IE Audio 25 : The Insomniac

Insomnia: the worst drug available to humanity. Just say no…

Idle Eye 164 : The Insomniac

There was a time I thought it impossibly cool to be able survive on little or no sleep. That I could glide, ghostlike, into the dark portals of my home over the small hours, content in the knowledge that lightweight recumbents lacking the requisite stamina could not manage the same. In much the same way as an ASBO, it was a badge of pride which would almost certainly be the envy of the idle. So at the beginning of this book campaign, when I was riding high on nervous energy, I welcomed it in. Brilliant, I thought, I’ll coast through the jobs and come out ahead of the game. I could not have been more wrong. You know something’s up when the crying starts:

  • Postman delivers wine stain remover? Howl like a baby.
  • Blurry online photo of Cecil the Lion? Howl like a baby.
  • Builders below stop using circular saw for twenty seconds? Howl like a baby.

And that’s just the beginning. Next up comes the attention deficit, always handy when you’re multitasking:

Boil kettle / half complete to-do list / prepare for shower / remember kettle / make coffee half-dressed / ditto three lines of email / have shower / call someone / walk around park to clear head / remember email / check Facebook / quick cry / more coffee / check to-do list again / remember food / forget food / remember email / quick cry / go to bed.

The cruellest twist of the knife is that last bit. When you finally head up the hill, exhausted beyond language from your day of not quite achieving anything and discovering twenty different ways that sleep deprivation will see you off, you collapse into the welcoming tundra of the bedroom. But it is a Trojan Horse. Come stupid’o’clock (usually ten to something ridiculous like two or three), you find yourself bolt upright and worrying about that bloody email. So now there’s fat chance of getting back to Nod, yet somehow you have to fill up your time until the whole wretched shooting match starts all over again. And that’s when the chatting starts:

Me:  Not sure how much more of this I can take.

Me:  Me neither. It’s brutal.

Me:  Sure is. What shall we do?

Me:  Think anyone’s on Messenger?

Me:  Doubt it. How about a bit of Facebook stalking?

Me:  Yeah, why not?

(Two minutes later)

Me:  Sod this. Let’s go for a walk.

Me:  Too knackered.

Me:  Book then?

Me:  We’ll just end up reading the same sentence again and again. Like last night.

Me:  Smoke?

Me:  Like that’s going to help.

Me:  Well what do you suggest then, smartarse?

Me:  How about trying to sleep?

Me:  We’ve talked about this. But give it a try if you want. I’m off.

Me:  Where to?

Me:  Anywhere but here. You’re doing my head in, man.

Yes, it’s true. I’m doing my own head in. And there’ll be fisticuffs at dawn unless I sort something pretty soon. Just not sure which horse to back if I don’t.

Idle Eye 148 : The Eisenhower Matrix

It’s harder than you think, being your own boss. Try it sometime and see for yourselves. Traditionally I have been pathetic at organising my day, which is why I usually get other people to do it for me and hopefully throw in a few quid at the same time. But right now, I’m out of the plane without a chute and unless I sort something out pretty quick, I’ll be land pizza before you know it. There are, however, little tricks you can employ to create the illusion of structure, some of which I shall outline below for anyone in the same predicament:

1)  The old ‘leaving the flat’ ruse is a bit of fun – Get dressed in a hurry, swig down a mouthful of instant coffee (leaving the rest) and, if you’re feeling bold, give yourself a quick peck on the cheek. Then walk around the block a couple of times and come back in, panting and complaining bitterly about the inefficiency of whichever rail network you weren’t on.

2)  Create a few formal breaks. These will prevent you from atrophying at the computer and provide the added bonus of allowing you to catch up with all the latest gossip. It’s important to stay in the loop.

3)  The Reward System, albeit rather primitive, is a great incentiviser. That call you made to Virgin Media Customer Services took a while, right? Have a sweetie. Made it through thirty emails about erectile dysfunction and/or PPI? Have another sweetie. Anything whatsoever to do with the Inland Revenue or TfL? Crack open a bottle of single vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir. Actually, make that two.

4)  Stay focused. Tempting though it may be to stray with another episode of Inside Health and discover you’ve probably got shingles/leg ulcers/something irritable going on with your bowel, you’ll only spend the rest of the day on the med sites and give yourself PTSD to boot.

5)  Draw the curtains. Because the people you can see outside are almost certainly having more fun than you, will be rich in Vitamin D and couldn’t give a monkey’s that your delete key has packed up again. For them, life is one big picnic. For you, it’s an eternal game of chess. Against Magnus Carlsen.

6)  Nothing of interest will come through your letterbox and no-one of interest will ring the doorbell. Ever. Hold your nerve.

7)  Facebook and Twitter are not your friends. They are the Trojan horses of the internet, willingly invited into the workplace where they bed in and beckon, stealing your time and reason. Like Mata Hari. With cats and babies.

