Idle Eye 12 : The Bruises (Fah La La La La, La La La Lah)

I woke up this morning with two large bruises on my person. The first, a striking black bloomer, was nestling obstreperously on my right knee, and the other, an iridescent slow-burner like Christmas lights seen through an orange segment, sat resplendent on my left forearm. Now, I know for a fact that these babies weren’t there last night because I checked. It’s what you do from time to time when the body begins to rebel. So where did they come from? And what could they possibly want? At first I presumed they were oncoming signs of seasonal ailments suffered almost exclusively by the self-employed, but I was otherwise in good health and indeed had just carried a case and a half of holiday cheer in from the car. Perhaps it was the work of a rogue banker, splashing a small portion of his/her bonus on a voodoo curse in revenge for last weeks post. Unlikely, requires imagination. Bewildered, I called out for help:

Ursula:  What now? I’m making pies.

Me:  I’ve got two weird bruises. I think you should come and look.

Ursula:  Let me get this straight. There’s two shopping days to go, I’m cooking for eight, the flat is a tip and you want me to look at your bruises?

Me:  Something like that, yes.

In a second she was at my side, eager to discover something fresh and exciting about her partner. I peeled up the leg of my pyjama bottoms to reveal Exhibit A, glistening enthusiastically in the raking sunlight.

Ursula:  Is that it?

Me:  No, there’s another one.

I rolled up my sleeve with pride to the location where Exhibit B was vying for position. Ursula shot me a tender look that could have knocked small birds from trees and left, but at that very moment something astonishing happened. The darker bruise appeared to pulsate as I watched it, and as I drew closer I could see there was movement inside, the movement of what seemed like tiny people in what seemed to be a tiny pub, clearly enjoying themselves and raising their tiny glasses towards the huge figure looming above. “Merry Christmas from the Idle Hour Barons Court”, they cried in unison before clanking their respective tipples together. Squinting harder, I could just make out a miniscule bearded man in a Miami Vice jacket and penny loafers embracing another absurdly small representative from the Jägermeister company. In the background I spotted a lavish North African drinking space (ideal for pint-sized parties, by the way) and off in the kitchens an award-winning chef called Tony was creating a fabulous meal for everyone present.

Me:  (urgently) Urs! URS!!!

Ursula:  (in distance) **** off!

I was on the cusp of leaping from my bed when I noticed the second bruise. Not to be outdone, it was ebbing and flowing like a seasick calzone on a waterbed. I took a closer look out of fairness, and again I saw a myriad of microscopic pub-faring folk in mid-carousal just underneath the surface wound, only this time they were crowded around a log fire, being served what looked like mulled wine from a man wearing a somewhat vulgar Miami Vice jacket and Penny Loafers. At first they were blissfully unaware of my ugly moon face peering down at them, but eventually someone shouted and pointed:

Tiny Reveller:  (to room) There appears to be an enormous bloke watching us from above.

Me:  Fear not, small beer-swilling man, I mean you no harm.

Tiny Reveller:  But how are we to know this, vast crater-faced monster? We are here to celebrate what we call Christmas at the Idle Hour Barnes with our favourite award-winning landlord Nibs, Da Mudda and his brother. Could you come back another time?

Me:  His brother? Are you sure?

Tiny Reveller:  Of course I’m sure! Would you like to buy him a drink?

Me:  You know, I think I would, drunken gnome. Please send him forth.

In what felt like slow motion but actually was slow motion, I watched as a perfect replica of myself in 1/75 scale reached up and asked me for money. This was too much: I leapt back, banging my head against the Louis XIV mahogany headboard and instantly knocked myself out.

I cannot say how long I was gone for, but when I awoke I immediately noticed the bruises had disappeared. Oh, and that I’d pissed myself. Again. Looking around me I became aware that it was Christmas Day and my entire family had gathered around to celebrate the occasion. Da Mudda was smiling and pretending to like Bing Crosby, Nibs was smiling and pretending to like Bing Crosby and Ursula was going at my crotch with a J-cloth. And way, way off in the distance, I saw my own reflection. It was drinking an oversized glass of Jägermeister and giving me the thumbs up. And smiling.

