Idle Eye 188 : The Magic Roundabout

Like any half-decent Englishman, I have learned, over the years, to accept and obey the traffic laws and by-laws dictated to us by criminals and lunatics in suits. I’ve been burned too many times now, and any fight I may once have had in the flower of my youth has deliquesced into a tragic slurry of sufferance. In my head, I remain a Knight Templar of fierce resistance; in reality, I’m that bloke who’s married to Hyacinth Bucket.

Anyway, for reasons completely beyond me, I was forced to drive into Swindon a few weeks ago. As I turned off the M4, I tried to remind myself of any saving graces it had to offer: I knew the band XTC came from there, and I found myself whistling Senses Working Overtime over the top of Radio 4 as the landscape morphed from remote pastoral beauty into a brushed aluminium and steel megalopolis. ‘No biggie’, I thought, ‘I can handle this.’ But then, as I mentally glossed over the brutal truth that was beginning to unfurl, everything ground to a halt. The satnav, which I had recently upgraded from a bossy American cartoon character into a satisfyingly British Jeeves, suggested ever so politely that I did a u-turn. Then ever so slightly less so. And then it really kicked off:

Satnav:  Get the fuck outta here, dickweed!

Me:  Listen, I’ve just paid an extra £40 for some manners and a posh voice. What’s going on?

Satnav:  This is Swindon, man! It’s the wild fucking West! See that bitch coming up? See that? That’s the Magic fucking Roundabout, dude! No one gets out alive.

Me:  Perfectly straightforward. If we simply obey the Highway Code and follow the signs, I’m sure everything will turn out just fine.

Satnav:  Damn! I should kick your scrawny ass right down that motorway. TURN THIS MOTHERFUCKER AROUND NOW!!! Ain’t telling you again.

Me:  I can see you’re upset. But it’s only a roundabout. And it’s not exactly Basingstoke, is it?

Satnav:  Basingstoke’s got nothing on this. Do your research.

Me:  I have. According to the Basingstoke Gazette, Brighton Hill and Thornycroft are the two most miserable roundabouts in Great Britain; particularly in rush hour.

Satnav:  Yeah? YEAH??? Well, chew on this one – In 2009, the Swindon Magic Roundabout was voted fourth scariest junction in the UK by Britannia Rescue. And said it’s one of the most complex rotaries in the world. So fuck you.

Me:  Where were the other three?

Satnav:  It didn’t say.

Me:  My money’s on Basingstoke.

Satnav:  We don’t have time for this. You gonna turn around or no?

Me:  It’s illegal to do a u-turn on the approach to a junction. You should know that.

Satnav:  You brown-nosed, obsequious piece of shit. On your own head be it.

Me:  Do you like XTC?

Satnav:  They’re okay. Prefer their earlier stuff.

Me:  Shall we put some on?

Satnav:  As you wish, sir.

Idle Eye 187 : The Spanish Inquisition

In a desperate attempt to be liked (or at least accepted) by my peers, I recently acquired a 170g container of shop-bought guacamole. I had a vague notion that, on one of the very rare occasions somebody came to visit, it would be noted I have flamboyant, cosmopolitan taste and this, in turn, would open up channels of conversation/admiration hitherto denied me. Initially, the fluorescent green gloop didn’t appear all that promising, but after a little tweaking and decanting, I was able to approximate one of those food photographs you used to see in cookbooks of the 1970s, or off of the cardboard sleeve of a Vesta quick meal. So far, so good.

Anyway, I popped the concoction into the fridge, cling-wrapped to buggery, and went through my little black book. Who would be the lucky recipient, I wondered? From the dwindling gene pool of those still speaking to me, I decided that my mother was probably the safest bet. After all, she hadn’t seen me in a while and if I seriously cocked up, she’d break it to me gently like mothers do. Having said that, I knew she’d be suspicious if I casually asked her over for nibbles, as I still carry an official warning from the WHO. So I dressed it up a bit: I pretended I’d painted the kitchen in a new eco-friendly Farrow & Ball estate emulsion – Badger’s Backside, or something like that she could relate to – and waited for her to take the bait. It didn’t take long:

Mother:  What have you done?

Me:  Nothing.

Mother:  Bollocks!

Me:  It’s not bollocks. I’ve just painted the kitchen and I thought you’d like to see it.

Mother:  I don’t believe you.

Me:  Seriously, I have. Why don’t you swing by and I’ll get us something to eat?

Mother:  Are you on drugs?

Me:  Of course not!

Mother:  So what’s the catch?