After these, you’ll need an endpoint. Something to neurotransmit a strong signal to the brain, telling it to pack in the chores and loosen up a little. Sex, recreational drugs, alcohol and repetitive pop tunes have always been popular with the young, but if, like me, you find yourself in your twilight years, The Archers seems to work okay. In conjunction with the above.

Idle Eye 126 : The New Suits of Bedtime

I was down the pub on Monday with a trio of men of a certain age and, in amongst the plethora of utter bollocks discussed, the subject of nightwear was gingerly raised. Obvs I plumped for the pyjama, but regrettably was riotously trashed at the post in favour of going commando, something I must confess I find rather disturbing in one’s advancing years. The very thought of all that naked flesh frotting away against raw cotton (or Crimplene – I do not judge) cannot in any way be conducive to a good night’s sleep. To say nothing of the potential for lewd thought or any derivative thereof: The filth and the fury, the filth and the fury.

No, it’s the pyjama every time in my book. The fact that they are restrictive is ironically at the very core of their genius. By wearing the things, we willingly shackle ourselves to such laudable values as propriety, comfort and common decency. And I’ll go you one further – It is no accident they have matching tops and bottoms. Move over, city slickers: These are the new suits of bedtime, and ones we can all wear with pride and dignity at a fraction of the cost of their daytime equivalent. They are truly the egalitarian attire of our age.

I’m not saying they’re for everyone, mind. There is a certain build of man that insists on the elasicated waistband, a more vulgar thing one could not wish to see, let alone wear, despite its obvious practical advantages. Fortunately, modern manufacturers have taken this on board and come up with the button fly/drawstring combo. This cute little trick simultaneously gets you out of the shit whilst somehow keeping you fashionable. And, more importantly perhaps, avoiding the phenomenon that is ‘Ankle Island’, an exposed tundra no man beyond his fortieth year should ever have the misfortune to frequent. I take my hat off to these people. Just my hat.

To drive the point home, I purchased a classic striped PJ set from an expensive Chelsea retailer on my way home the very next day. Not for one moment that I imagined my friends would catch a glimpse of me gliding around my bedroom in those generously cut trousers with their two side pockets, or the timeless jacket with its full 5oz of cotton flannel. No no no. The exquisite pleasure gained here is not for sharing, which may explain why there is a paucity of targeted marketing on your social media. Access to such hallowed portals comes either by word of mouth, or from those bizarre mini-catalogues that drop out of the subscriber magazines. You know, the ones from which it is actually possible to buy salmon pink corduroys or a watch which apparently you don’t own, despite having shelled out twenty grand for it. The beauty of a quality pyjama can only be genuinely appreciated by the man inside.

Tonight, and for the foreseeable future, I am that man.

Idle Eye 122 : The Cider Inside

According to the internet, I may or may not have alcoholic neuropathy. Not the fully-fledged bumping into walls/khazi-bound variety, you’ll no doubt be pleased to learn, but there is some evidence of a tingly leg thing going on after an exceptionally enjoyable bottle of Pinot. Gruelling news, particularly as I am halfway through the arduous task of reducing a bottle mountain of barely palatable filth, bequeathed to me by my late father, in order to reclaim some kitchen shelf real estate. So, in the greater interest of my failing health and with a small nod to genuine altruism, I have decided to give away one of said bottles to any reader who can be arsed to ask for it. Yes, like a competition.

But which one? You are most certainly not having the 1982 Taylors port, and I wouldn’t wish a 2011 Vina Primera white rioja on anyone with a pulse, not even the ISIS vintners. I did, however, find a dusty old thing lurking at the bottom of the pile which, on closer inspection, turned out to be an ageing bottle of Merrydown cider, its blackened cork still wedged in tenaciously at the neck. A thrilling discovery by anyone’s standards, so much so I proffered this information to Merrydown themselves, along with a photograph and a discreet enquiry as to its age. And quick as a flash, I received an email from an equally excited Emma Vanderplank at customer relations, informing me that according to their archive, it probably dates from 1952. Or 1955. Or 1962. Whichever one, it’s proper old: Small wonder Dad laid it down.

So there’s the provenance, but what of the value? To this end, I delved deep into the guts of several online auction houses specialising in the sale and distribution of historic orchard fruit-based alcoholic beverages, and it turns out our little friend ticks all the boxes (matured in cellar/label still legible/stored outside mandatory fifty mile exclusion zone of anyone with a Somerset postcode etc…) And if I’ve got my sums right, it’s almost certainly worth between six and eight quid, give or take a few pennies (allowing for market variables and fluctuation thereof). Bearing in mind that you pay considerably more for the tat sold in convenience stores that doesn’t even have the patina of age, I would suggest to you this is a gift horse not worth looking into the mouth of. Not even a furtive glance from the other side of the paddock. To say nothing of its accruing potential if you so choose to lay it down for another fifty years. I must be mad, me.

