Triumph 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.

It is an Olympian year, and Norbiton is looking forward to seeing the Games unfold across town like one thin random slice from an exhaustive and barmy taxonomical grading of all possible human activity.

But Norbiton is also nonplussed, because it notes that these various antics are rewarded with medals and acclaim and triumph; and Norbiton does not recognise Triumph.

It recognises a triumph. But that is a different matter. A triumph looks like this:

This is Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, making his absurd and ambling antique progress to nowhere in particular, looking not the least troubled. There is nothing triumphant about this, or triumphal. It is only a representation of an ornamental interlude. Life is elsewhere.

Triumph, however, as crystallised in medal ceremonies and award ceremonies, is different: it is understood to be the proper end of achievement. We are supposed to believe that the most rarefied moments of life and its greatest rewards are played out, not in your living room, not in the pub, still less on an allegorical float, but on a podium or a red carpet. This is what you dream of, work towards. This is where you finally come into your own in the public realm.

Needless to say, most of us never get close to a podium and are none the worse for it. But we participate nevertheless. Between Christmas and New Year I drifted over to the Dark Side on a tide of brandy and seasonal indifference, and watched a bit of Star Wars. It has been many years since I last saw any of this most earthbound of galactic adventures and I find that I have, in the interim, lost my taste for gormless epic; but I sat though a couple of the movies regardless, and was greatly struck by the prize giving event with which the first of them (which is to say Episode IV in the revised catalogue raisonné) collapses in on itself.

What astonished me was not the preposterous medallions our heroes have hung around their necks by Princess Leia, or the sight of Han Solo sheepishly loving the adulation, or indeed the fact that the band seems to be playing a derivative of Walton’s Orb and Sceptre, as though the Coronation of 1953 were the only template for collective rejoicing that George Lucas and John Williams could think of.

No. What struck me was the docility of the audience. There they stand in their colour-coordinated ranks, and they clap and cheer, quite as if clapping and cheering were the necessary engine of the Glory to which they bear witness. And so it is. Clapping and cheering are an audible catharsis. We clap because we are pitifully grateful. Award ceremonies, we intuit darkly, are not choreographed for the benefit of those honoured, but to inspire awe and expunge anxiety in the rest of us. If we are handing out medals, then we cannot be losing, can we? Everything must be fine.

I don’t know, having said all that, what a Norbiton Olympics would look like. We like to think of ourselves, not as Olympians, but as forgotten chthonic deities, ancient castrated gods and toothless earth goddesses, fauns, satyrs, centaurs. So I suppose that while there would be a lot of amiable milling about, you would probably be able to walk from one end of Norbiton to the other without realising that a Global Sporting Event was taking place. Everyone would have a drink. We’d possibly seek to ascertain who could throw certain objects the furthest; we’d probably have a kickabout and then forget to keep score. It might be fun. It certainly wouldn’t be oppressive. And it would not have – would not know how to derive or organise – any sort of Medals Table.

The Norbiton Games would above all explicitly recognize that certain forms of endeavour achieve nothing but their own proliferation. Doing them only means you have to do more of them. You cannot award medals in them because you cannot find the end of them, or for that matter number the participants, and anyway the game such as it is merely throws up more imponderables, anxieties, perturbations, is more agonised than agonistic. I am talking of course about the forms of daily life – of work, properly understood, of play, contemplation, idleness and conviviality.

I note that when, in the Return of the Jedi, the liberties of the galaxy are finally secured (by small bears if I have understood correctly), everyone just has a bit of a dance.

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About Author Profile: Toby Ferris

The Atlas of Norbiton is a bulletin from Norbiton: Ideal City of the Failed Life. Unlike its more comprehensive, detailed and discursive mother site, the Anatomy of Norbiton, the Atlas is intended as a pocket guide to the Failed Life for Failed or Failing Individuals on the move.

12 thoughts on “Triumph of Norbiton

  1. Frank Key
    January 10, 2012 at 13:39

    How splendid to see the Sage of Norbiton aboard the sleek yet puttering charabanc that is The Dabbler! And every week! 2012 is looking up already.

