Idle Eye 153 : The Pig’s Table

The 1970s. A decade of strikes, skyrocketing inflation, shocking trousers, way too much hair and cars that didn’t start in the morning. But to this then knock-kneed schoolboy with nascent food issues and a paranoic fear of authority, it will forever be remembered as the one that threw up the Pig’s Table. And I mean that quite literally. Let me get you up to speed:

The Pig’s Table was a monstrous form of ritual trial and humiliation, cooked up by some of the sickest minds this side of the Nuremberg trials and brutally administered by a stringent headmistress and the minions under her employ. These punitive cronies were known collectively as The Danes, whose sole remit was to concoct a regular school meal that could be instantaneously jettisoned by any formative digestive system within a fifty foot radius. In this they were ruthlessly efficient. The universally feared Egg Nest™, an impossibly thick substrate of aqueous grey potato, cunningly concealed beneath a quagmire of zygotic discharge, was the jewel in their crown. Even Heston has not yet superseded this appalling Frankendish, and God knows he’s tried.

In the days before CCTV, food slop bins were manned in shifts. The trick was to get your plate of Egg Nest™ in there at point of changeover and make a break for the door before the new guard had worked out what was going on. But alas, as many did try, so many more failed and were instantly fed into the sausage machine of corrective punishment. First, an guilt-inducing rebuke. How that the thousands, if not millions of disadvantaged children in some of our poorest nations would be pathetically grateful for the delicacy you had just rejected. At which point you resisted the urge to mention Parcel Post. But then came the killer. Your penance would be exacted the very next day. You would suffer the Table.

I’ll take you through it. Like Spartacus, albeit unshackled, you were led into the refectory, filled to capacity with one hundred plus Lords of the Flies with an immense thirst for cruelty, and thrust towards a table for one. This braying throng, despite having narrowly missed the margin themselves, saw you as legitimate quarry and mocked mercilessly as you gingerly took your seat, steeling yourself for the imminent arrival of yesterday’s Egg Nest™. When it turned up, more congealed and pitiful than before, so began the painfully slow process of its consumption. The inevitable gagging was met with a wall of pre-pubescent ridicule, sweat, bile and fear meshing together as one as you prayed to whichever deity was in the vicinity to make it all stop.

It did eventually. But as you collected your thoughts in the ensuing nauseous aftermath, you knew you’d never be the same again. You had become a husk, a grotesque traumatised ghost of your former self, and mealtimes would from now on be heinous culinary skirmishes for you to fight and lose. So then, lunch anyone?

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 130 : The Messiah

As some of you may know, I’ve been working in a Catholic church now for quite some time. My remit is to conserve the merchandise, the latest being a huge gilded reredos with exquisitely carved priests gazing up at a floating Lady of Suffering with her attendant cherubs and, a bit further up, God. With a massive beard. And a book.

Every day I arrive an hour or so before the morning Mass. To get to the scaffold, I have to push my bike past an elderly man lying prostrate on the floor in a state of reverie, touching the feet of a plaster cast of Our Lady with six plastic swords piercing her sacred heart. He barely notices me. Next, I nod graciously at the Silver Vixen (who smiles provocatively back) and then head on up to the tower. Usually I bail out for the Mass itself, but sometimes I catch the last of it. A priest in white and purple robes, looking and sounding like Mark E Smith, finishes the proceedings by chanting the beginning of a hymn and then walking off to the sacristy in solemnity, leaving the congregation to wrap up the singing and follow suit. Which, for the most part, they do.

A few weeks ago, however, a straggler got locked in. She’d passed out on one of the pews and fell under the penetrating in-house CCTV radar. When she came to, frightened and coming down off something, her first vision was that of myself, alone, at height and magnificently backlit by powerful halogens. The following exchange went something like this:

Me:  Are you okay?

Lady:  Who…who are you? Do you want me to sing for you?

Me:  Maybe not now. Do you know how to get out?

Lady:  Are you Jesus?

Me:  Er…

Lady:  Let me sing for you, Jesus.

Me:  I think we’d better…

Lady:  LET ME SING FOR YOU, JESUS!!!

Me:  Ok. What can you do?

Lady:  Tell me what to sing.

Me:  Look, I’m really not Jesu…

Lady:  WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SING???

Me:  Um…How about Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? Do you know that one?

Lady:  Just like you, Jesus. A twinkling star. In Heaven.

Me:  Thank you. But I really think you should speak to Father Pat first.

Lady:  I wrote you a letter. Did you get my letter?

Me:  I don’t think so.

Lady:  I gave it to Our Lady. She kept it for you. SHE KEPT IT FOR YOU!!!

Me: I’ll ask her for it later.

Lady:  I need to go wee.

Me:  Wait a minute. I’ll come down and show you…

Lady:  HELP ME GO WEE, JESUS!!! HELP ME GO WEE!!!

So I did. I helped the lady go wee. And then we took a short walk together to the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital where she was taken in and my services superseded by those more qualified than I. Because I’m not Jesus: I’m just a fella.