Idle Eye 151 : The Body Beautiful

I have a distant memory of my mother’s bathroom in the 1970s. I’m pretty sure it had turquoise carpet throughout (right up to the unit borders), and around the bath itself was a set of those mirrors which disappeared into infinity. I mention these because I’ve never seen anything similar since, and it did strike me at the time that they were curious things to have at all: The very notion that anyone would willingly install a primitive version of CCTV, seeking out and exposing every unsightly crevice the human body can muster, brutally illuminated under the unforgiving scrutiny of a 150W bulb encased inside an upside-down jelly mould, did seem rather odd. But, to be fair, I was only about eight. At that age, you get things wrong.

I hadn’t, though. This last Bank Holiday weekend saw me ensconced with fine friends in an Edinburgh AirB&B. It had one bathroom and yes, in what probably was a nod to the retro accoutrements of yesteryear, it also had the very same fitted mirrors. Which meant I could see my own sorry bottom snaking into the distance more times than I would care to discuss. The horrors did not stop there. When was the last time you had a proper look at your own body in its entirety? Not recently, I’d wager. As I wrestled with the shower head, and made silent prayer that the glass would steam up smartly under the surge of its own revulsion, I noted that the ageing process had effectively morphed my once relatively well-proportioned frame into something out of Lord of the Rings.

The torso looked like an afterthought. Squat, pushing out in areas I previously didn’t know existed and, to these eyes, shamefully unaesthetic, it sat uncomfortably above two vulgar flesh potatoes, crushed mercilessly out of shape by the passage of time and the ongoing onslaught of Marlborough Pinot Noir. Not being load-bearing in their own right, the buttocks had clearly begged the legs below for reinforcement, but sadly to no avail. Consequently, some not inconsiderable subsidence was evident at the join, probably worthy of one of those Heritage grants if I’d got my act together. To say nothing of the hilarious thinning pin that balanced precariously on top of all the above. The whole bloody shooting match was a David Attenborough documentary on the decline of Western human anatomy, realised in Kinder Egg Surprises. And directed by ISIS.

Now, I know we’re all supposed to accept the inevitable deterioration of the body as standard. That the vanity of youth should disappear in a plume of dust if one has any dignity whatsoever. But if you could have seen what I saw in those ridiculous mirrors, I do honestly believe you might think again. When confronted with the genuinely shocking, we tend to be genuinely shocked. As I was. Which is why, from now on, I shall be taking my showers in the dark.

Idle Eye 83 : The End is N’eye

But all things move toward their end
All things move toward their end
On that you can be sure

Nick Cave – Murder Ballads 1996

It’s not, actually. I just thought it might be a bit of post bank holiday fun to sling in some Nick-inspired doom & gloom (‘cos that’s your lot until Christmas). And seeing as I’m on the cusp of handing over the Idle Eye moniker to Nibs, I’ve been balls-deep in searching for a new name: The End is N’eye, Eye Can’t Think of Owt, Best Eye Can Do can all be found residing in the trash at present, and the ole grey matter has been woefully inadequate in delivering a suitable alternative. Traditionally, one would throw it out to the readership with the lure of a massive prize, such as an all expenses paid weekend with the author at a no questions asked hostelry of choice, but I fear this may well set back my cause by approximately a millennium. Two, even. And I don’t have BUPA.

Well, it turns out there are a couple of possibilities on the horizon which I am not at liberty to disclose of yet. Watch this space. When I fire them over to the masterful Dan Laidler and he works his magic, all will be revealed. But the weirdest thing is the freedom. From today I can write whatever I fancy, I just won’t get paid for it. It’s the not all that subtle difference between a fine artist and a graphic designer: The latter has perameters, which the more adventurous can push to the absolute limit and deal with the consequent battle for acceptance. The former has no such constraints. Indeed, he/she can do whatever/go wherever they care to, but they enjoy no back-up and are usually slave to the whims of fashion. Tough one if you don’t acknowledge the mores of the day. Get me? Good.

