Idle Eye 144 : The Kanye Conspiracy

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.

(long pause)

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.

Idle Eye 142 : The English Straitjacket

Sometimes being English is just plain awful. The absolute pits. Yes, yes, I know we’re all terribly polite and good at pop music, being ironic and making the most of our crappy weather, but when it comes to saying what we actually mean, we are lamentably backward. How often have you apologised for someone else’s rudeness? For being in the way when you never were? Or pretended things are just fine when your internal tolerance needle has just tipped into the red?

I do it frequently. At the end of pretty much every cold-call received, over which I weakly feign surprise at that accident I never had, or the very specific amount the banks owe me for insurance I never took out, I hear myself thanking a computerised voice for its time and, on occasion, wishing it a pleasant day. Which only serves to fill mine with self-loathing and misanthropy. And, cliché though it may be, I constantly find myself drawn to queues, quite often for something I have no interest in whatsoever. Why? Why?

Because it reaffirms the quintessence of our Englishness, and that Englishness breeds deep inside us all, gnawing away at more vulgar attributes such as anger or self-confidence, until all that is left is the quivering bag of neuroses we move around inside every day. It is a curious evolutionary quirk, for if shifted over to the animal kingdom, your average Brit would be mercilessly and fatally mauled before he/she had finished blinking. Probably by something French or Polish, whose very means of survival hinges on the exact opposite.

Speaking of France, here’s another example: When I was fifteen, I was placed at a school in Toulouse for a short while. There, I came across a delightful young lady called Catherine Voisinet, who blushed when I was around and clearly wanted me to make the first move. My French was adequate enough to facilitate this, and I was not yet marred by a forthcoming volcano of acne. But did I? Of course I didn’t. I just sat around, blushing back at her in English until she got bored and started dating a Neanderthal rugby player with grazed knuckles. Who thought I was ‘un con.’  And he was probably right.

I’d love to be able to tell you that it’ll all turn out ok. That being a bit Hugh Grant isn’t such a bad thing, and that more bullish nations will sneakingly admire you for all that pent-up emotion. But I fear that would be a lie. It is and they don’t, despite what you may have been lead to believe from the inexplicable overseas success of Downton Abbey and the like. They’re just collecting ammo for the next way to shaft us rotten, based on information we willingly throw at them. Then they’ll steal our ideas, market our booze, buy up our housing stock etc… and repackage it all as their own. And we’ll probably thank them for it.

Idle Eye 141 : The Smear

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that the humble gerbil has graced the dailies once again, but not in a good way. Turns out our furry brethren can no longer be considered impossibly cute playthings of the very young (and, on occasion, my good self), being as they are conveyors of misery, disease and quality herbs and spices brought in on the Silk Road. And we’re also expected to believe that in 1347, in between exercising on their little wooden wheels and nibbling whatever they liked nibbling back in medieval Syria, they found time to pop over to London and give us all the Black Death.

It is a monstrous slur, cooked up by some Norwegian boffin with too much time on his hands, and fails to digest some pretty basic facts. For starters, there is no evidence whatsoever that gerbils took up residence in the UK until comparatively recently. Why would they? If your thing is copious quantities of sand and sunshine, you’d probably give it a bit of a wide berth, right? To say nothing of the logistical issues if and when you finally made it to Calais. Absolute nonsense.

Furthermore, architectural clues only date back to the 1950s. Before Rotastak, the Nottingham-based pioneers of affordable rodent housing, there were slim pickings to be had if you were small, hirsute and over here. Rats understood this implicitly, so they made alternative arrangements. But they were also fat and greasy enough to hack it. Their smaller, more delicate cousins wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. You can take Syria out of the gerbil etc…

Clearly we are being whipped up into a collective state of anxiety. It’s what the media does when it wants us to go to war, or sanction the spending of taxpayer cash on something unpalatable the government has shares in. What on earth can the gerbil have done to get them wound up so? And why are we being told that the more sinister rat is the fall guy? It smacks of Andy and Rebekah, the former taking the hit so the latter can persist with her satanic craft. Something stinks up there in the corridors of power, but what?

