Second of our recordings with the wonderful David McClelland. FYI the audio section is mid-revamp, trying to get through the posts from the book with one microphone and two time-poor wage slaves. But we’ll get there x
The perils of going classic.
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.
I’ve had the same car now for eleven years. It was a replacement for an identical one which had the tits ripped off of it, on a roundabout in West Dulwich by a woman who didn’t look right when she should have done, putting me in plaster for five months. Over which time I was compensated, lost my job, split up with my fiancée and oversaw the untimely death of seven out of thirteen gerbils who had made their way into my inner circle, euphemism fans. But the new car was astonishing. I could never have afforded her initially, it was only the accident money that made it possible, so I made a small promise to myself on the day I took her down from Fife, Scotland to her new home in South London:
‘Come what may, I will look after you, keep you going and perhaps if I do, there may be a ghost of a chance that we’ll be together until one of us snuffs it.’
It was a marriage of sorts. And yet, curiously, I am not a car person. I couldn’t give a monkeys about what goes on underneath the bonnet, and even less about performance, reliability and safety. All I care about is that she is a lovely thing that gives me pleasure each and every time I sit in the driver’s seat and if, for whatever reason, she gives me gyp, I just learn to put up with it or try to fix it. As many of my close friends will testify as they have towed me home in the small hours or watched, incredulously, as one of her wheels overtook me on the M40.
Over the years, I’ve had all the dull jobs addressed: New gearbox, new clutch unit, something or another to do with diffs (whatever they are), the pointless points (enjoyed that one), carbs and sparks and trunnions and God knows what else. Which you have to do or the bloody thing doesn’t work. But none of this stuff is visible: Kind of like paying an arm and a leg to get the drains sorted outside your house, when actually all you want is a cooker that says more about you than money ever can. The cosmetics play second fiddle to those hardcore kids in the playground built like pit bulls that always seem to get first dibs.
But not this time. I’ve been watching an arc of rust creeping across the bonnet for the last two years, and the hood frame above me decomposing and freezing me to bits on every journey. And those classic Old English White wheels that now look like they’re just home from the Somme. So I’m getting them all done. In one hit. And when they are, I shall renew my vow of 2003 and look forward to our next swathe of time together on the open road. Because in my humble opinion, a car is for life. Not just for Christmas.
“See that two bedroom flat in a quiet residential area about eight miles from where it’s at? That’s mine (when I pay off the mortgage in 15 years). I also own a decaying car that’s older than me, take painkillers once a day if the back’s playing up and I owe £132 in council tax. When I was 26, I was selling sandwiches off a bicycle in the Farringdon area for less money than my niece makes in an afternoon, couldn’t hold down a girlfriend and drank myself to sleep most nights. Like it?”
On reflection, perhaps I’ve left it too late to enjoy the nefarious lifestyle portrayed by Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese’s latest epic. Sadly, the days of ludes, ladies and Lamborghinis are long gone but the thirst for excess never completely abandons you, particularly if you haven’t had it in the first place. So here’s a checklist for any senior slickers out there that will not hand over the baton:
Wellman 50+. The Holy Grail of oral healthcare. Neck one of these beauties with a couple of Omega 3’s and you’ll come up smiling for 24 hrs. What’s more, you can drive all you like and still operate the Stannah. Recommended.
HSS Equipment Hire. Mandatory for any lifting gear necessary to winch yourself into position at those liberated office parties. Consider also Streatham Cars for an unhindered lift to A&E shortly afterwards.
Acme Pool Cleaning. If you do happen to get caught short at an all-important client meeting, these guys are discreet, fast as lightning and have on-site fabric care facilities. Includes Dralon®.
Ladbrokes. You like to gamble. But that itch never got properly scratched, right? Instead of pissing away someone else’s blue-collar quids on the never-never, these horses will keep on comin’ atcha until the end of time. Simply smoke 5000 tabs a week, lie to your wife like you used to and blow the housekeeping fund in less time than it takes to say ‘divorce’.
Saga Magazine. No more Hustler, no more Penthouse. But keep it real with Saga, the only monthly you can read under the duvet by torchlight without getting your head stoved in. Now subtly laminated for guilt-free enjoyment.
Viking Direct Office Supplies. Sell me this pen.
Fred Olsen. What’s this? Are you serious? A yacht!!! (With maids, cooks, 1300 paying guests, easy access toilets on all levels and occasional live music and/or comedy in the theme bar.)
Methuselah Homes UK. When your hellraising days are finally behind you, why not reminisce with like-minded chums in one of our ‘off the beaten track’ tailor-made units? Don’t worry, we’ll change your name and contact details for you, it’s all part of the service.
And for all of the above, there is no fee. We wrinklies must stick together, rallying fervently against the relentless onslaught of youth and taking whatever tablets they give us to keep us going. Senility is a state of mind, not an ailment. You can have that one. You’re welcome.
