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I'd Rather Not


I'd Rather Not Buy Now
Format Paperback Ebook
ISBN 978-1-58642-378-0 978-1-58642-379-7
Published Sep 19, 2023
Imprint Steerforth Press
Biography & Autobiography - Memoirs Biography & Memoir Humor

“A decidedly skewed, hilarious collection of life reflections and colorful storytelling.” — Kirkus Reviews

An endlessly entertaining collection of wayward autobiographical tales about a search for a richer life thwarted at every turn by beagles, bureaucrats, and ill-advised love affairs

The unlikely story of how a failed dishwasher, tour guide, cabinet maker, bus driver, bookseller and literary journal publisher became one of Australia’s hottest humor essayists

Perfect for fans of humorous, thought-provoking authors like Sloane Crosley, Jenny Lawson, Samantha Irby, and David Sedaris

This wryly subversive book of adventures (and misadventures) offers an original and utterly hilarious take on work, escape, and that something more we all need.

Robert Skinner arrives in the city, searching for a richer life. Things begin badly and then, surprisingly, get slightly worse. Pretty soon he’s sleeping rough and trying to run a literary magazine out of a dog park. His quest for meaning keeps being thwarted, by gainful employment, house parties, ill-advised love affairs, camel trips, and bureaucratic entanglements.

The book’s 14 essays/stories can be savored one at a time, or binge read:

  • War and Peace
  • The Perfect Host
  • Cinderella Pays the Rent
  • Lessons from Camels
  • How to Make It in Business
  • The Stopover
  • Kings of Sweden
  • House Party
  • Car Sick
  • I Fought the Law
  • Always Coming Home
  • The Art of Tour Guiding
  • A Fisherman’s Lament
  • Epilogue: Dying Art of Hitchhiking

Robert’s distinctive voice possesses uncommon immediacy, at once humorous and soulful, self-effacing and wise. Perhaps most important of all, he is endlessly entertaining.


The writer’s vignettes wittily chronicle the false starts, failures and endless dabbling” of a self-confessed dilettante.”

-- The Sydney Morning Herald

A decidedly skewed, hilarious collection of life reflections and colorful storytelling."

-- Kirkus Reviews

Don’t judge a book by its cover, obviously – but this one captures the weird energy, bleak humour and absurdity of Skinner’s memoir so perfectly it deserves applause.”

-- Steph Harmon, The Guardian Australia

[Robert Skinner] is a gifted writer with a keen intelligence and sense of humour so delightful you want to meet him.”

-- Penelope Debelle, The Herald Sun (Five-starred review)

To make funny fodder out of a life full of ‘false starts, failures and endless dabbling’ is no easy task, but Skinner does so, and he does it well.”

-- Thuy On, ArtsHub

This is genuinely hilarious and warm-hearted, and I hope lots of people will join in his fun.”

-- Alison Huber, Readings ‘Dear Reader’

Read Robert Skinner’s book. It is very good. It will make you laugh. (It will make you consider saving money.) … once you start reading I’d Rather Not, you will not put it down until you have finished.”

-- Chris Gordon, Readings ‘What we’re reading’

It only takes till the end of the chapter's first paragraph to become convinced of the assuredness of Skinner's witty and humane voice. From there, we're taken on a picaresque journey through moments as diverse as the intricacies of throwing the perfect house party, Skinner's experiences of homelessness, and a hilarious hitchhiking attempt.”

-- The Big Issue

‘…genuinely amusing and even a little PJ O'Rourke in its own way’

-- The Weekend Australian ‘Notable books’

Seriously the funniest book I've read all year. I can't stop thinking about Robert Skinner's forays into the most mundane and frustrating aspects of life ... Read this book with a bottle of wine, and be alarmed and enlightened!"

--Alice Pung, author of One Hundred Days

If only all books were as funny, human and true as I’d Rather Not. I raced through it, marvelling and envious all the way."

--Michelle de Kretser, author of The Life to Come

My heart leaps whenever I see Robert Skinner’s byline; I know I am in for a hilarious literary treat complete with wry pearlers, gallows truths and wicked timing. People will say he is Australia’s Sedaris but he’s not. He’s Robert Skinner and he’s a bloody marvel."

-- Anna Krien, author of Night Games and Act of Grace

This book is like a big properly-made gin and tonic drunk outside in a garden on a perfect Saturday afternoon.

-- Cate Kennedy, author of The World Beneath

No one writes better when the stakes are lower."

