Idle Eye 154 : The Twin Algorithms of Fame

I met someone famous last week. I’m not saying who, that would be beyond vulgar, but the reason I bring it up is to highlight the broader issue of celebrity and the effect it has on those within its orbit. For example, I like to think of myself as a man of the world, perfectly able to hold my own in conversation with people I don’t yet know, and the odd sprinkle of wit and charm adequately greases the wheels for the recipient to feel they haven’t totally wasted their time. It’s a game of badminton, in which the shuttlecock of decorum is gently rallied back and forth until someone cracks and heads off towards the canapés.

Throw in the curveball of fame, however, and these unwritten rules of polite discourse go straight out the window. Any joy to be had from chasing a sentence to wherever it may lead is countered by the suffocating fear of coming across as a bit of a tit. The celebrity in question can usually spot this, helpfully discussing themselves until you are able to regroup, but by now you’re already on the back foot and the vocabulary of gibberish is all you have left to draw from. The more you try to address it, the worse it gets. I often witnessed this with my father, who loved to ‘drop in’ to his local and chat away with verve to those brave enough to approach him. It more often than not culminated in a bizarre face-off, kicking up the following complex algorithm:

Shameless self-promotion plus apparent good nature divided by loss of will to live if he talks about agriculture one more time plus please don’t buy me another pint, I hate beer and I’ve got an expensive bottle of Pouilly-Fumé open at home which I’ll tuck into after you’ve shut up, is the square root of continued local and/or national prestige minus face if I bail too early

Obviously, this is subjective. If I were to be so bold as to suggest an pertinent alternative for those soon to meet and greet someone in the public eye, perhaps it would be something along these lines:

Anonymity plus alcohol plus neutral meeting place equals bolstered confidence minus mutual reference points minus self-awareness plus alcohol plus alcohol divided by inability to remember celebrity’s focal work is the square root of something to talk about in the pub later divided by time taken to achieve same*

A more accurate formula probably lies somewhere in between. Something to do with the synthesis of courage and generosity from both active parties, the onus being on the former. For he/she may still recall a time spent on the other side of the tracks, whereas the latter is single-handedly navigating terra incognita and trying not to blush. And adding another alcohol to the above.

*algorithm does not apply to current Duke of Edinburgh

Idle Eye 126 : The New Suits of Bedtime

I was down the pub on Monday with a trio of men of a certain age and, in amongst the plethora of utter bollocks discussed, the subject of nightwear was gingerly raised. Obvs I plumped for the pyjama, but regrettably was riotously trashed at the post in favour of going commando, something I must confess I find rather disturbing in one’s advancing years. The very thought of all that naked flesh frotting away against raw cotton (or Crimplene – I do not judge) cannot in any way be conducive to a good night’s sleep. To say nothing of the potential for lewd thought or any derivative thereof: The filth and the fury, the filth and the fury.

No, it’s the pyjama every time in my book. The fact that they are restrictive is ironically at the very core of their genius. By wearing the things, we willingly shackle ourselves to such laudable values as propriety, comfort and common decency. And I’ll go you one further – It is no accident they have matching tops and bottoms. Move over, city slickers: These are the new suits of bedtime, and ones we can all wear with pride and dignity at a fraction of the cost of their daytime equivalent. They are truly the egalitarian attire of our age.

I’m not saying they’re for everyone, mind. There is a certain build of man that insists on the elasicated waistband, a more vulgar thing one could not wish to see, let alone wear, despite its obvious practical advantages. Fortunately, modern manufacturers have taken this on board and come up with the button fly/drawstring combo. This cute little trick simultaneously gets you out of the shit whilst somehow keeping you fashionable. And, more importantly perhaps, avoiding the phenomenon that is ‘Ankle Island’, an exposed tundra no man beyond his fortieth year should ever have the misfortune to frequent. I take my hat off to these people. Just my hat.

To drive the point home, I purchased a classic striped PJ set from an expensive Chelsea retailer on my way home the very next day. Not for one moment that I imagined my friends would catch a glimpse of me gliding around my bedroom in those generously cut trousers with their two side pockets, or the timeless jacket with its full 5oz of cotton flannel. No no no. The exquisite pleasure gained here is not for sharing, which may explain why there is a paucity of targeted marketing on your social media. Access to such hallowed portals comes either by word of mouth, or from those bizarre mini-catalogues that drop out of the subscriber magazines. You know, the ones from which it is actually possible to buy salmon pink corduroys or a watch which apparently you don’t own, despite having shelled out twenty grand for it. The beauty of a quality pyjama can only be genuinely appreciated by the man inside.

