Idle Eye 170 : The Armadillo

In a desperate bid to claw back some of the money I’ve laid out on this book, last week I threw myself under a slow-moving vehicle on Central Hill. Admittedly the traffic is usually pretty snarled up there, but I guessed I was in with a good chance of bagging a no win/no fee insurance payout if I just played it cool. Like Matt Damon would if he lived in South East London. So I risked life and limb for hard cash; this is what I’ve been reduced to.

I had it all figured out before leaving the flat. Pretending not to enjoy an Eton Mess pudding, I stealthily concealed the crushed strawberry filling inside a freezer bag shortly before putting the remnants into the green bin. No one was any the wiser. Next, I created a catheter from a decaying Dyson spare and stitched it into the lining of my overcoat, taking care that the protrusion was undetectable from a distance. Then I trepanned a small hole into the back of my skull which allowed the tube to feed its way through to my mouth, meticulously avoiding damage to any significant cells that would render me a vegetable. The bag was to locate inside my top pocket so that when I tumbled over, the contents would spew forth to an incredulous public which would not only witness the event, but also inadvertently help create my first fortune. Seriously, I had it down.

Anyway, I was walking up Harold Road when I got stopped by this old woman who wanted directions to the park. When I pointed out that she was right opposite it, she came over all unnecessary (as people occasionally do when confronted with undeniable fact), repeatedly prodding me in the chest with one of her wizened fingers. A small trajectory of puréed fruit shot out of my mouth and onto her dress, and for a brief moment there was a stunned silence as we both ascertained the situation. I knew what she was thinking, and I knew that she knew that I knew.

There was no choice; I had to do it there and then. So before things got any worse, I sprinted up to the main drag and dived head first into the flow of oncoming cars. A 1970s Leyland milk float ground to a halt shortly after crushing three of my fingers, and the driver (not a milkman) called me a twat twice before driving off. The bag in my pocket remained pristine and there wasn’t a single person about (except for the old woman, who also called me a twat). So I went home and called my insurers.

I spent over twenty quid taking the loss adjuster out to lunch yesterday. He was bang out of order going large on the Mexican meal deal, but ultimately it will be worth it. I went for soup and drank it with the tube. In case you’re wondering…

Idle Eye 142 : The English Straitjacket

Sometimes being English is just plain awful. The absolute pits. Yes, yes, I know we’re all terribly polite and good at pop music, being ironic and making the most of our crappy weather, but when it comes to saying what we actually mean, we are lamentably backward. How often have you apologised for someone else’s rudeness? For being in the way when you never were? Or pretended things are just fine when your internal tolerance needle has just tipped into the red?

I do it frequently. At the end of pretty much every cold-call received, over which I weakly feign surprise at that accident I never had, or the very specific amount the banks owe me for insurance I never took out, I hear myself thanking a computerised voice for its time and, on occasion, wishing it a pleasant day. Which only serves to fill mine with self-loathing and misanthropy. And, cliché though it may be, I constantly find myself drawn to queues, quite often for something I have no interest in whatsoever. Why? Why?

Because it reaffirms the quintessence of our Englishness, and that Englishness breeds deep inside us all, gnawing away at more vulgar attributes such as anger or self-confidence, until all that is left is the quivering bag of neuroses we move around inside every day. It is a curious evolutionary quirk, for if shifted over to the animal kingdom, your average Brit would be mercilessly and fatally mauled before he/she had finished blinking. Probably by something French or Polish, whose very means of survival hinges on the exact opposite.

Speaking of France, here’s another example: When I was fifteen, I was placed at a school in Toulouse for a short while. There, I came across a delightful young lady called Catherine Voisinet, who blushed when I was around and clearly wanted me to make the first move. My French was adequate enough to facilitate this, and I was not yet marred by a forthcoming volcano of acne. But did I? Of course I didn’t. I just sat around, blushing back at her in English until she got bored and started dating a Neanderthal rugby player with grazed knuckles. Who thought I was ‘un con.’  And he was probably right.

I’d love to be able to tell you that it’ll all turn out ok. That being a bit Hugh Grant isn’t such a bad thing, and that more bullish nations will sneakingly admire you for all that pent-up emotion. But I fear that would be a lie. It is and they don’t, despite what you may have been lead to believe from the inexplicable overseas success of Downton Abbey and the like. They’re just collecting ammo for the next way to shaft us rotten, based on information we willingly throw at them. Then they’ll steal our ideas, market our booze, buy up our housing stock etc… and repackage it all as their own. And we’ll probably thank them for it.

Idle Eye 131 : The Herald Angel Sings

I’ve had the same car now for eleven years. It was a replacement for an identical one which had the tits ripped off of it, on a roundabout in West Dulwich by a woman who didn’t look right when she should have done, putting me in plaster for five months. Over which time I was compensated, lost my job, split up with my fiancée and oversaw the untimely death of seven out of thirteen gerbils who had made their way into my inner circle, euphemism fans. But the new car was astonishing. I could never have afforded her initially, it was only the accident money that made it possible, so I made a small promise to myself on the day I took her down from Fife, Scotland to her new home in South London:

‘Come what may, I will look after you, keep you going and perhaps if I do, there may be a ghost of a chance that we’ll be together until one of us snuffs it.’

It was a marriage of sorts. And yet, curiously, I am not a car person. I couldn’t give a monkeys about what goes on underneath the bonnet, and even less about performance, reliability and safety. All I care about is that she is a lovely thing that gives me pleasure each and every time I sit in the driver’s seat and if, for whatever reason, she gives me gyp, I just learn to put up with it or try to fix it. As many of my close friends will testify as they have towed me home in the small hours or watched, incredulously, as one of her wheels overtook me on the M40.

Over the years, I’ve had all the dull jobs addressed: New gearbox, new clutch unit, something or another to do with diffs (whatever they are), the pointless points (enjoyed that one), carbs and sparks and trunnions and God knows what else. Which you have to do or the bloody thing doesn’t work. But none of this stuff is visible: Kind of like paying an arm and a leg to get the drains sorted outside your house, when actually all you want is a cooker that says more about you than money ever can. The cosmetics play second fiddle to those hardcore kids in the playground built like pit bulls that always seem to get first dibs.

But not this time. I’ve been watching an arc of rust creeping across the bonnet for the last two years, and the hood frame above me decomposing and freezing me to bits on every journey. And those classic Old English White wheels that now look like they’re just home from the Somme. So I’m getting them all done. In one hit. And when they are, I shall renew my vow of 2003 and look forward to our next swathe of time together on the open road. Because in my humble opinion, a car is for life. Not just for Christmas.