The stupidity of us

By Rhonda Dredge

If you’re a Melbourne insider you have licence to sling off at the culture because the jokes have been handed down to you as a kid and you’re conditioned to pick them up.

Who hasn’t scoffed at the poor losers sent to Boy Scouts to be trained up in preparedness with pieces of string?

Or cringed at the sight of Barry Humphries impersonating a public figure? 

Or quietly admired the oral tradition of telling riddles, playing the clown and generally mucking about instead of settling down to earn a dollar?

Sean O’Beirne’s stories in A Couple of Things before the End come out of scenarios such as this, which he mucks about with even more. 

What if a budding actress is on the ship carrying the famous Barry to England and is hoping for an audition? She might be disappointed.

What if it is 1970 or even 1980 and you are caught out late and need to phone your parents for a lift? 

Easy, if you’ve been through a few challenges for the Scouts ‘cause you’ll have 20 cents in your pocket for the call.

O’Beirne is a CBD lad who works(ed) at Readings in the State Library and A Couple of Things is his first book.

This is really a collection of skits rather than conventional stories and their irreverence, nostalgia, details and humour used to define us.

O’Beirne’s contemporary place in the lit culture, however, and his feel for the theatre of politics saves the collection from being a return to “simpler” times.

In the superb “Julian, 11am” the narrator is a lecturer in critical theory who waxes lyrical about his preference for Derrida, citing the French theorist’s relevance for the times as an antidote to corporate expansion.

He’s taking his 10-year-old daughter to the movies while reflecting on Derrida as a thinker who refuses to be pinned down by the capitalist system. 

When the daughter insists upon popcorn the narrator reluctantly acquiesces but he draws the line at actually watching the movie with her, preferring to hang around like an idiot in the foyer. 

In other stories O’Beirne gets stuck into the bigotry of Bogan culture and dutifully satirises a few burning political issues. 

But for sheer dark humour, how could you go past “Nathan and Jordan”, two grotty little boys who fall for a lolly mum who sings “Yummy Yummy Yummy” every time she offers them treats?

There are Force bars, Zip Chips, Muffin Chocs and Berry Fruit Bombs placed strategically around her home, a dream come true for Nathan and Jordan who gorge themselves stupid. 

This book is mostly a tribute to/piss-take of males and their postures, from being leaders of political parties to being nerds.

You don’t have to agree with O’Beirne to appreciate the contribution this book makes to our knowledge of the Aussie cringe.

A Couple of Things before the End, Sean O’Beirne, Black Inc, 2020 •

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