Dabbler Diary – Tick Tock


I’ve taken on a gig writing about culture and whatnot for sofa.com, purveyors of fine furniture and certainly the best place in the visible universe to buy a sofa, and have already written about Vincent Van Gogh’s chairs, Impressionist Interiors, His Girl Friday, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, Dusty in Memphis by Dusty Springfield and other things. Do go and look, and comment if you wish.

One result of this is that I keep thinking of things to say that are not quite right for the sofa.com tone but nonetheless require an outlet. (You can therefore expect various ‘director’s cut’ style postings in this site for a while.)

For example, while writing this piece about John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s ‘Bed-In’ Protest I was fascinated by this video of Al Capp ‘interviewing’ John Lennon.

Al Capp, a cartoonist and right-wing rent-a-gob, was a cranky old git with a jaundiced view of the world. Lennon was also a cranky jaundiced git but still young enough to have some confused ideals. (I suppose the modern equivalent would be Russell Brand being interviewed by Katie Hopkins, which suggests that bores on both left and right ain’t what they used to be.)

The problem with the Bed-In was that its goal was to achieve World Peace. But as any fule who has been on a half-day business management seminar in a ring-road Holiday Inn no, goals should be ‘SMART’ – that is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-based.

World Peace as a goal falls down particularly on the last three of those elements, so, on the SMART metric:

  • running ultra-marathons to raise cash for Sport Relief a la Eddie Izzard = good mad egotistical celeb charity goal; but
  • lying in bed for a week to achieve world peace = bad mad egotistical celeb charity goal.

Yoko Ono, incidentally, is still very much going strong with social media campaigns for world peace, mostly themed around the lyrics to her late husband’s song Imagine. Oh, celebrities! There is a quote attributed to Randy Newman: “I used to be against world peace. But then Bono came out for it and the scales just fell from my eyes.”




The visible universe now extends a long way. Kepler 186f – apparently the most Earth-like planet yet discovered, and capable of sustaining life – is about 500 light years away.

So that must mean ( as friend of The Dabbler and Paddy Power Political Book of the Year nominee Terry Stiastny pointed out) that if there are any Kepler 186fians peering back at us through their alien telescopes, they’re seeing the early 16th century. So to the Keplerans, America is pitch dark at night, the Earth’s population is about half a billion and Henry VIII is still on his first wife.




Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast. But there are also terrible lags. Over time you come to recognise your body’s natural rhythms. I’ve known for a while that activity-wise my preferred pattern is to go to bed around 11pm, rise early, work like fury in the morning then spend the afternoon sleeping, reading or just gently drooling as I gaze zombie-like into the middle-distance, before perking up a bit again in the evening.

Now, following Christmas, I have been forced to accept something I’ve sort-of known for a while, which is that my constitution cannot stand eating a heavy main meal at lunchtime – a three course boozy feast must be evening or not at all if I am to avoid dreadful digestive consequences. Combining this with the above, my ideal working day would be: up at six, work until about nine , have a decent cooked breakfast, more work until around two, no lunch, good sleep, cup of tea and perhaps a slice of cake at four, then a bit more work, then a proper evening meal.

But who amongst us can attain such an idyllic existence? I can, dammit. In 15 working days’ time (not that I’m on countdown) I will be fully self-employed. A recent realisation that I could soon be forever freed from the tyranny of office hours and the working week gave me a feeling of untold joy. You only get the one life – imagine being able to live it to your own clock!




An old friend emailed me with thanks for giving him and his family lunch. “It was good to have a proper chinwag,” he wrote. Then added in parentheses: “Don’t think I’ve ever written ‘chinwag’ before. Looks racist.”




 An open letter to Michael Rosen:


 Dear Mr Rosen

 I wonder if you can help me. I’m on a quest, you see, and it seems to me that you might be just the man for the job. I’m trying to ascertain whether the Open Letter is the most irritating format for a newspaper opinion piece, and if so, what exactly it is that makes it so.

Perhaps it’s the patronising, supercilious tone that makes an open letter so dreadfully grating (you seem like the sort of clever chap who’d know).

