Idle Eye 137 : The Worst Drink of the Day

I hate tea. Quite why it has been adopted as the nation’s drink of choice is totally beyond me, seeing as pretty much anything else that’s liquid and stays down would be infinitely preferable. Let’s not beat about the bush: In its raw state, it looks (and tastes) as if it has been strained though your grandmother’s underpants. Then you add milk (as if that’s going to help), and when it’s made, perfectly normal people from right across the class spectrum make weird, contented sighs over the duration of its consumption as if to say that life, up until this point, has been a bit much. “Best drink of the day”, they go. Utter balls! Stick around with me & I’ll show you a belter come 6pm.

Three drinks that are better than tea. Fact!

  1. New Zealand Marlborough Pinot Noir
  2. Your own sick
  3. Someone else’s sick

You know, the bit that gets me is when they say “Ooh, I’m dying for a cuppa.” I could understand it if they were after a triple shot of wormwood-laden absinthe with a vermouth chaser, but tea? Really? It’s just so…lame! So, why exactly have we embraced this muck to our collective bosom? Well, as with most things, it’s a long story which I shall attempt to condense for you here. If you want proper facts, there’s always Wikipedia:

  1. Chinese accidentally discover it ages ago
  2. Portuguese nick it from Chinese
  3. Dutch nick it from Portuguese
  4. Brits nick it from Dutch
  5. It’s British. No argument. Like curry

The rest is history. There’s a bit of faffing about with taxes and the East India Company, but for the most part we stuck our flag right there in the middle of the pot and pretended to like the stuff. I blame that Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, who made it fashionable and got hooked on it, dozy mare. A bit like Diana and marital infidelity, and look how that’s taken off. Only problem was, the proles had gotten a taste for it as well, and curiously, it was offered as an alternative to the demon grog at temperance meetings. Now, I’ve never attended a temperance meeting (probably not for me), but I’d imagine that tea really isn’t going to cut the mustard when you’re bug-eyed, frothing at the gills & threatening violence to anyone in the vicinity without an almost full bottle of pinot to hand. But what do I know?

And so to the present. I concede I must kowtow to the social mores of our time if I wish to succeed in my chosen field, but I shall do so on my own terms. A short cup of coffee, brutally strong and infused with one of those flavoured syrups, is more than enough to see off the competition. Preferably in sync with a couple of fags. And to those who see this as a crass invasion of tradition, hear ye:

“We do not have to accept the world as we find it” – Ed Miliband

Idle Eye 136 : The Naan Busters

It is 19.45 in the picturesque market town of Sherborne, northwest Dorset. I sit alone in a curry restaurant, waiting for an entry-level jalfrezi to arrive and listening to chutney classics from behind an MDF-constructed jali, separating me from the next booth. And I am midway through authentically enjoying an authentic Indian lager brewed in Luton, when Grant and Phil Mitchell (sic) burst into the neon with a disgruntled lady in tow, demanding a table:

Phil:  Oi Oi! Haas abaht a bladdy ruby, me ole cobber?

Grant:  And make it sharpish! We’re proper Hank Marvin!

Waiter:  Good evening, gentlemen! Taking a seat, thank you please.

Phil:  And the missus wants it girly tonight ‘cos…

Both:  She caan’t handle it!!! (peals of hysteria)

The gruesome threesome are ushered to the next table (despite the restaurant being completely without custom bar my own) and begin to peruse the menu. Tonight, Phil will opt for a vegetable thali (because he’s been suffering from meat sweats), six masala poppadums, three naan breads, an assortment of side dishes (curiously, almost exclusively meat-based), and several pints of said authentic beverage. Grant, on the other hand, is taking no prisoners. He’s having one that “blows yer bladdy doors off” and a plate of chips to complement. And several pints of same, natch.

Grant:  And daan’t hang abaht, neeva!

My vantage point behind the screen allows me a discreet glimpse at Phil’s long-suffering bride (let’s call her Goldilocks, even though she’s a brunette). She is caught deep inside a vortex of bravado and common sense, knowing the evening’s outcome depends heavily on her choice of dish: Too mild, and she faces mockery on a scale hitherto uncharted. Too hot, and…well, probably the same but at least she’ll be spared the Ring of Fire. But she cannot drag her heels, for the waiter is hovering:

Waiter:  And for you, madam please?

Goldilocks:  I’ll…er…What do you recommend that ain’t too ‘ot?

Waiter:  For you, the chicken korma, madam. Very popular, thanking you please.

Goldilocks:  Go on, then. I’ll ‘ave one of ‘em.

Phil:  A korma? Wassa blaady point in that?

Grant:  She’s a woman, Phil. Don’t you know nuffin’ ?

Phil:  Samtimes I wander what I bladdy see in ‘er, you know what?

And so it goes on. However, Goldilocks’s ritual humiliation is cut mercifully short thanks to the timely arrival of Phil’s poppadums, which he proceeds to fill to bursting with the complimentary pickles. This has the secondary effect of creating a brief lull in conversation, for in order to save face, Grant cannot be seen to be siding with the enemy. To bridge the gap, he gestures through the screen in my approximate direction, as if to coax me into his nirvana:

Grant:  Oi Oi, mate! How goes?

