Idle Eye 145 : The Guinea Pig Bridge

Last week, my friend Philippa sent me an internet link all the way from Australia. It led me to a short YouTube clip, showcasing a bunch of guinea pigs running with glee across a roughly-hewn wooden flyover towards an unknown bunker somewhere inside the Nagasaki Bio Park in Japan. And all to an impossibly infectious soundtrack penned by American pet songsmith maestro, Parry Gripp. Sample lyric:

Guinea Pig Bridge…
Guinea Pig Bridge…
Transporting guinea pigs
From Point A to Point B,
Utilising the latest
Guinea Pig Bridge technology,
Conveniently and safely

When I say sample, I do actually mean the whole shooting match. It is so astonishingly brief, it demands at least another watch (or in my case, a fiftieth). But let us examine this in detail:

At the outset, Gripp infers that the bridge in question is responsible for the conveyance of said critters to their port of call. However, on closer inspection, it soon becomes apparent they are doing the bulk of the work themselves, the bridge being a mere conduit, implemented in order to achieve their travel objective. Given the paucity of time Gripp has available to get his message across, it does seem somewhat duplicitous to throw in what is tantamount to a lie in the first twenty seconds, but fortunately any such misgivings are short-lived: All is beautifully resolved in the second half.

In one of the most succinct circumnavigations of Building Control ever to grace popular song, Gripp signs off his work with a disclaimer: If the powers that be have any issues at all as to potential occupational transit hazards, engineering/architectural standards or a practical yet compliant end user experience, they are conclusively put to bed in just three lines. The absurd suggestion that outmoded guinea pig bridge technology could possibly be employed here is tackled head on, leaving no room whatsoever for manoeuvre. It is a triumph, and Gripp knows it. And with that it’s all over, leaving us with the keyboard hook as outro and a gentle fade on a brown furry bottom, heading majestically towards the horizon in true Hollywood Western stylee. It is quite unlike anything I have ever seen.

Remember that 1990s ad for Tango? When the pop drinker was repeatedly slapped in the face by an imaginary orange buddha, hinting that a massive taste explosion could only be properly enjoyed if you were up for having another look in slo-mo? Well, this is the latter-day equivalent. You simply can’t not watch it again, if for nothing else than to try and figure out what’s going on. And thereby lies the genius: In our post-MTV, attention-bereft times, the money shot has to be spent and out of the building before we’ve taken our first breath. So we click back to the start and give it a second go, and before you know it, Gripp is the new Hitchcock. And that’s as it should be.

Idle Eye 143 : The Vox Machina

Is it just me, or does every superstore these days feel the need to talk to us customers as if we have successfully navigated a maiden voyage to the lavatory without sullying the floor, or caking ourselves in our own oomska? If you’re not sure what I’m on about here, pop over to your nearest supermarket of choice when you’ve read this. I can guarantee that within five minutes of entering the building, an intrusive announcement, broadcast to all by a Robson Green clone imitating Mick Jagger, will suggest you make a small diversion to the bakery isle, where freshly-made, three-for-two doughnuts will help you live well. For less.

It’s not the content that bothers me particularly though. It’s the delivery. That sudden plunge, from innocuous mid-range to deeply offensive baritone, has been cynically calculated to recall in every shopper the halcyon days of their childhood, when mummy would almost come if you managed to down a forkful of fish finger. This then triggers a rush of serotonin to the brain, and has us scurrying like insects towards whichever wretched product is currently on promotion, in order to keep the high going.

And it doesn’t stop there. Why not punish yourselves further by putting in a quick call to your broadband provider? Just for the sheer hell of it. If and when you manage to get past the teenage cheerleader and her plethora of unfathomable options, you can enjoy Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at tinnitus-inducing volume, until she starts banging on about the hash key should you fancy a few more. Has anyone ever done this? Actually opted for more options? The only reason to do so I can muster is because you have been lured, as if by sirens, into a perpetual loop of doom, seduced by the prospect of discovering the magic key that will end your purgatory once and for all. At a premium call rate, naturally.

I know this makes me seem like a terrible Luddite. Or one of those Grumpy Old Men you see on the telly who have already become versions of their own disdain. But hold up! If technology really is as smart as they make out, why can’t we get to choose the voice of whichever organisation is preaching at us? Based on preferences stored up there in the Cloud and fully configurable to suit our mood? All of a sudden, that dreaded Sunday excursion to Ikea doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Just as you begin to glaze over in the BILLY bookcase department, Mariella Frostrup virtually detects your loss of will to live, and purrs something suggestive about meatballs into the headphones provided. And before you know it, you’re making a beeline for the restaurant as your family struggles to keep up.

