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 132 : The Christmas Special*

*with 312 festive bonus words

Desert Island Discs – December 2014

Kirsty:  Due to swingeing cuts the BBC has suffered recently, my castaway this week is alcoholic and sometime blogger Idle Eye. I know, me neither. His pithy and often self-deprecating blog has been read by an ever-decreasing audience since its inception in 2011, and he claims to be a mouthpiece for the very few disaffected, middle-aged misanthropes he manages to connect with. Good morning, sir.

Me:  Good morning, Kirsty.

Kirsty:  I understand that you no longer make any money whatsoever from your work. Is this true?

Me:  That’s correct. I started by writing for my brother’s pub, but it soon became pretty clear that the stuff I put out was having an adverse effect on his clientele: They stayed away in their droves. The rest is history.

Kirsty:  So what’s the incentive, if you don’t mind me asking?

Me:  Well, Kirsty, the strapline for the whole shebang is “Getting it off my chest and onto yours”, which I suppose is the main thrust. And I nicked that from Peter Cook. Sadly, there isn’t an original bone in my body. But I soldier on.

Kirsty:  Let’s have some music.

Me:  My first would have to be Instant Street by dEUS, which hit me like a bullet when it came out in 19…

Kirsty:  We don’t have that one, I’m afraid.

Me:  Oh…Well, how about Heavenly Pop Hit by The Chills? The flagship band from New Zealand’s Flying Nun stable when they were at their…

Kirsty:  Nor that.

Me:  I thought you had these things lined up beforehand?

Kirsty:  Look, Sarah Millican asked for Wham! if that’s any help. Work with me.

Me:  Ok.

[You Drive Me Crazy – Shakin’ Stevens]

Kirsty:  Thank you. Now, tell me about your drinking. You profess a disturbing reliance on Marlborough Pinot Noir in order to get your ideas onto the page. Would you describe yourself as a writer with a drinking problem or a drinker with a writing problem?

Me:  I like to think of it as both. Although it’s clear which one would have to go if push came to shove.

Kirsty:  I see. And do you think you could manage without?

Me:  To be fair, there’s a lot of crap out there. And the telly’s getting better and better. So yes, I think so.

Kirsty:  Let’s have your next disc.

Me: Can I have…

[We Are The Champions – Queen]

Kirsty:  You mention your family in several posts. Tell me about the early years: Did they spot the signs of your forthcoming invisibility or was it something you had to work at alone?

Me:  When you say ‘forthcoming invisibility’…

Kirsty:  That, by your own admission, your efforts are widely ignored. “Like farting into a wind tunnel”, as you once put it.

Me:  It was a symbiotic arrangement, I seem to remember. To have your ‘efforts’ overlooked as a young man does stand you in good stead for later life. In many ways it was a gift, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Kirsty:  Forgive me for bringing this up, but we’re running out of time and we need a hook. Your father, a much-loved television and film actor, died last year. How did his tangible success, first realised when he was less than half your age, affect your confidence as an artist in your own right?

Me:  Well, Kirsty, I see it like this: Success is very much like wine – Some of it can be enjoyed young (and some of it can be very good), but I think most of us would agree that in order for it to be at its very best, it needs to have sat around for a while.

Kirsty:  But if you leave it too long, it gets tipped down the sink.

Me:  There is that.

Kirsty:  Let’s have some more mu…actually, let me do it.

[Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid]

Me:  I hate that one, by the way.

Kirsty:  Me too. But it’s your show.

Me:  And I normally write 500 words, preferably less.

Kirsty:  Just say it’s a Christmas Special. You can do whatever you like with them, trust me. Now, I’m going to give you The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Bible to take with you. And a book of your choice: What’s it going to be?

Me:  Well, it’s a toss-up between…

[Sarah Millican’s Support Group audiobook – Sarah Millican (signed)]

Kirsty:  And a luxury too. You can have one thing on the island to make life more bearable.

Me:  I’d like…

[You’re Never Too Fat For A Handbag – Sarah Millican white cotton tea towel (signed)]

Kirsty:  And if you had to pick just one…ach, forget it.

