Idle Eye 112 : The Shock of the New (Glastnost)

Having enjoyed over a month of writing bugger all for you lot, I was beginning to slip into a self-induced torpor that required little else to assuage the crippling guilt of non-delivery than doing the dishes occasionally and hoovering up the encrusted remains of tobacco strands beneath the bedroom window. And consuming my own body weight in pink and/or white wine (legit now that it’s getting hot). But this could not last, of course it couldn’t. Something more appalling than there are words to express is about to happen and I need an outlet: Glastonbury.

In a moment of weakness, I agreed to this monstrosity many moons ago at a time I thought it unlikely I would be unlucky enough to have to attend it. But, due to the tenacity of a fine friend, I now find myself in the horrendous position of having a ticket with my photograph and assorted personal details attached to it. It cannot be sold on, and unless I can find someone with the enormous good fortune to resemble myself, I am duty bound to turn up and mingle with people half my age, with half my acceptance of failure. In a field without a flushing lavatory. And for this I am supposed to be grateful.

What the young people don’t understand (and why should they?) is that the ceiling of maximum thrill is drastically reduced beyond one’s fortieth year. We no longer need to experience popular DJs pumping out their thing from the artificial thorax of a gigantic spider, whilst acrobats in their prime dangle themselves provocatively from its leg joints. In order to feel better about ourselves. Really, we don’t. This weekend I managed to source a toilet seat/lid combo from B&Q in Sydenham that I’ve been hunting since November and the joy that this has brought knows no bounds. And it is these tiny, visceral pleasures that constitute the fabric of our everyday, sad though this may sound. So, to put myself back into the lion’s mouth after 22 years is nothing if not somewhat alarming to someone who has learned, through bitter experience, to lower the threshold.

Nearly everyone I have spoken to about this (analyst/partner/check-out lady at B&Q Sydenham) makes out that I need to get a grip. But my fear is far more deep-rooted than you might otherwise believe. I am projecting waking up in the Healing Field after a sedative evening of west country cider, with local stones placed around me in a circle and violent, semi-clad children worshiping the oncoming dawn as I dribble my discontent through a crumpled tin. And as I make my way to the missing persons tent, I am accosted by a dayglo mono-cyclist with pamphlets. The horror, the horror…

I shall report back next week, unless you find me leaping about in my second flush of youth. Which, to be honest, is unlikely.

 

Idle Eye 108 : The Joy of B&B

One of the perennial delights available to the migrant worker in the UK is that of the great British B&B. In an age of flux, it is comforting to note that this cultural stalwart has roots deep enough to weather the whims of fancy and will remain defiantly crap until the end of time. And if anyone is in any doubt about this, have a quick butchers at Rising Damp on Comedy Gold before heading out. Ok, let’s start at the top:

A significant percentage of any annual B&B budget goes on external appearance, making it the Joan Collins of temporary accommodation. Sadly, this leaves very little once you’re inside but by this point the transaction has generally been made online, leaving the hapless punter at the mercy of the Fury within (which I shall come to presently).

The room. Invariably will have been converted from an under-used alcove into a Laura Ashley-inspired floral extravaganza, complete with Morphy Richards kettle on a laminated tray with a cat on it, sugar sachets nicked from the nearest Wetherspoons and some UHT milk. The light switch will NEVER be where it should and only two of the floorboards covered by the Rorschach purple carpet will not creak, making a mockery of you and your endless trips to the bathroom (which I shall come to presently).

Actually, I’ll come to it now. The bathroom is, by default, at the furthest point in the building from where you happen to be. Don’t ever question this, it’s just how it is. And no amount of corridor-creeping will prevent other guests being aware and in full audio range of your intended business, be it a shower, a widdle or a go on the throne. If it is the latter, may I recommend leaving a tap running, as this affords the end-user the camouflage of a decaying Edwardian plumbing system, screaming to keep up with modern-day demands as you wrestle to silence your most basic of emissions.

Breakfast. If you, like me, have learned to get by on a monstrously strong cup of Columbian and a couple of fags, you’re going to be in for a shock. Your host will be frying up a wealth of sizzling flesh, surrounded by cats and photographs of horses from the 1970’s. Dietary deviations from the above will be frowned upon, as will quantity. Even going all Hugh Grant doesn’t cut much mustard here so you’ll just have to suffer the consequences.

