You can fail anywhere. There is no end of ways to fail.
But you can fail more rapidly and more expertly, with superior clarity and precision, in Norbiton.
The stones of Norbiton resound neither with history nor promise. No one stands on the brink of Norbiton Avenue, Norbiton station at his back, and feels excitement, curiosity, trepidation. No one will ever tell you either with pride or as mere matter of fact that he lives in Norbiton. Or that he comes from Norbiton or is on his way to Norbiton. He will say Kingston, or London. Never Norbiton. Norbiton is an invisible city.
Or nearly invisible. There is the station, after all, and Norbiton Avenue. There is a pub called the Norbiton and Dragon (not actually in Norbiton but over the border in Canbury). There is a kebab shop called the Norbiton Grill. But you will not, in the normal course of things, notice Norbiton, not even if you live here.
If you ask any resident of Norbiton (can you find one?) where it starts and finishes, what it is, they will not know. Back when I had a job a man once stopped his car on the London Road to ask me the way to Norbiton. I was bewildered. This is it, I said. Then I told him where the station was, and he thanked me and drove off, off over the brink of the world.
What was he thinking? What could he possibly want? (I would add now: How could he see me? How did he know we existed?) You cannot go there, I should in full honesty have shouted after his disappearing car, because there is no there.
And yet it has a name, a name this driver knew and was able to use. It is called Norbiton. A name is something to work with, something to hang your concepts on, if also a way of generalising, of forgetting. Give something a name and you seem to know what it is, it is no longer strange, it is a portable mental object, so much loose change jangling comfortably in the pockets of y0ur mind.
Thus to keep the name useful, to keep it sharp and unaccommodating, it needs to be treated as a term in our understanding of the world. It needs to be anatomised. At any rate that is what we have done. We have learnt to distinguish between three Norbitons: Accidental Norbiton, Empirically Real Norbiton and Norbiton: Ideal City.
And so this Norbiton, which has grown like moss or nettles in the interstices of more substantial, more purposeful places – Kingston, Wimbledon, Surbiton – we call Accidental Norbiton. Accidental Norbiton is a non-rationalised space; it is a space, that is, conceived as a bucket or other receptacle filled with what Erwin Panofsky might have styled a plastic cluster of objects.
Those objects are destinations of one sort or another. Norbiton, like any place, is thus criss-crossed by vectors representing small and automatic journeys, journeys to and from, or between destinations. You might, for example, find yourself at the allotments watering your tomatoes one moment and watching Kingstonian or AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow Stadium the next; or you might need to drop in on the graveyard or the sewage works or the council tip or the hospital; or have business with one of the funeral directors, Frederick W. Paine or Alan Greenwood and Sons, or require an item at the florists or the stonemasons.
There are, to repeat, spots, points, destinations. You will trace vectors, familiar or otherwise, to reach them. But none of these separate journeys would induce you to link these destinations together as some coherent mental whole. You have no object-specific neuron which fires consistently at the idea of Norbiton, as you do, for instance, for Jennifer Aniston.
There is no paradigm for this kind of place. Accidental Norbiton is contingent, marginal, superfluous, an ugly necessity; it is like the wires coiled under your desk, behind your bookcases; it is like the suitcases gathering dust under your bed, on top of your wardrobe; an adjunct to living, part of the logistics, the bureaucracy, never what you might call life itself, the movement and centre and focus of which seem to prevail elsewhere.
Perfect, then, for a life of properly calibrated failure. Welcome to Norbiton.