And then it struck me. Helen Perley’s exquisite 32-page tome Enjoy Your Gerbil (The Pet Library™, 1971), clearly states that the same is no ordinary rodent, and frequently refers to him as a ‘Superpet’. Probably the exact kind of pet that could radicalise British teenage girls into making the arduous pilgrimage to his homeland. And guess where that is? See? By demonising the critters, we surreptitiously put the brakes on the next wave of IS recruits and no-one gets hurt. No-one, that is, except these innocents abroad, and who speaks for them? Who will fight their corner after the first spate of distressing pet murders? And which sick individual will be the first to expand their perspex property portfolio at the expense of the less fortunate?

Right there.

Idle Eye 133 : The Loneliness of the Long Distance Pizza Flyer Delivery Boy

Winter, Mid-90s

The bundle arrives at 5am. Dan & Charlie don’t come in, they never do, just sling it down by the milk crates and drive off. It’s usually wet when I pick it up but it don’t matter, I throw the top and bottom ones out anyway. Saves about twenty minutes in the long run. Not recently, though. They’ve put the big houses up on the Ridge onto my round ‘cos it’s the holidays and no one’s about. Takes bloody ages to get up there and they’ve all got them ‘No Junk Mail’ signs so you know you’re not wanted. Sometimes one of ‘em comes out and shouts but you just pretend you don’t hear nothing and keep going. No time to stop, too cold for that. Just get it over with.

Nan’s got me some gloves for Christmas. The thermal ones, she said, to stop me pinkies going blue. Trouble is, you can’t sort through the flyers so you end up taking them off anyway, bless her. Sometimes I go round after I’m done ‘cos she’s always got the heating up. Like the Bahamas in there most days, even in summer. Might nip over later if it’s still light. She likes a natter.

The first bit’s dead quick. Mostly flats, all shoved up close together & no one cares if you chuck in some extras. They all end up in the bin anyway, so what’s a few more if it makes life easier? You’ve got to watch it, though. A couple of lads got the elbow for putting theirs in a skip last week and bunking off early; not what you want at this time of year. Usually you see a few posties on the way, struggling with their big sacks of parcels and fat letters and cards and that. Makes you glad you’re not one of them, even though they make loads more than us. We don’t talk, neither. Everyone wants to get back indoors, quick as you like.

As you move out of town, the houses get bigger and further apart. Some have drives you’ve got to walk up, and dogs giving it all that until you leave. And those letterboxes that snap back onto your fingers, ‘cos to them you’re no better than the draughts they’re keeping out. There’s usually someone in, but when they see you coming they go in another room and pretend they’re not there. You can see their shadows through the crazy glass, trying to keep still. When you finally get up to the Ridge, you know you’re on the home run. Grand old places all the way along it, but there’s not too many and it’s downhill all the way back. You’re glad of this ‘cos by now you’ve had enough.

Today though, this old geezer comes out of one in his pyjamas and it’s well after lunch. ‘Here we go’, I says, and pull up my hood. But he’s shouting and shouting and I’m thinking maybe I’ve dropped something outside, so I go back. He’s only holding a tray and offering it out to me like some bloody weirdo. Now, I’ve been told about this sort of thing back at the depot and how to deal with it, but he don’t look so bad. Quite sad, actually. ‘Happy Christmas’, he goes. ‘Have a mince pie. It’ll keep you warm.’ I’m looking at him harsh so he don’t think I’m one of them, but he’s right: it’s bloody freezing and it’ll be an hour or two before I get back. So I take the pie and it’s lovely and warm in my hands. I watch him take a bite of his so I know it’s alright, then I put the whole thing in my mouth and swallow it down quick. And it’s proper nice. All sugary sweet with raisins and fruit and everything. But then I look up to say cheers and the bastard’s gone back in. Like I said, bloody weirdo.

Don’t think I’ll make it over to Nan’s after all. It’s getting dark and I’m up early in the morning. She’ll wait a day and you know what? That pie will do me until I get in, and the streetlights sort of make you feel warm too. It’s not so bad. And it’s downhill all the way back…

Idle Eye 113 : The Refusenik (A Slight Return)

The Persians deliberately weave a flaw into the corner of the astonishingly beautiful rugs they create because they believe that only Allah is truly perfect, and it would be a bit of a slap in the face if they try to emulate him/her through their Earthly offerings. Readers, I am that rug: I got it wrong about Glastonbury (as I did with the Olympics and the once Scotch, then Brit, now re-Scotched Andy Murray). As a weathervane for the zeitgeist I can get seriously off-kilter sometimes and hands up, I’ve done it again. Not that I’m admitting it to those who dragged me there, kicking and screaming blue bloody murder to the permanent detriment of their weekend – Good Lord, no! Some things must remain between you and I, and I beg you to keep schtum on this one.