Idle Eye 11 : The Voice of Reason

It’s that time of year when the jolly fat man, flushed from the effort of his exertions, comes for his annual handout and leaves you to clear up the mess. Sounds familiar? Yes, it’s that time again and don’t we all love it? I refer to the bankers’ bonus, of course, and the endless discussion thereof, from the red tops to Radio 4, from white van interiors to Hampstead tearooms it seems we cannot be rid of someone, somewhere, who needs to vent their spleen. And we, the Great British Public, absolutely lap it up. In these austere times when, Heaven forbid, we have to share bathwater, meals and the rest with our nearest and dearest, there’s nothing we like better than donning the gloves and having a good old-fashioned wallop at the City.

‘I think it’s disgusting, immoral and it should be illegal’ – A woman I just made up, the streets, yesterday.

‘We didn’t work our whole lives to be lied to and robbed at the end. Is this the right march?’ – A Public Sector worker, Whitehall, yesterday.

‘Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’ – Simon Le Bon, a yacht, the Eighties.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’m supposed to be a vegetarian, lily-livered Lefty, right? What in God’s name am I doing pandering to these monsters, these harbingers of misery who put profit before people, bonuses before benevolence and continue to take, take, take as we mere mortals continue to reimburse their errors? Well, my friends, think on: Remember when ‘Call Me Dave’ campaigned vehemently for us all to hug a hoodie? Well, I took something on board that day. I learned that perhaps we should learn to embrace the unknown instead of taking a shot at it like the great collector and public benefactor Frederick John Horniman did when he first came across a walrus:

Stooge:  Sir, something stirs there on yonder iceberg. He is a fantastical creature, long of tooth and great of hair. And I do believe he is something of which we have never seen the like.

BANG!

Horniman:  Put him in the bag with the others, Bobbins.

So bankers, hear my cry! I come to you in peace, I bear you no ill will. All I ask is, well, now you’ve got more in your Armani pocket than I shall earn in a lifetime, that you spend it wisely. And it is narratively convenient that I happen to know just such a place for you to do so. Cross the Thames if you have to. Charter your private jets in the direction of SW13 and W6. Spend the wad of our King Mervyn here today and throughout the Christmas period. And do not spare the rod! The Idle Hour will cater for your every need, your whims, your festive fantasies. And with such style and finesse that you will wonder why you ever wasted your nights at Dirty Dicks. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll let me off.

Idle Eye 10 : The Rebuff 2 (This Time It’s Personal)

Sorry I’m late. Really, sorry. I did try to get this one in on time, even wrote a couple of drafts about an Idle Hour demon that kept me up at night (written at 1am) but Nibs gave it the thumbs down. And he was right to, in fairness. High on booze, wasabi peas and lack of sleep I bunged it all together like a fake Jackson Pollock and then tried to justify its brilliance in a heated follow-up call deep into the small hours:

Nibs:  Look, you know I love what you do. You know I do. But come on! This one’s so…so…well, angry.

Me:  Angry? Angry? You don’t geddijewewe? Corsets angry! Eye-mmaking a point about time and how weedon tavenuffuvvit. Angry? ARSE!

Nibs:  Mate, why don’t you have another look at it in the morning. It’s late, I’m busy, Barnes is still chokka and you’re pissed.

Me:  GnnNOT PISSED!

Nibs:  I think you are, Bro.

Me:  S’pose you think Charlie Brooker zangry then? Or your bezziemait Giles Coren? S…Spose Jonnoz Born wazzangry too? Eh? EH? But Bro…Bro…(whispers)…thazza point. Thazza holefuggin point.

Nibs:  It’s a pub blog, Bro, not Look Back In Anger. I just need you to be the funny guy so I can get more customers in to buy beer and eat food. Bums on seats: It’s really that simple.

