I’ve been working away for a while now. But the mighty Donald Ross Skinner & I have been undeterred, despite being separated by crippling distance. However, I thought it might be of interest for you to take a glimpse through the mask of consummate professionalism, and enjoy a fly on the wall take on the fact that I am a bit pants, held together by smoke and mirrors, red wine and black and white filters.
I live in a capital city – just. Every day, millions of us come into it and then go back out. It is monstrously expensive to do so, but we shell out accordingly because we don’t have any choice. And now that the oligarchs and speculative investors have snaffled every last inner city refuge and priced us out of the neighbourhoods we once made cool, we have to work longer hours and travel in from further afield. Gruelling stuff, which is why the bars and pubs are filled to bursting pretty much every evening. For one obliterating swill before the brutal commute home. I’d like you to think about that last sentence for a bit.
Ever found yourselves caught short on a station platform? Come on, be honest, we’ve all been there. Usually synonymous with the discovery that not only is the small room closed, but also impenetrably locked (with no available personnel to aid you in your moment of distress) by a star key. Quite why this is the case is anyone’s guess: perhaps they presume all pissed-up wage slaves carry a plethora of skeleton masters, specifically designed to outwit the Yale/Chubb defaults. Or that in the hub of desperation, we might consider a mad dash to the streets above, locate the nearest shoe repair-cum-locksmith and have one forged in situ. Ergo, we must be punished; for we are all essentially untrustworthy.
Let us rewind a tad: imagine, for one second, that by an astonishing feat of Houdini-esque proportion, we managed to gain access to one of these mythical star chambers. Tall order, I know. But what’s in there that they feel the need to protect so robustly? Last time I looked (back in the days when Percy policing was just a glint in the network eye), there were two or three encrusted urinals from the 1980s, an amplified bomb bay with the latch hanging off, and one cracked sink with a push-down tap set to riot control. Not exactly Hatton Garden, is it? And why do the lightweight morning crowd get a free run? A few skinny lattes before work has never once broken the seal of even the weakest bladder, and yet these bastards can stroll on in without so much as a by your leave. Sadly, necessity is not the mother of invention when it comes to a sprinkle: we’ll do or pay whatever it takes to get it out into the open. And if that means coughing up 60p at the turnstiles instead of doing a Fosbury Flop over the top of them, then so be it; needs must.
Southern/South-Eastern Trains etc, you’re missing a trick here. Fling the chamber doors wide open to all, but charge us through the nose like you usually do. We don’t care, really we don’t. And if you drop the price of your shitty coffees, you’ll really clean up. Unlike your bloody janitors…
Ok, we’re back on the horse; I’m reading me from now on because I am me. And for this first shot, I’ve got my superb pal David McClelland to deliver the dulcet tones of Dr Nunn, my GP here in Crystal Palace. David and I first crossed paths when I was a lily-livered art student at Sheffield City Polytechnic in the 80s. He played a mildly disturbed barber for my degree show film, which was shown throughout the land in one cinema. This brings us back together for the first time in 30 years. Hope you like it x
I met someone famous last week. I’m not saying who, that would be beyond vulgar, but the reason I bring it up is to highlight the broader issue of celebrity and the effect it has on those within its orbit. For example, I like to think of myself as a man of the world, perfectly able to hold my own in conversation with people I don’t yet know, and the odd sprinkle of wit and charm adequately greases the wheels for the recipient to feel they haven’t totally wasted their time. It’s a game of badminton, in which the shuttlecock of decorum is gently rallied back and forth until someone cracks and heads off towards the canapés.
Throw in the curveball of fame, however, and these unwritten rules of polite discourse go straight out the window. Any joy to be had from chasing a sentence to wherever it may lead is countered by the suffocating fear of coming across as a bit of a tit. The celebrity in question can usually spot this, helpfully discussing themselves until you are able to regroup, but by now you’re already on the back foot and the vocabulary of gibberish is all you have left to draw from. The more you try to address it, the worse it gets. I often witnessed this with my father, who loved to ‘drop in’ to his local and chat away with verve to those brave enough to approach him. It more often than not culminated in a bizarre face-off, kicking up the following complex algorithm:
Shameless self-promotion plus apparent good nature divided by loss of will to live if he talks about agriculture one more time plus please don’t buy me another pint, I hate beer and I’ve got an expensive bottle of Pouilly-Fumé open at home which I’ll tuck into after you’ve shut up, is the square root of continued local and/or national prestige minus face if I bail too early
Obviously, this is subjective. If I were to be so bold as to suggest an pertinent alternative for those soon to meet and greet someone in the public eye, perhaps it would be something along these lines:
Anonymity plus alcohol plus neutral meeting place equals bolstered confidence minus mutual reference points minus self-awareness plus alcohol plus alcohol divided by inability to remember celebrity’s focal work is the square root of something to talk about in the pub later divided by time taken to achieve same*
A more accurate formula probably lies somewhere in between. Something to do with the synthesis of courage and generosity from both active parties, the onus being on the former. For he/she may still recall a time spent on the other side of the tracks, whereas the latter is single-handedly navigating terra incognita and trying not to blush. And adding another alcohol to the above.
