So begins this writer’s confession. Who is the "other woman" in his life? And why does he take this unprecedented step of telling all to a world wide readership?
I have a confession to make. There is another woman in my life; for the last two years I have been having an affair. We meet every Saturday morning. I sneak out of the house just before 7 am, while my partner, Karin, is still sleeping. Sometimes my 6 year old daughter, Tanner, is up before I leave. I lie to her – or at least, I tell her a half-truth.
‘Daddy’s just going down to the shops. To get the paper,’ I tell her. That part is true.
‘I won’t be very long.’ That part is untrue.
It’s a four minute drive to the local shopping centre. I could be back within ten minutes. But it is always longer – much longer.
I kiss her on the forehead before I leave, and sneak out the front door. I’m very careful, making sure that there is no loud sound of a door closing – nothing to disturb the quiet. By the time I start the car my heart is beginning to pound in anticipation of my rendezvous with my new love.
The shopping centre at Eltham has changed enormously since we first moved here, 25 years ago. It used to be a village, intimate, quaint even. Now, as Peter Carey observed: ‘The Americans have come…’: McDonalds, KFC, Priceline, Safeway …
As I purchase my weekend newspapers from Coles supermarket I can feel the excitement reaching – in fact surging - toward the unbearable. I know she will be there, waiting for me, in the Alta Vita cafe. And for 30 guilty minutes we will be together.
The waitress and the barista know me well.
‘The usual?’ they ask.
Yes – she is there, as I knew she would be. I take the A2 section from The Age and look at the back page.
For over half an hour it’s as though I am sitting at her feet.
It’s been going on, this liaison, this weekly tryst, for over two years. I sip my coffee and whisper her name: ‘Catherine’.
2 January, 2010
It is Saturday, January 9. I am alone, with my flat white. My Catherine is not here. She has forsaken me. For the third week in a row she has not joined me. There’s a note saying that she is holidaying. With her family, I assume.
I read the paper, try the Sudoku, drink my coffee, bite into the crumbly sugariness of an almond crescent, cough as the powdery castor sugar catches in my throat, and feel desolate.
3 About Catherine
I will tell you a little about Catherine. Catherine is divine. She has a way with words, my Catherine. She’s forever surprising me with her wit, her verbal dexterity, the uniqueness of her voice, the strength of her convictions. Sometimes she makes me laugh out loud with the turn of her phrases.
Catherine is herself. Individual. Forthright. She says what she thinks and she doesn’t hold back. Some would consider her opinionated. Maybe she is; but that’s what I like about her … what I love about her.
4 My son
My son knows about my affair. He’s 35, and like me, loves her humour. I’m not jealous. I don’t mind that others love her too. But I do like the fact that she’s there for me, every Saturday morning – except when she’s on holidays. The 30 or 40 minutes she and I are together each Saturday morning is our special time. Oh Catherine. I hope she returns soon. I miss her.
As I said, my son knows about our affair. That’s why he gave me a copy of her book for Christmas. He did the same last year. The truth is, he must bear some of the responsibility for my affair with Catherine Deveny. Last year he gave me Say When, a collection of her columns and articles for 2008; this year it was Free to a Good Home, her 2009 collection.
5 A second confession
Okay, okay. I admit it. That was the oldest trick in the book. The titillation of a confession about sex that is there just to grab your attention and get you interested. It’s something that Catherine doesn’t need to do. She has that great capacity that a few writers have to grab our attention seemingly without effort. Bill Bryson is another.
Her first collection – Say When – drew together 90 of Catherine’s articles written during 2008. Free to a Good Home consists of a further 82 articles that Catherine wrote during 2009. In other words, Catherine Deveny has been churning out her opinion pieces and TV reviews at the rate of one every four days. What’s impressive is that she maintains such high standard; everything she writes is so readable, so engaging.
Woody Allen once remarked that he estimated that he’s had thousands of orgasms in his lifetime, and the worst was – well, sensational. What Allen says of orgasms Deveny achieves in her writing.
What is her secret? Or perhaps more accurately: what are her secrets?
In one of her articles – titled The Writing Life – she gives some hints. Having deadlines certainly helps, she says; ‘There is nothing more heart-pumping, sphincter-tightening and adrenaline-producing than a deadline. Comfort is the enemy of art…’ But her main strategy is encapsulated in her response to an older woman – a 72 year old – who wanted to write her memoirs:
‘Tell her to do the writing before she folds the washing. Do the writing before the ironing. Do the writing before getting dressed, having a shower or eating breakfast. Do the writing first. Because there is always something you can be doing instead of writing.’
All of this she summarises in one of those memorable phrases that leap out at you: ‘Procrastination is crack for writers.’
Whatever the topic – and she ranges widely – Deveny pulls no punches; and she likes nothing more than an old fashioned, bare knuckled stoush.
She doesn’t like Benny Hinn, the smarmy leader of what he calls the Mighty Warrior Intercessor Army – which she describes as something like ‘being a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for Christ’. She describes Benny Hinn – memorably – as having ‘the magnetism of a bag of sick’, and concludes her demolition with the observation: ‘If bullshit gives you comfort, tune in.’
She convinced me. When I came to proof read this article, even my computer baulked at ‘Hinn’, underlining the word with in red, and asking whether I wanted to ‘Add Hinn to my dictionary’’; I declined.
Deveny doesn’t stop at insulting tele-evangelists. The Planetshakers deservedly – a megachurch offering ‘a spiritual mega-meal-deal’ – cop a spray as well:
‘The crowd left believing they had been moved by God and touched by Jesus. They hadn’t. They had been seduced by slick video packaging and had their emotional desire for love, community and certainty met by manipulation.’
