Idle Eye 94 : The Foreign Office

A week ago, as you may remember, I thrilled my minuscule readership with tales from the water closet. They were, for the most part, true and there is nothing that whets the winkle of the Great British Public more than the topic of bottoms and associated hardware thereof. This was, of course, reflected in the statistics and I thank you all for joining me in the virtual small room. My business is your business, as someone I can’t remember once succinctly put it.

I am happy to report that things have moved on a bit since then. These days you find me on the West Bank of Luxor, Egypt, thrashing it out on a laptop in the gaps between conserving the tomb of the last great Geordie pharaoh Neferrenpet. I know, I know. But, as you gear up back home for the onslaught of Daily Express reportage of the forthcoming worst winter since the last Daily Express reportage of the forthcoming worst winter ever, spare a thought for one more fortunate than yourselves: Being an Englishman abroad does present an alternate set of tribulations (as my risible grasp of Arabic will testify), none more telling than the not inconsiderable matter of appropriate attire in a climate as foreign as the language.

For example, this morning saw me down to my last clean t-shirt, the Bolongaro Trevor beauty so eloquently eulogised in IE47. A little too smart for workwear, but on reflection preferable to the lamentable series of insect-infested horrors currently residing inside my laundry bag. What’s more, it has a sepia-toned Union Jack on one side and an Ottoman effort with three crescent moons on the other, a stalwart example of hands across the water if ever I saw one. I did, however, fail to spot the Lancaster bomber shedding its toxic cargo over the pyramids and almost certainly extending a rather skewed message to the host nation.

On the subject of insects, the biting ones are another personal assault one must handle with the kind of decorum expected of the adequately-educated Westerner. Fortunately, my gargantuan quinine intake keeps all but the most hardy at bay, although last night I discovered a dormant mosquito buried deep inside the two-ply of my bathroom roll. What it was doing in there is anyone’s guess, and I was torn between saving the poor creature from a death more humiliating than I know how to put into words, or protecting my own tender cheeks from an equally heinous fate. The vegetarian in me prevailed and the little bastard flew off to lodgings elsewhere. Naturally, I made no mention of it at breakfast today because…well, you just don’t. There are rules.

I’ll put some work stuff in another time. It’s too huge to summarise in a 500 word bulletin built almost exclusively from the rocky foundations of lavatorial humour and self-deprication. So for now, I shall continue to do what you have come to know and love, from the gutter to the pavement. With no apologies…

Idle Eye 79 : The Ashes

In the summer of 1992, I wrote a song for a young lady I was rather keen on who had returned to Australia, never to revisit to these shores. I was in my twenties, addicted to the romantic impossibility of the situation and, no doubt, getting off on its Byronic agony. The song was called ‘The Ashes’, and it allowed me the juxtaposition of an obvious cricketing analogy with what it might have been like to scatter the metaphorical chattels of our torn relationship across her homeland. I finished it with this:

Take back the Ashes, Jane
Cup them in your hands
Throw them in the face of my jealousy
and out across your land
And when the dust comes down again
blackened by the English rain
A hundred thousand miles will disappear
I can see it all from here…

I bring this up because yesterday Nibs, myself and my two sisters did the real thing. Not with the subject of the above, I hasten to add: I gather she is alive and well and enjoying life to the hilt. No, this was with the earthly remains of our father, who made it back to his cherished home inside a rather fetching purple box. Together with a neatly typed tag stating the exact moment of his departure: I think he would have approved.

It was one of life’s stranger moments, carrying around what was left of the man responsible for putting us on the planet as if we were sticking him out for the recycling. Which, in a curious way, I suppose we were. And, during the memorial service, the vicar bigged up his love of animals and suggested we scatter his beloved dog, Annie (who was in a carrier bag at the top of the stairs) at the same time. Sort of a BOGOF deal, I guess. So, fuelled by a bottle of 1990 Dom Perignon, we charged a small trinket with bits of dog and bits of Dad and threw them out across the Welsh valley that was the commanding view from his garden. Everyone had a go, said a quick goodbye and then we poured what was left into the brook that ran through it. It felt right and proper, particularly after a few more sherbets.

Now, alcohol and cremated fathers are traditionally not the most comfortable of bedfellows although, God knows, we did our best. Perhaps if we had known there was an incoming wind, we may have chosen our moment more carefully: We did not. Perhaps he was reluctant to leave: We ignored this. Let’s just say that to the outside eye, when the bags were empty and we sat together enjoying fine wine and nibbles, it must have looked like an Egyptologist’s lunch break. So bless you, Dad, you pretty much got what you wanted: 80% back to nature, 20% stubborn stain. Excellent odds, I reckon, and certainly enough to get you through them gates. See you on the flipside xx