Idle Eye 71 : The Hollow Man

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

He knew his onions, that TS Eliot. When I was a nipper, I had no thought at all of the concept of impending death, for it was a strange, unknown place populated by ailing adults moaning about their pensions and that. Besides, I was pretty convinced that when my number came up, I would go out gloriously like one of the Spartan 300, taking on whichever government happened to be in power with nothing but my trusty iPhone and a tatty pair of Edwin jeans. And they would lay me in the ground, still young and handsome, and remember me fondly as such.

But the fly of reality invariably contaminates the ointment of illusion. In the early hours of the morning on Wednesday 22nd May 2013 my father died. Peacefully, and in no apparent pain, he shuffled off this mortal coil at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital after a long series of debilitating illnesses. Unheroic and without doubt a little afraid, he departed in a manner familiar to most, for in death there is no hierarchy. I was with Nibs at the Idle Hour when we heard, at which point his four children sped through the night from different corners of the country to be there. On arrival, we all knew we had only a few hours of family time until the media got word and privacy would become luxury, so each of us said a quiet goodbye and waited for the inevitable.

And sure enough the inevitable came, but not in the shape we were expecting. I think it would be fair to say that our father was not exactly astute when it came to all things fiscal, and although his paternal stance could be tough, his underbelly was soft and prone to flattery, which came in droves from all the usual suspects. In fact, the media could not have been more respectful, for which the family will be eternally grateful: It was from those much closer to home that we had good cause to worry about. As I write this, steps are being taken to rectify the situation but I must remain tight-lipped for legal reasons, until such time as the truth can come out. All I can say is that our faith in human nature has taken a severe battering and watch this space: If we’re right, there will be much to report here at a later date.

There is a protocol between Nibs and myself. Something along the lines of me splurting this stuff out, him giving it the yea or nay, and the resulting post depending on the outcome. Tonight, I pray he will give me the benefit of the doubt. For what should have been a moment of reflection has morphed into something significantly more unpalatable. If only he had gone with a whimper. If only…

Idle Eye 69 : The Hole Truth

I love a chilli, me. By this, I do not mean your entry level, piss-weak hot sauce nonsense that supposedly compliments your meal. Let me make this clear: My meal does not need complimenting. If you could only see it from where you’re reading now you’d understand why. What my meal actually needs is some full-tilt Chernobyl fallout if it wants to be taken seriously in this neck of the woods. Proper, blow your doors off action. And, to be frank, if it fails to deliver on this front, it’s gonna end up in the green bin. I’m sorry, I’ve tried to be all sensitive and that when I get hand-peeled aubergine and cauliflower baked in eco-friendly chain oil with a hint of lime, but hinting is utterly pointless if you want to be considered a player on the main stage: Thatcher/Ferguson/Bowie/Matthews/Laker. Need I say more?

With this in mind, I opted to sample the Idle Hour curry offerings last night. The £10 multi-deal sounded pretty good, but after a couple of Harveys I wanted my cage to be seriously rattled and my guts begging for mercy. I was not disappointed, but this was largely down to my Auntie Valerie lobbing her Scotch Bonnet at me after wiping it clean of Trinidadian goat remnants. Now, don’t get out of your collective prams: I’m not saying my meal didn’t deliver. It certainly did, but as a vegetarian I wasn’t able to go Trinidadian for that extra Scoville mile. I settled for the Thai, probably more than adequate for you lightweights, but lacking the endorphin rush I have come to consider as standard. Somewhere deep within I know this is a bit warped, but you can’t fight the facts: I am what God made me and I am beautiful, no matter what you say.

Now, for those of you not up to speed yet, Nibs is no stranger to the hole strewth any more than I am. He was my sole witness at a swirly-carpet job in Horsham back in the ’80’s, when the entire restaurant staff watched us consume a lamb phall through the kitchen porthole. It was he that introduced me to Dave’s Insanity Sauce that actually had excruciating on its sliding scale of endurance. And it was he that suggested last night that I may not be able to handle it any more. That, perhaps, I should consider winding it all down a tad:

Take it easy. Dude, you’ve eaten the hottest. Maybe it’s time for you to hand over the baton. Think about your future. Maybe move outta town, raise some kids. This kinda shit is for the rookies, Bro. You the Daddy, you got nothing to prove…

He’s right, of course: I need to wind my neck in. But there’s always another youngster out there and I must do my bit. It hurts though. God, it hurts.

