Idle Eye 142 : The English Straitjacket

Sometimes being English is just plain awful. The absolute pits. Yes, yes, I know we’re all terribly polite and good at pop music, being ironic and making the most of our crappy weather, but when it comes to saying what we actually mean, we are lamentably backward. How often have you apologised for someone else’s rudeness? For being in the way when you never were? Or pretended things are just fine when your internal tolerance needle has just tipped into the red?

I do it frequently. At the end of pretty much every cold-call received, over which I weakly feign surprise at that accident I never had, or the very specific amount the banks owe me for insurance I never took out, I hear myself thanking a computerised voice for its time and, on occasion, wishing it a pleasant day. Which only serves to fill mine with self-loathing and misanthropy. And, cliché though it may be, I constantly find myself drawn to queues, quite often for something I have no interest in whatsoever. Why? Why?

Because it reaffirms the quintessence of our Englishness, and that Englishness breeds deep inside us all, gnawing away at more vulgar attributes such as anger or self-confidence, until all that is left is the quivering bag of neuroses we move around inside every day. It is a curious evolutionary quirk, for if shifted over to the animal kingdom, your average Brit would be mercilessly and fatally mauled before he/she had finished blinking. Probably by something French or Polish, whose very means of survival hinges on the exact opposite.

Speaking of France, here’s another example: When I was fifteen, I was placed at a school in Toulouse for a short while. There, I came across a delightful young lady called Catherine Voisinet, who blushed when I was around and clearly wanted me to make the first move. My French was adequate enough to facilitate this, and I was not yet marred by a forthcoming volcano of acne. But did I? Of course I didn’t. I just sat around, blushing back at her in English until she got bored and started dating a Neanderthal rugby player with grazed knuckles. Who thought I was ‘un con.’  And he was probably right.

I’d love to be able to tell you that it’ll all turn out ok. That being a bit Hugh Grant isn’t such a bad thing, and that more bullish nations will sneakingly admire you for all that pent-up emotion. But I fear that would be a lie. It is and they don’t, despite what you may have been lead to believe from the inexplicable overseas success of Downton Abbey and the like. They’re just collecting ammo for the next way to shaft us rotten, based on information we willingly throw at them. Then they’ll steal our ideas, market our booze, buy up our housing stock etc… and repackage it all as their own. And we’ll probably thank them for it.

Idle Eye 83 : The End is N’eye

But all things move toward their end
All things move toward their end
On that you can be sure

Nick Cave – Murder Ballads 1996

It’s not, actually. I just thought it might be a bit of post bank holiday fun to sling in some Nick-inspired doom & gloom (‘cos that’s your lot until Christmas). And seeing as I’m on the cusp of handing over the Idle Eye moniker to Nibs, I’ve been balls-deep in searching for a new name: The End is N’eye, Eye Can’t Think of Owt, Best Eye Can Do can all be found residing in the trash at present, and the ole grey matter has been woefully inadequate in delivering a suitable alternative. Traditionally, one would throw it out to the readership with the lure of a massive prize, such as an all expenses paid weekend with the author at a no questions asked hostelry of choice, but I fear this may well set back my cause by approximately a millennium. Two, even. And I don’t have BUPA.

Well, it turns out there are a couple of possibilities on the horizon which I am not at liberty to disclose of yet. Watch this space. When I fire them over to the masterful Dan Laidler and he works his magic, all will be revealed. But the weirdest thing is the freedom. From today I can write whatever I fancy, I just won’t get paid for it. It’s the not all that subtle difference between a fine artist and a graphic designer: The latter has perameters, which the more adventurous can push to the absolute limit and deal with the consequent battle for acceptance. The former has no such constraints. Indeed, he/she can do whatever/go wherever they care to, but they enjoy no back-up and are usually slave to the whims of fashion. Tough one if you don’t acknowledge the mores of the day. Get me? Good.

The second, more horrendous issue here is that of the middle-aged man’s…er…allure on holiday. I have been gearing up for some cheeky time out, starts next week, in which I drive to the south of France to hang out for a few days with my cousin and make the most of the blistering heat down there. And then I read David Aaronovitch’s Opinion in the Times, in which he stated ‘our bodies don’t just fail to be attractive, they are seemingly repulsive’. Slightly worrying, as I had planned a full-tilt mankini outing at dusk in the mountainous Aquitane village of Mauvezin, not only to secure the undying admiration of local ladies, but also potential discounts at any restaurant desperate enough to take me in. I very much doubt David will recant before I leave, but he may be interested to know that I still have a full view of my feet, something my father lost in 1971 and was considerably younger than I am today: Eat my shorts xx

