Idle Eye audio will appear here until I’ve stopped dicking around with the new website and taken it live. We’ll aim to put up a new one every fortnight, maybe more. Who knows? Anyway, let’s kick it all off with Wolf of West Norwood, an oldie but goodie. Let us know what you think. And here are some written credits in case you miss them at the end: Rupert narrated it, Donald produced it (& composed the music) and I wrote it. Very straightforward.
Buying the freehold of a property is usually one of those below the waterline affairs, a bit like getting the drains done or lancing the cat’s boils: You sort of know it’s the right thing to do, but there’s scant instant gratification and invariably you come away wondering why you bothered. It does seem frightfully grown-up, and when you mention it to grown-ups who’ve already done it, they all go to that grown-up place where grown-ups go when they’ve grown up and start throwing stuff at you about longevity of leases and the like. Which only serves to confuse you further and makes you wish you’d blown it all on wine gums.
Pretty much anything to do with real estate is breathtakingly dull. From the fatuous language employed by conveyancing lawyers to justify their staggering fees, to the endless bureaucratic leeches waiting in line for their share of the silver, everything is precision-tailored to bore the crap out of you and grind you into acquiescence. Even the figures bandied about at point of sale are so completely beyond your frame of reference, you find yourself internally knocking off a few noughts in order to make sense of them:
Lawyer: Thanks for coming in. Just to clarify – We have prepared and lodged a memorandum of transfer, checked for easements against existing title certificate, conducted relevant authority and chancel repair searches, discussed buildings insurance liabilities with current landlord, checked official copies and covenants relating to ongoing maintenance of common parts, and some other shit you wouldn’t understand. If all the above is in order, we suggest a sum in advance of £500,000 would be appropriate for services rendered to date. Help yourself to a Freddo Frog on the way out.
See? I mean, how do you respond? By the time you’ve worked out what the first half means to you the layman, the suggested sum will have effectively doubled. Bizarrely, by taking the initial hit you’re quids in. Which is why these SOBs remain gainfully employed and are always on holiday in the week of completion, whilst you are frantically checking the Land Registry for any long-forgotten relatives who may or may not own bits of Norfolk currently in tender to developers.
With the above in mind, I’ve been doing a bit of developing as well, and I don’t mean pictures. What if, in the vein of that bloke Dave who set up his own bank, Idle Eye breaks the mould with a no-nonsense, one-stop shop for people who want to buy stuff without all that suffocating obfuscation? Hear me out:
You: I’d like to buy this, please.
Me: Of course! It costs £x
You: You have been most helpful. Here’s a cheque.
Me: Thank you. I shall bank it forthwith. Enjoy your purchase.
It’s not hard. Really, it isn’t. And who knows, it might even catch on. After all, there’s an election coming up.
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.
I was down the pub on Monday with a trio of men of a certain age and, in amongst the plethora of utter bollocks discussed, the subject of nightwear was gingerly raised. Obvs I plumped for the pyjama, but regrettably was riotously trashed at the post in favour of going commando, something I must confess I find rather disturbing in one’s advancing years. The very thought of all that naked flesh frotting away against raw cotton (or Crimplene – I do not judge) cannot in any way be conducive to a good night’s sleep. To say nothing of the potential for lewd thought or any derivative thereof: The filth and the fury, the filth and the fury.
No, it’s the pyjama every time in my book. The fact that they are restrictive is ironically at the very core of their genius. By wearing the things, we willingly shackle ourselves to such laudable values as propriety, comfort and common decency. And I’ll go you one further – It is no accident they have matching tops and bottoms. Move over, city slickers: These are the new suits of bedtime, and ones we can all wear with pride and dignity at a fraction of the cost of their daytime equivalent. They are truly the egalitarian attire of our age.
I’m not saying they’re for everyone, mind. There is a certain build of man that insists on the elasicated waistband, a more vulgar thing one could not wish to see, let alone wear, despite its obvious practical advantages. Fortunately, modern manufacturers have taken this on board and come up with the button fly/drawstring combo. This cute little trick simultaneously gets you out of the shit whilst somehow keeping you fashionable. And, more importantly perhaps, avoiding the phenomenon that is ‘Ankle Island’, an exposed tundra no man beyond his fortieth year should ever have the misfortune to frequent. I take my hat off to these people. Just my hat.
To drive the point home, I purchased a classic striped PJ set from an expensive Chelsea retailer on my way home the very next day. Not for one moment that I imagined my friends would catch a glimpse of me gliding around my bedroom in those generously cut trousers with their two side pockets, or the timeless jacket with its full 5oz of cotton flannel. No no no. The exquisite pleasure gained here is not for sharing, which may explain why there is a paucity of targeted marketing on your social media. Access to such hallowed portals comes either by word of mouth, or from those bizarre mini-catalogues that drop out of the subscriber magazines. You know, the ones from which it is actually possible to buy salmon pink corduroys or a watch which apparently you don’t own, despite having shelled out twenty grand for it. The beauty of a quality pyjama can only be genuinely appreciated by the man inside.
