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Three things with Kathy Lette: ‘I simply slip off my cossie and drive home naked’ | Australian lifestyle

Puberty Blues holds a special place in the heart of many Australians. First, it was the book that scandalised 1970s audiences for its frank depictions of teenage sex, drug-taking and pregnancy. Next came the 1981 movie adaptation that popularised the immortal sledge “fish-faced molls” and, some decades later, a TV series that brought the surfie saga to a new generation in 2012.

The book is the work of Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey, who co-authored it as young adults while living together in a shared Sydney flat. For Lette, Puberty Blues was just the first release in a long career. In the years since, she’s penned many more bestsellers, as well as newspaper columns and TV series both in Australia and abroad. Her latest release is Till Death, or a Little Light Maiming, Do Us Part – a novel that explores the ups and downs of romance for older women.

Even though she now lives in London, Lette will always be a “Shire girl” at heart. After many years navigating the beach, the Cronulla expat has come to consider one item essential for hitting the sand – a terry-towelling poncho. Here, Lette tells us why she won’t go for a swim without it in her bag, as well as the story of two other important personal belongings.

What I’d save from my house in a fire

My honorary doctorate robes. I left school at 16. As an autodidact (obviously it’s a word I taught myself) I’ve always been more of an imminent – rather than eminent – intellectual. When the University of Wollongong rang to discuss the academic robes I’d be wearing to receive my honorary doctorate, they asked for my head measurement. “Well, it was much smaller before you asked me that question!” I confessed.

The graduation hat Kathy Lette has worn ‘shopping, bushwalking, and jogging along Cronulla beach’.
The graduation hat Kathy Lette has worn ‘shopping, bushwalking, and jogging along Cronulla beach’.

I welded that academic hat to my cranium. I’ve worn it shopping, bushwalking and while jogging along Cronulla beach, where I grew up. Actually I think I’ll get the hat waterproofed so that I can wear it when boogie boarding, to really flaunt the fact that this ex-surfie girl now surfs her brain waves.

I now have three framed honorary doctorates which I cherish. What I’m really holding out for is a Companion of Literature which is abbreviated, apparently, to C.Lit. What more could a funny feminist ask for?

When I was gushing with enthusiasm about my honorary degrees, my friend Stephen Fry emailed me a congratulatory missive which put things back into perspective. “Don’t forget, Kath,” he quipped, “it’s better to be an unqualified success than a qualified one.” But a Shire girl can have both, surely?

My most useful object

As I’m in Australia right now, I’d have to say my solar-powered vibrator. Although it’s the one object best not saved for a rainy day. And with La Niña in town, well, let’s just say that, all my Christmases did not come at once.

‘No middle-aged mum wants to be seen naked by strangers’ – hence Lette’s full-coverage beach poncho.
‘No middle-aged mum wants to be seen naked by strangers’ – hence Lette’s full-coverage beach poncho.

My other most useful object is my beach poncho. This long terry-towelling cocoon means I no longer accidentally flash the flesh while changing out of my wet cossie. No middle-aged mum wants to be seen naked by strangers – mainly because, well, our birthday suits probably need a little ironing. The tide would take one look at my bare arse, go out and refuse to come back in again.

How many times have you been shedding your swimmers beneath the shield of a towel, when it’s slipped from your hands? The only thing to do is dive-bomb face down on to the sand in one deft movement – which merely results in a grazed nose and a bit of seaweed up your freckle. Once my towel blew away and I was forced to crawl after it, on my elbows, like a commando, my face a few inches from the sand.

But my big, beautiful beach poncho means I can simply slip off my cossie and drive home naked, with nobody the wiser. Bliss.

The item I most regret losing

It’s tempting to say my mind. But I lost that when I had babies. I also regret losing my hymen to a surfie in the back of his shaggin’ wagon. (The blokes I grew up with thought sex drive meant doing it in the car – probably because of that sign in the rear-vision mirror which says “Objects in this mirror may appear larger than they are.”)

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But the item I most regret losing is my school report card aged 15, which read: “Will never achieve in life as far too disruptive and talkative. Unfortunately, Kathy could talk under wet cement with a mouth full of marbles.”

Ironically, I now make a living out of flapping the old gums on TV, at book festivals, and giving after-dinner speeches. In fact, an anagram for my name is “Talky Teeth”. I wonder if I can now sue for all those pointless detentions?

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