Idle Eye 120 : The Lives of Others

Earlier this year, Stewart Lee beautifully articulated his disdain for Twitter by describing it as “a state surveillance agency staffed by gullible volunteers.” By which he meant that his entire successful life could be accurately traced by reading through inane tweets sent in by the public as to his whereabouts at any given time. And that these same people would be equally fascinated by the tittle-tattle others just like them offered up for general consumption.

On Monday, I arrived home after an an eight mile cycle ride (eight miles, Twitter fans) from work. Needing provisions for the evening meal and a following breakfast, I leapt into the car & headed off to Sainsburys, unthinkingly clad only in my cycling kit, in order to purchase a few necessaries (one packet Beanfeast Bolognese, one bag organic carrots, one carton orange juice, one bottle Chilean Pinot Noir). It took less than ten minutes. After which I headed back, only to discover that my inconsequential trip had been monitored and posted for all to see by someone who, shall we say, does not have my best interests at heart. Here’s the tweet verbatim:

“Well, that was an ill-timed Sainsbury’s visit. Still, always fun to see a middle aged man dressed like Kevin Rowland c. 1983 from knees down”

Initially, I was rather flattered that a man of my crumbling stature could still conjure up the ghost of Kevin Rowland in his prime, rather than that of Marley or an extra from any of George A. Romero’s oeuvre. But then I became increasingly baffled as to why this would be of any interest whatsoever to a bunch of followers who have no idea who I am, and had not themselves doubled back on their journey home upon spotting my car (Triumph Herald), in order to claim their visit to said supermarket was “ill-timed”. 140 characters or less, by their very nature, cannot accommodate shades of grey. The whole truth requires the same event to be seen from different angles, no matter how obtuse or inconvenient. And the clandestine observation of my rolled-up jeans, paraded to an early evening set of shoppers as a misguided fashion statement of yesteryear, could legitimately have been interpreted otherwise.

Many years ago, when I was learning the finer points of filmmaking at Sheffield City Polytechnic, I watched Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter for the first time. The scene that most stayed with me was that of the demonic preacher (played by Robert Mitchum), standing outside and staring ominously up at the home he was soon to infiltrate, an evil omnipresence in hard contrast black and white. Perhaps if Mr Laughton had been born a tad later he would have set his unsettling movie online, the perpetrator being well versed in the dark art of social media and all its blunt power. And perhaps, just perhaps, my sartorial faux pas would have been less compelling to those who really should know better.

Idle Eye 58 : The British Aisles

I went to Sainsburys today. Not a dramatic admission, granted, but worthy of inclusion here because it got me to thinking about the fragile infrastructure that divides the connoisseur of fine beverages with significant alcohol content and your more Hogarthian consumer. And let’s be honest, it’s a pretty fine line. Let me clear this one up a bit for the benefit of any readership that may have already embarked on their own personal journey:

Of all the aisles of one’s supermarket of choice, the couple that supply the grape and the grain are surely the most well trodden. Here there exists a curiously British microclimate, quite unlike any other. Grown men dramatically slow as they approach this particular section, their velocity utterly dependent on whether they are shopping alone or with a significant other. If it is the former, you can be fairly confident that a brewers ‘vintage ale’ will slip itself into the basket and be justified at a later time. Approximately 8.5% volume and in a presentation box to boot. Sweet.

From here, you leisurely browse the higher shelves, occasionally releasing the odd bottle for closer inspection. To the untrained eye this appears to be the hallmark of experience, but to the seasoned drinker all the signs are there. A deft handspin clearly suggests that the vintner has erroneously slapped alcohol volume to the rear, whilst the inclusion of two or more bottles of the same product almost certainly signifies some kind of sordid bin end deal, from which neither distributor nor end user comes up smelling of roses.

Next up is hard liquor, always a tough one. These shimmering beauties in their idiosyncratic shapes and sizes, all vying for your attention, require more than a modicum of discipline if you are to make it through the rest of the day unscathed. Probably best to give them a wide berth but, Santa Maria, they so have your balls in a vice. Maybe just this small Italian one, distilled by monks in mountain ranges many miles from civilisation? Or perhaps this square one from Tennessee, originally conceived by a philanthropic hillbilly with a beard as long as your arm? Go on, you know you want to, and what’s the worst that can happen? And then there’s the agony of the mixer. The one that’s been around since the 70’s usually does the trick, but right next to it there’s another that says it’s organic, natural and poured over the thighs of virgins for added flavour. Probably. Screw it, it’s going in x12.

It is at this point you become aware that you are not alone. A young man with facial growth that needs a little more time has clocked your basket and is shooting you a look. Pity. His own brims full with tins of own-brand cider, total value of which is one thirtieth of yours. But here, in this sacred space, all discrepancies bleed into themselves and alcohol, just this once, becomes the great leveller.

Idle Eye 9 : The Legend of the Pigeon of Chevening Road

Not long ago, there lived a great scribe who was on his way to Sainsburys to purchase some things for the weekend. As he drove his dilapidated car past the park he spotted a pigeon lying sick and injured in the road, and being of good heart he picked it up, took it home and took care of it with the help of his lady friend Ursula. The pigeon had been mauled by a wild beast, was blind in one eye and his chances of survival were slim but the couple kept him warm and comforted him. Much to their delight his health improved and by the next day, despite horrific injuries, he seemed perky and up for a chat.

‘Oh, pigeon’ said the scribe, ‘I am happier than you can know that you are well again, but my master Nibs pays me to relate tales of his pubs in Barnes and Barons Court and I fear I have nothing to offer him this week because I have pissed my time up the wall looking after you. Whatever shall I do? I am undone.’

The pigeon thought for a while and did a tiny white dump. Then, raising his little head up high, he did another dump, this time slightly more robust with a flat underside.

‘Pigeon, is this a sign?’ said the scribe. ‘Ursula, come see, our feathered friend has helped us in our hour of need. What does it say in The Lancet about white ones?’

Ursula rushed to the internet and to her astonishment she discovered that indeed, a white stool following trauma suggested that a certain independent time-related pub in Barnes would experience a record-breaking week. Without wasting a second, the scribe made a swift call to Nibs on the blower:

‘Awright Bro? So how was last week?’

‘Unbelievable! Best week ever. Our chef Piotr was running about like a pigeon, man.’

Hanging up in disbelief, the scribe made a beeline for the pigeon who was preparing a third dump, this time not unlike egg-white with a maggot in the centre.

‘Pigeon,’ he went, ‘is this another sign?’ Ursula squealed at the computer as she raked further information from it. Turns out that a wormlike plop in a mucus membrane strongly hinted that the same pub would shortly have improved toilets and an extended kitchen.

‘Hell’s teeth, pigeon, can this be true?’ The scribe made another quick call:

‘Awright Bro? When are you going to sort the bogs then?’

‘Why you asking? I’ve got Tonino painting them now. And I’m sorting the kitchen next year as well.’

Shaking with incredulity, the scribe and Ursula peered back into the pigeon’s box. He was sitting down and preparing for a night’s rest, but before he did so he let off an enormous guff.

‘Urs, what does The Lancet say about that, then?

‘Less Jerusalem artichokes, apparently’

And so it was, the pigeon was spared that rotten vegetable for the rest of his years. And so it was The Idle Hour Barnes got pukka toilets and a new kitchen. And, God only knows how, the scribe got away with another one.