Tonight, and for the foreseeable future, I am that man.
“See that two bedroom flat in a quiet residential area about eight miles from where it’s at? That’s mine (when I pay off the mortgage in 15 years). I also own a decaying car that’s older than me, take painkillers once a day if the back’s playing up and I owe £132 in council tax. When I was 26, I was selling sandwiches off a bicycle in the Farringdon area for less money than my niece makes in an afternoon, couldn’t hold down a girlfriend and drank myself to sleep most nights. Like it?”
On reflection, perhaps I’ve left it too late to enjoy the nefarious lifestyle portrayed by Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese’s latest epic. Sadly, the days of ludes, ladies and Lamborghinis are long gone but the thirst for excess never completely abandons you, particularly if you haven’t had it in the first place. So here’s a checklist for any senior slickers out there that will not hand over the baton:
Wellman 50+. The Holy Grail of oral healthcare. Neck one of these beauties with a couple of Omega 3’s and you’ll come up smiling for 24 hrs. What’s more, you can drive all you like and still operate the Stannah. Recommended.
HSS Equipment Hire. Mandatory for any lifting gear necessary to winch yourself into position at those liberated office parties. Consider also Streatham Cars for an unhindered lift to A&E shortly afterwards.
Acme Pool Cleaning. If you do happen to get caught short at an all-important client meeting, these guys are discreet, fast as lightning and have on-site fabric care facilities. Includes Dralon®.
Ladbrokes. You like to gamble. But that itch never got properly scratched, right? Instead of pissing away someone else’s blue-collar quids on the never-never, these horses will keep on comin’ atcha until the end of time. Simply smoke 5000 tabs a week, lie to your wife like you used to and blow the housekeeping fund in less time than it takes to say ‘divorce’.
Saga Magazine. No more Hustler, no more Penthouse. But keep it real with Saga, the only monthly you can read under the duvet by torchlight without getting your head stoved in. Now subtly laminated for guilt-free enjoyment.
Viking Direct Office Supplies. Sell me this pen.
Fred Olsen. What’s this? Are you serious? A yacht!!! (With maids, cooks, 1300 paying guests, easy access toilets on all levels and occasional live music and/or comedy in the theme bar.)
Methuselah Homes UK. When your hellraising days are finally behind you, why not reminisce with like-minded chums in one of our ‘off the beaten track’ tailor-made units? Don’t worry, we’ll change your name and contact details for you, it’s all part of the service.
And for all of the above, there is no fee. We wrinklies must stick together, rallying fervently against the relentless onslaught of youth and taking whatever tablets they give us to keep us going. Senility is a state of mind, not an ailment. You can have that one. You’re welcome.
In a time of unprecedented selfishness it was comforting to learn that Australian Patriarch Ken Grenda has decided to split huge profits from the sale of his 66 year-old bus company with his staff. All 1800 of them. Strewth! Can you imagine Fred the Shred doing that back in the good ole days of RBS?
Sir Fred* : (to room) Are we all in? Oh good. Well, you’re probably wondering why I’ve asked you to assemble here today and I’ll not beat about the bush. This year we made a record profit of ten billion pounds. Ten billion! That’s a lot of billions. And it got me to thinking that I could not have done it without your tireless support, your hard graft and your willingness to think outside the box when times were tough. So thank you all and, er, goodbye.
Staff : Sorry?
Sir Fred* : Nothing to be sorry about. Your sacrifice has put RBS right back on track. So buy yourselves a wee drinkie and remember : You did it once, you can do it again. And feel free to drop a few coins in the pension pot on your way out. Every little helps.
Grenda’s heartwarming generosity is made all the more poignant because he’s the little guy made good. His third-generation family business succeeded where so many multinational corporations have failed because he cared for & respected the people who put him on the map and, finally, rewarded them in a way that would be unthinkable to those in the corridors of power. He cut them in. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there somewhere, and not necessarily about the distribution of wealth :
The Idle Hour was realised almost eleven years ago. I remember it well. Nibs, Da Mudda and myself scrubbing floors, hanging pictures, architecting the lavs etc.. but the most potent thrill of all, particularly for Nibs, was the notion that it could make a difference. The pubs in the vicinity at that time were tired, languid affairs that gave you little incentive to leap up from Buffy and go out. I think, and I know I am partisan, that the Idle Hour upped the game considerably, and it did so because it thought small. Why spread the love too thin when you can pile it on over a lesser circumference that appreciates the effort so much more? And the very thing that makes it special is its size. Go figure…
So, Sir Fred*. Sorry about today, really, sorry. It’s a bitch when you lose a gong, don’t we all know it? But maybe when you’re not shooting peasants in Spain or fast-tracking it with Max, you can take stock for five minutes and think about where you went wrong. Hey, maybe even start again. But this time, take a bit of advice from the little guys. The Nibs’s and the Grendas of this world. And maybe this time you won’t screw it up for the rest of us.
*Not Sir Fred
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.
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.
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.