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Monday, January 13, 2003
My life as me by Barry Humphries, a short review

People who have read other works from Humphries's oeuvre maintain that this book is simply 'more of the same': episodic name-dropping. Other critics have the advantage of me here - this is the first Barry Humphries book I have read.

I did find the latter part of the work episodic but that is what one would expect. Particularly in the final quarter, there is a series of stories that are so free-standing that it would be a pity not to regale you with some of them. They indicate both the strength and the weakness of Humphries's writing: immense knowledge, perceptive witticisms, fine writing (strengths), and lack of a general attitude/background philosophy (weakness).

Firstly, a useful piece of information for the health-conscious traveller: the most germ-ridden piece of equipment is the TV remote control. Obvious when you think about it.

Secondly, Barry learns from a Sydney taxi driver a new piece of rhyming slang: ‘Seppo’. This is an abbreviation for ‘septic tank’ – ‘Yank’, clearly.

Now, while I recognise that, strictly speaking, not all Americans are Yanks, it seems a useful approximation. It also has the required level of irreverence, I have already heard it twice on Australian TV so I propose to use the term periodically.

Thirdly, a short quote from the book:
On one occasion [in America]…there was a nearly disastrous technical problem when the lighting failed. While frantic repairs were underway, Edna stepped forward and apostrophised the studio audience in an attempt to keep the atmosphere buoyant…

‘Sorry about the lighting, possums,’ she said. ‘I think the Mexicans in the basement must have stopped peddling [sic].’ [Perhaps it would have been better had they been pedalling... - Josh]

I learnt later that this extemporary remark almost caused a total walkout by affronted technicians, none of whom, incidentally, was Mexican. I had not realized the extent of the double standards in some quarters of the United States, which give noisy lip-service to the doctrine of equality and yet employ, for minimal wages, a huge subclass of Latino peasants as leaf blowers, dishwashers, chambermaids and hospital orderlies. Jest about this at your peril.

Finally, among the devotees of Dame Edna listed by Humphries is the redoubtable Henry Kissinger. I cannot wait for Dame Edna to interview him. Perhaps such an interview should start: ‘And how does it feel to be an unrepentant war criminal? Is it even more of an aphrodisiac than power?’

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