Idle Eye 179 : (All Quiet On) The West London Front

They say that the wheels of society are significantly greased over three courses. In my relatively limited experience, it’s quite the opposite. For once any initial pleasantries have been dispensed with, the seeds are invariably sown for out-and-out war. Particularly in the arena of the unspoken:

Hostess:  Darling, it’s wonderful to see you!

Thanks for filling in.

Me:  Thank you so much for having me. It’s been too long!

There’s a reason for that.

Hostess:  This is Alex, he’s been dying to meet you.

Alex got here five minutes earlier and I’m bored hearing 
about his car.

Alex:  Our hostess tells me you’re a vegetarian.

I hate you already.

Me:  Yes, I’m afraid I’m one of those…difficult ones.

I hate you already.

Alex:  Well, you won’t mind if we tuck into a bit of raw flesh, will you? At least it isn’t twitching!

Do you people actually enjoy eating this shit?

Me:  Not in the slightest. Horses for courses, I say.

Yes we fucking do. Ever tried it? Thought not.

Alex:  Our daughter was a vegetarian once. Talked her out of it, of course. Not much call for rabbit food at Roedean!

Get me as far away from this prick as is humanly possible.

Me:  I suppose not. Probably not for rabbits either, come to think of it.

With those three sentences, you have a clear pathway to
eternal damnation.

Hostess:  Alex is just back from Cuba. I gather it was simply divine.

So pleased they’re getting on.

Alex:  Too many foreigners for my liking. Quicker the Yanks get in the better. Clean the place up a bit.

Nearly got the clap.

Me:  I’ve heard it’s amazing!

Bet you nearly got the clap.

Hostess:  (giggling) I’ve heard it’s quite easy to get the clap out there!

God, I hope it’s thrush.

Alex:  So then, how do you make a crust?

My money’s on artist. Looks like one.

Me:  I usually conserve and restore wallpaintings and historic buildings. But I’ve just put out my first book as well.

You have no idea what I’m on about, have you?

Alex:  Ah, a writer! Tough business, writing. Published?

Knew it.

Me:  Self-published. I crowdfunded it last year.

Take a flying guess.

Alex:  Good for you.

Arsehole. 

Hostess:  Oh, you must read it, Alex. He’s so clever! And he got all sorts of artists to do pictures for him too!

Still haven’t read it.

Alex:  How very creative. Can we get it in the shops?

As if.

Me:  You can indeed! Or I’ve a few in my bag?

It’s not for you.

Alex:  Don’t carry cash, I’m afraid. But do let us know where we can get a copy.

Please don’t.

Me:  So what do you do, Alex?

Don’t tell me.

Alex: Do? Not a lot these days, to be honest.

Do you have any idea how much time it takes to architect a basement?

Hostess:  Shall we go through? I’m famished!

Oh Waitrose, you fickle mistress.

I rest my case.

Idle Eye 125 : The Sos Age

In days of old, when knights were bold
And Bowyers sausages stood the test
I’m glad to say that still today
That Bowyers sausages are the best

This curious little rhyme was drummed into my subconscious relentlessly by my late stepfather pretty much every weekend in the 1970s. Partially to whip up a kind of inter-family bonhomie, as we would chant the thing together in the car on the way to the shops, but mainly because he was the chairman of Bowyers sausages, cynically utilising a primitive form of subliminal advertising for his own ends. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t join in with gusto, but even then I could spot the flaws:

Thrust instantly into a medieval context, the reader is presented with a given that all knights back then were actually bold, as opposed to the more likely premise that they were shit-scared, metal-clad servants of whichever fanatical despot that happened to own the land upon which they lived. Next, there is the contextual leap we are expected to take, in which the Bowyers sausage is inexplicably time-travelled to the period in order to stand a test. Exactly what test is not made clear, probably for reasons of economy, but already we are none the wiser and hunting for clues. 

There are none, for the second half has no correlation whatsoever with the first. For starters, the introduction of the possessive noun only serves to confuse, and the whiplash suffered from being thrown back into the present weakens us so conclusively, we are unable to challenge the outlandish supposition that the Bowyers sausage knocks spots off the competition. Consequently we take it for granted, bereft of any insight as to who the narrator may or may not be. These four lines are, at once, a travesty of continuity, credibility and impartiality. I am eleven years old.

