Idle Eye 111 : The Pornography of Wealth

“Money, man, it is a bitch
The poor they spoil it for the rich” –
Nick Cave (Easy Money, Abattoir Blues 2004)

One of the more galling aspects of obtaining your first billion in good ole Blighty is that this once exclusive coterie is now open to any charlatan with wide pockets, a passably creative accountant and a ruthlessly efficient PR team. Back in the day it was the hallmark of achievement, but one that did not need advertising to the hoi polloi or indeed one’s peers. For, like a glass of Croft Original served before dinner, one instinctively knew you were right and that was enough. The old school understood this implicitly, which is why almost no-one had a clue what you were up to unless you got caught. And if you did, the correct procedure was to fall on your sword. Discrete, suave and brutal: Just how one’s affairs were conducted if you had proper moolah.

But now it’s a very different story. No longer is it enough to merely earn the stuff, oh no. The deal is that you must brag about it through every portal available, presumably to titillate the less fortunate who will get their kicks vicariously and keep out of your way. For example: A quick scan of this weeks Sunday Times top stories revealed the following:

  • “Rich double their wealth in five years”
  • “How the rich are getting richer”
  • “Billionaire’s daughter learns to love life”
  • “How to get rich, by those who’ve done it”
  • “Yours for £11.5m: An entire Devon village”

…and so on. However, the Magazine section also offered up an online quiz for the aspirational proletariat called simply Millionaire Maker, dangling the possibility of untold affluence at the click of a mouse. Which is all very well, but the very thought of some chinless Herbert getting the goods from what amounts to nothing more than a lottery will have your bona fide tycoon frothing at the gills before the first Krug is dusted. For, acceptable though it may be for the Great Unwashed to use their little plastic toys to access this kind of information, it is another thing entirely for them to walk down the gilded corridor.

So, what to do? It’s essential that we continue to promote the illusion that we can all have a slice of the pie or the foundations of capitalism will crumble overnight, leaving in its wake a feudal bunfight for anything that isn’t screwed down. But equally, the very same prize must set apart the Harrods Food Hall aficionado from your Greggs regular or there is little point in having it in the first place. For what it’s worth, I recommend something altogether more radical: Wedge wrestling. Nude. In oil. It’s pretty straightforward – Plebs to the left, Toffs to the right and I get to cast the definitive vote. The rippling torsos of privilege vs the downtrodden carcasses of poverty, smothered top to toe in something from the fridge.

Mesdames et messieurs, faites vos jeux s’il vous plait…”

Idle Eye 106 : The Meat of the Issue

I stopped eating meat in April 1991. I remember the exact moment pretty well, lying on the floor of my front room in Herne Hill and watching a rerun of the Animals Film as part of the Channel 4 ‘Banned’ series. I was half-cut, destroying a lamb phall directly from its foil container and in no condition to take in the gravity of what I was seeing, but take it in I did. Somehow, the message managed to penetrate the grotesque caricature of youth I had become and made me ask myself a few searching questions I couldn’t answer. Not then, and not when I had sobered up the next day and was paying the ultimate price for the 100k+ Scoville monstrosity I had ingested. And the thought that living creatures had been killed in order to make me feel that shit was truly appalling.

For me, it was about personal choice. That anyone else would give a flying one about what went into my sorry mouth never actually occurred to me, and for a brief moment the new diet of dry-roasted peanuts, Beanfeast pasta and Rioja seemed to have passed unnoticed. But then came Christmas, traditionally the flagship occasion when families unite, discuss politics and implausible career paths and revel in the ritual mastication of an ugly bird no-one gives a stuff about for the other 364 days of the year. I opted for a plate of green veg (the root ones being, as any fule kno, Satan’s little helpers) and a couple of potatoes, without gravy. And by doing so, I unleashed a Pandora’s Box of vitriol so strikingly at odds with the innocuous vegetables themselves, I felt duty-bound to pitch in and protect them. It was Twelve Angry Men vs the Chives with me as ’70’s TV lawyer Petrocelli, backing the voiceless oppressed against all odds. And they flayed me alive.

Perhaps it was the notion of underdog I found so appealing rather than the ethics themselves (a much less challenging justification to digest for those who had taken so violently against my new-found stance). But it wasn’t. The simple truth was that I could no longer turn my head away from such unnecessary suffering when there were/are so many alternatives. My decision, not exactly of seismic significance. And despite the odd hole in the argument (I own some leather shoes and have, on occasion, enjoyed a wine gum), I’ve stuck to it ever since.

Last year, Carol Midgley wrote an excellent piece in the Times stating her reasons for giving up meat and was bombarded with snide remarks in the comments section which were completely beyond me. If she’d said she was giving up catching the train to work and had started cycling instead, would an army of indignant commuters have taken to their keyboards to vent their spleen? I don’t think so. Carnivores, you have nothing to fear. Now, get on with your day and leave us alone.

