Idle Eye 89 : The Infernal Loop of Leeds

When faced with events too harrowing to compute, the human brain slows everything around it down to a manageable speed, whilst enormous quantities of adrenalin are simultaneously secreted around the body in order to cope with any potential trauma. It is an extraordinarily sophisticated defence mechanism, initiated unconsciously and, for the most part, it works. But not always. Yesterday, I went to Leeds.

I’ll begin with a caveat. If you, like me, have ever had faith in the notion that the fragile infrastructure of the UK’s urban planning will always be driven by some of the greatest minds in the field, think again: It’s not. Anyone who has had the poor fortune of attempting to navigate the West Riding’s principal settlement by car will back me up on this. Leeds City Centre is a vast, sprawling metropolis that has unsuccessfully stitched the very old to the very new, and neither one of them is gonna budge when it comes to compromise. How very Yorkshire! So when councillors Cox and Evans got involved with the CAD kids to keep the traffic flowing, the result was, and still is, one of the most appalling, dehumanising travesties of our time.

On arrival, it looks pretty slick. All the major arteries head neatly towards the centre, but before you know it you are force-fed into the obscenity that is the Loop. Here, the satanic offspring of Hieronymus Bosch and JG Ballard has been made flesh in the most destructive pact since the Coalition. Previous motorists, who have failed to correctly negotiate the Albert Speer-inspired horrorshow they have unwittingly stumbled upon, lie in various states of decomposition inside the cabs of their own vehicles, some taken violently by bitter, frustrated passengers and others by their own hand, the alternative being more of the same. And why is this? Well, put simply, because it is IMPOSSIBLE to get to wherever it is you need to be:

Me:  I’d like to go over there, please.

Loop:  Certainly. Now, veer off in the opposite direction until you come to a roundabout the size of Switzerland. You have approximately 0.6 seconds to decide which one of eight possible exits to take. All the signs will be at least 150 metres above the road and the traffic will be baying for your blood, so probably best to wing it. Oh dear, you’ve taken the by-road to Wakefield. Unfortunately you now have to drive 1.6 miles to the next exit and come back the opposite way. No, not down there, that’s for buses and HGVs and will take you into the pedestrianised zone. Reverse down this one way street until you come to the next feed. Yes, it is busy so be careful. I’m afraid you’ll just have to head towards Ilkley until you come to another roundabout. I know, there’s loads of them. When you’ve worked out which one I’m referring to, get into the left lane. Oh, you’re in the right lane and there’s four others to cross. Never mind, just do what everyone else does: Pull up onto the verge, kick the crap out of your car, kick the crap out of anyone in the vicinity and weep like a baby. No amount of adrenalin can save you now…

And yes, it’s true: The whole shebang happens in torturous slow motion. It’s her absolute, magnificent slap in the face. In Leeds, no-one can hear you scream.

Idle Eye 88 : The Indignity of Labour

Every year at around this time, I am thrown into a state of physical and mental inertia by a small metal box that lives on my desk. Any freelancers reading this will inherently understand what I’m on about here because, if they’re honest, so are they. I’m talking, of course, about doing the annual accounts. It is a vile task that cannot be ignored, cannot be sexed up and involves the same kind of soulless, repetitive labour previously employed in the Soviet gulags. It throws up a brutal mirror to the fact that your year wasn’t exactly peppered with exotic pursuits and devil-may-care decision making, and the foolscap brown envelope brimful with countless train tickets to the same destination never fails to rub salt into the wound.

Accountants are no fools: They know what you’re like, which is why they give you that October deadline when everyone knows the suits don’t want your meagre offerings until the end of January. So, eventually, you cover your living room floor (immaculately vacuumed several times previous as a diversion tactic) in tatty slivers of paper, pouring over them with increasingly powerful reading glasses for the date that rubbed off months ago in your wallet. And when you’ve finally got the little bastards into some kind of shape and downed a conciliatory bottle of NZ Marlborough Pinot Noir, you remember that the worst is yet to come and you are now in no fit state to take it on: The spreadsheet.

No-one in their right mind likes spreadsheets. They are the embodiment of every value you ever despised (and made you go into that badly paid but wildly creative job you somehow manage to hold down) in the first place. Spreadsheets suck the will to live from every orifice you have that still works. And they were almost certainly invented by Amon Goeth to drag mankind down into a well of despair and hopelessness. So, you are now caught in a classic Catch-22: In order to tackle the final hurdle it is imperative that you unscrew another bottle but the minute you do, that mañana moment will be upon you and you will see, with perfect clarity, the futility of your intended endeavour and that all those receipts from Oddbins & Majestic that you shredded yesterday could probably have been seen as a legitimate business expense. Oh the irony!

As I write this, I am painfully aware that we are already halfway through October. It will take me approximately three full days to complete it all and approximately half a case of wine. I could have done it last week when I had a couple of days off but I did hoovering instead. And cleaned the hob. These are the depths of depravity one is prepared to trawl when faced with a more appalling alternative, and it says something profound about the human condition and the indignity of labour. Although I’m not quite sure what…

Idle Eye 87 : The Quantitative Theory of Stuff

Contrary to popular belief, the trouble with getting on a bit has not so much to do with the various bits of you packing up, but that the grey bits you actually have left are already at capacity. They’re maxed out. Overloaded. Which means that if you so choose to bring something fresh on board, say a critically-acclaimed movie or this year’s page-turner, you have to bin an existing item to make room. You’d think this would be pretty straightforward, wouldn’t you? Out with the old, in with the new, and everything ticks along nicely, right? Wrong.

Why so, you ask? Well, the ageing brain does not give up its data lightly, oh no. It’s a hoarder. So when the new kids on the block come a-knockin’, it balks like a reluctant dog with his special stick. Let me give you an example: Last week, I made the mistake of telling a younger colleague that I had never listened to One Direction. Not once. No space for any direction now, I explained, it’s all filled up with grown-up business. This did not go down well:

Youth:  You serious?

Me:  Absolutely. Don’t judge me, it’s just what happens. You’ll understand one day.

Youth:  But they are huuuuge!!! And OD make more dough in a day than you’ll get in your lifetime, grandad!

Me:  Apparently so. How do you think that makes me feel?

Youth:  Old/sad?

Me:  Now look. I know this is going to be hard for you to take in, but it’s just stuff. And I’ve got years and years of stuff rattling around in there. It’s got nothing to do with One Direction: I’ve never listened to Taylor Swift, never listened to JLS, never listened to Miley Cyrus. And you’d probably think it a bit odd if I had. I’m in my forties and, I’ll be frank with you, they’re all shit. So why would I even bother?

Youth:  Nothing to do with them being shit, man. Just being current. You’ll understand one day.

Touché. But I look forward to the day when her head is rammed to bursting with crucial stuff she just can’t let go of, and I can struggle out of my wheelchair if and when we next meet, twerk along to the dulcet tones of ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ and embarrass the crap out of her in front of her children. And if, for some strange reason, she has difficulty with this, I will recite, word perfect, the lyrics to ‘Bye Bye Baby’ by the Bay City Rollers and illustrate with a graph (or whatever Jonathan Ive equivalent is around at the time) the cyclical nature of the Quantitative Theory of Stuff. And maybe, just maybe, she will become aware of the sheer joy available to those who can shed the present. I hope to be high on that particular list.

Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.