*algorithm does not apply to current Duke of Edinburgh
It’s harder than you think, being your own boss. Try it sometime and see for yourselves. Traditionally I have been pathetic at organising my day, which is why I usually get other people to do it for me and hopefully throw in a few quid at the same time. But right now, I’m out of the plane without a chute and unless I sort something out pretty quick, I’ll be land pizza before you know it. There are, however, little tricks you can employ to create the illusion of structure, some of which I shall outline below for anyone in the same predicament:
1) The old ‘leaving the flat’ ruse is a bit of fun – Get dressed in a hurry, swig down a mouthful of instant coffee (leaving the rest) and, if you’re feeling bold, give yourself a quick peck on the cheek. Then walk around the block a couple of times and come back in, panting and complaining bitterly about the inefficiency of whichever rail network you weren’t on.
2) Create a few formal breaks. These will prevent you from atrophying at the computer and provide the added bonus of allowing you to catch up with all the latest gossip. It’s important to stay in the loop.
3) The Reward System, albeit rather primitive, is a great incentiviser. That call you made to Virgin Media Customer Services took a while, right? Have a sweetie. Made it through thirty emails about erectile dysfunction and/or PPI? Have another sweetie. Anything whatsoever to do with the Inland Revenue or TfL? Crack open a bottle of single vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir. Actually, make that two.
4) Stay focused. Tempting though it may be to stray with another episode of Inside Health and discover you’ve probably got shingles/leg ulcers/something irritable going on with your bowel, you’ll only spend the rest of the day on the med sites and give yourself PTSD to boot.
5) Draw the curtains. Because the people you can see outside are almost certainly having more fun than you, will be rich in Vitamin D and couldn’t give a monkey’s that your delete key has packed up again. For them, life is one big picnic. For you, it’s an eternal game of chess. Against Magnus Carlsen.
6) Nothing of interest will come through your letterbox and no-one of interest will ring the doorbell. Ever. Hold your nerve.
7) Facebook and Twitter are not your friends. They are the Trojan horses of the internet, willingly invited into the workplace where they bed in and beckon, stealing your time and reason. Like Mata Hari. With cats and babies.
After these, you’ll need an endpoint. Something to neurotransmit a strong signal to the brain, telling it to pack in the chores and loosen up a little. Sex, recreational drugs, alcohol and repetitive pop tunes have always been popular with the young, but if, like me, you find yourself in your twilight years, The Archers seems to work okay. In conjunction with the above.
In May 2013, I made an appointment with a certain Dr Nunn for a routine blood test. Apparently you’re meant to do this sort of thing when the ratio of your years left on the planet versus years already used up, tips unfavourably towards the latter. I made light of any reasoning behind it, of course, suggesting that my request was purely investigative and of no great consequence. However, Dr Nunn is no fool. Looking straight past the saffron-tinted jellies through which I decipher the world and deep into the very core of my being, he offered me a seat next to the computer. Then he made me wait. For eons.
Time slows down to a crawl when you know you’ve been rumbled. The skinny document containing my records was theatrically scrutinised, and accusatory glances from over the top of his half-moon glasses were staged for maximum gravitas. I knew what was coming next:
Dr Nunn: Smoker?
Me: Er…Not really. The occasional puff, perhaps.
Dr Nunn: How many?
Me: Hmm…Depends on my week, I suppose! (laughs nervously)
Dr Nunn: I’ll put you down for twenty. Sound about right?
Me: Absolutely. (rapid blinking)
Dr Nunn: What about alcohol? How many units per week?
Me: Units? I’m not really sure, to be honest. How do you…
Dr Nunn: Someone of your age should be looking at no more than one or two small glasses of wine a night. Preferably with breaks in between. The liver isn’t a miracle worker.
Me: I see. I think it would be fair to say I do drink a little more than that. Not always, and I do try to keep it to…
Dr Nunn: I need a straight answer. Or we’re both wasting each others time, aren’t we?
Me: Yes, I’m sorry. Well, on the odd occasion it has been known for me to get through half a bottle of red wine in the evening, and sometimes a beer or two.
Dr Nunn: How often?
Me: Every night.
Dr Nunn: No more than that?
Me: No. (swallows)
Dr Nunn: Right, I need you to come back next week. Give this in at reception, they’ll make another appointment for you.
Me: Thanks very much for…
Dr Nunn: Goodbye.
