Bit of back story here. Not all that funny either, but at least it demonstrates we can pull something out of the bag if pushed.
Of all the relationships I’ve ever had, perhaps the most difficult is the one I still hold with the booze. It’s pretty shit, to be frank, and I didn’t choose it either. My namesake grandfather died of it before I was born, as did my own father indirectly, and it will probably see me off prematurely if the snout doesn’t get me first. Its claws are pan-generational, way outside the boundaries of logic and reason, and conveniently, a quick re-read of the above somehow absolves me of any absolute guilt, thereby allowing me to persevere with more of the same in order to write dispassionately about it. As if that makes it okay. The obvious, entry-level question filed by those close enough to be concerned, is this:
‘Do you drink alone?’
And the most honest answer I can give is:
‘Yes, I do. I drink alone out of preference. Because then, finally, the ever-present critical voices (which extend into every cranny of my existence) shut up long enough for me to be able to do the things I actually care about. Until I go down the opposite slope and couldn’t give a toss any more. Can I get you a top up?’
It’s not what they want to hear. And those I’ve upset along the path (trust me, there have been a few) will see it as a romanticised excuse, along the lines of Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited, very much the architect of his own downfall despite every gift life bestowed upon him.
Someone kindly gave me a book last Christmas. Called ‘The Trip To Echo Spring’ by Olivia Laing, it discusses the troubled link so many writers have with the demon grog. Not that I have ever considered myself a bona fide writer, and thereby lies the problem. The very term has such powerful connotations that the unsure are crippled at the starting blocks, pitifully reliant on whatever it takes to be taken seriously. Until the crutch becomes counterproductive, by which time it’s usually too late. Between these, I walk a fine line: If that glorious moment ever comes about when something I have created becomes a thing, I’ll probably be too mullered to notice. But maybe you will, and I’d be grateful if you could let me know. We’ve been around the block together for nearly four years. You owe me.
I have a rule. When I spew this stuff out, usually late at night and alongside a bottle of Pinot, I resist the temptation to hit the publish button until the following morning. Because, no matter how cathartic it may seem at the time, the unforgiving light of a new day will invariably reveal my incisive efforts to be little more than a muddled, steaming pile of cack. But ask yourselves something: You’re reading this. Does that mean it’s through quality control, or am I slumped comatose over the return key?
I’ll leave that one with you.
Ever tried to sell yourself? Seriously, have you? You’d think it would be relatively straightforward, seeing as you’re pretty much up to speed with all things you, and it should be just a question of getting the good bits in line, right? Well, I beg to differ. This week I’ve been trying to put together a book proposal for literary publishers and agents, and it’s like pulling bloody teeth. Using a crib sheet downloaded from one of the Bloomsbury fat cats, I somehow managed to get through the early parts unscathed. But then they wheeled in the heavy artillery:
Q) Please outline the main pedagogical feature you plan to include.
A) Hmm…It’s a funny blog I want done as a book. That’s it. And the only pedagogical feature I can think of is that it serves as some kind of a caveat.
It gets worse:
Q) Where do you see the main markets for the book, e.g. UK/Canada/Europe/Australasia etc? Please provide any information that would help us promote it in specific markets, e.g. international case studies/contributors/author profile/possible endorsements.
A) Hold on, isn’t that what you do? It’s not like I go round to WC1 and say ‘I’m having issues with a recalcitrant paragraph, could you sort it for me’, is it? Or tap you for meals I had in the local café whilst attempting to sound coherent online. My remit is to write the stuff, yours is to put it out there. Surely?
But seeing as I’ve had diddly squit published in my life, maybe it’s time I learnt to play ball. The possible endorsements bit is simple, I’ll just make a call to New Zealand and be the acceptable face of the next thin-skinned grape juice they export. It’s just, well, how exactly are you supposed to know where your main markets are if it’s not out there yet? Perhaps I’ll develop the Downton Abbey effect in the Ukraine (by the way, hello Ukraine stats person. Could you let me know what my USP may or may not be in your country? I’m afraid I haven’t a clue. And good luck with Vladimir), or nag the two people I know in North Carolina indefinitely until they set up an injunction.
It’s not in the nature of creative types to do hard sell. That’s why we have agents and managers and accountants. The whole crux of this symbiosis hinges on the left brain/right brain theory, both parties doing what they do best in order to achieve a mutually beneficial end result. I could no more flog the fluff I put out than eat my own earwax, and that’s as it should be. But it works both ways. If they find me butt naked on a carpet somewhere, dribbling and babbling incoherent nonsense, I shall remind them it is my duty as an artist to push the envelope. So they don’t have to.
