An early shot. Written when I was working for my brother (Nibs) as his pub blogger and trying my darndest to subvert the medium whilst still staying within the brief. Always savoured the mental image of the Live Aid crowd fighting for that rickety table by the toilets.
*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.
[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.
But all things move toward their end
All things move toward their end
On that you can be sure
Nick Cave – Murder Ballads 1996
It’s not, actually. I just thought it might be a bit of post bank holiday fun to sling in some Nick-inspired doom & gloom (‘cos that’s your lot until Christmas). And seeing as I’m on the cusp of handing over the Idle Eye moniker to Nibs, I’ve been balls-deep in searching for a new name: The End is N’eye, Eye Can’t Think of Owt, Best Eye Can Do can all be found residing in the trash at present, and the ole grey matter has been woefully inadequate in delivering a suitable alternative. Traditionally, one would throw it out to the readership with the lure of a massive prize, such as an all expenses paid weekend with the author at a no questions asked hostelry of choice, but I fear this may well set back my cause by approximately a millennium. Two, even. And I don’t have BUPA.
Well, it turns out there are a couple of possibilities on the horizon which I am not at liberty to disclose of yet. Watch this space. When I fire them over to the masterful Dan Laidler and he works his magic, all will be revealed. But the weirdest thing is the freedom. From today I can write whatever I fancy, I just won’t get paid for it. It’s the not all that subtle difference between a fine artist and a graphic designer: The latter has perameters, which the more adventurous can push to the absolute limit and deal with the consequent battle for acceptance. The former has no such constraints. Indeed, he/she can do whatever/go wherever they care to, but they enjoy no back-up and are usually slave to the whims of fashion. Tough one if you don’t acknowledge the mores of the day. Get me? Good.
The second, more horrendous issue here is that of the middle-aged man’s…er…allure on holiday. I have been gearing up for some cheeky time out, starts next week, in which I drive to the south of France to hang out for a few days with my cousin and make the most of the blistering heat down there. And then I read David Aaronovitch’s Opinion in the Times, in which he stated ‘our bodies don’t just fail to be attractive, they are seemingly repulsive’. Slightly worrying, as I had planned a full-tilt mankini outing at dusk in the mountainous Aquitane village of Mauvezin, not only to secure the undying admiration of local ladies, but also potential discounts at any restaurant desperate enough to take me in. I very much doubt David will recant before I leave, but he may be interested to know that I still have a full view of my feet, something my father lost in 1971 and was considerably younger than I am today: Eat my shorts xx
In the early hours of Saturday morning, this ‘ere blog nudged its way up to ten thousand views. In itself, not an overwhelming achievement (stat-hungry scribes would expect to hit this milestone far earlier in their endeavours), but it is the first landmark that carries any significant weight: A hundred is too quick off the bat, a thousand comforting yet insubstantial and any other number lacks proportion and appropriate gravitas. But ten thousand! Well, just look at him there, all fat, smug and reeking of success. No arguing with that, is there?
It’s hard to put into words quite how thrilling it is to reach this point unless you actually write one yourself. No-one close really gets it and if I’m honest, I’ve shied away from the online community, traditionally the first port of support. So it’s mostly been an internal victory, but I did Google ‘ten thousand hits on blog’ and discovered to my surprise that I am not alone. Bloggers all over the globe seem to get out the bunting when they get here, I’m guessing because it demonstrates tenacity rewarded, and there’s gonna be one hell of a slog ahead before the next big one. So I thank you, dear readers, for without you etc…etc…ad nauseam.
Sadly, I must also announce that Nibs and I will be going our separate ways before too long. It’s been a hugely enjoyable ride, and I sincerely hope in some small way my inane witterings have been helpful to him. However, there is only so much one can say remotely, so we both came to the conclusion that perhaps we were cramping each others style. I’m not yet sure of the logistics and pray we don’t end up in a Kramer vs Kramer situation, but we’ll work something out. In the meantime, I shall continue to spew forth the kind of blurb you have come to know and love, only from now on in a wider context. And matters pertaining to the Idle Hour will be found on his website, address in menu above.
Finally, a grovelling apology to the Jelly Zappers: What a difference a week can make! Somewhere inside my tiny mind, the boffins have been frantically trying to make sense of the all-new adjusted vision and I am happy to disclose they have come up trumps. At last. No more headaches, no more soft-focus nonsense and no more moaning. You have my word. The only slight downer is that I’ll still need glasses for the really close-up stuff, but I can live with that. In fact, it could well turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as anyone who has ever suffered my cooking will testify. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the park to have a peek at some of that there nature. As nature intended. But before I do, maybe another gander at the stats. Ten thousand, eh? Splendid.
