Idle Eye 119 : The Things He Left Behind

In November 1922, Howard Carter & Lord Caernavon peered into the newly discovered tomb of Tutankhamun for the first time in over 3000 years, inside which were treasures beyond their wildest dreams. An incredible collection of objects were piled high in every chamber, patiently waiting for their passage to the afterlife where the owner would be judged on the quality of his offerings. Sadly, this was not the case when Chris’s House Clearance turned up at my dad’s gaff in Wales last week:

Chris:  Can you see anything?

Helper:  Yeah, loads. There’s about 80 teddies, some Xena Warrior Princess videos, a packet of Fisherman’s Friend, quite a lot of cardboard and a vibrating bed.

Chris:  A vibrating bed?

Helper:  Yep. And it’s got a remote. One for Sue Ryder, I reckon. Dirty sod.

He wasn’t far wrong. We all get assessed by the things we leave behind, and poor old dad didn’t do himself any favours in this department. And whilst I feel duty-bound to protect the modesty of my late father, it must be said that we, as a family, drew some not inconsiderable hilarity from the tale of the aforementioned bed. Apparently he bought it from a door-to-door salesman, on the understanding that it had massaging pads that would take care of his aching muscles as he lay recumbent. And for a few extra pounds, he could also purchase an attachment that opened the curtains at roughly the same speed that the head zone would raise itself up to a 90 degree position, affording the end user a magnificent view of the Welsh countryside as he made the transition from Nod to the new day. Which, of course, he did.

And yet it is some of the less significant items that remain the most poignant. The electronic alcohol sensor tucked discretely inside his medical bag, the WW1 ‘Magnapole’ compass that must have belonged to his grandfather (with his initials crudely scratched onto the face), the letter he wrote to his own father declaring gratitude and love despite their fiery differences, the half-eaten bag of Sports Mixture that came back from the hospital with his belongings. All these minuscule moments that say more about the man than what the lawyers cooly refer to as ‘chattels’, as if a life only has meaning by its monetary value.

I let Chris fill his boot(s). There was nothing at all left that really mattered, that I felt strongly enough to hang onto, that wouldn’t be served better by a new owner. But I did spend half a day sifting through photographs and selecting what I figured was an accurate, if edited, representation of a career spent largely under the public gaze. And a couple that weren’t. Ones in which we were actually touching when I was a child, something that didn’t happen much afterwards. And the big stuff I left for him. He’ll probably need it out there.

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.