The Loneliness of the Long Distance Pizza Flyer Delivery Boy

In December 2014, I wrote a short piece about a pizza junk mail delivery boy which was deliberately out of character with my other material. I was working at the computer, staring vacantly out of the window when one of these guys rocked up outside, looking as if he wanted the world to swallow him up whole. Alan Sillitoe’s Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner got into my head somehow, but I didn’t want a tale laden with the kind of pathos I didn’t feel qualified to write about; so I played a straight bat. When the narrator rejects outright a small moment of tenderness because he is preconditioned to expect the worst, there’s no fanfare: it’s just how it is. And I like that.

It was the last story of forty in Amateur of Life and Death. I was unashamedly channelling The Fast Show‘s Rowley Birkin QC, when his catchphrase “I’m afraid I was very, very drunk” is turned on its head because it isn’t funny. It catches your breath, and still to this day remains one of my favourite moments of character comedy writing. My cousin Mark Dicey illustrated it beautifully (see above), but I knew I wasn’t finished with it yet. I tentatively introduced it into the Broken Biscuits live set recently, with an accompanying urban landscape soundtrack recorded by Donald Ross Skinner in the 90s. But it needed something more to set it apart from the other posts, so I made it into a film.

Franck Alba’s haunting soundtrack, recorded in his bedroom in a matter of hours, is just perfect; and Alan Maclean’s wildly expressive features could not have been better for the ‘old geezer’. With a bit of help from one of my dearest friends Julitha Ryan, the whole thing was conceived, shot and edited in Crystal Palace over three days, and is now ready to be outed at Brighton Fringe next week. Hope you like it x

Book Update No. 16

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Remember this? If you can’t, please allow me to bring you up to speed: almost exactly one year ago, following on from an intense yet successful Kickstarter campaign, Amateur of Life and Death was released into the world via my very own little publishing wing, Ward 10 Books. Twenty brilliant artists from disparate disciplines and locations all contributed two illustrations, it was beautifully designed by Ursula McLaughlin and it became a hardback as we raised £1000 more than I had originally pitched for. It sold quite a few copies to begin with, but then came the inevitable slowdown and the impenetrable wall of the big stores was never adequately scaled. This upset me at first, but it lead onto the alternative route I have adopted since April; live performance and the Broken Biscuits shows. Which I adore, but the book is still a very real thing, still available and I am immensely proud of it.

As we prepare to enter the season of goodwill, may I humbly suggest the above as an adequate token of affection for a loved one, a colleague, a pet, an accountant or anyone else who knows you. It is quite easy to wrap, has pictures if you don’t like the words, and it fits under most doors. Simply click on the link below and I will sign it & send it to whoever you wish. If the link doesn’t work, could you let me know in the comments please? I’m a bit shit at this stuff which is why I’m not rich.

I thank you x

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Idle Eye 176 : The Feast of Stephen

It’s Boxing Day (or the Feast of Stephen in parlance of yore). For reasons completely beyond me, I once again find myself in Sainsbury’s and it’s packed. Because it’s not like there’s been enough food and drink doing the rounds over the last week or so, has there? Anyone with half a cell knows that those gargantuan, seasonal sherry cask snack buckets are cynically filled with enough compressed air to have us queueing outside the sliding doors at opening time the minute the Big Day is over. And of course we’ll throw in a few bottles of your astonishingly half-priced Prosecco. You bastards.

In much the same way that our Dickensian antecedents enjoyed a sneaky day out to the asylums to work off the figgy pudding and feel better about themselves, there is a certain schadenfreude to be had from inspecting the baskets of others. I mean, hello? Do you actually need a ‘four cheese feast maxi-pizza’ when you’ve only just got back from A&E? And excuse me, you’re only kidding yourselves with them reduced Absolut festive tubes (branded shot glass included) for your dismal commutes on Monday. I despair, I really do.

Actually, I’ve come here for a new bathing sponge; my existing one has corroded to the point where it self-abrades on contact with human flesh, and unattractively dries down to a burnt sienna/raw sewage patina. I did briefly consider a trip to Oxford Street to take advantage of the pre-January sales and snap myself up a once-in-a-lifetime bargain. However, the crippling expense of getting there on public transport considerably outweighed any projected savings and besides, I prefer to spend my hard-earned cash locally. Also, the fact that said sponge has no discount whatsoever and comes in a pre-wetted bag with a decorative font saying something about luxury on it, somehow makes it all rather sexy:

Let them eat pizza as I wash away my cares. Ka-ching!!!

I’ll let you into a secret: whilst I was on a consumer high, flashing my cash as if I was Pouffe Daddy or something, I went onto that eBay and spent a bit more. My electric toothbrush, now a veteran of the game, has been losing power of late, and it occurred to me that I could raise the thumb (like for one of those ugly turkeys, spared the knife by benevolent opportunists) if I simply replaced the non-replaceable lithium Li-Ion battery. It will require some rudimentary soldering skills and a willing army of Facebook friends, but I know it’s possible. Ionic Industries (‘helping you fight built in obsolescence’) have now mailed a £10.50 landfill alternative to my home address and by Jiminy, do I feel like a million dollars! And that, in a nutshell, is my Christmas message:

Be kind to others but make sure your arse is covered. Because you’re bloody worth it.

See you in 2016 x

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.