Me:  There’s no catch! It’s just an excuse for you to come over.

Mother:  Okay. But this something for us to eat you mentioned. Will you be making it yourself?

Me:  Don’t be ridiculous! When have I ever done that?

Mother:  I want you to promise me.

Me:  I promise. It’ll be from the shops. Like you like.

Mother:  No, not how I like! I’m just not comfortable with you getting involved at the business end. Let’s go for a spaghetti or something. I’ll pay.

Me:  All right, I’ll come clean: I bought some guacamole the other day and I was just trying to impress someone. But I don’t have anyone any more so I chose you. I’m sorry, I feel a bit cheap now.

Mother:  Did you paint the kitchen?

Me:  No.

Mother:  Did you dick about with the guacamole?

Me:  A bit.

Mother:  Look, you know I love you…but not that much. I’m going to call the police. Do you understand?

Me: I do.

Mother:  Bye for now.

Me:  Thanks, Ma.

Idle Eye 186 : The Final Curtain

I was having a couple of drinks at home, like you do, when the curtain suddenly billowed into the room. Despite it being a hot evening, I knew for certain that the windows were shut, so I went over to see what was going on:

Curtain:  Say your prayers. Tonight, we fly.

Me:  I’m sorry?

Curtain:  I said, tonight we fly. This world is no longer your concern.

Me:  Excuse me?

Curtain:  I’m a metaphor. Work with me.

Me:  A metaphor for what?

Curtain:  FFS!!! I thought you were a reader?

Me:  I am. But you’ve got to admit, it’s a bit odd to be having a conversation with my curtain on a school night. And besides, no one says FFS these days.

Curtain:  I’ll spell it out: I’m Death. You know, as in The Final Curtain. Yes, it’s a bit literal but if I turned up in black with a scythe, you’d just think I was taking the piss.

Me:  True. But, if I may be so bold, you probably need to come up with a more obvious visual clue. Most people won’t make the quantum leap, even if they like Frank Sinatra.

Curtain:  Frank who?

Me:  Sinatra! That’s the joke, right?

Curtain:  Still not with you.

Me:  Hang about. You just came into my flat, unannounced and uninvited, and said I wasn’t long for this world. Then you told me that you were a metaphor for death, and now you’re saying you’ve never heard of Frank Sinatra?

Curtain:  I never said that. And of course I’ve heard of Frank Sinatra. Just not within this context.

Me:  Surely that’s the deal? And so I face/the final curtain. Everyone knows that line.

Curtain:  No, sorry.

Me:  So what’s the point of you being a curtain then? If you’re actually meant to represent death?

Curtain:  I thought it was funny.

Me:  It’s only funny if you’re in on it! Anyway, the whole death thing is meant to be scary, so just blowing your way in here isn’t going to work. And even if it did, you need to brush up on your crooners: there’s an obvious simile you’re missing out on.

Curtain:  I can do a bit of White Christmas.

Me:  Doesn’t quite get the ‘you’re about to die’ message across.

Curtain:  What about Release Me, then? I could do it in a sort of grindcore way, that would put the shits up them.

Me:  Better. Have you got an agent?

Curtain:  I’m working on it.

Me:  I’ve got a couple of contacts in Charlotte Street, although you might have to dumb down initially.

Curtain:  Great! Oh, and about what I said earlier; can we just brush it under the carpet and forget about it?

Me:  That’s it! The Final Carpet, it’s brilliant! No one would expect that…

Curtain:  I like it. What about a double act? The Final Carpet and The Underlay of Eternal Damnation. For one night only.

Me:  Thanks for coming in.

Idle Eye 185 : The Lovers (a farce in one dimension)

London called me on the landline last week. I knew something was up because we’d been down to communicating by text and this meant business:

London:  So what’s this, I hear?

Me:  Er…

London:  Don’t piss me about. Word’s out that you’re leaving. Is it true?

Me:  It’s more complicated than that.

London:  Okay. So, you come to me in the 80s, a miserable, deadshit no-mark with nothing going for you whatsoever. I pick you up, put you in touch with people who turn your life around, introduce you to fun stuff, make you a bit cool (that was a tough one) and now I gather you’re buggering off to the seaside?

Me:  Look, Lon: it’s not you, it’s me. We had a great time together, no one can take that away. But I just think it’s time for a clean break. You know, start afresh. And, let’s be honest, I hardly hear from you at all these days.

London:  Do you have any idea how busy I am? Seriously, any idea? I’m a fucking capital city, I can’t be…

Me:  Sorry, got another call coming in.

