Idle Eye 157 : The Plagiarist?

Impending death kind of makes you get your skates on. All that time you spent dicking about doing nothing of consequence will eventually appear at your door tapping its watch. Which is no biggie if you happen to have chalked up some of the stuff you set out to achieve, but if, like me, you’ve tried and failed too often to even care about, you have to ask yourself two pretty searching questions:

Do I keep going, or do I shackle myself to the yoke of submission and admit defeat?

The death thing is quite a major pisser, but when you boil it back to basics it’s not actually life-threatening; just an expedient reminder for you to get off your arse and get on with it. If it bothers you, you can always hop over to deathclock.com (the internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away), where they kindly work out how long you’ve got until you are reclaimed by the Grim Reaper. I did briefly consider this, but thought better of it after browsing the search criteria and calculating for myself that I was already living on borrowed time.

I weighed it up. Yes, I could go back to a job that looks good on paper to those who don’t really understand what it entails, or load my bollocks back into the wheelbarrow of endeavour and run with it/them once again. To where there’s no safety net if things go a bit tits. Where the odds are stacked against you because you should have done it twenty years ago. Where the contenders are younger, media-savvy and hungry for that rapidly diminishing slice of the pie. And then, just as I was beginning to cave, someone introduced me to Jonathan Ames.

If ever an ageing, unpublished writer needed a tonic, it came then in the form of this man’s work. A self-deprecating, pushed alter-ego, doing (and penning) things most of us would ordinarily shun, in the tradition of the great American humourists but with a filthier edge, Ames was pushing all my buttons. The greater irony being that the exaggerated failure he casts himself as is, in reality, exactly who I am now. Although I too am writing as an exaggerated failure, and shall continue to do so despite any inconvenient impending success. It’s a headsmoker, make no mistake, but a glorious one nonetheless.

So where does that leave us? My newfound admiration for Mr Ames will almost certainly draw comparisons, the most apposite being that despite sharing a birth year, I am in South-East London writing drivel for 350 people and he is about to launch Blunt Talk (which, from the trailer, appears to be the sharpest comedy to come out of the States in decades) and is probably rather busy. But it is comforting to note that we have been singing from the same hymn sheet for quite a while. Independently, I swear.

Doubt, get thee behind me.

Idle Eye 152 : The Angry Birds

It’s hard not to get incensed by all the stupid things people do. Whether they’ve voted wrong, or looked at you funny, or gone shopping with a ridiculous hipster hairdo or put their feet on the seats, it’s enough to have you frothing at the gills most days, right? To be honest, it’s exhausting. A quick spleen vent at work or down the pub doesn’t help much either, because there you’ll just find even more stuff to get livid about. It’s an infinite cycle of bile. A human centipede of perpetual fury. And once you’re in it, there’s no getting out. Without lithium. Or chocolate.

So where can like-minded hotheads meet and bleat when the going gets excruciating? Which crucible is robust enough to contain the white heat of contemporary rage? Yes, you guessed it, it’s our old chum the Twitter. That stalwart portal, which gives with one hand and destroys with the other, is the paradoxical Shiva of the internet. But here it is not enough just to rock up and pitch in, oh no! To be considered a player, you must have followers. Like Jesus. Or Charles Manson. When you finally get a few, you’ll be needing a few more. And then more still. Until eventually, the very notion that these followers are actual people, as opposed to numerical online manifestations of your rampant unfettered ego, evaporates like a springtime morning mist.

Anyway, I was checking my feed this morning at 5.17am (I was up early, sick with worry that I’d forgotten to charge my phone), and noticed that I had been unfollowed. Only by one, but I felt the ricochet and was smarting from it. Having that extra bit of time on my hands, I spent the next few hours trawling through recent hard drive back-ups in order to expose and humiliate my perpetrator. Unfollow me, I thought? I’ll learn ya. But this one was good. Very good. Using what they call a cloaking address, xoigirl.vikki264 had manipulated my good nature into accepting her into the fold and giving her that most rare of opportunities to shine. Which, for reasons best known to herself, she had chosen to spurn.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can handle rejection. It has been the fabric of my very existence since I told Helena Bonham-Carter’s sister I had all my own teeth and hair in an introductory email. However, I’m super-sagacious these days. I had deliberately chosen to ignore her rather pneumatic avatar in favour of what I considered a more mature approach to online platonic relationships. That somehow, in the vein of Pretty Woman, she could have been persuaded to take the straight and narrow path. But it was not to be. To say nothing of any potential misinterpretation of my intentions. So now I find myself with a mere 33 followers and yes, I’m bloody spewing. Although ViaFlowers11 is looking promising, despite the cost of the visa.

