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 85 : The Andromeda Strain

As I march relentlessly through my forties towards the deep earth which eventually will swallow me up, I am becoming increasingly aware that the fleeting powers bestowed on me as a robust, thrusting alpha male are beginning to dwindle. Never an easy prospect that, although I have been cushioned from the full impact thanks to the distinct lack of successors in my flat. Not having kids basically means you can run up and down the stairs with a face like Russell Crowe in Gladiator, barking orders and pretending you’re in charge. But it is a life in aspic: Sooner or later you will meet your nemesis, and last night it appeared in the form of my friend Nick’s middle offspring.

Alfie is thirteen and no fool. He can whip his way around Logic like one of them Apple Genius nerds in Regent Street and bang out a few toons in less time it would take me to remember which drawer I’d put the manual in. He uses three letter acronyms for everything & understandably expects those within his orbit to keep up or get off the pot: It’s a brutal world out there. So when Nick left the house to go pick up his daughter, I was left for a few moments staring starkly into the face of the future. But, dear readers, you’ll be pleased to learn I didn’t just lie down & hand over the baton. Oh no! This ole boy has a bit of spunk left in him yet, you bet your bum! So I countered with the only weapon I had left: Ignorance.

Alfie:  GTA5 is awesome! Lucky I’ve got the Mac to myself or Dad would probably use up all the CPU.

Me:  What’s GTA, Alfie?

Alfie:  Grand Theft Auto?

Me:  I see. And what’s CPU?

Alfie:  Central Processing Unit. It’s how much power you get allocated for what you’re doing. Basic stuff, really.

Me:  Oh right. Is that good?

Alfie:  Sure. You know when you get graphic drag on TOD4? Means you’re getting low.

Me:  Sorry Alfie, what’s TOD4?

Alfie:  Tour of Duty! You need to be backed up or your reaction kill time gets slow.

Me:  Er…reaction kill time? Alfie, do you have to kill everyone all the time in every game?

LONG PAUSE

Alfie:  Pretty much.

Me:  Gosh! In my day we used to bash a square ball at each other for ages. Doubt it needed much CPU for that. And no-one really got hurt, either.

Alfie:  Sounds boring.

Me:  It was.

Turns out the only thing the young ’uns can’t cope with is ageing opinionated technophobia. You see, a world in which everything is better, quicker, sexier and copiously more violent will eventually have to implode, and the dinosaurs that feared extinction will once again rule the earth: It’s the law of nature. Unless, of course, I manage to pop a sprog out before I turn up my toes. In which case the whole of the above is utter bollocks.

Idle Eye 72 : The Next One

Being the offspring of a much-loved actor brings with it its own unique yet contradictory set of rules: You kind of choose the ones which seem to be most appropriate as you go. One minute you’re getting a guilty kick from all the reflected glory, the next you’re on the receiving end of astonishingly articulate and targeted cruelty. But don’t worry, it’s not real. He didn’t mean it. But somewhere along the line you have to second-guess which one is authentic and accept, for good or for bad, that that is the man. Then you try to love him: Not always as easy as it sounds.

You see, the problem with the profession is that in order to be good at it, you have to learn all the little tricks that allow you to successfully transform the nucleus of self into the embryonic form that lies within the script. And when you get better at it, these boundaries get blurred. Indeed, it is widely considered to be at the top echelons of achievement if you can pull this off. Which is fine within these confines, less so when the cameras have stopped rolling and the adulation on tap goes home for the night. Perhaps then, you introduce a little of the artifice into the domestic environment to keep the high going. And if it feels good, you introduce a little more. And slowly, very slowly, you begin to lose the very fabric that constitutes your true original.

For many actors, the above is a conscious choice: The Frankencharacters they create are often preferable to the reality deep within. But somewhere in there, they know what they’re doing and if they’re honest, they don’t much like themselves for it. The ennui this throws up needs an outlet, usually in the form of loved ones inside their immediate orbit as they will inevitably be the most forgiving. However, as any other child or spouse of someone in this process will tell you, it is the glimpse of authenticity we crave, however fleeting. Something concrete. Something honest. Otherwise who (or what) do we mourn when they go?

On Tuesday, we sent my Dad off to the Next One. First, in solemnity, at Mortlake Crematorium, and afterwards with a glass at the Idle Hour which Nibs closed for the wake. And it occurred to me, as I tried to keep a handle on contradictory emotions and maintain the kind of decorum expected of a firstborn, that I may have been doing exactly the same. That I was playing the role (rather well, in fact), instead of actually feeling it. And there was a moment in the garden when I looked around at the assorted guests and realised that the sum of those present did indeed make up the whole of the man: Everyone there represented a small strand, as did I, and that’s exactly how he chose to leave it. But a part of me will always yearn for the core. Even now.