Idle Eye 14 : The Bagging Area

Let’s talk cheese. Why the hell not? It’s a staple. Good, honest fare made by farmers and Blur and consumed in quantity by the French, West Country types and yours truly. Soft on the palate and hard on arteries, this formidable foodstuff has done the rounds for centuries and is showing no signs of letting up any time soon. So it came as no small surprise to learn that sleb chef Anthony Worrall Thompson has sullied the reputation of our dairy doyen by popping into Tesco in Henley-on-Thames and nicking it. For Heaven’s sake man, get a grip! Now, clearly Tony feels the same about the Empire of Evil as I do but really, cheese and discounted coleslaw? My heart actually bleeds for the guy so I thought I’d use my Bro-given platform to offer him a little assistance for the future:

  • First rule of shoplifting: Always shoot above your status. There’s very little point in doing time for sandwich fillings, no matter how much quality bubbly you wash them down with.
  • Second rule of shoplifting: Never admit culpability. Ever. Even if they find you with a boot full of hooky lager and an empty petrol tank, you hold your head up high and come on all Penelope Keith. It’s the British way. None of this ‘Oooh sorry, I’m a klepto, I’ll make amends’ crap, it’s balls out, chest in or bust. Either that or think very hard about the products you have stolen and seek culinary advice. From a celebrity chef, perhaps?

Speaking of cheeses, Nibs brought over a selection from the Idle Hour last week. You know the sort of thing, a NASA-funded one that removes the roof of your mouth, another so creamy it should be ‘R’ rated, some blue, some borrowed etc.. And, it must be said, they were outstanding. All of them. In case you’re wondering, yes, the Alex James one made an appearance, woo hoo! It’s called ‘Blue Monday’ for all you Eighties throwbacks out there, it’s made in Kingham, Oxfordshire and apparently it’s eye-wateringly expensive. Of course it is: The man drank a million quids worth of champagne in three years, he’s got to claw it back somehow.

Hang about, I’ve just come up with a solution. No win, no fee, and it works like this: Tony, you load up the Bentley with the three crates of champers you actually paid for and head over to Alex’s in Kingham (it’s not far from your manor, I checked on Google Maps). In exchange for these, Alex will donate as much Blue Monday as he can squeeze into the boot and/or passenger footwells because he laaavs abitavit! (BTW first check whether he’ll bung in a bit of cheap slaw on the side). Then, when you’ve sorted your respective addictions, head on over to the Idle Hour for a conciliatory slap-up where Nibs will show you both how it’s done proper.

Honestly, I blame the parents.

Idle Eye 6 : The Manifesto

As the long winter nights draw in and Call Me Dave’s austerity measures begin to bite, you’re probably wondering, like me, how the disaffected rural peasants of pre-Revolution France managed to stay afloat when hard times came a-knocking. Of course you are. Well, the answer is two-fold: You cross-subsidised, which loosely meant getting another job, such as rat-catching, ash-collecting for laundry purposes, or you became a tétaire (my particular favourite), an astonishing job for the boys which involved sucking mothers’ breasts to start the flow of milk. Probably a long queue at the Town Hall for that one.

Alternatively you did nothing. Nothing at all for months and months, and there was no shame in this: Men and women literally curled up together like gerbils in squalid basements throughout the land for up to fifteen hours a day, and by doing so kept warm and lowered their metabolisms dramatically, thereby reducing the need for food which was in scant supply. In short, it was survival by hibernation.

‘All very interesting’, I hear you thinking, ‘but what has this got to do with the Idle Hour?’ Well, funny you should ask. You see, we can learn a lot from our French friends of yesteryear, but before you cover yourselves in dung and head for the cellar, think on this:

The word ‘Idle’ has long been associated with sloth, from louche dandy fops to Wayne and Waynetta, and yet if we dig a little deeper we find that to be idle was a pragmatic form of self-preservation; a temporary shut-down in preparation for the physical working months ahead. These are the very qualities Nibs had in mind when IH Barnes was born ten years ago, and for his part, self-preservation seems to have worked very nicely, thank you. For my own, I can vouch for the exact same from the perspective of my teenage exchange year in the town of Foix, just north of the Pyrenees, when I shared a room with a goat in lieu of central heating. This is not one word of a lie (unlike most of this blog), and when the time came for me to return to the UK, I wept like a girl for that goat. As she did for me.

So perhaps it’s high time we reclaimed the word in much the same way that we did with the Union Jack from the Far Right. Come on, Hammersmith and Fulham! Our ancestors (Johnny Foreigner actually, but work with me on this) didn’t sleep together in their own filth for hundreds of years for you to do nothing. Time has come for you to stand up with your pint of Harveys and say:

‘I’m idle and proud of it! Tomorrow may be another day but there’s just enough of this one left for me to raise a glass to Wills and Kate, to Nibs and all who sail with him, but most of all to those foreign types who did bugger all and got us where we are today. God save the King!’