Idle Eye 129 : The Sound of Sirens

I thought long and hard about using this title. Really, I did. Because the point of this week’s whimsy is all about having the tinnitus, working opposite a Chelsea hospital and the lunacy of having a coma-inducing klaxon attached to vehicles designated specifically for our care. However, I had another look and thought better of it. If you haven’t already spotted the reason why, let me elucidate: The Sound of Sirens could so easily be misconstrued as a weak attempt at impersonating a Chinese person having a go at one of the songs of Simon and Garfunkel. Particularly if I followed it with “Harrow Duck Nest Marrow Fren”, which obviously I would have avoided. Yes, I know: It has nothing to do with the subject matter and you probably wouldn’t have made the connection if I hadn’t drawn your attention to it, but it’s out there now and you can’t be too careful these days.

But then it occurred to me that the very inclusion of the reasons I decided against it could equally be read as divisive, in a similar way that someone like Clarkson throws in a defamatory remark and quantifies it by apologising for a lesser crime than the one he has actually committed. Which finds me between a rock and a hard place. Should I have the courage of my original conviction, or should I edit myself into ever-decreasing circles, based almost exclusively on my nascent understanding of what you enjoy reading here every week? A Sophie’s Choice, basically, and I fear whichever I go for will inevitably be wrong as per.

Anyway, I’m getting off-piste. Today, one of those bloody things shot past me as I made my way to purchase a coffee over my morning break and my ears are still ringing as I write this. It’s the lunacy of having a coma-inducing klaxon on vehicles designated specifically for our care, make no mistake. Er, and that’s it, pretty much. I was hoping to go on to mention healthcare cuts, key worker issues etc…and somehow make it all funny, but you’ve got no idea: Every time I think of something relevant, I am utterly distracted by chronic feedback between the lugholes and I just get in a strop and forget about whatever it was that I had in mind in the first place.

Cameron, this is all your doing: I was good before you got in. Just give the NHS enough moolah to replace those appalling style-over-content American wailers with good old-fashioned Z-Cars ones from yesteryear and I’ll do my best to be entertaining again. There are people out there relying on me, and the last thing they want is weekly derivative crap forced upon them by your swingeing policies and my deteriorating hearing. And, in case you’re wondering, the title has got nothing to do with our friends across the water. Or The Graduate. Got that? Good.

Idle Eye 128 : The Turn of the Screw

It started with Mary Poppins. Perfectly harmless, but the seed was sown. When I didn’t baulk at that, the bar was incrementally raised: Doctor Doolittle/The Jungle Book/Oliver/Bugsy Malone, even Camelot (which was really quite grown-up). Still I did not flinch. Then the heavy artillery: Cabaret/Grease/Jesus Christ Superstar/New York, New York/A Star is Born. I took umbrage at the latter, my tender sensibilities already affronted by the vulgarity of Hollywood pizzazz. But still they kept on coming: Evita/A Chorus Line/That’s Dancing. And then I knew. How could I continue to live this lie? The sleepless nights, the deception, those red velvet trousers I had always secretly despised? No, the time had come: I had to tell my mother I was straight:

Mother:  Oh, don’t be ridiculous!

Me:  Ma, I am. I think I always have been. I’m sorry.

Mother:  It’s probably just a phase, dear. Lots of boys your age go through it. Now, settle down and I’ll pop on some Barbara Streisand.

Me:  Please don’t. I’m serious about this.

Mother:  Of course you are. Let’s have a cup of tea and you can tell me all about it.

Me:  You’re not listening to me, Ma. I’m straight. And no amount of cups of tea or Barbara Streisand will change that.

Mother:  Yes yes yes! No need to shout. Now, I’ve been flicking through the papers and they’re showing West Side Story again at the Ritzy on Saturday. Thought we might…

Me:  You’re just not getting it, are you? I don’t want to see West Side Story, I don’t want to see The Sound of Music and, to be frank, I don’t want to see any more musicals. Ever. Again. Do you understand?

Mother:  I’ve seen you watching Cabaret alone in your room. And singing along.

Me:  Cabaret is different. The narrative is the driving force behind that film, and the music just so happens to be great as well. But without the former, they’re just songs looking for a vessel. The combination of the two is a heady mix. It’s the unsurpassed, bitter-sweet genius of Bob Fosse.

Mother:  See?

Me:  See what? Look, just because I like Cabaret does not make me gay, ok? You’re just going to have to get used to it.

Mother:  But…but what will I do?

Me:  I know it’s hard for you right now. But lots of straight men go on to lead happy, fulfilled lives and I’m determined to be one of them. I just want you to be happy for me. Do you think you can do that?

Mother:  Yes…I think so. But are you sure? I mean, have you actually tried it? You know…

Me:  Yes, I have.

Mother:  Oh God…(sobs)…I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry!

Me:  Please don’t be, Ma. It’s ok, really. And I think, given time, you’ll come to love Echo & the Bunnymen as well. They’re super on stage, and you’ll die for the hairstyles.

Idle Eye 127 : (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

The trouble with hitting your middle years, apart from the incessant failings of the body’s risible infrastructure, is the creeping awareness of one’s own mortality. No-one tells you precisely when that middle point is either. It would be terrific if, at the exact median of your time on Earth, they gave you a ticker-tape parade with a brass band and silver watch and street bunting or something. With a desperately shy homecoming queen landing you a big kiss and an iced cake with ‘NOT LONG NOW’ piped onto the top. But they don’t, largely because they’re terrified of being sued for getting it wrong. These are litigious times.

And yet, as we march relentlessly towards the final curtain, the signs are all around us: That unexpected Alzheimers mailshot, being offered a seat on public transport (despite not being saturated in wee), feeling at ease in a Wetherspoons, caring about socks and the longevity of footwear, enjoying a butterscotch. All these incremental details are nature’s way of letting us know we’re on the slide, and that we had better start making the most of what we have left. It isn’t pretty, but what is when you don’t know where you are on the scale? Should we start making arrangements? Making that list of inappropriate tunes to be played out on the day of our memorial? Or should we just leave it to chance? It’s a lottery, make no mistake.

I’m working in a church right now, filled with saints and sacraments, effigies of the martyred Christ and his attendants, and endless reminders of the transience of existence. Just to give myself a breather, I take my sandwiches to Brompton Cemetery, alone and surrounded by the gravestones of those who, like me, used to take a lunch break somewhere before the reaper claimed them. The difference being that I’m the only one around who can clock it for now, until it’s my turn to be posthumously observed by some beardy berk with an artisan bloomer stuffed to the gunnels with halloumi and alfalfa sprouts. Even the stone carvers who meticulously chiselled out their client names & places of departure into marble or alabaster are no longer with us. You can’t fight it: It’s the inevitable cycle of life and death, and we’re all on board.

So what’s the point here? Perhaps, like Sally Bowles’s ex-flatmate Elsie in the movie Cabaret, it is to live every day as if it were your last (there is very little in that film that will not inform your every move at a cataclysmic level). Do something brave: Go see Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey? Who knows, it might be life changing. Eat something weird. Fly off to somewhere you’ve never heard of and stay there a few days. Walk to work. Chat to strangers. Do yourselves a favour just for once. Because the halfway mark may be long since gone. And you don’t get a second chance.