Robert Godden’s musings and rants

I muse. I rant. This is my outlet!

Archive for February 2008

Three Cities in Two Days

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Wednesday morning traffic’s very light, probably because it’s 5:30am. Past IKEA, park near the doors; wander through the still-sparkling terminal; smiling Virgin Blue Service and I’m in Sydney.

The taxi driver is from Mali and plays bass guitar; I love the music of Mali and also play bass, so it’s a very enjoyable trip until his satnav packs up at Darling Harbour and it turns out he can’t read a map.

Do the business I need to in Sydney. Pass some quality time with quality people.

Sydney’s a harlot. Flirty and flash; you can’t help but enjoy the sensual thrill of the Sydney attitude: everybody’s welcome, exactly as you are. It’s an attitude that feels a little racy to the country bumpkinism of my long-distant upbringing.

I love Sydney, but it’s like the upswing of a manic depressive; and to live there, I think you’d see both ends. I like to visit, say hello, peck its saucy cheek and leave before I feel too comfortable or too uncomfortable.

Sleep in Chinatown’s heart; hit the airport as the sun comes up. Wander through Sydney Airport; aromatherapy shop provides the perfect olfactory breakfast, to supplement the meagre rations that my descent from obesity requires.

The bumpy takeoff, bumpy flight and bumpy landing don’t dissuade the all-male cabin crew, who are wonderfully gay in both senses but mostly in the Enid Blyton meaning of happiness and lightness of being; it’s almost like Sydney is with us on the plane.

Maybe they’re so happy because we’ll be staying in Melbourne and they won’t; like people are forcedly cheerful around the terminally ill.

And the terminal is ill – surely the most slovenly airport in Australia.

Outside to grey, grey wind; whereas Sydney’s rain had been sparse, warm and so strollable, Melbourne’s grimy atmosphere presses down like a musty blanket.

I lined up outside the taxi cab rank – a pompous official decided the line should move elsewhere which cost me 15 places – got in a worn-out taxi. The driver kept telling me he didn’t understand what I was saying – Collins Street – and then laughed. “I know”, he roared.” I was just showing what would have happened if you’d got one of those f***ing Africans”. So began my forty minute immersion if the problems of the taxi industry in Melbourne; the irony being the guy who had all the answers was not helping the Minister solve the problems, he was driving me to Collins Street.

More meetings and lovely hospitality; now I find myself with three hours to shop in Melbourne. Carrying an overnight bag and a laptop, the wind is so horrible that I have a bite then head to the airport three hours early. Didn’t think that through – four hours in Melbourne Airport. Get a good cup of tea.

More smiles and wings and as the sun sets over the Gulf I’m 500 metres above Adelaide Oval.

There is no place as beautiful as I touch down and am home.

Written by robertgodden

February 29, 2008 at 11:55 am

Posted in Adelaide, Business, Travel

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The Enforced Loneliness of the Long-Distance Author

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As an author, it can be hard to find the right amount of loneliness.

An author? What makes one an author?

In my case, I feel the fact that I’ve written a book. Not how many I’ve sold (not many), not fame and fortune (still some way off), not the thrill of having an international best seller (as if I’d know).

So, I’m an author. And this means I need to be lonely.

Even though JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter in a café, it probably wasn’t Quiz Night or during a morning mothers’ meeting, prams around the tables and chatter about whom what doing what to whomever else and why.

Ever the most spasmodic of bloggers knows you need a little time to yourself to write.

With a full-time job and a full-time family; I found my own patch of loneliness in the mornings.

At first it was when I felt like it. Some mornings. When I didn’t go fishing, or do a spot of reading, or watch the pay TV news that starts really early, or get out a guitar, or play solitaire… you get the drift.

After eighteen months and less than a quarter of a book, I started to regiment my loneliness.

Seven days a week, 5:15 to 5:45 a.m., I wrote. Finished the damn thing off in three months. Or so I thought. But more on that later.

My loneliness was precious to me. I knew it was going to happen. It meant I could gather stray thoughts during the day, knowing they’d have a home the next morning.

Most mornings that was about five hundred words. Sometimes I went a bit longer on weekends

Legend has it that when Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels in the Caribbean he had a pattern: one thousand words and then a lovely lunch; another thousand and then a swim and a stroll on the beach; another thousand and off to a cocktail party surrounded by local beauties. Perhaps his PR firm wrote that bit..

But even motoring along at one-sixth of a Fleming, I got there.

I got very cranky if anyone else in my household got up early. With the utmost grace, I encouraged them to go back to bed or do something else. I almost insisted, without being too obnoxious. Maybe a little obnoxious.

More than three weeks on the overseas holiday of a lifetime did not interfere. Everyday, half an hour. Sat on a hill in Menorca. Propped my laptop up on a hotel fountain in Singapore. Wrote the introduction at deserted bus stop using pilfered internet access at 5:15 one fine Lake District morning as the sun considered adding the colour back to an eerily grey landscape.

And so, I have a book and call myself an author.

When I was writing, I only shared it with two people. One was a good friend who I knew would never say a bad word about it. This was a very indulgent form of reassurance. The other was a good friend who is a professional editor. I knew that from her, criticism would be professional and constructive.

I was terrified of showing it to my wife. I was terrified of the truth.

And I knew I’d get the truth. And if that truth was negative, I’d never be able to continue. So I waited until I’d finished and handed it over. I was thrilled when she loved it.

It was tricky. I knew I’d written a solid business book. With vampires. Time travellers. Thought-controlled Toasters.