The internet. This extraordinary modern miracle is not much understood at your B&B which is why they tend to turn it off at night, like in the war. However, as with our current government, they know you’ll go elsewhere if it’s not there so you have the upper hand.

Finally, just remember: If you kick off and report these ailing establishments to whatever ombudsman you adhere to, they’ll go the same way as slavery, capital punishment and underage drinking. On your own heads be it.

Idle Eye 95 : The Belly of the Ancients

In my limited experience, there is nothing more irritating than reading about someone having a better time than you in a hot country. Every cocktail captured on a smartphone through which the raking light of sunset passes is enough to have you strapping on a kalashnikov, running amok through the streets of your town and spewing bullets about until no man is left standing. Of course it is. And the pay-off should legitimately come from the flipside, when errant travellers cheques, unbuilt hotels and appalling Germans beating everyone to the towels enable the reader to bask in the warm glow of Schadenfreude. Sadly, in these unapologetically self-aggrandising times, this rarely happens and so in the interests of international relations, responsible journalism and the underdog, I must do my bit. Yesterday, I got the squits.

At first, a distant rumble. The anaemic beating of gastric drums and of no great consequence. Livingstone and Carter surely suffered so, and without the luxury of efficient modern plumbing. I shall ride this one out and emerge triumphant in my stoicism, I smugly noted to self. But then the stomach cramps, violently pneumatic and ever-increasing, hinted urgently at a broad spectrum cure which I resisted with every fibre of my Britishness, only to be vanquished on the sands of need as the brevity of my stay demanded something suitably robust.

Enter Antinal. This Egyptian überpill has been doing the rounds since the time of the ancients, nuking European intestinal complaints into oblivion from the stronghold of his little yellow box. He is the Winston Wolfe of antibiotics: When the contract is made, you just take a back seat and let him get on with it. No introductions, no idle chit-chat, no nonsense. And you certainly do not question his methodology, not that you can as it’s all in Arabic. Endearingly, when he’s done (approx 48 hours later), he tidies up after himself and leaves without a trace. My superhero.

Marvel Comics, you are so missing a trick here. Now that you’ve used up pretty much every insect, heavy metal and superlative on your stable of lifesavers, why not think outside the box a little? Imagine the illicit thrill following a timely rescue from a half Anubis, half suppository-esque creature, whisking you away from untold embarrassment to the sublime comfort of the en-suite in less time than it takes to apologise for the grumbling. You can have that one…

Anyway, I’m through it now and back on terra firma. Thanks for asking. And yes, I know I’ve spent more than enough time on terra lavitoria but you have my word – Enough is enough. I was briefly considering a post about the birds of the Nile Valley, which would have been informative, illuminating and, no doubt, slightly amusing. But it went the way of all things that dare to challenge the might of the small room and the general tone of this blog: Down the pan.

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…

Idle Eye 76 : The Talented Mr Reynard

I was making my regular journey to the train earlier today when something stopped me in my tracks. And before you get out of your prams, it wasn’t the sciatica or any other dreary ailment that prohibits the fluid motion of youth. No, this was far more interesting: On the pavement not one hundred yards from my flat lay a vast pile of fox business. Not, as you might imagine, lying there passively like a couple of ancient churros. Far from it. These were super fresh and neatly stacked, resembling a miniature log rick to be used at a future date for some demonic purpose or other. And it got me to thinking that your fox has evolved in ways that couldn’t have been imagined when I was a kid. Back then, they were timid, seldom-seen creatures that you may occasionally catch a fleeting glimpse of when you visited your nan in that countryside. Not any more: His urban cousin has got streetwise, people-savvy and bold as brass. And I love him for it.

Let me give you an example: Earlier this year, the evergreen Daily Mail ran the story of Tod, a fox who got barred from his local pub in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Impressive, huh? I only wish I could have seen his tab. But the naysayers all came from the ‘vermin’ camp, and consequently poor Tod was prevented from enjoying what was rightfully his after a long day of wrestling pizzas from parochial wheely bins. And the delightful sickofthiscountry was so righteously indignant that such a wretch wasn’t properly toilet-trained, she almost dropped one of her own off online.

