Posts Tagged ‘Kaz Cooke’

One Saturday back in 1996, my ten-year-old self was lying on the floor of the lounge room doing not very much, when a burst of uproarious maternal laughter broke the silence. Curious, I turned and saw that the source of my mother’s evident amusement was a purple-spined book called Get a Grip.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked, sidling over.

‘Oh,’ said my mother, seemingly a little startled that I’d taken an interest, ‘nothing. You wouldn’t be interested.’

Assuming her goal was to convince me to go away quickly and leave her in peace, this statement was a massive tactical error. As keen readers of this blog may recall, I was – and, to a certain extent, remain – a contrary specimen, and whereas dogged exhortations from both my parents to read this book or try that movie had always roundly failed, this simple statement as to my probable disinterest kindled in me a fierce determination, as was always the case, to prove myself the opposite of expectations. Thus, instead of wandering away and resuming my aimless floor-loitering, I instead requested a glance at the book in question – specifically, of the section which had caused my mother to laugh out loud. It was a column (the book itself being a collection of columns) called Nuevo Foodo, which listed various foods or food-related terms and gave each one a humorous and misleading definition: junket, for instance, was down as “an overseas restaurant review.”

My mother, curse her eyes, had been right – I didn’t understand most of the jokes, and though I feigned both comprehension and laughter, her expression as I handed back the book suggested that she saw right through my cunning façade, with added eyebrow-waggling inferring that, while she was pleasantly surprised with my effort at comprehension, I could now hover off and let her get on with what was (to adults, damn them!) a very amusing book indeed.

Well! I was not so easily thwarted. Though I did, on that particular occasion, leave my maternal unit alone, my next act was to borrow the book as soon as my mother had finished it. I felt that I’d been challenged, somehow – not by the material itself, which wouldn’t ordinarily have caught my youthful attention, but by the suddenly plausible (and therefore worrying) notion that it was possible for adults to know things about me which I didn’t know myself. This was not something I wanted to be true, and so I resolved to disprove it. But though I hadn’t really understood the Neuvo Foodo piece, I had nonetheless experienced the tantalising goosebumps of near-comprehension: an almost physical certainty that even though I didn’t quite understand now, I would – or could – soon, and furthermore, that when I did, the knowledge would prove important. It felt as though the book itself somehow contained the whole adult world – a foreign realm towards which I was inexorably voyaging without so much as a map – and if I could glean even a fraction of sense from Get a Grip, then it would prove a worthwhile and profitable endeavour.

That’s a lot of significance to place on any book at the age of ten, let alone a collection of humorous newspaper columns with an emphasis on political and social commentary, but despite this tremendous pressure, the book itself not only met my expectations, but exceeded them. Though there were still some jokes I didn’t quite get, or references I didn’t understand, it turned out that Neuvo Foodo was, for my purposes, the most difficult piece in the whole book. Being already acquainted with political satire in the form of John Clarke’s The Games, I took to the rest of the content like a duck to water. It would be wrong to say that Kaz Cooke’s writing was the first real interest I shared with my mother, but it fast became one of the most significant ones, in which category it remains to this day. We’d quote various pieces to one another, such that certain phrases entered our family lexicon through dint of overuse; on car trips, I’d sometimes read particular favourites aloud, to our mutual amusement.

Though I didn’t quite get to the point of following Cooke’s work as it was published week by week in the papers, when her second collection of columns, Get Another Grip, was released in 1998, my mother was first in line for a copy. Once again, we both read the book and laughed ourselves silly: I was twelve by then, a genuine high school student, and I’d started to find that some of the jokes which had eluded me even a year ago, or which had never seemed quite as meaningful in the scheme of things, were increasingly interpretable and prescient. By 2001, when the final collection of columns was released, I was a fully-fledged left-wing teenager with a vehement interest in the political misdemeanours of the Howard government: her writing had never been more relevant. This time, it was me and not my mother who fronted up to the book counter in David Jones to ask if they had a copy. Given that the latest title was Living With Crazy Buttocks, this took no small amount of courage on my behalf, but though I felt embarrassed at asking for such a ridiculous-sounding volume in public, the look on the saleswoman’s face at my unflinching, snigger-free delivery of the word buttocks gave me such a heady rush of adrenaline that I was almost giddy. I had used an amusing anatomical term in front of a prim-faced employee of a major retail corporation for the very first time and emerged victorious! After that, actually purchasing the book felt like an afterthought, but one I was no less eager to sink my teeth in once I’d settled down.

Kaz Cooke is witty, irreverent and fiercely intelligent. She takes aim at the fashion industry and body image. She jeers at homophobes, at big business, at racism and bigotry. She defends Aboriginal land rights, gets angry at the government, argues in favour of feminism and women’s rights and laughs at the ridiculousness of modern life, and all in a way which is, both to me now and to my fledgeling self, hilarious, informative and deeply spot-on. I bought and read her fiction novel, The Crocodile Club, and loved it. I collected all her little books, beginning with the Little Book of Stress (a response to the unctuous Little Book of Calm) and kept them in a special shelf by the bedside. When given a copy of her non-fiction book for teenage girls, Real Gorgeous: The Truth About Body and Beauty, as a birthday present, I read it cover to cover. In every important respect, her work informed the person I grew up to be – not just because I loved her humour and agreed with her politics, but because the combination of those things, along with the fact that I’d been reading her since the age of ten, meant that, no matter how depressed or ugly or unnatural or out of place I felt during my teenage years, I always had a touchstone of common sense, kindness and laughter to which I could return.