  2. Brit
    January 10, 2012 at 13:42

    Welcome to The Dabbler, Toby. (Dabbler readers should look out for some more new and brilliant contributors coming soon).

    Those who follow our Row Z strand (click on the Easter Island statues at the top of the page) will know that at The Dabbler we take an essentially melancholy, existentialist approach to sport, so the Norbiton Games would fit the bill.

    As for Star Wars, it strikes me that cinema in general would benefit from more medal-giving ceremony happy endings and fewer wedding/couple-reunited ones. Four Weddings and a Funeral would have been infinitely better as Four Weddings, a Funeral and, Finally, a Prize-Giving.

      January 10, 2012 at 14:31

      what a pleasant addition to the dabbler fabric!

      Brit, where do you stand on the topic of minstrels blowing fanfares?

    January 10, 2012 at 14:52

    It has to be said that the Tour de France, an event with velocipedes and pissed Germans, has the gong giving to end all gong givings, after each bit, or stage as the French would say, the first to finish, with or without banned stimuli, gets a medal, and a brace of virgins.
    C’mon Boris and Seb, screw the medals, give ’em virgins.

    Toby Ferris
    January 10, 2012 at 16:59

    thanks everyone – nice to be here.

    On a couple of specific points:

    Brit: The wedding is of course the red carpet experience par excellence. And the exchange of rings is like a tiny medal ceremony. Jane Austen, to take an example, handed out gongs at the end of every book along the lines you note, Gold, Silver and Bronze. And the odd wooden sppon. The recent Melancholia perhaps came closest to my ideal of honouring everyone everywhere simultaneously with one inconveniently huge award (ooh, heavier than they look!) at the conclusion of a game the rules of which no one ever really understood and which ended in a dead heat, so to speak.

    Worm: A minstrel is not welcome under any circumstances. But it’s true I hadn’t considered the anthem question – a hurdy-gurdy, perhaps, and a whimpering dog.

    Malty: my memory of Olympic medal ceremonies is no fresher than anyone else’s, of course, but I seem to remember that they generally have a bit of the Masonic bordello about them – nothing to the Tour de France, however, as you note.

    And Frank – thank you, especially for reminding me that the word charabanc is a word overdue for rationalisation.

  5. Gaw
    January 10, 2012 at 17:11

    The Olympic medal ceremony seems lacking in irony and contemporary edginess. Perhaps the ones this summer could be compered by Ricky Gervais?

    January 10, 2012 at 17:42

    On a historical note, where did they hang the medals on the original Olympians, standing starkers on the podium, was an erection required. If so, a possible amusing addition to the forthcoming event and one that may well relieve the looming boredom. Regarding the women competitors, I hesitate to suggest.

    • Worm
      January 10, 2012 at 18:33

      The eastern bloc shot putting ladies might be able to oblige

    January 11, 2012 at 11:50

    I think I’ve been Norbiton and it was possibly very nice. Over here on the Hackney marsh side of the Olympics I’m told by a reliable ‘insider’ that we’re all going to get medals for standing around on the periphery with dogs and not taking part.

      Toby Ferris
      January 11, 2012 at 16:39

      Hello Gareth – I think we’ve all been Norbiton at one time or another, and you’re quite right, it possibly is very nice.

      The idea that the inhabitants of Hackney might have their faces and the faces of their slavering dogs pressed up against the wire fence of the Village for the duration of the Olympics, baying for blood on the sand like the extras in Mad Max, is one I will try hard not to remember when I am on the inside watching the women’s shot put qualifiers (something I really do have a ticket for).

    January 11, 2012 at 12:24

    Norbiton must be right next to Penge, right?

      Toby Ferris
      January 11, 2012 at 16:24

      Spiritually, perhaps. You’re thinking of Norwood – Norbiton is between Kingston and I don’t know what, Coombe Hill, New Malden. It abuts Richmond Park, sort of.

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