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.

IE Audio 3 : The Song of a Sceptic

This week, it’s the contentious subject of foodstuffs. Practical solution to the endemic crime of celebrity chefs also included at no extra cost, along with convincing dystopian alternative for those who prefer their lunch to take three minutes and come from a pot.

https://theidleeye.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/idle-eye-121-the-song-of-a-sceptic/

Idle Eye 141 : The Smear

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that the humble gerbil has graced the dailies once again, but not in a good way. Turns out our furry brethren can no longer be considered impossibly cute playthings of the very young (and, on occasion, my good self), being as they are conveyors of misery, disease and quality herbs and spices brought in on the Silk Road. And we’re also expected to believe that in 1347, in between exercising on their little wooden wheels and nibbling whatever they liked nibbling back in medieval Syria, they found time to pop over to London and give us all the Black Death.

It is a monstrous slur, cooked up by some Norwegian boffin with too much time on his hands, and fails to digest some pretty basic facts. For starters, there is no evidence whatsoever that gerbils took up residence in the UK until comparatively recently. Why would they? If your thing is copious quantities of sand and sunshine, you’d probably give it a bit of a wide berth, right? To say nothing of the logistical issues if and when you finally made it to Calais. Absolute nonsense.

Furthermore, architectural clues only date back to the 1950s. Before Rotastak, the Nottingham-based pioneers of affordable rodent housing, there were slim pickings to be had if you were small, hirsute and over here. Rats understood this implicitly, so they made alternative arrangements. But they were also fat and greasy enough to hack it. Their smaller, more delicate cousins wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. You can take Syria out of the gerbil etc…

Clearly we are being whipped up into a collective state of anxiety. It’s what the media does when it wants us to go to war, or sanction the spending of taxpayer cash on something unpalatable the government has shares in. What on earth can the gerbil have done to get them wound up so? And why are we being told that the more sinister rat is the fall guy? It smacks of Andy and Rebekah, the former taking the hit so the latter can persist with her satanic craft. Something stinks up there in the corridors of power, but what?

And then it struck me. Helen Perley’s exquisite 32-page tome Enjoy Your Gerbil (The Pet Library™, 1971), clearly states that the same is no ordinary rodent, and frequently refers to him as a ‘Superpet’. Probably the exact kind of pet that could radicalise British teenage girls into making the arduous pilgrimage to his homeland. And guess where that is? See? By demonising the critters, we surreptitiously put the brakes on the next wave of IS recruits and no-one gets hurt. No-one, that is, except these innocents abroad, and who speaks for them? Who will fight their corner after the first spate of distressing pet murders? And which sick individual will be the first to expand their perspex property portfolio at the expense of the less fortunate?

Right there.

Idle Eye 138 : The Windows to the Soul

When he put his mind to it, my father had a great smile. It was one of those magnificently craggy ones, as pioneered by WH Auden towards the end of his own years, which dug huge trenchlines into the soft tundra of his face and suggested, whether it were true or not, that he was kind and genuinely delighted to have you as company. Yorkshire Television was quick to pick up on this most saleable of assets, so in pretty much every publicity shot taken from the 1980s onwards, you can see him attempting to squash his nose hard into the well of his cheekbones, like some sort of demented human Corby trouser press, whilst simultaneously keeping his eyes open and looking sexy. And, unlikely though this may sound, for the most part he pulled it off.

As the firstborn of four, I have inherited (to a lesser extent) something similar. When it first appeared I was horrified, so desperate was I to preserve the illusion of perpetual youth, and those appalling fissures, snaking their way across my cheeks like levees towards the ocean, became impertinent reminders of my own mortality. Which I bitterly resented. But as the years rolled on, I kind of grew into them, accepted them, and now I shall ruthlessly exploit them for my own financial gain. Hear me out:

I’ve only ever had publicity shots done once. It was back in the day, when I was trying to look moody and angst-ridden for an art-rock band which I fronted. The fact that we never got picked up, and that the photographs fell into the dustbin of insignificance, was clearly down to the fact that I was not yet ready to face the full-frontal glare of fame and fortune. And possibly because a previous night’s drinking had made my eyes look like pissholes in the snow. But now I am older, wiser and sly as you like. So, what if I harness Dad’s old ruse for the back cover of this book that I’m doing? That, instead of going all Charles Bukowski on you, I could make you believe I’m enormous fun to hang out with? Simply by wrinkling up my face! It works across the board: The oldies will think they can trust me, and the young people will find me endearing. Sexy, even.

Now, I’ve been practicing in front of the bathroom mirror, but I think the silver must have buckled. When I scrunch up one side (leaving the other unwrinkled and all come hither), it looks like I’m having a stroke. Yet if I go for both at once, the eyes are lost in a sea of unsightly crevices. And the eyes, as any fule kno, are the windows to the soul. I’ve even tried the direct approach, looking straight into camera with just a hint of crumpled world-weariness. But I just come across as a massive tool. And we can’t have that, can we?

