Idle Eye 148 : The Eisenhower Matrix

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.

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 132 : The Christmas Special*

*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.

Me:  Ok.

[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.

Idle Eye 117 : The Silence of the LANs

Way back in 1995, when Brian Eno unleashed his 3 1/4 second micro-ditty on the new Microsoft Windows startup, he unconsciously escalated the extinction of the human race. Bold, I know, but think about it: Ever since then, we have acclimatised ourselves to endless pings and pongs (none of which last long enough to be truly irritating, though still being the aural equivalent of nails down a blackboard), reminding us that an email is in, a lorry is reversing or the filter on your water softener needs changing. It’s the price we pay for living in an increasingly computerised world, where machines take the drudgery out of those tiny, mundane tasks we used to just do unthinkingly.

And now we are once again free. Free to linger twenty seconds longer when we put out the recycling, free to eat another bun before leaving for work, free to swap the ringtone from Coldplay to Kylie, and free to take the time to consider our freedom. And if we forget to do this there will always be another sonic nudge, composed by a teenage digital guru of whom we are supposed to have heard, denying us the luxury of our own free will. Silence has become the flaccid hangover of yesteryear, rather than an essential neutral space from which all ideas spring forth. And slowly, we are morphing into the cabbages we now have more time to chop:

BING BONG!!! Based on the median temperature taken in your area over the last eight months, it is an above average day outside. You will not be needing your walking boots or Echo & the Bunnymen trenchcoat.

SPLOSH!!! Based on nocturnal activities over the last twelve hours, we suggest you hang on to whatever fluids you have available. However, immediate release of solids is recommended to facilitate motion of any kind.

QUACK QUACK!!! This light-hearted alarm call suggests that you have an amusing, alternative persona and would be fun to go out with of an evening. You, and 15,000,000 others just like you.

UUURRR UUURRR!!! No, it’s not an air raid. Time to call your mother.

FWHO-HOO-HOO HOO-HOO!!! Somebody you’ve never heard of has just texted you on the train. Either that, or you are shit at whistling.

All these little intrusions incrementally chip away at our ability to act for ourselves. We know this and accept it without resistance. In time, we will inevitably become pathetic, dependant amoebas, like die-hard listeners to the Radio 4 comedy slot, hopelessly reliant on whatever dross is out there yet powerless to affect any meaningful change. Ironically, we do have the ultimate say: By turning off our devices, flipping our laptops onto silent and taking the reins of our lives for once. By denying the fat controllers of our local area networks the autonomy they so desperately seek by merely flicking a switch. But we don’t. Because they haven’t made an app for it yet.

Idle Eye 98 : The Disease of Kings

Once again, the heralding in of another year walks hand in hand with the health and fitness websites falling over themselves to help us improve our bedroom skills. Quite why anyone wishes to get down and dirty in this particular field (at a time when one’s most basic of motor skills are generally in question) is anyone’s guess, but there you have it. And besides, any cursory glance at the headlines would suggest the exact opposite is more appropriate if you happen to be hirsute, silver-topped and off the telly in the 70s.

As for myself, I have attempted to keep my galloping libido at bay with industrial quantities of NZ Marlborough Pinot Noir and a spattering of domestic chores which offer the minimum potential for sexual confusion (it is no coincidence that the more enthusiastic power tool adopter also enjoys wearing those front-weighted accessory belts). And it seems to be working: I’ve yet to have a pop at a Woman’s Hour announcer live on air, elope to France with a teenager or spend any longer than is absolutely necessary in the small room with a copy of Vogue. In fact, the only discernible improvement in the bedroom at present is a new bookshelf – I’m doing my bit.

Imagine my dismay then, when I switched on R4 only to discover that the onerous regime I have responsibly maintained will almost certainly give me gout. Yep, gout! It’s the latest shock malady to do the rounds, brought on by copious consumption of red wine, a diet rich in purines and the utter rejection of Catholicism as sole legitimate sovereign. And apparently it’s heading my way if I fail to rein in my eating and drinking habits. But I’m getting mixed messages here:

Do they want me to strut about like Cock o’ the South, terrifying the ladies of London as they run for cover? Or do I willingly infect myself with the disease of kings in order to prevent such a horror? What are my options? Will I remain handsome? How do goats make cheese?

Fortunately for everyone, the BMJ has found if not a solution, a patch. It seems that a liberal intake of cherries can reduce the risk of gout attacks by up to 35%. Which is a relief. Only thing is, they also enhance the production of dopamine which means I’ll have to be kept indoors, probably under lock and key, until my ardour is sufficiently dampened. It’s a vicious circle:

You rut too much therefore you drink too much therefore you get the gout therefore you eat the cherries therefore you rut too much.

