Centaurs of Norbiton

The Atlas of Norbiton is a weekly bulletin from Norbiton: Ideal City of the Failed Life. Unlike its more comprehensive, detailed and discursive mother site, the Anatomy of Norbiton – hailed by Nige as “a thing of strange beauty and wonder, inspired by the South London nowhere known as Norbiton” – the Atlas is intended as a pocket guide to the Failed Life for Failed or Failing Individuals on the move.

Near where I live there is a ghost sign advertising Centaur Cycles –‘the best the world produces’.

Centaur cycles were produced in Coventry roughly between 1875 and 1925. The company were known for their successful lightweight bicycles (the King of Scorchers, for instance, available from 1890, weighed only 26lb), but they also produced cars after 1900, and some monstrous hybrid single-geared motorcycles.
Centaur is of course a frighteningly apt name for a bicycle company, and I am amazed that Humber let it fall into disuse. Perhaps they found it unsettling, a reminder of a remote almost mythical past when men built flying machines and phonographs, and invented wireless telegraphy and the incandescent electric light bulb; Continue reading

Book Club Winners – The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Announcing the winners of this month’s Dabbler Book Club choice…

Way back in October, Dabbler Elberry treated us to a stirring review of a book that had started making waves in the publishing industry –  having been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt is a dark and gritty Western that takes no prisoners as it blazes across the pages. Part Deadwood, part Of Mice and Men, the literary reception for this book has been universally excitable, and we’re very happy to feature it as our book of the month.

Our 10 lucky winners, chosen at random from our book club members are:

Julia Park

Linsay Raglan

Derek Blower

Lorraine Folbigg

Joseph Denham

Hannah Eason

Ros Poulson

Michelle Payne

Josephine Hayes

Jos Britz

And a League of Dabblers winner with his own VIP copy blessed by the bounteous Dabblegods is Rory O’Callaghan. We look after our esteemed LoD friends, and members of The League will often find themselves in possession of all sorts of goodies throughout the year, courtesy of The Dabbler.

Thank you to our kind friends at Granta for providing the books.

If you’re feeling downcast that your number didn’t come up this month, you can sally forth and buy yourself a copy here.

However you come across your copy we’d welcome your thoughts on The Sisters Brothers. We’ll be taking another look at it next month when you’ll have a chance to see those thoughts posted at The Dabbler. Just email us at editorial@thedabbler.co.uk.

Why not join The Dabbler Book Club? Details here.


Exclusive: The Pickwick Papers read by Anton Lesser (Part 2)

To mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth, we’re serialising The Pickwick Papers…

Thanks to our friends at Naxos Audiobooks, we’reclusively serialising their abridged version of what is perhaps Dickens’ funniest work, The Pickwick Papers, read by Anton Lesser.

Chapters 3 and 4 can be heard below. You can catch up on Chapters 1 and 2 here. Tune in next week for more…

Chapter 3: Manoeuvres in Rochester…

Chapter 4: How Mr Pickwick Undertook to Drive…

 Naxos Audiobooks – The Complete Dickens

For Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday, Naxos Audiobooks are completing their unabridged catalogue of all 16 of his major novels, with Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood released by May next year. See their website for more information.

Naxos AudioBooks are one of the leading independent audiobook labels, specialising in the classics. You can see the full range at www.naxosaudiobooks.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

You can buy the The Pickwick Papers abridged audiobook – currently being serialised by The Dabbler Book Club – here.


Film Review: Margin Call

The Epicurean Dealmaker writes anonymously, insightfully and wittily on the world of investment banking, the first because he works in the industry as a senior M&A banker. If you want to understand, and even find amusing, the rarefied and controversial world of high finance you won’t do much better than to follow his blog and twitter account.

Margin Call is on general cinema release and available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Marty: “When I left, I joined the Army, and when I took the service exam, my psych profile fit a certain… ‘moral flexibility’ would be the only way to describe it. I was loaned out to a CIA-sponsored program, and we sort of found each other. That’s the way it works.”

Debi: “So you… you’re a government spook?”

Marty: “Yes. I mean no. I was before, but I’m not now. Uh, but that’s all irrelevant, really. The idea of governments, nations is public relations theory at this point.”

Debi: “I don’t want to hear about the theories. I want to hear about the dead people. Explain the dead people. Who do you kill?”