Tonight, and for the foreseeable future, I am that man.

Idle Eye 109 : The Cotswold Diner

Like Cornwall, the trouble with the Cotswolds is that they’re woefully inadequate at catering for regular folk. By which I mean that every idyllic bar and restaurant, set in local stone and staffed by enthusiastic pin-striped undergraduates, leaves in its wake a paucity of eateries affordable to the indigenous population that isn’t a flame-haired former news editor or her tit of a husband. Even your bog-standard takeaway has been usurped by Cameron’s cronies, now profiteering proudly from weak puns and an artisan prefix. So, where to fill up without spunking away your wages when buried deep in the West Country?

Good question. And if you are holed up in a country B&B, your options are drastically reduced. For you must either drive to one of these godforsaken places, or learn to enjoy the pleasure of your own company with a Waitrose 2 for 1 nuclear meal and a bottle of anything red that will stay down. A Sophie’s Choice, basically. But then I got to thinking (necessity being the mother of all invention): What if I could harness that 1987 Panasonic Destroyer of All Hopes & Dreams to my own advantage? Perhaps even rustle up something my guts wouldn’t instantly reject, and in record time? The mind began to work overtime, like it’s supposed to do during sex or at the moment of violent untimely death…

As luck would have it, I discovered a Microwave Oven Recipe Book nestled alluringly between a brace of curry menus, purposefully placed in order to offer the budget diner the illusion of opulence. For example – How about some plaice fillets in a white wine sauce? Preparation comes in at a mere 10 minutes, presumably the time it takes to leap into the Thames in Hunters waders and net a couple of the flat bastards before they hightail it off in their inherited Aqua Rover. What’s more, the end result serves four people, a salient glimpse into the lives of others as you attempt to scrape the charred remains of sliced mushroom from the duvet cover. And if you’re feeling adventurous, why not round off the evening with a pineapple upside down cake? Simultaneously conjuring up Hawaii and the 1970’s, this delightful pudding is rustled up in seconds if you happen to have a greased soufflé dish stowed away in your rucksack and can handle 100g of refined sugar before the witching hour.

Sadly I don’t and can’t, to say nothing of the potential shame involved. To fail at cookery is one thing, but to fail at fan-assisted cookery in the seat of all things cookery is quite another. So I bailed, as you’ve probably guessed by now. However, tonight acquainted me with a spectacular 2012 Sangré de Torro (a snip at £8.99) and guess what? That family bag of farm-raised, oak-smoked Gloucester Old Spot flavoured crinkly kettle chips hand-picked by Dave on 26/02/14 doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Idle Eye 81 : The Eye and the Erewash

Couple of things. Firstly, I must confess I lied to you back in Idle Eye 77 about getting the jellies re-zapped. I never did, at least not then. It was simply a narrative convenience to say so. However, after five months of headaches and grinding admin, I finally reached a compromise with the suits at Optical Express – I could have one eye enhanced. On the house, but just the one. Bugs sodding Bunny.

It was a Sophie’s choice, basically. Should I have gone for the one that could see into the future, all Michael J Fox but lacking the most rudimentary of motor skills, or the other one, stuck in the 1980’s with crap hair but bringing up the rearguard rather nicely, thank you. I opted for the former, the trade-off being that I wouldn’t have to wear senior glasses every time my phone rang.

Big mistake. When the stench of molten eyeball had finally subsided and I was able to take a good look around, it became apparent the roles had been reversed. The former limp biscuit was flexing its muscles like Charles Atlas, and last month’s King of the Hill had tumbled onto Skid Row. Woefully, my everyday reality had now become the equivalent of whatever Scandi cop show is currently doing the rounds, all shallow-focus and inner ennui. And I’m wearing the glasses as I type this.