Experience has taught me never to engage in such affairs, no matter how alluring. With my cover now blown, I make a hasty beeline towards the bar and settle my bill, leaving an unnecessarily healthy tip to secure my anonymity. Although Phil, it seems, already has me down:

Phil:  ‘Kin nonce.

Idle Eye 135 : The Thing About Charlie

Have a look at the mast drawing above. That’s me, that is. Drunk, scribbling unrecognisable nonsense as per, wide-eyed & tousled, inappropriately attired for a man of my age and surrounded by semi-mythical beasts which may or may not represent the muses I wrestle with on a weekly basis. All contained in one simple statement with the site name teetering on the verge of collapse above me. How very apposite. When I briefed Dan back in 2011, I knew I wanted a sketch rather than a designed header with slick typography, because the best ones condense all the relevant information into a single visual hit. No frills, no waste, and therein lies the power.

I bring this up for two reasons: Firstly, and primarily, because current news events that cannot have escaped anyone’s attention have brought it into sharp focus. And whilst I won’t be drawn into spouting cause and effect rhetoric (this is not the place), it does demonstrate just how incisive the pen can be. Satire, by its very nature, apes and distorts its targets to drive the point home, which is why it sits so (un)comfortably with the cartoonist. Perhaps photography is too ‘real’ to get under the skin in quite the same way. Charlie Hebdo knows this all too well, hence their medium of choice. It’s quick, brutal and it takes no prisoners.

On the exact same day of the attacks in Paris, I was with six artists (amongst others) in a wine bar in central London, revitalising an idea that has been in limbo for a year or two now. It was also my birthday, and fuelled by copious quantities of Hungarian Pinot Noir (the kind that strengthens the resolve the more of it you have), I dared to ask for contributions towards an illustrated book of this here blog. And, no doubt for the same reasons, they were granted. In less than a week, the number of pledges has swelled to sixteen and they’re still coming in, brilliant, disparate and from all over the planet. I am simultaneously humbled and terrified.

As outlined in the first paragraph, in my head I’ve always seen the book as illustrated. Anyone who has ever read the bilge I come up with every week will interpret it differently, and what better way to represent that than a bunch of artists doing their thing. I pray the fact that I am the common glue does not put them off any. My default setting when things start going well is to run for the hills and hide until it’s all over, but not this time, not this time. With an apolitical nod to Charlie, this time I’ll commit. If you believe in something strongly enough, show some balls. And show them I shall.

I will, of course, let you know as and when things start to happen. But, in the meantime, there’s stacks to moan about and I’ve lost a bloody week now. Thanks for that.

Idle Eye 134 : The New Kids

The heralding in of a new year traditionally allows the festivity-weary reveller to discard the old (a possible exception being the antiquities dealer), whilst simultaneously embracing all that is new, untried, untested and, to be frank, still in shorts. On this I beg to differ, particularly with regard to the contentious subject of foodstuffs. The last couple of weeks have seen all manner of horrors cross the threshold, charge up the stairs and vie for pole position in a kitchen already bulging with the decomposing stalwarts of previous months, quietly biding their time with patience, good grace and a certain dignity. The futility of their plight has not been lost on me and my heart goes out to them.

For example, a brattish bunch of dates muscled their way in the other day, flashing their knickers from inside a Taste the Difference box. And, not content with their star placement in front of the wine emporium, they demanded to be addressed as MEDJOOL DATES, all vulgar capitals and a Best Before date that had the longer-term residents wincing. The bravado of the wretched things was beyond belief, particularly as, on closer inspection, they bore a strong resemblance to a miserable collection of sun-dried testicles in captivity. I note wryly as I write this that they remain unopened and have started sucking up to the shallots.

Then there is the not inconsiderable issue of the cheese cracker. For years, we have been content with the only after-dinner companion wafer that has ever mattered: The Carr’s Table Water Biscuit. Fashioned in Carlisle for quality and durability, the CTWB has more than proven its worth and has no need whatsoever to jump about in fancy packaging. In fact, the bland blue/black box instills in us a sense of consumer confidence the new kids can only dream of. But still they come: Thomas J Fudge (with his faux-Victorian offerings and endless chummy waffle), the more austere Fine English Cheese Co (who put on a good show but are ultimately undone by a packshot of the product, gasping for breath from beneath a monstrous slab of Red Leicester), and many, many more too risible to mention here.

What these culinary contenders to the kitchen throne seem to have forgotten (or are simply to naive to comprehend) is that their time will also come, and the bitter pill they will be forced to swallow is that of humility. Either that, or suffer the slings and arrows of the green bin which will be only too happy to see them out. For there is no more pitiful a sight than seasonal goods preening themselves like they’re the cat’s pyjamas when everyone else in the room can see them for what they really are: Has-beens, like ex-footballers with a boutique restaurant or ex-rockers with a ponytail.

So, in light of the above, my lunch today will come from a tin containing one of fifty-seven varieties. It’s my small way of saying thanks for being right there at the back, going nowhere.