The second, more horrendous issue here is that of the middle-aged man’s…er…allure on holiday. I have been gearing up for some cheeky time out, starts next week, in which I drive to the south of France to hang out for a few days with my cousin and make the most of the blistering heat down there. And then I read David Aaronovitch’s Opinion in the Times, in which he stated ‘our bodies don’t just fail to be attractive, they are seemingly repulsive’. Slightly worrying, as I had planned a full-tilt mankini outing at dusk in the mountainous Aquitane village of Mauvezin, not only to secure the undying admiration of local ladies, but also potential discounts at any restaurant desperate enough to take me in. I very much doubt David will recant before I leave, but he may be interested to know that I still have a full view of my feet, something my father lost in 1971 and was considerably younger than I am today: Eat my shorts xx

Idle Eye 65 : The Mercy Dash

Ladies – This week, I’m afraid I’m going to have to drop my metrosexual guard. Sorry, but sometimes a man has to write what a man has to write. It’s mean and it stinks, but so did Clint and you liked him in spades.

Gents – If you’re lucky enough to be under forty, the following will not be applicable to you. My advice would be for you to either hang with the ladies until next week or read on and learn. If, however, you’re in the clan, I sincerely hope I can be of some assistance and perhaps any mutual pain shared can be mutual pain halved. I’m referring here to the perennial dilemma of any male of advancing years: The Mercy Dash. Back in the day, we could all skull a skinful, lose our wallets and/or keys in a Wetherspoons rest room, engage ourselves in a pathetic fight on the High Street and still make the last train home. And we still can, right? Wrong. Not any more. Picture this & weep:

It’s 7.15pm & you’re in the Idle Hour, squeezing in a sharpener. Just the one. You’ve had a text informing you that the dinner’s on. But, oh no! Jamie’s just got another one in and you need to milk him for info on his electrician. So you down it to be polite, but deep in your heart you know you’ve already hit your ceiling. And now, in the words of Irving Berlin, there may be trouble ahead. Yes, home is only three stops away but it might as well be on Jupiter for all that matters. Because you’re going to have to do the Mercy Dash. You know the one: When you’ve made it to within twenty metres of your own front door but the bladder thinks it’s already inside. So you pick up speed (not too much, you’ve been there before and remember what happened then) but this only exacerbates the problem. But if you slow down you’ve got a farts chance in a wind tunnel of making it to the bowl unscathed. The agony of choice, cut short by an unwelcome telegram from the crumbling infrastructure of your poorly architected damming. You break into a sprint, simultaneously attempting to release your keys from Ground Zero. And then, by some miracle of science that would have Brian Cox eating out of your hand, you find yourself in the Splash Bay, but even here your problems are far from over: Someone’s left the dump door down and your belt is on maximum hold. And you pray to whatever God you believe in, like one of Mel Gibson’s Aztecs or Gareth Gates, that you will not be forsaken at the eleventh hour. And He listens and He is merciful, as once again your golden arrow hits hard its porcelain target. And all is well with the world…

Ring any bells? Of course it does. See you in the traps on Boat Race Day and a very happy Easter to you all.

Idle Eye 64 : The Long Good Sonday

Oh dear, it’s that time of year again: When supermarkets are brimful with leftover Lindt reindeers cunningly repackaged as bunnies, when television spews out blatant hints that our homes ain’t exactly lemon fresh, when every roadside flower seller gears up for the big one and every self-employed soul in the land prepares for a two-day pay dock. Yes folks, we’re on the Easter runway and already we’re feeling the love. The pope has been picked, the weather is promising to be spectacularly shithouse and the M4 is wetting itself. With joy, you understand. With joy.

I’ve never quite got my head around the whole Easter deal, to be honest. As an excuse to bleed the nations’ wallets once again, it’s badly timed. Too self-consciously close to Christmas/Valentines Day, the concept is far-fetched and not particularly sexy. But Jesus was no fool: He implicitly understood that the gap between Bank Holidays badly needed plugging (40 days was quite enough for him), so with one eye on the Letts and the other on electability, he got them to roll back that stone. And the rest is history. Two thousand plus years on, however, and something significant has got lost in translation. When the fantastical rebirth of the figurehead of all modern guidance is represented by a chocolate egg stuffed with Smarties, you just know we’ve got something out of kilter. And an M&S £10 dine-in almost certainly will not bring a loved one back from the dead or help anyone in their quest for salvation, although it must be said that I have yet to try their lamb bhuna.