I have a distant memory of my mother’s bathroom in the 1970s. I’m pretty sure it had turquoise carpet throughout (right up to the unit borders), and around the bath itself was a set of those mirrors which disappeared into infinity. I mention these because I’ve never seen anything similar since, and it did strike me at the time that they were curious things to have at all: The very notion that anyone would willingly install a primitive version of CCTV, seeking out and exposing every unsightly crevice the human body can muster, brutally illuminated under the unforgiving scrutiny of a 150W bulb encased inside an upside-down jelly mould, did seem rather odd. But, to be fair, I was only about eight. At that age, you get things wrong.
I hadn’t, though. This last Bank Holiday weekend saw me ensconced with fine friends in an Edinburgh AirB&B. It had one bathroom and yes, in what probably was a nod to the retro accoutrements of yesteryear, it also had the very same fitted mirrors. Which meant I could see my own sorry bottom snaking into the distance more times than I would care to discuss. The horrors did not stop there. When was the last time you had a proper look at your own body in its entirety? Not recently, I’d wager. As I wrestled with the shower head, and made silent prayer that the glass would steam up smartly under the surge of its own revulsion, I noted that the ageing process had effectively morphed my once relatively well-proportioned frame into something out of Lord of the Rings.
The torso looked like an afterthought. Squat, pushing out in areas I previously didn’t know existed and, to these eyes, shamefully unaesthetic, it sat uncomfortably above two vulgar flesh potatoes, crushed mercilessly out of shape by the passage of time and the ongoing onslaught of Marlborough Pinot Noir. Not being load-bearing in their own right, the buttocks had clearly begged the legs below for reinforcement, but sadly to no avail. Consequently, some not inconsiderable subsidence was evident at the join, probably worthy of one of those Heritage grants if I’d got my act together. To say nothing of the hilarious thinning pin that balanced precariously on top of all the above. The whole bloody shooting match was a David Attenborough documentary on the decline of Western human anatomy, realised in Kinder Egg Surprises. And directed by ISIS.
Now, I know we’re all supposed to accept the inevitable deterioration of the body as standard. That the vanity of youth should disappear in a plume of dust if one has any dignity whatsoever. But if you could have seen what I saw in those ridiculous mirrors, I do honestly believe you might think again. When confronted with the genuinely shocking, we tend to be genuinely shocked. As I was. Which is why, from now on, I shall be taking my showers in the dark.
It’s harder than you think, being your own boss. Try it sometime and see for yourselves. Traditionally I have been pathetic at organising my day, which is why I usually get other people to do it for me and hopefully throw in a few quid at the same time. But right now, I’m out of the plane without a chute and unless I sort something out pretty quick, I’ll be land pizza before you know it. There are, however, little tricks you can employ to create the illusion of structure, some of which I shall outline below for anyone in the same predicament:
1) The old ‘leaving the flat’ ruse is a bit of fun – Get dressed in a hurry, swig down a mouthful of instant coffee (leaving the rest) and, if you’re feeling bold, give yourself a quick peck on the cheek. Then walk around the block a couple of times and come back in, panting and complaining bitterly about the inefficiency of whichever rail network you weren’t on.
2) Create a few formal breaks. These will prevent you from atrophying at the computer and provide the added bonus of allowing you to catch up with all the latest gossip. It’s important to stay in the loop.
3) The Reward System, albeit rather primitive, is a great incentiviser. That call you made to Virgin Media Customer Services took a while, right? Have a sweetie. Made it through thirty emails about erectile dysfunction and/or PPI? Have another sweetie. Anything whatsoever to do with the Inland Revenue or TfL? Crack open a bottle of single vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir. Actually, make that two.
4) Stay focused. Tempting though it may be to stray with another episode of Inside Health and discover you’ve probably got shingles/leg ulcers/something irritable going on with your bowel, you’ll only spend the rest of the day on the med sites and give yourself PTSD to boot.
5) Draw the curtains. Because the people you can see outside are almost certainly having more fun than you, will be rich in Vitamin D and couldn’t give a monkey’s that your delete key has packed up again. For them, life is one big picnic. For you, it’s an eternal game of chess. Against Magnus Carlsen.
6) Nothing of interest will come through your letterbox and no-one of interest will ring the doorbell. Ever. Hold your nerve.
7) Facebook and Twitter are not your friends. They are the Trojan horses of the internet, willingly invited into the workplace where they bed in and beckon, stealing your time and reason. Like Mata Hari. With cats and babies.
