Idle Eye 58 : The British Aisles

I went to Sainsburys today. Not a dramatic admission, granted, but worthy of inclusion here because it got me to thinking about the fragile infrastructure that divides the connoisseur of fine beverages with significant alcohol content and your more Hogarthian consumer. And let’s be honest, it’s a pretty fine line. Let me clear this one up a bit for the benefit of any readership that may have already embarked on their own personal journey:

Of all the aisles of one’s supermarket of choice, the couple that supply the grape and the grain are surely the most well trodden. Here there exists a curiously British microclimate, quite unlike any other. Grown men dramatically slow as they approach this particular section, their velocity utterly dependent on whether they are shopping alone or with a significant other. If it is the former, you can be fairly confident that a brewers ‘vintage ale’ will slip itself into the basket and be justified at a later time. Approximately 8.5% volume and in a presentation box to boot. Sweet.

From here, you leisurely browse the higher shelves, occasionally releasing the odd bottle for closer inspection. To the untrained eye this appears to be the hallmark of experience, but to the seasoned drinker all the signs are there. A deft handspin clearly suggests that the vintner has erroneously slapped alcohol volume to the rear, whilst the inclusion of two or more bottles of the same product almost certainly signifies some kind of sordid bin end deal, from which neither distributor nor end user comes up smelling of roses.

Next up is hard liquor, always a tough one. These shimmering beauties in their idiosyncratic shapes and sizes, all vying for your attention, require more than a modicum of discipline if you are to make it through the rest of the day unscathed. Probably best to give them a wide berth but, Santa Maria, they so have your balls in a vice. Maybe just this small Italian one, distilled by monks in mountain ranges many miles from civilisation? Or perhaps this square one from Tennessee, originally conceived by a philanthropic hillbilly with a beard as long as your arm? Go on, you know you want to, and what’s the worst that can happen? And then there’s the agony of the mixer. The one that’s been around since the 70’s usually does the trick, but right next to it there’s another that says it’s organic, natural and poured over the thighs of virgins for added flavour. Probably. Screw it, it’s going in x12.

It is at this point you become aware that you are not alone. A young man with facial growth that needs a little more time has clocked your basket and is shooting you a look. Pity. His own brims full with tins of own-brand cider, total value of which is one thirtieth of yours. But here, in this sacred space, all discrepancies bleed into themselves and alcohol, just this once, becomes the great leveller.

Idle Eye 57 : The Eyes Have It

Ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper I’ve been monstrously short-sighted. Of course, when it first happens you are blissfully ignorant of nature’s slight until such time as your mother clocks you barging into furniture or, in my case, not spotting her entering the room when under a chaise longue with a stolen hoard of the stepfather’s Playboys. (Yes, we had a chaise longue. Get over it.) Anyway, shortly afterwards I was given a confidence-busting pair of Elvis Costello’s courtesy of the NHS at the exact same time as things began to drop downstairs. This was obviously unacceptable to a young adult drenched in Hi Karate as it severely compromised my chances with Farrah Fawcett-Majors and made it almost impossible to wear headphones in bed: Something had to give.

Five years later, I was given an appointment with Dr Richards at Guildford Road. And, thanks to the wonders of modern ocular technology, I was eventually able to discard those ridiculous billboards of inadequacy for something far more suitable. Sexy, even. From that moment on no-one would ever know that I couldn’t read the body copy of a cornflakes packet less than a metre from my own face. I had contact lenses, for Christ’s sake! Now I was carnally available. Any time. Anywhere. But sadly, this was not to be. Even Nibs, with whom I shared a bedroom, barely registered acknowledgement and he certainly was not my target market.

Fast forward another thirty years and you discover a man who has not moved on. Those two tiny slivers of translucent plastic are still the vehicle through which I decipher the world, and now they are scratched, world weary and begging for change. So, finally, I have decided to listen. On 2nd March of this the year 2013, some bloke called Mr Patel in Shaftesbury Avenue is going to digitally zap the fuck out of my vile jellies and I shall have my road to Damascus moment at last. Unless he buggers it up, of course, in which case you are reading the fifth last post here. Needless to say, one of my main concerns was how this would compromise my bohemian lifestyle in both the short & long term, but according to the Trevithick Laboratory, it turns out that the sustained intake of New Zealand Marlborough Pinot Noir (2008-2011) appears to protect the mitochondria cells which stop you getting cataracts. Who’d have thunk it?

There is, however, a small bridge between now and then, and we do have the Idle Hour Burns Night ahead of us. Now, I don’t wish to appear presumptuous, but if you do happen to come across someone looking like an outpatient from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, may I ask you to have a small word with Nibs and convince him I’ll be needing a complimentary tipple for medicinal purposes. And if he balks, maybe mention that I’ll be getting a room of my own soon.


Idle Eye 56 : The More That I See, The Less I Believe

Hello again. Yeah I know, it’s been a while but, to be fair, there’s been a hefty portion on our collective plate, no? Show a little compassion, per-lease! First up there was that Mayan business which led me to believe there was little point in writing to you lot when the world as we knew it was going to be ripped apart from its very tits. Hot on the heels of that was Christmas, over which I was going to give you a massive end of year special (one third completed) about the horrors of the High Street and shopping for trees, but then I succumbed to the Winter Virus thingy which had me hallucinating like Timothy Leary in front of an arsenal of Carry On movies, wrapped in a dog blanket, as the rest of my family enjoyed Nibs’s hospitality at Idle Hour Barnes on the big day. Sod’s Law. (It wasn’t the Norovirus you’ll no doubt be delighted to hear, but plenty of entertaining emissions were enjoyed nonetheless.)

I briefly raised myself from my pit for New Year, over which I made it over to Chipping Norton on a personal quest to spot Rebekah Brooks and Jeremy Clarkson in their natural habitat, sadly dashed as they were both at the bank. And then back to London for the astonishing news that, according to BBC sources, the Duchess of Cambridge will be squirting out our future monarch in July (if they get those pesky rules sorted by then), and it is likely to be ‘either a boy or a girl’. Now, I know the beeb are paddling the creek with their bare hands at present, but on occasions like these I do not begrudge them my licence fee, particularly now as someone’s going to have to cough up for Rolf after the bodge they made of her portrait.

In other news, it has been heartening to learn that MP’s have called for a 32% pay hike for lolling about inside one of our premier historic buildings, getting messy on subsidised booze & shouting at each other across a green carpet. It’s austerity, innit? And, oh my stars, it’s nice to have Berlusconi back in the picture, don’t you think? For a moment there I thought Italy would have to survive on its back catalogue of exotic pasta and holiday resorts for the Milliband set.

And now we’re balls deep into 2013. Older, wiser and tugging the tunic of the grim reaper. But fear not, friends! Together we’ll surf whatever tide comes our way and, if you can forgive me February (the month I dull the trousers off of you all because I’m off the sauce again), we will rise again, stronger, leaner, fitter…

Actually, you know what you’re going to get. More of the same. Some of it shite, some not. And quite a lot with Nibs in it, because that’s the whole point. Thanks for sticking around: It’s going to be an outstanding year.