Now, I know this might upset some of you country folk, but the Idle Hour is furry friendly. Yep, all disease-ridden social pariahs can pop in any time they like, and down a Jäger or two in their own good time. And the foxes are welcome as well. Oh, and anyone who has a problem with this can have a chat with me outside: Just because we city types don’t have an arsenal of profitable livestock to protect doesn’t mean we can’t extend a common courtesy to strangers. Otherwise you other lot, Dubrovnik Dave and Sarajevo Steve, can swing for it. Them’s the rules these days. And while we’re at it, instead of getting all Theresa May about our hirsute brethren, how about we capitalise on their inherent skillset and integrate it into our own? Imagine the possibilities:

Sly, highly-motivated worker required for hen house security position. Must be slim, furry and hated by the right-wing press. Penchant for sleeping infants a bonus, as is the ability to create a pyramid of turd just wherever. Enjoys running, fast food, medieval fables, Yorkshire bitter and squealing after midnight like a girl. Rates negotiable. Start when we’ve mended the French doors…

Message? What we fear is not necessarily the enemy. And put your bloody rubbish in a bin.

Idle Eye 62 : The Big Tissue

Has anyone noticed that toilet roll tubes are shrinking? Anyone? I’ve been giving this one some thought of late (as a former owner of thirteen gerbils, my attention to such matters is somewhat more devout than you might otherwise think) and I cannot for the life of me imagine why. You reduce the circumference of the tube, ergo the volume of tissue necessary to fill the gap increases. And surely it is more cost effective to expand the cardboard by an insignificant fraction than to manufacture the extra sheets? To say nothing of all that extra perforating and, if you’re posh, quilting. We’ve all got used to the stealth techniques employed by supermarkets and the like with their swingeing reduction in product proportion, but this is blatantly a false economy & somebody’s head should roll.

And then there’s the matter of quality. Does anyone remember back in the day when you only needed a couple of sheets to wipe the slate clean? Because they were the thickness of a small sandwich or a baby’s mattress? Or how about Izal medicated, the robust choice of municipal buildings, schools and the more progressive public conveniences? So hardy was it, in fact, it could stop a Sherman tank in full flight if lined up correctly. Well without putting too fine a point on it, nowadays you could copy the entire works of Charles Dickens onto the paper necessary for just one go. And the end user (oh stop it!) lives in permanent fear of finger pop. Don’t think we haven’t noticed, Mr Andrex! And no amount of impregnated aloe vera is gonna make up for all that chafing.

But fear not, my friends. I put in yet another narratively convenient call to Nibs earlier and he assures me that the exceptional tissue provided by the Idle Hour has maintained its triple A status for another year. And, as one of the lucky few who has stood sheet to cheek in the traps, I can vouch for the same. These bountiful beauties are organic, responsibly sourced, line caught & hand stitched by Vestal Virgins on the foothills of the Appenines for your sanitary convenience. No horse DNA, no artificial sweetners, no CFCs, no nonsense. And a free drink at the bar if you can punch a hole through the middle. Pre-application, obviously.

Finally, a word to the ladies from Nibs himself. Apparently you lot are whipping through the stuff like it’s going out of fashion, and, being a gentleman of good character, he is loath to drop by and investigate. Vast industrial-strength tubes regularly vanish into thin air, and whilst he is aware that there are many bottoms to feed, demand is seriously outstripping supply. May I suggest that you ‘make room’ before you leave the house? We are living through a time of unprecedented austerity and it’s only fair that you do your bit. And us blokes promise to wipe up the oversplash when we get in. Right lads?

Idle Eye 25 : The Bogs

It seems that finally, unexpectedly and mercifully, the good weather landed last weekend. And what better way for yours truly to spend it than to head over to Idle Hour Barnes and enjoy a few sherbets on the roof with my younger and lesser sibling. And when we weren’t taking apart the relentless attack on pubs by successive governments, he showed me the plans for the soon-to-be extension which will double the covers and annihilate those wretched lavatories. So, more of you will get in for Burger Monday but less of you will be able to ‘create room’ unless you bring a bag or get creative.

Now, the relationship between ‘what goes in’ and ‘what comes out’ has long been a bugbear for those in the hospitality industries. The latter demands significant landmass by law and yet yields next to nothing in return (when I say ‘next to nothing’, I mean, of course, nothing of salient value. Don’t make me spell this out.) The former, on the other hand, is the meat and potatoes of profit and loss which, at some point in the proceedings, ends up with the latter.