St Leonards:  Darling! Can you talk?

Me:  Hang on…

London:  What’s going on?

Me:  It’s nothing. Can I call you back?

St Leonards:  I’ll be here as long as you want.

Me:  I wasn’t talking to you, Len.

London:  Who’s Len?

Me:  I wasn’t talking to you, Lon.

St Leonards:  Who’s Lon?

Me:  Hold up, I’ve got another call coming in.

Brighton:  Darling! Can you talk?

Me:  Not now, bra, not now. Can I call you back?

St Leonards:  What’s going on?

Me:  It’s not what you think.

London:  What the..?

Me:  Lon, there’s something I’ve got to tell you.

St Leonards:  You tell that bitch she’s history, doll.

Me:  Len, please: let me do this my own way.

Brighton:  And what about me?

Me:  Can I call you back, bra?

Brighton:  You’re all the same, you London ba…

Me:  Hold up, I’ve got another call coming in.

Hastings:  Darling! Can you talk?

Me: Jesus H Christ.

Brighton:  Who’s this?

Me:  I’ll call you back

Hastings:  I hear you’ve been sniffing around my sister.

Me:  It’s not what you think.

Hastings:  I’ve got everything she has. And more besides.

Me:  Look, I love everything about the pair of you; really, I do. Please don’t make me choose!

St Leonards:  Tell her to rack off!

Hastings:  Back in your basket, bitch!

London:  Hello?

Me:  Can I call you back?

London:  I’m hanging up the phone now. Call me whenever.

Me:  Don’t go! I’ll sort something.

Brighton:  Goodbye.

Me:  I’m so sorry.

St Leonards:  I’m waiting…

Hastings:  I’m waiting…

Me:  This is ridiculous! Can’t you two talk? I’m sure we can work something out.

St Leonards:  Good try, girlfriend.

Me:  Come off it, you’re basically the same p…hold up, I’ve got another call coming in.

Hove:  Darling! Can you talk?

Ad nauseam

Idle Eye 184 : The Sea, The Sea

One of the nicer things about blogging is that you can snatch content out of the ether, sometimes even from the canon of others, in order to add value to your own efforts. This has the knock-on effect of making you appear well-read and approaching intelligent, the beauty of which is that you’re probably not going to be hauled over the coals for plagiarism. If, like me, you have about five hundred regular readers who can’t even be arsed to leave a comment, let alone set up a complex litigation process, you’re almost certainly in the clear. So, when I needed to come up with a header that hinted at an imminent move to the coast, I delved deep into the net and came up with the above.

Now, I’ll be straight with you: I’ve never read anything by Iris Murdoch, not one jot. But I liked the cut of her jib, and made a stab at what counts as research in this neck of the woods (family-sized wine box/Wikipedia/online Oxford English Dictionary/12.5g snout). There, as I was scrolling through endless, worthy literary appraisals of her oeuvre, I discovered that The Sea, The Sea concerns a middle-aged, male DFL (down from London), who is pompous, deluded, paranoid, and using a location shift to put into some kind of context and write about the lunacy of his own existence. To boot, there are a couple of ladies he needs to get his head around, and he’s not much cop at the cookery either.

I mean, really! Clearly, this Murdoch woman was a fantasist of the highest order, trapped inside and by the treacly brown caricatures of her own epoch. The very thought that such a wretch could make it through to the end of a day unscathed, not to mention be taken seriously enough to have his witterings read by anyone other than himself, is absolute nonsense, and both he and his creator should be judged as harshly as hindsight allows. Perhaps back in 1978, this kind of poppycock had its place, but not today, lady, not today. Besides, every man and his dog now has a signature dish, right?

I know what you’re thinking. What about this new lot, with their 140-character Twitters, the Instagramming of whatever grub they happen to be eating, and the showing of bottoms and worse on self-destructing media platforms? Well, let me tell you something: these people will not be troubling Random House any time too soon. They know their place, and we should applaud our youngsters for ‘letting off steam’ in plain view, freeing up the marketplace for those with, how shall we say, a little more gravitas.