I wanted a book that was good fiction, but that had something to offer someone who wanted to build their business, or build their career, and do it creatively. I never once asked if I was doing too much; trying to put too much into it.

For me the quality of the fiction has been the surprise. I printed five copies myself, bound them with rubber bands and gave them to five people to look through, proof-read and comment. One  proof-reader wrote “I cried” in the margin at the end of one of the stories.

(Incidentally, my Mother, who is staying with us, just got up and asked for a cup of tea. Was I cranky? A bit. Where was I?)

So now I’m an author. I’ve got something I’ve proud of. And another form of loneliness.

I’ve now got to convince the world my crazy, self-published book (see www.1001nights.com.au) is worth buying.

I’ve got to become a long distance author; selling my stories to the global village. And that needs more loneliness; more time thinking about what I need before the day starts where I’m Operations Manager, Father, Friend, Son, etc.

Such is the addiction of writing. Such is the addiction of loneliness.

Written by robertgodden

February 23, 2008 at 7:29 am

Ash Wednesday in the City of Trees

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I know what I was doing exactly 25 years ago today, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and into the evening.

I was standing with a small man with a beard who played the violin badly and whose name has not survived the ravages of 25 years on my brain, the lady who ran the boarding house I lived in at the time and whose moniker is just as completely lost, and Barry.

Barry, my schizophrenic room-mate who upset me by being my room-mate; for I had moved more than 500 kilometres from home expecting a single room in the boarding house; only to find that there had allegedly been some sort of mix-up. A mix-up that saved my parents $6 per week, but that wasn’t much of a silver lining as far as I was concerned.

Due to my lack of understanding about his condition, I was a bit worried about Barry; but he was a genuinely nice man; and in the few months I was in the boarding house – before I managed to convince my parents to lift my allowance  and get out of there– he was very helpful and kind. Then again; he was on his medication. Apparently, he had tendency to believe the Russians were after him if he did not stick with the drugs.

So there we were – myself, the bearded man, the grasping landlady and Barry- standing on a front verandah in Strangways terrace, North Adelaide, looking at the orange glow on the hills as sunset fell.

Given that we lived on exclusive Adelaide real estate – I’m pretty sure there’s no boarding house there now, across from the Royal Adelaide Golf course on the fringe of the parklands – we often saw such colours as night approached. But usually we were looking west, not east. And there wasn’t the blanket of smoke.

Adelaide. I moved here in 1983 for year’s study from my home in the country. I’ve lived here ever since. There’s a strong sense of history for such a young city – 1836 seems so recent by comparison to the rest of the world.

But we take our uniqueness very seriously. To give internationals some perspective; we’ve got more land area than London with about the population of Birmingham. Spread along thirty kilometres of beaches the greater metropolitan areas is very spacious, overwhelmingly single story houses on blocks that used to be a quarter of an acre, but recent years have shaved this size at the margins, and some of the grand old houses have been ripped down and replaced with two or three units.

Our founder Colonel Light had a vision that the CBD would be surrounded by parklands, and we have clung to this with religious zeal; only a few developments breaking up the perfect ring of parks that ring the city and form a barrier in the psyche of every South Australian between ‘town’ and the suburbs.

The joy of my drive to work each morning is to crest the last hill on the Southern Expressway – a grandiose title for a road that would be little more than a small bypass In many cities around the world – and behold  the City of Trees, laid our before me with houses between jacarandas and gums, all across the plain. A few modest high-rises occupy just two small pockets in my vision.

Of course, behind me are modern developments, where McMansions are crammed together like mismatching teeth, and where there are no trees. No trees? If I believed in Hell, I’d like to see the developers burn there for this crime. Or harsher but more poetic, they should be made to live in the soulless caricatures of a community that springs from their usurious drafting stations.

There are just a million of us, spread across Adelaide. Another hundred thousand comprise the whole state. A state roughly twice the size of California with one thirty-sixth the population.

Back then, we had to include all the country folk just to make the million. A million people all thinking about fire.

It’s rare that we are thinking the same things as our neighbours and arch-rivals; the citizens of the state of Victoria, Normally we treat them with contempt; like all the other prison colonies made goods that form Australia’s other state capitals, we see Melbourne as pretty undesirable, and during the football season we bay for their blood.

Seventy-five lives later, we were united in grief. It shows us how good life is in Australia –when ten or twenty or indeed seventy-five lives are lost; it’s a disaster that leaves an indelible impression. Yet more people die shopping in Bagdad on a regular basis in these awful days.

Still, Bagdad has had a while to get used to it. In its former guise as Babylon, it has been held by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks and plenty of others. And while the Age of Heroes was being played out between the Tigris and Euphrates; here in Adelaide on the banks of the Torrens, the Kaurna people where living alongside nature.

It’s said that the Kaurna used controlled burn-offs to keep themselves safe from fire. Our volunteer fire-fighters do that today.

Ash Wednesday should never happen again. Twenty-eight South Australian lives proved that you shouldn’t let trees touch power lines. That you need top notch communication between emergency agencies.  And that you need a bushfire action plan, which a recent survey showed thirteen percent of homeowners in potential danger spots have.

Thirteen percent?

Nature is nature and people are people. Since Ash Wednesday, we’ve lost more people to bushfires, one or two or five at a time.

Thirteen percent?

If  the bearded man, the landlady or Barry are alive today and live in a bushfire danger zone, I’d like to think that the hours we spent watching the horizon burn just twenty kilometres away has made sure that they are in that thirteen percent.

Written by robertgodden

February 20, 2008 at 7:16 pm