Or I wonder if it could be the faux-naivety…Really, it’s not my area of expertise, this sort of thing. Though I have noticed that if you follow up your faux-naïve questions with a lot of statistics then the reader will get that you are the real expert on the subject, or at least 86% will, as Fabian and Fubster found in their 2008 study Op-Eds, Commentaries and Open Letters: Towards a More Sustainable Future.

Or could it be the phoney tone of ironic bafflement, perchance? Or the pretend politeness of the way I address you as ‘Mr’, which supposedly allows me to get away with making incredibly insulting assumptions about you, you flea-ridden halitosis-breathing streak of piss?

It could be the sheer pomposity of the form that makes it annoying to a degree that would make Tantalus himself grateful for his comparatively mild tortures. But I think the real clincher might be the way I’m going to finish with a prissy little question and then add a condescending Postscript intended to belittle you.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Yours sincerely


PS. My three year old really enjoys We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – do keep it up!




While harvesting links for the Dusty in Memphis post, I was showing my daughter C some old youtube clips of Dusty singing You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself, thinking, correctly as it turned out, that the melodramatic element of such ballads would appeal to her. In the course of conversation – or rather, interrogation – I had to explain that the videos were black and white because they were made a long time ago,  and also that Dusty was now dead. C was strangely quiet for the remainder of the song and then suddenly burst out with a sobbed: ‘I don’t want to die!’

For a ghastly while I thought that she might be suffering, at the age of just five, from the same Larkinesque thanatophobia that first struck me at about 12 and then returned to blight most midnights during my mid-20s, before disappearing almost entirely in my 30s only to be replaced by new fears about my children dying. But she has shown no ill-effects since. My death anxiety was primarily based on the vertiginous thought of eternal nothingness. C’s outburst was probably just because she loves life so much: she is a quite exceptionally sunny human being and her presence banishes the darkness from any January room.

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29 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – Tick Tock

  1. January 12, 2015 at 10:03

    I remember the misery of staring at the acronym SMART, on the overhead projector screen of a business suite in a Marriot hotel, while someone asked if we needed a \\\”comfort break\\\”. Did learning about SMART make a jot of difference to the way I worked? Of course not.

    I love the flexible hours that self-employment provides and find that the bank statement gives me all the motivation I need to put in the hours. The one thing I do find challenging is not having colleagues, as even when they’re maddening, they liven things up.

    Beware of the afternoon nap-tea and cake routine. It can be the road to ruin.

    • January 12, 2015 at 13:24

      Beware of the afternoon nap-tea and cake routine. It can be the road to ruin.

      I believe I can keep it under control, play it safe with your Swiss Rolls, your Victoria Sponges, your Battenburgs, Steer clear of the hard stuff like black forest gateaux.

  2. Worm
    January 12, 2015 at 10:04

    I am so with you on the open letter thing – well skewered, Brit! Insufferably smug, and arrogant too.

    Good luck with the self employment – I too would love a job where I can do all my work in the morning and then have my less productive afternoons free

    • January 12, 2015 at 13:27

      I suppose very occasionally it can be effective, but Michael Rosen seems to have become obsessed with it and has got completely stuck in its supercilious tone of voice.

      • seamussweeney1@gmail.com'
        Seamus Sweeney
        January 13, 2015 at 21:54

        I wonder how often there are replies to these “open” letters?

        Presumably J’accuse started all this off, and the impact has been steadily dulled through repetition.

  3. markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
    January 12, 2015 at 12:13

    http://www.sofa.com/. Excellent firm. Marvellous senior management. Have one of their outstandingly comfortable ‘L’ sofas in my basement. But if they were to deprive me of my full Dabble Diary experience of a Monday, well…………………………………………rust spoons, extraction and livers come to mind.

    I’m feeling the opposite of schadenfreude for you about your new venture as master of your own diary. I’ve been there for the past twenty years and have to tell you it is worth a huge chunk of any pay packet. Does make you unemployable for any normal corporate job though: you wouldn’t be able to countenance the thought and they would see you as some kind of buccaneer, unamenable to corporate restraint.

    • markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
      January 12, 2015 at 12:15

      One day I might actually proof-read my own postings.



