Idle Eye 158 : The Magnetic Fields

‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more’

Early doors post this week ‘cos I’ll be heading back to the undulating hills of Glastonbury tomorrow. Long-term readers of this stuff and nonsense may remember I reluctantly did something similar last year, hauled kicking and screaming into the furore by those who would not take no for an answer, and yet I came out relatively unscathed. Perhaps this time around the relentless assault of life will have conclusively exacted its toll, leaving me unable to manage much more than a couple of juniper-based sharpeners at dusk and a premature nosedown in whatever wigwam they have in mind for me. Or not. We shall see.

It hasn’t always been thus. There was a brief spell when I could gambol across the site, unfettered and nimble as a ballerina, drinking in the madness and whatever my tipple of choice was back then in equal measures. I would stay up all night, every night, insane with joy and totally beyond caring what was happening elsewhere. Music and adrenalin were my co-pilots, and when they were on board I owned the very core of those vast magnetic fields. You should have seen me, I was superb: I burned like magnesium, radiating like gamma and blistering in the sun like the Violent Femmes. Really, I did.

It didn’t last long though. When being grown-up became a thing instead of a distant concept, I gave in and learned the rules of the everyday. I did jobs I didn’t want to do. I went out with sensible people I didn’t really want to go out with. I feigned interest in all of the trappings of being an adult, when all I wanted to do was the polar opposite. I trod on a few toes along the way, which I’m not proud of but it happened. And then, a good decade after most regular folk are preparing for the final chapter, I decided to piss away whatever minuscule security I had mustered to date in favour of a much riskier, but ultimately more satisfying goal: to write. In an era when writers have less chance of staying afloat than ever. Because there are more writers than cockroaches these days.

This is what draws me back. Glastonbury, despite its inevitable nod to commerce, still represents the troubadour spirit. Anything seems possible here if you have a dream and the balls to see it through. And if it’s just an illusion, it is a magnificent one. Who cares who’s playing on the big stage? It matters not one jot. Someone in a tiny tent way out on the fringes has the potential to make an incalculable difference, and that’s what makes it special. That’s why I’m going in one last time. To suck at the marrow of a sprawling collective unconscious which can turn your life around on a sixpence. Even at its most desperate, outermost ebb.

IE Audio 4 : The Demon Grog

Bit of back story here. Not all that funny either, but at least it demonstrates we can pull something out of the bag if pushed.

https://theidleeye.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/idle-eye-156-the-demon-grog/

Idle Eye 156 : The Demon Grog

Of all the relationships I’ve ever had, perhaps the most difficult is the one I still hold with the booze. It’s pretty shit, to be frank, and I didn’t choose it either. My namesake grandfather died of it before I was born, as did my own father indirectly, and it will probably see me off prematurely if the snout doesn’t get me first. Its claws are pan-generational, way outside the boundaries of logic and reason, and conveniently, a quick re-read of the above somehow absolves me of any absolute guilt, thereby allowing me to persevere with more of the same in order to write dispassionately about it. As if that makes it okay. The obvious, entry-level question filed by those close enough to be concerned, is this:

Do you drink alone?’

And the most honest answer I can give is:

Yes, I do. I drink alone out of preference. Because then, finally, the ever-present critical voices (which extend into every cranny of my existence) shut up long enough for me to be able to do the things I actually care about. Until I go down the opposite slope and couldn’t give a toss any more. Can I get you a top up?’

It’s not what they want to hear. And those I’ve upset along the path (trust me, there have been a few) will see it as a romanticised excuse, along the lines of Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited, very much the architect of his own downfall despite every gift life bestowed upon him.

Someone kindly gave me a book last Christmas. Called ‘The Trip To Echo Spring’ by Olivia Laing, it discusses the troubled link so many writers have with the demon grog. Not that I have ever considered myself a bona fide writer, and thereby lies the problem. The very term has such powerful connotations that the unsure are crippled at the starting blocks, pitifully reliant on whatever it takes to be taken seriously. Until the crutch becomes counterproductive, by which time it’s usually too late. Between these, I walk a fine line: If that glorious moment ever comes about when something I have created becomes a thing, I’ll probably be too mullered to notice. But maybe you will, and I’d be grateful if you could let me know. We’ve been around the block together for nearly four years. You owe me.

I have a rule. When I spew this stuff out, usually late at night and alongside a bottle of Pinot, I resist the temptation to hit the publish button until the following morning. Because, no matter how cathartic it may seem at the time, the unforgiving light of a new day will invariably reveal my incisive efforts to be little more than a muddled, steaming pile of cack. But ask yourselves something: You’re reading this. Does that mean it’s through quality control, or am I slumped comatose over the return key?

I’ll leave that one with you.