Idle Eye 68 : The Parable of the Sower

Back in the 1970’s (forgive me for not remembering exactly when), Nibs and I had our first musical spar. We were both newts, desperately attempting to develop the first tail of experience which we could then wave about with authority and impress our mates. Obviously I had a slight edge, playing the Elvis Costello trump card over his Boomtown Rats, compounded further when our dear mother destroyed Nibs’s Rats cassette after seeing Bob Geldof on the Russell Harty Show. This wanton act of barbarism knocked the stuffing out of the poor boy, but as the eldest I undertook a mantle of responsibility with requisite seriousness, and over the subsequent years I offered him up Be Bop Deluxe, Supertramp, Roxy Music et al which he devoured with joy.

Our nirvana of choice was a tiny shop just off Godalming High Street called Record Corner, tucked away in a cobbled enclave far from the everyday needs of Surrey stockbrokers. Here you could lose yourself in formative wonder, as gigantic teenage muso freaks intimidated and beguiled you in equal measures. I remember asking, with a slight cringe, if they had Elton John/Kiki Dee’s ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ in yet and being told to piss off to Woolworths. Which, ironically, is where Nibs bought the Clash’s London Calling, but then let himself down by going to Waitrose immediately afterwards.

On my thirteenth birthday I somehow managed to get a little band together. The venue: Shackleford Village Hall, and it was here myself and three others murdered ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ by Cream in front of a live audience. And yet, five of us were guilty. Why five, I hear you ask? Well, because young Nibs had his tiny adolescent hand in it as well. At a disclosed moment, he ran onto the stage and manually plugged in a red lightbulb, giving us the kind of wow factor unseen since the Eiffel tower was launched to an anticipating public. It was a bonding moment, to be sure, but sadly failed to secure my place in a certain young lady’s heart, not mentioned here for fear she may well be reading this.

And so the years passed by, and I continued to share the pearls I came across on my musical journey. Touchingly, the stuff I actually wrote (and performed with the confidence of a startled gazelle) was most keenly championed by Nibs himself. And though we seldom manage to say it to each other (we’re British, innit?) we have always maintained a sneaking respect for the other’s ability in his chosen field. But it was music that did and will always do the lion’s share of bonding. Anyone that has ever endured an Idle Hour lock-in with its inevitable rendition of Wonderwall will understand why. All I ask is that you do not hold me responsible. You sow the seed: Some of it falls on fertile ground, some does not. I rest my case…

Idle Eye 67 : The Breastplate of Righteousness

Regular readers of this swill will implicitly understand why I have maintained a dignified silence for the past couple of weeks. It’s not often we get a news story that doesn’t have to be collagened to fuck to make palatable reading in the dailies, and since Monday last the press have seized their quarry and run it ragged. As has every blogger/columnist/social media outlet in the land. And the outcome has been not only predictable but also saturated to the point of nausea. Which is a shame, because it’s always fun to pitch in with your tuppence-worth if you can string a line of thought together on the keys, but these days you have to get in there quick: Leave it five seconds and you will be consigned to the dustbin of irrelevance ‘cos them pesky kids will be in there before you’ve even put your teeth in.

So, not being as agile as I once was, I had the good sense to leave the mewling and puking to the heavyweights, and took great pleasure in watching the ensuing bunfight from the sidelines. Oh yes! I could have dredged up my Lefty credentials as I spent three years in Sheffield being wheeled out to marches in support of miners throughout the white heat of Thatchers’ second term, but these would have turned to dust when it came out I was actually from Surrey and on a full grant. Understandably, I kept schtum about this at the time.

Anyway, I decided to listen to the R4 coverage of the funeral which allowed me the illicit thrill of being the enemy within, to coin one of hers. And, if I’m honest, I was a tad moved by the whole pomp of the thing as I was, despite myself, by the Jubilee and the Olympics. But then young Amanda T pitched in with her biblical passage (in your baskets, euphemism fans) and the whole shooting match came crashing down like a house of cards. What, in Baby Jesus’s name, has the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ got to do with anything? Yes, I know it’s a quote, but I fail to see how Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (whoever they were) makes a suitable analogy for a nation trawling the wake of a controversial leader’s legacy. I seem to remember a certain J Aitken brandishing the ‘sword of truth’ speech when he needed a touch of gravitas, and look where that got him.

Now, I’m going to have to tread carefully here: Check out Nibs’s Twitter feed down there on the right and you’ll see why. And apart from anything else, I have to be seen as politically non-partisan yet a sworn devotee to the IH cause. Which, of course, I am. And yet not. So let’s strike up a deal: You drink and eat the stuff that keeps me in work, and I’ll tone it down a bit. Okay? It’s what she would have wanted…

Idle Eye 65 : The Mercy Dash

Ladies – This week, I’m afraid I’m going to have to drop my metrosexual guard. Sorry, but sometimes a man has to write what a man has to write. It’s mean and it stinks, but so did Clint and you liked him in spades.

