Dabbler Diary – How Joan of Arc felt

Do you ever feel oppressed by the grinding circularity of the week? I mean the relentless Mondaytuesdaywednesdayness of it. Snags you at the age of four and it’s got you forever, with only a little time off at Christmas when there is a disorienting flurry of bank holidays and you briefly, deliciously, lose track. I expect that even in retirement the grip isn’t entirely loosened – a Thursday will still feel like a Thursday.

This occurred to me while I was visiting The Tate the other week (yes, all right-thinking people do still call Tate Britain ‘The Tate’, thus putting that power station where they keep all the modern rubbish in its proper place). As a ‘history of British art’ the main exhibition is a journey from an attempt to capture Beauty throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to an attempt to express Horror, from the beginning of the 20th Century. This is unmistakeable but for some reason not mentioned (the anomaly is Blake, one of England’s finest nutjobs, who thought horror and beauty were the same thing and that picturesque landscapes were the handiwork of Satan).

The area around Room 1910 at the Tate should be renamed the Chamber of Horrors, containing as it does this by Epstein and this by Bacon and this about bacon. I was staring aghast at Stanley Spencer’s stomach-churning The Resurrection, Cookham when an elderly couple hurried past. “Ugh, Spencer,” said the lady, motioning as if to ward the painting off. “I can’t even look at it.”

The apex of horror, however, is Mark Gertier’s Merry-go-round:

gertier merry go round

I was familiar with it but vaguely assumed that it was painted just before or during or just after World War II, that the brown shirt was a Brownshirt, and that the palpable disgust with which the image is infused was a Jewish reaction to the Holocaust. So I got a shock when I saw the date.1915! Then later I read DH Lawrence’s letter to Gertier:

Your terrible and dreadful picture has just come. This is the first picture you have ever painted: it is the best modern picture I have seen … I believe there was something in Pompeian art, of this terrible and soul-tearing obscenity … I could sit down and howl beneath it like Kot’s dog, in soul-lacerating despair. I realise how superficial your human relationships must be, what a violent maelstrom of destruction and horror your inner soul must be .

It’s nothing to do with the Nazis at all! It’s just horror qua horror, and the merry-go-round, quite transparently, is Mondaytuesdaywednesday.


“Monday: Humiliation; Tuesday: Suffocation;  Wednesday: Condescension; Thursday is pathetic; by Friday life has killed me.” That’s Morrissey in the quintessential I have Forgiven Jesus, and he’s a pop star so surely only marginally beholden to the weekly cycle.

I was pleased to learn that his autobiography has been published as a ‘Penguin Classic’, because such is entirely fitting with the sublime ridiculousness of the man. Nobody, nobody – not Germaine Greer, not George Monbiot, not even Slavoj Zizek – has sillier views on absolutely everything than Morrissey, and Britain is all the better for it. Morrissey’s miserabilism has long formed a vital strand of the gaiety of the nation. I imagine it’s virtually impossible for non-fans to fathom the value accorded to The Smiths, and for fans it’s difficult to articulate. Like Bob Dylan, Morrissey has an innate gift for lyrics that say what you feel but in a way that you’d never think to say it, and also in such a way that you can never quite tell whether or not he is taking the piss. And as with Dylan, if you’re comfortable with not knowing then the effect is powerful indeed upon the adolescent mind. The difference is that where Dylan’s ridiculousness lies in his obscurity, Morrissey’s lies in his straightforwardness. “Please please please let me get what I want.” Why aren’t more songs so to-the-point? Even Morrissey’s absurdity is direct, his pretension naked and unashamed: “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt, as the flames rose to her Roman nose and her Walkman started to melt.” Looking at the first page of his book it seems he has permitted no editor to prettify his wild jabberings with such conventional niceties as paragraph breaks. I can’t wait to read it.

By odd coincidence I read about the publication of Morrissey’s  Instant Classic while my ears were still ringing from a terrific gig by his erstwhile bandmate, the jingly-jangly guitar hero Johnny Marr, which I attended at the Bristol O2 with my brother-in-law on Thursday night. Marr scattered a generous helping of Smiths numbers amidst his new stuff  and the unfettered emotion with which the moshing youths sang all Morrissey’s words confirmed my view that The Smiths are one of those rare bands that will live on through the generations and will continue to be loved for as long as there are sensitive, socially inept, literary teenagers in this embarrassing cruel world, which is forever.