-- Sam Vincent, author of My Father and Other Animals

[I’d Rather Not] is Reading As Joy. (Remember that?) More joy than eating honey joys, listening to Col Joye and The Joy Boys on Joy FM. Comes out mid-year, I think, and damn we need more books like this.”

-- Michael Winkler, author of Grimmish

He’s not so much a dilettante as an equal-opportunity appreciator, and his refusal to accommodate the demands of bureaucracy are all about a return to the physical world, to avoid missing anything in the rush to a destination. The result is a funny and affecting celebration of the glorious choices we so often have about where to go and how to get there.”

-- Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron and Phase Six

Robert Skinner writes with humour, intelligence and heart. Pick up this book and you may never put it down.”

-- Tony Birch, author of The White Girl

I was told this man came from the Adelaide Plains and so commenced to read his work. By the time I realised I’d been viciously misled and he actually grew up in Magill, it was too late. I was already completely in love with the book. It’s an absolute bag of lollies.”

-- Annabel Crabb, author of The Wife Drought


Chapter One

War and Peace

I retired when I was 28 years old, but ran out of money the same afternoon, so I caught a bus to the dole office. My feeling about unemployment was: someone’s gotta do it. Why not me? The pay was lousy but I’d heard the hours were good.

I had been working for the past 16 years – driving buses, washing dishes, picking grapes, packing boxes, building exhibitions and, once, digging the same trench for three days before someone told me I was digging in the wrong direction. (Subconsciously, I think, I’d started digging for home.) I was fed up with the whole racket.

At the Centrelink office I learnt that it was no longer called “the dole”. Some overpaid marketing agency had rebranded it “Newstart”. The walls were covered with inspirational posters (“When opportunity knocks, open the door!”) alongside more practical advice telling us not to drink alcohol before job interviews. Fake nails clacked away at keyboards. Someone called my name and I followed him into a small room. I hadn’t even sat down before he started trying to sign me up for forklift-driving jobs on the other side of town.

“Whoa,” I said. “This isn’t the kind of Newstart I had in mind at all.”

I had only just moved to Melbourne. It seemed like a place filled with magic and possibility. I wanted to meet interesting people at rooftop bars. I wanted to read Russian novels. What I didn’t want was a pesky job, but try telling that to your dole officer.

“Listen,” I said, “our economy seems to rely on a 5 per cent unemployment rate. Can’t I just be one of those 5 per cent for a while?”

The long answer was no.

People, I’ve found, want you to be busy. They don’t require you to contribute anything meaningful, otherwise how do you explain professions like “consultancy”? They just want you to be busy. Genghis Khan could move into your street and people would say, “Well, at least he’s working.”

My dole officer changed tack. He straightened his tie and wafted some cologne in my direction.

“What about truck driving?” he said. “I’ve got some great truck-driving jobs.”

I’d spent the previous three years driving tour buses in the outback. One morning it had been so hot that I woke up with a lisp. I had a crooked back, was still finding sand in my underwear, and harboured some latent racism (mostly against the Swiss) that I was trying to deal with. I was sick of driving. But you can’t just come out and say that.

“What sort of loads would I be carrying? I’m allergic to peanuts.”

“Furniture,” he said, eyeing me suspiciously. “No peanuts.”

I held in my lap my talisman copy of War and Peace. I had vowed not to get a job until I finished reading it. But the dole officer had obviously sworn some oath of his own. He was so dogged I was amazed he hadn’t risen through the ranks yet.

“Is it far away?” I asked, eventually.

“Just around the corner.”

“Oh. That could make things difficult.”

“Difficult how?”

“Well, I was thinking of moving.”


What followed was a series of long and glorious autumn days. I wandered through parks, galleries; I winked at old ladies, had long boozy dinners in friends’ backyards.

My uncle was in town one day, and I explained that, what with the demands of War and Peace and everything else going on, I scarcely had time for a job.

“Well, it’s a question of priorities, Robbie,” he said.

We looked at each other and I hit the table with my fist. “Exactly.”

When my second appointment came around, the dole officer asked me how I was getting on, and I told him about the projects I was working on. He made a few notes.

“So, you’re writing a book?”

“I’m reading a book.”

He became businesslike. He said that, as per regulations, I was to start filling out a job diary and applying for 20 jobs a fortnight. Twenty!

It was even more odious than having a job. It sounded like I would be doing a lot of extra work, so I asked him for a pay rise.

His answer was long and wearisome, like your primary school teacher going on and on about not eating pencil shavings.

Eventually I pointed at the job diary and said, “But. But what’s the point of it?”