Me:  I already have.

Kirsty:  Thanks for coming in.

Me:  No, thank you.

Idle Eye 128 : The Turn of the Screw

It started with Mary Poppins. Perfectly harmless, but the seed was sown. When I didn’t baulk at that, the bar was incrementally raised: Doctor Doolittle/The Jungle Book/Oliver/Bugsy Malone, even Camelot (which was really quite grown-up). Still I did not flinch. Then the heavy artillery: Cabaret/Grease/Jesus Christ Superstar/New York, New York/A Star is Born. I took umbrage at the latter, my tender sensibilities already affronted by the vulgarity of Hollywood pizzazz. But still they kept on coming: Evita/A Chorus Line/That’s Dancing. And then I knew. How could I continue to live this lie? The sleepless nights, the deception, those red velvet trousers I had always secretly despised? No, the time had come: I had to tell my mother I was straight:

Mother:  Oh, don’t be ridiculous!

Me:  Ma, I am. I think I always have been. I’m sorry.

Mother:  It’s probably just a phase, dear. Lots of boys your age go through it. Now, settle down and I’ll pop on some Barbara Streisand.

Me:  Please don’t. I’m serious about this.

Mother:  Of course you are. Let’s have a cup of tea and you can tell me all about it.

Me:  You’re not listening to me, Ma. I’m straight. And no amount of cups of tea or Barbara Streisand will change that.

Mother:  Yes yes yes! No need to shout. Now, I’ve been flicking through the papers and they’re showing West Side Story again at the Ritzy on Saturday. Thought we might…

Me:  You’re just not getting it, are you? I don’t want to see West Side Story, I don’t want to see The Sound of Music and, to be frank, I don’t want to see any more musicals. Ever. Again. Do you understand?

Mother:  I’ve seen you watching Cabaret alone in your room. And singing along.

Me:  Cabaret is different. The narrative is the driving force behind that film, and the music just so happens to be great as well. But without the former, they’re just songs looking for a vessel. The combination of the two is a heady mix. It’s the unsurpassed, bitter-sweet genius of Bob Fosse.

Mother:  See?

Me:  See what? Look, just because I like Cabaret does not make me gay, ok? You’re just going to have to get used to it.

Mother:  But…but what will I do?

Me:  I know it’s hard for you right now. But lots of straight men go on to lead happy, fulfilled lives and I’m determined to be one of them. I just want you to be happy for me. Do you think you can do that?

Mother:  Yes…I think so. But are you sure? I mean, have you actually tried it? You know…

Me:  Yes, I have.

Mother:  Oh God…(sobs)…I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry!

Me:  Please don’t be, Ma. It’s ok, really. And I think, given time, you’ll come to love Echo & the Bunnymen as well. They’re super on stage, and you’ll die for the hairstyles.

Idle Eye 125 : The Sos Age

In days of old, when knights were bold
And Bowyers sausages stood the test
I’m glad to say that still today
That Bowyers sausages are the best

This curious little rhyme was drummed into my subconscious relentlessly by my late stepfather pretty much every weekend in the 1970s. Partially to whip up a kind of inter-family bonhomie, as we would chant the thing together in the car on the way to the shops, but mainly because he was the chairman of Bowyers sausages, cynically utilising a primitive form of subliminal advertising for his own ends. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t join in with gusto, but even then I could spot the flaws:

Thrust instantly into a medieval context, the reader is presented with a given that all knights back then were actually bold, as opposed to the more likely premise that they were shit-scared, metal-clad servants of whichever fanatical despot that happened to own the land upon which they lived. Next, there is the contextual leap we are expected to take, in which the Bowyers sausage is inexplicably time-travelled to the period in order to stand a test. Exactly what test is not made clear, probably for reasons of economy, but already we are none the wiser and hunting for clues. 

There are none, for the second half has no correlation whatsoever with the first. For starters, the introduction of the possessive noun only serves to confuse, and the whiplash suffered from being thrown back into the present weakens us so conclusively, we are unable to challenge the outlandish supposition that the Bowyers sausage knocks spots off the competition. Consequently we take it for granted, bereft of any insight as to who the narrator may or may not be. These four lines are, at once, a travesty of continuity, credibility and impartiality. I am eleven years old.

