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 Gaw selects six cultural links that might sustain him in an interminable succession of departure lounges.
Being still a good Welsh boy at heart I can get homesick at the best of times. So this really would be a trial. I shall resist making one of my clicks my wife's Facebook page as it might be more tantalising torment than home comfort (and it's also hardly something that's going to be added to Dabbler readers' bookmarks).
I will be needing some pretty strong distractions, then. So what's called for? Boredom is surely going to be the chief enemy, followed by despair (the latter tending to follow on from the former). So I think I'll be looking for clicks that are either able to retain an element of freshness or alternatively present some sort of ongoing challenge. More generally, we'll want them to impart some indefatigable optimism.
I know that my first click will fit the bill. I've been listening to John Coltrane's My Favourite Things for over twenty years now and still find it absorbing, still discover new things in it, and still find my mood lifting when I hear it. It's the most beautiful piece of music I know and it's also the most intelligent. Beautiful doesn't need explaining but intelligent does: MFTs seems to be having an engrossing conversation with itself and with the listener; and each time I hear it there's something new being said. The conversation has many moods and inflections, enough to fit any frame of mind. I can see its attractions lasting another twenty years, at least.
One of the many things I've learnt through two years of illness - sometimes requiring me to stay at home for days at a time - is that consumption isn't enough. I mean consumption of books, blogs, news and so on. Being passive is fine for a while but it gets boring and is ultimately dissatisfying. After a while, you need to direct some mental energy outwards, you need to produce, and I've found the best outlet to be writing. I was mildly surprised to find myself blogging after about six months of hanging around the sofa. But I was utterly shocked to find myself writing a novel less than a year later and then starting another shortly after that. I'd never seen myself as someone who'd write a novel; indeed, I really couldn't see how it might be at all possible.
Theory tells us that if you present an infinite number of chimps with an infinite number of typewriters and allow them an infinite amount of time the complete works of Shakespeare might get written. But I can confirm empirically that presenting me with a laptop and nothing much to do for about a year can produce a novel. I wonder what would be produced if I embarked on our endless voyage? It certainly wouldn't be equivalent to the complete works of Shakespeare but I'd have a real crack at writing something worthwhile.
My second click is therefore Google Docs, a fantastically useful bit of software that allows your documents to be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection and which processes your words perfectly adequately; it also reassuringly backs them up safe and sound in a place far, far away. It even has a spreadsheet function should I get the urge to do some graphs.
My next click is the original 1611 version of the King James Bible. This isn't primarily for religious reasons - though I'm somewhere between being an agnostic and a very occasional communicant of the CofE (a distinction without a difference some would say). It's more because I love the language of the KJB and would find it tremendously satisfying to really immerse myself in it for a long time. This work (and its predecessors) is surely, along with Shakespeare, one of the foundations of English literature, especially its poetry. I'd like to see what would happen to my appreciation of language following such an immersion. It also happens to be very long and very complicated, both helpful in whiling away the hours.
Next, poems. I've gone for these as they can bear a lot of re-reading unlike the vast majority of novels, at least in my experience. There are a number of 'poem a day' sites around but I've gone for the Transport for London poetry archive, a sort of sidings for Poems on the Underground. It's suitably middlebrow and middle of the road; old favourites with a modest amount of the new or off-the-wall. Also I like the idea of being comforted by Poems on the Underground whilst in interminable transit. It's what they're for.
Now, I hesitate to choose this click. It's something that's made the web notorious amongst some; it's something that's kept some boys and men - singles mostly - confined to their bedrooms, making them all pale and grey-eyed; too much of it can even leave your wrists aching from RSI. Confessing my choice is something that's likely to severely embarrass me, particularly in the eyes of women. But I have to be honest.
My next click is a fantasy role-playing game. I've never actually had a go at one yet, partly because I know I'd become addicted and partly because I'd feel a bit foolish, as if I'd reverted to my twelve year-old self. Back then I loved Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons, moving on from them for the usual reasons: girls, pop music, smoking, etc. But given I'd be deprived (or no longer interested) in a few items on that post-rites of passage list it might be an idea to go back to something from a more innocent age.
Not having a wallet on me, I'd have to choose something free and most of them aren't. Fortuitously, I've learnt that an official, 'free-to-play' Warner Bros Lord of the Rings Online role-playing game is coming out this Autumn. I can't think of many better venues for escapist fantasy than a departure lounge so that seems just perfect.
At first, I thought this last click didn't really fit my criteria: I chose Welsh Rugby - the '80s for sentimental reasons.
For a start, the '80s? Why not the '70s, the golden age of Welsh rugby? Well, mainly because I was at a lot of these matches and being able to say, along with Max, that "I was there" does make a difference.
But it's also worth pointing out that Wales in the '80s had some extravagantly talented players: J Davies, M Ring, R Collins, S Evans, J Devereux, A Hadley, R Jones, T Holmes, R Norster, P Moriarty, etc. etc. It's just a shame that a lot of them 'went North' as it was known, i.e. turned professional to play Rugby League. Half of those I just mentioned - scientifically selected off the top of my head - did so. No home international team could have coped with those losses. So the third place in the inaugural 1987 World Cup (their highest ever ranking) and the subsequent Triple Crown and Championship of 1988 turned out to be a couple of minor peaks preceding another trough rather than foothills on the way to a new era of success.
I've ended up thinking that this wasn't a wholly sentimental selection, something that would soon bore me. Rugby is one of the great enthusiasms of my life and this compilation has some of the best that I've seen. I think it could bear a lot of reliving.
This has been an interesting exercise: a reduction of everything I like into a sustaining essence. One thing that's struck me is how little I've changed since my youth: I can imagine having made these or similar selections any time over the last twenty years. Funny, that - I could have sworn I'd developed a bit over that period.