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Bob Carr diaries leave me reaching for a doughnut

Date

Annabel Crabb

"Carr’s newly published diaries, additionally, incorporate a querulous world-tour of complaint."

"Carr’s newly published diaries, additionally, incorporate a querulous world-tour of complaint." Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The pattern is worryingly familiar. A man of considerable self-regard and oddball personal habits finds himself – thanks to a stroke of luck – privy to a dazzling trove of diplomatic megadata.

Quickly, he fills his boots, using any means at his disposal. Perhaps he covertly evacuates unthinkable amounts of data on a Lady Gaga CD. Perhaps he establishes a global no-questions-asked whistleblower site. Perhaps he packs a costly calf-skin-bound blank notebook and quill pen when he goes man-camping with Henry Kissinger.

Finally, he has the data. And then, when the time is right, and the newspapers have been fully briefed, and the columnists – having been given a discreet sniff of the quality of the material – are trembling and moaning at that maddening, seemingly endless apex of desire … He hits "PUBLISH". And the world is soaked in a dizzying, exhilarating, substantially pointless flood of Too Much Information.

The TMI never seems to stop there, though. Somehow, it is impossible to experience this kind of grand-scale diplo-dump without also finding out much more than you ever really wanted to know about the personal life of the man who made it happen.

Whether it’s Bradley – sorry, Chelsea – Manning’s adventures in self-discovery, or Julian Assange’s heavily-litigated frolics with various female supporters in Sweden, or Bob Carr’s longing for "a concave abdomen defined by deep-cut obliques" (his own, it seems prudent to clarify), obsessive over-sharing seems to be part of the package.

Carr’s newly published diaries, additionally, incorporate a querulous world-tour of complaint. Business class is not as nice as first class. Americans are fat. There's too much bread. The boring, Spartan meals he demanded turn out to be boring and Spartan.

So what are the consequences, exactly, of PickyLeaks?

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop did her very best to convince us the book’s publication would "damage Australia’s ties", though whether she meant Hermes or Bulgari (Carr's shortlist for acceptable neckwear) was not clear.

And certainly, one could imagine some awkward moments in the Canberra-Bucharest relationship arising from Carr’s disclosure that his favourite exercise is "the wonderful one-legged Romanian deadlift".

His war on sugar is even more worrying.

Does the former foreign minister realise that Australia is the second-biggest exporter of sugar in the world? Did he consider that every time he openly freaks out at a dusting of caster sugar on an oat flapjack, or coldly declines his croquembouche at a state dinner, he is depriving actual working families in Bundaberg of a chance to do sweet, sweet business in Seoul, Jakarta, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur?

Let us not even mention the economic destruction that would afflict this proud continent should Carr'sambition to free the world of baked goods ever be fulfilled.

The former foreign minister’s view that Julia Gillard should have given up her carbon tax is extensively canvassed but one suspects throughout that he really would have preferred a carbohydrates tax.

Obviously, there is the short-term embarrassment of Carr’s published suspicions that US Secretary of State John Kerry has had plastic surgery (rather a bold subject for the author to visit, given his own cover photograph almost entirely eliminates the famously beaky Carr nose and chin, and seems to have borrowed Dame Maggie Smith’s mouth for the purposes of the shoot).

In geopolitical terms, Carr’s remarks about the Israel lobby are by far the most actively inflammatory; the Jewry’s out on that one, understandably, and will likely remain so for some time.

Trends in international diplomacy change with the characters on stage. The past week has demonstrated this rather clearly; Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s idea of a useful visit to China, for example, is one in which 600 delegates go along. His predecessor always thought you only really needed one.

But in the end, this is a political diary, and political diaries really only ever work brilliantly when the writer allows plenty of room for the reader to think them mad or foolish.

This explains the crack-like addictiveness of the Alan Clark Diaries, or the scabrously readable Latham memoir. An asymmetry of perception between writer and reader is the indispensable ingredient in this chemical formula.

Such an asymmetry allows Carr to have fun writing this sentence, for example, on page 65 – "I love the contact with the people, like the airport security guard who told me I explain foreign affairs so people like him can understand it" – and for us to have fun reading it, only for entirely different reasons.

"I think self-parody and irony is the stuff of life and I wanted the book to have that flavour," the author told 7.30 host Sarah Ferguson. "Life’s too short to be taken seriously."