Couple of things. Firstly, I must confess I lied to you back in Idle Eye 77 about getting the jellies re-zapped. I never did, at least not then. It was simply a narrative convenience to say so. However, after five months of headaches and grinding admin, I finally reached a compromise with the suits at Optical Express – I could have one eye enhanced. On the house, but just the one. Bugs sodding Bunny.
It was a Sophie’s choice, basically. Should I have gone for the one that could see into the future, all Michael J Fox but lacking the most rudimentary of motor skills, or the other one, stuck in the 1980’s with crap hair but bringing up the rearguard rather nicely, thank you. I opted for the former, the trade-off being that I wouldn’t have to wear senior glasses every time my phone rang.
Big mistake. When the stench of molten eyeball had finally subsided and I was able to take a good look around, it became apparent the roles had been reversed. The former limp biscuit was flexing its muscles like Charles Atlas, and last month’s King of the Hill had tumbled onto Skid Row. Woefully, my everyday reality had now become the equivalent of whatever Scandi cop show is currently doing the rounds, all shallow-focus and inner ennui. And I’m wearing the glasses as I type this.
In better news, it turns out that this ole blog has been embraced by the good folk of Derbyshire, presumably because last week I suggested it was somewhat remote and they have a honed lust for revenge. Now listen: Of course Derbyshire isn’t remote. I looked it up on Google Maps and it’s quite near Nottingham, which I have heard of. That Robin Hood once ran about there being terribly left-wing in a forest, and there’s also lots of pubs and lovely ladies. Apparently. One of which was the delightful Christine Free, who I met recently and has a slot on Erewash Sound, now broadcasting my Elsan extracts every Wednesday sometime between 10.30 and 11am. The humanist in me just wants to reach out and beg her to desist. It’s just not fair: These people have historically travelled many miles to avoid the appalling whimsy I subject you to every week, but she wouldn’t have it, bless her. So here we go:
“Welcome, Erewash, and thanks for listening. I’ll try my darndest to keep you all on board although honestly, the odds are poor – My own mother whacked me senseless with the bristly end of a hairbrush outside the Imperial War Museum for being spectacularly annoying in the 1970’s. Sorry. I’ll be mostly chucking out irrelevant drivel for the first few paragraphs, after which I will somehow manage to tie in my brother’s pub in London, thereby fulfilling my contractual obligation. It’s gonna be a white knuckle ride, so hold on tight! Now, here’s the weather…”
Last week, I inherited a television from my father’s estate. It’s a flat, shiny thing, riddled with sockets and touch-sensitive knobs I will never use or comprehend, coming as I do from the old school when you had to force a button the size of a liquorice comfit deep into the belly of the set with your actual finger in order to switch channels. And the word remote meant Derbyshire or somesuch, not a slab of hand-held plastic trickery fashioned to aid the plight of the obese. However, I do acknowledge the relentless march of progress and in order to show good will, I reluctantly accepted the beast into my home.
But, oh my stars, it’s big. So big, in fact, that they make you buy all these other boxes to cope with it, none of which I understand either. And, if the boxes and the TV are going to get on with each other, they have to be connected with ‘intelligent’ cables that cost more than your average four-door family saloon did in 1977. But it doesn’t stop here, oh no: Your service provider then offers you a bewildering series of package choices to enhance the Trojan horse now dominating your living quarters, any of which will set you back yet another significant slap in the wallet. Inadvertently, you have become the Lady Macbeth of home entertainment, so stepped in blood it is impossible to return. How about a wall-mount? Or perhaps an LAN link-up with your home hub, using the ferrite cores (provided)? And after a few hours they’ve got you wide-eyed and screaming down the phone, like one of Jodi Foster’s chums in Taxi Driver:
Give me one of them Fnørkel adaptors…..Yeah, I can collect…..Actually make that three…..NO, I DON’T KNOW WHAT ****ING FNØRKEL ADAPTORS ARE, JUST GIVE ME SOME…..NOW!!!!
