Idle Eye 174 : The Tic

I’ve developed a tic. Nothing at all to do with nits, lice or any other parasitic insect erroneously selecting my decomposing cadaver to lay their eggs in (if only!), but that of the more irritating, involuntary variety. As with the other ailments I seem to have accumulated this year, I’ve spent a bit of quality time getting to know and learning to live with it, but I’ll be straight with you: this one’s a hard baby to like, let alone love. Because the tic, unlike Samantha (who you may remember from a couple of months ago), thrives off everything I don’t:

  • Stress? Bring it on! 
  • Anxiety? Eat it for lunch!
  • Exhaustion? Fill my boots!
  • Heartbreak? Mine’s a pint!
  • Increasing awareness of the pointlessness of existence? Yum yum!

Anyway, I was in the supermarket earlier, loading up with few enough bottles of Pinot to avoid suspicion but a sufficient amount to get me through the evening, when I realised I couldn’t get the bloody things into my bag. I was shaking like Mr Stevens, and to make matters worse, quite visibly to the queue behind. At which point, as an unwitting performance artist, I had to make a decision: do I let them think I’m a chronic alcoholic, or do I go the route of a hapless somebody life has chosen to frown upon? The latter seemed disingenuous, the former too candid. So I went the extra mile: looking straight into the eyes of the lady closest to me and channelling my late father, I smiled winningly after having completed the task, and made an almost imperceptible bow. Combined with a slight wink. The look she returned was a cocktail of pity, incomprehension and disgust.

When I got back indoors, I wikied the DTs. Just for the sheer hell of it. Not that I can possibly have them, because they only kick in when you stop drinking. But oh my stars, it made for uncomfortable reading: nightmares, agitation, global confusion, sweating, fast heart rate, the list goes on – it’s enough to keep you on the wagon for good. Fortunately, the tic I have has nothing to do with the above, despite the similarity of symptoms. I’m under a lot of pressure right now, and I could do without the snide remarks, thank you.

Tomorrow, I’m up at 5.50am to take four trains to a town which sucks the marrow from my very soul. If I stayed at home, I’d be privy to the dulcet tones of builders improving the flat beneath me, or witness to the owner dry shampooing a dalmatian next to the bins. Is it any wonder I’ve got the shakes? Or that I occasionally take to the bottle in order to blot out such horrors? Judge me not, for the cause is greater than the effect.  And if you think that depression, paranoia and anger are part and parcel of the same, you can all fuck off. The lot of you. Seriously, take a hike…

Idle Eye 159 : The State of Denmark

Good title. Well, I like it. Those of you who had your Coriolanuses kicked into reading the Bard’s greater works at school will recognise that the broader idiom suggests an element of brooding malcontent, that something in the land of salty liquorice is not exactly as it should be. See, you’re already hooked! Perhaps one of the perilously thin strands along which we all conduct our lives has become tangled or broken. Perhaps a moral compass has been thrown out of kilter. Perhaps it’s just an elaborate decoy to throw you off the scent. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, as our Doris once succinctly put it.

As I write this, it is the hottest day the UK has cooked up in a decade. And heat, as any fule kno, plays havoc with the brain and those last remaining pollutants of Glastonbury. The synapses within sizzle and fuse, neurons struggle to function and the propensity for rational thought gradually deliquesces into chaos and confusion. So what chance does one have if this is the moment to step up to the plate? To make brave, life-altering decisions before yielding to the charms of high summer and going out topless into the streets (the Englishman at home’s favourite pastime)? It’s a one word answer: Fat.

In that tragic-heroic fashion all romantic schoolboys are prone to, I was once asked (after midnight, around a flickering tealight) to declare the one thing I’d be prepared to give up everything else for. And, being a relatively inexperienced resident on our complex planet, I answered, with some certainty, that it would be the aquamarine pair of Speedos (with white printed dolphins bobbing their merry way across my privates) I had just been given for Christmas. I was serious. Life had not yet complicated my childish aspirations, and I could think of nothing or no one I wanted more. And in some ways, it was the perfect response. Perfect in its unswerving simplicity, and perfect because it was a need easily fulfilled. No hopes dashed, no hearts broken. And it would probably be different the next day. Ironically, it was the summer of 76. Another hot one.

Then we age. And as we march through our lives, things get increasingly difficult. They just do. We steal moments of pleasure wherever we can, in the full knowledge that they will probably be fleeting and outweighed by the sheer pressure of hanging in there. It’s why our occupations are so much more than a means to an end. They define us. They validate the reasons for our being alive at all. Otherwise we’re just grown-up sperm looking for something to do. If asked the same question again, after all this time, I only wish the answer could be as economic. But the things we crave in later life inevitably come at a price, by which I do not mean anything so vulgar as money. And we’re usually too busy to notice.

Idle Eye 157 : The Plagiarist?

Impending death kind of makes you get your skates on. All that time you spent dicking about doing nothing of consequence will eventually appear at your door tapping its watch. Which is no biggie if you happen to have chalked up some of the stuff you set out to achieve, but if, like me, you’ve tried and failed too often to even care about, you have to ask yourself two pretty searching questions:

Do I keep going, or do I shackle myself to the yoke of submission and admit defeat?

The death thing is quite a major pisser, but when you boil it back to basics it’s not actually life-threatening; just an expedient reminder for you to get off your arse and get on with it. If it bothers you, you can always hop over to deathclock.com (the internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away), where they kindly work out how long you’ve got until you are reclaimed by the Grim Reaper. I did briefly consider this, but thought better of it after browsing the search criteria and calculating for myself that I was already living on borrowed time.

