When I was in Melbourne, I was asked to write a little blog about being in another City of Literature. We thought this could go in the Edinburgh City of Lit website but, alas, they had no space for it. So, below, is what it is I wrote…..


May 2, 2012

The sun has come out in Melbourne — bright and golden and exactly the kind of rays I’d imagined when I’d imagined Australia. I don’t trust it. In fact, it has been so rare to see a streak of sun, I took a picture.


Like in Edinburgh, the weather changes hats often and if you wander the streets of books shops, vintage clothing stores and hipster boutiques (where tea-towel are sold as an ironic objects d’arte), you’d better layer up. At least between May and September. My mind makes things up and so I know it will sound stupid, but in my mind, when you fly south it always gets warmer. Like Spain warmer, the Florida keys, Kenya. Turns out, you can go too far (this is my fourth cup of coffee) and apparently there is a reason why penguins are very happy in the South Pole. I should have brought a hat. Anyway, as in our own home-town on any sunny day you can cross the street and end up in a bitter stream of sharp wind and angry grey.

But, of course, weather is not the only common denominator between Edinburgh and Melbourne. Both are designated Cities of Literature — Melbourne being the second in the world after our capital. And, as I’ve long suspected of Edinburgh, it is the days of cloud and biting wind, that makes a city ideal for the book, the word. When Melbourne made the pitch for City of Literature status they produced an in-depth report detailing the city’s literary pedigree. Equally, they could have just sent in a weather report. Because you need many many days where it is comfortable to sit with a book in a cafe, to spend a day writing and drinking the deliriously fine coffee. And, as any literate city should, Melbourne takes their coffee as seriously. In fact, many cafes are operating on a higher level. At the Penny Farthing in Northcote my cup comes with a card detailing the single origin beans I’m mainlining.
When my order for a black coffee (long black, flat black, just a black coffee please) came the barrista explained — ‘This one gets me really high. It is kind of dangerous.’ I was flattered. You certainly don’t give the dangerous stuff wantonly to children — I fancied I had a Hunter S. Thompson glint in my eyes, the manner of a practiced caffeine junkie, a beard which could take it. It was an honour to be given, without asking, the strong stuff, the high octane Ethiopian rattler bean that few men could tame. Indeed, the buzz is good and strong, but I am holding on. I will not shake.
This being a City of Literature it might be expected that I’d have gigs in Melbourne but I don’t. Instead, this afternoon, I’m off to Clunes, a newly official booktown — to what I assume is akin to Scotland’s own Wigtown festival. The idea of turning Clunes, a small township not far from Melbourne, into an official Booktown I’m told was to promote regeneration through culture. Clunes, interestingly, was featured as the set of both Mad Max and Ned Kelly. They say, somewhere in town, is a chair that Heath Ledger sat in. Which, to me, sounds like an excellent premise for a Warren Zevon song.
After Clunes, I’m off to Canberra and Darwin for more readings and workshops. In Melbourne, I’m just doing what I like best. Sitting. Watching trams pass. Drinking copious cups of coffee. That kind of thing. And I’m trying not to think of the things I’ll miss by mere weeks. Shortly, Prince will play here and the seating arrangement alone is drool-inducing and then the Emerging Writer’s Festival will kick off (24 May – 3 June). I’ve been keen to spend time at the EWF since I met the Director, Lisa Demptster, at the EIBFF a few years ago. Imagine this: a literary festival with the ticketing structure of a music festival so that, instead of buying a ticket for the Masters and Slaves event on Sunday the 27th, you buy a Sunday pass (or a weekend pass) and are encouraged to pop into events and discussions you might never have thought to pre-book for. This, in my mind (and we have discussed how wrong my mind can be, but still I remain loyal — you shouldn’t be), is a fantastic way to promote experimentation and a wonderful kind of wandering. We love this about festivals — the chance to see your favoriteband but also, serendipitously, to stumble into a magic tent of Klezmer Hip-Hop UltraJump or Looped up Folk Punk. I’d sure like to see more lit fests adapt this free-wheeling model.
And speaking of ingenious things I’ll be missing — throughout town are huge billboards with the face of Diego Maradona on them. Turns out the Argentinian footballing legend will be coming to discuss his “Life and Times” with Les Murray. Yes, Les Murray, Australia’s leading poet. Les Murray, the legendary poet of Bush Ballads who described his poetry as ‘gossip’ conversing, one-on-one, with legendary and unrepentant Hand of God himself. Of course, this made much sense to me, and I was only mildly surprised to imagine some whimsical programmer having the clever sense to pair these two — Maradona in quotation and on the pitch is a kind of poet. Having researched and written a poem on Maradona (for the World Cup 2010 chapbook published by Forest Publications and edited by Dave Coates and Al Innes) I began to imagine talking to him about stealing that goal straight out the Queen’s purse. Alas, it turns out there is more than one Les Murray in Australia. Les Murray is also the name of a famous sports broadcaster. And it is Television’s Les Murray and not Poetry’s Les Murray who will be interviewing Maradona. I’m sure he’ll be great and no doubt knowledgeable but, in my mind (which has gotten so much wrong already, which is always wearing the wrong hat for the weather), the poetic interview that will never take place remains inspiring. Not only am I sorry to miss this event, but I’m sorry that the event I’d like to see won’t exist.
And now it is time to leave Melbourne. I’ll be hopping on the 86 and riding through the heart of Northcote hipster-ville. Already today there was a couple discussing Northcote’s similarities to the show ‘Portlandia’. So, for all you hipster-lovers and mockers out there and to give you at home sense of the journey I’ve taken many times — here’s a video from The Bedroom Philosopher about the 86 tram — a little spoken word, music thing brought to my attention from our friend Andy Hazel. It is called Northcote (So Hungover). Enjoy.