Idle Eye 21 : The Squeezed Middle

Boy, I’m in a mood. The thieving car insurance gypsies* I generally use without batting an eyelid have raised my premium by 21.39380268313%. Now, ordinarily I am predisposed to taking a slight annual hit because, despite my never having made a claim, I am happy to help out anyone who is prepared to jaywalk the M4 in order to provide for their families: Good on ‘em, or at least what’s left of ‘em. However, this year’s astonishing price hike has tipped me over the edge in a kind of Michael Douglas/Falling Down stylee. If only the ineffectual, middle-class sop that I am could pick up an AK-47, stroll into Insurance House, Basingstoke and spew bullets about the place, I surely would. Trust me.

But we don’t, do we? Being British, and instilled with values we don’t quite understand from a time we never lived through, we just take it. Again and again. I rang up Nibs to express my dissatisfaction with the status quo but he was doing battle with his own personal nemesis, the inkjet printer:

Nibs: They deliberately make them so they break and the IT departments just cash in. I’ve just spent £30 on inks and £30 on support and it still doesn’t work. Bastards! BASTARDS!!! And don’t get me started on the till.

Me: What’s up with the till?

Nibs: Same bloody thing. They force you to use their crappy hardware that breaks 50 seconds after they deliver it and then charge you £300 callout to have a look and £200 per hour to fix it. We’re in the wrong game, bro.

He’s right, we are. Because we are both victims of The Squeezed Middle. That wretched, unrepresented state we get labelled with by politicians when there are no better words for being screwed over. It starts in the supermarkets, filters down through insurance and services and takes a scythe to our pay packets along the way. Suddenly we’re all scrapping at each other (when in fact, we’re all on the same side) and the only ones smiling are the string pullers. And you can only reach them if you’re prepared to ring a premium rate number and stay on hold for longer than it takes to grow a beard. It’s enough to make you, well, jolly cross actually.

So what’s to do? I shopped around for a new premium in a fit of pique but after speaking to a couple of brokers I finally understood why these people have your balls in a clamp. Because the alternative is actual contact, albeit only verbal, with the kind of human detritus that diminishes the quality of your life by its very proximity. Screw it, I’ll pay the difference: JUST….GO….AWAY!!!

Hold up, just had a text through. Apparently I’m due £25,000 compensation for that accident I had. Now, as much as I’d like to chat..

*cleared with Viz Comic & Romanian High Commission

Idle Eye 20 : The Liquorice Nose

When it comes to raw booze, Nibs has sure got me down. Of course he has: Secreted from the same womb over four decades ago it would be hard not to. So when an open invitation came from Idle Hour HQ to hop over to Lords Cricket Ground and consume some of the finest Portuguese wines available to humanity under the guise of ‘Restaurant Taster’, it was a done deal. Assuming the mantle of potential clients who can say ‘liquorice nose’ without pissing themselves, we slid in amongst the cognoscenti, making a beeline for the overwhelming reds. Nibs, to his credit, was magnificent: Doing that slooshing thing like they do in Sideways and never once being pathetically grateful for free alcohol as I was, he came across as a man at the top of his game. I, on the other hand, did not:

Wine Grower : Thank you for tasting. This powerful Reserva has very smooth attack with beautiful structure and well present tannins which provides long and very soft finale and slightly spicy sensations.

Me : So why is everyone spitting it out, then?

Call me old-fashioned, but in this time of austerity I was deeply disturbed to see man-high black plastic bins that we were supposed to spew our unfinished samples into. To be honest, if it wasn’t for Health and Safety issues I’d have been quite happy to leap into one of them with my mouth gaping like a guppy fish and guzzle up the slops. We’re talking £25-30 a bottle here: Just think what you could do on eBay with the right label and a PR chick in a power suit.