I weighed it up. Yes, I could go back to a job that looks good on paper to those who don’t really understand what it entails, or load my bollocks back into the wheelbarrow of endeavour and run with it/them once again. To where there’s no safety net if things go a bit tits. Where the odds are stacked against you because you should have done it twenty years ago. Where the contenders are younger, media-savvy and hungry for that rapidly diminishing slice of the pie. And then, just as I was beginning to cave, someone introduced me to Jonathan Ames.

If ever an ageing, unpublished writer needed a tonic, it came then in the form of this man’s work. A self-deprecating, pushed alter-ego, doing (and penning) things most of us would ordinarily shun, in the tradition of the great American humourists but with a filthier edge, Ames was pushing all my buttons. The greater irony being that the exaggerated failure he casts himself as is, in reality, exactly who I am now. Although I too am writing as an exaggerated failure, and shall continue to do so despite any inconvenient impending success. It’s a headsmoker, make no mistake, but a glorious one nonetheless.

So where does that leave us? My newfound admiration for Mr Ames will almost certainly draw comparisons, the most apposite being that despite sharing a birth year, I am in South-East London writing drivel for 350 people and he is about to launch Blunt Talk (which, from the trailer, appears to be the sharpest comedy to come out of the States in decades) and is probably rather busy. But it is comforting to note that we have been singing from the same hymn sheet for quite a while. Independently, I swear.

Doubt, get thee behind me.

IE Audio 4 : The Demon Grog

Bit of back story here. Not all that funny either, but at least it demonstrates we can pull something out of the bag if pushed.

https://theidleeye.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/idle-eye-156-the-demon-grog/

Dorchester Court, Herne Hill, London 2015

An amalgam of some of the audio sessions we filmed in 2015. They were enormous fun to do, usually culminating in the consumption of copious amounts of Pinot and an absurd photo op with a potato. There is no adequate explanation for this. At the time, the excellent Rupert Ingham was doing the narration and I was directing it all from the sidelines. Although things are a little different now, I sincerely hope we can work together again in the future.

Idle Eye 156 : The Demon Grog

Of all the relationships I’ve ever had, perhaps the most difficult is the one I still hold with the booze. It’s pretty shit, to be frank, and I didn’t choose it either. My namesake grandfather died of it before I was born, as did my own father indirectly, and it will probably see me off prematurely if the snout doesn’t get me first. Its claws are pan-generational, way outside the boundaries of logic and reason, and conveniently, a quick re-read of the above somehow absolves me of any absolute guilt, thereby allowing me to persevere with more of the same in order to write dispassionately about it. As if that makes it okay. The obvious, entry-level question filed by those close enough to be concerned, is this:

Do you drink alone?’

And the most honest answer I can give is:

Yes, I do. I drink alone out of preference. Because then, finally, the ever-present critical voices (which extend into every cranny of my existence) shut up long enough for me to be able to do the things I actually care about. Until I go down the opposite slope and couldn’t give a toss any more. Can I get you a top up?’

It’s not what they want to hear. And those I’ve upset along the path (trust me, there have been a few) will see it as a romanticised excuse, along the lines of Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited, very much the architect of his own downfall despite every gift life bestowed upon him.

Someone kindly gave me a book last Christmas. Called ‘The Trip To Echo Spring’ by Olivia Laing, it discusses the troubled link so many writers have with the demon grog. Not that I have ever considered myself a bona fide writer, and thereby lies the problem. The very term has such powerful connotations that the unsure are crippled at the starting blocks, pitifully reliant on whatever it takes to be taken seriously. Until the crutch becomes counterproductive, by which time it’s usually too late. Between these, I walk a fine line: If that glorious moment ever comes about when something I have created becomes a thing, I’ll probably be too mullered to notice. But maybe you will, and I’d be grateful if you could let me know. We’ve been around the block together for nearly four years. You owe me.

I have a rule. When I spew this stuff out, usually late at night and alongside a bottle of Pinot, I resist the temptation to hit the publish button until the following morning. Because, no matter how cathartic it may seem at the time, the unforgiving light of a new day will invariably reveal my incisive efforts to be little more than a muddled, steaming pile of cack. But ask yourselves something: You’re reading this. Does that mean it’s through quality control, or am I slumped comatose over the return key?

I’ll leave that one with you.

Book Update No.2

IE-T-Shirt-MockUp-Continental-EP30bw

Just heard back from 3rd Rail clothing who are printing these up for me – Now shipping a bit late due to supply issues. They gave me the option to choose another brand but I’m sold on these babies, great quality, ethical etc… Like me, basically. So I’ll take the hit. Have also decided to use them as shameless bribes to make you pledge something for the book when the campaign goes live, so not for sale as such. More of a chicane.

On that subject & all being well, we’re aiming to kick off in the first week of July. It will run for 35 days, and there will be an escalating series of rewards (some of which are really special) depending on how much is pledged. I’m keeping the target as low as I can manage in the fervent hope that we meet it and the book can go into production. If it falls short, you all get your money back & I go into the Priory. If we go over, I’ll make it a hardback and/or print off more copies. That’s how it works. So forgive me if you start getting grovelling emails/requests to share posts/miscellaneous irritating intrusions into your lives. It won’t be for long and who knows? You might get a lovely shirt to polish the Chippendale with.