John Goodman is an Auckland writer and author; as he seeks to write more, he is attending the 'More Life Writing' course taught by Deborah Shepard.
From the back of the house you could see across the gully, which was wide, deep and gorse filled. In summer, all right-minded boys made tunnels and dens there, hollowed-out caves with soft floors of choked, dried-out grass and spiky walls, which caught at you like a hedgehog unravelling, if you weren’t careful.
You got to the gully down the face of a clay cliff. Decades of little kids had toggled their way along, swinging and balancing on a ledge here, a tree root there, so you could get down fast if you knew how and we kids did, only the adults didn’t and told us never to go that way.
Once down, you were amongst the gorse, thick browns and greens in the autumn and winter but dying out in the summer for the tunnel season. You got in by wriggling under on your belly, head hunched between your shoulders, nose smelling the ground and the back of your neck just clearing live prickles above. Then you picked up an old tunnel or made your own, or both, snapping back branches at the base and carving your way to a really private den, at least three feet from someone else’s, where you swore your neighbour to eternal silence so no one else could find you.
Eternity lasts ten minutes. After that gangs sprang up to dispute territory. Alliances formed and re-formed as land and favours were traded. Betrayal was frequent and forgotten in the heat or illusion of conquering the enemy, your best friend.
Girls weren’t allowed except for Paul’s small sister, Linda, a wiry, dark-skinned girl with green eyes and straight black hair, although she only tagged along. And the bigger kids came in only to catch you and give you Chinese burns.
We were always late home. You couldn’t get back via the cliff but had to use the gravel access road to the top, past the parked earth-movers and dozers. In the end, the dozers cleared all the gorse and surveyors put pegs in the shiny, yellow earth. So, then, there were no more dens and tunnels, and no more warfare in the gully.
John Goodman is a former New Zealand diplomat, who now lives in Auckland. His main interests now are in politics, literature, art, history of ideas and cultures. John recently attended Deborah's summer life writing school at the Centre for Continuing Education, University of Auckland.
London in December is a groaning, booming monster, restive beneath layers of intense cold, night-fall at four, and smoke-darkened Victorian brick. The air is metropolis-blue, an odd fusion of diesel fumes and incandescent light. But for me, walking around Mecklenburgh Square, where I was still living that December, old London was radiant, streaming with bright future, my future. The world had just become my oyster, the globe my stage, the planet mine.
I had just left University College London for the last time, bidding farewell to the bones of Jeremy Bentham in their glass case at the portico, clutching my post-grad international law degree. Earlier, I had lunched on salmon, turkey and Stilton in the oak-panelled boardroom of Norton, Rose, Botterill and Roche, a major law firm. They liked me, they said, mentioning a 'lavish starting salary.' When could I start?
Canterbury University had offered a post on the threshold of senior lecturer and pay to match, unexpected but welcome to an ageing student of 28. When could I accept?
And that morning, Foreign Affairs in Wellington had offered a diplomatic slot. When would I return?
My plans for simultaneous career offers fulfilled, I fairly hugged myself with joy, pacing along, delighting in the flow of power that surges when the keys to the city nestle in your palm.
I paced jauntily, switched suddenly to measured steps, then slowed, stopped, stirred, then stopped again, unable to move, my mind turning. My feet locked onto the huge London flagstones, the keys to the city vanished. When could I start? When could I accept? When would I return? Before my eyes, glory turned to inky dust in the darkness and cold of a London winter evening.
Some time later, high over frozen, white North America, I awoke from dozing, divided, my heart moving forward and my soul looking back.
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