Obviously, I didn’t let on in the car. I knew how ruthlessly I was being exploited yet somehow I was complicit. How could I tell a man fifty years my senior that his grasp of language was at best rudimentary, particularly as I had not yet received my pocket money? So I let it lie. To the point where I taught the very same to the equally exploited workers of a slaughterhouse in which I worked over the summer of 1980. And they loved it too.

I kept shtum for ages when I became a vegetarian. It would have made a mockery of all the ideals we held so high as a family which were built on the foundations of the very thing I had so vehemently rejected. And besides, I wanted Bill Newton-Clare to meet his maker without doubt, which he almost certainly did. But not before leaving us another salient reminder of the mark he made when he was around:

Q:   What came before the Ice Age?
A:   The Sos Age

Idle Eye 86 : The Pixies

One of the reasons I bailed out of the music scene in 1998 was down to an overwhelming fear of becoming one of those ancient ponytailed rockers who never learned when to throw in the towel. For me it was get in there early, shine while you have the limelight, then hand over the baton to the next in line. It’s usually a brutally short career path, as for footballers and athletes, but rightfully so: You need the stamina and the recklessness to bend your body and mind to the outer limits of excess in order to advance the cause, and these are the exact qualities that tend to retire with every advancing year (unless you are Sly Stone).

But never mind all that. I got an email from the Pixies a couple of weeks ago saying they were doing a secret show in Brixton and would I care to join them? How very thoughtful, I thought, and as each and every Pixie is a tad older than myself, I figured it would be churlish to refuse. It’s manners, innit? Like when your nan asks you over for tea. So off I popped on Friday night with a few chums, having enjoyed a few statutory light refreshments beforehand.

And hats off to them, they really were jolly good. Mr Francis, or Black now apparently, was shouting and screaming like my mother in the 1970’s, with not a jot of hair on him. Which was brave. His old chum Mr Santiago (on the guitar) was particularly splendid, and guess what? He was follicularly-challenged too, neatly getting around it with the cunning use of a flat hat. Mr Lovering on the drums was thinning a bit, but we forgave him for it as he pounded it out like a headmaster before New Labour got in, and then there was New Kim on the bass (Old Kim had stopped for reasons most probably outlined in paragraph one). And oh my stars! New Kim had masses of hair! And she wasn’t afraid to move it about, neither. In fact, New Kim probably had more hair than all the other Pixies combined. And I loved her for it. These are the things that matter when you’ve been out of the loop for a while.

We retired to an old-skool boozer on Coldharbour Lane for a swift digestif. Some boys with trainers the size and shape of Beirut flat blocks were unattractively spitting into their microphones, whilst behind them a disc jockey seemed to be having problems cueing up his songs. I know I’m going to come across all fuddy-duddy but you wouldn’t have got that from David Jacobs, now would you? At least he could put the bloody needle down in the right place, for heaven’s sake!

But I’m forgetting myself: Dear Pixies, it was lovely to see you all, and thank you for inviting me to your lovely party. I am most grateful. Now, where is my mind?

Idle Eye 81 : The Eye and the Erewash

Couple of things. Firstly, I must confess I lied to you back in Idle Eye 77 about getting the jellies re-zapped. I never did, at least not then. It was simply a narrative convenience to say so. However, after five months of headaches and grinding admin, I finally reached a compromise with the suits at Optical Express – I could have one eye enhanced. On the house, but just the one. Bugs sodding Bunny.

It was a Sophie’s choice, basically. Should I have gone for the one that could see into the future, all Michael J Fox but lacking the most rudimentary of motor skills, or the other one, stuck in the 1980’s with crap hair but bringing up the rearguard rather nicely, thank you. I opted for the former, the trade-off being that I wouldn’t have to wear senior glasses every time my phone rang.

