Idle Eye 75 : The Cost Company

So anyway, Nibs and I are burning down the M4 at 121mph (on the way back from yet another trip to Wales), when he drops it in that we have to make a slight detour. Oh no, I’m thinking, is it a special lady friend? Or perhaps the steed needs a quick pit stop? Either of which will add a significant portion of gooseberry to my day. But, as it turns out, it was neither. As we approached Reading, the car re-orbited and we snaked our way through faceless, municipal landscaped roundabouts and grounded ourselves at the trolley park of what appeared to be yet another temple of worship to consumer greed. Every hackle that hadn’t already been irreversibly müllered by alcohol immediately rose up, but my fears were shortly to be assuaged: This was different. This was the future.

Have you ever been to one of these places? These vast cathedrals of corrugated aluminium that house your every culinary peccadillo and a few more besides? And for stupid money, as long as you’ve got an outhouse or live inside an Escher print? Well neither had I, but the minute I walked through the door they had me by the balls. For a start, right there in the foyer, they had delicious Apple stuff which had me salivating like a Cupertino campus nerd, but then as we crossed into widescreen an astonishing array of palleted goods, piled as high as the eye can feasibly take in, burst into ocular wonder. Over there on the left were thousands of discounted cases of NZ Marlborough Pinot Noir, and yet there on the right were more triple packs of Calvin Klein underpants than you could shake a stick at.

But this was just for starters: Mountains of Haribo, rivers of tequila and more snout than Strangeways all beckoned with their irresistible charms. And, in case you weren’t yet up to speed, helpful smiley staff clad in red and white were all there to assist with their immaculate speed-of-light timing of which I took full advantage:

‘Hello, could you help? I’m trying to figure out the sheet 2 wipe ratio saving I could make from your Syrian Red Cross Convenience industrial strength loo rolls?’

‘Certainly, Sir! Our statistics, based on an amalgam of the global meridian and the sheet 2 wipe average in your area suggest that you’ll be making a saving of approximately 7.2 pence per go. You have a nice day now.’

These guys were so on it I nearly wept. And, as Nibs and I swept through checkout, laden with a cargo utterly denied to those outside the club, I felt it necessary to fall to my knees and beg my own brother to sign me up. Which, bless him, he did, after making me watch him consume a hot dog and a litre of fizzy pop at £1.45 from the in-store café. Vile but necessary, as them French Resistance chicks would have said.

Idle Eye 74 : The Illusion of Intimacy

One of the clichés that gets endlessly bandied around by the self-help books when you embark on any form of writing is that you have to find your voice. Presumably because if you don’t, you’ll be using someone else’s and we can’t have that. Right, Noel Gallagher? Well, fortunately for you lot, I don’t seem to have that problem and I shall briefly demonstrate why:

Have a quick re-read of the above. Done it yet? Good. That’s my voice, that is. Right there. And the best bit is I didn’t even have to look for it! It was there all along. What a stroke of luck!

Perhaps what they mean by this is that there is a development of some kind of trust, a bond if you will, between donor and recipient. If the latter believes the former is credible, they are more likely to roll over & have their stomach tickled by somebody they have faith in. Which, sadly, leaves the donor in a position of power and the recipient vulnerable to exploitation. Are you with me? No? Ok, let me put it another way:

Has anyone noticed the rather toxic surge of informal fonts in advertising of late? And if so, ever asked yourselves why? Well, hear ye: It’s the printed equivalent of dress-down Friday, when the message can be pushed just as ruthlessly but in an ever-so-casual stylee. Take those wretched smoothie/ice cream cartons, all lower-case and loved up like they’re your slightly nauseating mate from back in the day, when anyone who went to school knows they just want to get into your wallet. And yet we buy this stuff despite ourselves because the alternative is brutal hard-sell, an even less authentic technique that went out with the ark.

Nibs and I have differing opinions on the above. His signature scrawl at the bottom of your menus could be construed as the same but in his case I’ll look the other way: He’s not cynically getting you to fund a second Tuscan villa (mainly because he doesn’t have a first one), and I do reluctantly admit that the colloquial approach he has adopted suits his one man and a pub business MO pretty well. But, for the most part, I find the whole ‘hail fellow well met’ corporate thing deeply disingenuous because it gives the illusion of intimacy where none exists. A bit like American tellers wishing you a fervent good day when they wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you got struck by lightning in the car park afterwards. Sorry, parking lot.