Marty: “That’s very complicated, but I think in the beginning it matters of course that you have something to hang on to, you know, a specific ideology to defend, right? I mean, taming unchecked aggression, that was my personal favorite. Other guys liked live free or die, but you know… you get the idea. But that’s all bullshit. And I know that now. That’s all bullshit. You do it because you’re trained to do it, you’re encouraged to do it, and ultimately, you know, you… get to like it. I know that sounds… bad.”

Debi: “You’re a psychopath.”

Marty: “No no no. A psychopath kills for no reason. I kill for money. It’s a job. That didn’t sound right.”

Grosse Pointe Blank

Your Dedicated Bloggist and Dilettantish Cineaste finally got around to watching Margin Call in the private screening room of the Volcano Lair yestereve, O Dearest of All Readers. Because I am feeling unaccountably magnanimous this evening, I thought I would share with you a brief report of my reactions to the film and a few thoughts which it inspired, out of the goodness of my heart. While you must not expect great film criticism, I believe I can offer a little professional insight which may enhance your experience should you decide to view it.

For let me first say that I recommend the movie unreservedly, not only to professionals within the investment banking industry but also to outsiders still in possession of their moral compass. The lighting, cinematography, casting, and dialogue is, for the most part, pitch perfect, and the movie conveys exceptionally well the mood and atmosphere of the sales and trading end of a big investment bank. The story is simple enough: a junior risk manager played by Zachary Quinto takes over a risk model from his recently fired boss and mentor; he discovers his bank has already begun to seriously violate risk limits in the structured trading book it maintains to warehouse mortgage-backed securities it structures and sells for enormous profit; he concludes the firm faces potential losses which could wipe it out entirely; and he runs his warning up the chain of command, where it ultimately lands in the lap of the firm’s CEO. Where and with whom, as the saying goes, the shit decisively hits the fan.

The film takes place over approximately 36 hours, starting from mass firings at the bank during one trading day, Quinto’s fateful discovery that evening, the hurried, all-hands meetings and consultations among firm management overnight, the liquidation of the firm’s toxic portfolio the following day, and a coda the following night. It is an ensemble performance, and Quinto, Penn Badgley, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, and Jeremy Irons all do excellent work. Just like real life, there are no heroes, and just like real life the characters spend little time reflecting or moralizing about how they got into this mess. They decide, they act, and just like most corporate bureaucrats they limit their moralizing to variations on “I told you so” and “It’s your fault, not mine.”*

The moral center of the film is carried by Kevin Spacey, who plays Continue reading

Jazz flute! And four more unusual jazz instruments

This week Brit looks beyond the saxophone, trumpet and piano for some less obvious jazz soloists. Here are four increasingly unusual lead instruments. You won’t believe the fourth…

In the (extremely amusing) film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Bergundy, Will Ferrell has his hero reveal an unexpected talent for ‘jazz flute’ (above). A jazz flute scene, Ferrell must have realised, is inherently funny in a way that a jazz trumpet one, however absurd or exaggerated the performance, would not be, simply because it’s such an odd specialism to have developed.

But why should we limit our jazz expectations to the usual lead instruments: the sax, the clarinet, the piano? After all, the two giants of French jazz played none of the above. Guitarist Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli formed the extremely influential Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934 and continued with various combinations of rhythm musicians (guitar and bass) until 1948. Here’s a classic line-up…

Staying on the wrong side of the channel, you can’t get much more French than jazz accordion. This virtuouso – and occasional member of the Grappelli/Reinhardt Hot Club – was Gus Viseur (1915-1974). An accomplished player in the popular 19th Century ‘musette’ musical style, he pioneered, along with Reinhardt, a style known as ‘manouche’, or ‘gypsy jazz’. Flambée montalbanaise is the quintessential recording….

Let us lurch now to the proper home of jazz. Black America has produced great saxophonists and other virtuoso blowers galore, but here’s an astonishing talent unfairly neglected because of her unpopular niche: the jazz harp. In fact, the Detroit-born Dorothy Ashby (1932-1986) produced quite thrilling music. Here’s a deeply groovy number called Continue reading

What Brow are You? The Dabbler’s Style Guide – Highbrow to Lowbrow

Susan is away this week, but that does give us another opportunity to publish her magnificent Dabbler Style Guide, which will enable you to establish what ‘brow’ you are…

Inspired by the above magnificent chart from a 1940s edition of TIME magazine (click on it for a larger picture), which purports to explain everyday tastes from Highbrow to Lowbrow, this handy chart will enable you to pinpoint exactly where you stand on every important matter of style, and from there to draw a general conclusion about your overall classification

With Susan’s words, and design and illustrations by The Spine, we proudly present The Dabbler’s Style Guide: Everyone’s Tastes from Highbrow to Lowbrow(again, click on the picture for a larger image):



You can also use this chart to work out which character from the Noseybonk saga you most resemble. Give yourself 4 points for each ‘Highbrow’ answer, 3 for each ‘Upper Middlebrow’, 2 for each ‘Lower Middlebrow’ and 1 point for each ‘Lowbrow’.

