Federal Politics


Panned passages on horizontal tango strike a chord

Reading the passages that have just won Nancy Huston this year's annual Bad Sex in Fiction award (for bad writing about sex) I'm afraid I find myself quite liking them.

In one of the passages from her novel Infrared that the judges found especially awful, the female narrator reports that ''No sooner have we settled onto the bed and begun to remove each other's clothes with the clumsy gestures of impatience than I realise Kamal also knows about passivity - yes, he also knows how to remain still, fully awake and attentive, and give himself up to me as a cello gives itself up to a bow. Arching his back, he surrenders his face, shoulders, back and buttocks, waiting for me to play them, and I do - I play them, play with them. Then I …'' But there, because this is a family column, we will have to leave fortunate Kamal.

What is bad about this writing? Everyone who has ever felt, as a lover, played by his or her companion like a musical instrument (I'm an old man now but remember with fondness one lover who played me like a xylophone and another, a Scottish lass, who played me like the bagpipes) will think that Huston is on to something here.

Every year when I read the works of the winners (of course they're losers, really, because the prizes are meant to embarrass) it occurs to me that the judges are probably prudes (they are British, after all, for this is an extravaganza run by The Guardian newspaper) who find any descriptions of love-making blush-making and want to punish those who have a go at doing it. I accuse that there is no one, among these judges, who has ever, in the bedroom, been fortunate enough to know what it is to feel like a cello or a set of bagpipes being played by a virtuoso.

If I'm wrong and if it isn't shocked prudery that lies behind these awards then one wonders why it is bad writing about sex that is singled out for special attention? There is bad writing everywhere and about everything.

Contemporary writing about Australian politics and current affairs is especially dire. Every year when the mutual-back-slapping of the Walkley Awards comes around I have the heretical thought that it would be more fun and would do more good if the Walkleys were, like The Guardian awards for bad writing about sex, awards for the very worst journalism.


While on the matter of annual awards for the worst things, I report that this ugly little year of 2012, almost spent now, was the year in which Tony Abbott broke my Hypocrisyometer.

I paid a fortune for this artful little device, a limited-edition hand-held instrument only a little bigger than a mobile phone. A joint invention of a South Korean IT genius in collaboration with Apple, it measured the degree of hypocrisy in things said by hypocrites. It had too a built-in Banalometer which measured the sheer stupidity of things said. A handy tool for any student of human foibles, one just pointed it in the rough general direction of anyone in public life making a public utterance and it would give you a reading that told you how big or how teeny-weeny a hypocrite the gibberer was being.

It worked flawlessly well for many months. And then one day in July this year I was just idly using it to monitor the evening TV news when on came the leader of the opposition, a famous Christian, gibbering about how tough he was going to be with boat people, these asylum-seeking scum who are violating our borders. Someone asked him how he could reconcile his vaunted Christian principles with his cruel attitudes to asylum-seeking boat people. And this is what he said, winning him, effortlessly, the 2012 award for the Most Stupid Thing Said By A Politician.

"I don't think it's a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door … I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way … If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that's doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn't encourage it."

A funny thing happened. My Hypocrisyometer, usually a flat, taciturn, efficient little thing that never did more than just buzz and vibrate a little, began to convulse. It reminded me, as a dog owner, of the way a beloved dog will be racked by whole-of-body convulsions when it wants and needs, desperately, to vomit. Then, somehow, steam began to billow from its (the Hypocrisyometer's, not my spaniel's) apertures. Then, horribly, it melted.

When I contacted Apple, demanding a refund, they directed me to the fine print of the owner's warranty and to clause 116 (f) which said, "Your Hypocrisyometer is a sensitive, finely tuned instrument, designed to pick up and measure just whiffs, eddies and nuances of hypocrisy. Never subject it to heavy-duty industrial-strength hypocrisies such as those of religious hypocrites like Tony Abbott who make a fetish of being Christian but who never think, say, or do a thing that in any way imitates the man, Jesus, they pretend to revere.''