‘If you ever want to hide something from a Pom, stick it under the soap.’ This was an old saying of my Dad’s - the Lord be good to him. He told it to me at Sydney’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning airport when I took off on my first overseas trip. The poor old bugger was on the way out himself at the time with emphysema. He was down to 40 kingsize mentholated filters a day, but his husky words of wisdom certainly gave me an insight into the Brits I was soon to encounter on my first diplomatic assignment.
When, like me, you’d been brought up in a good, clean-living, working-class, Irish Catholic home in south Sydney, you tended to look on the English as, by and large, a bunch of mongrel bastards. You just have to peruse my co-religionist Bob Hughes’s seminal tome The Fatal Fuckin' Shore to see how the Poms treated our illustrious ancestors. They gave our forefathers buggery in more ways than one!
Naturally I was pretty nervous before I hit Old London Town the first time, wondering how I was going to spend the arduous years as cultural attache to the Court of St James’s with the back of my handstitched, powder-blue, Crimplene safari suit permanently pressed to the wall. At Heathrow aerodrome I had my first taste of English hospitality, standing at the end of a long queue of Aussies and Kiwis whose uncles had more than likely stopped a bullet in defence of the Pommy Empire, while all those tea towels and bush-bunnies flashed past in the fast lane through immigration.
There was a waiting limo laid on for me by my old friend the Australian taxpayer and there I met my driver Terry, a typical whingeing Pom with a face like a beaten favourite. As he started to grab my Samsonite and make with the old ‘Yes, guv, No, guv’ routine I told him in a nice Australian way to cut the bullshit. They don’t like it when you tell them to stuff all that bowing and scraping and forelock-tugging up their arse. They don’t mean it, of course; they hate your guts and they’d piss in your soup for sixpence, but they’ve been brown-nosing for generations and old habits die hard. Egalitarian bastard that I am, I jumped in to the front seat and, halfway to Australia House in Strand Street, I took a long pull on my hip-flask and passed it across to him. You would have thought I had foot-and-mouth! He nearly shat himself at the wheel. I guess the poor little prick had never had a real man in the car with him, so Spectator readers will not be surprised to learn that he came the raw prawn* when I asked him where I could get my rocket polished at that time of night.
It was when I was promoting Tasmanian Mauve Vein in England during the Eighties that I encountered the English businessman at close quarters. Now we all know that the average Pom wouldn’t work in an iron lung, but most of the types I meet in the business arena are as shifty as shithouse rats and about as straight as the roof of the Sydney Opera House. Compared with them old Jonathan Aitken would be in the pipeline for a sainthood. They all play their cards pretty close to their Savile Road chests. I once asked an Aussie stockbroker mate (now copping the vertical suntan in a Perth VIP correctional facility) why he never became a member of Lloyd’s. He told me he smelled a rat from the beginning: ‘The Poms are a greedy bunch of bastards, Les,’ he opined. ‘And they’re snobs as well. Give them a sniff of 18 per cent and something that sounds like an exclusive club and they’ll be in like Flynn. I knew Lloyd’s was shonky when they started to advertise it.’ I asked him how come. ‘Simple, mate,’ replied my perceptive friend. ‘If it had been any good the Brits would’ve kept it to themselves.’
You’ll never catch a Pom ringing your front doorbell with his elbow. If you say, ‘Come round Sunday arvo, and bring the wife and kids,’ it’s 100 per cent certainty they’ll come empty-handed. If they turn up with a bottle of grog and a quiche you can bet your bollocks they’ve got Australian blood somewhere in the family. Short arms and long pockets are very English characteristics. In my capacity as cheese supremo and authority on the Yartz, I am often obliged to hold big working lunches of long duration for my Pommy opposite numbers. When at last the waitress toddles over with the bill, the Brits are all suddenly drawn to the toilet like a magnetic fuckin' force. While they’re out there aiming Archie at the Armitage, or having a smoke, the longsuffering Australian taxpayer is picking up the four-figure tab.
My closest interpersonal relations with the English have usually been with members of the opposite-sex community. English horn-bags and ceiling inspectors love me, probably because I’m a good listener, I dress nicely and I’ve got one like a baby’s arm. After a bit of preliminary chitchat about Damien Hirst and Harrison Birtwistle, I usually flash my frightener and murmur, ‘In Sydney the sheilas call me The Plunger.’ That generally does the trick, but is it worth it? As performers I’m afraid the English women rate about 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 10. They usually lie there motionless with their eyes shut while you do all the work and, if you suggest anything a bit exotic that you might have picked up in a Bangkok rub-and-tug shop, they’re dressed and out the door faster than the falling euro.
Most high-profile Australian expatriates I know usually compare notes after they’ve done the dirty deed with a member of the upper classes and, by and large, the posher they are the hornier they are. In the circles I move in the sheilas don’t get much at home. They’re usually married to adulterous bastards, Robin Cook look-alikes or card-carrying pillow-biters. In my experience the best pick-up places are Glyndebourne, the Wallace Collection and Cruft’s dog show. I’ve scored in all three places and, without wishing to boast, I’d reckon I must be the first redblooded male to have porked his research assistant on the inaugural spin of the London Eye. I could try it down at the Millennium Village, but not even a kneetrembler with a randy little village maiden would make a trip down to the Dome a viable priority for yours truly.
Now that the poor old Poms have bared their backsides to the European Community and are taking orders from a bunch of paedophiles and chocolate poisoners in Brussels, I’m beginning to feel sorry for them. I don’t see a happy ending and I want you all to know that when you’re really up shit creek in a barbed-wire canoe without a paddle, Les Patterson will always be there for you. Are you with me?
*Raw prawn: green (Aust. Col.). ‘To come the raw prawn’ is to feign ingenuousness.
Dr Sir Leslie Colin Patterson was cultural attache to the Court of St James’s from 1975 to 1998.
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