no access to the back courtyard from the flat, an oven that only occasionally worked, a washing machine / dryer that murdered clothes and was entirely uncooperative, a shower so small you banged your elbows continually whilst washing, and no ventilation since all the windows were designed not to open properly. The bit that really kills me is that this pokey little dive is also the chosen retirement home of the Dean of (insert Cambridge College here). Ahhh, the Poms!

That flat faces directly onto a park (Frisbee lawn) and has a small front yard which can be accessed by climbing out the one window that did open fully – a space about three or four feet wide and ten long, full of shrubs and bark. It was better than nothing under the circumstances, and proved quite useful for drinking in the afternoon sun while people walked and rode past immediately beside us.

Owing to the proximity to the park, it made both us and any passers by into an endless spectacle. Having spent many hours watching pikies and plebs suck back cans of Tennants Super Strength Lager, guarded by the ubiquitous dog-on-a-rope, I was gutted to learn that I missed the very best spectacle of all whilst in Czech, namely, two proper Newmarket race-goers in three-piece suit and frock, going for it no holds barred under the tree immediately outside the window.

It had been rather cramped in the flat with Lucy and Liz, but we all got on OK and muddled through. Naturally things improved as soon as we got rid of the women ; )

After a final disposable BBQ of Boerewors and beers aplenty, Chris and I farewelled the flat and I went down to London on Saturday to stay with Liz. She was holed up in a flat belonging to old friends of her family, at which we used to stay years ago to get a break from Cambridge. Liz was busy researching in the British Library and I am currently racing like the devil to finish my novel in the hope of reaching a July 31 deadline for a competition entry, so I stayed in, set up in the kitchen and hammered the keyboard all day Sunday and Monday. As a consequence, I will now reach my deadline.

Whilst in London, I received some extremely good news from Chris, namely that our cunning plan had come to full fruition. See, one afternoon around ten days ago, we were dining in Kings College (for reasons too boring to explain) when he hit me with the proposal that he hire me as his teaching assistant for his summer school course on the South African novel, commencing at the start of August. I agreed to do it immediately and the following day we sent my CV off to the director of studies for the international programs at Pembroke College, from which these summer schools are run. On Monday the good news came through that the job was mine at the rate of 70 pounds per hour. Essentially I shall be taking all the tutorials whilst Chris does the lectures. Yes, I have a lot of reading to do, and needless to say, there was much rejoicing.

Monday evening Liz very kindly took me up the London Eye. We reached the peak at around 2100, which chimed in perfectly with the setting of the sun. London was hung with gold dust in an umber haze, but however romantic the light, it’s still an ugly town.

On Tuesday Liz and I parted ways and I took the train back to Cambridge, unsure of where I would be staying. Chris had assured me I was welcome to the floor of the room in Pembroke into which he has moved temporarily, but I was concerned about imposing upon him further.

For about five hours I felt like my entire plan of relocating to the UK was going to fall through and I’d be flying back to Sydney with my tail between my legs, ungodly broke, especially when it became clear that the cheapest bed and breakfast I could find was thirty pounds a night. After a very sweaty search (over thirty all week and Wednesday hit 38 degrees) I bit the bullet and took a garret room at 30 quid, then went straight into town to a job interview with the Cambridge University Temporary Employment service. Having been told there would be nothing available until the start of September and needing some readies in the meantime, I walked straight around the corner to my old pub, The Anchor, which is still run by the same landlords for whom I worked back in 2003.

The following day, I moved my stuff into Chris’ room and that evening, like a dog returning to his own sick, I worked my first shift at the Anchor for three years. It was alarming how familiar it was and I had no trouble in slotting straight back into being a piss merchant, as it were. I expect to be doing around twenty to thirty hours a week to tide me over as I won’t be paid by Pembroke until the end of August. There is a cool crowd so far as the staff are concerned, with three Poles, two Frenchmen, an Italian girl and a side order of Poms. Do drop by!

So, here I am, sleeping on a futon mattress on the parquet floor of W8, “Lawn Bowls Court”, Pembroke College, and things are looking up. I now have two jobs, hope of another with the city council commencing at the start of September (working for the local theatre / gig venue) and, as of Tuesday, I will have a new place to live. For, in another stroke of extraordinarily good fortune, Chris, whose lectureship is now permanent, was successful in applying to become a fellow of St John’s College (where we both did our PhDs). John’s, who may take their time but do things properly, have kindly offered him a house at peppercorn rent into which we shall be moving shortly. This arrangement will only last until the end of August, at which point John’s will give him his permanent rooms and by which time I should be loaded with Sterling from my teaching work and have had the time to organise a room here in town…

So, that’s me in a nutshell, writing by day and drinking by night with the Young Americans, soon to be my students. I’d forgotten what a nice place Cambridge is when you’re on the right side of tracks, so do drop in – good show, what! – Pimms and Lemonade all round…

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