Despite the mud and the mucus, the filth and the fury, the long-drops and the long marches home, I reluctantly acquiesce that it was all reasonably acceptable. Being little more than a soldier ant in a ruthlessly efficient outdoor entertainment machine was, to be fair, somewhat daunting initially. And last time I frequented the place it was a squalid haunt of low-lives, drug dealers and hippies trying to locate my chakras. Particularly after bedtime, which it then seemed churlish to adhere to. However Glastonbury, like all things, has evolved.

Yes, it is vast and yes, it is seemingly commercial. But there are no Audi stalls here, attempting to flog you a luxury vehicle in the most inappropriate of places. No Costa, no McDonalds or Coke, miserably shoehorning their bullshit product in with anything popular they can access in order to maximise reach. For the most part (and I grant you, there are a few exceptions), the on-site businesses are small and endearingly homespun. You do not resent spending a couple of extra quid to keep these guys going. And this in itself would be enough. Perhaps a thumbs-up from this rusting ancient, best suited to keeping an eye on his portfolio in the pink paper, is not the best festival accolade out there. But it doesn’t matter, really it doesn’t.

If you fancy seeing out your ticket price in a hessian shack listening to ’70’s prog rock powered by punters on bicycles, then good luck to you: It’s there for the taking. Failing that, head off to Shangri-La when the main stages shut down and gurn the night away on substances for that authentic Hieronymus Bosch experience. Again, it’s your choice. The trick is knowing which buttons to push and which ones to let go of, and no-one really minds if you screw it up. It’s all part of the deal. Despite myself, being in a field with thousands of people yelling “ED…IS…DEAD!” at the Pixies felt curiously liberating. But if you think for a minute I’m going to let on now that I’m home, dream on…

Idle Eye 94 : The Foreign Office

A week ago, as you may remember, I thrilled my minuscule readership with tales from the water closet. They were, for the most part, true and there is nothing that whets the winkle of the Great British Public more than the topic of bottoms and associated hardware thereof. This was, of course, reflected in the statistics and I thank you all for joining me in the virtual small room. My business is your business, as someone I can’t remember once succinctly put it.

I am happy to report that things have moved on a bit since then. These days you find me on the West Bank of Luxor, Egypt, thrashing it out on a laptop in the gaps between conserving the tomb of the last great Geordie pharaoh Neferrenpet. I know, I know. But, as you gear up back home for the onslaught of Daily Express reportage of the forthcoming worst winter since the last Daily Express reportage of the forthcoming worst winter ever, spare a thought for one more fortunate than yourselves: Being an Englishman abroad does present an alternate set of tribulations (as my risible grasp of Arabic will testify), none more telling than the not inconsiderable matter of appropriate attire in a climate as foreign as the language.

For example, this morning saw me down to my last clean t-shirt, the Bolongaro Trevor beauty so eloquently eulogised in IE47. A little too smart for workwear, but on reflection preferable to the lamentable series of insect-infested horrors currently residing inside my laundry bag. What’s more, it has a sepia-toned Union Jack on one side and an Ottoman effort with three crescent moons on the other, a stalwart example of hands across the water if ever I saw one. I did, however, fail to spot the Lancaster bomber shedding its toxic cargo over the pyramids and almost certainly extending a rather skewed message to the host nation.

On the subject of insects, the biting ones are another personal assault one must handle with the kind of decorum expected of the adequately-educated Westerner. Fortunately, my gargantuan quinine intake keeps all but the most hardy at bay, although last night I discovered a dormant mosquito buried deep inside the two-ply of my bathroom roll. What it was doing in there is anyone’s guess, and I was torn between saving the poor creature from a death more humiliating than I know how to put into words, or protecting my own tender cheeks from an equally heinous fate. The vegetarian in me prevailed and the little bastard flew off to lodgings elsewhere. Naturally, I made no mention of it at breakfast today because…well, you just don’t. There are rules.

I’ll put some work stuff in another time. It’s too huge to summarise in a 500 word bulletin built almost exclusively from the rocky foundations of lavatorial humour and self-deprication. So for now, I shall continue to do what you have come to know and love, from the gutter to the pavement. With no apologies…

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.