In better news, it turns out that this ole blog has been embraced by the good folk of Derbyshire, presumably because last week I suggested it was somewhat remote and they have a honed lust for revenge. Now listen: Of course Derbyshire isn’t remote. I looked it up on Google Maps and it’s quite near Nottingham, which I have heard of. That Robin Hood once ran about there being terribly left-wing in a forest, and there’s also lots of pubs and lovely ladies. Apparently. One of which was the delightful Christine Free, who I met recently and has a slot on Erewash Sound, now broadcasting my Elsan extracts every Wednesday sometime between 10.30 and 11am. The humanist in me just wants to reach out and beg her to desist. It’s just not fair: These people have historically travelled many miles to avoid the appalling whimsy I subject you to every week, but she wouldn’t have it, bless her. So here we go:

“Welcome, Erewash, and thanks for listening. I’ll try my darndest to keep you all on board although honestly, the odds are poor – My own mother whacked me senseless with the bristly end of a hairbrush outside the Imperial War Museum for being spectacularly annoying in the 1970’s. Sorry. I’ll be mostly chucking out irrelevant drivel for the first few paragraphs, after which I will somehow manage to tie in my brother’s pub in London, thereby fulfilling my contractual obligation. It’s gonna be a white knuckle ride, so hold on tight! Now, here’s the weather…”

Idle Eye 80 : The Idiot’s Lantern

Last week, I inherited a television from my father’s estate. It’s a flat, shiny thing, riddled with sockets and touch-sensitive knobs I will never use or comprehend, coming as I do from the old school when you had to force a button the size of a liquorice comfit deep into the belly of the set with your actual finger in order to switch channels. And the word remote meant Derbyshire or somesuch, not a slab of hand-held plastic trickery fashioned to aid the plight of the obese. However, I do acknowledge the relentless march of progress and in order to show good will, I reluctantly accepted the beast into my home.

But, oh my stars, it’s big. So big, in fact, that they make you buy all these other boxes to cope with it, none of which I understand either. And, if the boxes and the TV are going to get on with each other, they have to be connected with ‘intelligent’ cables that cost more than your average four-door family saloon did in 1977. But it doesn’t stop here, oh no: Your service provider then offers you a bewildering series of package choices to enhance the Trojan horse now dominating your living quarters, any of which will set you back yet another significant slap in the wallet. Inadvertently, you have become the Lady Macbeth of home entertainment, so stepped in blood it is impossible to return. How about a wall-mount? Or perhaps an LAN link-up with your home hub, using the ferrite cores (provided)? And after a few hours they’ve got you wide-eyed and screaming down the phone, like one of Jodi Foster’s chums in Taxi Driver:

Give me one of them Fnørkel adaptors…..Yeah, I can collect…..Actually make that three…..NO, I DON’T KNOW WHAT ****ING FNØRKEL ADAPTORS ARE, JUST GIVE ME SOME…..NOW!!!!

Mindful of the above, the Idle Hour has adopted a strictly no TV policy inside the pub. It’s for the best: If you are enjoying an intimate dinner for two with candles and fine wine, the very last thing you need is a sweating young man in an open-necked Pink shirt trying to pick up Eurosport in HD. Kind of puts you off your stride. However (and I don’t think he’ll mind me telling you this), Nibs does in fact own the biggest television I have ever seen in my life. It is the size of an Olympic swimming pool, wedged into a lounge no deeper than a galley kitchen. To give you an idea, if you wish to obtain 20/20 unpixelated vision, you have to flatten yourself against the far wall or, better still, climb up the fencing of the school next door and peer through his office window. Although, to be fair, if you are prepared to go to lengths such as these in order to catch Corrie, perhaps you should be relayed through to the punters: I’ll see what I can do…

Idle Eye 78 : The Underhamster

Call me old-fashioned, but nothing signifies the blossoming of summer quite as much as a massive jug of Nib’s enhanced Pimms and the Brockwell Park Dog Show. Preferably both. In that order. Particularly as this year’s theme was Space Aliens, and there is nothing man’s best friend enjoys more than being forcibly dressed in Lycra to resemble Princess Leia and then paraded around a circle in 31° heat to an audience of inappropriately-clad humans. Really, they absolutely love it. And so do the dogs.

Now, I’ll be straight with you. I’ve long been pretty miffed with this blanket adoration of the canine. The little prima donnas have always benefited from the lion’s share of love, not only in person but also online, in print and in reputation. And yet their long-serving cousin, the hamster, has had to be content with any bullshit leftover scraps he can muster. It’s just not right. Even his minority status has been grammatically marginalised by the heavyweights (See title: I’m redressing the balance).