Here’s the deal: I’ll post the photograph on the Idle Eye Facebook page (over there, on the right). You tell me why you want it (in the comments below). The winner will be selected by me, subject to bribes. You give me your address, I send it to you at my not inconsiderable expense, along with a picture of a hamster (UK applicants only – Not this time, Johnny Foreigner). Now, what are you waiting for?

Idle Eye 118 : The Beginning of the End

A black moth shot out of my underpants as I was getting dressed this morning. Not in itself an event of seismic import, but a salient reminder of the passing of thrusting alpha-manhood nonetheless. It must have been rather ancient, as presumably younger moths would frequent the undergarments of more potent individuals, those who would favour Abercrombie & Fitch and the like over the Heath Robinson-esque monstrosities I squeeze myself into every day. And this ageing lepidoptera, exhausted from a lifetime of headbutting lightbulbs, would have given thanks to whatever God it believed in for this sedentary resting place, secure in the knowledge that it would remain undisturbed until its final day came. But sadly, it was not to be.

The symbolism of the moment was not lost on me: The moth, as any fule kno, is a portent of death. That, and that you don’t do dry-cleaning enough. I was understandably perturbed (the very thought of having to waste a Saturday morning bagging up laundry was too appalling to contemplate), but dealt with the issue in a manner fitting to anyone of a certain age familiar with micro-managing problems on a day-to-day basis: I forgot about it. But there is only so much evasion one can muster before the full weight of the inevitable crushes down hard upon the souls of the very simple: That moth was telling me something, and that something I really didn’t want to know.

I leapt onto Facebook for some light relief, as is my wont in times of distress. And up there at the top of my feed was one of those irritating Suggested Posts, this one from from the London Psychiatry Centre, suggesting I should do their wretched quiz to see if I was a one-in-four social pariah who drinks more than they recommend. Of course I was (the alternatives were patently absurd), and next thing I knew I was getting a personal pledge from Dr Christos Kouimtsidis to help me on my journey towards a healthier lifestyle.

Now, I have never met Dr Kouimtsidis and, to be perfectly honest, am unlikely to anytime soon. So it is doubtful I will get the opportunity to explain to him (through whichever slurred words he can understand), that the reason I am right up there on his critical list is because a moth has been residing in my pants for God knows how long, that my days left on Earth are clearly numbered and, this being the case, that perhaps I might choose to spend them cradling a bottle of something half decent rather than being bored witless in a Harley Street waiting room. At prices that would secure the former by the pallet load. Death, in whichever wondrous shape and form it has in mind for me, will bloody well come when I so choose, Dr K. And now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to the laundrette.

Idle Eye 99 : The Social Leper

I’m not much cop at this whole social networking business. God knows I’m trying, but the bewildering plethora of platforms, plug-ins, avatars and what-have-you leaves me yearning for the good ole days when the only time all your friends knew what you were up to was at the village hall on your birthday:

How did they know it was your birthday?

Because you had gone to WHSmiths, purchased a bumper fun pack of cards with balloons and bears on the front, sifted through your Letts address book and made a list of definites, possibles and last resorts (letters sent out accordingly when the chosen ones had been drawn up), created a second list of acceptees, booked the hall with the vicar (with the help of mum), ordered in a vile selection of foodstuffs and low-alcohol punch materials (with the help of mum), checked off the arrivals on aforementioned list with accompanying tick-box for gifts given (with the help of mum, to be doctored at a later date), and then, when asked what you had been doing lately, you lied back at them with a straight face. These were simpler times.

What about gigs? You used to do them, remember? Social media is a direct, targeted tool to reach your fanbase. Discuss.

True, but that was the ’90’s. If you had told any one of my ‘fanbase’ that they would have to turn on a computer, log on with personal details they had set up at the same time as ordering a pizza from Camden Town, pretending they had read something by Charles Bukowski to a lady with smudged lipstick and a bob whilst attempting to chop half a gram of Persil White into recognisable geometric shapes, perhaps they would have opted for more traditional methods of communication.

Despite being a society of essentially like-minded animals, we have become more disparate than ever before. As our governments continue to fail us, perhaps the duty of care falls to those at the forefront of technology?

Are you sure about that? The very thought of an army of one hand typists having any kind of input as to how we conduct our lives is, to say the least, somewhat worrying. Larry Page’s Financial Funfare, anyone? Or how about Mark Zuckerberg’s Fiscal Fury? Some things are just best left to the suits.

And finally, your blog: Try getting it out there without us.

I can’t. Which is why I’m having to rely on this hackneyed attempt at nostalgia for times past which in turn generates ‘likes’ from various friends I once made in the real world and a few new ones I got off you. Hopefully our unlikely partnership will bear fruit in the near future. I will not, however, do anything you consider fashionable and my reluctance thereof will possibly get us further ‘likes’. Why did you have to call them ‘likes’? Do you have any idea how shit that sounds? Didn’t think so.