Me:  Z’nuthin simplabout gudriting, man. Snot teasy making this shiddup every we…week y’no.

Nibs:  I’m not saying it is easy. That’s why I pay you to write it. Otherwise I’d do it myself. But calm down, have a good night’s sleep and have another go tomorrow. You’ll thank me for it.

Sound of hysterical laughing in background

Me:  Hang gone…(goes into kitchen. Vulgar swearing, shouting and stumbling followed by phone drop) Bro, you there?

Nibs:  What’s up?

Me:  Ursula sritten ‘Primadonna’ onna blackboard!

Nibs:  (stifling further hysteria) She’s got a point, mate!

Me:  Bar studs! BAR…SSTUDS! FUGG YORL! (Slams down phone and retires)

I woke up this morning still utterly convinced that my misunderstood work would stand the test of time. After all, Jesus had a bad ride, no? And Sophocles wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves in Ancient Greece. I even uploaded the bloody thing onto my phone so I could bask in my greatness on the train. And then I read it.

There is a fine line between genius and bollocks. The greatest minds our crowded planet has ever produced had the courage to surf this line, some close to the mark, others actually touching it. But no-one, not one, ever crossed it. And the ones that did have been consigned to the dustbin of history, their stories never to be passed on. Ever. And that’s as it should be. For they shall be cast out of the Kingdom of Heaven for trawling too wide a net. And trying to polish a doo-doo when they don’t.


Idle Eye 9 : The Legend of the Pigeon of Chevening Road

Not long ago, there lived a great scribe who was on his way to Sainsburys to purchase some things for the weekend. As he drove his dilapidated car past the park he spotted a pigeon lying sick and injured in the road, and being of good heart he picked it up, took it home and took care of it with the help of his lady friend Ursula. The pigeon had been mauled by a wild beast, was blind in one eye and his chances of survival were slim but the couple kept him warm and comforted him. Much to their delight his health improved and by the next day, despite horrific injuries, he seemed perky and up for a chat.

‘Oh, pigeon’ said the scribe, ‘I am happier than you can know that you are well again, but my master Nibs pays me to relate tales of his pubs in Barnes and Barons Court and I fear I have nothing to offer him this week because I have pissed my time up the wall looking after you. Whatever shall I do? I am undone.’

The pigeon thought for a while and did a tiny white dump. Then, raising his little head up high, he did another dump, this time slightly more robust with a flat underside.

‘Pigeon, is this a sign?’ said the scribe. ‘Ursula, come see, our feathered friend has helped us in our hour of need. What does it say in The Lancet about white ones?’

Ursula rushed to the internet and to her astonishment she discovered that indeed, a white stool following trauma suggested that a certain independent time-related pub in Barnes would experience a record-breaking week. Without wasting a second, the scribe made a swift call to Nibs on the blower:

‘Awright Bro? So how was last week?’

‘Unbelievable! Best week ever. Our chef Piotr was running about like a pigeon, man.’

Hanging up in disbelief, the scribe made a beeline for the pigeon who was preparing a third dump, this time not unlike egg-white with a maggot in the centre.

‘Pigeon,’ he went, ‘is this another sign?’ Ursula squealed at the computer as she raked further information from it. Turns out that a wormlike plop in a mucus membrane strongly hinted that the same pub would shortly have improved toilets and an extended kitchen.

‘Hell’s teeth, pigeon, can this be true?’ The scribe made another quick call:

‘Awright Bro? When are you going to sort the bogs then?’

‘Why you asking? I’ve got Tonino painting them now. And I’m sorting the kitchen next year as well.’

Shaking with incredulity, the scribe and Ursula peered back into the pigeon’s box. He was sitting down and preparing for a night’s rest, but before he did so he let off an enormous guff.

‘Urs, what does The Lancet say about that, then?

‘Less Jerusalem artichokes, apparently’

And so it was, the pigeon was spared that rotten vegetable for the rest of his years. And so it was The Idle Hour Barnes got pukka toilets and a new kitchen. And, God only knows how, the scribe got away with another one.

