Dirk Bogarde, With A Moustache, In A Vaporetto

Whenever I think about Dirk Bogarde, with a moustache, in a vaporetto, I hear the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler’s fifth symphony. Such is the power of cinema. If you’ve seen Luchino Visconti’s Death In Venice (1971), you will know exactly what I’m talking about. I often find myself thinking about Dirk Bogarde, with a moustache, in a vaporetto, probably more often than is normal, and I have absolutely no idea why. If I am able to snap out of the thought within thirty seconds or so, all is well, but once I hit the half-minute mark I invariably break into great heaving sobs, and have to dab at my eyes with an expensive handkerchief, or a rag, whichever comes readily to hand. I try to make sure there is always an expensive handkerchief in one of my pockets, or tucked into the waistband of my trousers, like a midget cummerbund, but if I am going to muck out a pig sty, say, or to scrape grease off the wall of a drainage chute, I am more likely to opt for a rag.

Foppishness has its attractions but it is ill-advised in some circumstances. Dirk Bogarde was occasionally foppish early in his career, but by the time he sported that moustache in a vaporetto he had become a sort of Euro-thespian, a serious man, of a kind I would like to see youngsters emulate today. No one has ever asked me how I would tackle the modern plague of feral inner city youth. If they did I would recommend that young tearaways grow moustaches and sit, shattered, in vaporettos. The Adagietto from Mahler’s fifth could be piped at them through loudspeakers, or loaded onto their pods. If the government was willing to stump up the cash it might even be possible to have orchestras sent in to the more gruesome sink estates to play the Adagietto live.

I recognise that many teenage girls are as violent and unruly as the boys, but the stick-on false moustache is a perennial favourite in joke shops and theatrical costumiers, so the resources are there. It just takes the political will to make it happen. Clearly there would have to be a major increase in vaporetto imports, but a beneficial side-effect would be the regeneration of our canals and estuaries. Speaking as one who has to haul a cart along winding country lanes, sweating like a pig, I would certainly welcome that. I use my expensive handkerchiefs to wipe the grime and perspiration off my neck as often as I dab the tears from my eyes when thinking about Dirk Bogarde, with a moustache, in a vaporetto, if truth be told. If the contents of my cart could be shoved on to a barge and go by canal I would be a happy man. I am already, like the later Dirk Bogarde, a serious man. Happy and serious would be a fantastic combination. I live in hope.

5 thoughts on “Dirk Bogarde, With A Moustache, In A Vaporetto

  1. Well, a naphtha launch is like a little steamboat, except that its boiler contains naphtha instead of water. Since its engine is not a steam engine, as such, there is no legal requirement that an engineer to be present during its operation. Just the thing for puttering about the Ponds.

    I know little about these craft but I’ve been reading up:

    1) “Vaporetto” is not Italian for “naphtha launch.” I was getting excited over nothing.

    2) The Museum of Retrotechnology’s web page “Powered by Boiling Petrol” explains naphtha launch technology in detail (“The dangers of this system hardly need enumerating”.)


    3) The New York Times article “HURLED INTO WATER BY BOAT EXPLOSION; Four Men on the Naphtha Launch Boggabor Narrowly Escape Death in the Sound” seems to encapsulate the excitement of naphtha launch boating; it is a long story that turns tragic for a teenage boatsman after the sentence “He put the lantern on the floor and started to rummage through the icebox.”


    Shattered by a vaporetto! Sorry, I mean “naphtha launch.” Anyhow, it was clearly the wrong mode of transportation for a feral youth.

    Now, in return, I would like to learn more about the “pippy bag”.

  2. I’ve learnt more about these naphtha launches:

    “Strange to say, however, these launches had few explosions or fatal accidents ‘though most of them blazoned up occasionally. Many were copper sheathed in the engine compartment so these blaze-ups were rather laughed at or thought to be part of the game…”

    I’ve been among teenage boys working with oxyacetylene welding torches. They have it explained to them that if they touch the nozzle to their work the flame will travel up the hoses and will only be prevented from exploding the gas tanks by a “flashback arrester”, and that they’ll know that a flashback arrester has saved their lives if they hear a sharp bang. The following hour will ring with sharp bangs and guffaws.

    So a naphtha launch has to be the worse possible vehicle to place a teenage boy in. Stick to your original plan with its vaporettos and metaphorical shatterings.

    I really must know about the pippy bags.

  3. Glyn : Many thanks for the naphtha launch information. Please be patient regarding pippy bags. Full and proper attention will be paid to them very soon.

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