Richard Branson urges us here to worry more about Climate Change. I was delighted to read this comment on the piece from one Sébastien Landrieu:

Hi There,

We all have to work hand in hand to make teleportation a reality, this is the only solution for humanity, we then could export our shits in space and maybe burn’em in the sun? It’s tome clearly the only solution we have. We for sure have to reduce our productions to have enough time to find real solutions as I think teleportation won’t be ok in days…will you invest in it a few Richard?



Nige has praised his fellow Carshaltonian Roy Hodgson for being a cut above the average football manager. Twice last week Hodgson justified this with fine quotes. After England qualified for the 2014 World Cup finals by squeaking past Poland he said, with disarming unmanagerial honesty: “Every time they crossed the halfway line I died a thousand deaths.” And then following an entirely spurious hounding by the Thought Police over ‘racist’ language, he said pithily: “Joy is short-lived in this job.” Hodgson carries the air of an intelligent Everyman who isn’t quite sure how he ended up in such a dumb, crass business as football.


8am. The school and nursery run, a daily misery in which I have no slack whatsoever, and thus every red light or traffic jam is a dagger in the heart. The weather turned that morning and despite the cloud cover we were shivering in the first arctic needles of winter. As I pulled in by C’s school I misjudged the line and gave the kerb a mighty whack. ‘Oh dear, I hope I haven’t buggered the tyre’, I thought, climbing out to look. I had buggered the tyre. Completely flat.

With a great weariness in my soul I deposited C at breakfast club and went back to the car. E, who is 22 months old, decided to have a fit of hysterics about being in her car seat. I lifted her out and perched her in the boot while I attempted to locate the spare tyre. Then, after some while, I remembered that there was no spare tyre. Instead Vauxhall now supply you with an object  called a ‘space saver’ which apparently squirts some kind of gel into your buggered tyre. I prised this thing from its nook and tried to fathom its mysteries. It consisted of a black plastic round lump almost but not quite like a pump, and another thing with a nozzle. There were no instructions with it, nor with the other bits and pieces in the glove compartment. “Does anyone actually keep gloves in their glove compartment these days?” I asked E, irrelevantly. She made no answer. I got down on hands and knees to look under the car and make triply sure that there really was no spare goddamn tyre. There wasn’t.

As I stood up a teacher opened the school gate to throw something in the bins and through the gap I saw C queuing with her hands clasped behind her back to have a turn at hopscotch. I watched as a boy lumbered clumsily across the squares, followed by another who was even worse. Then C fair whipped across the grid with the exquisite nimbleness of a ballerina.  The gate closed and I turned back to the matter in hand. I picked up the Thing With The Nozzle again. A heavy goods lorry rumbled by too close and E began to cry so I scooped her up with my free arm. Together we looked at the Thing, and then at each other, and then at the sky. Some cracks had appeared in the cloud, and a greasy light was leaking through. It was Tuesday.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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19 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – How Joan of Arc felt

  1. Worm
    October 21, 2013 at 09:39

    well you’ve just improved my Monday no end!

  2. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    October 21, 2013 at 10:01

    I expect that even in retirement the grip isn’t entirely loosened – a Thursday will still feel like a Thursday. Oh no it doesn’t, hang in there bro, upon attaining the sixty fifth (or possibly, courtesy of Westminster, the seventy fifth) things in the ‘hood will improve, immeasurably.

    Regarding Stan, the war artist man, bit of a sniffer, got his kicks from sampling the air in public toilets, turned him on, as he sketched on bogroll.

    Nice quote from the weekend “he was hauled in front of the media,” it was Frosty wot dunnit, back when.

    When, not if mind you, teleportation becomes a reality, I suggest that the first teleportransportee sould be the Gillywark.

    • Brit
      October 21, 2013 at 13:44

      The Gillywark would certainly count as ‘shits in space’.