Idle Eye 8 : The Hit Parade

London 2011. I’m on the phone. It’s been two hours, thirty seven minutes and six seconds but the show is far from over

Da Mudda:  Yes, yes! Now, which one is the Delete key again?

Me:  It’s the one with the backwards arrow, Ma. Like a Turn Left sign, remember?

Da Mudda:  Yes, of course, like a Turn Left sign…a Turn Left sign, yes…ooohh, the little flashing line seems to have gone. Is that meant to happen?

Me:  Did you press the key?

Da Mudda:  Which key?

Me:  The Delete key!

Da Mudda:  Now don’t get annoyed, I know you’ve told me…hold on, hold on…it’s the one…umm…it’s the one with…the…with the…is it the big one at the bottom?

Me:  Not the big one, that’s the Space Bar, remember?

Da Mudda:  Yes, of course…the Space Key…sorry, Bar…Oh look, I’m fed up with all this email stuff, it’s quicker to send a bloody letter for God’s sake! Can we talk about something else, please? Your brother tells me you’re getting lots of viewers on the blog. Is that good?

Me:  It’s early days, Ma. We’ve only been counting for a week but it’s looking promising.

Da Mudda:  Well, I’m sure you know what you’re doing. All that money we spent on your education, it’s about time something looked promising.

Me:  As I said, it’s early days. But we’re getting comments already and we had over 300 hits in the first week.

Da Mudda:  Over 300 hits! Well I never! (long pause) Do you remember your seventh birthday at the Imperial War museum? I gave you some hits then, with the bristly end of a hairbrush if I remember correctly, but probably not as many as 300. I suppose that makes your brother a…hit counter!!! (laughs hysterically)

Me:  Yes, I suppose it does.

Da Mudda:  Ah, he’s just on the other line now, can I put you on hold?

Me:  Sure, Ma.

A cacophony of clanking (not unlike that bit in Alien when the monster bursts out of John Hurt’s stomach) followed by a violently distorted version of The Archers

Da Mudda:  Stephen, I’ve got your brother on the other line. Can I call you back in a couple of hours?

Nibs:  (over loudspeaker) Ma, we’re really busy tonight, I’ll call you later. And could you ask him to call me about the blog, there’s a few things we need to straighten out.

Da Mudda:  Well he’s here now. Shall I put him on for you?

Nibs:  Not now, Ma. Get him to call me tomorrow. After 6pm.

Da Mudda:  Ok, will do.

More clanking, deafening digital keystrokes and mild swearing. The Archers disappear into a Smallbone of Devizes vortex and I once again make contact with the Mothership

Da Mudda:  (coughs) Er, hello?

Me:  Hello mother.

Da Mudda:  Ah, you’re there!

Me:  Yes, I am. By the skin of my teeth, but still here. Just.

Da Mudda:  Excellent! So, where were we? Oh yes! Now, which one is the Delete Key again?

Ad nauseam

Idle Eye 7 : The Exotic Meating

London 1779. A young servant boy runs towards his master along a dirt track that will become White Hart Lane, Barnes in fifty-odd years. They have travelled from afar and seek only a tankard of Harveys and sustenance for the night.

Servant:  My Lord! I have found us the tavern! Over yonder by the railway tracks.

Master:  Mock me not, Bobbins, or ye shall sleep with the fishes tonight. And the railway has not yet been invented, as well ye know.

Servant:  Forgive me, Master, but it is true. The landlord seems most welcoming also.

Master:  Perchance, does he sport a ridiculous yellow Miami Vice jacket? And Penny Loafer shoes with white socks? And a beard inside which one could conceal a bantam?And does he answer to the name ‘Nibs’?

Servant:  Why yes, my Lord! How could you know such things?

Master:  And tell me: Is it not Tuesday the 15th even as we speak?

Servant:  Forsooth, I believe it is, my Lord.

Master:  Also, pray, whilst you were inside, did you spy the tail of an alligator and/or the gizzards of a zebra on the ‘Exotic Meats For One Week Only As Recommended By A Celebrity We Cannot Name’ menu?