You know, if I was God with all his incumbent powers, I’d probably be a bit miffed with the bastardisation of my message, what with the sending down of my only son only to to be müllered by idiots. And yet you’d also think that I’d be savvy enough to stop it happening, being God and that. But maybe that’s just it: If you’re the boss, you just have to let go a bit and let the little people figure it out for themselves, no matter how far from the point they stray.

Having said all this, the Idle Hour will once again be pushing the boat out on March 31st. The italics because, due to some bizarre stroke of fate, the anniversary of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ just happens to fall on the exact same day as the Oxford/Cambridge boat race. It’s the kind of double whammy that only happens once in a millennium and consequently needs exploiting to the hilt. Expect tankards filled with Thames water to be converted into Pinot Noir, organic soda bread to be broken on winning rowlocks and live crucifixion of your coxwain of choice in the beer garden. Because that’s what He’d have wanted. And anyone that tells you different is a liar and a charlatan…

Idle Eye 35 : The Language Lab

I have a Spanish chum who, bizarrely, is using this ‘ere blog to teach herself the idiosyncrasies of English, both written and spoken. Yes, I know, I know. But in a few short weeks she will take an exam, after which she will be expected to be able to brush up her Shakespeare whilst talking down and dirty at her local hostelry. A tall order if ever I heard one. So, in the interests of pan-European conviviality, I thought it might be a bit of fun to deconstruct last weeks’ post, pile of steaming turd that it was, using the vagaries of our mother tongue as we go and thereby completing two tasks for the price of one. Soraya, this one’s for you:

Firstly & foremost, the brief I have to fulfill every week is this: Write approximately 500 words that engage the reader using whatever skills I have to hand. Keep it light, preferably funny, preferably topical, but no matter what, shoehorn The Idle Hour into the piece at some point. Inevitably this happens, but, to be honest, there’s only a certain amount you can say every seven days without getting, well, a bit samey. Consequently I am forced to rely on my admittedly magnificent sense of the absurd. Let’s look at last week:

It’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Every writer/columnist/talking head in every paper/blog/satire vehicle has already said what I was already thinking so I had to come up with an alternative, one which fitted my suffocating outline for which I am receiving remuneration. So I settled for Michael Ryan, the bloke who broke into HRH’s bedroom in the ’80’s, a cheap but quick fix in the face of the actual insanity going on around me in real time. Now, all I had to do was tie that in with Nib’s slick operation round Barnes way and Bob’s your uncle. Except…

Well, look at it. It’s a bag of spanners, no? For starters, my handle on the Queens’ English is at best contrived, and at worst, feeble. Weak jokes based on the received knowledge that she says ‘one’ every five minutes, has no grasp of the entertainment put on in her honour, and a rather unpalatable presumption that she conforms to a class stereotype. And let’s take a closer look at how I managed that contractual obligation:

After a series of ‘Carry On’ capers, Her Maj makes an implausible quantum leap with the assumption that Nibs is there behind the curtain. Why? Utter, utter crap, for which I apologise. To you, to HM, to Nibs, to the Idle Hour and all who work within an establishment that has strived tirelessly to provide a service to which I have not done adequate justice. And lastly to Soraya. You must feel discombobulated. But please don’t think me floccinaucinihilipilificatious, for the last thing I want is for you to develop hippopotomonstrosequipeddaliophobia, that being the nadir of all lingual dexterity. And do let us know how you get on…

Idle Eye 34 : The Rough Diamond

So I broke into the Palace
With a sponge and a rusty spanner
She said ‘Eh, I know you and you cannot sing’
I said ‘That’s nothing
You should hear me play piano’

The Smiths, 1986

 

Her Maj:   One is ready for bed. Are we all locked in?

Security:  We certainly are, Ma’am. Will there be anything else?

Her Maj:   Neo, not today. Has that ghastly racket stopped yet?

Security:  Not for a while, I’m afraid. Some of them are playing from the roof, apparently.

Her Maj:   What a frightful bore. Don’t they have homes to go to?

Security:  Most of them do, Ma’am, but not as good as yours.

Her Maj :  No, of course not. Run along then, quickly now.

Security:  G’night, Ma’am.

