IE Audio 29 : The Wicker Man

Quality undercoat for exterior stone and wood. With Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet.

Idle Eye 189 : The Wicker Man

I was in Wickes on Croydon’s Purley Way the other day. Not somewhere I would normally frequent, but I needed a quality undercoat for exterior stone and wood, and the local options were beyond lamentable. Visiting one of these places is a bit like going to an airport departure lounge: the sheer scale intentionally dwarfs any notion you may have of thrift, as eight-wheeled juggernauts filled to capacity with power tools and decking thunder their way towards the checkouts.

I weaved through the aisles, keeping as low a profile as I could muster, but then I noticed a well-dressed man hovering uncomfortably in the distance. He turned, looked up and in a flash was standing next to me in front of the two pack epoxies. It was Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet:

Martin:  Sorry to bother you, but don’t I know you from somewhere?

Me:  I doubt it. I don’t come here very often.

Martin:  No, not from here. Aren’t you that bloke who…

Me:  Martin, keep your voice down! I’m trying to get this over with as quickly as I can.

Martin:  Sorry. What are you looking for?

Me:  Undercoat. For exterior stone and wood.

Martin:  You’re way off base, mate. You’ll be after the Home Decorating section, it’s on the other side of the building. If you go down the end …hang on, let me take you.

Me:  Thank you.

So Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet and I made our way across the absurdly complex labyrinth, stopping only for him to pick up a couple of shiny aprons from Kitchenware and a retractable chalk line set from Building and Joinery.

Martin:  You’re probably wondering why I’ve got two aprons, aren’t you?

Me:  To be honest, I’m not. But I reckon you share cooking duties with your partner, and that you’re probably a bit OCD.

Martin:  They’re both for me, actually.

Me:  Ah. Are you going to tell me or not?

Martin:  Take a wild guess. Look at the colour.

Me:  I really haven’t got time for this.

Martin:  Bright metal. Quite valuable. Think Ancient Egypt.

Me:  Gold?

Martin:  Bullseye!

Me:  So you’re about to buy two kitchen aprons that happen to be the same colour as your 1983 hit record? It’s a bit tenuous, Martin.

Martin:  So what? There’s still a few people about who’ll get it. And anyway, what’s so special about your stupid paint?

Me:  There’s nothing special about it at all. Except I didn’t have a hit back in the day called ‘Quality Undercoat for Exterior Stone and Wood’. And if I did, I probably wouldn’t be here now.

Martin:  What about the chalk line set?

Me:  Oh no…not True?

Martin:  Oh yes.

Me:  No one’s going to understand that reference. Even I’m struggling, and I work in the trade.

Martin:  Yeah, whatever. Have a nice day.

And with that, he was gone. Still trying to figure out how he knows me, mind.

Idle Eye 183 : The Curse of the Nipple

Yesterday, after completing a minor household task, I managed to create a monstrous black stain on the bedroom carpet. I am no stranger to incidents such as this: invariably, the fulfilment of duty spawns a plethora of resultant issues which, in themselves, take as long (if not longer) to address as the initial assignment. Some American bloke on YouTube made out that it would be a breeze to shift, so armed with a can of WD40 and a can-do attitude, I set about re-absorbing the thick treacle into an old pair of socks. To begin with, everything went swimmingly: the socks gobbled up the stuff, and I could just make out, mirage-like, faint traces of the biscuit-coloured original peeking through. But then I got bored and went off to make a sandwich.

When I returned, it was to a scene of unimaginable horror. Emboldened by my absence, the stain had swollen to approximately ten times its original size, with concentric dark rings of ever-increasing viscosity working their way towards its demonic nucleus. The ribbed nature of the Axminster, combined with the brutal raking light of summer, lent the whole terrible scene the illusion of depth, as if an Ordinance Survey map had been 3D-printed onto the floor by David Cronenberg. And then, as the sun subtly snaked across the sky, the nipple (sic) began to move. This was too much: crashing down the stairs and onto Facebook, I begged my virtual pals for assistance but was met with barely-concealed hilarity and erroneous advice. “You don’t understand,” I pleaded, “this is no laughing matter. I’m trying to sell the flat and there’s an enormous breathing nipple in the bedroom. Who’s going to want that?”

After being directed to a couple of (let’s be honest) wildly inappropriate websites, it dawned on me that I’d have to solve this one alone. That I would have to become that cute, swotty chick at the end of a teen slasher movie, single-handedly dispatching the killer after all her chums had been seen off (and then, sensibly, going for a lie-down in a boat on a lake). I made my way back up the stairs and opened the door. The nipple appeared to be dormant, pulsating gently in the afternoon haze. Things had clearly gone beyond a simple Shake n’Vac solution but I had to think of something. And quickly.

So I rang Foxtons. I dropped the bait of a well-presented Edwardian flat, pregnant with original features and within walking distance of the shops and amenities of our vibrant, artistic community. Next, I mentioned one particular feature unique to the property; indeed, perhaps to anywhere in the world. I could hear them frothing down the phone, drunk with the lure of imminent commission, and immediately set up a site visit. Then I found another can of WD40 and rolled up my sleeves: I had work to do.