Christians who believe they have a monopoly on truth won’t like Deveny; she’s thrown in her lot with the arch-demon Richard Dawkins, the ‘Atheist pin-up boy’ who describes God as ‘the most unpleasant character in all fiction. Jealous and proud of it. Petty, vindictive, unforgiving and racist.’ At a time when the number of Christian schools is on the increase, Deveny has the audacity to argue that ‘Indoctrination of children into religion is child abuse.’
Deveny’s eye and ear are exquisitely tuned to Melbourne. She knows Melbourne intimately; she knows every suburb. Barry Dickins once – memorably – wrote: ‘Epping is another word for death.’
Deveny’s antennae work with similar acuity; here are just a few of her observations:
· ‘The People’s Republic of Moreland is pretty trendy these days. I know this because we now have junkies and Pilates.’
· ‘… Balywn – beige one minute, beige the next.’
· ‘Northland … the Palace of Shoplifting and the Festival of Mullets. Northland: No shirt? No shoes? No worries!
· ‘What do you call a thirty year old woman in a Collingwood jumper? Nana.’
· ‘ “… my daughter’s been sleeping through the night since she was four weeks old, her favourite foods are sushi, hummus, and olives, she’s been toilet trained since she was one and she taught herself to read before she was three. My name’s Fiona, nice to meet you.” Let me guess. Malvern?’
· ‘The Reservoir I grew up in was populated by menacing, toothless, Torana-driving bogans, crushed menthol smoking pensioners and toddlers who swore …’
But things change – as Catherine’s mum once prophesised:
‘ “You watch, one day the yuppies will be doing up the houses out here.” And guess what? Overheard at Reservoir pool: “Eliot! Hannah! Come eat your crudités and hummus. … Forty years on … it’s all book groups, polar fleeces and stay-at-home dads who read the Monthly and drink soy lattes.’
I’ll say it again: Deveny’s eye and ear are exquisitely tuned to Melbourne.
I should stop quoting her, but the next few were just too good to ignore. They’re drawn from a brace of articles entitled You know you’re from Melbourne if …
Here are just a few – to whet your appetite:
You know you’re from Melbourne if …
· ‘You were shocked when you found out that not all street directories are called Melway.
· You know the word Moomba means : ‘Up your bum, white man.’
· You think Beyondblue does great work but you hate the way it makes Jeff Kennett look good. Which is depressing.
· When you hear the word ‘Bougainville’ you think of Northland.
· When someone says thanks you say, ‘No Dromanas.’
· You lose respect for friends if they move over the other side of the river.
· You assume flavoured milk is called Big M everywhere.
· You know what the words apropos, gentrification and barista mean.
· You don’t think there’s anything strange about the fact that there’s a South Morang but no Morang and a Moonee Ponds with no ponds, and that Bayswater has no bay and no water…’
See what I mean: she knows Melbourne.
Recently I saw her described – in an advertisement for a public forum at which she was speaking –as a columnist and agitant. It means ‘stirrer’ – the polite abbreviation of ‘shit stirrer’. She knows how to ‘take the piss’ out of politicians, trendies, bogans, television shows and television channels – especially Melbourne’s Channel Nine for which she has barely a kind word to say. She heaps scorn on the likes of Sam Newman and the rest of the Footy Show team. Her critique of Planet Telly is terrific – direct, without apology. She seems to equate Channel Nine with the Devil. But not blindly; in her article on Tracey Grimshaw’s handling of the sex scandal involving one of rugby’s greatest players, she describes it as ‘The most stunning television I’ve seen for a very long time was on Channel Nine last week … Grimshaw should win a Walkley or possibly the Nobel Prize for Calling a Spade a Sex-pest. This interview should be on the school syllabus.’
I should stop. By now, you’ve got the picture. Catherine Deveny is a thoughtful, insightful journalist and agitant, someone who is not afraid to point the finger at our sacred cows and our petty pretentions. Free to a good home opens with as great a piece of ironic commentary as you’ll find. It’s entitled: A Proposed Australian Bill of She’ll be Rights, Mate. It invites us to look at ourselves in the mirror she holds up for us.
6. An all but final comment
I don’t always agree with Catherine, but mostly I do. She provokes me to think. I love the Saturday mornings I spend with her. I often chuckle and chortle my way through her article, but she also has the capacity to make me think about stuff I take for granted. Socrates once referred to himself as a gadfly; that’s what Catherine is: a gadfly, and sometimes a March fly.
I don’t think we could live together, though. To begin with, there’s the age difference – I’m 25 years older than Catherine. But it’s not just that. She wouldn’t let me get away with anything – I’d have to be on my mettle the whole time. But it’s not just that either. You see, Catherine doesn’t like Midsomer Murders. She describes it as a ‘Ye Olde World English county wall-to-wall with manicured lawns, fine china and people called Phlidda, Ivan, Hector and Clarissa. Sherry drinkers who consider it terribly common to construct a sentence without the use of ‘frightfully’, ‘indeed’, ‘dreadful’, ‘loathe’, ‘apropos’ or ‘jolly well’. … Not a wog, chink, darky, towel head or curry muncher to be seen. If Prince Phillip had designed his dream town it would be Midsomer.’
I really like Midsomer Murders; it’s just about my favourite TV program in the crime genre. (I like Rebus, but he’s a bit dark at times. I can’t stand the cocksurity of the red haired fellow on CSI Miami. I’m sorry to admit it, Catherine, but I just like Tom Barnaby.) You’re right, of course – if you DID cut him, he probably would bleed marmalade. But at least he doesn’t drink himself to oblivion, and he isn’t a supercilious know all like what’s-his-name from Miami.
I’d happily take up residence on that proverbial desert island as long as I’m assured that I’ll receive my weekly supply of articles by Catherine Deveny. It sounds like Heaven to me.
Catherine – I hope you’ve had a great break. But please come back – soon.