Idle Eye 134 : The New Kids

The heralding in of a new year traditionally allows the festivity-weary reveller to discard the old (a possible exception being the antiquities dealer), whilst simultaneously embracing all that is new, untried, untested and, to be frank, still in shorts. On this I beg to differ, particularly with regard to the contentious subject of foodstuffs. The last couple of weeks have seen all manner of horrors cross the threshold, charge up the stairs and vie for pole position in a kitchen already bulging with the decomposing stalwarts of previous months, quietly biding their time with patience, good grace and a certain dignity. The futility of their plight has not been lost on me and my heart goes out to them.

For example, a brattish bunch of dates muscled their way in the other day, flashing their knickers from inside a Taste the Difference box. And, not content with their star placement in front of the wine emporium, they demanded to be addressed as MEDJOOL DATES, all vulgar capitals and a Best Before date that had the longer-term residents wincing. The bravado of the wretched things was beyond belief, particularly as, on closer inspection, they bore a strong resemblance to a miserable collection of sun-dried testicles in captivity. I note wryly as I write this that they remain unopened and have started sucking up to the shallots.

Then there is the not inconsiderable issue of the cheese cracker. For years, we have been content with the only after-dinner companion wafer that has ever mattered: The Carr’s Table Water Biscuit. Fashioned in Carlisle for quality and durability, the CTWB has more than proven its worth and has no need whatsoever to jump about in fancy packaging. In fact, the bland blue/black box instills in us a sense of consumer confidence the new kids can only dream of. But still they come: Thomas J Fudge (with his faux-Victorian offerings and endless chummy waffle), the more austere Fine English Cheese Co (who put on a good show but are ultimately undone by a packshot of the product, gasping for breath from beneath a monstrous slab of Red Leicester), and many, many more too risible to mention here.

What these culinary contenders to the kitchen throne seem to have forgotten (or are simply to naive to comprehend) is that their time will also come, and the bitter pill they will be forced to swallow is that of humility. Either that, or suffer the slings and arrows of the green bin which will be only too happy to see them out. For there is no more pitiful a sight than seasonal goods preening themselves like they’re the cat’s pyjamas when everyone else in the room can see them for what they really are: Has-beens, like ex-footballers with a boutique restaurant or ex-rockers with a ponytail.

So, in light of the above, my lunch today will come from a tin containing one of fifty-seven varieties. It’s my small way of saying thanks for being right there at the back, going nowhere.

Idle Eye 133 : The Loneliness of the Long Distance Pizza Flyer Delivery Boy

Winter, Mid-90s

The bundle arrives at 5am. Dan & Charlie don’t come in, they never do, just sling it down by the milk crates and drive off. It’s usually wet when I pick it up but it don’t matter, I throw the top and bottom ones out anyway. Saves about twenty minutes in the long run. Not recently, though. They’ve put the big houses up on the Ridge onto my round ‘cos it’s the holidays and no one’s about. Takes bloody ages to get up there and they’ve all got them ‘No Junk Mail’ signs so you know you’re not wanted. Sometimes one of ‘em comes out and shouts but you just pretend you don’t hear nothing and keep going. No time to stop, too cold for that. Just get it over with.

Nan’s got me some gloves for Christmas. The thermal ones, she said, to stop me pinkies going blue. Trouble is, you can’t sort through the flyers so you end up taking them off anyway, bless her. Sometimes I go round after I’m done ‘cos she’s always got the heating up. Like the Bahamas in there most days, even in summer. Might nip over later if it’s still light. She likes a natter.

The first bit’s dead quick. Mostly flats, all shoved up close together & no one cares if you chuck in some extras. They all end up in the bin anyway, so what’s a few more if it makes life easier? You’ve got to watch it, though. A couple of lads got the elbow for putting theirs in a skip last week and bunking off early; not what you want at this time of year. Usually you see a few posties on the way, struggling with their big sacks of parcels and fat letters and cards and that. Makes you glad you’re not one of them, even though they make loads more than us. We don’t talk, neither. Everyone wants to get back indoors, quick as you like.

As you move out of town, the houses get bigger and further apart. Some have drives you’ve got to walk up, and dogs giving it all that until you leave. And those letterboxes that snap back onto your fingers, ‘cos to them you’re no better than the draughts they’re keeping out. There’s usually someone in, but when they see you coming they go in another room and pretend they’re not there. You can see their shadows through the crazy glass, trying to keep still. When you finally get up to the Ridge, you know you’re on the home run. Grand old places all the way along it, but there’s not too many and it’s downhill all the way back. You’re glad of this ‘cos by now you’ve had enough.

Today though, this old geezer comes out of one in his pyjamas and it’s well after lunch. ‘Here we go’, I says, and pull up my hood. But he’s shouting and shouting and I’m thinking maybe I’ve dropped something outside, so I go back. He’s only holding a tray and offering it out to me like some bloody weirdo. Now, I’ve been told about this sort of thing back at the depot and how to deal with it, but he don’t look so bad. Quite sad, actually. ‘Happy Christmas’, he goes. ‘Have a mince pie. It’ll keep you warm.’ I’m looking at him harsh so he don’t think I’m one of them, but he’s right: it’s bloody freezing and it’ll be an hour or two before I get back. So I take the pie and it’s lovely and warm in my hands. I watch him take a bite of his so I know it’s alright, then I put the whole thing in my mouth and swallow it down quick. And it’s proper nice. All sugary sweet with raisins and fruit and everything. But then I look up to say cheers and the bastard’s gone back in. Like I said, bloody weirdo.

Don’t think I’ll make it over to Nan’s after all. It’s getting dark and I’m up early in the morning. She’ll wait a day and you know what? That pie will do me until I get in, and the streetlights sort of make you feel warm too. It’s not so bad. And it’s downhill all the way back…