One day Kaz Cooke came into my work and gave me a book. ‘Here, want this? It’s going out of print,’ she said, and handed me Get a Grip. Then she wrote ‘For Maggie, Love From Kaz’ on the inside page, popped on her sweet sixties glasses, collected her latte, and was off. I was chuffed.
Get a Grip is a collection of columns that Cooke wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sunday Age in the nineties. Since its publication, Kaz Cooke has become a well-loved Australian author, cartoonist, and all-round creative. She made her mark in particular with her non-fiction books like Up the Duff, which has seen thousands of women worldwide through pregnancy with no-bullshit advice and humour.
In Get a Grip Kaz muscles herself through comment on a range of topics, everything from ironing to partying, but she does have a particular penchant for the insanity of fashion, the modern woman’s battle with media, the beauty industry, and sex.
The columns sway from the silly to the serious. The chapter on ironing is one of my favourite parts. I do love reading a good domestic gripe, and here I am well and truly satisfied. Kaz has managed to eliminate ironing from her life (although maybe she has taken it up since this book was published in 1996), which she thinks would be much to the dismay of her grandmother who, ‘…used to iron hankies, ribbons, woollen scarves, pillow cases, jeans and curtains. She ironed underpants, and singlets, and passing traffic …. Once I saw her ironing a travel rug.’
And yet against chatter about ironing we have columns like, ‘The Man Wees at the Lady’, where Kaz writes about encouraging and promoting positive attitudes to sex in school. ‘If only every school had classes that emphasise self-esteem, the confidence that only comes with knowledge, and the right to wait until you’re ready: the emotional and the scientific sides of sex.’ Right on.
Cooke writes with a particular brand of humour that is hard to mistake. It is dry. It is pointed. It includes characters such as Hermione the Modern Girl, who represents a young woman dealing with the beauty, fashion, and media bullshit thrown at her, and Des Tiny, who I am yet to figure out. She shares a droll tone with the likes of her friend Judith Lucy. On turning thirty Kaz writes, ‘You turn into a raving pervert in ill-fitting slingbacks.’
I should make reference to a previous comment that I made in a review of Marieke Hardy ‘You’ll Sorry When I’m Dead.’ I mentioned that Marieke writes a lot in capital letters. Well, as it turns out Kaz was doing this in the nineties. In relation to some extremist Christian disapproval of gay marriage, it goes like this, ‘YOU PEOPLE MAKE ME SICK.’ In many respects writers like Cooke and comedians like Lucy paved the way for a writer like Hardy. I like to think that Cooke and Hardy share wine of a Friday evening somewhere, but that might be a stretch.