Idle Eye 135 : The Thing About Charlie

Have a look at the mast drawing above. That’s me, that is. Drunk, scribbling unrecognisable nonsense as per, wide-eyed & tousled, inappropriately attired for a man of my age and surrounded by semi-mythical beasts which may or may not represent the muses I wrestle with on a weekly basis. All contained in one simple statement with the site name teetering on the verge of collapse above me. How very apposite. When I briefed Dan back in 2011, I knew I wanted a sketch rather than a designed header with slick typography, because the best ones condense all the relevant information into a single visual hit. No frills, no waste, and therein lies the power.

I bring this up for two reasons: Firstly, and primarily, because current news events that cannot have escaped anyone’s attention have brought it into sharp focus. And whilst I won’t be drawn into spouting cause and effect rhetoric (this is not the place), it does demonstrate just how incisive the pen can be. Satire, by its very nature, apes and distorts its targets to drive the point home, which is why it sits so (un)comfortably with the cartoonist. Perhaps photography is too ‘real’ to get under the skin in quite the same way. Charlie Hebdo knows this all too well, hence their medium of choice. It’s quick, brutal and it takes no prisoners.

On the exact same day of the attacks in Paris, I was with six artists (amongst others) in a wine bar in central London, revitalising an idea that has been in limbo for a year or two now. It was also my birthday, and fuelled by copious quantities of Hungarian Pinot Noir (the kind that strengthens the resolve the more of it you have), I dared to ask for contributions towards an illustrated book of this here blog. And, no doubt for the same reasons, they were granted. In less than a week, the number of pledges has swelled to sixteen and they’re still coming in, brilliant, disparate and from all over the planet. I am simultaneously humbled and terrified.

As outlined in the first paragraph, in my head I’ve always seen the book as illustrated. Anyone who has ever read the bilge I come up with every week will interpret it differently, and what better way to represent that than a bunch of artists doing their thing. I pray the fact that I am the common glue does not put them off any. My default setting when things start going well is to run for the hills and hide until it’s all over, but not this time, not this time. With an apolitical nod to Charlie, this time I’ll commit. If you believe in something strongly enough, show some balls. And show them I shall.

I will, of course, let you know as and when things start to happen. But, in the meantime, there’s stacks to moan about and I’ve lost a bloody week now. Thanks for that.

Idle Eye 131 : The Herald Angel Sings

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.

Idle Eye 127 : (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

The trouble with hitting your middle years, apart from the incessant failings of the body’s risible infrastructure, is the creeping awareness of one’s own mortality. No-one tells you precisely when that middle point is either. It would be terrific if, at the exact median of your time on Earth, they gave you a ticker-tape parade with a brass band and silver watch and street bunting or something. With a desperately shy homecoming queen landing you a big kiss and an iced cake with ‘NOT LONG NOW’ piped onto the top. But they don’t, largely because they’re terrified of being sued for getting it wrong. These are litigious times.

And yet, as we march relentlessly towards the final curtain, the signs are all around us: That unexpected Alzheimers mailshot, being offered a seat on public transport (despite not being saturated in wee), feeling at ease in a Wetherspoons, caring about socks and the longevity of footwear, enjoying a butterscotch. All these incremental details are nature’s way of letting us know we’re on the slide, and that we had better start making the most of what we have left. It isn’t pretty, but what is when you don’t know where you are on the scale? Should we start making arrangements? Making that list of inappropriate tunes to be played out on the day of our memorial? Or should we just leave it to chance? It’s a lottery, make no mistake.

I’m working in a church right now, filled with saints and sacraments, effigies of the martyred Christ and his attendants, and endless reminders of the transience of existence. Just to give myself a breather, I take my sandwiches to Brompton Cemetery, alone and surrounded by the gravestones of those who, like me, used to take a lunch break somewhere before the reaper claimed them. The difference being that I’m the only one around who can clock it for now, until it’s my turn to be posthumously observed by some beardy berk with an artisan bloomer stuffed to the gunnels with halloumi and alfalfa sprouts. Even the stone carvers who meticulously chiselled out their client names & places of departure into marble or alabaster are no longer with us. You can’t fight it: It’s the inevitable cycle of life and death, and we’re all on board.

So what’s the point here? Perhaps, like Sally Bowles’s ex-flatmate Elsie in the movie Cabaret, it is to live every day as if it were your last (there is very little in that film that will not inform your every move at a cataclysmic level). Do something brave: Go see Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey? Who knows, it might be life changing. Eat something weird. Fly off to somewhere you’ve never heard of and stay there a few days. Walk to work. Chat to strangers. Do yourselves a favour just for once. Because the halfway mark may be long since gone. And you don’t get a second chance.