Big mistake. When the stench of molten eyeball had finally subsided and I was able to take a good look around, it became apparent the roles had been reversed. The former limp biscuit was flexing its muscles like Charles Atlas, and last month’s King of the Hill had tumbled onto Skid Row. Woefully, my everyday reality had now become the equivalent of whatever Scandi cop show is currently doing the rounds, all shallow-focus and inner ennui. And I’m wearing the glasses as I type this.

In better news, it turns out that this ole blog has been embraced by the good folk of Derbyshire, presumably because last week I suggested it was somewhat remote and they have a honed lust for revenge. Now listen: Of course Derbyshire isn’t remote. I looked it up on Google Maps and it’s quite near Nottingham, which I have heard of. That Robin Hood once ran about there being terribly left-wing in a forest, and there’s also lots of pubs and lovely ladies. Apparently. One of which was the delightful Christine Free, who I met recently and has a slot on Erewash Sound, now broadcasting my Elsan extracts every Wednesday sometime between 10.30 and 11am. The humanist in me just wants to reach out and beg her to desist. It’s just not fair: These people have historically travelled many miles to avoid the appalling whimsy I subject you to every week, but she wouldn’t have it, bless her. So here we go:

“Welcome, Erewash, and thanks for listening. I’ll try my darndest to keep you all on board although honestly, the odds are poor – My own mother whacked me senseless with the bristly end of a hairbrush outside the Imperial War Museum for being spectacularly annoying in the 1970’s. Sorry. I’ll be mostly chucking out irrelevant drivel for the first few paragraphs, after which I will somehow manage to tie in my brother’s pub in London, thereby fulfilling my contractual obligation. It’s gonna be a white knuckle ride, so hold on tight! Now, here’s the weather…”

Idle Eye 70 : The 70s

Good Lord! Have a look at the mast there. Turns out we’ve managed to get through seventy (SEVEN OH) versions of this literary piffle together. And it got me to thinking, as it does when you’re running out of ideas, that just maybe it would be a bit of fun to do a quick post about…wait for it…the 1970s. Obviously I will have to tie this concept in with the pub, but between you & me I think I can swing it: I’ll just say something about the price of a pint back then (probably about 50p), then have a good old moan about inflation, the Tories and the grand old summer of 76, when you could fry an egg on the pavement and Terry Scott (off Terry and June) pushed me into the swimming pool with his face covered in meringue and scared the living shit out of me for the rest of my years. It’s a long shot, but I think Nibs will run with it ‘cos he’s good like that.

It’s funny. I was having an ale with me ‘ole mate Donald (off Julian Cope) just now, asking him which peeps he remembered most from that time. And both of us came up with pretty much all of the Yewtree candidates. Admittedly we’re both diehard musos, and our reference points were probably the DJ’s that allowed us a path to the songs that would change our lives forever (currently residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure). But even as a soft as shite, lily-livered Southern pansy, I still recall the blackouts when Nibs & I helped our mom dig about in the pantry for the Prices candle multipack as our stepfather crawled the walls upstairs, hurling abuse and worse at the Three Day Week whilst simultaneously sorting the eight track cartridges for his three hour journey in the Jensen the following morning: Walker Brothers, followed by Shirley Bassey, followed by Cleo Laine. And, if we were lucky, we’d get a pound to spend in his absence, half of which usually went on a chart-topper of choice and the other on premium smack, straight off the boats. Innocent times, innocent times…

But no other consumable can define the zeitgeist like a chocolate bar. Mars, Galaxy, Milky Way were just entry-level stellar signposts to the hard stuff. From here we got the Texan bar (sure was a mighty chew), and for misogynist hardcore chocoholics there was always the Yorkie, marketed at the Surrey stockbroker craving a bit of rough via the long-haul trucker. And let us not forget the aftershaves: Hi Karate, Old Spice, Blue Stratos, Bay Rhum, all of which I had purchased long before the fluff came, and the illusion that a socially backward pre-teen actually had a chance with a pneumatic bikini-clad babe had been shattered for good. But never mind that, I still had the lovely Farrah. Always Farrah. Isn’t that right, Charlie?