A New Brain for a new year in travel retail

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Mommy sat and cried
But dad was unaffected

He said,
“Have you ever had a better two minutes
In the last three years?”

we said,
“But dad, the dumb horse lost.”

He said,
“Sometimes joy has a terrible cost.”
I know that

Ma would scoff
Woo she would scoff
Hear her scoff
And they’re off!

Google may just be the best thing ever invented. Goodness knows how many hours I lose each week heading down the countless, fascinating, diversionary roads it offers up.  Today is a good example. While pondering how to start a Blog about the 2016 travel retail year being truly up and running, the traditional horse race commentators’ call came to mind as a good place to start – “And they’re off!”

So, as you do, I googled ‘And they’re off’. In 0.43 seconds the search engine threw up “about 1,710,000,000 results” (I love the ‘about’). One of them (sixth entry down on page 1 actually) was the song above. I googled further, as you do, and discovered that it was written by William Finn for a musical called ‘A New Brain’. That intrigued me further as throughout a testing 2015 on numerous levels I often wished for a new brain to replace my tired old one.

waterhouse a new brain

The musical dealt with Finn’s gruelling experience with arteriovenous malformation, defined by the Mayo clinic as a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain (not to lighten a serious subject unnecessarily but I once knew a company that had its offices next to just such a clinic. When they gave directions they would simply say “Pass the Mayo”).

A New Brain deals autobiographically with, I learned from Google, the healing power of art. The plot revolves around its hero, Gordon Schwinn, who worries that he may not live to complete his work. Finn, in fact, wrote many of the songs soon after his own release from hospital.

I’ll let Wikipedia (another wonderful invention) take up the story:  After the operation, Gordon falls into a coma and while in that state, he hallucinates a surrealistic musical-within-a-musical starring the people in his life; and ultimately, the hallucination-Bungee leads Gordon back to consciousness . He recovers slowly and his near death experience teaches him to re-evaluate and better appreciate the people and relationships in his life. With his life at last in balance, he is able to write again.

waterhourse taylors-rwanda-coffee

Well, I thought, only three coffees into my 5a.m. morning desk routine, how the heck do I spin this into a travel retail Blog? My readers will think I have been on the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, not my favourite Taylors Rwanda coffee blend.

So I looked at the soundtrack. ‘And they’re off’ certainly had relevance to our industry. So did the perfectly named ‘A really lousy day in the universe’. How often could you have used those words in our troubled, often inhumane world last year?  From now on, I will console myself when things are going wrong by simply putting it down to ‘a really lousy day in the universe’ and breaking joyfully into that song’s lyrics:

“Tonight, after eight long hours he appeared

It was worse than the doctor had feared
And then the doctor said, I hoped by now he’d be awake;
At least I thought he’d be awake. My mistake!

Then I prodded him and poked him
And his mother started crying
And then Rhoda started yelling at the nurse
It was a really lousy day in the universe!”

By now I’m googling (as you do) every damn track on the album. What on earth are ‘Frogs have so much spring’ and ‘Calamari’ about, I wonder? The second might just be about restaurants but given the state of most frogs in restaurants, I very much doubt the former is.

So I look (as I do) for sources of optimism (carefully avoiding a song called ‘Poor, Unsuccessful and Fat’), my eyes alighting on ‘Whenever I dream’, ‘The Music still plays on’ and ‘Don’t give in’. I think my new 2016 brain will embrace such positive sentiments and try to look beyond the negative ones, the days when “the dumb horse lost”.

A New Brain closes with a wistful song called ‘I feel so much spring’, which goes:

I feel so much spring within me
Blow winds blow

Spring has just begun
And something’s taken wing within me

What was dark so long
had felt like winter

Finally there’s sun
And so I sing t
hat I feel so much spring

Birds are whistling for their crazy mama
Flowers join in song

I hear them sing
And I feel so much spring

Lovely isn’t it? Actually it’s not spring in London, it’s pitch black, and, to quote Keats (La Belle Dame Sans Merci) ‘no birds sing’. But I can pretend, right?


The story of (and behind) A New Spring (thank you Google) reminded me of something else important. My favourite entry (and perhaps the most read) over the ten years I have been writing this Blog was one from 2010 called ‘And who but my lady greensleeves’. In it, troubled by my own illness, I related how as a young boy I always promised my mother that I would buy her a green dress when I was ‘grown up’.

I did grow up (some say) but I never did buy her that dress. And then she was gone.  “Make sure,” I concluded, “you buy the person that you love your own equivalent of that green dress – before it’s too late.” It was my own Gordon Schwinn moment.

So, don’t be like Gordon  and risk leaving all your best work, words and deeds unfulfilled. Whatever the weather in this new travel retail year, feel so much spring.