Tired Tony: People are still experiencing some bewilderment over Tony Abbott’s excuse that a visit to Afghanistan would give him jet lag. How could any professional politician be so dumb? But how could anyone be so dumb as to accuse a dying man of not being pure of heart? Or doing a 200-kilometre bike ride, when there was a health policy to be mastered ahead of a debate? Or turning up late for a debate — too busy accusing said dying man — swearing at your punctual opponent? Or staying up all night to show how tough you are? Doesn’t any of it make sense yet? Tony Abbott is a teenager. He’s 16½ years old. Once you understand that, everything else makes sense. Who else but a teenager would be so narcissistic as to think that jet lag counted as an excuse for not visiting troops? Or be so body-obsessed that fat burning was more important than the midnight oil? Or blame everyone else for their screw-ups? Who else but? Y’see? Check his office. There’s probably a skull bong and a poster of Cheryl Tiegs on the wall.

Abbotts of Mind: Mind you, Abbott is a busy boy. Check out the wesbite where he pursues as other career as children’s writer: www.tonyabbottbooks.com. He wears a bear there, but that’s male kids’ author de rigeuer. Abbott’s other life includes Kringle (“a boy from humble beginnings triumphs in a dark and violent time to save children imprisoned by goblins”). Or there’s The Postcard … “a creepy phone call that will send Jason on a thrilling mystery to uncover family secrets …” i.e. that he didn’t get an art student up the duff all those years ago. Or Firegirl where young Tom Bender (steady), befriends a badly burned girl and is changed by her. What flame-haired nemesis prompted that idea? My favourite? Danger Guys and the Golden Lizard where Tony and Christoph … sorry Noodle and Zeek fight off the Golden Lizard of Wentworth, sorry Maribo. Tony’s sold eight million books worldwide. At least one of them’s kicking some goals.

Jot Lag: Meanwhile, Abbott’s visit to the UK lit up the British press, not, with a grand total of no mentions. In an effort to find out where he was, I checked his Twitter feed that, hilariously, stopped three days before he lost the election, with these messages:

To the travelling press team — get an early night!

11:25 AM Aug 18th

Tonight was great. Will catch a few hours sleep and hit the road continuously from first thing tomorrow until late on Friday.

11:17 AM Aug 18th

What is it with this man and sleep?

Big Self-Preservations Society: God, I suppose I’ve got to say something about the Tory Conference, currently under way in Birmingham. Everyone says it’s terribly attended and boring, with half-empty sessions, but it’s already delivered one disaster for team blue: a bewilderingly bad plan to remove the universal child-care benefit from anyone earning more than £43,000 per annum. OK, about 95% of the population earn less than that, but what’s weird about it is that it targets individual earners, rather than couples’ aggregate income — i.e. it hits single-earner households and single parents. Thus, two people pulling in £80,000 between them, will continue to get around a grand per child per year — while the solid conservative stay-at-home mum couple on slightly more than half that will be penalised. Though the papers have managed to turn up a few people who will be hurt by the process — single mothers paying London rents and a fortune for child care, e.g. — the fuss has been all about the cultural politics of it. Most people approve of the cut — unsurprisingly when millions are trying to make do on less than 20 grand a year.

The Child Benefit move — never mentioned in the party’s manifesto — was already being walked back when Dave — call me Dave Cameron — stood up to give the leader’s speech. Though George Osborne, the hideous Tory-boy chancellor, is being blamed for the stuff-up (as he is being blamed for not winning the election outright). The speech itself was strange, reaffirming Dave’s idea of the ‘Big Society’ — a concept I’ve got more time for than a lot of other people, but not the DIY on-the-cheap idea the Cameroons are proposing (“start your own post office”). A lot of it was pabulum, about pulling together, partnership of people and government, followed by another in the Tories’ uniformly terrible choice of play on/off music, It Takes Two Baby. None of it really matters. The Coalition is rock-solid for the moment, Labour demoralised and exhausted. Let’s check back in in a couple of years.

No bells will ring for Gerald? It’s Nobel time, again and every Australian litterateur gets a tightening in the stomach — will Les Murray get a (largish) guernsey this time round? The colossus of Bunyah is currently at about 14/1 on Ladbrokes and Unibet, odds having widened slightly. The early favourite was Tomas Transtromer, the Swedish poet (and big fan of Kenneth Slessor), who is old and frail — but suffers from the academy’s current aversion to awarding it to Scandinavian writers, after they were wildly over-represented in the first 90 years or so. Transtromer started at 4s and has now widened to 10/1. The bookie rankings have to be viewed with some scepticism — after all, the favourite is currently Nestor Amirilla, a 30-year-old Paraguayan playwright whose greatest work appears to be his own Wikipedia entry. Other Aussies on the list including Peter Carey (100/1), David Malouf (50/1), and — at 15/1 on Ladbrokes — Gerald Murnane. Who? The man many consider to be Australia’s greatest novelist is all but out of print these days, and known to very few. He has rarely left the northern Melbourne suburb where he lived and worked for many years. Will MacLeod’s son get the gong? My money’s on Les, if anyone, but as Transtromer says:

Dreamt that I started school but came late

All in the room wore white masks over their faces

Who was the teacher no one could say*

(Grief gondola #2)

Peter Fray

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