Friday 1st February 2008. Paddy McGuiness’s wake. Alcohol units 18, cigarettes 100 (passively) calories 0.

“Look at him!” Bob Ellis bellowed at me, pointing at John Howard. “The toxic midget has had a jowl-tuck.” Ellis then removed his tie, undid his top button and pulled open the neck of his shirt, grabbing handfuls of flesh around his throat.

“This is what a sixty-year-old man’s neck looks like!”

I leapt up from the sofa, pushed my way through The Push, and slunk home.

Luckily, yesterday’s launch of Ellis’s book “and so it went” was held at the freezing Wharf, so we all kept our shirts on. And Ellis was his usual cantankerous, curmudgeonly, vastly-entertaining self.

Asked why he had criticised Julia Gillard in the book, he said pithily that “redheads are trouble.”

Her problems are that “she is Welsh, she sounds like my Australian grandmother and I fear there maybe falseness at her heart.”

“Like (Margaret) Thatcher, she may be brilliant on her feet, but she makes no friends and devastates her enemies. She will bring a plague of trouble for the ALP because she is childless and not married.”

On top of this, “she organised the numbers for Mark Latham and that should be a capital offence,” he intoned.

In question time, Meredith Burgmann leapt to her feet to challenge Ellis on his views about barren spinsters, but he slid off into a story about the Bakhtiari family. When they were faced with deportation in 2004, he said, he had planned to send them to New Zealand, and rang Gillard to ask for an introduction to the NZ government.

“She said, ‘Save your money, Bob, the New Zealanders will never do anything to offend the Howard government.'”

“I have detested the woman ever since.”

The audience, most of whom looked like they had been at the Unity Hall hotel since the Split, lapped it up. Asked about Rudd, he said that “men are more about outcomes and women about procedure”. The PM is more like a woman in that way, he said, adding, “his bureaucratic tendency is positively Chinese.”

He also praised Bob Brown, but condemned the Greens. “Many of the candidates are mentally challenged and not always physically grotesque,” he said, muttering into his jowls that “great causes attract mutants and deviants.”

Other highlights of the book include references to the nameless women Ellis shared with Paul Keating in 1973 and 1974 and “how it feels when Gough Whitlam has finally forgotten your name,” he said.

At the end, everyone went up to get their books signed, including former pollie Peter Collins, his celebrity real estate wife Jennine Leonarder-Collins and Chaser Dominic Knight.

By 9.30pm, a tired and grumpy-looking Ellis was on Q and A with Penny Wong and Tony Abbott. After the show, I log on to take the pulse of the Twitterati.

At 10.35pm, Penny Twittered, “Just got an SMS from Kevin… He reassures me that Bob Ellis will never write another ALP speech again.”

Tragically, it’s the fake Penny Wong, which is, of course, much, much funnier that the real one.

Then, this gem from Rick Eyre, “I’m having this nightmare. It’s a new TV chat show. Six hours long every night. ‘Laboring The Point with Penny Wong and Bob Ellis’.”

And so it went.

Peter Fray

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