Gents – If you’re lucky enough to be under forty, the following will not be applicable to you. My advice would be for you to either hang with the ladies until next week or read on and learn. If, however, you’re in the clan, I sincerely hope I can be of some assistance and perhaps any mutual pain shared can be mutual pain halved. I’m referring here to the perennial dilemma of any male of advancing years: The Mercy Dash. Back in the day, we could all skull a skinful, lose our wallets and/or keys in a Wetherspoons rest room, engage ourselves in a pathetic fight on the High Street and still make the last train home. And we still can, right? Wrong. Not any more. Picture this & weep:

It’s 7.15pm & you’re in the Idle Hour, squeezing in a sharpener. Just the one. You’ve had a text informing you that the dinner’s on. But, oh no! Jamie’s just got another one in and you need to milk him for info on his electrician. So you down it to be polite, but deep in your heart you know you’ve already hit your ceiling. And now, in the words of Irving Berlin, there may be trouble ahead. Yes, home is only three stops away but it might as well be on Jupiter for all that matters. Because you’re going to have to do the Mercy Dash. You know the one: When you’ve made it to within twenty metres of your own front door but the bladder thinks it’s already inside. So you pick up speed (not too much, you’ve been there before and remember what happened then) but this only exacerbates the problem. But if you slow down you’ve got a farts chance in a wind tunnel of making it to the bowl unscathed. The agony of choice, cut short by an unwelcome telegram from the crumbling infrastructure of your poorly architected damming. You break into a sprint, simultaneously attempting to release your keys from Ground Zero. And then, by some miracle of science that would have Brian Cox eating out of your hand, you find yourself in the Splash Bay, but even here your problems are far from over: Someone’s left the dump door down and your belt is on maximum hold. And you pray to whatever God you believe in, like one of Mel Gibson’s Aztecs or Gareth Gates, that you will not be forsaken at the eleventh hour. And He listens and He is merciful, as once again your golden arrow hits hard its porcelain target. And all is well with the world…

Ring any bells? Of course it does. See you in the traps on Boat Race Day and a very happy Easter to you all.

Idle Eye 64 : The Long Good Sonday

Oh dear, it’s that time of year again: When supermarkets are brimful with leftover Lindt reindeers cunningly repackaged as bunnies, when television spews out blatant hints that our homes ain’t exactly lemon fresh, when every roadside flower seller gears up for the big one and every self-employed soul in the land prepares for a two-day pay dock. Yes folks, we’re on the Easter runway and already we’re feeling the love. The pope has been picked, the weather is promising to be spectacularly shithouse and the M4 is wetting itself. With joy, you understand. With joy.

I’ve never quite got my head around the whole Easter deal, to be honest. As an excuse to bleed the nations’ wallets once again, it’s badly timed. Too self-consciously close to Christmas/Valentines Day, the concept is far-fetched and not particularly sexy. But Jesus was no fool: He implicitly understood that the gap between Bank Holidays badly needed plugging (40 days was quite enough for him), so with one eye on the Letts and the other on electability, he got them to roll back that stone. And the rest is history. Two thousand plus years on, however, and something significant has got lost in translation. When the fantastical rebirth of the figurehead of all modern guidance is represented by a chocolate egg stuffed with Smarties, you just know we’ve got something out of kilter. And an M&S £10 dine-in almost certainly will not bring a loved one back from the dead or help anyone in their quest for salvation, although it must be said that I have yet to try their lamb bhuna.

You know, if I was God with all his incumbent powers, I’d probably be a bit miffed with the bastardisation of my message, what with the sending down of my only son only to to be müllered by idiots. And yet you’d also think that I’d be savvy enough to stop it happening, being God and that. But maybe that’s just it: If you’re the boss, you just have to let go a bit and let the little people figure it out for themselves, no matter how far from the point they stray.

Having said all this, the Idle Hour will once again be pushing the boat out on March 31st. The italics because, due to some bizarre stroke of fate, the anniversary of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ just happens to fall on the exact same day as the Oxford/Cambridge boat race. It’s the kind of double whammy that only happens once in a millennium and consequently needs exploiting to the hilt. Expect tankards filled with Thames water to be converted into Pinot Noir, organic soda bread to be broken on winning rowlocks and live crucifixion of your coxwain of choice in the beer garden. Because that’s what He’d have wanted. And anyone that tells you different is a liar and a charlatan…

Idle Eye 62 : The Big Tissue

Has anyone noticed that toilet roll tubes are shrinking? Anyone? I’ve been giving this one some thought of late (as a former owner of thirteen gerbils, my attention to such matters is somewhat more devout than you might otherwise think) and I cannot for the life of me imagine why. You reduce the circumference of the tube, ergo the volume of tissue necessary to fill the gap increases. And surely it is more cost effective to expand the cardboard by an insignificant fraction than to manufacture the extra sheets? To say nothing of all that extra perforating and, if you’re posh, quilting. We’ve all got used to the stealth techniques employed by supermarkets and the like with their swingeing reduction in product proportion, but this is blatantly a false economy & somebody’s head should roll.