After these, you’ll need an endpoint. Something to neurotransmit a strong signal to the brain, telling it to pack in the chores and loosen up a little. Sex, recreational drugs, alcohol and repetitive pop tunes have always been popular with the young, but if, like me, you find yourself in your twilight years, The Archers seems to work okay. In conjunction with the above.
Remember last year? Me neither, which is the predominant reason I churn out this self-indulgent effluent every week. So that, in a quiet moment of the day when the wine fog has lifted, I can claw back clues as to my activities over the last three and a half years, and make out I have near-perfect recall. Yes, like that bloke out of Neighbours (what was his name?) in Memento. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered I had attended the Glastonbury festival. Quite willingly, apparently. Can that be right? And why on earth would I have agreed to such a thing, being as I am rather ancient and unsuitably constructed for the al fresco activities of youth?
I dug a little deeper, only to find out that, to my horror, I am going again in June. And that I have already shelled out perfectly good moolah for the privilege. What fresh hell is this? If ever there was a deterrent to the perils of Pinot… Anyway, my fate being sealed thus, I thought it prudent to at least find out exactly who I shall be forced to watch, and in narratively convenient fashion, the organisers announced yesterday that someone called Kanye West will be headlining on the big stage. Kanye West? Who the shoo is she? I thought it was a holiday destination for wealthy folk, somewhere near the Keys in Florida. And whilst I realise I no longer fit the festival demographic, you’d think they could at least meet me half way: The Bay City Rollers still have a bit of spunk left, and young people can mock them on the Twitter if they get bored.
Seeing as I already had my detective hat on, I discreetly asked my niece to get me up to speed, ignorance being no excuse in these matters:
Poppy: Are you for real?
Me: Yes, I think so.
Poppy: No, I mean you’ve never heard of Kanye West???
Me: I haven’t. Does that make me a bad person?
Poppy: He’s only the biggest rapper in the world!
Me: Rapper, you say?
Poppy: Yes, rapper! And he’s married to Kim Kardashian. Keep up!
Me: Kim who?
Poppy: Oh for God’s sake! Kardashian! With the massive arse.
Poppy: You really don’t know, do you?
Me: I’m afraid not.
Poppy: Have you been living under a rock for the last ten years?
Me: Of course not. But wasn’t she at Glastonbury last year with her band?
Poppy: That was Kasabian!
Me: Is there a difference?
Poppy: I’ve got to go now…
So, none the wiser then. But at least I’ve gleaned that this Kanye chap has a wife with a big bottom, which will surely hold me in good stead when I’m standing in a Somerset field, knee-deep in mud and surrounded by children who know who he is. What was it again? Kim something? I wonder if she’s from North Korea.
In May 2013, I made an appointment with a certain Dr Nunn for a routine blood test. Apparently you’re meant to do this sort of thing when the ratio of your years left on the planet versus years already used up, tips unfavourably towards the latter. I made light of any reasoning behind it, of course, suggesting that my request was purely investigative and of no great consequence. However, Dr Nunn is no fool. Looking straight past the saffron-tinted jellies through which I decipher the world and deep into the very core of my being, he offered me a seat next to the computer. Then he made me wait. For eons.
Time slows down to a crawl when you know you’ve been rumbled. The skinny document containing my records was theatrically scrutinised, and accusatory glances from over the top of his half-moon glasses were staged for maximum gravitas. I knew what was coming next:
Dr Nunn: Smoker?
Me: Er…Not really. The occasional puff, perhaps.
Dr Nunn: How many?
Me: Hmm…Depends on my week, I suppose! (laughs nervously)
Dr Nunn: I’ll put you down for twenty. Sound about right?
Me: Absolutely. (rapid blinking)
Dr Nunn: What about alcohol? How many units per week?
Me: Units? I’m not really sure, to be honest. How do you…
Dr Nunn: Someone of your age should be looking at no more than one or two small glasses of wine a night. Preferably with breaks in between. The liver isn’t a miracle worker.
Me: I see. I think it would be fair to say I do drink a little more than that. Not always, and I do try to keep it to…
Dr Nunn: I need a straight answer. Or we’re both wasting each others time, aren’t we?
Me: Yes, I’m sorry. Well, on the odd occasion it has been known for me to get through half a bottle of red wine in the evening, and sometimes a beer or two.
Dr Nunn: How often?
Me: Every night.
Dr Nunn: No more than that?
Me: No. (swallows)
Dr Nunn: Right, I need you to come back next week. Give this in at reception, they’ll make another appointment for you.
Me: Thanks very much for…
Dr Nunn: Goodbye.
