Idle Eye 165 : The Best Things in Life Are Free

Really? Now come on, Beatles/Flying Lizards/Janet Jackson, I’ve been around the block a few times and I beg to differ. Try telling that to the head waiter at whichever vulgar joint you’ve taken your better half to on his/her significant day and see just how much mustard it cuts. Or perhaps try your hand in one of those St James of London costumiers, where you can bag for gratis hand-stitched pyjamas with piping at the collars and cuffs if you simply mention how highly you rate them. The trouble with the above is that it is a phrase coined in the 1960s, when highfalutin ideals were chucked about without too much attention to detail. For the Age of Aquarius would have been tainted beyond recognition if there were a price tag attached to it.

I’m not being wilfully ignorant here. Of course, the implied best thing is love. Which, as we all know, comes at you from a place where there is no currency. It is the one thing that, in order to achieve it, we would pay any price for and yet it cannot be bought. It stands resolutely alone, across boundaries of race, logic and age. It defies the mores of any epoch it springs up inside and, to this day, remains enigmatically aloof. Literature feeds off it, science can’t get to grips with it and when it strikes, is truly egalitarian. And in that respect, it holds all the cards. Nothing else comes close.

But sod that, you can still buy it. I’m not recommending it as an option, but you can. As long as you can deal with the lack of intimacy, profundity and its cataclysmic, life-altering potential, a version of it is out there for sale. And for some, this is enough. The Prozac Nation, neutered variant will always be attractive to those who, for whatever reason, are unable to shore up to the real thing. Sometimes I wish I could join their ranks, but sadly I am destined to follow each and every gut-wrenching affair of the heart to no matter where it may lead. For which I make no apology. I am what God made me.

As for the other stuff, well it’s just bollocks innit? Name me three things that you can’t have if you get the chequebook out and I’ll shout you a meal at the Ivy. As long as you book the window table and get them to waiver the no jeans policy. There was a time, eons ago, when the finer points of human achievement were considered to be at the zenith of where we are headed as a species, way beyond the grasp of cupidity. But no longer. These days, everything comes at a cost, particularly the very things that shouldn’t. I am loathe to drag current affairs into this particular diatribe but seriously, do your research.

IE is available for children’s parties etc…

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.

Idle Eye 44 : The Herding Instinct

Human beings are essentially congregational. It’s why we’ve always had towns & villages, churches, sporting arenas, festivals and, of course, pubs & clubs. For most, the complex web of possibility that life throws up is far too vexing to navigate alone, so we take on a partner to help make sense of it all and surround ourselves with like-minded individuals in establishments inside which we feel comfortable. This instinct is at once tribal and refined. From the hallowed portals of St James to the bingo halls of Bognor we prefer to stick with our own as it confirms in some small way that we’ve made the correct choices, and if we haven’t, screw it; at least we’re in good company.

However, once we’ve settled on our respective coteries, it is astonishing to learn how fiercely we defend them from unsuitable others, considering how subjective this apparent suitability can be. Legend has it that a certain Lord Glasgow once threw a waiter through the window of his club after a disappointing meal. When challenged, he brusquely ordered: ‘Put him on the bill.’ He was later charged £5 and the waiter suffered a broken arm. Indeed, the most heinous crime in the highest echelons of clubland is not that of propriety. Outlandish behaviour, in some circles, is seen as mere high spirits (although clearly it helps to be intimate with the rules before they are broken). No, that particular accolade goes to the admission of ‘manifestly inappropriate guests’, from which we can deduce that if you ain’t one of us, you ain’t coming in. And the higher you climb on society’s ladder, the more rigorously this unwritten rule is policed.

For the benefit of Barnes types who don’t already know this, the Idle Hour has its own equivalent. And fear not: There are no burly minders to get past, no dress code as such and no danger of being blackballed if Nibs doesn’t like the cut of your jib (although he did once eject a vulgar punter from a previous concern for decanting a £6000 bottle of red through the tablecloth. Be warned…) The VIP card makes no background checks, has no nomination procedure or minimum income requirements. In fact it is so widely accepting, one could be forgiven for doubting whether there are any security measures in place at all (who’s on the committee then – G4S?) It does, however, ask one thing, the one thing that is so hardwired into our DNA it would be difficult to refuse even if we wanted to. Which we don’t. See first paragraph for clues.

The beauty of the above lies in the very lack of protocol adhered to so stringently by its esteemed peers. A member of the Garrick once wrote: ‘It would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than that one terrible bore should be admitted.’ I beg to differ: Give the bore a chance, as he is more likely to be unobjectionable than those who reject him…