Seasoned tasters know there is an arc upon which, once the apex of saturation is reached, there is a dramatic drop-off in acumen. Unfortunately, it also gives the end user the illusion of clarity and infinite knowledge, coupled with ill-advised Herculean courage. On reflection, perhaps it would be fair to say that I reached this point approximately fifteen minutes after entering the building. And when we finally met the biodynamic bloke Nibs had been searching for, my eyeballs were colliding against their own sockets like bumper cars at a Mayday fair. The only way through was mimicry: So when Nibs whizzed the wine around the glass, so did I. Then he took a deep sniff. So did I. Holding the glass against the pristine white tablecloth, he assessed the colour. So did I, losing a few precious drops in the process. But then came the crunch:

Nibs : She’s a feisty little number, for sure.

Me : Indeed. And traces of liquorice nose…?

Bionic Man : I’m sorry?

Me : Liquorice nose. It’s in there. I can taste it.

Bionic Man : You are tasting the nose?

Me : Yes I am.

You can guess the rest: It wasn’t pretty. And due to a clerical error I missed my stop on the train home. So, next time you’re in IH Barnes, ask Nibs for a go on the Portuguese liquorice wine. Just don’t tell him I sent you..

Idle Eye 19 : The Rug Rethink

Now, the very few of you that have ever met me in the flesh will know that I have been sporting a rather fetching slickback hairdo of late. At least, I thought it was rather fetching until a recent confab with her indoors which brought it rudely to my attention that, instead of a real-life incarnation of Ralph Feinnes from The English Patient, I actually resembled a grizzly Tory MP who has spent way too long in the Club’s Smoking Room. To paraphrase:

Ursula : You look like a bag of spanners. Get it cut.

Me : Ok.

So I’m in Willie Smarts with my new favourite barnet builder Simon, and we’re discussing the power of advertising, as you do. How just a seemingly inconsequential spruce-up can make a seismic difference to one’s self-confidence and, perhaps more significantly, how others then perceive you. And as we’re chatting, I have my OMG moment: (For those over 40 I should point out that OMG is yoofspeak for Oh My God. And for those over 60, yoofspeak is what you used to do when you wore shorts). Because it so turns out that as you read this, Urs and myself will have completed a fancy new Idle Hour Barnes design that will be with the signwriter this week and, hopefully, swinging majestically outside the pub before too long. You see, although we all know and love that insect-ridden behemoth, we all felt that it was kindest to ‘let it go’ and replace it with a dynamic, all-singing, all-dancing younger model. Like Kennedy would have done if he’d relocated, given up politics and tried his hand at SW13 hostelry. Oh, and hadn’t been shot.

Anyway, using my forthcoming rug rethink as a metaphor, I asked Simon how he felt about saving me from the Green Room of irrelevance. And then we laughed, oh, how we laughed! Because, despite my heartfelt plea that he paid special attention to my ‘thin patch’, he insisted I had a magnificent head of hair and proceeded to prove it with precision Samurai slashes to my nurtured loved ones. It hurt, but it was for the best. And he was right. Because now I resemble a David Niven understudy from A Matter of Life and Death (if I was just that tiny bit posher and in black and white). It’s the Shiva Effect. Slash and Burn. Out with the old etc.. What could be more appropriate for a sartorial Idle Hour blogger who has just done exactly that with the logo? Sometimes life just ties itself up in a bow, no? And that’s why we keep on going.

Some say that God is in the detail. Others say the Devil’s in there. Personally, I don’t give a monkeys who’s doing what and to whom as long as the end result is justified. When you first clap eyes on the little beauty you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. And the sign’s not bad either…

Idle Eye 18 : (Spread) The Love

Have I upset you? Have I? Come on people, let’s have it out: Stats were down this week after what was, it must be said, a very promising start which petered off to virtually bugger all as it progressed. Now, I don’t mean to insult your collective intelligence as I know full well that a healthy percentage of UK cognoscenti are already following, but this ‘ere blogging business is not a one way street. Sorry. Here’s the deal: I sit up all night once a week (or twice if the muse is off-duty) constructing a tightly-woven, semi-articulate drawl linking my own sorry existence with that of Nibs and the Idle Hour. Somehow I manage to make this amusing and/or poignant, depending on your viewpoint. On cue. And the only task I require in return is that you read the bloody thing and occasionally drop me a line or two in the comments section so that I know I’m not pissing my God-given talent up a wall. It’s not a huge ask, is it? Or am I missing something here? Help me out.