Anyway, that’s enough rhetoric for today. I’d like to use the last paragraph to thank you all for joining me on this little journey of words. Without you it never could have happened and you know why? Because you’re special. Each and every one of you. So keep telling yourselves that. Because you are. Really. See you next week xxx

Idle Eye 73 : The Manner Born

Ok, that’s enough misery porn for now. Whilst I’m touched that you’ve doubled my hit rate over the last couple of weeks, the time has come for us to move on, grab whatever remains of our time on the planet and wring it for all its worth. And now that I’ve got a few more of you on board, perhaps I can cynically manipulate your touching empathy into full-blown, squalid addiction to the kind of weekly whimsy you can normally expect to find here. Let’s face it, it’s a brutal old world and your humble blogger, being the lowest of the low on the battlefield of journalism, must resort to any means necessary.

Anyway, Nibs and I have been down in Wales for the past few days. Quite strange really, going through the things our father left behind that add up to a life. Small things, touching things, insignificant things. Things of value. Distressing things. But all just things, nonetheless. And we had agreed, as a family, that we wouldn’t take anything until such time as we all felt less raw about it. But then, as Nibs searched the kitchen cupboards for something vaguely edible and I squirrelled about in the cellar for a bottle of wine, I hauled up a bottle of Chateau Leoville Barton 1998. ‘Bit good for packet pasta’, he went, ‘but have it if you want to.’ Now, anyone who knows me (or indeed had the poor fortune to read Idle Eye 20 : The Liquorice Nose) will implicitly understand how little these few words actually meant: If it’s red and it stays down usually means it’s past the post in my book. But, bowing to his superior knowledge of grape and the grain and my nascent understanding of his extensive wine list, I did indeed take it home.

Having a decent drop indoors is not unlike entertaining the Landed Gentry: You know you can’t treat him like all the others, but your frame of reference is somewhat limited and you don’t want to make a tit of yourself. Do I lay him down? And if so, for how long? Will he get upset that I don’t actually have a cellar and he’s reduced to hanging out with the proletariats next to the microwave? What exactly is the correct manner of address? And, as a vegetarian, will he blow a gasket if I skip the rack of lamb and opt instead for a family bag of Twiglets and a ramekin of humous? All these concerns of propriety had me scouring the net for hours. And, sadly, they just made matters worse: How will I know when the bastard has opened up? And when he’s forward on my tongue? Let’s face it, if you’re prepared to down a two-for-ten carstarter, the above has never applied and is never likely to. In the words of the late Bill Hicks, I’m like a dog being shown a card trick.

So, watch this space: London Luddite in Wine Legacy Shock. Coming soon to a tabloid near you.

Idle Eye 72 : The Next One

Being the offspring of a much-loved actor brings with it its own unique yet contradictory set of rules: You kind of choose the ones which seem to be most appropriate as you go. One minute you’re getting a guilty kick from all the reflected glory, the next you’re on the receiving end of astonishingly articulate and targeted cruelty. But don’t worry, it’s not real. He didn’t mean it. But somewhere along the line you have to second-guess which one is authentic and accept, for good or for bad, that that is the man. Then you try to love him: Not always as easy as it sounds.

You see, the problem with the profession is that in order to be good at it, you have to learn all the little tricks that allow you to successfully transform the nucleus of self into the embryonic form that lies within the script. And when you get better at it, these boundaries get blurred. Indeed, it is widely considered to be at the top echelons of achievement if you can pull this off. Which is fine within these confines, less so when the cameras have stopped rolling and the adulation on tap goes home for the night. Perhaps then, you introduce a little of the artifice into the domestic environment to keep the high going. And if it feels good, you introduce a little more. And slowly, very slowly, you begin to lose the very fabric that constitutes your true original.

For many actors, the above is a conscious choice: The Frankencharacters they create are often preferable to the reality deep within. But somewhere in there, they know what they’re doing and if they’re honest, they don’t much like themselves for it. The ennui this throws up needs an outlet, usually in the form of loved ones inside their immediate orbit as they will inevitably be the most forgiving. However, as any other child or spouse of someone in this process will tell you, it is the glimpse of authenticity we crave, however fleeting. Something concrete. Something honest. Otherwise who (or what) do we mourn when they go?

On Tuesday, we sent my Dad off to the Next One. First, in solemnity, at Mortlake Crematorium, and afterwards with a glass at the Idle Hour which Nibs closed for the wake. And it occurred to me, as I tried to keep a handle on contradictory emotions and maintain the kind of decorum expected of a firstborn, that I may have been doing exactly the same. That I was playing the role (rather well, in fact), instead of actually feeling it. And there was a moment in the garden when I looked around at the assorted guests and realised that the sum of those present did indeed make up the whole of the man: Everyone there represented a small strand, as did I, and that’s exactly how he chose to leave it. But a part of me will always yearn for the core. Even now.