Idle Eye 108 : The Joy of B&B

One of the perennial delights available to the migrant worker in the UK is that of the great British B&B. In an age of flux, it is comforting to note that this cultural stalwart has roots deep enough to weather the whims of fancy and will remain defiantly crap until the end of time. And if anyone is in any doubt about this, have a quick butchers at Rising Damp on Comedy Gold before heading out. Ok, let’s start at the top:

A significant percentage of any annual B&B budget goes on external appearance, making it the Joan Collins of temporary accommodation. Sadly, this leaves very little once you’re inside but by this point the transaction has generally been made online, leaving the hapless punter at the mercy of the Fury within (which I shall come to presently).

The room. Invariably will have been converted from an under-used alcove into a Laura Ashley-inspired floral extravaganza, complete with Morphy Richards kettle on a laminated tray with a cat on it, sugar sachets nicked from the nearest Wetherspoons and some UHT milk. The light switch will NEVER be where it should and only two of the floorboards covered by the Rorschach purple carpet will not creak, making a mockery of you and your endless trips to the bathroom (which I shall come to presently).

Actually, I’ll come to it now. The bathroom is, by default, at the furthest point in the building from where you happen to be. Don’t ever question this, it’s just how it is. And no amount of corridor-creeping will prevent other guests being aware and in full audio range of your intended business, be it a shower, a widdle or a go on the throne. If it is the latter, may I recommend leaving a tap running, as this affords the end-user the camouflage of a decaying Edwardian plumbing system, screaming to keep up with modern-day demands as you wrestle to silence your most basic of emissions.

Breakfast. If you, like me, have learned to get by on a monstrously strong cup of Columbian and a couple of fags, you’re going to be in for a shock. Your host will be frying up a wealth of sizzling flesh, surrounded by cats and photographs of horses from the 1970’s. Dietary deviations from the above will be frowned upon, as will quantity. Even going all Hugh Grant doesn’t cut much mustard here so you’ll just have to suffer the consequences.

The internet. This extraordinary modern miracle is not much understood at your B&B which is why they tend to turn it off at night, like in the war. However, as with our current government, they know you’ll go elsewhere if it’s not there so you have the upper hand.

Finally, just remember: If you kick off and report these ailing establishments to whatever ombudsman you adhere to, they’ll go the same way as slavery, capital punishment and underage drinking. On your own heads be it.

Idle Eye 9 : The Legend of the Pigeon of Chevening Road

Not long ago, there lived a great scribe who was on his way to Sainsburys to purchase some things for the weekend. As he drove his dilapidated car past the park he spotted a pigeon lying sick and injured in the road, and being of good heart he picked it up, took it home and took care of it with the help of his lady friend Ursula. The pigeon had been mauled by a wild beast, was blind in one eye and his chances of survival were slim but the couple kept him warm and comforted him. Much to their delight his health improved and by the next day, despite horrific injuries, he seemed perky and up for a chat.

‘Oh, pigeon’ said the scribe, ‘I am happier than you can know that you are well again, but my master Nibs pays me to relate tales of his pubs in Barnes and Barons Court and I fear I have nothing to offer him this week because I have pissed my time up the wall looking after you. Whatever shall I do? I am undone.’

The pigeon thought for a while and did a tiny white dump. Then, raising his little head up high, he did another dump, this time slightly more robust with a flat underside.

‘Pigeon, is this a sign?’ said the scribe. ‘Ursula, come see, our feathered friend has helped us in our hour of need. What does it say in The Lancet about white ones?’

Ursula rushed to the internet and to her astonishment she discovered that indeed, a white stool following trauma suggested that a certain independent time-related pub in Barnes would experience a record-breaking week. Without wasting a second, the scribe made a swift call to Nibs on the blower:

‘Awright Bro? So how was last week?’

‘Unbelievable! Best week ever. Our chef Piotr was running about like a pigeon, man.’

Hanging up in disbelief, the scribe made a beeline for the pigeon who was preparing a third dump, this time not unlike egg-white with a maggot in the centre.

‘Pigeon,’ he went, ‘is this another sign?’ Ursula squealed at the computer as she raked further information from it. Turns out that a wormlike plop in a mucus membrane strongly hinted that the same pub would shortly have improved toilets and an extended kitchen.

‘Hell’s teeth, pigeon, can this be true?’ The scribe made another quick call:

‘Awright Bro? When are you going to sort the bogs then?’

‘Why you asking? I’ve got Tonino painting them now. And I’m sorting the kitchen next year as well.’

Shaking with incredulity, the scribe and Ursula peered back into the pigeon’s box. He was sitting down and preparing for a night’s rest, but before he did so he let off an enormous guff.

‘Urs, what does The Lancet say about that, then?

‘Less Jerusalem artichokes, apparently’

And so it was, the pigeon was spared that rotten vegetable for the rest of his years. And so it was The Idle Hour Barnes got pukka toilets and a new kitchen. And, God only knows how, the scribe got away with another one.

Idle Eye 2 : The Brief

Hello again. Last one didn’t put you off then? Excellent, let’s see what I can do with this..

It’s 2.45pm & I’m in bed, sick with worry at the economy, poor Cheryl and whether the Bullingdon Club can claw back a few quid from the riots when the phone goes. It’s that Stephen, formerly my younger brother, latterly my employer and from this moment on known as His Nibs.

‘You up yet? I’ve got a job for you’ quoth Nibs. I attempt an extraordinary high pitched wail from the back of my epiglottis as if to emphasise my plight & consequent unavailability for the position.

‘Put the cat out, this is important’ he goes, so reluctantly I remove both hands from my pyjamas and hit the loudspeaker button. He’s banging on and on about something to do with British Food Fortnight and tying it in with the grub he’s going to be giving you all to celebrate the wonderful diversity and rich range of produce our little country can muster when the pressure’s on. I look over at my bedside tray, lovingly prepared by my good self for emergencies such as these :

  1. Bombay Bad Boy
  2. Bombay Bad Boy (backup)
  3. Large tube of Pringles (Chilean Miner Industrial Cheese/Dorset Naga flavour)
  4. Haribo Fangtastics (family bag)
  5. 2009 Lissac Saint-Emilion Château Blanchon (1500 ml)
  6. Noilly Prat (stolen hotel miniature)

‘I’m your man!’ I say, assuming the mantle of responsibility. The phone goes dead and suddenly I’ve got a gig to do. So then, British food. Last time I had some, think it was them Jerusalem artichokes, I had to invest in a new set of guy ropes for the duvet. Probably not what the sophisticated clientele of the Idle Hour eateries needs know about. Hmmm. I’m drawing blanks but then I remember : The Interweb. Just the thing for the rookie reporter. I crank up my pre-(Boer) war computer and hours later she springs into life. Good Lord, it’s teeming with stuff I can nick. Back of the net! Hang about, what’s this..?

Our British Food Fortnight Bubble and Squeak pie sold out and we were only halfway through lunch” Debbie King, University of Brighton.

Halfway through lunch? HALFWAY THROUGH LUNCH??? Debbie, you’re not meant to eat it, are you? You’re supposed to SELL the bloody stuff. It’s a bit like your local drug dealer saying ‘Sorry mate, I’ve just smoked half your order but I tell you what : I’ll give you a huge piece of Brighton-made Bubble and Squeak pie to make it up to you. No extra charge. Innit.” Hold up, here’s another :

“St Pancras’s British Food Fortnight events proved really popular” Dominique Didinal, St Pancras International Railway.

Dominique, oh Dominique, you’re not a frequent user of the iron highway, are you? If you were, you would not be IN THE LEAST SURPRISED by this. Anyone, who has at any time had to steady themselves between a Belgian backpacker and the unisex lavs, burrowing their way in the vague direction of the buffet car like Amundsen towards the North Pole, only to discover the only available sustenance is a Victorian pig’s trotter torpedo and a 1951 Festival of Britain cola would be grateful for just about ANYTHING else over British Food Fortnight. Larks gizzards? Bring ‘em on…

But I jest. Of course I do. Pop on over to The Idle Hour and see what Nibs has got for you. You’ll be surprised. And if there’s anything remotely resembling railway fodder or Brighton pies you can help yourselves to something off my tray : You have my word..