Enough now, I’ve got a flat to paint and flog; these things don’t take care of themselves. And then I’ll be off. All this mediocrity is getting me down, and the sea air will do me good. Can’t wait…

Idle Eye 183 : The Curse of the Nipple

Yesterday, after completing a minor household task, I managed to create a monstrous black stain on the bedroom carpet. I am no stranger to incidents such as this: invariably, the fulfilment of duty spawns a plethora of resultant issues which, in themselves, take as long (if not longer) to address as the initial assignment. Some American bloke on YouTube made out that it would be a breeze to shift, so armed with a can of WD40 and a can-do attitude, I set about re-absorbing the thick treacle into an old pair of socks. To begin with, everything went swimmingly: the socks gobbled up the stuff, and I could just make out, mirage-like, faint traces of the biscuit-coloured original peeking through. But then I got bored and went off to make a sandwich.

When I returned, it was to a scene of unimaginable horror. Emboldened by my absence, the stain had swollen to approximately ten times its original size, with concentric dark rings of ever-increasing viscosity working their way towards its demonic nucleus. The ribbed nature of the Axminster, combined with the brutal raking light of summer, lent the whole terrible scene the illusion of depth, as if an Ordinance Survey map had been 3D-printed onto the floor by David Cronenberg. And then, as the sun subtly snaked across the sky, the nipple (sic) began to move. This was too much: crashing down the stairs and onto Facebook, I begged my virtual pals for assistance but was met with barely-concealed hilarity and erroneous advice. “You don’t understand,” I pleaded, “this is no laughing matter. I’m trying to sell the flat and there’s an enormous breathing nipple in the bedroom. Who’s going to want that?”

After being directed to a couple of (let’s be honest) wildly inappropriate websites, it dawned on me that I’d have to solve this one alone. That I would have to become that cute, swotty chick at the end of a teen slasher movie, single-handedly dispatching the killer after all her chums had been seen off (and then, sensibly, going for a lie-down in a boat on a lake). I made my way back up the stairs and opened the door. The nipple appeared to be dormant, pulsating gently in the afternoon haze. Things had clearly gone beyond a simple Shake n’Vac solution but I had to think of something. And quickly.

So I rang Foxtons. I dropped the bait of a well-presented Edwardian flat, pregnant with original features and within walking distance of the shops and amenities of our vibrant, artistic community. Next, I mentioned one particular feature unique to the property; indeed, perhaps to anywhere in the world. I could hear them frothing down the phone, drunk with the lure of imminent commission, and immediately set up a site visit. Then I found another can of WD40 and rolled up my sleeves: I had work to do.

Idle Eye 182 : The Meal Deal

When it comes to the trauma of lunchtime, I tend to accelerate the process by making it as unappealing as is humanly possible; particularly when working on site. My colleagues usually bring in something home-made, flaunting its worth from inside a little tupperware container with clip-down sides, accompanied by a lengthy dialogue about ingredients, how long it took to make and what was eaten the night before (apparently the journey is the thing, not the destination). However, cookery gives me the fear. So, instead of preparing something nutritious and delicious from the comfort of my barren kitchen – which also gives me the fear – I choose to take the heat off by allowing someone else to do it for me. This is not without its own inherent set of problems.

Tesco Express on the Pentonville Road is a culinary deadzone. The Meal Deal section is frequented, 24/7, by anyone that life has frowned upon – the unloved, the depressed, the haters, the hated and those, like me, who just want to get it over with. Our purchases are edible sackcloth and ashes with which we punish ourselves on a daily basis, so checking out becomes one of Danté’s inner rings of Hell. For there at the tills, they will judge us; for our lamentable taste in processed cheese, for our weak grins as they ask what we have planned for the weekend, for not taking a Tell Me How I’m Doing card with which we can rate their quality of service online, and for not knowing that a Twix and a Fanta do not constitute part of our five-a-day.

‘Rickin’ (4/5 stars) wants me to fill one of those eco-unfriendly 5p bags with my quarry; he wants to tell me what a lovely day it is when outside, Hurricane Desdemona is whipping toupees into the street; he wants me to enjoy my meal when I want anything but (if I genuinely wanted to enjoy a meal, there is a strong possibility I would not be buying it from Rickin in the first place). This doesn’t deter him: if I could just sign up for the Club scheme right now (in front of a queue of people, aching for release), I’d be eligible for astonishing discounts on stuff I don’t yet know I want. And I’d be in for a further 10% off the impossibly cheap swill I already have in my basket when all I want is for it to be reassuringly overpriced, so I have something to bitch about to my workmates when the whole sorry shebang is at an end.

Today’s sandwich had a yellow sticker on it: it was 20p cheaper because it was out of date. Curiously, this meant that it no longer counted as a Meal Deal and consequently I paid an extra 70p for the entire shooting match. We live in a Faustian, Brechtian, Kafkaesque garden of insanity. And I kinda like it.