I looked down at the printout thrust into my hand. There, in a little box marked ‘Relevant Clinical Details’ was the evidence statisticians and the red tops pay top dollar for, no doubt to keep social pariahs such as myself out of the surgeries: ‘Screen: High Alcohol.’ And it works. Because I never went back. If half a bottle of pinot and a hop-based aperitif counts as alcohol abuse, my return visit would have seen Dr Nunn strapping me into some kind of detox seat, like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, forcing me to watch endless loops of waterfalls and Bavarian milkmaids until I recanted my feckless ways. Do me a favour…
One of the (very few) advantages of getting on a bit is that you are no longer governed by the incessant demands of your wretched, truculent body. Back in the day, you could be contentedly getting on with your life with a hobby of your choice (let’s say, for argument’s sake, gardening) and the next thing you know, an inappropriate stamen is frantically transmitting lewd signals to the pathetic pink pudding between your ears, which in turn sends an emergency klaxon to the privates which instantly shuts off the master logic valve, leaving you rudderlessly navigating your way to an inevitably messy conclusion. You have no say in this. You are putty in the hands of a force deliberately cooked up by nature to humiliate you at all costs. This will pass, trust me.
You know you’ve come through the cloud layer and are approaching terra firma when you begin to consider options:
“Yes, I could bust a blood vessel in a locked room upstairs in broad daylight at my eldest son’s graduation party, or I could eat my own body weight in artisan cheese, neck a couple of bottles of Waitrose top shelfers and pass out on the sofa as his mates search underneath me for a cab company flyer.”
This, although far from perfect, at least suggests that something is seeping through to the mainframe. But don’t get out of your prams, there’s still a long way to go.
To be fair, it does take a while for the pointless juices your reproductive system will insist on brewing, to simmer down enough for you to make an educated decision over what exactly to do about them. Over-compensation in the alcohol department is statistically a popular choice, as temporary stasis is infinitely preferable to the half-meant apologies one is forced to make the morning after whatever it was you did when you were slavering like a bull. Saga Magazine understands this implicitly, which is why they kindly start sending you a bewildering gadgets catalogue not long after your fiftieth birthday, championing electronic butter dishes and secure solutions to keep your soap dry. By the time you’ve worked out exactly what you’re meant to do with the bloody things, any urges you may once have been slave to in your prime will be long gone. It is a stroke of marketing genius.
Based on the above, my advice to the young people is this: By all means, persevere with that sexting/Tinder/anti-social networking thing you all seem to like. It’s just harmless fun and your body won’t know the difference between this and the real thing. And the salient point is that it serves as a useful segue between the tyranny of sex and liberation thereof you have yet to experience. Cyberfilth is the only working prophylactic you will ever need, protecting you from your revolting selves 24/7. Embrace it. The alternatives are far, far worse.
Oh no! An entire month of alcohol abstention is fresh out of the blocks and let me tell you, gentle reader, it is a far, far worse thing than you can possibly imagine. Makes a swift waterboarding at Guantanamo seem like kindergarten, and the relentlessly brutal assault of everyday reality, once successfully held at bay at evenings and weekends, is now free to scythe down its quarry at will. Why, in God’s name, do people do this to themselves? It is no accident that hops/barley/grapes/junipers etc…are widely available across the planet for our consumption, nor that we have honed the requisite skills over centuries to arrive at todays bountiful plateau of choice. To reject them is tantamount to sticking a finger up at creation, evolution and the education of the soul.
Anyway, never mind that now. I’ve only got 500 words and I’m not going to waste them on semi-literate Zen rhetoric. I do, however, need to get across the barren nature of my pursuit and get you lot back into the Idle Hour. It’s my job. And if anyone emerging from their own month of sobriety is under any doubt whatsoever, remember this:
The initial body response is, to be honest, not all that stringent. In fact, it’s a bit of a novelty. No more night sweats, morning tinkle now the hue & viscosity of elderflower cordial (not Castrol GTX), the twin throb of angry kidneys has backed off a bit and I can make it through an entire episode of Borgen without falling asleep and dribbling. However, that’s about as good as it gets. Suddenly I’m acutely aware of the banality of existence, the inanity of radio comedy, the dirty patches on the stairs I said I’d hoover in November, the fact that nothing works properly, that all the stuff I’ve hoarded my entire life has swollen to gargantuan, suffocating proportions and needs urgent attention (the last time this was an issue I moved house rather than deal with it.)
And then there’s evenings. These little bastards stretch off into the distance like the Yellow Brick Road and now that I’m clean, I feel compelled to fill them by doing something useful. But what? DIY would be utterly fatuous. Cookery? I don’t think so. Tidy my room? Ahem. I opted instead for cleaning New Year mud from my leather Stormtrooper boots in the bathroom sink and succeeded in blocking the U-tube and jamming shut that bullshit style-over-content hinged plug.
You see? Alcohol prevents us doing this kind of nonsense for a very good reason. Because it is UTTERLY POINTLESS, and our time would be far better spent earning the money to pay someone else to do it instead. In fact, the more we drink, the more we can help kick start our ailing economy on many, many levels. So please, do as I say and not as I do. You’ll thank me for it.