Diary Australia

Christmas diary

8 December 2016

3:00 PM

8 December 2016

3:00 PM

I couldn’t ask for a present this Christmas. First, what’s left for a conservative to wish for after this astonishing year? Britain to leave the European Union? Done. Malcolm Turnbull to keep Labor out of power, but so unconvincingly that he’s on the leash? Done. Donald Trump to keep the Clinton mafia out of the White House? Oh, wonderful. But if I were permitted one more gift it would be for Trump to not now do an Arnold Schwarzenegger and tout for the Left’s approval. Sure, I could also wish for something involving Tony Abbott, but I suspect that may now happen of its own accord. The West has had it with the Turnbull type, you see. The generation that has watched reality TV is now into reality politics. No fakers.

The other reason I couldn’t ask for a present is that it won’t fit in the luggage. My wife decided it was time dad did one last serious bit of bonding with our youngest, since he’s just two years away from leaving to study abroad. So off we’ll go to America, thanks to a decision I don’t actually recall taking. We will land in Chicago on Christmas Eve and I’m worried. Many years ago I spent Christmas Day stuck in Adelaide and never again want to feel like the only man in an utterly deserted city. Plus I am hyperactive when travelling. Is anything open?

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ Hamlet must have been thinking of Dynamic Lifter. Last weekend I spread 50kg of the stuff around the garden at the home in the tiny town we’re gradually moving to. To me, the smell is of a garden growing. Oh, so heady. To my wife, all that is pure chicken shit and a stench that creeps malevolently as far as Melbourne, where she will stay until the rains have smothered the stink. Sad, but the trees I’ve planted for koala food are doing very nicely.

But I still need all my jobs to pay for all this, so it’s off to Sydney for a photo shoot to promote the Sky News lineup for next year. I take my daughter, who mocks me for posing, blow waved, with jacket negligently over my shoulder, between two women as beautiful as they are smart, if I may be permitted to admit what my eyes did honestly observe. Peta Credlin is magnificently on my right and Caroline Marcus on my left. What my daughter does not know is that I secretly dreamed of this James Bond image when a boy. I’d have been crushed to know I’d have to wait until I was 57 and too old to make it convincing. Sigh.

I still haven’t cashed in my birthday present from my wife – a licence to spend up to $5,000 on a painting, openly and without shame. This is to spare me the usual humiliation of squirreling away cash for my secret purchases, necessarily cheap and often thus not great, so that they don’t turn up on the credit card statements. And so I took Sally to see the first candidate I’ve found in months that might just on a very lucky day, and with more cheating, almost come within cooee of her price bracket. We zipped to Mossgreen to check out paintings for auction – in particular a Lawrence Daws’ landscape of, of all things, Murray Bridge. Why he decided to paint that part of the world, I can hardly guess, even though he is originally from the nearby Fleurieu Peninsula. Even more mysterious to me is that Murray Bridge is where my mother lies buried, so very far from Holland. With all due respect to the place where I finished high school, it cannot possibly figure bright in the dreams of migrants leaving Europe for romance or riches. Daws paints it in tones of purply brown, with the buildings rising ghostly from the soil. Or sighing back into the landscape – it’s hard to tell. The colours are not really of Murray Bridge at all. As a teenager I daily bussed over the river flats in this picture on my way to Murray Bridge High and was often struck by the greenness of this ribbon in the bleached yellow landscape. Yet how true Daws’ work feels. Daws should be better known than he is. My mother should have found a grander end to her long flight.

Occasional Spectator Australia diarist Tim Storrier has invited me to the opening in Berlin of his new art exhibition. I am silly with excitement, and not just because I love his work. This is finally the kind of thing this James Bond version of me was born for and never dared to believe I’d actually taste. And since I’ll be visiting relatives over in Holland, off I’ll go.

My God. My bid won. I own the Daws painting. Normally I feel sick at these moments, wondering how I could have been so stupid to spend the children’s inheritance on something that doesn’t look half as good when captured. Not this time, though. It is a fine painting of a place that means something to me. And miracle! My wife paid the bill without even the gentlest remark that I cheated on her price limit. All yesterday I had a happy.

Here is another thing it’s taken me 57 years to achieve: the knowledge that even the best whisky (Tasmanian, don’t you know?) most certainly does not go with cheese. I just discovered that typing this. Amazing how much random stuff we can still learn. James Bond would have known that already, of course.

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