I looked down at the printout thrust into my hand. There, in a little box marked ‘Relevant Clinical Details’ was the evidence statisticians and the red tops pay top dollar for, no doubt to keep social pariahs such as myself out of the surgeries: ‘Screen: High Alcohol.’ And it works. Because I never went back. If half a bottle of pinot and a hop-based aperitif counts as alcohol abuse, my return visit would have seen Dr Nunn strapping me into some kind of detox seat, like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, forcing me to watch endless loops of waterfalls and Bavarian milkmaids until I recanted my feckless ways. Do me a favour…
I hate tea. Quite why it has been adopted as the nation’s drink of choice is totally beyond me, seeing as pretty much anything else that’s liquid and stays down would be infinitely preferable. Let’s not beat about the bush: In its raw state, it looks (and tastes) as if it has been strained though your grandmother’s underpants. Then you add milk (as if that’s going to help), and when it’s made, perfectly normal people from right across the class spectrum make weird, contented sighs over the duration of its consumption as if to say that life, up until this point, has been a bit much. “Best drink of the day”, they go. Utter balls! Stick around with me & I’ll show you a belter come 6pm.
Three drinks that are better than tea. Fact!
- New Zealand Marlborough Pinot Noir
- Your own sick
- Someone else’s sick
You know, the bit that gets me is when they say “Ooh, I’m dying for a cuppa.” I could understand it if they were after a triple shot of wormwood-laden absinthe with a vermouth chaser, but tea? Really? It’s just so…lame! So, why exactly have we embraced this muck to our collective bosom? Well, as with most things, it’s a long story which I shall attempt to condense for you here. If you want proper facts, there’s always Wikipedia:
- Chinese accidentally discover it ages ago
- Portuguese nick it from Chinese
- Dutch nick it from Portuguese
- Brits nick it from Dutch
- It’s British. No argument. Like curry
The rest is history. There’s a bit of faffing about with taxes and the East India Company, but for the most part we stuck our flag right there in the middle of the pot and pretended to like the stuff. I blame that Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, who made it fashionable and got hooked on it, dozy mare. A bit like Diana and marital infidelity, and look how that’s taken off. Only problem was, the proles had gotten a taste for it as well, and curiously, it was offered as an alternative to the demon grog at temperance meetings. Now, I’ve never attended a temperance meeting (probably not for me), but I’d imagine that tea really isn’t going to cut the mustard when you’re bug-eyed, frothing at the gills & threatening violence to anyone in the vicinity without an almost full bottle of pinot to hand. But what do I know?
And so to the present. I concede I must kowtow to the social mores of our time if I wish to succeed in my chosen field, but I shall do so on my own terms. A short cup of coffee, brutally strong and infused with one of those flavoured syrups, is more than enough to see off the competition. Preferably in sync with a couple of fags. And to those who see this as a crass invasion of tradition, hear ye:
“We do not have to accept the world as we find it” – Ed Miliband
*with 312 festive bonus words
Desert Island Discs – December 2014
Kirsty: Due to swingeing cuts the BBC has suffered recently, my castaway this week is alcoholic and sometime blogger Idle Eye. I know, me neither. His pithy and often self-deprecating blog has been read by an ever-decreasing audience since its inception in 2011, and he claims to be a mouthpiece for the very few disaffected, middle-aged misanthropes he manages to connect with. Good morning, sir.
Me: Good morning, Kirsty.
Kirsty: I understand that you no longer make any money whatsoever from your work. Is this true?
Me: That’s correct. I started by writing for my brother’s pub, but it soon became pretty clear that the stuff I put out was having an adverse effect on his clientele: They stayed away in their droves. The rest is history.
Kirsty: So what’s the incentive, if you don’t mind me asking?
Me: Well, Kirsty, the strapline for the whole shebang is “Getting it off my chest and onto yours”, which I suppose is the main thrust. And I nicked that from Peter Cook. Sadly, there isn’t an original bone in my body. But I soldier on.
Kirsty: Let’s have some music.
Me: My first would have to be Instant Street by dEUS, which hit me like a bullet when it came out in 19…
Kirsty: We don’t have that one, I’m afraid.
Me: Oh…Well, how about Heavenly Pop Hit by The Chills? The flagship band from New Zealand’s Flying Nun stable when they were at their…
Kirsty: Nor that.
Me: I thought you had these things lined up beforehand?
Kirsty: Look, Sarah Millican asked for Wham! if that’s any help. Work with me.
[You Drive Me Crazy – Shakin’ Stevens]
Kirsty: Thank you. Now, tell me about your drinking. You profess a disturbing reliance on Marlborough Pinot Noir in order to get your ideas onto the page. Would you describe yourself as a writer with a drinking problem or a drinker with a writing problem?