Obviously, I didn’t let on in the car. I knew how ruthlessly I was being exploited yet somehow I was complicit. How could I tell a man fifty years my senior that his grasp of language was at best rudimentary, particularly as I had not yet received my pocket money? So I let it lie. To the point where I taught the very same to the equally exploited workers of a slaughterhouse in which I worked over the summer of 1980. And they loved it too.

I kept shtum for ages when I became a vegetarian. It would have made a mockery of all the ideals we held so high as a family which were built on the foundations of the very thing I had so vehemently rejected. And besides, I wanted Bill Newton-Clare to meet his maker without doubt, which he almost certainly did. But not before leaving us another salient reminder of the mark he made when he was around:

Q:   What came before the Ice Age?
A:   The Sos Age

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 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 11 : The Voice of Reason

It’s that time of year when the jolly fat man, flushed from the effort of his exertions, comes for his annual handout and leaves you to clear up the mess. Sounds familiar? Yes, it’s that time again and don’t we all love it? I refer to the bankers’ bonus, of course, and the endless discussion thereof, from the red tops to Radio 4, from white van interiors to Hampstead tearooms it seems we cannot be rid of someone, somewhere, who needs to vent their spleen. And we, the Great British Public, absolutely lap it up. In these austere times when, Heaven forbid, we have to share bathwater, meals and the rest with our nearest and dearest, there’s nothing we like better than donning the gloves and having a good old-fashioned wallop at the City.

‘I think it’s disgusting, immoral and it should be illegal’ – A woman I just made up, the streets, yesterday.

‘We didn’t work our whole lives to be lied to and robbed at the end. Is this the right march?’ – A Public Sector worker, Whitehall, yesterday.

‘Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’ – Simon Le Bon, a yacht, the Eighties.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’m supposed to be a vegetarian, lily-livered Lefty, right? What in God’s name am I doing pandering to these monsters, these harbingers of misery who put profit before people, bonuses before benevolence and continue to take, take, take as we mere mortals continue to reimburse their errors? Well, my friends, think on: Remember when ‘Call Me Dave’ campaigned vehemently for us all to hug a hoodie? Well, I took something on board that day. I learned that perhaps we should learn to embrace the unknown instead of taking a shot at it like the great collector and public benefactor Frederick John Horniman did when he first came across a walrus:

Stooge:  Sir, something stirs there on yonder iceberg. He is a fantastical creature, long of tooth and great of hair. And I do believe he is something of which we have never seen the like.

BANG!

Horniman:  Put him in the bag with the others, Bobbins.

So bankers, hear my cry! I come to you in peace, I bear you no ill will. All I ask is, well, now you’ve got more in your Armani pocket than I shall earn in a lifetime, that you spend it wisely. And it is narratively convenient that I happen to know just such a place for you to do so. Cross the Thames if you have to. Charter your private jets in the direction of SW13 and W6. Spend the wad of our King Mervyn here today and throughout the Christmas period. And do not spare the rod! The Idle Hour will cater for your every need, your whims, your festive fantasies. And with such style and finesse that you will wonder why you ever wasted your nights at Dirty Dicks. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll let me off.

Idle Eye 7 : The Exotic Meating

London 1779. A young servant boy runs towards his master along a dirt track that will become White Hart Lane, Barnes in fifty-odd years. They have travelled from afar and seek only a tankard of Harveys and sustenance for the night.

Servant:  My Lord! I have found us the tavern! Over yonder by the railway tracks.

Master:  Mock me not, Bobbins, or ye shall sleep with the fishes tonight. And the railway has not yet been invented, as well ye know.

Servant:  Forgive me, Master, but it is true. The landlord seems most welcoming also.

Master:  Perchance, does he sport a ridiculous yellow Miami Vice jacket? And Penny Loafer shoes with white socks? And a beard inside which one could conceal a bantam?And does he answer to the name ‘Nibs’?

Servant:  Why yes, my Lord! How could you know such things?

Master:  And tell me: Is it not Tuesday the 15th even as we speak?