Mindful of the above, the Idle Hour has adopted a strictly no TV policy inside the pub. It’s for the best: If you are enjoying an intimate dinner for two with candles and fine wine, the very last thing you need is a sweating young man in an open-necked Pink shirt trying to pick up Eurosport in HD. Kind of puts you off your stride. However (and I don’t think he’ll mind me telling you this), Nibs does in fact own the biggest television I have ever seen in my life. It is the size of an Olympic swimming pool, wedged into a lounge no deeper than a galley kitchen. To give you an idea, if you wish to obtain 20/20 unpixelated vision, you have to flatten yourself against the far wall or, better still, climb up the fencing of the school next door and peer through his office window. Although, to be fair, if you are prepared to go to lengths such as these in order to catch Corrie, perhaps you should be relayed through to the punters: I’ll see what I can do…
So anyway, Nibs and I are burning down the M4 at 121mph (on the way back from yet another trip to Wales), when he drops it in that we have to make a slight detour. Oh no, I’m thinking, is it a special lady friend? Or perhaps the steed needs a quick pit stop? Either of which will add a significant portion of gooseberry to my day. But, as it turns out, it was neither. As we approached Reading, the car re-orbited and we snaked our way through faceless, municipal landscaped roundabouts and grounded ourselves at the trolley park of what appeared to be yet another temple of worship to consumer greed. Every hackle that hadn’t already been irreversibly müllered by alcohol immediately rose up, but my fears were shortly to be assuaged: This was different. This was the future.
Have you ever been to one of these places? These vast cathedrals of corrugated aluminium that house your every culinary peccadillo and a few more besides? And for stupid money, as long as you’ve got an outhouse or live inside an Escher print? Well neither had I, but the minute I walked through the door they had me by the balls. For a start, right there in the foyer, they had delicious Apple stuff which had me salivating like a Cupertino campus nerd, but then as we crossed into widescreen an astonishing array of palleted goods, piled as high as the eye can feasibly take in, burst into ocular wonder. Over there on the left were thousands of discounted cases of NZ Marlborough Pinot Noir, and yet there on the right were more triple packs of Calvin Klein underpants than you could shake a stick at.
But this was just for starters: Mountains of Haribo, rivers of tequila and more snout than Strangeways all beckoned with their irresistible charms. And, in case you weren’t yet up to speed, helpful smiley staff clad in red and white were all there to assist with their immaculate speed-of-light timing of which I took full advantage:
‘Hello, could you help? I’m trying to figure out the sheet 2 wipe ratio saving I could make from your Syrian Red Cross Convenience industrial strength loo rolls?’
‘Certainly, Sir! Our statistics, based on an amalgam of the global meridian and the sheet 2 wipe average in your area suggest that you’ll be making a saving of approximately 7.2 pence per go. You have a nice day now.’
These guys were so on it I nearly wept. And, as Nibs and I swept through checkout, laden with a cargo utterly denied to those outside the club, I felt it necessary to fall to my knees and beg my own brother to sign me up. Which, bless him, he did, after making me watch him consume a hot dog and a litre of fizzy pop at £1.45 from the in-store café. Vile but necessary, as them French Resistance chicks would have said.
One of the clichés that gets endlessly bandied around by the self-help books when you embark on any form of writing is that you have to find your voice. Presumably because if you don’t, you’ll be using someone else’s and we can’t have that. Right, Noel Gallagher? Well, fortunately for you lot, I don’t seem to have that problem and I shall briefly demonstrate why:
Have a quick re-read of the above. Done it yet? Good. That’s my voice, that is. Right there. And the best bit is I didn’t even have to look for it! It was there all along. What a stroke of luck!
Perhaps what they mean by this is that there is a development of some kind of trust, a bond if you will, between donor and recipient. If the latter believes the former is credible, they are more likely to roll over & have their stomach tickled by somebody they have faith in. Which, sadly, leaves the donor in a position of power and the recipient vulnerable to exploitation. Are you with me? No? Ok, let me put it another way:
Has anyone noticed the rather toxic surge of informal fonts in advertising of late? And if so, ever asked yourselves why? Well, hear ye: It’s the printed equivalent of dress-down Friday, when the message can be pushed just as ruthlessly but in an ever-so-casual stylee. Take those wretched smoothie/ice cream cartons, all lower-case and loved up like they’re your slightly nauseating mate from back in the day, when anyone who went to school knows they just want to get into your wallet. And yet we buy this stuff despite ourselves because the alternative is brutal hard-sell, an even less authentic technique that went out with the ark.
Nibs and I have differing opinions on the above. His signature scrawl at the bottom of your menus could be construed as the same but in his case I’ll look the other way: He’s not cynically getting you to fund a second Tuscan villa (mainly because he doesn’t have a first one), and I do reluctantly admit that the colloquial approach he has adopted suits his one man and a pub business MO pretty well. But, for the most part, I find the whole ‘hail fellow well met’ corporate thing deeply disingenuous because it gives the illusion of intimacy where none exists. A bit like American tellers wishing you a fervent good day when they wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you got struck by lightning in the car park afterwards. Sorry, parking lot.