Her Maj:   Yes, yes! (shuts door, slips into Liberty-print nightie and turns on radio)

‘…and what a glittering spectacle of an evening it has been. A firmament of stars, raising their voices in unison to celebrate the Queen’s 60 years of unwavering devotion to her nation…’

Her Maj:  Balls! Wretched little man. Hasn’t got a clue.

‘…as the Palace is transformed into an everyday street with a magnificent light show, and Madness perform ‘Our House’ from the rooftops. Incredible!’

Her Maj:  And what, pray, is the point of that? If one wanted to live in a street, one would bloody well have bought one.

(switches off radio. there is a cough from behind the curtain)

Is that you, Philip? I’m afraid the singers are still on, dear, you’ll have to go back to the Edward VII. Tell them your pee’s red again.

(another cough)

Who’s there? Come on out, damn you!

(silence)

Nuy look here! One is getting a little fed up with this nonsense. Are you one of those oiks from the roof? If so, you can get your Cor Blimey trousers on and scram. There’s nothing for you here. Nothing, one tells you.

(silence)

It’s not you, is it, Michael? I’m afraid there’s no wine left after the last time and we sent your shoes back in 1984. And all that grubbing about in the papers, really! I thought we had an agreement?

(silence)

Are you from the Idle Hour? Well, are you? Now listen, the jubilee burgers were perfectly adequate and we settled the bill in full. We’d be grateful if you would consider seating us away from the traps next time and perhaps we just might tip more substantially. Is that what this is about? Come on, Mr Nibs, show yourself, man!

(moves closer to the curtain and throws it back to reveal….)

Her Maj:   Elton!!!

Sir Elton:  It’s Sir Elton, Ma’am. Remember?

Her Maj:   Wawrt are you doing here?

Sir Elton:   I’m just teaching that Morrissey a lesson. Think he’ll find not only can I sing but also tickle them ivories a treat. And where’s he for your big day then?

Her Maj:   Isn’t he on the roof?

Sir Elton:  That’s Madness, Ma’am.

Her Maj:   Not arf!

(drum roll)

Idle Eye 33 : The Turgid Miasma of Existence

The eagle-eyed reader may have spotted that I’ve been off-piste of late. The only plausible explanation I can offer as an apology is that I have been suffering from what I like to think of as the turgid miasma of existence, and what everyone else refers to as everyday life. This somewhat disturbing development was almost certainly the result of a self-imposed complete alcohol ban on school nights, the oral equivalent of Michael Schumacher slamming on the handbrake in the last lap of the Monaco Grand Prix. For those of you who haven’t tried it yet (there must be a couple of you, own up), let me tell you this: It’s not great, and if you can bear with me as I reluctantly come to terms with the appalling lucidity I am currently experiencing, I shall attempt to tell you why.

The body is a delicate bit of kit. It’s also a bit dim, despite what you may have read in weightier tomes than this. From cradle to the grave it reacts to the various stimuli we hurl at it throughout the duration, but not all that quickly. So, when we bung in that first bottle of cider consumed in a field somewhere at the age of eleven, it rather smartly puts its foot down. So we try again with Captain Morgan and his chums, smiling enticingly at us from his Trinidadian retreat, only to regurgitate them all as quickly as they went in. And so the pattern continues until, eventually, it goes ‘Oh, I see what you’re trying to do here’ and concedes that this could actually be a bit of a laugh.

Education being the key, we continue to train the bag of bones we carry around with us for many, many years to come, as did Pavlov and his half-witted dog, until we come through the cloud layer and reach a perfect plateau of contentment, usually in ones’ mid-30’s. It takes a while but we get there in the end. Now, just imagine for one moment the seismic shock to the system if this process is suddenly reversed, and at a time when the body is getting its metaphorical slippers’n’pipe combo sorted. It doesn’t bear thinking about, does it? Exactly. Feel my pain.

So go on then, enjoy yourselves, why don’t you? Help Her Maj get through her big day by necking the good stuff until you can’t fit in no more, safe in the knowledge that the alternative is far, far worse. And for those of you down at the Idle Hour party this Saturday, watching them saucy singers Verity and Violet shaking their stuff and manhandling a massive pint of Nibs’s speciality Pimms, spare a thought for one less fortunate. A once good man trapped in the turgid miasma of his own existence, doing combat with his insubordinate innards with a glass of tap water and a stale bun. God bless you, Ma’am!