The point was “How dare you!” The point was “We the taxpayers!” etc.

Andy, my friend and housemate, had little sympathy. “They pay you $230 a week for doing nothing.”

I don’t get the money,” I said. “Our landlord gets it.”

“Oh, not this again.”

“Well, I work just as hard as he does.”

“Not today you didn’t.”

“It’s a Saturday, Andy. Jesus.”

“Not yesterday, either. You spent all morning trying to glue your boot back together.”

“Okay, so we happen to have a particularly hard-working landlord. But morally…”

You have three months, by my calculations, to explore a city before your sense of wonder turns to familiarity. I used to board trams with excitement, thinking, Where will I possibly end up? Now I knew exactly where. As the days shortened, the trams ploughed the same old furrows up and back, and I rode with them.

The pay, I was learning, was barely enough to make rent, let alone have the wild times that welfare recipients are always having on the news. And not even the hours were good! There were meetings, job diaries, and you were constantly having to catch two buses out to Broadmeadows, and back again, to attend some 45-minute course on Time Management. It’s hard to understand what all this was in aid of, but the flourishing of the human spirit was not one of those things.

Time stretched out interminably. My reading was turning frequently into napping. I was languishing somewhere between war and peace.

Then, through a series of clerical errors and misunderstandings, I accidentally got a job as a dishwasher.

Every time I start a new dishwashing job, I can’t imagine why I ever quit. It’s exhilarating. You feel like a general, marshalling his troops. Waiters pile up coffee cups and teaspoons on one side, chefs drop hot pots and pans into the sink on the other, and you’re in the middle of it all, suds flying. At the end of a shift you have that physical tiredness that feels almost like a life well lived. On your lunch break, if you get one, you send out group text messages: “Friends! You were right! Maybe this is the answer!”

And then, after two or three shifts, you start to remember. The sinks are always too low, so you stoop all day, or all night, and wake up in the mornings, or afternoons, with a cracking headache. You get covered face to feet in grime. The kitchens are hot, cramped and almost always an insufferable boys’ club. If you’re new they’ll send you off to fetch a made-up item, like a “rice peeler” or a “bucket of steam”. (I would pretend to fall for that one and sit in the storage room reading a book until someone came looking for me.)

You become increasingly convinced that, in the world outside your kitchen, in some endless dusk, bands are playing on street corners, friends are having wild picnics, and everyone you like is sleeping with someone else.

It becomes harder and harder to contain the long, loud bouts of moaning at the helpless purgatory of it all. And shift after shift the dishes keep coming. You could work 15 years in that job and still have nothing to show for it. If you left the sink for one minute to accept your Golden Tea Towel Award, by the time you turned back the sink would be piled with dirties again. Worse, they’re the same dishes.

And dishes are as good as it gets, by the way. You need a biology degree to remove the oily film that clings to the inside of plastic containers. I had one, but for the wage I was getting I refused to use it. Sometimes I just threw dishes into the bin.

What sort of answer is this, to the question of what to do with our short time on Planet Earth? Sometimes I would find myself standing at the sink with my hands dangling in the dirty water, thinking, I can’t go on. It’s just too pointless. And dishwashing is one of the important jobs! Imagine how the consultants feel!

As soon as I smelled spring in the air, I quit the dishwashing and raced back to the dole office.

Somehow, impossibly, this dole officer was even more cunning than the last one. Within 10 minutes I was checkmated. He had the perfect job for me, he said. I didn’t understand all the details, but it sounded like I’d be working for a company that couldn’t afford a forklift, and was settling for me instead. I mumbled something about low blood-sugar levels and pulled some roast chicken out of my bag. (Not all victories can be won with dignity.) I wolfed it down and then pretended to choke on a bone. I writhed around on the ground, clutching my throat. The dole officer sighed, stood up and said, “We’re done for the day.” The man was no fool; he knew a piece of chicken breast when he saw one.

But also, it was 4.30 on a Friday afternoon. I lunged for the door. Not even the best dole officer in the land could catch me before Monday morning. I burst onto the street and sunshine hit me in the eyes as on the day of one’s birth. I did something similar to a yodel. I had two more days! Two more days in this world where, right now, a wheeling, chattering flock of rainbow lorikeets were shitting on someone’s scooter with what looked like pure joy. Two more days in this world where people play the bassoon, climb trees and help baby turtles get from their nest to the sea; where it’s possible to meet someone with whom to spend a lifetime watching wrinkles gather around each other’s smiling eyes. Two more days at least, before the vice clamped down on me once more.

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