Idle Eye 94 : The Foreign Office

A week ago, as you may remember, I thrilled my minuscule readership with tales from the water closet. They were, for the most part, true and there is nothing that whets the winkle of the Great British Public more than the topic of bottoms and associated hardware thereof. This was, of course, reflected in the statistics and I thank you all for joining me in the virtual small room. My business is your business, as someone I can’t remember once succinctly put it.

I am happy to report that things have moved on a bit since then. These days you find me on the West Bank of Luxor, Egypt, thrashing it out on a laptop in the gaps between conserving the tomb of the last great Geordie pharaoh Neferrenpet. I know, I know. But, as you gear up back home for the onslaught of Daily Express reportage of the forthcoming worst winter since the last Daily Express reportage of the forthcoming worst winter ever, spare a thought for one more fortunate than yourselves: Being an Englishman abroad does present an alternate set of tribulations (as my risible grasp of Arabic will testify), none more telling than the not inconsiderable matter of appropriate attire in a climate as foreign as the language.

For example, this morning saw me down to my last clean t-shirt, the Bolongaro Trevor beauty so eloquently eulogised in IE47. A little too smart for workwear, but on reflection preferable to the lamentable series of insect-infested horrors currently residing inside my laundry bag. What’s more, it has a sepia-toned Union Jack on one side and an Ottoman effort with three crescent moons on the other, a stalwart example of hands across the water if ever I saw one. I did, however, fail to spot the Lancaster bomber shedding its toxic cargo over the pyramids and almost certainly extending a rather skewed message to the host nation.

On the subject of insects, the biting ones are another personal assault one must handle with the kind of decorum expected of the adequately-educated Westerner. Fortunately, my gargantuan quinine intake keeps all but the most hardy at bay, although last night I discovered a dormant mosquito buried deep inside the two-ply of my bathroom roll. What it was doing in there is anyone’s guess, and I was torn between saving the poor creature from a death more humiliating than I know how to put into words, or protecting my own tender cheeks from an equally heinous fate. The vegetarian in me prevailed and the little bastard flew off to lodgings elsewhere. Naturally, I made no mention of it at breakfast today because…well, you just don’t. There are rules.

I’ll put some work stuff in another time. It’s too huge to summarise in a 500 word bulletin built almost exclusively from the rocky foundations of lavatorial humour and self-deprication. So for now, I shall continue to do what you have come to know and love, from the gutter to the pavement. With no apologies…

Idle Eye 47 : The Rag Trade-Off

Like most males of my age, I’m an uncomfortable clothes shopper. The very thought of leaving the warm nucleus of my flat for a brutal, strip-lit warehouse touting whichever vulgar garment happens to be fashionable right now is so appalling that I tend to hang onto the same tatty old shite attempting to cover my nakedness for one more glorious season rather than face the alternative. I’m not proud of it, far from it, but that’s the truth. And as every summer leaves what autumn finds, I have learned to recognise that 50/50 mix of pity and disgust buried deep beneath the permafrost of those I hold dearest. They try to disguise it, bless ‘em, but I know it’s there. And it hurts because I know they know I only have two sartorial settings: Dress to Impress, and Dress Down Weekday.

Take, for instance, my Bolongaro Trevor ‘God Save the King’ tee-shirt with its attendant heraldic symbols, furry-faced monarchs in period ellipse frames and mottled seriffed type. This fits neatly into the former category and gets outed whenever I need to dazzle ‘em. About twice a decade. Anyone who witnessed the annihilation of popular song performed by my brother and I at the Idle Hour last year may have spotted it, and my fervent prayer was that you’d be so impressed by the packaging, a closer inspection of the contents would have been unnecessary. And while we’re on the subject, could someone have a word with Nibs about that Union Jack jacket? We all know it’s a magnificent beast but there’s a fine line between Mo Farah and Jimmy Savile. As well he knows.

In the latter corner lies my John Lewis knee-length overcoat. This loyal lovely has been doing the rounds since the Boer War and was dyed black in 1926 in order to disguise the blood of fallen suffragettes and rotting stitches stolen from a roadside hospital in Ypres. If it were a tree it would be a Douglas Fir: Solid, stalwart, stoic. A bit like Jeremy Clarkson. The inside pockets, however, have frayed beyond repair (although this does have the advantage of easy access to my person for those essential ‘on the road’ adjustments).

Also worth mentioning are the unmentionables. Yes, it’s those grey Christmas 2003 boulder holders I never thought would last out the year, but like the Council Tax and Tesco Metro have managed to survive despite multilateral distain. Admittedly there’s not much to fall in love with here, but as the years have gone by they have formed an impressive crust on the inside elastic which has aided and abetted adhesion to the waistline. Sorry, ladies, he’s taken.

They say charity begins at home. And I have a bag marked the same which will never, ever see a shop marked the same. Because there’s always a couple more years left in there. At least a couple.