So anyway, there I am underneath the blistering sun like a low-rent George Smiley, checking out the competition on behalf of the small and furries, when I turn to the adoring crowd for purposes of reportage…

to be honest, i’m also getting a bit worried about shoehorning dogs and hamsters in with the pub, but i’m working on the presumption that you’ll all be off your tits on idle hour pink wine and you won’t really give a toss

…and, immaculately-groomed, sweat-immune ladies aside, I was tsunamied by Man in Summer doing what he does best: Wearing shorts without a top. Why does he do this? All those grotesque folds of flesh cascading over inexplicably long short trousers, as if to demurely protect the public from a full assault of thigh whilst the elephant in the room avalanches down from above. As I said earlier, it’s just not right.

However, there was an element of underhamster here which I totally approve of. Mercifully free of Posh and her vile ilk, this peculiarly British sideshow fully embraced the very antithesis of fashion and came out smiling. In laymans terms, it was a bit shit but that’s what we loved about it. Dog’s Got Talent, Prettiest Bitch, Best Puppy, Golden Oldies, what’s not to like? And the Public Address system was pure British Rail circa 1975, all feedback and sibilance that made us teary-eyed with nostalgia. Even the Mayor was there with his absurd gold chain and straw boater, giving out certificates and treats to anything with four legs and a pulse. Class.

remember last week when i said i’d do a shameless advert for the pub amongst all the dog stuff? and i promised i’d make it all tie in? well, i cocked up, so could you do me a favour? just tell nibs you really liked the dog blog and i’ll buy you a large glass of one of his responsibly-sourced biodynamic wines. cheers xx

Idle Eye 77 : The White Heat of London Town

In my capacity as sole roving representative of the Idle Hour London, occasionally it behoves me to have a quick shifty around the capital and report back on stuff that makes us live here in the first place. Not regularly, granted, mainly because I can’t be arsed, but often enough to kick me into gear. So today I decided to amble along Shaftesbury Avenue and take in a bit of the West End, partially to check out competition but mostly because I had to get my eyes re-zapped. Long story which I won’t bore you with, so here’s the short one: They screwed it up. Bastards.

But never mind that: Summer has finally arrived, and London comes alive when nature decides to cook it a bit. Pond life/Street life/High life mesh together here, all inextricably-linked despite themselves. Soho teems with the very drunk, the lost, the gullible, the predatory and the shit-scared. Charing Cross Road houses the mad, the bad and the furious. Cambridge Circus offers up farmers tans, builders cracks, cellulite and beer guts. St James, the well-heeled gentleman clubber, quality artist and purveyor of life’s finest. And Piccadilly, the endless flow of cheap hats, shiny new sunglasses, St George’s flags and that evil tourist mecca on the corner, outside which stands a life-size Robert Wadlow (8ft 11ins) in National Health specs, mocking me on my journey to Optical Express.

All around, for those who care to look up and notice, is architecture unique to this specific quarter-mile: Red brick with white detail, four storeys and counting, rising above vehicles of all flavours, car, bicycle, taxi, rickshaw, bus. It’s an inner-city cauldron, loved by many, loathed by some, but never at all compromised. An acquired taste, idiosyncratic but quite unlike any other major city on the planet. To be honest though, quite often it just pisses me off. For sure, I’ll leap about in an ‘I heart London’ shirt if Boris bungs me a few quid, but usually I’m too busy searching for a seat on the redeye into town, doing the daily grind and shovelling in something toxic afterwards to perceive any specific locational benefit. And I’m not alone: It’s why He created the suburbs.

Now, Nibs is no fool: Barnes is on the cusp of inner cool and outer respite, which is probably why he picked it for his little boozer. When you fortunate West Londoners tire of West End carousal, he’s only a skip and a jump away for you to keep going, far from the madding crowd yet close enough to be part of it. And unattractive exposed flesh is unlikely to be an issue unless you really want some.

Ok, I’ve done my bit. I’m actually gearing up for the Brockwell Park Dog Show this Saturday, over which I will miraculously stitch canines doing tricks’n’stuff with a shameless advertisement for the pub. God only knows how, but I’ve got a week to sort it.