      Forgive me…

    • January 12, 2015 at 13:30

      Thanks Recusant. I’m hoping to have more rather than less Dabbling time, though inevitably the Diary’s subject matter will change – I expect there will be much less melancholy reportage from provincial accounting firms than has hitherto been the case.

      • Worm
        January 12, 2015 at 13:46

        …and instead more articles about the relative merits or otherwise of Homes Under the Hammer, Jeremy Kyle and Bargain Hunt… 😀

        • January 12, 2015 at 14:29

          Well, if nothing else, at least after a few years I’ll be an expert on low value antiques.

  4. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    January 12, 2015 at 16:43

    Go Brit, go. However, beware the ides of the inland revenue, the self employed tend to figure in their cross-hairs rather disproportionately, the rewards from the sweat of ones brow tend to be cast into the jaws of the public purse in large, one-off lumps, rather than the drip-drip-drip of the employed person, this may lead to a situation of the Micawber variety.

    Most important is the SE persons list of items (tax deductible)

    1/ pencil stubs
    2/ toilet paper
    3/ the partner / spouse (HR director or H&S manager, fill in as appropriate)
    4/ campervan (portable site office)
    5/ at least one room of the present abode (not the bog)
    6/ lunch, dinner and high tea although the IRS tends to look down upon breakfast and elevenses
    7/ £15,000 PA booze account (customer Xmas presents)
    8/ private dentistry (repairing teeth damaged by pencil chewing)
    9/ upon start-up, the lease of a BMW, Daimler Benz or Audi, a definite starter pack for every bankrupt bound entrepreneur
    10/ upon start-up (2) immediately develop a customer base in a country that is also your favourite holiday destination and then milk if for all it\’s worth
    Etc, etc, etc.

    Cash stashing, Luxembourg is a fairly safe bet, the banking boys and girls in Echternach are especially accommodating.

    NB…ensure that all of the above is in place during year one and, upon submission of accounts, the the IRS will have that as your profile, saving much future hassle.

    Bear in mind, a good accountant is cheaper than a good lawyer although the word good, applied in the same sentence as the words accountant and lawyer is, is it not, an impossibility.

  5. Gaw
    January 12, 2015 at 17:30

    Brit, many lolz indeed from your open letter.

  6. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    January 12, 2015 at 23:46

    There was a 17th-century Duke of Alva who took to his bed and stayed there after his mistress left. The return of a mistress hits all the letters in SMART, at least it does much better than world peace. Yet there is the same strange lack of connection between means and end.

    Are you telling the browsers at sofa.com about great sofas in literature and so on?

    • January 13, 2015 at 09:20

      Are you telling the browsers at sofa.com about great sofas in literature and so on?
      Sounds like a good one, George – all ideas and examples gratefully received!

  7. Brit
    January 13, 2015 at 13:36

    Perfect – yes that’s exactly the sort of thing, thanks Dave.

    I’ve ambitiously embarked on a series called ‘A History of Culture in 100 Sofas (and other items of furniture)’, and although I’ve got a good list together frankly if I’m really going to hit 100 I’m going to need all the help I can get. What’s more, I’m cunningly linking them together in a chain, further increasing the difficulty.

    So far it goes:

    1. Salvador Dali’s Mae West lips sofa
    2. John and Yoko’s Bed In bed
    3. Van Gogh’s chairs
    4. Freud’s couch
    5. The Mastermind chair
    6. Charles Dickens’ empty chair (by Luke Fildes)
    7. The Coronation Chair (Westminster Abbey)

    And thereafter I’ve just got an unordered list that includes: the Woolsack, Christine Keeler photo chair, Madame Monet on the sofa, the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones, Jim Royle’s armchair, the Narnia wardrobe, Tracy Emin bed, Rokeby Venus bed, Oscar Wilde’s chaise longue, the Obama/Clint Eastwood empty chair, the Lincoln Memorial, Hitchcock’s director’s chair and some others.

    Any suggestions for cultural furniture I can write about gratefully received!

