International Airport Man.

In Michael Frayn’s very funny 1967 novel Towards the End of the Morning we meet newspaperman John Dyson, an early example of that archetypal contemporary figure, the Citizen of the World. He feels most at home when on the move:

The Final Departure Lounge, sealed off from gross particular Britain by passport and customs barriers, was a bright nowhere land, sterilized of nationality and all the other ties and limitations of everyday life. Here Dyson felt like International Airport Man – neat, sophisticated, compact; a wearer of lightweight suits and silky blue showercoats; moving over the surface of the earth like some free-floating spirit[.]

In current nomenclature, International Airport Man would be one of David Goodhart’s “Anywheres” – though with his middling media salary Dyson is obliged to live in a house in a working class district of London among gross particular “Somewheres” and the West Indian immigrants who are just starting to displace them. Philosophically, of course, Dyson is “entirely in favour of both the working classes and West Indians”. Yet there are certain drawbacks to living among them, such as the unknown neighbour who keeps chucking trash over the fence into his backyard:

He didn’t think it was the West Indians. He didn’t know, of course. But he didn’t want to be the sort of man who went round believing that his West Indian neighbours were throwing old beer cans into his garden. That wasn’t the sort of person he was at all. If by some chance it was the West Indians, then tact was called for. A friendly word of advice, no more – and he didn’t want to raise the matter with them at all unless he was absolutely sure.

But if it was the Coxes…! Well, by God, he wasn’t putting up with this sort of nonsense from the Coxes!

His experience “living in a multiracial community” (that is, having West Indian neighbours) gets him invited on a panel show called The Human Angle to discuss race matters. He jots down some ideas for the program:

The real problem was to avoid the obvious. He was not being paid twenty-five guineas to tell people what they could manage to think out themselves for nothing.

“T troubl is,” he tried, “tt we aren’t prej enough! Shd educ ourselves to be dply & bttrly prej – agnst prej!”

… The trouble was that they would all agree with each other. They would all sit round deploring racial prejudice and suggesting how to avoid it. Perhaps he should try to play the devil’s advocate? He noted down one or two cautiously controversial points. “Mst try to undrstnd att of man whse hse val falls. – Ind ckng delightfl bt hly fragrnt. – Mst admt I pers h diff in undrstndng nxt-dr neighbr’s Eng.”

On the big day, exhilarated by wine and proximity to fame, Dyson memorably makes an ass of himself on live TV. Luckily, no-one besides his wife and best friend is actually watching The Human Angle so his humiliation is no obstacle to him being invited, as an established expert on race issues, to appear a few weeks later on a program called New Perspectives.

M.

 

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Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

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Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker