Idle Eye 141 : The Smear

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that the humble gerbil has graced the dailies once again, but not in a good way. Turns out our furry brethren can no longer be considered impossibly cute playthings of the very young (and, on occasion, my good self), being as they are conveyors of misery, disease and quality herbs and spices brought in on the Silk Road. And we’re also expected to believe that in 1347, in between exercising on their little wooden wheels and nibbling whatever they liked nibbling back in medieval Syria, they found time to pop over to London and give us all the Black Death.

It is a monstrous slur, cooked up by some Norwegian boffin with too much time on his hands, and fails to digest some pretty basic facts. For starters, there is no evidence whatsoever that gerbils took up residence in the UK until comparatively recently. Why would they? If your thing is copious quantities of sand and sunshine, you’d probably give it a bit of a wide berth, right? To say nothing of the logistical issues if and when you finally made it to Calais. Absolute nonsense.

Furthermore, architectural clues only date back to the 1950s. Before Rotastak, the Nottingham-based pioneers of affordable rodent housing, there were slim pickings to be had if you were small, hirsute and over here. Rats understood this implicitly, so they made alternative arrangements. But they were also fat and greasy enough to hack it. Their smaller, more delicate cousins wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. You can take Syria out of the gerbil etc…

Clearly we are being whipped up into a collective state of anxiety. It’s what the media does when it wants us to go to war, or sanction the spending of taxpayer cash on something unpalatable the government has shares in. What on earth can the gerbil have done to get them wound up so? And why are we being told that the more sinister rat is the fall guy? It smacks of Andy and Rebekah, the former taking the hit so the latter can persist with her satanic craft. Something stinks up there in the corridors of power, but what?

And then it struck me. Helen Perley’s exquisite 32-page tome Enjoy Your Gerbil (The Pet Library™, 1971), clearly states that the same is no ordinary rodent, and frequently refers to him as a ‘Superpet’. Probably the exact kind of pet that could radicalise British teenage girls into making the arduous pilgrimage to his homeland. And guess where that is? See? By demonising the critters, we surreptitiously put the brakes on the next wave of IS recruits and no-one gets hurt. No-one, that is, except these innocents abroad, and who speaks for them? Who will fight their corner after the first spate of distressing pet murders? And which sick individual will be the first to expand their perspex property portfolio at the expense of the less fortunate?

Right there.

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 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…