Servant:  Santa on a stick, M’lud, thou art surely blessed with divine perception. But as your servant, I cannot use words of more than one syllable at a time if I am to be a credible sidekick to your increasingly unlikely literary device.

Master:  BE SILENT insolent child!!! Thou shalt conform to this narrative stereotype or by my own entrails thou shalt go hungry tonight.

Servant:  But Master, I am a lily-livered, limp-wristed, ex-art school vegetarian. I fear such sumptuous foodstuffs will play havoc with ye olde plumbing.

Master:  GOD’S TROUSERS!!! Boy, do you know nothing? It’s none other than Exotic Meats Week at The Idle Hour Barnes, and by some fantastical feat of fortune we have stumbled upon it at the very start.

Servant:  Actually sir, I think you’ll find it was by Sat Nav.

Master:  Like, whatever, sirrah! Do not question my methods, or for that matter my timing: I fear we are 232 years too early for such a feast but we do at least have the blessed fortune of being British a century in advance of queueing for fun so we stand a good chance of getting in. Do you really not eat meat?

Servant:  Sorry. Not a guff’s chance in a wind tunnel.

Master:  I hate you, Bobbins.

Servant:  Yes, sir.

The two men turn into Railway Side where they are met by a man in an absurd Miami Vice jacket and Penny Loafers. And a beard. He smiles and embraces them in a not at all scary manner. That’s what you do on Exotic Meat Week. Because there’s lots of exotic meat. And you have travelled from afar and seek only a tankard of Harveys and sustenance for the night.

Idle Eye 6 : The Manifesto

As the long winter nights draw in and Call Me Dave’s austerity measures begin to bite, you’re probably wondering, like me, how the disaffected rural peasants of pre-Revolution France managed to stay afloat when hard times came a-knocking. Of course you are. Well, the answer is two-fold: You cross-subsidised, which loosely meant getting another job, such as rat-catching, ash-collecting for laundry purposes, or you became a tétaire (my particular favourite), an astonishing job for the boys which involved sucking mothers’ breasts to start the flow of milk. Probably a long queue at the Town Hall for that one.

Alternatively you did nothing. Nothing at all for months and months, and there was no shame in this: Men and women literally curled up together like gerbils in squalid basements throughout the land for up to fifteen hours a day, and by doing so kept warm and lowered their metabolisms dramatically, thereby reducing the need for food which was in scant supply. In short, it was survival by hibernation.

‘All very interesting’, I hear you thinking, ‘but what has this got to do with the Idle Hour?’ Well, funny you should ask. You see, we can learn a lot from our French friends of yesteryear, but before you cover yourselves in dung and head for the cellar, think on this:

The word ‘Idle’ has long been associated with sloth, from louche dandy fops to Wayne and Waynetta, and yet if we dig a little deeper we find that to be idle was a pragmatic form of self-preservation; a temporary shut-down in preparation for the physical working months ahead. These are the very qualities Nibs had in mind when IH Barnes was born ten years ago, and for his part, self-preservation seems to have worked very nicely, thank you. For my own, I can vouch for the exact same from the perspective of my teenage exchange year in the town of Foix, just north of the Pyrenees, when I shared a room with a goat in lieu of central heating. This is not one word of a lie (unlike most of this blog), and when the time came for me to return to the UK, I wept like a girl for that goat. As she did for me.

So perhaps it’s high time we reclaimed the word in much the same way that we did with the Union Jack from the Far Right. Come on, Hammersmith and Fulham! Our ancestors (Johnny Foreigner actually, but work with me on this) didn’t sleep together in their own filth for hundreds of years for you to do nothing. Time has come for you to stand up with your pint of Harveys and say:

‘I’m idle and proud of it! Tomorrow may be another day but there’s just enough of this one left for me to raise a glass to Wills and Kate, to Nibs and all who sail with him, but most of all to those foreign types who did bugger all and got us where we are today. God save the King!’