    • law@mhbref.com'
      Jonathan Law
      January 13, 2015 at 17:59

      William Cowper actually wrote a lengthy blank verse poem called ‘The Sofa’ (it’s the first part of his magnum opus The Task). In it he gives a sort of mock-Miltonic history of seating, from the days in which hardy savages just sat their naked bottoms on rocks, to the invention of the three-legged stool (“on such a stool immortal Alfred sat”), to the advent of the cane chair (“the weary loins … felt no ease”), the “soft settee”, and finally, in the fullness of time, “the accomplished sofa” (“so slow/ The growth of what is excellent, so hard/ To attain perfection in this nether world” — I guess that ‘nether’ is a little joke). It’s really not bad at all. although pretty remote from most contemporary tastes.

    • george.jansen55@gmail.com'
      January 14, 2015 at 01:09

      On reflection, I can come up with just the sofa or sofas the clergyman’s crippled daughter occupies in Barchester Towers, and Aunt Leonie’s sofa, which makes a cameo appearance in Within a Budding Grove.

      Extending the topic even to beds gives you much more scope: Shakespeare’s second-best, Odysseus’s bed with the olive tree stump as one post, Oblomov’s bed and Procrustes’s all come to mind. For American pop culture you could have Wilt Chamberlain’s circular bed, 12 feet (I think) in diameter as one extreme and the twin beds for married couples on the TV shows of 50 years ago as the other. Or the Dauphin taking the straw tick bed and leaving the Duke with the corn shuck bed in Huckleberry Finn.

    • law@mhbref.com'
      Jonathan Law
      January 15, 2015 at 16:40

      Easy to forget, too, >that Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ is basically about a bloke lying on a sofa (“For oft, when on my couch I lie/ In vacant or in pensive mood”). You can see the very couch in Dove Cottage — and very uncomfortable it looks too.

      • January 16, 2015 at 13:55

        Another beauty! I can see that ‘Poems about sofas’ is a much richer vein than I originally thought.

  8. wormstir@gmail.com'
    January 14, 2015 at 09:40

    other pop culture chairs – the chair in Dr Melfi’s office in the Sopranos. Ronnie Corbett’s chair. Dave Allen’s stool. The sofa in the Central Perk cafe in Friends (the sofa that begat every coffee shop sofa in the universe.) The Eames Barcelona collection in Patrick Bateman’s apartment in American Psycho. The rug from Big Lebowski

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      January 14, 2015 at 09:49

      Frasier’s dad’s chair, the unwelcome guest from hell (or the American equivalent to a DFS model.)

      • Worm
        January 14, 2015 at 09:56

        oh yes that’s a good one Malty!

  9. markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
    January 14, 2015 at 11:11

    Blofeld’s chair. Different versions of,

  10. January 14, 2015 at 17:19

    This is brilliant stuff, I’ll nick all these – thanks all! And do keep em coming.

    You could also email any ideas to me at editorial@thedabbler.co.uk
    Your reward: my eternal gratitude.

  11. Gaw
    January 15, 2015 at 08:01

    There’s a poem by Seamus Heaney called ‘A Sofa in the Forties’ – I’ve written about it on the D.

    At a less elevated level there’s the farting chair in CJ’s office in The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin (a great symbol of the petty humiliations of corporate life, so something you should be able to write about with some relish now!).

    Then there’s a much, much darker topic: Jimmy Savile’s red chair from Jim’ll Fix It. Certainly a part of cultural history but a pretty grim one.

    Finally, you could move into cultural geography: Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and Cader Idris in Wales. Got to be something to say about anthropomorphising the landscape.

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      January 15, 2015 at 09:58

      Talking about mountainous sitzplatz, Lord Berkeley’s Seat on An Teallach (the forge) makes an excellent viewpoint with sitting accommodation, weather permitting, of course. The more adventurous among us may wish to avail themselves of that most comfortable seat, the bosun’s chair, wet bum’s guaranteed.

  12. joerees08@gmail.com'
    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    January 16, 2015 at 18:44

    I’m a little late to the (daven)party, but:

    In one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy books a disturbance in the space-time continuum (or something along those lines) manifests itself as a chesterfield sofa.

    Also, I’m sure you see a lot of couches in the paintings of Lucian Freud…

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