IE Audio 3 : The Song of a Sceptic

This week, it’s the contentious subject of foodstuffs. Practical solution to the endemic crime of celebrity chefs also included at no extra cost, along with convincing dystopian alternative for those who prefer their lunch to take three minutes and come from a pot.

https://theidleeye.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/idle-eye-121-the-song-of-a-sceptic/

Idle Eye 155 : The Modest Proposal

Ever tried to sell yourself? Seriously, have you? You’d think it would be relatively straightforward, seeing as you’re pretty much up to speed with all things you, and it should be just a question of getting the good bits in line, right? Well, I beg to differ. This week I’ve been trying to put together a book proposal for literary publishers and agents, and it’s like pulling bloody teeth. Using a crib sheet downloaded from one of the Bloomsbury fat cats, I somehow managed to get through the early parts unscathed. But then they wheeled in the heavy artillery:

Q)  Please outline the main pedagogical feature you plan to include.

A)  Hmm…It’s a funny blog I want done as a book. That’s it. And the only pedagogical feature I can think of is that it serves as some kind of a caveat.

It gets worse:

Q)  Where do you see the main markets for the book, e.g. UK/Canada/Europe/Australasia etc? Please provide any information that would help us promote it in specific markets, e.g. international case studies/contributors/author profile/possible endorsements.

A)  Hold on, isn’t that what you do? It’s not like I go round to WC1 and say ‘I’m having issues with a recalcitrant paragraph, could you sort it for me’, is it? Or tap you for meals I had in the local café whilst attempting to sound coherent online. My remit is to write the stuff, yours is to put it out there. Surely?

But seeing as I’ve had diddly squit published in my life, maybe it’s time I learnt to play ball. The possible endorsements bit is simple, I’ll just make a call to New Zealand and be the acceptable face of the next thin-skinned grape juice they export. It’s just, well, how exactly are you supposed to know where your main markets are if it’s not out there yet? Perhaps I’ll develop the Downton Abbey effect in the Ukraine (by the way, hello Ukraine stats person. Could you let me know what my USP may or may not be in your country? I’m afraid I haven’t a clue. And good luck with Vladimir), or nag the two people I know in North Carolina indefinitely until they set up an injunction.

It’s not in the nature of creative types to do hard sell. That’s why we have agents and managers and accountants. The whole crux of this symbiosis hinges on the left brain/right brain theory, both parties doing what they do best in order to achieve a mutually beneficial end result. I could no more flog the fluff I put out than eat my own earwax, and that’s as it should be. But it works both ways. If they find me butt naked on a carpet somewhere, dribbling and babbling incoherent nonsense, I shall remind them it is my duty as an artist to push the envelope. So they don’t have to.

IE Audio 1 : The Wolf of West Norwood

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.

https://theidleeye.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/idle-eye-100-the-wolf-of-west-norwood/

Idle Eye 154 : The Twin Algorithms of Fame

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

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 149 : The Road Less Travelled

There is a certain issue that instils terror into the hearts and minds of those of us who, for whatever reason, have failed to reproduce. And it stems from that most innocuous of sources, the supermarket, where we like to believe we can conduct our business from behind the veil of relative anonymity. Which, to a point, we can. However, just when you think you’ve come through the process unscathed, an atrocious ritual humiliation lies in wait at the tills. A poison bullet with your name on it. A five word bombshell that suggests that you are pitifully lacking as a human being:

“Are you collecting School Vouchers?”

It is a question both pertinent and unspeakably cruel, for it must be answered on the fly and will be absorbed by many. Rejection of the wretched things is tantamount to saying “I do not care for children. Consequently, I shall not be providing a brighter future for them with my wine purchases.” There will also be a phalanx of affronted mothers behind you, boring fiery holes deep into your soul with the sheer force of their unbridled contempt. At which point, you have two choices:

1)  Announce to the rapidly-assembling crowd that you were struck barren at birth after an unfortunate circumcision accident, and that collection of said vouchers will only add to the escalating mountain of angst you have already accrued. If you can weep a little, so much the better. Just don’t get out the goods if asked to prove it. You’re no Dustin Hoffman. 

2)  Take them. Take them and run out into the High Street in order to create a massive paper rick of lost hopes and dreams. Then light a match and sing ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’ in Scottish, like in the Wicker Man. No-one will like you for it but they probably don’t anyway. Sod ‘em.

When I was working in Egypt, I was asked on several occasions how many kids I had and whether they were boys or girls. Initially I tried to set the record straight, but soon found out I was on a highway to nowhere. To them I was, at best, a curio, so I decided to lie in order to get by. I invented a beautiful wife, four sons and two daughters, and by the end of the season had become quite jealous of myself. Why didn’t I have a life like that? And how would I keep my new-found family in the style which we had yet to become accustomed when I got home?

Standard existential stuff and nonsense. But in those frozen moments back in the supermarket, I often wonder how my other self would have felt, watching a middle-aged man bundling booze into a bag and denying the next generation a decent start in life. And if I’m honest, I’d probably be in the vanguard of those livid mums, silently berating myself for having taken the road less travelled.

Idle Eye 148 : The Eisenhower Matrix

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.