Not bad, eh? Maybe Apple should consider something along these lines when that watch of theirs comes out next month. And maybe then I’ll consider a third doughnut.

Idle Eye 139 : The Writer’s Prerogative

Last night, Rupert, Donald and I were up into the small hours recording the audio version of what you are reading here. Not this exact one, obvs, but time will come when whatever piffle I have flying about inside my head right now will also be read out by a voice that isn’t my own, and Donald’s technical know-how will make it sound like it is. This bizarre parallax should be second nature to any writer familiar with producing material for radio or television, but I’m pretty weirded out by it, to be honest. Because the overwhelming temptation is to take the piss.

Not that I would, mind. But just knowing I have the power to make Rupert say something completely inappropriate whenever I so fancy is curiously erotic. For example, I could start him off on a paragraph of unnecessarily verbose waffle, as is my wont, and then stick the word ‘turtle’ in there for no apparent reason. And he’d have to say it! See? ‘Cos it’s all about the integrity of the piece and you can’t dick about with that. Even if the piece has no integrity whatsoever, like this one. There’s also endless fun to be had with the layering system: There’s me (bottom), writing this as Idle Eye (middle), being read out by Rupert (top) and, if truth be told, you’ve got no idea which one you can trust, have you? If any. They’re all messing with your head, right? And which one do you point the finger at when you’ve had enough?

Well, seeing as we’ve built an understanding over the years, perhaps I can be of some assistance. If you’re listening now, step away for a moment and think on this: That smooth-as-silk, candy-coated baritone clearly isn’t mine, is it? We established that earlier. He is essentially a charlatan, inhabiting the skin inside which I exist for fiscal remuneration or sexual favours. The very fact that he has told you this just proves my point. And if he baulks, I would caution you to be suspicious. Because it is highly likely I told him to do so, despite whatever childish nonsense he may come up with to prove otherwise.

If you are reading this, however, you can relax somewhat. Safe in the knowledge that you are the cognoscenti (with one less layer of remove to circumnavigate), you can go about your day in confidence. Because you’ve sided with the good guy: The writer. For it’s all very well for them clever bastards to appear out of nowhere and take the credit for all the graft we’ve put in, but this time I’m fighting back. If I was spewing out this crap in times past, I would challenge him to a duel: Pistols at dawn, you know the drill. But we are living through an era in which all manner of dross is king, and I must cave if I am to survive. Just remember who told you first.

Idle Eye 129 : The Sound of Sirens

I thought long and hard about using this title. Really, I did. Because the point of this week’s whimsy is all about having the tinnitus, working opposite a Chelsea hospital and the lunacy of having a coma-inducing klaxon attached to vehicles designated specifically for our care. However, I had another look and thought better of it. If you haven’t already spotted the reason why, let me elucidate: The Sound of Sirens could so easily be misconstrued as a weak attempt at impersonating a Chinese person having a go at one of the songs of Simon and Garfunkel. Particularly if I followed it with “Harrow Duck Nest Marrow Fren”, which obviously I would have avoided. Yes, I know: It has nothing to do with the subject matter and you probably wouldn’t have made the connection if I hadn’t drawn your attention to it, but it’s out there now and you can’t be too careful these days.

But then it occurred to me that the very inclusion of the reasons I decided against it could equally be read as divisive, in a similar way that someone like Clarkson throws in a defamatory remark and quantifies it by apologising for a lesser crime than the one he has actually committed. Which finds me between a rock and a hard place. Should I have the courage of my original conviction, or should I edit myself into ever-decreasing circles, based almost exclusively on my nascent understanding of what you enjoy reading here every week? A Sophie’s Choice, basically, and I fear whichever I go for will inevitably be wrong as per.

Anyway, I’m getting off-piste. Today, one of those bloody things shot past me as I made my way to purchase a coffee over my morning break and my ears are still ringing as I write this. It’s the lunacy of having a coma-inducing klaxon on vehicles designated specifically for our care, make no mistake. Er, and that’s it, pretty much. I was hoping to go on to mention healthcare cuts, key worker issues etc…and somehow make it all funny, but you’ve got no idea: Every time I think of something relevant, I am utterly distracted by chronic feedback between the lugholes and I just get in a strop and forget about whatever it was that I had in mind in the first place.

Cameron, this is all your doing: I was good before you got in. Just give the NHS enough moolah to replace those appalling style-over-content American wailers with good old-fashioned Z-Cars ones from yesteryear and I’ll do my best to be entertaining again. There are people out there relying on me, and the last thing they want is weekly derivative crap forced upon them by your swingeing policies and my deteriorating hearing. And, in case you’re wondering, the title has got nothing to do with our friends across the water. Or The Graduate. Got that? Good.