Anyway, that’s enough rhetoric for today. I’d like to use the last paragraph to thank you all for joining me on this little journey of words. Without you it never could have happened and you know why? Because you’re special. Each and every one of you. So keep telling yourselves that. Because you are. Really. See you next week xxx
Ok, that’s enough misery porn for now. Whilst I’m touched that you’ve doubled my hit rate over the last couple of weeks, the time has come for us to move on, grab whatever remains of our time on the planet and wring it for all its worth. And now that I’ve got a few more of you on board, perhaps I can cynically manipulate your touching empathy into full-blown, squalid addiction to the kind of weekly whimsy you can normally expect to find here. Let’s face it, it’s a brutal old world and your humble blogger, being the lowest of the low on the battlefield of journalism, must resort to any means necessary.
Anyway, Nibs and I have been down in Wales for the past few days. Quite strange really, going through the things our father left behind that add up to a life. Small things, touching things, insignificant things. Things of value. Distressing things. But all just things, nonetheless. And we had agreed, as a family, that we wouldn’t take anything until such time as we all felt less raw about it. But then, as Nibs searched the kitchen cupboards for something vaguely edible and I squirrelled about in the cellar for a bottle of wine, I hauled up a bottle of Chateau Leoville Barton 1998. ‘Bit good for packet pasta’, he went, ‘but have it if you want to.’ Now, anyone who knows me (or indeed had the poor fortune to read Idle Eye 20 : The Liquorice Nose) will implicitly understand how little these few words actually meant: If it’s red and it stays down usually means it’s past the post in my book. But, bowing to his superior knowledge of grape and the grain and my nascent understanding of his extensive wine list, I did indeed take it home.
Having a decent drop indoors is not unlike entertaining the Landed Gentry: You know you can’t treat him like all the others, but your frame of reference is somewhat limited and you don’t want to make a tit of yourself. Do I lay him down? And if so, for how long? Will he get upset that I don’t actually have a cellar and he’s reduced to hanging out with the proletariats next to the microwave? What exactly is the correct manner of address? And, as a vegetarian, will he blow a gasket if I skip the rack of lamb and opt instead for a family bag of Twiglets and a ramekin of humous? All these concerns of propriety had me scouring the net for hours. And, sadly, they just made matters worse: How will I know when the bastard has opened up? And when he’s forward on my tongue? Let’s face it, if you’re prepared to down a two-for-ten carstarter, the above has never applied and is never likely to. In the words of the late Bill Hicks, I’m like a dog being shown a card trick.
So, watch this space: London Luddite in Wine Legacy Shock. Coming soon to a tabloid near you.
Being the offspring of a much-loved actor brings with it its own unique yet contradictory set of rules: You kind of choose the ones which seem to be most appropriate as you go. One minute you’re getting a guilty kick from all the reflected glory, the next you’re on the receiving end of astonishingly articulate and targeted cruelty. But don’t worry, it’s not real. He didn’t mean it. But somewhere along the line you have to second-guess which one is authentic and accept, for good or for bad, that that is the man. Then you try to love him: Not always as easy as it sounds.
You see, the problem with the profession is that in order to be good at it, you have to learn all the little tricks that allow you to successfully transform the nucleus of self into the embryonic form that lies within the script. And when you get better at it, these boundaries get blurred. Indeed, it is widely considered to be at the top echelons of achievement if you can pull this off. Which is fine within these confines, less so when the cameras have stopped rolling and the adulation on tap goes home for the night. Perhaps then, you introduce a little of the artifice into the domestic environment to keep the high going. And if it feels good, you introduce a little more. And slowly, very slowly, you begin to lose the very fabric that constitutes your true original.
For many actors, the above is a conscious choice: The Frankencharacters they create are often preferable to the reality deep within. But somewhere in there, they know what they’re doing and if they’re honest, they don’t much like themselves for it. The ennui this throws up needs an outlet, usually in the form of loved ones inside their immediate orbit as they will inevitably be the most forgiving. However, as any other child or spouse of someone in this process will tell you, it is the glimpse of authenticity we crave, however fleeting. Something concrete. Something honest. Otherwise who (or what) do we mourn when they go?
On Tuesday, we sent my Dad off to the Next One. First, in solemnity, at Mortlake Crematorium, and afterwards with a glass at the Idle Hour which Nibs closed for the wake. And it occurred to me, as I tried to keep a handle on contradictory emotions and maintain the kind of decorum expected of a firstborn, that I may have been doing exactly the same. That I was playing the role (rather well, in fact), instead of actually feeling it. And there was a moment in the garden when I looked around at the assorted guests and realised that the sum of those present did indeed make up the whole of the man: Everyone there represented a small strand, as did I, and that’s exactly how he chose to leave it. But a part of me will always yearn for the core. Even now.