Magazine article The Spectator

Mongrel B*st*rds

Magazine article The Spectator

Mongrel B*st*rds

Article excerpt

'IF you ever want to hide something from a Pom, stick it under the soap.' This was an old saying of my Dad's - the Lord be good to him. He told it to me at Sydney's internationally acclaimed, award-winning airport when I took off on my first overseas trip. The poor old bugger was on the way out himself at the time with emphysema. He was down to 40 kingsize mentholated filters a day, but his husky words of wisdom certainly gave me an insight into the Brits I was soon to encounter on my first diplomatic assignment.

When, like me, you'd been brought up in a good, clean-living, working-class, Irish Catholic home in south Sydney, you tended to look on the English as, by and large, a bunch of mongrel bastards. You just have to peruse my co-religionist Bob Hughes's seminal tome The Fatal Fuckin' Shore to see how the Poms treated our illustrious ancestors. They gave our forefathers buggery in more ways than one!

Naturally I was pretty nervous before I hit Old London Town the first time, wondering how I was going to spend the arduous years as cultural attache to the Court of St James's with the back of my handstitched, powder-blue, Crimplene safari suit permanently pressed to the wall. At Heathrow aerodrome I had my first taste of English hospitality, standing at the end of a long queue of Aussies and Kiwis whose uncles had more than likely stopped a bullet in defence of the Pommy Empire, while all those tea towels and bush-bunnies flashed past in the fast lane through immigration.

There was a waiting limo laid on for me by my old friend the Australian taxpayer and there I met my driver Terry, a typical whingeing Pom with a face like a beaten favourite. As he started to grab my Samsonite and make with the old `Yes, guv, No, guv' routine I told him in a nice Australian way to cut the bullshit. They don't like it when you tell them to stuff all that bowing and scraping and forelock-tugging up their arse. They don't mean it, of course; they hate your guts and they'd piss in your soup for sixpence, but they've been brown-nosing for generations and old habits die hard. Egalitarian bastard that I am, I jumped in to the front seat and, halfway to Australia House in Strand Street, I took a long pull on my hip-flask and passed it across to him. You would have thought I had foot-and-mouth! He nearly shat himself at the wheel. I guess the poor little prick had never had a real man in the car with him, so Spectator readers will not be surprised to learn that he came the raw prawn* when I asked him where I could get my rocket polished at that time of night.

It was when I was promoting Tasmanian Mauve Vein in England during the Eighties that I encountered the English businessman at close quarters. Now we all know that the average Pom wouldn't work in an iron lung, but most of the types I meet in the business arena are as shifty as shithouse rats and about as straight as the roof of the Sydney Opera House. Compared with them old Jonathan Aitken would be in the pipeline for a sainthood. They all play their cards pretty close to their Savile Road chests. I once asked an Aussie stockbroker mate (now copping the vertical suntan in a Perth VIP correctional facility) why he never became a member of Lloyd's. He told me he smelled a rat from the beginning: `The Poms are a greedy bunch of bastards, Les,' he opined. `And they're snobs as well. Give them a sniff of 18 per cent and something that sounds like an exclusive club and they'll be in like Flynn. …

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