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 115 : The Tinder

It has been suggested to me by a colleague (who shall remain nameless) that I should ‘have a go on the Tinder.’ Now, not being at all worldly in these matters, I presumed it was the sort of thing that men of a certain age bragged about in the pubs of the North when they had illegally bagged a massive rabbit or somesuch:

“I’m on t’Tinder”
“Aye, champion. Bring it round back after hours. And mind it’s skinned and scrubbed first”

But, turns out, it means nothing of the kind. Apparently, ‘having a go on the Tinder’ is a handy way for the young people to meet up and exchange fluids without all the bother of actually having to talk to each other. Which does indeed seem splendid, if any of the monosyllabic displays of syntax I have been witness to of late are anything to go by. What is less clear is why said colleague would imagine, in her wildest dreams, that this is the vehicle for me. Painstaking research has revealed that, whilst being quite the thing for some no-strings How’s Your Father, the demographic comes in at a terrifying 27 years young, and these people are circling around you like ravens over roadkill. Surely I need an app to keep them at bay, for Christ’s sake?

But cast your minds wide open. Imagine, if you will, that I accept this noxious challenge. That I Right-Swipe a cute little thing in a gingham dress who is cool with my involuntary farting and wants to meet up. And let’s say that we do so at a neutral space of her choosing: The Chelsea Hospice for the Critically Insane. Gingerly, I spy her at the kiosk in the foyer and, plucking up courage, I make my move:

“Err…Hello! Thanks for coming in. Are you on the Tinder?”
“Nan, there’s one for you ‘ere. Take your teeth out.”

And it is precisely the potential for this brutal, on-site humiliation that I think it unlikely I shall be adopting the Tinder for the foreseeable future. Perhaps, if these clearly adept tech wizards can come up with something posthumous, or approaching it, we could have some kind of dialogue (although I currently take my lunch break in Brompton Cemetery, which may well create its own unique set of problems – Any kind of romantic liaison with those who have ‘made the journey’ will almost certainly be frowned on in these litigious times). So, in short, I am doomed.

I know what this looks like. That I am poo-pooing any chink in the armour of despair the young have to leapfrog themselves towards a brighter future. Not so. By all means, roger yourselves senseless with whatever tools you have to hand: I salute you in all your endeavours. All I ask is that you don’t involve me, pitiful ambassador of debauchery that I would almost certainly be. But I figure you already know that.

Idle Eye 114 : The Tyranny of Sex

One of the (very few) advantages of getting on a bit is that you are no longer governed by the incessant demands of your wretched, truculent body. Back in the day, you could be contentedly getting on with your life with a hobby of your choice (let’s say, for argument’s sake, gardening) and the next thing you know, an inappropriate stamen is frantically transmitting lewd signals to the pathetic pink pudding between your ears, which in turn sends an emergency klaxon to the privates which instantly shuts off the master logic valve, leaving you rudderlessly navigating your way to an inevitably messy conclusion. You have no say in this. You are putty in the hands of a force deliberately cooked up by nature to humiliate you at all costs. This will pass, trust me.

You know you’ve come through the cloud layer and are approaching terra firma when you begin to consider options:

“Yes, I could bust a blood vessel in a locked room upstairs in broad daylight at my eldest son’s graduation party, or I could eat my own body weight in artisan cheese, neck a couple of bottles of Waitrose top shelfers and pass out on the sofa as his mates search underneath me for a cab company flyer.”

This, although far from perfect, at least suggests that something is seeping through to the mainframe. But don’t get out of your prams, there’s still a long way to go.

To be fair, it does take a while for the pointless juices your reproductive system will insist on brewing, to simmer down enough for you to make an educated decision over what exactly to do about them. Over-compensation in the alcohol department is statistically a popular choice, as temporary stasis is infinitely preferable to the half-meant apologies one is forced to make the morning after whatever it was you did when you were slavering like a bull. Saga Magazine understands this implicitly, which is why they kindly start sending you a bewildering gadgets catalogue not long after your fiftieth birthday, championing electronic butter dishes and secure solutions to keep your soap dry. By the time you’ve worked out exactly what you’re meant to do with the bloody things, any urges you may once have been slave to in your prime will be long gone. It is a stroke of marketing genius.

Based on the above, my advice to the young people is this: By all means, persevere with that sexting/Tinder/anti-social networking thing you all seem to like. It’s just harmless fun and your body won’t know the difference between this and the real thing. And the salient point is that it serves as a useful segue between the tyranny of sex and liberation thereof you have yet to experience. Cyberfilth is the only working prophylactic you will ever need, protecting you from your revolting selves 24/7. Embrace it. The alternatives are far, far worse.