Idle Eye 74 : The Illusion of Intimacy

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

Idle Eye 73 : The Manner Born

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.

Idle Eye 72 : The Next One

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.

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…