Idle Eye 103 : The Church Organist

Anyone who has ever worked in or visited the churches of Great Britain (probably not a lot of you, granted, but bear with me) will invariably have encountered at some point the sheer horror that lurks above the aisles: The organist. This semi-mythical beast is a honed ecclesiastical sub-species, at once brimming with enthusiasm, verging on the myopic and, like some of our most successful suicide bombers, holding within his/her (but usually his) palms, the potential to spread misery on a scale hitherto uncharted.

Curiously, the church organist’s first rule of thumb appears to be a complete fail at all things organ: Hand/foot coordination tends to suffer brutally, despite the foot keys being the size of railway sleepers and those above separated in hard-contrast black and white. Then there is the issue of the stops. Your average organ has about thirty, all with exotic monikers such as Vox Humana, Flagelot and Clarabella. The end-user must negotiate these, in real time, in order to hit that authentic ‘squirrel in a microwave’ note of celestial purity so often endured by parishioners throughout the land. And then there is the temptation to revise previous errors on the fly, throwing more senior members of the congregation into blind panic as their sung version of ‘Oh God, Our Help In Ages Past’ morphs into Hard House techno. Never before has one man wielded such power over the helpless, bar Caligula.

Cruel, I know. But over the past twelve months I’ve been to three memorial services and worked in several places of worship (No, I’m not a barman. Stop it). And I have suffered, I have so. Usually from the bill. Seeing your grandma/father/whoever sent off to the next life as Sparky attempts to get Grade 1 at your expense is a bit of a slap in the face, make no mistake. But we bury the distain long before we bury our cherished ones and life goes on. Meaning that these satanic Trojan horses live to shite another day. Can you imagine this happening in any other national industry? Let’s say Kwikfit, for arguments sake:

Hi! We’re Kwikfit, the UK’s number one tyre fitting service. Today we’ve got a couple of interns we’re going to let loose on your wheels. Admittedly, they’re not much cop but they need the experience. Just don’t go over 40mph on the by-roads and you’ll be fine. And if you do suffer an M4 blow-out, just remember: We got where we are today by helping the fitters of tomorrow. Because…Oh just because. And we’re a registered charity. Thanks for your custom.

As I said before, I very much doubt this resonates with many of you. But next time you happen to pop your nose into a church and the dulcet pipes are ringing in the only way they know how, spare a thought for those who fix the bloody things for a living. And pack a PPK before you come.

Idle Eye 75 : The Cost Company

So anyway, Nibs and I are burning down the M4 at 121mph (on the way back from yet another trip to Wales), when he drops it in that we have to make a slight detour. Oh no, I’m thinking, is it a special lady friend? Or perhaps the steed needs a quick pit stop? Either of which will add a significant portion of gooseberry to my day. But, as it turns out, it was neither. As we approached Reading, the car re-orbited and we snaked our way through faceless, municipal landscaped roundabouts and grounded ourselves at the trolley park of what appeared to be yet another temple of worship to consumer greed. Every hackle that hadn’t already been irreversibly müllered by alcohol immediately rose up, but my fears were shortly to be assuaged: This was different. This was the future.

Have you ever been to one of these places? These vast cathedrals of corrugated aluminium that house your every culinary peccadillo and a few more besides? And for stupid money, as long as you’ve got an outhouse or live inside an Escher print? Well neither had I, but the minute I walked through the door they had me by the balls. For a start, right there in the foyer, they had delicious Apple stuff which had me salivating like a Cupertino campus nerd, but then as we crossed into widescreen an astonishing array of palleted goods, piled as high as the eye can feasibly take in, burst into ocular wonder. Over there on the left were thousands of discounted cases of NZ Marlborough Pinot Noir, and yet there on the right were more triple packs of Calvin Klein underpants than you could shake a stick at.

But this was just for starters: Mountains of Haribo, rivers of tequila and more snout than Strangeways all beckoned with their irresistible charms. And, in case you weren’t yet up to speed, helpful smiley staff clad in red and white were all there to assist with their immaculate speed-of-light timing of which I took full advantage:

‘Hello, could you help? I’m trying to figure out the sheet 2 wipe ratio saving I could make from your Syrian Red Cross Convenience industrial strength loo rolls?’

‘Certainly, Sir! Our statistics, based on an amalgam of the global meridian and the sheet 2 wipe average in your area suggest that you’ll be making a saving of approximately 7.2 pence per go. You have a nice day now.’

These guys were so on it I nearly wept. And, as Nibs and I swept through checkout, laden with a cargo utterly denied to those outside the club, I felt it necessary to fall to my knees and beg my own brother to sign me up. Which, bless him, he did, after making me watch him consume a hot dog and a litre of fizzy pop at £1.45 from the in-store café. Vile but necessary, as them French Resistance chicks would have said.

Idle Eye 64 : The Long Good Sonday

Oh dear, it’s that time of year again: When supermarkets are brimful with leftover Lindt reindeers cunningly repackaged as bunnies, when television spews out blatant hints that our homes ain’t exactly lemon fresh, when every roadside flower seller gears up for the big one and every self-employed soul in the land prepares for a two-day pay dock. Yes folks, we’re on the Easter runway and already we’re feeling the love. The pope has been picked, the weather is promising to be spectacularly shithouse and the M4 is wetting itself. With joy, you understand. With joy.

I’ve never quite got my head around the whole Easter deal, to be honest. As an excuse to bleed the nations’ wallets once again, it’s badly timed. Too self-consciously close to Christmas/Valentines Day, the concept is far-fetched and not particularly sexy. But Jesus was no fool: He implicitly understood that the gap between Bank Holidays badly needed plugging (40 days was quite enough for him), so with one eye on the Letts and the other on electability, he got them to roll back that stone. And the rest is history. Two thousand plus years on, however, and something significant has got lost in translation. When the fantastical rebirth of the figurehead of all modern guidance is represented by a chocolate egg stuffed with Smarties, you just know we’ve got something out of kilter. And an M&S £10 dine-in almost certainly will not bring a loved one back from the dead or help anyone in their quest for salvation, although it must be said that I have yet to try their lamb bhuna.

You know, if I was God with all his incumbent powers, I’d probably be a bit miffed with the bastardisation of my message, what with the sending down of my only son only to to be müllered by idiots. And yet you’d also think that I’d be savvy enough to stop it happening, being God and that. But maybe that’s just it: If you’re the boss, you just have to let go a bit and let the little people figure it out for themselves, no matter how far from the point they stray.

Having said all this, the Idle Hour will once again be pushing the boat out on March 31st. The italics because, due to some bizarre stroke of fate, the anniversary of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ just happens to fall on the exact same day as the Oxford/Cambridge boat race. It’s the kind of double whammy that only happens once in a millennium and consequently needs exploiting to the hilt. Expect tankards filled with Thames water to be converted into Pinot Noir, organic soda bread to be broken on winning rowlocks and live crucifixion of your coxwain of choice in the beer garden. Because that’s what He’d have wanted. And anyone that tells you different is a liar and a charlatan…