Reading Carr’s diaries with a large glazed doughnut in one hand and a glass of something fizzy in the other, I cannot help but agree.

Annabel Crabb is the host of ABC’s Kitchen Cabinet. @annabelcrabb

48 comments

  • I wish you'd stick to political affairs every week Annabelle, as of yore. This was a great read.

    Commenter
    Chris
    Location
    Balmain
    Date and time
    April 13, 2014, 1:50AM
    • Chris, I agree - one of your very best Annabel.

      Commenter
      Howe Synnott
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 13, 2014, 10:36AM
  • PickyLeaks!!!!! Brilliant Annabell

    Commenter
    Seabass
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 13, 2014, 5:24AM
    • Whilst I'm sure the hoi polloi are far too ignorant to glean the subtlety of Bob Carr's sophisticated irony in his book, it smacks of someone who really never felt comfortable in the level he gained in his career. Although he made it to premier, he seems to have craved much, much more. And by putting the kind of information in his book that he has, the privileged information he received in his role as foreign minister seems to have been abused. I'm sure many of us would love to do a "tell all" about our working lives, but there are limits to how much we should, in the interests of taste and decency. Some positions, such as Carr's former role, demand that, especially as he had incredibly close privileged access to senior foreign politicians and diplomats, who may have been more circumspect in their dealings with him if they thought Carr was keeping a diary. Sometimes, you should just KEEP YOUR TRAP SHUT about the foibles of humanity, unless of course, you are missing the limelight, and want one more chance to show us all how clever and fabulous you are....

      Commenter
      Kitchenwitch
      Location
      Barony of Brunswick
      Date and time
      April 13, 2014, 6:24AM
      • Ah yes, it's only a read for the intelligentsia who are able to decode and appreciate Carr's humour and wisdom. What a waste it would be on the rest of us heathens.

        Sorry mate - most of us can see straight through it. It's one thing to attempt some sarcastic self-depreciation, but doing with humour it from the lofty heights of an ivory tower takes a bit of prowess. Epic fail Bob, we're laughing at you, not with you.

        Commenter
        Hacka
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        April 13, 2014, 9:46AM
      • Kitchenwitch, for someone apparently from Victoria you show remarkable insight to a former NSW Premier who is not only very prone to telling us how clever he is, but is also very capable of completely air brushing from history the contempt with which he is held by the vast majority of NSW electors.

        If only this narcissist would stop reminding us how delusional he is.

        Commenter
        GeoffWhere
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        April 13, 2014, 10:04AM
      • The further you are away the better Bob Carr looks.

        Commenter
        Party Stooge
        Date and time
        April 13, 2014, 11:16AM
      • Hey, what an enjoyable time is this - much hilarity and sharing of witticisms; if only politics had more of this.
        And, you would have undoubtedly observed that Bob Carr has also been kicking up his heels; basking in the attention.
        Unabashed and unrepentant - he has dazzled the cameras.
        "Encore, encore" - shout the intoxicated masses.
        Now, it is possible some could interpret his insouciance as clear evidence that this man has been indulged for far too long.
        However, despite the public pricking of Carr’s particular peccadilloes, this situation provides an opportunity to discuss the generally wooden performances of those who would represent us in Canberra.
        I miss the absence of genuine characters in Parliament - quirky and interesting (dare I say entertaining) individuals. I am bored with the stilted shadows that clog my TV screen.
        Oh for parliamentarians who reflect the richness that is the human character,

        Commenter
        Howe Synnott
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        April 13, 2014, 11:25AM
      • Bob Carr seemed more intent in living the life as a faux bohemian on the taxpayer's dime than any worthwhile contribution to public life as a Parliamentarian. Sort of goes hand in glove with Gillard's Duchess Grand Visit to the proletariat in Rooty Hill...

        Commenter
        Smack
        Location
        City of the Fallen
        Date and time
        April 13, 2014, 12:05PM
      • Smack - well despite our ridicule, Carr's book may yet enter the chronicles of must-read political history. Chris Uhlmann today described it as possibly a Rosetta Stone moment, having the ability to unlock the key to the inner sanctum of the recent Labor government. Boy, what a Herculean effort that would be.

        It's a tough call whether to read it - perhaps it's best consumed through the great snippets that have come out in the press this week. If there is any real insight into how that Gillard government managed to make such a mess of things in three short years, someone should really pass it on to the Labor Party.

        Commenter
        Hacka
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        April 13, 2014, 1:35PM

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