  3. peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
    October 21, 2013 at 11:17

    I am fascinated by the evolution of the whole climate change schtick. Until well into the oughts, the bien pensants, a.k.a. scientific consensus, had us all in a panic about imminent Doomsday. One missed “last chance’ after another. Then people began noticing nothing much seemed to be happening in their gardens after twenty years and there was some jiggery-pokery with the stats. Now, like fundamentalist millenialists, they’re back unapologetically with new and quite different Doomsday predictions based on measurements in remote, inaccessible places, no explanation for why they got it wrong before and head-scratching over what it will take to get people to “talk” about climate change, all supported by fatuous celebrities like Branson delivering motivational bromides about innovation and creativity between gala events.

    Overpopulation, resource depeletion, peak oil, sustainable development, pandemics and now climate change. Wrong every time, but the faithful just keep on truckin’.

  4. markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
    October 21, 2013 at 11:17


    Spencer. Britten. Lawrence. The terrible trilogy that stands for the parts of this country I would prefer to forget; that atmosphere of cold damp Februarys, boiled cabbage and priggishness masquarading as sophistication.

    • peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
      October 21, 2013 at 11:34

      I know what you mean–the genesis of modern, nihilistic self-hatred. It almost makes one yearn for Derek. Almost.

      • Worm
        October 21, 2013 at 12:51

        Beyond all the religious hoohaa I just find Spencer’s art kind of ugly

    • Brit
      October 21, 2013 at 13:42

      Someone should write a post on that. The Boiled Cabbage School. Bertrand Russell its philosopher?

  5. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    John Halliwell
    October 21, 2013 at 12:33

    I’ve spoken to a few of the regulars who stagger out of our local Church Inn late on a Saturday night, and who run the risk of falling arse over tip into the churchyard such is its proximity to the boozer, and they claim that Spencer’s depiction is amazingly accurate; one of them: George, who, so rumour has it, is known behind his back as ‘160 percent’ – but I’m not sure there’s any proof for that) even opined that “The only problem with Spencer is he’s too bloody literal!”

  6. Worm
    October 21, 2013 at 13:17

    There’s a popular buzzfeed post doing the rounds that asks “Who said it: Morrisey or Alan Partridge”, and which lists 13 quotes from his new book – my favourite being

    “Putting a damp spoon back in the bowl is the tea-drinking equivalent of sharing a needle. And I did not want to end up with the tea-drinking equivalent of AIDS.”


    • Brit
      October 21, 2013 at 13:45

      Clearly those who deny it should count as a ‘Classic’ will soon have to eat their words.

  7. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    October 21, 2013 at 19:08

    The opinion section of the Sunday New York Times of September 28 had a piece urging that Bob Dylan be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature:


    The odd thing is that while the argument appears to be written seriously, the supporting evidence does not, at least to my eye:


    • Brit
      October 22, 2013 at 13:40

      Like most Dabblers I’m a Dylan man so as far as I’m concerned they can chuck as many Nobels at him as they like, but ‘Literature’ doesn’t seem quite right. As in all things, Bob needs his own category.

      • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
        October 22, 2013 at 15:16

        Dylanology…. recent comments by a Dylanologist would suggest…

        Dylanite…. wards off hard rain…..

        Dylanoodle…. the art of Dylan…..

        Dylatantes…. say they know his music but…..

        Dylophant…. Donovan…..

        Dylanuloid…. Pennebaker…..

        Dylanophiles…. us chickens…..

        Dylanogram…. replaced by tape…..

        Dylosopher…. sits on the pavement thinking about…..

        Dytractor….hated the switch from acoustic to electric….

        Dylaholic…. Alan Price…..

        Dyspepsic…. Donovan…..

  8. zmkc@ymail.com'
    October 22, 2013 at 03:40

    Sometimes I feel nostalgic for when the children were tiny so thank you for reminding me of the red light/traffic jam morning roulette. Plus I’m still worrying about E resting in the boot – I kept worrying, as you described bending under the car et cetera, that the next sentence was going to relate how either the boot slammed shut with her inside or she had fallen out without you noticing and rolled down a drain or whatever. But no. Just the neuroses of an over-protective mother coming to the fore, it seems.

    • Brit
      October 22, 2013 at 13:38

      Sorry for putting you through the wringer again. Z.

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