Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown — so goes the saying. But does anyone ever think about the head next to the head that wears the crown? In many ways, life is even harder for this head. After all, at least the head that wears the crown has a nice crown for its worries and cares: what does its companion head get?
What I’m getting at, of course, is the problems facing Tim Mathieson, who himself has wide experience of heads in his previous life as some kind of bespoke tonsorialist, but who has surely never tended to a head as mixed up and emotionally bruised as his own is feeling right now.
There’s been a lot said and written about Mathieson’s attempt to raise awareness of prostate cancer among the West Indian cricketing community, but there has been very little analysis of his proposal on a scientific level. This is a dreadful indictment of our society, and the way in which our native scientific curiosity has declined since the glory days of Howard Florey and that other one.
Dr Florey wouldn’t have just listened to Mathieson’s joke and rushed to judgment. No, he’d have rushed to his lab, where he would have set up a complex experiment with strict oversight and carefully selected control groups, in order to find out whether it is actually true that a prostate exam is best performed by a small Asian woman. And there is every chance that he would have found the hypothesis confirmed.
Of course, maybe it’s not true: maybe in reality the optimal prostate examiner is some kind of pygmy, or a malnourished child, or a supermodel. The point is, we can’t know for sure. And until we do, doesn’t Tim Mathieson deserve to have his hypothesis treated just as seriously as those advanced by other prime minister’s partners, like Janette Howard’s wacky theory that Peter Hollingworth should be governor-general, or Annita Keating’s lengthy crusade against chemtrails.
But there you go: Australian politics is riddled with double standards, and one of those is that when the partner of a prime minister is a man, he shouldn’t be taken seriously. That’s why all previous male partners of prime ministers dressed as women and/or had gender reassignment surgery.
And now here we are, Julia Gillard having called a snap election just eight months away, throwing the country into a frenzy of speculation about which of her character flaws this move reveals (spoiler alert: it’s anti-semitism); and it seems that nobody is sparing a thought for Mr Mathieson, the forgotten slice of cheese in the political meatball sub, destined to melt in the toaster oven of electioneering even as he is overshadowed by the marinara and barbecue sauce of his girlfriend and her spendthrift Maoist cronies.
And so, in the midst of this frothing orgy of thought-not-sparing, let us now take a thought and put it aside, tied up in a nice red thought-ribbon, for the prime minister’s lover, the light of her life, the croutons in her soup, the rock on which she has built her godless church, the tightly coiled ball of muscle with which she relieves the stresses of office. Let’s think about our friend Tim, and just how hard it is being the PM’s man.
For a start, Tim Mathieson has to live his life, every day, in the haunting and certain knowledge that someone, somewhere, is at any given moment referring to himself as "the First Bloke".
Think about that. Imagine if that was your life. Would you even last a week before you drowned yourself? I feel like firing a harpoon into both my knees just thinking about someone else being called the "First Bloke"; if it was actually happening to me I think I’d start developing spontaneous tumours. And yet Mathieson keeps fronting up, day after day, with a smile on his face, and lets people refer to him as "First Bloke" and hardly ever murders them.
Secondly, you have to bear in mind that Tim Mathieson is a man, and Julia Gillard, according to what we have no choice but to believe is a valid birth certificate, is a woman. In the bible women are instructed to "submit to their husbands", and as a devout Christian Tim would no doubt be aware of this. So imagine the humiliation he must feeling knowing that he not only has to submit to Julia, but that he isn’t even her husband!
It is a sore blow to any man’s ego to have to live with a woman who has a job, but this is exacerbated when the woman’s job is a moderately influential one like Australian prime minister. And especially so when the man is forced to give up his own burgeoning career as a celebrity hairdresser in order to hover at his woman’s elbow, tending to her every whim and satisfying her needs and making speeches to people of colour about rectal insertions. It is no life for a proud, red-blooded man with dreams of a robust, outdoor life huntin’ and fishin’ and stylin’. He lives with this humiliation every day: how would you like it?
Thirdly, he has to live in Canberra, which according to a comedian I saw once, is a pretty bad place to live. Also The Lodge has possums in the roof, which is frankly just stupid. Do you think Barack Obama has possums in his roof? Seriously, do you? I bet he hunts them by night. But Mathieson wouldn’t be allowed to hunt possums in the house. Julia probably considers it "problematic".
So, with all these problems weighing upon his shoulders, don’t you think we can cut him a little slack? I’m not saying we should let him go buck-wild, full on outrageous public indecency, Sonia McMahon style; but let’s give him some space and forgive him the odd gaffe. He has a hard job, having to show loving support to a megalomaniac like Julia Gillard. She looks like just the type to demand footrubs, too. You can tell. You know she works that man like a robot butler.
It’s not as if Mathieson is born to this life. He has none of the easy charm of Hazel Hawke, none of the magnetic chutzpah of Margaret Whitlam, none of the burning sexual energy of Dame Enid Lyons. He is an essentially shy man, better suited to quiet evenings at home with a pack of cards and a bottle of shampoo than to the glamorous, sex-and-drug-fuelled life of a political WAG. He’s doing his best. Let’s applaud him for trying, rather than booing him for failing. We can always boo his girlfriend, after all.
Let’s hope, in fact, that this election, which even now is rushing full speed toward us like an angry rhinoceros riding a poorly maintained paddle boat, brings us all to a kinder, more compassionate understanding of the role that MPs’ partners play in the political process, a role that, though meaningless and unnecessary, is nevertheless important. And whether, after 14 September, the prime minister’s boyfriend is Tim Mathieson or Margie Abbott or, in a surprise twist, Natalie Joyce, let’s hope the great Australian public can forgive them their trespasses, and simply celebrate the eminently celebratable fact that we live in a country where we are free to vote in peace, to speak our minds as we see fit, and to be penetrated by medical professionals of our own racial preference.
There’s a message any handbag can get behind.
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