This week, for the first time in a couple of years, I’ve reread all her columns from cover to cover, and laughed all over again. Though my copies of her little books, Real Gorgeous and The Crocodile Club have sadly been lost in successive moves, Get a Grip, Get Another Grip and Living With Crazy Buttocks have accompanied me all the way to Scotland. They still speak to me, just as they always did, and coming to the end of the third and final compilation, I still felt sad that there wasn’t another one waiting. But who knows? Perhaps there will be, one day.

Thanks, Kaz. You helped me grow up – and more, to have fun doing it.

If clothes shopping were a boardgame, my copy of the rules would have long since disappeared down the back of the couch, forcing me to play with only my own sartorial proclivities as a guide (warning, warning), issued with loaded dice and assorted mismatched thimbles instead of regulation tokens, with only a broken crayon and an old receipt on which to keep score, although given that I would always loose, this would be a pointless, jaw-grinding exercise in masochism akin to maintaining staunch optimism in the ability of the New South Wales Labour Party to suddenly turn into a quasi-worthwhile amalgam of human beings, as opposed to a ratfaced pack of liars, fraudsters and no-hopers who wouldn’t know common sense if it knocked on their doors, politely introduced itself and then gave them all a lapdance.


The point being, I am not good with clothes. It’s not as if I’m advocating a policy of conscious nudity or anything – it’s just that, faced with the prospect of having to sally forth and choose between innumerable rows of tacky, nylon, probably-made-in-a-sweatshop gimcrackery that I can actually afford and gorgeously intimidating, real-fabrics-but-desperately-overpriced couture, my native response is to decide immediately that I don’t give a rats’ and resort to slouching around the house in a dressing gown and a pair of little woollen socks that look like they were made by somebody’s grandmother. Which, yes, is comfortable, but as my beloved husband has on occasion pointed out, it’s not exactly business casual.

And thus my policy of buying the vast majority of my clothing second-hand. I have never, for instance, been sneered or giggled at by the girl behind the counter in a charity shop for daring to enter her place of business whilst dressed in jeans and an offensively geeky t-shirt. Similarly, I have never examined the price-tag on any article of clothing sold by the Red Cross and had to consider taking out a loan from the bank in order to afford it. I enjoy the act of rummaging through various disorganised racks, setting aside hilarious paisley mumus and PVC lederhosen in my quest for that one nice top I know must be lurking there somewhere. Tragically, however, the Nice Top is all too often a Nice Top Which Would Look Utterly Fabulous With Everything I Already Own If Only It Were A Size Bigger, Instead Of Which It Makes Me Look Like An Improperly Asymmetrical Sausage. Alas!

Which hopefully illustrates the main problem with shopping second-hand, viz: the unpredictability. Many’s the time I’ve been heartbroken after finding a wonderful article of clothing, only to discover that it’s just a weense too big or too small for comfort. (The latter is particularly dangerous, as it tends to lead to fantasies of immediate weight loss in order to jusify the purchase of a ten-year-old dress with a torn hem and ciarette burns on the shoulder straps. Sense, schmense: it’s the principle of the thing.) Which isn’t to say that I’ve never found a perfect bargain treasure (eight dollars for a leather jacket!), but when it comes to hunting down specific items, you might as well be randomly trawling the Pacific Ocean for that message in a bottle your Auntie Agnes set adrift from Bondi Beach in 1937. The cardinal rule of women’s fashion, as related to me by my mother circa age nine, is to Never Walk In Knowing What You Want, because doing so will automatically guarantee every shop within driving radius not to have it, especially if it’s a plain black swimming cozzie that doesn’t make you look like a walrus – and however true this is of normal shopping, it is about a quadrillion times more so of second-handing.

Take, for instance, today’s quest for a plain, brown top with long sleeves that one might wear under various t-shirts or singlety things in a bid to stave off the cold Scottish winds without actually cocooning oneself in a series of anoraks. When nothing was doing at the first three shops, I abandoned reason and ended up in a fourth trying on a pair of what promised to be size 14 bootcut corduroy pants and a greenish, satiny sort of hidden-clasps-that-do-up-at-the-front Raph Lauren shirt purporting to be a ‘medium’, whatever that means, though presumaby not that the shirt possessed an innate ability to commune with the spirits of the deceased. Absconding to the changing cubicle to try on my finds, the following problems soon became immediately apparent:

1. the definition of ‘size 14’ as promised by the pants did not in any way fit with reality, unless you happen to believe that buttocks are optional; and

2. that Ralph Lauren, bless his cotton socks, has apparently only had breasts described to him third-hand, thus precipitating the creation of a garment which, despite featuring the type of curving, low-but-not-too-low-cut neckline favoured by women of average bosom, was categorically too small to accomodate anything larger than a golf ball, or maybe half a lemon.

