Idle Eye 120 : The Lives of Others

Earlier this year, Stewart Lee beautifully articulated his disdain for Twitter by describing it as “a state surveillance agency staffed by gullible volunteers.” By which he meant that his entire successful life could be accurately traced by reading through inane tweets sent in by the public as to his whereabouts at any given time. And that these same people would be equally fascinated by the tittle-tattle others just like them offered up for general consumption.

On Monday, I arrived home after an an eight mile cycle ride (eight miles, Twitter fans) from work. Needing provisions for the evening meal and a following breakfast, I leapt into the car & headed off to Sainsburys, unthinkingly clad only in my cycling kit, in order to purchase a few necessaries (one packet Beanfeast Bolognese, one bag organic carrots, one carton orange juice, one bottle Chilean Pinot Noir). It took less than ten minutes. After which I headed back, only to discover that my inconsequential trip had been monitored and posted for all to see by someone who, shall we say, does not have my best interests at heart. Here’s the tweet verbatim:

“Well, that was an ill-timed Sainsbury’s visit. Still, always fun to see a middle aged man dressed like Kevin Rowland c. 1983 from knees down”

Initially, I was rather flattered that a man of my crumbling stature could still conjure up the ghost of Kevin Rowland in his prime, rather than that of Marley or an extra from any of George A. Romero’s oeuvre. But then I became increasingly baffled as to why this would be of any interest whatsoever to a bunch of followers who have no idea who I am, and had not themselves doubled back on their journey home upon spotting my car (Triumph Herald), in order to claim their visit to said supermarket was “ill-timed”. 140 characters or less, by their very nature, cannot accommodate shades of grey. The whole truth requires the same event to be seen from different angles, no matter how obtuse or inconvenient. And the clandestine observation of my rolled-up jeans, paraded to an early evening set of shoppers as a misguided fashion statement of yesteryear, could legitimately have been interpreted otherwise.

Many years ago, when I was learning the finer points of filmmaking at Sheffield City Polytechnic, I watched Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter for the first time. The scene that most stayed with me was that of the demonic preacher (played by Robert Mitchum), standing outside and staring ominously up at the home he was soon to infiltrate, an evil omnipresence in hard contrast black and white. Perhaps if Mr Laughton had been born a tad later he would have set his unsettling movie online, the perpetrator being well versed in the dark art of social media and all its blunt power. And perhaps, just perhaps, my sartorial faux pas would have been less compelling to those who really should know better.

Idle Eye 106 : The Meat of the Issue

I stopped eating meat in April 1991. I remember the exact moment pretty well, lying on the floor of my front room in Herne Hill and watching a rerun of the Animals Film as part of the Channel 4 ‘Banned’ series. I was half-cut, destroying a lamb phall directly from its foil container and in no condition to take in the gravity of what I was seeing, but take it in I did. Somehow, the message managed to penetrate the grotesque caricature of youth I had become and made me ask myself a few searching questions I couldn’t answer. Not then, and not when I had sobered up the next day and was paying the ultimate price for the 100k+ Scoville monstrosity I had ingested. And the thought that living creatures had been killed in order to make me feel that shit was truly appalling.

For me, it was about personal choice. That anyone else would give a flying one about what went into my sorry mouth never actually occurred to me, and for a brief moment the new diet of dry-roasted peanuts, Beanfeast pasta and Rioja seemed to have passed unnoticed. But then came Christmas, traditionally the flagship occasion when families unite, discuss politics and implausible career paths and revel in the ritual mastication of an ugly bird no-one gives a stuff about for the other 364 days of the year. I opted for a plate of green veg (the root ones being, as any fule kno, Satan’s little helpers) and a couple of potatoes, without gravy. And by doing so, I unleashed a Pandora’s Box of vitriol so strikingly at odds with the innocuous vegetables themselves, I felt duty-bound to pitch in and protect them. It was Twelve Angry Men vs the Chives with me as ’70’s TV lawyer Petrocelli, backing the voiceless oppressed against all odds. And they flayed me alive.

Perhaps it was the notion of underdog I found so appealing rather than the ethics themselves (a much less challenging justification to digest for those who had taken so violently against my new-found stance). But it wasn’t. The simple truth was that I could no longer turn my head away from such unnecessary suffering when there were/are so many alternatives. My decision, not exactly of seismic significance. And despite the odd hole in the argument (I own some leather shoes and have, on occasion, enjoyed a wine gum), I’ve stuck to it ever since.

Last year, Carol Midgley wrote an excellent piece in the Times stating her reasons for giving up meat and was bombarded with snide remarks in the comments section which were completely beyond me. If she’d said she was giving up catching the train to work and had started cycling instead, would an army of indignant commuters have taken to their keyboards to vent their spleen? I don’t think so. Carnivores, you have nothing to fear. Now, get on with your day and leave us alone.