One of the downsides of owning a classic car is that people will insist on talking to you about it. Whether you’re underneath it, inside it or getting out, invariably you will be approached by an enthusiastic beardy type with battered NHS glasses, aching for a lengthy chat about horsepower, turning circles & the good old days when they made things proper. It goes with the territory. And for reasons completely beyond me, there is an unspoken presumption that you care as deeply about engines and distributors and carburettors and all the other stuff that gets greasy every time you look at it and ruins your good trousers because you thought you’d just have a quick tinker but it’s never quite that simple is it, as they do.
You can see them approaching a mile off, all dewey-eyed, drooling and preparing for their inevitable opening gambit:
Carb Uncle: Used to have one of them meself, mate. First car, she was. Went like a rocket. And you could turn her on a sixpence. Lovely motor. Had her long?
Me: About ten years.
Carb Uncle: We got ours in…er…when did we get ours, Joyce?
Joyce: 1967. Our honeymoon.
Carb Uncle: That’s right! ‘67 it was. Took her down the Costa del Sol, never had no trouble. Well, I say no trouble but you know what it’s like. Like to play up sometimes, don’t they? But the beauty of the old ‘uns is you can do the work yourself, right? Flip up the bonnet, sit on the wheel & get stuck in. Not like your modern rubbish. First sign of trouble & it’s all Computer says No! No way José! Tell you what, mate: I’d give ten of any car on the road right now for one of those. ‘Cos they made them proper back then. Right, Joyce?
Joyce: Yes, dear.
Carb Uncle: Lovely engines’n’all. Yours a two litre?
Carb Uncle: Twin carbs?
Carb Uncle: Strombergs?
Carb Uncle: Your Stromberg was the king of carbs, make no mistake. Tune ‘em to within an inch of their life, I should coco. Mind you, they couldn’t half give you strife on the long haul. Spent many an hour on the hard shoulder with a spanner or two in the jacksie pocket, ain’t that the truth, Joyce?
Joyce: Yes, dear.
Back in the day, I learned to actively engage with these people. How I would laugh at the absurdities of modern vehicles. How I pretended to yearn for the golden era of motoring, when one could take to the open road in a car proudly manufactured in Great Britain, safe in the knowledge that it was almost certainly the envy of the developed world. But these days, I’m afraid I really couldn’t give a toss. Because if I give Carb Uncle the kind of time he’s after, I’ll never get the bloody thing sorted. And I’m off to France next week. So please, could you just piss off?
So, are we all in then? Sitting comfortably? Good. Now, let’s get on with it..
Several months ago I was staring down the bottom of a glass in a Godforsaken hellhole of a bar in downtown Cairo, broke, homeless and with the useful years of my miserable life long since behind me. ‘How did I get here?’ I appeared to ask, although in reality I was more concerned with shaking out the last piastres from my pockets as it was dangerously close to closing time. A young man walked in and sat down on a stool beside me. He was well dressed, freshly shaven and surprisingly clean. He ordered a Manhattan from the bar and for several minutes he observed me closely. Then, without warning, he patted me gently on the shoulder and offered to buy me anything my heart desired. ‘Anything?’ I asked gingerly. ‘Anything at all’ he replied, smiling.
‘Well blow me’, I thought, ‘that doesn’t happen every day’, but just before I put in for a vintage Bentley, leather seats, walnut dash, wire wheels, complete with Page 3 dazzler gazing adoringly at me from the passenger seat, I stopped to consider. These talismans of success were all very well, but surely in essence they were ephemeral? The fleeting trappings of, say, a footballer or rock star. If I was to turn my life around, I needed something of substance to build on : Something I could look back on in later years and be proud that I had made a courageous decision in the face of temptation. And at that moment, I knew what I wanted.
‘Decided yet?’ asked the young man.
‘I have indeed’ I replied, swelling with self-knowledge.
‘So then, what’s it to be?’
Dropping down from the stool and drawing myself up to my full height, I turned to the benevolent stranger to give him the answer that would change my life forever :
‘Sir, what I would like more than anything else in the world would be to write the weekly blog for West London’s Idle Hour pubs, giving the readers regular updates on events, promotions and gossip in what will become known and anticipated as my own wry take on life but simultaneously informative & entertaining. Thank you for giving me this chance, I shall never forget your kindness and perhaps one day I too will be able to pass such an opportunity on to another..’
‘A fine choice’ he replied. ‘For a moment there I thought you were gonna go for the vintage Bentley, leather seats, walnut dash, wire wheels and the Page 3 bird. Guess I’ll have to shift them elsewhere. Have fun with the writing, my friend’, and without warning he was gone, leaving me the tab for the Manhattan, the bastard.
So, that’s how it started. And that’s how we’ll carry on, you and me. And if, at any time, you’re not too sure where it’s all going, just remember what I gave up. For you, dear reader, for you..