You’d think someone in a lab coat would have culled the problem at source, wouldn’t you? Or that a Cupertino pre-teen would have an app for it by now. But until they do, I shall continue to drink the good fight in the interests of science and common decency. And my feet can sort themselves out when the time comes.

Idle Eye 67 : The Breastplate of Righteousness

Regular readers of this swill will implicitly understand why I have maintained a dignified silence for the past couple of weeks. It’s not often we get a news story that doesn’t have to be collagened to fuck to make palatable reading in the dailies, and since Monday last the press have seized their quarry and run it ragged. As has every blogger/columnist/social media outlet in the land. And the outcome has been not only predictable but also saturated to the point of nausea. Which is a shame, because it’s always fun to pitch in with your tuppence-worth if you can string a line of thought together on the keys, but these days you have to get in there quick: Leave it five seconds and you will be consigned to the dustbin of irrelevance ‘cos them pesky kids will be in there before you’ve even put your teeth in.

So, not being as agile as I once was, I had the good sense to leave the mewling and puking to the heavyweights, and took great pleasure in watching the ensuing bunfight from the sidelines. Oh yes! I could have dredged up my Lefty credentials as I spent three years in Sheffield being wheeled out to marches in support of miners throughout the white heat of Thatchers’ second term, but these would have turned to dust when it came out I was actually from Surrey and on a full grant. Understandably, I kept schtum about this at the time.

Anyway, I decided to listen to the R4 coverage of the funeral which allowed me the illicit thrill of being the enemy within, to coin one of hers. And, if I’m honest, I was a tad moved by the whole pomp of the thing as I was, despite myself, by the Jubilee and the Olympics. But then young Amanda T pitched in with her biblical passage (in your baskets, euphemism fans) and the whole shooting match came crashing down like a house of cards. What, in Baby Jesus’s name, has the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ got to do with anything? Yes, I know it’s a quote, but I fail to see how Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (whoever they were) makes a suitable analogy for a nation trawling the wake of a controversial leader’s legacy. I seem to remember a certain J Aitken brandishing the ‘sword of truth’ speech when he needed a touch of gravitas, and look where that got him.

Now, I’m going to have to tread carefully here: Check out Nibs’s Twitter feed down there on the right and you’ll see why. And apart from anything else, I have to be seen as politically non-partisan yet a sworn devotee to the IH cause. Which, of course, I am. And yet not. So let’s strike up a deal: You drink and eat the stuff that keeps me in work, and I’ll tone it down a bit. Okay? It’s what she would have wanted…

Idle Eye 66 : The Big Chill

Like you, I’m pig sick of this weather. Sick of it. Month after month of relentless, Chekhov-grey misery that has mercilessly bled into Easter and beyond and left us raw, flattened and howling for a culpable scapegoat. But who on Earth can we point the muzzle at? If we were Grasping George, it would be simple: It’s them benefit scroungers, with one hand on handouts and the other cranking the levers at the Met Office. If we were Austerity Dave, we could legitimately have a pop at the North Koreans, what with their bonkers supreme leader Kim Jong Thingy, whose big wide face has almost certainly got something to do with it. And if we were IDS, sadly we wouldn’t yet be up to speed as the telly would be off. Although, to be fair to the man, so would the heaters so he’s out of the hot seat. Sort of.

Anyway, to be honest, it’s a toss up tonight whether I continue with this nonsense or retire to the living room where there’s a roaring log fire, series two of Borgen on DVD and a potato gratin to enjoy. I could always pretend I’m sick or depressed or on short leave, which would probably have you racked with sympathy. But the truth is, I’m just fed up with being cold all the time. We all are. As I type this I have a fleece on and an attractive scarf. Inside, with the heating on full tilt. In April. Yet the breaking news we cannot escape from is that the energy giant SSE has just been fined 10.5 MILLION QUID for ripping off the general public. And, as I listened to Radio Four’s Today programme through my massive headphones with their toasty thermal pads, their corporate affairs director managed a monosyllabic apology: “Sorry”, he said. And that was pretty much it. Which seems to be all you have to do these days in order to wipe the slate clean and get on with your day. No sackings, no tribunals, no dignity. Just an unmeant soundbite on the first available news slot. And in the meantime, a nation huddles around the crystal set for the warmth of sincerity.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s actually going on here: The bitter irony of global warming as we freeze to blue inside our own homes. The weather people, the gas people and the government are all in it together. Of course they are, don’t you see? The gas people pay the government to keep it cold, who in turn bribe the weather people to turn down the switch on the proviso that the gas people give them a good deal. WAKE UP, BRITAIN!!! It’s a symbiotic gang-bang in which the only ones screwed are the end users. And that’s us, if I’m not very much mistaken. Which I probably am, to be fair. Sod it, I’m going next door: There’s ice on my keyboard.