So what’s to do? When margins are tight, where would you compromise? A dilemma one of our most loved TV personalities is probably not experiencing right now:

Housekeeper : Mr Cowell, I think there’s someone in the conveniences.

Simon Cowell : Never mind that now, I’m on the telly.

Housekeeper : No, really. I think there’s someone up there. Will I ring the Police?

Simon Cowell : Yes, of cour… Er, no, actually. Leave this with me.

Housekeeper : Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir.

Simon Cowell : Max! My Man! Slight snag. Apparently there’s someone upstairs trying to break into one of the traps. Could you give me my position on this one?

Max Clifford : Armed intruder or crazed fan?

Simon Cowell : Crazed fan, I think.

Max Clifford : I see. Ok, Simon, don’t panic. Would you say it was like something in a horror film?

Simon Cowell : Yes, Max, I would.

Max Clifford : Excellent! Sure they’re not armed?

Simon Cowell : To be honest, I haven’t checked.

Max Clifford : No need. Probably a chick with a brick. In one of your least profitable rooms. I’d turn in if I were you.

Simon Cowell : Thanks, Max.

Max Clifford : Don’t mention it. Goodnight.

I was, of course, making out that Nibs isn’t going to provide somewhere for you to ‘drop the kids off’ for comic effect. It’s part of my weekly remit. To make you laugh but keep it topical. And you have my word: The Porcelain Bus will simply be relocated, not removed. Unless it contains a crazed fan with a brick, in which case he will put in a swift call to Max and leave the rest to the bizarre powers of tabloid journalism. But I very much doubt it will come to that. Or will it?

Idle Eye 9 : The Legend of the Pigeon of Chevening Road

Not long ago, there lived a great scribe who was on his way to Sainsburys to purchase some things for the weekend. As he drove his dilapidated car past the park he spotted a pigeon lying sick and injured in the road, and being of good heart he picked it up, took it home and took care of it with the help of his lady friend Ursula. The pigeon had been mauled by a wild beast, was blind in one eye and his chances of survival were slim but the couple kept him warm and comforted him. Much to their delight his health improved and by the next day, despite horrific injuries, he seemed perky and up for a chat.

‘Oh, pigeon’ said the scribe, ‘I am happier than you can know that you are well again, but my master Nibs pays me to relate tales of his pubs in Barnes and Barons Court and I fear I have nothing to offer him this week because I have pissed my time up the wall looking after you. Whatever shall I do? I am undone.’

The pigeon thought for a while and did a tiny white dump. Then, raising his little head up high, he did another dump, this time slightly more robust with a flat underside.

‘Pigeon, is this a sign?’ said the scribe. ‘Ursula, come see, our feathered friend has helped us in our hour of need. What does it say in The Lancet about white ones?’

Ursula rushed to the internet and to her astonishment she discovered that indeed, a white stool following trauma suggested that a certain independent time-related pub in Barnes would experience a record-breaking week. Without wasting a second, the scribe made a swift call to Nibs on the blower:

‘Awright Bro? So how was last week?’

‘Unbelievable! Best week ever. Our chef Piotr was running about like a pigeon, man.’

Hanging up in disbelief, the scribe made a beeline for the pigeon who was preparing a third dump, this time not unlike egg-white with a maggot in the centre.

‘Pigeon,’ he went, ‘is this another sign?’ Ursula squealed at the computer as she raked further information from it. Turns out that a wormlike plop in a mucus membrane strongly hinted that the same pub would shortly have improved toilets and an extended kitchen.

‘Hell’s teeth, pigeon, can this be true?’ The scribe made another quick call:

‘Awright Bro? When are you going to sort the bogs then?’

‘Why you asking? I’ve got Tonino painting them now. And I’m sorting the kitchen next year as well.’

Shaking with incredulity, the scribe and Ursula peered back into the pigeon’s box. He was sitting down and preparing for a night’s rest, but before he did so he let off an enormous guff.

‘Urs, what does The Lancet say about that, then?

‘Less Jerusalem artichokes, apparently’

And so it was, the pigeon was spared that rotten vegetable for the rest of his years. And so it was The Idle Hour Barnes got pukka toilets and a new kitchen. And, God only knows how, the scribe got away with another one.