Hmmm… In retrospect, probably not the killer romantic opener I’d been planning for the 2012 Valentine’s post. You see, as usual I’ve been on the phone to Nibs, trying to sniff out the lowdown on what treats he has in store for you lovebirds out there. From what I can gather, it’s probably something along the lines of special menu, candlelight, attentive yet respectful staffing and no Techno. Or Hard House. Or Death Metal. (Personally, I think this is an oversight: We are living through difficult times, and the days of a half-carafe of Mateus downed to Renée and Renato are mercifully behind us). I had planned a majestic, almost cinemascopic opening paragraph alluding to the great lovers and those who have lived their lives as if each day was their last: Anthony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Bergman and Bogart, Frank and Betty etc…etc… From there I would make a contrived narrative leap over to Idle Hour Barnes where miraculously I would mirror these iconic figures with you lot, and this inexpensive literary technique would make you all feel a bit better about yourselves, thereby convincing you to spend a bit more money and consequently securing my position as a viable financial option. Yes, I was going to do all the above. I was. In spades. But then I saw the stats.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Oooh, get him! Has one bad week and he throws all his toys out.’ Well, no. I’m sorry, I thought we were all adults here and, frankly, that’s just a cheap shot. I expected so much more from you. And anyway, it’s not just about my so-called ‘bad week’, is it? It’s about love, it’s about respect and it’s about…er… Actually, screw it. It IS about my ‘bad week’. You want quality? Well, quality costs. And right here is where you start paying.

Idle Eye 17 : The Size of Things to Come

In a time of unprecedented selfishness it was comforting to learn that Australian Patriarch Ken Grenda has decided to split huge profits from the sale of his 66 year-old bus company with his staff. All 1800 of them. Strewth! Can you imagine Fred the Shred doing that back in the good ole days of RBS?

Sir Fred* : (to room) Are we all in? Oh good. Well, you’re probably wondering why I’ve asked you to assemble here today and I’ll not beat about the bush. This year we made a record profit of ten billion pounds. Ten billion! That’s a lot of billions. And it got me to thinking that I could not have done it without your tireless support, your hard graft and your willingness to think outside the box when times were tough. So thank you all and, er, goodbye.

Staff : Sorry?

Sir Fred* : Nothing to be sorry about. Your sacrifice has put RBS right back on track. So buy yourselves a wee drinkie and remember : You did it once, you can do it again. And feel free to drop a few coins in the pension pot on your way out. Every little helps.

Grenda’s heartwarming generosity is made all the more poignant because he’s the little guy made good. His third-generation family business succeeded where so many multinational corporations have failed because he cared for & respected the people who put him on the map and, finally, rewarded them in a way that would be unthinkable to those in the corridors of power. He cut them in. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there somewhere, and not necessarily about the distribution of wealth :

The Idle Hour was realised almost eleven years ago. I remember it well. Nibs, Da Mudda and myself scrubbing floors, hanging pictures, architecting the lavs etc.. but the most potent thrill of all, particularly for Nibs, was the notion that it could make a difference. The pubs in the vicinity at that time were tired, languid affairs that gave you little incentive to leap up from Buffy and go out. I think, and I know I am partisan, that the Idle Hour upped the game considerably, and it did so because it thought small. Why spread the love too thin when you can pile it on over a lesser circumference that appreciates the effort so much more? And the very thing that makes it special is its size. Go figure…

So, Sir Fred*. Sorry about today, really, sorry. It’s a bitch when you lose a gong, don’t we all know it? But maybe when you’re not shooting peasants in Spain or fast-tracking it with Max, you can take stock for five minutes and think about where you went wrong. Hey, maybe even start again. But this time, take a bit of advice from the little guys. The Nibs’s and the Grendas of this world. And maybe this time you won’t screw it up for the rest of us.

*Not Sir Fred