Idle Eye 149 : The Road Less Travelled

There is a certain issue that instils terror into the hearts and minds of those of us who, for whatever reason, have failed to reproduce. And it stems from that most innocuous of sources, the supermarket, where we like to believe we can conduct our business from behind the veil of relative anonymity. Which, to a point, we can. However, just when you think you’ve come through the process unscathed, an atrocious ritual humiliation lies in wait at the tills. A poison bullet with your name on it. A five word bombshell that suggests that you are pitifully lacking as a human being:

“Are you collecting School Vouchers?”

It is a question both pertinent and unspeakably cruel, for it must be answered on the fly and will be absorbed by many. Rejection of the wretched things is tantamount to saying “I do not care for children. Consequently, I shall not be providing a brighter future for them with my wine purchases.” There will also be a phalanx of affronted mothers behind you, boring fiery holes deep into your soul with the sheer force of their unbridled contempt. At which point, you have two choices:

1)  Announce to the rapidly-assembling crowd that you were struck barren at birth after an unfortunate circumcision accident, and that collection of said vouchers will only add to the escalating mountain of angst you have already accrued. If you can weep a little, so much the better. Just don’t get out the goods if asked to prove it. You’re no Dustin Hoffman. 

2)  Take them. Take them and run out into the High Street in order to create a massive paper rick of lost hopes and dreams. Then light a match and sing ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’ in Scottish, like in the Wicker Man. No-one will like you for it but they probably don’t anyway. Sod ‘em.

When I was working in Egypt, I was asked on several occasions how many kids I had and whether they were boys or girls. Initially I tried to set the record straight, but soon found out I was on a highway to nowhere. To them I was, at best, a curio, so I decided to lie in order to get by. I invented a beautiful wife, four sons and two daughters, and by the end of the season had become quite jealous of myself. Why didn’t I have a life like that? And how would I keep my new-found family in the style which we had yet to become accustomed when I got home?

Standard existential stuff and nonsense. But in those frozen moments back in the supermarket, I often wonder how my other self would have felt, watching a middle-aged man bundling booze into a bag and denying the next generation a decent start in life. And if I’m honest, I’d probably be in the vanguard of those livid mums, silently berating myself for having taken the road less travelled.

Idle Eye 132 : The Christmas Special*

*with 312 festive bonus words

Desert Island Discs – December 2014

Kirsty:  Due to swingeing cuts the BBC has suffered recently, my castaway this week is alcoholic and sometime blogger Idle Eye. I know, me neither. His pithy and often self-deprecating blog has been read by an ever-decreasing audience since its inception in 2011, and he claims to be a mouthpiece for the very few disaffected, middle-aged misanthropes he manages to connect with. Good morning, sir.

Me:  Good morning, Kirsty.

Kirsty:  I understand that you no longer make any money whatsoever from your work. Is this true?

Me:  That’s correct. I started by writing for my brother’s pub, but it soon became pretty clear that the stuff I put out was having an adverse effect on his clientele: They stayed away in their droves. The rest is history.

Kirsty:  So what’s the incentive, if you don’t mind me asking?

Me:  Well, Kirsty, the strapline for the whole shebang is “Getting it off my chest and onto yours”, which I suppose is the main thrust. And I nicked that from Peter Cook. Sadly, there isn’t an original bone in my body. But I soldier on.

Kirsty:  Let’s have some music.

Me:  My first would have to be Instant Street by dEUS, which hit me like a bullet when it came out in 19…

Kirsty:  We don’t have that one, I’m afraid.

Me:  Oh…Well, how about Heavenly Pop Hit by The Chills? The flagship band from New Zealand’s Flying Nun stable when they were at their…

Kirsty:  Nor that.

Me:  I thought you had these things lined up beforehand?

Kirsty:  Look, Sarah Millican asked for Wham! if that’s any help. Work with me.

Me:  Ok.

[You Drive Me Crazy – Shakin’ Stevens]

Kirsty:  Thank you. Now, tell me about your drinking. You profess a disturbing reliance on Marlborough Pinot Noir in order to get your ideas onto the page. Would you describe yourself as a writer with a drinking problem or a drinker with a writing problem?

Me:  I like to think of it as both. Although it’s clear which one would have to go if push came to shove.

Kirsty:  I see. And do you think you could manage without?