And then there’s the matter of quality. Does anyone remember back in the day when you only needed a couple of sheets to wipe the slate clean? Because they were the thickness of a small sandwich or a baby’s mattress? Or how about Izal medicated, the robust choice of municipal buildings, schools and the more progressive public conveniences? So hardy was it, in fact, it could stop a Sherman tank in full flight if lined up correctly. Well without putting too fine a point on it, nowadays you could copy the entire works of Charles Dickens onto the paper necessary for just one go. And the end user (oh stop it!) lives in permanent fear of finger pop. Don’t think we haven’t noticed, Mr Andrex! And no amount of impregnated aloe vera is gonna make up for all that chafing.

But fear not, my friends. I put in yet another narratively convenient call to Nibs earlier and he assures me that the exceptional tissue provided by the Idle Hour has maintained its triple A status for another year. And, as one of the lucky few who has stood sheet to cheek in the traps, I can vouch for the same. These bountiful beauties are organic, responsibly sourced, line caught & hand stitched by Vestal Virgins on the foothills of the Appenines for your sanitary convenience. No horse DNA, no artificial sweetners, no CFCs, no nonsense. And a free drink at the bar if you can punch a hole through the middle. Pre-application, obviously.

Finally, a word to the ladies from Nibs himself. Apparently you lot are whipping through the stuff like it’s going out of fashion, and, being a gentleman of good character, he is loath to drop by and investigate. Vast industrial-strength tubes regularly vanish into thin air, and whilst he is aware that there are many bottoms to feed, demand is seriously outstripping supply. May I suggest that you ‘make room’ before you leave the house? We are living through a time of unprecedented austerity and it’s only fair that you do your bit. And us blokes promise to wipe up the oversplash when we get in. Right lads?

Idle Eye 61 : The Unreliable Narrator

It was a dirty trick what I did last week. You know, that old narrative chestnut of promising not to talk about giving up boozing and then talking about giving up boozing until the bitter end. It was a bit shabby and you deserve more. And that whole business of leading you to believe I was losing the plot, under the guise of someone who believes he isn’t, was another one. Mean, low-down chicanery. As was the novel introduction of meticulously distressed handwriting with its open invitation for you to pop my clogs. Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors.

But it had you going for a bit, no? It certainly had our Nibs on my back like the proverbial monkey:

Nibs:  What the bloody hell are you playing at? You’re meant to be getting me customers, not boring everyone witless with your ridiculous flights of fancy. And I want them to drink more, not give it up!

Me:  They will, bro, they will. I’m using a standard literary technique: The Unreliable Narrator. Over the course of February they will come to doubt me, most probably pity me and then head over to the pub to distance themselves from my predicament. It’s all in hand. Don’t worry.

Nibs:  For ****’s sake! These are drinking people! They just want to come and have a glass or two at the end of the day! And they most certainly do not want to wade through a pile of smart-arsed mumbo jumbo before they get here.

Me:  It works for Giles Coren and you like him. And he’s off the sauce as well.

Nibs:  I don’t care! Coren can do whatever he likes ‘cos he’s writing for the Times. You’re writing for me. Now stop buggering about and get me more punters.

And so it went on. You see, what he has attempted to do here is break the cardinal rule of soft-sell marketing: Never underestimate the customer. By watering down my own copy I would effectively be calling you all stupid. Which would, by default, drive your good selves away to pastures new and that’s something I’m pretty sure Nibs would not want. And yet we do sympathise with the plight of the small businessman, don’t we? Advanced, possibly untested methods are high risk at the best of times and we are in the depths of recession. So, what to do?

Well, I’ve got a plan but I’m going to need your help. It may take a quantum leap of faith on your part but we’re all on the same side. And like so many great ideas it’s pretty simple: Just tell him that you totally get what’s going on here. That you like…maybe stronger…love being preached to every week by a borderline alcoholic whose every word is suspect and the lack of which could well tip you back into sobriety. Give it a try and see what happens. Go on: Trust me.