Now, admittedly, I am no longer the same undernourished sylph I was at the start of university, before a disposable income and close proximity to an all-night pide, pizza and kebab shop wrought their carbohydrate-laden magics upon my person, but neither am I particularly large. And yet, when it comes to finding a pair of pants that can actually accomodate my legs, I might as well be inquiring after the pricing and availability of unicorn steaks at the local butcher. (One has documented the phenomenon of Impossible Pants quite closely this past decade, and does in fact remember the point at which the Pants Conspiracy first reared its head, viz: with the introduction of teeny-tiny pant zippers that are approximately the length of a pinky finger back in 2005,  a trend which has not so much flourished as exercised a lantana-like stranglehold on the fashion industry ever since. Used in conjunction with skinny-leg jeans and bikini-cut everything, those of us with hips wider than the average dinner plate and any sort of padding in the arseular regions have found it nigh on im-bloody-possible to buy a pair of pants that actually fits for any price less than three-hundred and sixty-five trillion dollars and three Faberge eggs, or put another way, to buy any pants AT ALL.) And if you’ve got breasts above an A-cup and want to wear a fitted top? GET RIGHT OUT.

Faced by such impossible circumstances, what else is a sensible author to do but purchase a banana-and-peanut-butter-flavoured cupcake and retire to the internet for solace and ranting?

P.S. Bonus points to any reader who drew a connection between the style and content of this blog and the fact that I’ve recently reread the collected columns of Kaz Cooke, more of whom later. Now there was a lady with sense!

I was in a fey mood last night, but ‘fey’ didn’t quite seem to cover it. Burdened with the need to update my Facebook status accurately and appropriately, I scanned my knowledge of the English language for a suitable adjective – fruitlessly. Finally, after many minutes of struggle, I put on my thinking boots and invented a new word: mnemencholy, derived from mneme (memory) and melancholy (sadness). Content at last, I slept.

On waking, I discovered that the illustrious Nick Harkaway, that well-known Englishman and little-known lexicographer, had already found my word and proceeded to blog a better definition for mnemencholia than I could possibly articulate. I am therefore stealing it; or rather, approving it for future usage. So, for those who are interested, mnemencholia (from mnemencholy) now officially means:

“Nostalgic sorrow brought on by recollection; melancholia triggered by an object, phrase, or scent and its associated memories; the wide sense of understanding and regret rising from the apprehension of one’s own history.”


I love the idea of neologisms. Above any other quirk, I cherish the malleability of the English language. It rewards linguistic creativity, and, indeed, encourages it. There’s something profoundly satisfying in creating or stumbling on a new term, particularly if we find it clever, or funny, or apt, or (especially) all three. I love that crazy, screwball, onomatopoeic slang like woot and clusterfuck can breed successfully in darkness, like forest mushrooms. I love that Shakespeare has left us with Shylock and seachange; that A. A. Milne gave us heffalump, tigger and wol; that crazy British aristocrats gave us sandwich, sundowner and pukka while equally crazy Londoners gave us yob and Cockney rhyming slang. I love that tactile imagery like whale tail, muffin top and bridezilla made their way to the dictionary, while gribblies, grock and meme are increasingly of the now.

What I don’t like, however, is corporate jargon. I shudder at every mention of swings and roundabouts, blue sky thinking, synergistics, action items or actioning tasks. Some people might (and, indeed, have) called that hypocritical, but the difference is one of joy and functionality. Corporate jargon doesn’t delight in itself. It isn’t clever, nor do buzzwords become popular because people enjoy their use. Rather, they become awkward, mechanical mainstays, often more cumbersome and less helpful than the plain language they replace. Technical jargon, in its proper sense, means words that are part of a specialised vocabularly, as in the medical, legal and IT professions, but this is not true of corporate jargon. It obfuscates, generalises, hinders. Many terms grow, not from playful creativity, but uncorrected malapropisms. Whereas slang is viral in the digital sense, passing rapidly by word of mouth through a series of enthusiastic adapters, corporate jargon is a virus in the medical sense, infiltrating healthy cells and using them to manufacture new infections, which then spread through a mixture of force, proximity and submission. Cliches, at least, began as sturdy concepts: their very effectiveness lead to overfamiliarity, like playing a favourite song so frequently that it becomes unbearable. The best mutate into aphorisms. Not so corporate jargon, which is propagated purely on the basis of necessity, and not effectiveness.   

In short, good language is just another way of thinking clearly, or creatively, or at all. Like all new things, neologisms need to be tested, experimented with, tried on – our choice of slang is just as relevant to our personalities as our taste in clothes, films or music, and yet, quite often, we fail to even make a conscious decision about the words we use, or the circumstances under which we use them. Language, it’s been said, is the most singular achievement of our species, and even without an alphabet, it’s still something unbelievably special.

So don’t take your speech for granted. Read up on collective nouns (they’re pretty awesome); put old words into new contexts; watch Joss Whedon shows; read Scott Westerfeld or Shakespeare or Kaz Cooke or Geoffrey McSkimming or anyone at all; think. But more than that, have fun.

It’s what words are for.