Me:  To be fair, there’s a lot of crap out there. And the telly’s getting better and better. So yes, I think so.

Kirsty:  Let’s have your next disc.

Me: Can I have…

[We Are The Champions – Queen]

Kirsty:  You mention your family in several posts. Tell me about the early years: Did they spot the signs of your forthcoming invisibility or was it something you had to work at alone?

Me:  When you say ‘forthcoming invisibility’…

Kirsty:  That, by your own admission, your efforts are widely ignored. “Like farting into a wind tunnel”, as you once put it.

Me:  It was a symbiotic arrangement, I seem to remember. To have your ‘efforts’ overlooked as a young man does stand you in good stead for later life. In many ways it was a gift, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Kirsty:  Forgive me for bringing this up, but we’re running out of time and we need a hook. Your father, a much-loved television and film actor, died last year. How did his tangible success, first realised when he was less than half your age, affect your confidence as an artist in your own right?

Me:  Well, Kirsty, I see it like this: Success is very much like wine – Some of it can be enjoyed young (and some of it can be very good), but I think most of us would agree that in order for it to be at its very best, it needs to have sat around for a while.

Kirsty:  But if you leave it too long, it gets tipped down the sink.

Me:  There is that.

Kirsty:  Let’s have some more mu…actually, let me do it.

[Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid]

Me:  I hate that one, by the way.

Kirsty:  Me too. But it’s your show.

Me:  And I normally write 500 words, preferably less.

Kirsty:  Just say it’s a Christmas Special. You can do whatever you like with them, trust me. Now, I’m going to give you The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Bible to take with you. And a book of your choice: What’s it going to be?

Me:  Well, it’s a toss-up between…

[Sarah Millican’s Support Group audiobook – Sarah Millican (signed)]

Kirsty:  And a luxury too. You can have one thing on the island to make life more bearable.

Me:  I’d like…

[You’re Never Too Fat For A Handbag – Sarah Millican white cotton tea towel (signed)]

Kirsty:  And if you had to pick just one…ach, forget it.

Me:  I already have.

Kirsty:  Thanks for coming in.

Me:  No, thank you.

Idle Eye 125 : The Sos Age

In days of old, when knights were bold
And Bowyers sausages stood the test
I’m glad to say that still today
That Bowyers sausages are the best

This curious little rhyme was drummed into my subconscious relentlessly by my late stepfather pretty much every weekend in the 1970s. Partially to whip up a kind of inter-family bonhomie, as we would chant the thing together in the car on the way to the shops, but mainly because he was the chairman of Bowyers sausages, cynically utilising a primitive form of subliminal advertising for his own ends. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t join in with gusto, but even then I could spot the flaws:

Thrust instantly into a medieval context, the reader is presented with a given that all knights back then were actually bold, as opposed to the more likely premise that they were shit-scared, metal-clad servants of whichever fanatical despot that happened to own the land upon which they lived. Next, there is the contextual leap we are expected to take, in which the Bowyers sausage is inexplicably time-travelled to the period in order to stand a test. Exactly what test is not made clear, probably for reasons of economy, but already we are none the wiser and hunting for clues. 

There are none, for the second half has no correlation whatsoever with the first. For starters, the introduction of the possessive noun only serves to confuse, and the whiplash suffered from being thrown back into the present weakens us so conclusively, we are unable to challenge the outlandish supposition that the Bowyers sausage knocks spots off the competition. Consequently we take it for granted, bereft of any insight as to who the narrator may or may not be. These four lines are, at once, a travesty of continuity, credibility and impartiality. I am eleven years old.

Obviously, I didn’t let on in the car. I knew how ruthlessly I was being exploited yet somehow I was complicit. How could I tell a man fifty years my senior that his grasp of language was at best rudimentary, particularly as I had not yet received my pocket money? So I let it lie. To the point where I taught the very same to the equally exploited workers of a slaughterhouse in which I worked over the summer of 1980. And they loved it too.

I kept shtum for ages when I became a vegetarian. It would have made a mockery of all the ideals we held so high as a family which were built on the foundations of the very thing I had so vehemently rejected. And besides, I wanted Bill Newton-Clare to meet his maker without doubt, which he almost certainly did. But not before leaving us another salient reminder of the mark he made when he was around:

Q:   What came before the Ice Age?
A:   The Sos Age