Idle Eye 60 : The Programme

OK. I promise I won’t bang on about the grog-free month because it makes insufferable reading for those who haven’t chosen this particular path. The self-righteous whingeing of anyone who waves a sabre at their darkest demons is almost certain to leave them out in the cold from normal, decent people such as yourselves, and that’s as it should be. Why should you be subject to the dire documentation of denial, resentment, self-loathing and its ultimate salvation or worse, catastrophic failure that sucks the hapless victim into a vortex of misery and despair? It’s not like you haven’t had your own crosses to bear, is it? And look at you now, with your perfect lives and your perfect families, cruising through the years without a care in the world, enjoying every nuance as if they were delicious, home-cooked meals. Good on you. Fair play to you. You fought the good fight and now you’re reaping the rewards. Well done.

Anyway, it’s all going pretty nicely. Thanks for asking. It’s funny, you do hear these horror stories of people falling into a well of self-obsession and fury as they dry out, but I reckon you’re probably already a bit of a basket case to get that bad. To be honest, I really can’t see what all the fuss is about. I just get up, get on with my day and go to bed when it’s done. And if Nibs rings up and shouts at me for not making the posts more relevant to the Idle Hour, I just tend to laugh it off. It’s all part of the Programme. Highs and lows. Punishment/reward. So what’s the reward, I hear you asking? Well, it’s not what you think. I don’t do that stuff any more. Not this month, anyway. I don’t need to poison my body temple like you people. What you don’t realise is that every smug glug you throw down your necks after a long day knocks at least a week off at the other end. But you don’t care about that, do you? Of course you don’t.

Sorry, went a bit off-topic there. Where were we? Ah yes, the reward. Well, it turns out that by not drinking I’m not only becoming a better person, but I’m also saving quite a bit. And what better way is there to congratulate myself than to get a lovely gift? So I bought a new kettle from off of the internet. It’s practical, you see, because I can use it to make steaming hot drinks that don’t have any alcohol in them. And it looks good around the kitchen (I spent just that little bit extra) as well. I suppose you think that’s a bit boring, don’t you? Well, I knew you’d think that. How? Because it’s all part of the Programme. You think you’re so smart when actually you’re just totally predictable. It’s sad, really. Sad.

pleasekillme1

Idle Eye 59 : The Merrie Month of February

Oh no! An entire month of alcohol abstention is fresh out of the blocks and let me tell you, gentle reader, it is a far, far worse thing than you can possibly imagine. Makes a swift waterboarding at Guantanamo seem like kindergarten, and the relentlessly brutal assault of everyday reality, once successfully held at bay at evenings and weekends, is now free to scythe down its quarry at will. Why, in God’s name, do people do this to themselves? It is no accident that hops/barley/grapes/junipers etc…are widely available across the planet for our consumption, nor that we have honed the requisite skills over centuries to arrive at todays bountiful plateau of choice. To reject them is tantamount to sticking a finger up at creation, evolution and the education of the soul.

Anyway, never mind that now. I’ve only got 500 words and I’m not going to waste them on semi-literate Zen rhetoric. I do, however, need to get across the barren nature of my pursuit and get you lot back into the Idle Hour. It’s my job. And if anyone emerging from their own month of sobriety is under any doubt whatsoever, remember this:

The initial body response is, to be honest, not all that stringent. In fact, it’s a bit of a novelty. No more night sweats, morning tinkle now the hue & viscosity of elderflower cordial (not Castrol GTX), the twin throb of angry kidneys has backed off a bit and I can make it through an entire episode of Borgen without falling asleep and dribbling. However, that’s about as good as it gets. Suddenly I’m acutely aware of the banality of existence, the inanity of radio comedy, the dirty patches on the stairs I said I’d hoover in November, the fact that nothing works properly, that all the stuff I’ve hoarded my entire life has swollen to gargantuan, suffocating proportions and needs urgent attention (the last time this was an issue I moved house rather than deal with it.)

And then there’s evenings. These little bastards stretch off into the distance like the Yellow Brick Road and now that I’m clean, I feel compelled to fill them by doing something useful. But what? DIY would be utterly fatuous. Cookery? I don’t think so. Tidy my room? Ahem. I opted instead for cleaning New Year mud from my leather Stormtrooper boots in the bathroom sink and succeeded in blocking the U-tube and jamming shut that bullshit style-over-content hinged plug.

You see? Alcohol prevents us doing this kind of nonsense for a very good reason. Because it is UTTERLY POINTLESS, and our time would be far better spent earning the money to pay someone else to do it instead. In fact, the more we drink, the more we can help kick start our ailing economy on many, many levels. So please, do as I say and not as I do. You’ll thank me for it.