Getting back that golden feeling

By Willow.

London: Suddenly, after years of living in England with the subtle feeling that my Aussie way with words made me a fishwife, I have become very popular.

People are talking sport so much London is like Melbourne-on-Thames. And my brother sends me the photo of a bus The Sun has hired in Sydney, painted with the gold medal tally and the words – So where the bloody hell were you…?

It’s been so braggingly, boastingly not-cricket that I have overcome my natural distaste for talking sports, and decided to play Englishwoman for a moment. That means rationalising this so-called loss, and applying economic formulae to prove it is not a loss, all the while plotting how to get even next time.

The first thing that stunned me when I got here was how much these Pommies secretly envy our sporting prowess. I was invited to tennis dates and walking tours just to check me out, the way you would a new horse if you were a racing type.

When they’d get beaten hey’d pretend they didn’t care. They’d disappear for a few months, after which time they’d have bought a new tennis racquet, acquired a coach and be ready to play with a couple of their mates drinking lager on the sidelines.

And so it is with the Olympics. For this round of Olympics, the average Brit spend per gold has gone from one million pounds to nine. Some dour newspaper (owned by a former Australian) ran a graph showing that in fact, matching our economies pound for pound, we were ahead.

No, as I have learnt to do from the English, I just shut it. And then I start to PLAN. And here is my plan:

Write to Kevin Rudd. who must be right pissed that his first Olympics as the first Chinese-speaking Aussie PM have been muddied so.

Dear Mr PM, Don’t feel too bad that you’re the first ever PM to let the English beat us in the Oympics, even despite the fact that you speak Mandarin. Here’s what we do: Say not a word (in English) and go and spend loads of dosh in their heartland. By this I mean, why don’t you give lots of money to us writers, splash us with equipment and time to contemplate the language and how it works – and let’s hijack the English language.

It’s ripe for the taking, innit? Lots of money has been swiped from the arts in Britain for the Olympics. Even the BBC, electronic spiritual home of the Queen’s English, has been cutting double digits out of its budget.

English schools have one of the lowest rates of literacy in Europe, yet the amount of money Old Limey still pulls out of bussing tourists past William Shakespeare’s old stomping grounds is eyewatering.

But if we’re going to make this work and become a cultural capital just like Paris, where my family recently witnessed art-viewing as bloodsport, we have to pick the things we’re good at, and then provide the basic tools for our artisans to excel.

Our great poet Les Murray, for example, is touted internationally as having a good chance to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. An investment of nine million dollars in, say, assistants and travel or thought-inspiring books would certainly get him there. And at today’s exchange rate, that’s still half the cost of a British Gold…

And I’ve been thinking more widely than that.

Shows like Neighbours and Home and Away might seem to be the Beach Volleyball of the writing world, but look how much money they’ve made over the years. And with no more reality-escaping drama from the BBC, the Brits will be looking for froth and bubble to fill the television screens and cheer them up until the next Olympics. And next time, we can do figurines!

And what about political pisstaking? Not really a medal event maybe, but where would Beijing have been without all the amusing asides about PR bungles like not letting the real little girl singer into the public arena because of her crooked teeth?

And look where our Australian tradition of pisstaking has got us? We have grafted the product we got from the English and have grown the most healthy and dynamic democracy in the world.

If you think I’m taking the piss about that, compare and contrast with the original. Or read some of their satirical websites. The Spectator and Private Eye live on, but this is one event where the Britain’s ball’s not just dropped, it’s deflated.

(Note to Kevin Rudd: that is why The Spin panel is reviving this site after a few years’ of shuteye, because we think we’re bloody good for democracy, and we want to keep an eye on you and your international cohorts. Oh, and if you want to give us some Australia Council funding to do it, here’s the place to make contact ;o)

I’ve always been a bit low-minded for our novelists, and if I read one more Peter Carey moan about the horrors of being an Aussie living in New York, I’ll personally go and steal his passport. But after being a member of a London Ladies’ Book Club for 18 months, and enduring book after depressing book of twisted sex lives, paedophilia and viperous marriages, I’m willing to give the Aussies another go.

So C’mon Aussies, the prize is in our grasp. One of the biggest, best economic filips is out there just waiting to be grabbed. Dubai’s been trying to set itself up as the next New York. What about Melbourne as the next London? The Indians have been working on taking over the English language for years, but then like the Poms with tennis, they just don’t have our natural talent.

Let’s take our new status of International City of Literature and run with it. After all, look at those canny Scots – the three biggest selling authors of the modern world live in the only other International City of Literature, Edinburgh.

And what is the biggest stop on that city’s double decker tourist bus? Not Andy Murray’s house, that’s for sure – it’s the café where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter.

While we go through the boring development stage of my plan, where we are yet to see the results of our cunning spending, we’ll just have to tune out to the English and their obsession with beating us in sport.

But if it all gets too much, you can always nick a line from the Imperial War Museum guard when I had a go that their Anzac display was a pretty poor show: “I think it matters a whole lot more to you, than it does to us.”


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