Monday, 26 July 2010

6 Clicks for the Endless Voyage: Brit

In Anthony Burgess’ short story The Endless Voyager, a businessman throws away his passport and wallet mid-transit and, unable to enter any country, spends the rest of his life shuttling from airport to airport. He eventually goes mad. Today, of course, such a traveller might stave off purgatorial insanity by dabbling on his iPhone or netbook.

In this post, The Dabbler's own Brit selects six cultural links that might sustain him in an interminable succession of departure lounges.

1. The Beatles, Sie Leibt Dich

"If it wasn’t for Churchill/the Americans/D-Day/the Spirit of the Blitz/your Grandad, we’d all be speaking German by now." Hearing John and Paul sing the British pop song par excellence in Deutsch is like a glimpse at an alternative universe. Of course that universe could not have existed. Sie Leibt Dich makes the familiar strange.

2. Picasso, Still Life with Bust, Bowl and Palette

While at school I cut some tokens out of the newspaper and sent off for a free Picasso print, primarily because I thought that having it on my bedroom wall would make me look offbeat and cool. I didn’t really appreciate it as a piece of art; if anything it was a bit of a joke. When I went to university I put it in a wooden frame from a charity shop and displayed it on my wall for much the same reasons as before but gradually I came to appreciate that there was something inexpressibly pleasing about the way the shapes were put together. Then as I became more aware of Picasso I realised that, in fact, Bust Bowl and Palette one of the least interesting and pleasing of his works, but nonetheless it was the only one I had and I felt an obscure loyalty to it. When I became a bit more solvent I invested in a proper frame and transferred the print to that.

While other artworks have come and gone, Bust Bowl and Palette has adorned the walls of all of my abodes. Now, I realise when looking at the picture, any aesthetic appreciation I might once have felt for it has retreated to irrelevance; its appeal is almost entirely based on comfort and familiarity. Never, ever, until the day I die, shall I willingly get rid of Picasso’s Still Life with Bust, Bowl and Palette. And where is the picture now, you ask? It’s in the attic, waiting until we have a bigger house, because my wife doesn’t like it.

3. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
All the follies of human existence are laid bare in this book's wicked definitions, now available online. Worth it just for: Predicament (n): The wage of consistency. Anyone who has ever entered into a lengthy blog argument will know the truth of that one.

4. Atherton v Donald, Trent Bridge 1998

Cricket was never about vicars and teas and the village green for me. I grew up watching the West Indies: cricket was about surviving violent assault. I was a keen, reasonably talented opening batsman at schoolboy level, but the first time my body took a battering from a proper fast bowler I became painfully aware, in all senses, that I didn’t have what it takes.

In the second Test between England and South Africa at Trent Bridge in 1998, Allan Donald was, more or less, trying to kill Mike Atherton by bowling 90mph at throat-height from round the wicket. Atherton, a Charlie Brown-like geek – gangly, toothy, vaguely bookish – stood there and took the worst Donald could chuck at him and survived it. Really, Mike Atherton had none of the attributes of a great sportsman except the rarest and most important one.

5. Sagrada Familia image gallery
Some excellent judges of taste have informed me that Gaudi’s still-unfinished cathedral Sagrada Familia is quite uniquely ugly. “For people who like cacti”, as one blogger memorably put it. Perhaps so, but Barcelona was the first holiday I took with my wife and we were broke and 21 years old so everything about that city is wonderful. But even if Sagrada Familia is ugly and possibly even a bit naff in the student-poster way that Salvador Dali is naff, the mere fact of its existence is remarkable enough. A vast wasps nest still under construction, in Europe, in 2010, for the glory of God. God was supposed to be dead by now.

6. Handel, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth

Sacred music is about humans, God is the justification. In the Godless eternal airport lounge, in Richard Dawkins’ post-religious world, where middle distance-gazing professionals gather in conference centres to discuss painless suicide techniques, where the Sagrada Familia construction work has been cancelled and where reclining in First Class on the Eurostar we eat Asian Fusion food from recyclable boxes and tap secret, bleak poems into our iPads, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth will still make perfect sense. More sense, if anything – the poignancy will verge on unbearable.


  1. Good show, five out of six. Not sure about that Picasso, though. It bears an uncanny resemblance to a lot of large murals I've seen in airport departure lounges. Sic transit gloria mundi, Pablo.

    I think I'd replace it with a collection of Nige's butterfly posts.

  2. I'm not sure about the Picasso either Peter, though it's somehow reassuring to learn that Malty has it in his lavvy.

  3. You've been in the Maltmeister's loo? Was it just like you'd imagine a mountaneering, manufacturing, seen-it-all-engineer's loo to be?

    Oh, but for one brief glimpse.................

  4. Indeed Recusant. Alas I haven't been in that hallowed bog - Malty revealed this info in my own Dabbler launch post.

  5. Not sure about Nige's flutterers, they have something of the Gilbert & George about them, or Geoffrey Palmer. We used to have the thunder-box lined with books until some callous lout of a visitor suggested that it may be unhygienic. Out went the first edition James Bonds and Nino Cullotas, in came the weird stuff,

  6. Tell me, has that soprano any teeth and can we have some proper Handel, Almira for instance.

  7. Belatedly.

    This, as the opener, the prelude, the post conception if you like to what surely will become a repository of the finer things in life, good company, interesting discussions, poignant stories about the nuts and bolts and probably the paintjob of this funny old world of ours, some may even remark this funny old world of hours. It falls to us commentors, the parties of the second part, to respond in like manner, nutty, unbolted and with rusting paintwork, we will try our very best.


    That being said and as you have included a gem of a musical interlude, begging as it does a measured response we will have a go (although I must protest the initial paintjob, Pablo being at times such a twat)

    The Messiah suffers, as do many other chestnuts, from overexposure. Everybody and their auntie Annie have had a bash at the Moonlight, Emperor, the Fifth etc we won't even mention poor old Lizst.
    The oratorio, given serious TLC , is a life enhancer and in the hands of Spinosi, the Arnold Schönberg Choir, the Matheus crew, Susan Gritton and Cornelia Horak has received loving care by the yard. Gritten is, for a Botanist, one hell of a soprano one who can, with a bit of a cold, lapse into the mezzo with ease. Added bonus being that Corniela Horak is the spitting image of the first love of my life, there was a lady from Carshalton...
    Anyone wishing to bath in the glowing glory given off by this performance, here's the place for you

    The Arnold Schönberg Choir's finest performance was singing Haydn's seven last words with Nicolaus Harnoncourt conducting