“Don’t be a c**t all your life!” one of Western Australia’s most respected wine writers rasped into my ear as I performed a particularly vigorous set of push-ups at the gym.
I was in very good nick at the time as I was in the middle of a personal training course in Perth. So I felt more than adept at executing the ‘push-ups with a clap’ which entail pushing up so explosively that you can clap your hands together in mid-air before landing back on your palms. To my mind it would have looked impressive to my fellow gym rats.
But in the rheumy eyes of my gnarly old wine writer friend – let’s call him ‘Whino’ – I looked like a showy POM getting ideas above my station in his gym, hence his ‘colourful’ rebuke. ‘Tall poppy syndrome’ is a common assessment some West Aussies of Whino’s vintage and ilk make of us expat Englanders. Subsequently they feel duty-bound to remind us in no uncertain terms we may have colonised this land, but we don’t rule the roost anymore. While it’s generally done in good humour, ‘ark up’ in protest too much and…“Well if you don’t like it, you can fack ‘awf back to POM land can’t ya?” is the pat riposte.
The way we POMs and our antipodean brethren and sistren wield the Queen’s English underlines that which we have in common, but also our marked cultural differences; we may talk the same language, but we speak with very different accents. And it’s not just because the Aussie intonation dial seems to be permanently stuck on the interrogative.
I like Australians’ unconstrained embrace of bawdy and colourful phraseology even in seemingly formal settings. Although, I nearly fell off my chair in my first team meeting as a debutant PR consultant here – when my boss casually exclaimed, “Fuck me drunk!” to express her chagrin at the demands of a particularly trying client.
None of my team-mates – all females by the way – so much as raised an eyebrow hair at this. And it was a surprise to me of all people, whom I considered to be a swearing aficionado of this kind, that I turned out to be such a blushing prude after all.
My closeted effete English reserve was exposed further one Sunday evening as I nonchalantly ambled up the Cottesloe front. A young couple swayed up the street towards me, clearly intoxicated on something more than just love. As they approached nearer, the young lass lurched from her lover’s arm – pirouetted 180 degrees in the air while simultaneously hitching up her skirt. Landing in front of me, I was treated to a view of her exposed, bronzed derriere, ‘clad’ only in a G-string the wrong side of F#. She slapped her rump sharply and slurred, “Whaddya reckon to that then?”
Her strapping surfer-boyfriend’s glare suggested he really was interested to hear my opinion on the subject.
“Err….very nice?” I offered tentatively, tensing up as surfer-boy moved towards me with his arm raised. But rather than receiving a forearm smash to the face, he instead heartily slapped me on the back with the force of a Russian Olympian discus thrower.
“No worries, maaate!” he guffawed as they tacked off up the street on their merry way. ‘Straya (Australia), as the common parlance has it, is a most proud sporting nation and I think some ‘Strines’ (Australians) enjoy a bit of POM-baiting at heart.
But I don’t want to give the impression all the Aussies I meet are a bunch of foul-mouthed, bawdy degenerates – unlike the majority of my mates back in Blighty – particularly on match-days.
After all, there is a truly uplifting sense of optimism that pervades here evident in the very language itself. The expression ‘no worries’ encapsulates this – even though as a Red Sea pedestrian afflicted by the ‘Jewish disease’, I find it hard to give this notion any credit – let’s face it, having nothing to worry about is a real worry. And as for ‘No dramas’, that’s never going to happen in a Jewish household, is it?
And in what circumstances in England might you utter the expression, ‘Too easy’? “Here’s your donor kebab, sir, with extra chili sauce – now can you please ensure on your way home on the night-bus that you smear the contents all over your face and clothes to suggest you’d tried to make love to it rather than eat it?” [Staggering, beerily belches] “Of course, too easy, mate.” But whatever happens, here in Oz, my ‘cobbers’ reassure me, ‘it’s all good’ because ‘she’ll be right.’ I’ve still no idea who she is – but I’d love to meet her to find out the secret of her success.
It’s the language of a young nation, ‘the lucky country’ ever-hopeful and untethered in its ambition, where if you stick your back into it – ‘fair dinkum’ – you’ll get a ‘fair go…’
Of course, some back in the old country cannot bear this – one mate of mine back in the UK is a pragmatic, go-get-’em, Brummy high-flyer in sports management, who could get a stonkingly well paid job in his field here in ‘Straya at the drop of a cork hat. But, he told me he couldn’t conceive of living down under as he’d miss far too much the dour, doom-mongering negativity of his fellow West Midlanders – “I find it reassuring,” he told me – and I know what he means.
And I must confess there is some linguistic maiming here that makes me wince. Why must something ‘get a Guernsey’ to get a look in and, I know it’s ‘drier than a dead dingo’s donger‘ here and the bush-fires are bad, but is it really necessary for all speculation here to ‘get hosed down’ by politicians, industry captains and sports coaches? And for the love of Archie Gemmill, Derby is pronounced Derby not feckin’ ‘Duuurby’ – the rest of Australia gets this – so why not you WA? This ain’t flamin’ Kentucky after all!
On the other hand it’s great to be regularly greeted by perfect strangers in the street with a hearty ‘G’day’ even though when I return the same greeting in my English accent, I might as well be saying “And a good day to you, too, sirra!” – so much does it make me feel like a Charles Dickens character when I say it.
But fair dinkum, governor, if I am indeed to be a c**t all my life, at least I’ll be a happy one living here.