Thursday, 8 March 2007

Buggered by Barry Humphries

My Australian girlfriend abandoned me for her homeland last week and since then my thoughts have wondered across the continents. On the one hand I am battling to get through the novels of that celebrated Egyptian, Naguib Mahfouz (about which much more another time). Then I am half-planning a trip to Argentina. But mostly my thoughts have been running between Japan and Australia.

I was at an Irish wake the other week and somehow or other the conversation got - naturally - on to the subject of Japanese slang. My fellow Irish descendants refused to believe that it was ever really possible to understand full-tilt Japanese vernacular, but I pointed out that it was oft times more difficult to understand a companion speaking in full-tilt Australian than it was a good dose of Osaka dialect. I then proceeded to bring out a few of my favourite Australianisms. Flibbertigibbet. Hoon-booner-doona. And of course boomer. (Answers at the bottom of the page). One of the best investments I have ever made is the 10 pounds I paid for a MacQuarie's Australian dictionary from the local Oxfam and its treasures keeping on delighting me.

My girlfriend has informed me (probably unreliably) that the two great products of Australian civilization are the lawnmower and that plastic round thing with hooks used for hanging up and drying clothes. But for me Australia's greatest glory will always be its language - the English language washed over with the Australian lilt and cadence is like fine whisky soaked in the best sherry casks. I love it when I discover some new Australianism. My girlfriend's parting gift was 'kindie' which is apparently Australian for 'kindergarten'.

The greatest celebration of the Australian tongue must be The Adventures of Barry McKenzie from the 1970's. Barry repeats 'Don't come the raw prawn with me' and 'I must point Percy at the porcelain' a shade too often but it somehow always raises a smile. The film was scripted by Edna Everage himself, Barry Humphries, whose autobiography My Life as Me is my current bedtime reading.

I have ups and downs with books on Australia. Robert Hughes' The Fatal Shore is something I have nibbled through on each of my two trips to Australia, but it looks like it will take at least another three trips to see me through to the end. Patrick White I've never made any inroads into (perhaps when I reach three figures) - but with Barry Humphries I am confident I will go the distance.

The descriptions of dour, strait-laced Melbourne in the 1950's are terrific and it's quite a surprise to discover that Mr. Edna Everage is such a sturdy intellectual - sometimes too much so. I find I can't go two pages in the book without encountering some word of ordinary English I don't know the meaning ('homunculus', 'tenebrous' etc). I would usually look these up, but after a while it all becomes too much bother. I dare say this is nothing more than a symptom of my own poor vocabulary, but you begin to wonder whether Bazza has not overly strained at his dictionary to dissociate himself from Edna, Les Patterson and co and assert his intellectual credentials as Melbourne's great Dadaist manque (with an accent).

Anyway having read more of Bazza's autobiog before I went to bed, I discovered he took his revenge on me last night in my dreams. There I was befriended by an ancient Barry Humphries who lead me, a naive youth, on a blissful sunny day through Sydney's botanical gardens. We were so pleased to make each other's acquaintance - I rather think the set-up was related to Kokoro in some odd way. Then he led me back to his immense mansion in Sydney that looked curiously like a converted warehouse from the outside, but on the inside was a modernist palace. The rooms were so vast ...and empty. I asked Bazza whether he was still doing Dame Edna on Broadway, but he smiled and told me he had given up that years ago. Then he took my hand and led me into an inner chamber and tried to make indecent advances upon me. I fled screaming from the premises, and it was all the end of a beautiful friendship.

There is surely a moral here about the dangers of reading books about female impersonators just before going to bed. And my apologies to Barry. I'm sure it was even more embarrassing to him.

Oh well, two blogs in and I feel we've well and truly broken the ice.

The answers to the pub quiz round are: scatterbrain; joy-riding dork; West Sydney scally; duvet; and kangaroo.

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