Idle Eye 83 : The End is N’eye

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

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 49 : The Day Before We Came

“Are you a parent who drinks too much?” blazed Dr Cecilia D’Felice in the Times this weekend, above a photograph of a slick young professional enjoying a perfectly legitimate reward for expelling her mewling sprogs onto a troubled planet. And not to be outdone by her alarmist strapline, she then proceeded to lambast these soft-target breeders with a checklist divided up into stages, neatly calculated to cause maximum collateral damage:

‘You have to be drunk to approach somebody socially with confidence’ – BAM!!!

‘You use alcohol as a reward’ – SOCK!!!

‘You spend a great deal of time drinking’ – THWACK!!!

‘You need more alcohol to achieve the same effect’ – KERSPLATT!!!

‘You can’t remember what you did’ – WHAM CR-R-A-A-CK PLUNK!!!

‘You feel physically unwell during or after drinking’ – KAPOW ZOWIE CLUNK BOFF!!!

“Oooh,” I thought, as I browsed the paper on my iPhone at 4am with one eye as the other was begging the brain to sort itself out after a traditional friday night hammering, “what’s going on here?” Now, not having children myself, I thought I’d be in with a chance of slipping through some kind of statistical net. You know, the one which has no political bearing whatsoever and thereby has no consequence whatsoever, leaving the barren forty-something on the outskirts of anything that even resembles concern. But oh no! Dr D’Felice had somehow managed to make me feel guilty on a Saturday morning well before the birds outside had begun to sing. And all before I had got vertical and had a word with the morning glory. God’s teeth! And to think felice means ‘happy’ in Italian.

I think that what bothers me the most about this deconstruction of what it takes to be a responsible modern parent is the omission of the driving forces that take people away from there in the first place. So, I’ve got a kid. Oh balls! Everything’s gone up in the supermarkets. Holy Moly! If I’m gonna come off my interest-only deal before I’m dust, maybe I’d better start paying the bastard off. And tits on toast! Don’t even start me on pensions or I’ll have off your particulars. All I need right now is a new-world glass of  acceptably sourced old-world ruin and the nippers can fend for themselves. Them’s the rules.

As I stumbled my way through the above, a text came through from Nibs inviting me (and I presume y’all) to his party at the Idle Hour on the 27th. There promises to be, and I quote, “loads of free booze and one hell of a party spirit”. Now, in the interests of responsible journalism, I am compelled to steer you towards a mere couple of glasses each, only to wag them in front of your designated driver before you head off to make babies at the Godly hour. And for this I make no charge and wish you all the luck in the world. As if…

Idle Eye 24 : The Coren Nation (In Search of Giles)

Just off the blower from a feisty chat with our Nibs as per:

Nibs: I’ve got a subject for the blog.

Me: I’m halfway through one already. But thanks anyway.

Nibs: No, I really need you to put this in. Half the ****ers who booked for Mothers Day never showed and we were fully booked for a month previous. I’ve turned away over 200 potential punters and we still lost out. I’m livid. And if you ask them for a credit card they get on the horse. Now, make that funny.

Me: Well, bro, it’s not.

Nibs: I KNOW it’s not. That’s what I pay you to do.

Me: Hang on a moment. I’ve just spent twenty valuable minutes writing about how we track down Giles Coren using hunting as a metaphor, given it an hilarious punning title that includes his surname for search engine purposes, I’m balls deep in attempting to link you two bastards together and now you want me to bin the entire thing because you lost out on a few quid?

Nibs: Something like that, yeah.

Me: Ok. Maybe we could shoehorn the two together, something along the lines of Giles finding the blog because all writers google themselves and then feeling your pain about blowing out bookings as the main thrust.

Nibs: He wrote about exactly that in the Times on saturday.

Me: He what?

Nibs: Exactly the same. In his restaurant review. Check out the website.

Me: Perfect! I’ll start now.

Nibs: Tread carefully with Coren, though. I don’t want you buggering up any chance of a review just because you feel like taking the piss.

Me: I hear you, bro. But he’s no fool. I think he’d sniff out any whiff of sycophancy a mile off. Far better to have him riled than for him to think you’re fawning. Trust me on this.

Nibs: I’ll leave it in your hands. But what’s the title?

Me: I thought The Coren Nation was quite sassy.

Nibs: Yeah, I quite like it. But I’m not sure about the Nation bit. What’s the post got to do with the rest of the country?

Me: That’s not the point. It gets in Giles, and there’s a certain gravitas to it, particularly as it’s the Diamond Jubilee’n’all.

Nibs: What about ‘I Can See Four Giles’?

Me: Don’t think he wears glasses, bro.

Nibs: Well put something in brackets after, then. If you don’t like it you can always say it was my idea anyway.

Me: Ok. I’ll think of something.

Nibs: Call me back when you’re done. We’re fully booked again and I want to be sure the buggers actually show. Quite like ‘I Can See Four Giles’: Think you should use it.

Me: Done deal, bro. If you’re up to the wall can I post it anyway?

Nibs: Just promise me you’ll use the title.

Me: Sure.

Nibs: Thanks. It means a lot.

Me: I know…