Servant:  Forsooth, I believe it is, my Lord.

Master:  Also, pray, whilst you were inside, did you spy the tail of an alligator and/or the gizzards of a zebra on the ‘Exotic Meats For One Week Only As Recommended By A Celebrity We Cannot Name’ menu?

Servant:  Santa on a stick, M’lud, thou art surely blessed with divine perception. But as your servant, I cannot use words of more than one syllable at a time if I am to be a credible sidekick to your increasingly unlikely literary device.

Master:  BE SILENT insolent child!!! Thou shalt conform to this narrative stereotype or by my own entrails thou shalt go hungry tonight.

Servant:  But Master, I am a lily-livered, limp-wristed, ex-art school vegetarian. I fear such sumptuous foodstuffs will play havoc with ye olde plumbing.

Master:  GOD’S TROUSERS!!! Boy, do you know nothing? It’s none other than Exotic Meats Week at The Idle Hour Barnes, and by some fantastical feat of fortune we have stumbled upon it at the very start.

Servant:  Actually sir, I think you’ll find it was by Sat Nav.

Master:  Like, whatever, sirrah! Do not question my methods, or for that matter my timing: I fear we are 232 years too early for such a feast but we do at least have the blessed fortune of being British a century in advance of queueing for fun so we stand a good chance of getting in. Do you really not eat meat?

Servant:  Sorry. Not a guff’s chance in a wind tunnel.

Master:  I hate you, Bobbins.

Servant:  Yes, sir.

The two men turn into Railway Side where they are met by a man in an absurd Miami Vice jacket and Penny Loafers. And a beard. He smiles and embraces them in a not at all scary manner. That’s what you do on Exotic Meat Week. Because there’s lots of exotic meat. And you have travelled from afar and seek only a tankard of Harveys and sustenance for the night.

Idle Eye 5 : The Party

I must say, I’m enjoying this hack business enormously. Seems you just bang out a few well-chosen words when you’re pissed, turn up at an Idle Hour party and everyone smiles at you in that ‘we’re all in this together’ kind of way. Splendid! And while we’re at it, I thought it would be wise to jot down a few muddled thoughts from Nibs’ anniversary bash at IH Barnes because a) it was a fabulous, bonkers evening, and b) I’m being paid for it. So here goes :

10 years in any old game is quite something. It demonstrates that you have stamina, balls and a willful refusal to fail. These are qualities I have long admired in girlfriends, employees and whiskey, the obvious exception being that I have never employed a single person in all of my years on the planet. And that’s as it should be, as any fule kno. But when it turns out that Squitly Junior, who used to nick sweets from the Shackleford shop and (very much later) roger his nanny while his elder sibling was getting off on Starsky & Hutch downstairs is the one who fits the bill, I have to concede that despite my obviously superior looks and intellect, a tip of the hat is due here. So, well played bro, here’s to another ten..

It probably is also timely to introduce whatever readership we have here to Da Mudda. Back in the 1960s, Nibs and myself decided to give birth to someone who would eventually become our mother, half woman, half Nazi, never, ever wrong. And out of respect we let her raise us, send us to expensive schools and attend functions, bar mitzvahs, parties etc.. So it was indeed a pleasure to see her there in the crowd on saturday, listening with pride as her god-given parents murdered ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him’ and ‘Oliver’s Army’ as backing to the ever-forgiving Roland Rock and his band. We have a photograph of her weeping, although it is not yet clear whether this is out of despair or joy. Time will tell.

A small but grateful word to the bar staff : Being a vegetarian, lily-livered, ex-art school renegade comes with its’ set of not unsubstantial hurdles when it comes to nibbles. (You know when you have reached your middle years when you can say ‘nibbles’ without a hint of embarrassment. Although I have long since reached them & my ears have just turned red. No-one tells you this stuff.) My undying thanks goes out to the young lady who left me with a plate of crudités as the carnivores sought their quarry.

For anyone who was there, it was lovely to meet you and thank you for, well, for being you. Who’d have thought we’d hit it off so well, eh? Let’s hope this crazy old vehicle stays on the road for a few more. And mine’s a large one, if you’re offering..