Then add up your score…

11-13: You are Wayne Rooney
14-16: You are Ed Balls
17-21 You are Rod Lidl
22-30: You are Alain de Botton
31-40: You are Sarah Brown (snazzy red patent sling-backs)
41-43: You are
Julian Assange (left-wing) or Boris Johnson (right-wing) or Josie Pringle (student)
44 (maximum): You are Brian Sewell (no, not a ‘Brian Sewell-type character’, but THE actual Brian Sewell)

Susan will be back next week.

Book Review: The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy

Elberry puzzles over a ‘novel in dramatic form’ from the author of No Country for Old Men and The Road

Here is a puzzling thing. McCarthy, who is generally known for harrowing tales of bloodshed and mutilation, has written a play starring a ex-crim and a suicidal professor, sitting at a table debating the meaning of life. There are no fireside decapitations. There are no mutilations. There is no genocide. There isn’t even any wounding. There are just two characters, referred to as White and Black throughout, since the professor is white and the ex-crim black.

White has lost faith in everything, including Western civilisation, and therefore tried to jump into the path of a train. Black pulled White back and somehow they end up in Black’s flat. Then they talk. Black talks a lot of Jesus talk and White talks about how Western civilisation went up in the chimneys of Dachau.

Black is on the side of life, brotherhood, and Jesus; White is a nihilist, an educated, middle-aged suicidal nihilist. It’s not as crude as Jesus versus Dachau, though: Black believes in god, and assumes this god is Jesus Christ, but the immediacy of his belief swallows up the particularity of creed; and White doesn’t debate so much as cling stubbornly to his own lack of belief, in anything. Throughout, Black tries to keep White from rushing off to kill himself. He argues, he sympathises, he tells his own jailhouse shiv stories. There isn’t much in the way of argument or debate: it’s rather a meandering conversation, generated by two irreconcilably opposed perspectives.

On a first reading it falls far short of Blood Meridian or even the weaker No Country for Old Men. Yet it is by no means bad. At times it recalls Beckett, especially in the stark close; and the argument follows Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, up to a point. It is all recast into McCarthy’s particular, grimly humorous manner. So Black relates his first encounter with God, a voice coming to him after he nearly beats a fellow prisoner to death:

Black: If he didnt know I was Continue reading

Pure Unbridled Filth

Readers of a milksop disposition, look away now! for Frank is about to besmirch the pages of The Dabbler with pure unbridled filth…

According to John Trevelyan in What The Censor Saw (1973), the following list includes some of the disgusting and morally repugnant subjects rightly banned by the British Board of Film Censors during the first twenty years of its existence:


Indecorous dancing.

Native customs in foreign lands abhorrent to British ideas.


Incidents injurious to the reputation of Governmental Departments.

Unnecessary exhibitions of feminine underclothing.

The effects of vitriol throwing.

Stories tinctured with salacious wit.

Sensual exposition of eugenic doctrines.


Criminal poisoning by dissemination of germs.

Excessive revolver shooting.

Animals gnawing men and children.

Clutching hands.


Libels on the British nursing profession.

Bolshevik propaganda.

Abdominal contortions in dancing.


Employee selling his wife to employer to cover defalcations.

Severed human heads.

Degrading exhibitions of animal passion.

Indecent wall decorations.

Dangerous mischief, easily imitated by children.

Lecherous old men.

Themes which are likely to wound the just susceptibilities of our Allies.

Comic hanging.

Breaking bottles on men’s heads.


Marriages within the prohibitive degree.

Girls’ clothes pulled off.

The Salvation Army shown in an unfavourable light.

A Story in Slang – and win a prize!

This week Mr Slang has teamed up with quiz-master Brit Snr (the editor’s Dad, no less) to give you the chance to win a copy of his splendid big fat red Chambers Slang Dictionary…

I have been dabbling for twelve months now. There or thereabouts. Many posts, many words, many slang words. The time has come for payback. The challenge: a quiz of fiendish complexity (well, parts of it defeated me). It comes in the form of a monologue in various forms of slang. It is not of my composition, but that of the peerless Brit Sr. against whom many of you have already pitted their wits. The aim, no surprises here I am sure, is to offer a translation of the following story. I would say that all the words have been used in posts, but that ain’t so. But they can be found, and the story pieced together.