Idle Eye 98 : The Disease of Kings

Once again, the heralding in of another year walks hand in hand with the health and fitness websites falling over themselves to help us improve our bedroom skills. Quite why anyone wishes to get down and dirty in this particular field (at a time when one’s most basic of motor skills are generally in question) is anyone’s guess, but there you have it. And besides, any cursory glance at the headlines would suggest the exact opposite is more appropriate if you happen to be hirsute, silver-topped and off the telly in the 70s.

As for myself, I have attempted to keep my galloping libido at bay with industrial quantities of NZ Marlborough Pinot Noir and a spattering of domestic chores which offer the minimum potential for sexual confusion (it is no coincidence that the more enthusiastic power tool adopter also enjoys wearing those front-weighted accessory belts). And it seems to be working: I’ve yet to have a pop at a Woman’s Hour announcer live on air, elope to France with a teenager or spend any longer than is absolutely necessary in the small room with a copy of Vogue. In fact, the only discernible improvement in the bedroom at present is a new bookshelf – I’m doing my bit.

Imagine my dismay then, when I switched on R4 only to discover that the onerous regime I have responsibly maintained will almost certainly give me gout. Yep, gout! It’s the latest shock malady to do the rounds, brought on by copious consumption of red wine, a diet rich in purines and the utter rejection of Catholicism as sole legitimate sovereign. And apparently it’s heading my way if I fail to rein in my eating and drinking habits. But I’m getting mixed messages here:

Do they want me to strut about like Cock o’ the South, terrifying the ladies of London as they run for cover? Or do I willingly infect myself with the disease of kings in order to prevent such a horror? What are my options? Will I remain handsome? How do goats make cheese?

Fortunately for everyone, the BMJ has found if not a solution, a patch. It seems that a liberal intake of cherries can reduce the risk of gout attacks by up to 35%. Which is a relief. Only thing is, they also enhance the production of dopamine which means I’ll have to be kept indoors, probably under lock and key, until my ardour is sufficiently dampened. It’s a vicious circle:

You rut too much therefore you drink too much therefore you get the gout therefore you eat the cherries therefore you rut too much.

You’d think someone in a lab coat would have culled the problem at source, wouldn’t you? Or that a Cupertino pre-teen would have an app for it by now. But until they do, I shall continue to drink the good fight in the interests of science and common decency. And my feet can sort themselves out when the time comes.

Idle Eye 93 : The Bloo Loo

Some of you may be familiar with the ignominy of dealing with the occasional nocturnal plumbing malfunction, by which I most certainly am not referring to the incessant failings of the male anatomy in its twilight years. No, last night offered me the luxury of delving deep into the cistern of my own personal lavatory to block off the overflow, thereby preventing the subsequent tsunami of waste too disturbing to contemplate in the small hours (or at any other time for that matter). Despite having the incorrect tools to hand, I managed to wedge a family-sized Toilet Duck bottle in there somehow and fiddled about with an entry-level spanner until I got bored and went to bed. No need for a tradesman’s call-out, I’m all over this one. Thank you very much.

However, this morning presented me with a couple of extra problems not traditionally associated with the more experienced plumber. For starters, my arms were indelibly stained with the remnants of a Bloo Max Loo tablet, purchased on the promise that it would give me a cascade of fresh blue water for up to two months, but failing to alert the client of its potential Smartwater association should the have-a-go hero get involved at the business end. Vigorous scrubbing at the sink only made matters worse, as semi-dissolved globs of the stuff flew up into my face and onto my person, leaving me resembling a low-rent wannabe Smurf. Oh, and I managed to smash the lav lid into three violent-looking shards due to incorrect posture in the ire of despair.

At this point, your less plucky DIYer would probably have thrown in the towel. Understandably so. But I was undeterred: A quick spruce up in the shower and a brisk march over to Plumbase was all I needed to get my spunk back. The opaque black bag I took with me contained a rather unattractive red valve spare which could well have been straight out of the Ann Summers catalogue, but I was confident it held all the clues needed to secure a healthy tank by midday. Wrong:

Me:  Good morning! I wonder if you could help me? Do you have a washer for this cistern plunger?

Plumbase:  What’s a cistern plunger, then?

Me:  Er…It’s this. It just goes into the…er…down part. You know, inside the top. And it’s leaking. I’m sure it’s perfectly simple.

Plumbase:  Is it one of ours?

Me:  I’m sorry?

Plumbase:  One of ours. Y’know, Royal Doulton, Twyford, Ideal and the like.

Me:  You mean, British?

Plumbase: Don’t stock the competition.

Me: I see. I don’t think it has a label.

Plumbase: Can’t help you then, mate. By the way, you’ve got blue all ov…

Me:  Yes, I know.

Smarting from the latent xenophobia of the high street, I returned home to do battle in the blue room. For I would say to the house, as I said to those who served in Plumbase, that I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. And Bloo Max…