Idle Eye 147 : The Ant

People say that your world shrinks or expands in direct parallel with your immediate environment. If you so happen to be the Foreign Policy Minister of a suitably distressed nation, your brushstrokes will, by default, be rather broad. If, however, you are housebound for whatever reason, the tiniest of details can get magnified beyond all recognition, often becoming the primary focus of your day. And ever since I decided to seismically alter my own life parameters by switching an active job for one that ties me to the computer, my home kitchen has become an exotic new tundra, populated by minuscule, indigenous creatures with whom I must learn to cohabit. My favourite being the common ant, three of which I have become quite fond.

It starts at lunchtime. The minute that multipack of American-style bagels is in town, Dominic and Samantha get active (yes, they have names), darting up to and away from the chopping board without so much as a by-your-leave. They do get on my tits a bit, so I have developed an early warning system, whereby I knock several times on the worksurface and usually they get the message. Obama, on the other hand, does not. His remit is to push the envelope, which invariably he does by hopping up to the cucumber slices and flicking me a V. Fair enough, but I most certainly would not care for him to end his days in my sandwich. So I have words. Stern ones.

A grown man reprimanding a single ant for insubordination must appear somewhat irregular to the uninitiated. But rules are rules, no matter how diverse the cultural boundaries, and Obama would do well to take them on board. Being a big softie, I tend to let him off on the proviso he doesn’t nose-dive into the coleslaw. Because then I’d just get plain ugly. As well he knows.

Yesterday though, he pushed me too far. I had torn off the Marigolds and set them down by the sink. It’s my way of saying ‘in a few seconds I’m coming through with a J-Cloth. Steer clear.’ Dom and Sam totally got it as per, but Obama took umbrage and stood his ground. How exactly do you alert an over-cocky formicidae to the real and present danger? That with one brutal left swipe, I could create more havoc for the little shit than Hurricane Katrina or that big tsunami a while back, without batting an eyelid? Even the clattering of expensive Japanese knives and the sonic deterrent that is Milton Jones on Radio 4 did nothing to stem his tenacity. So I flipped. Crouching down so that our eyes were level, I blew him straight into the washing up bowl. And then apologised profusely.

There’s been no sign of him today. He’s definitely not dead, because I rescued him with a spatula and dried him down with kitchen paper. Probably sulking with Dom and Sam, I’d imagine. But we’ll work something out.

Idle Eye 12 : The Bruises (Fah La La La La, La La La Lah)

I woke up this morning with two large bruises on my person. The first, a striking black bloomer, was nestling obstreperously on my right knee, and the other, an iridescent slow-burner like Christmas lights seen through an orange segment, sat resplendent on my left forearm. Now, I know for a fact that these babies weren’t there last night because I checked. It’s what you do from time to time when the body begins to rebel. So where did they come from? And what could they possibly want? At first I presumed they were oncoming signs of seasonal ailments suffered almost exclusively by the self-employed, but I was otherwise in good health and indeed had just carried a case and a half of holiday cheer in from the car. Perhaps it was the work of a rogue banker, splashing a small portion of his/her bonus on a voodoo curse in revenge for last weeks post. Unlikely, requires imagination. Bewildered, I called out for help:

Ursula:  What now? I’m making pies.

Me:  I’ve got two weird bruises. I think you should come and look.

Ursula:  Let me get this straight. There’s two shopping days to go, I’m cooking for eight, the flat is a tip and you want me to look at your bruises?

Me:  Something like that, yes.

In a second she was at my side, eager to discover something fresh and exciting about her partner. I peeled up the leg of my pyjama bottoms to reveal Exhibit A, glistening enthusiastically in the raking sunlight.

Ursula:  Is that it?

Me:  No, there’s another one.

I rolled up my sleeve with pride to the location where Exhibit B was vying for position. Ursula shot me a tender look that could have knocked small birds from trees and left, but at that very moment something astonishing happened. The darker bruise appeared to pulsate as I watched it, and as I drew closer I could see there was movement inside, the movement of what seemed like tiny people in what seemed to be a tiny pub, clearly enjoying themselves and raising their tiny glasses towards the huge figure looming above. “Merry Christmas from the Idle Hour Barons Court”, they cried in unison before clanking their respective tipples together. Squinting harder, I could just make out a miniscule bearded man in a Miami Vice jacket and penny loafers embracing another absurdly small representative from the Jägermeister company. In the background I spotted a lavish North African drinking space (ideal for pint-sized parties, by the way) and off in the kitchens an award-winning chef called Tony was creating a fabulous meal for everyone present.

Me:  (urgently) Urs! URS!!!

Ursula:  (in distance) **** off!

I was on the cusp of leaping from my bed when I noticed the second bruise. Not to be outdone, it was ebbing and flowing like a seasick calzone on a waterbed. I took a closer look out of fairness, and again I saw a myriad of microscopic pub-faring folk in mid-carousal just underneath the surface wound, only this time they were crowded around a log fire, being served what looked like mulled wine from a man wearing a somewhat vulgar Miami Vice jacket and Penny Loafers. At first they were blissfully unaware of my ugly moon face peering down at them, but eventually someone shouted and pointed:

Tiny Reveller:  (to room) There appears to be an enormous bloke watching us from above.

Me:  Fear not, small beer-swilling man, I mean you no harm.

Tiny Reveller:  But how are we to know this, vast crater-faced monster? We are here to celebrate what we call Christmas at the Idle Hour Barnes with our favourite award-winning landlord Nibs, Da Mudda and his brother. Could you come back another time?

Me:  His brother? Are you sure?

Tiny Reveller:  Of course I’m sure! Would you like to buy him a drink?

Me:  You know, I think I would, drunken gnome. Please send him forth.

In what felt like slow motion but actually was slow motion, I watched as a perfect replica of myself in 1/75 scale reached up and asked me for money. This was too much: I leapt back, banging my head against the Louis XIV mahogany headboard and instantly knocked myself out.

I cannot say how long I was gone for, but when I awoke I immediately noticed the bruises had disappeared. Oh, and that I’d pissed myself. Again. Looking around me I became aware that it was Christmas Day and my entire family had gathered around to celebrate the occasion. Da Mudda was smiling and pretending to like Bing Crosby, Nibs was smiling and pretending to like Bing Crosby and Ursula was going at my crotch with a J-cloth. And way, way off in the distance, I saw my own reflection. It was drinking an oversized glass of Jägermeister and giving me the thumbs up. And smiling.