Me: I like to think of it as both. Although it’s clear which one would have to go if push came to shove.
Kirsty: I see. And do you think you could manage without?
Me: To be fair, there’s a lot of crap out there. And the telly’s getting better and better. So yes, I think so.
Kirsty: Let’s have your next disc.
Me: Can I have…
[We Are The Champions – Queen]
Kirsty: You mention your family in several posts. Tell me about the early years: Did they spot the signs of your forthcoming invisibility or was it something you had to work at alone?
Me: When you say ‘forthcoming invisibility’…
Kirsty: That, by your own admission, your efforts are widely ignored. “Like farting into a wind tunnel”, as you once put it.
Me: It was a symbiotic arrangement, I seem to remember. To have your ‘efforts’ overlooked as a young man does stand you in good stead for later life. In many ways it was a gift, for which I am profoundly grateful.
Kirsty: Forgive me for bringing this up, but we’re running out of time and we need a hook. Your father, a much-loved television and film actor, died last year. How did his tangible success, first realised when he was less than half your age, affect your confidence as an artist in your own right?
Me: Well, Kirsty, I see it like this: Success is very much like wine – Some of it can be enjoyed young (and some of it can be very good), but I think most of us would agree that in order for it to be at its very best, it needs to have sat around for a while.
Kirsty: But if you leave it too long, it gets tipped down the sink.
Me: There is that.
Kirsty: Let’s have some more mu…actually, let me do it.
[Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid]
Me: I hate that one, by the way.
Kirsty: Me too. But it’s your show.
Me: And I normally write 500 words, preferably less.
Kirsty: Just say it’s a Christmas Special. You can do whatever you like with them, trust me. Now, I’m going to give you The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Bible to take with you. And a book of your choice: What’s it going to be?
Me: Well, it’s a toss-up between…
[Sarah Millican’s Support Group audiobook – Sarah Millican (signed)]
Kirsty: And a luxury too. You can have one thing on the island to make life more bearable.
Me: I’d like…
[You’re Never Too Fat For A Handbag – Sarah Millican white cotton tea towel (signed)]
Kirsty: And if you had to pick just one…ach, forget it.
Me: I already have.
Kirsty: Thanks for coming in.
Me: No, thank you.
Someone called William rang me yesterday. Before he got through, I screened the number: Unfamiliar, but at least not one of those 08547 deals which you instantly know will come with a three second delay, over which you politely say “Hello” twice despite your better judgement, followed by an upbeat recorded message giving you just enough info on that accident you had to prevent you hanging up on the spot. Which you do anyway.
In short, William’s prefix looked legit so I took the call, thinking it might be confirmation of my bank details from a new Nigerian business partner. His opening gambit was along the lines of “How are you?” Now, as this particular question rarely arises, be it from my siblings, employer or accountant, I was already putty in his hands. Next came the introduction. Apparently he is my personal wine advisor and was making a courtesy call based on the preferences made with my online account which, you may be surprised to learn, comes in at less than £200 per annum. He accurately noted that I enjoy wines from New Zealand, bless, and proceeded to suggest a few others that may have escaped my radar. And despite all prior knowledge of the ruthlessness of marketing and cold-call grooming, I began to warm to him. And he’s from Norwich.
How we laughed at the vulgarity of your supermarket Shiraz. And how effortlessly he dropped in the buyer’s sweet spot, being that place on the quality curve when you are no longer paying off taxes, duty and whatnot. The one when you go “Hell, I’m worth £2.50” and buy a couple of blue labels, as opposed to the plebeian red. And, in case I was in any doubt whatsoever, he reminded me that I would be fully refunded if his recommendations fell at all short. Geezer! I wanted to French kiss him down the phone, or at least ask him out for a pizza. This man knew more about me than my teachers from the 1980s or, dare I say it, my parents. And in my loved-up state, I saw us enjoying a mutual glass of an astonishingly rare Pinot under a wide Andalusian sunset.
But then came the crash. I nipped round to my friend Nick’s house not long afterwards who just happens to be a marketing guru and I told him about my new love, William, and how it felt to be understood so completely. “It’s not what you think”, I protested. He gave me the skunk eye, then the lowdown on Cute Brands and Upselling. You know, the sort of thing that companies like Innocent use to get you on team. And in an instant, the wonderful man-love I had experienced but hours before evaporated like the morning mist. I felt cheated, violated, abused. I thought this was different. I thought this was special. I thought this was personal. So I bought some more wine. The right stuff.