A word-for-word ‘translation’ is not expected; a pertinent précis will do, but the more text that is offered the better your chance of success. Should accuracy prove beyond reasonable expectation, I’ll also consider entertainment value.

Post your translation in the comments or, if you’re shy, email to editorial@thedabbler.co.uk  by next Thursday.

The prize is a copy of my Chambers Slang Dictionary. All the usual caveats and provisos apply and this being slang, all bribes, sexual favours and other inducements will be favourably considered. Failing those, may the best Dabbler win.

‘In the balloon car of the pothouse’…

A Slang Story by Brit Snr

There I am, in the balloon car of the pothouse, nursing a wallop and eyeing a well-advertised hornbag, when in mopes Willie the Dip, former cutpurse. Before, he was a bomb-head, but now he looks all Sad Sack, snaky- bony and real mangy. Anyway, I get him a tenip and a young and frisky and require of him his doings.

“Well,” says he, “my life been a mommux all right. I set up this three balls biz, but I was a bit of a gagger on the side, you know. Worse luck, one o’ of me punters was a fizgig. Next I knowed, Uncle Nabs ‘as me in a goldfish bowl for a little jaw. Sad to say, the buzzimag is kosher, so I get dropped in the bucket, right? Buzzkill it were, in rumbo. I ‘ad to sport fish roll, an’ I was in with sharks, Jimmy Sangsters, nummers….skrunty types all, most on ‘onch, lots totally abram. They give you the stink-eye and ‘ang a shanty on you for nada. I jus’ stayed shrumpy. Couthed up, I were, an’ took the gaff.

An’ the gooby, Man, it were gross. Gunky red ‘orse, gamy red mike an’ cold thousands. But one little boy blue, this grundiguts walrus, took a schmear OK so I got consumption sticks and some red ‘eart. Comin’ down the ‘ill’ I got a better seg wiv a skinner, ‘e were just a dromedary in for an ‘oliday.

When I got out me biz were gone, so I were a cadaver, Man. No spon for Burton, even. So I been on the charlie. When I get mazoo I fill me tank, crack some suds or fire the bird. I got me an iron gentleman an’ a piece an’ I do a bit o’ drumming with me yaga, but I don’t really trust ‘im. If the busies done us a stingo, he’d come it strong as a horse, surely.

So, you got a ten for a bottle o’ henry berry, China?”

Well, this Willie was always a yarn chopper, but this time I weened him true, totally. I am fully escamado, specially re the gat. I go oopizootics and hand him a pony and my tick-tock. Then I gave it the toes.

He’s pinched that same night, I hear. Totally Brahms and Liszt and waving his roscoe in a creepjoint. Some marra, eh?

image ©Gabriel Green
You can buy Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon’s more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.

Carrying a Ladder by Kay Ryan

Nige appreciates female poets in general, and Kay Ryan in particular…

Brit once made the observation that I read an awful lot of female novelists. It hadn’t really occurred to me, but of course he’s right – I do. Why? It’s certainly nothing programmatic – it’s just that (as it seems to me) for several decades now, so many of the best novelists, especially in England, have been women.

I don’t know why this is – perhaps the shaping of the novel by Jane Austen and Henry James somehow ‘feminised’ it, playing to the traditional strengths of women rather than men – psychological and emotional insight, fascination with nuances of behaviour and dialogue – or is that all stereotypical (after all James was a man)?

Anyway, I realise that my predilection for female writers also extends to poetry – at least American poetry, where my recent reading has involved Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore, and another poet I discovered (like so much else for which I’m grateful) by way of Anecdotal Evidence: Kay Ryan, who recently served a stint as America’s poet laureate.

Here is one of hers which I keep going back to and which seems to me a marvel of compressed wisdom and perfect placing of words…

Carrying a Ladder

We are always
really carrying
a ladder, but it’s
invisible. We
only know
the matter:
something precious
crashes; easy doors
prove impassable.
Or, in the body,
there’s too much
swing or off-
center gravity.
And, in the mind,
a drunken capacity,
access to out-of-range
apples. As though
one had a way to climb
out of the damage
and apology.

So simple, so true – and so in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore.