For many readers, The Spectator Australia is like The Real Housewives of Orange County. Only the front bits are worth touching. After diving into Friday’s letterbox and piercing the Speccie’s plastic coating with the precision of an OC surgeon’s knife, I’m in the habit of reading the Australian content in full but only flicking through the Pommie stuff.
Perhaps I have taken my honoured place in the magazine too seriously, as the last page of Antipodean culture. I rather fancy myself as having a border protection role, permanently on guard against the illegal incursions of queue-jumping columnists. This is this last stop for reading about Kevin Rugg and the Catman, beyond which lie the perils of a literary Nauru. No wonder the flamboyant Old Etonians who lurk at the rear of the magazine are always trying to creep forward. To paraphrase Tony Abbott, my role is to stop the boaters.
Perhaps it was the first sniff of spring, or more likely, the transfixing sight of Rowan Dean dancing with Princess Diana on the front cover, but 1 September was different. I read the whole edition.
Thank goodness I did. On page 49, Rory Sutherland explained how Americans ‘still believe all French people stink’. On the page opposite, Toby ‘Happy’ Young updated us on his latest maudlin adventure: a family holiday in France. After complaining, as only Happy can, about the ‘ghastly’ French people, poor transport connections, uncooperative waiters and ‘petty’ French bureaucracy, he arrived at his pièce de résistance, as they say.
‘Each family member now ranks the various Frenchies we meet on a scale of one to ten,’ Young explained, doing his bit for international youth education, ‘by appealing to such criteria as lack of eye contact, depth of contempt and poor personal hygiene.’ Of course, the Froggy stink bomb. It is not just Americans who believe the French smell. They also get up Happy’s nose. On his train trip from Paris to Avignon, our luckless traveller found ‘the journey was tainted by the smell of body odour’.
With my trip to the US scheduled for the next day, the Young/Sutherland thesis was gold. Why judge a country by its sights, cityscapes and hospitality when one can simply sniff the breeze?
So I set off on QF11, bound for Los Angeles. While I have long thought American foreign policy stinks, what about its people? Notwithstanding the initials of their President, my vacation was a stroll in the rose garden. BO was as rare as references to the Bush legacy at Republican campaign rallies.
The only person who knocked me over was a heavily-perfumed matron on Rodeo Drive, one of the real housewives of LA, perhaps. Brandishing her shopping bags in the manner of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, she skittled my eldest child and bumped me sideways. It was difficult to know which was more powerful: the two bottles of Chanel No. 5 seeping from her pores or her bulldozer walking style.
At least my son’s sense of fun was undiminished by the experience. For him, LA posed more questions than it answered. For instance, on Hollywood Boulevard’s walk of fame, why doesn’t Beau Ryan have a star? Or why doesn’t the US currency feature the nation’s greatest inventor, Colonel Sanders? Or why doesn’t Beverly Hills have any hills? Just as I suspected: America’s best-known suburb is no different to Chester Hill, Seven Hills and Currans Hill on the star-filled flatlands of Sydney’s west.
In the Latham neighbourhood, one of the treasured community events is Hallowe’en — a time for children to dress up and for households to experience the joy of giving, albeit in lolly form. Neighbours get to meet each other and talk face-to-face, using sentence structures long forgotten in the Twitterverse. It’s an old-fashioned idea called humanity.
This year we plan to celebrate with extra gusto. The inspiration for this burst of All Saintly enthusiasm? The words and wisdom of Happy Young. Last year he reported on his Hallowe’en experience as ‘an unwelcome American import’ in which he is ‘forced to buy all sorts of ridiculous costumes’ for his children and accompany ‘the motley crew on their rounds’. Then the mother of all indignations:
Long after mine have gone to bed, there’ll be a knock on the door and some tiny little girl, barely older than two, will be standing there, holding out her hand.
For those who believe, as per the rhetoric of talkback radio, that drug-addicted dole bludgers should not be allowed to have children, they should at least acknowledge how the problem extends beyond the underclass. In this country, who could forget the Shallow Watergate scandal, when the well-heeled executive director of the Sydney Institute, Happy Henderson, admitted to ignoring his grandchildren on Christmas Day, focusing instead on an obscure Radio National program? Also in confessional mode, Young has declared:
I’m afraid I sound like a grumpy old man — and I suppose I am. That’s the result of having children.
This is the worst body odour of all: the stench of the self-indulgent elites who treat children as one of life’s nuisances.