Idle Eye 170 : The Armadillo

In a desperate bid to claw back some of the money I’ve laid out on this book, last week I threw myself under a slow-moving vehicle on Central Hill. Admittedly the traffic is usually pretty snarled up there, but I guessed I was in with a good chance of bagging a no win/no fee insurance payout if I just played it cool. Like Matt Damon would if he lived in South East London. So I risked life and limb for hard cash; this is what I’ve been reduced to.

I had it all figured out before leaving the flat. Pretending not to enjoy an Eton Mess pudding, I stealthily concealed the crushed strawberry filling inside a freezer bag shortly before putting the remnants into the green bin. No one was any the wiser. Next, I created a catheter from a decaying Dyson spare and stitched it into the lining of my overcoat, taking care that the protrusion was undetectable from a distance. Then I trepanned a small hole into the back of my skull which allowed the tube to feed its way through to my mouth, meticulously avoiding damage to any significant cells that would render me a vegetable. The bag was to locate inside my top pocket so that when I tumbled over, the contents would spew forth to an incredulous public which would not only witness the event, but also inadvertently help create my first fortune. Seriously, I had it down.

Anyway, I was walking up Harold Road when I got stopped by this old woman who wanted directions to the park. When I pointed out that she was right opposite it, she came over all unnecessary (as people occasionally do when confronted with undeniable fact), repeatedly prodding me in the chest with one of her wizened fingers. A small trajectory of puréed fruit shot out of my mouth and onto her dress, and for a brief moment there was a stunned silence as we both ascertained the situation. I knew what she was thinking, and I knew that she knew that I knew.

There was no choice; I had to do it there and then. So before things got any worse, I sprinted up to the main drag and dived head first into the flow of oncoming cars. A 1970s Leyland milk float ground to a halt shortly after crushing three of my fingers, and the driver (not a milkman) called me a twat twice before driving off. The bag in my pocket remained pristine and there wasn’t a single person about (except for the old woman, who also called me a twat). So I went home and called my insurers.

I spent over twenty quid taking the loss adjuster out to lunch yesterday. He was bang out of order going large on the Mexican meal deal, but ultimately it will be worth it. I went for soup and drank it with the tube. In case you’re wondering…

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 21 : The Squeezed Middle

Boy, I’m in a mood. The thieving car insurance gypsies* I generally use without batting an eyelid have raised my premium by 21.39380268313%. Now, ordinarily I am predisposed to taking a slight annual hit because, despite my never having made a claim, I am happy to help out anyone who is prepared to jaywalk the M4 in order to provide for their families: Good on ‘em, or at least what’s left of ‘em. However, this year’s astonishing price hike has tipped me over the edge in a kind of Michael Douglas/Falling Down stylee. If only the ineffectual, middle-class sop that I am could pick up an AK-47, stroll into Insurance House, Basingstoke and spew bullets about the place, I surely would. Trust me.

But we don’t, do we? Being British, and instilled with values we don’t quite understand from a time we never lived through, we just take it. Again and again. I rang up Nibs to express my dissatisfaction with the status quo but he was doing battle with his own personal nemesis, the inkjet printer:

Nibs: They deliberately make them so they break and the IT departments just cash in. I’ve just spent £30 on inks and £30 on support and it still doesn’t work. Bastards! BASTARDS!!! And don’t get me started on the till.

Me: What’s up with the till?

Nibs: Same bloody thing. They force you to use their crappy hardware that breaks 50 seconds after they deliver it and then charge you £300 callout to have a look and £200 per hour to fix it. We’re in the wrong game, bro.

He’s right, we are. Because we are both victims of The Squeezed Middle. That wretched, unrepresented state we get labelled with by politicians when there are no better words for being screwed over. It starts in the supermarkets, filters down through insurance and services and takes a scythe to our pay packets along the way. Suddenly we’re all scrapping at each other (when in fact, we’re all on the same side) and the only ones smiling are the string pullers. And you can only reach them if you’re prepared to ring a premium rate number and stay on hold for longer than it takes to grow a beard. It’s enough to make you, well, jolly cross actually.

So what’s to do? I shopped around for a new premium in a fit of pique but after speaking to a couple of brokers I finally understood why these people have your balls in a clamp. Because the alternative is actual contact, albeit only verbal, with the kind of human detritus that diminishes the quality of your life by its very proximity. Screw it, I’ll pay the difference: JUST….GO….AWAY!!!

Hold up, just had a text through. Apparently I’m due £25,000 compensation for that accident I had. Now, as much as I’d like to chat..

*cleared with Viz Comic & Romanian High Commission