The art of parties (deconstructed): “Do you think we could have Demis Roussos on?”
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?
Me: Self-published. I crowdfunded it last year.
Take a flying guess.
Alex: Good for you.
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?
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.
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.
A couple of things have been bothering me this week. Firstly, this Jimmy Savile business is beginning to grate: Yes, it’s a given that everything that has come to light is abhorrent. Yes, the BBC screwed up. Yes, the victims all deserve an opportunity to move on. And yes, even the benefit of hindsight into another time with a very different moral compass does little to assuage his misdemeanours. But the cynic in me does question the merits of a media witch-hunt against a dead man, purposefully manufactured to whip up powerful emotions in those less than able to handle them. Remember the paedophilia scandal of 2000? When Newport pediatrician Yvette Cloete had ‘paedo’ graffitied onto her front door by her own neighbours? And if the deceased really are a legitimate target, where do we draw the line? Do we destroy the gravestones of Kenneth Williams and Joe Orton, both now institutions much loved by the general public? How about Pier Pasolini? Or why not Caligula? Come on, readers, I’m sure you can dig up another long gone family favourite with a dodgy track record.
The other thing is how to segue the above into an attractive advertisement for the Idle Hour. Tall order, granted, but that’s the task in hand and by hook or by crook I’ll find a way: It’s what I do. Now, please bear with me as I freeform in italics:
The Idle Hour is one of West London’s best kept secrets. It sells lovely wine and beer, serves great food and has a wonderful suntrap garden, ideal for all those lazy Sunday afternoons with the family. In no way does it condone any suspect behaviour with young ‘uns. Bang out of order, all that. And anyway, it just does booze’n’grub. Properly, with a touch of class. And no fiddling. Ever. And that’s a promise!
Those of you who know me and/or Nibs will implicitly understand the above seemingly blasé approach needs to be taken with a very large pinch of salt. Partly to simmer down the tone and partly to avoid litigation. But, as there is an increasingly large percentage of you that don’t, I shall attempt to paraphrase every politician wheeled onto Radio 4 to spread the word of whichever wretched party they happen to represent:
Let’s be perfectly clear about this: The Idle Eye blog does have, and has always had the best interests of the Idle Hour public house at heart. And if, for whatever reason, the former has strayed from its initial brief, it would like to take this opportunity to apologise unreservedly for any offence caused.
So there you have it. A seemingly impossible remit brought about by the power of the written word. And, for any Sun readers who have managed to get this far without assistance, the address you’ll be looking for is as follows:
The Idle Eye Front Door,
No 10 Downing Street,
London SW1A 2AA
Thanks for your time xx
I have a Spanish chum who, bizarrely, is using this ‘ere blog to teach herself the idiosyncrasies of English, both written and spoken. Yes, I know, I know. But in a few short weeks she will take an exam, after which she will be expected to be able to brush up her Shakespeare whilst talking down and dirty at her local hostelry. A tall order if ever I heard one. So, in the interests of pan-European conviviality, I thought it might be a bit of fun to deconstruct last weeks’ post, pile of steaming turd that it was, using the vagaries of our mother tongue as we go and thereby completing two tasks for the price of one. Soraya, this one’s for you:
Firstly & foremost, the brief I have to fulfill every week is this: Write approximately 500 words that engage the reader using whatever skills I have to hand. Keep it light, preferably funny, preferably topical, but no matter what, shoehorn The Idle Hour into the piece at some point. Inevitably this happens, but, to be honest, there’s only a certain amount you can say every seven days without getting, well, a bit samey. Consequently I am forced to rely on my admittedly magnificent sense of the absurd. Let’s look at last week:
It’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Every writer/columnist/talking head in every paper/blog/satire vehicle has already said what I was already thinking so I had to come up with an alternative, one which fitted my suffocating outline for which I am receiving remuneration. So I settled for Michael Ryan, the bloke who broke into HRH’s bedroom in the ’80’s, a cheap but quick fix in the face of the actual insanity going on around me in real time. Now, all I had to do was tie that in with Nib’s slick operation round Barnes way and Bob’s your uncle. Except…
Well, look at it. It’s a bag of spanners, no? For starters, my handle on the Queens’ English is at best contrived, and at worst, feeble. Weak jokes based on the received knowledge that she says ‘one’ every five minutes, has no grasp of the entertainment put on in her honour, and a rather unpalatable presumption that she conforms to a class stereotype. And let’s take a closer look at how I managed that contractual obligation:
After a series of ‘Carry On’ capers, Her Maj makes an implausible quantum leap with the assumption that Nibs is there behind the curtain. Why? Utter, utter crap, for which I apologise. To you, to HM, to Nibs, to the Idle Hour and all who work within an establishment that has strived tirelessly to provide a service to which I have not done adequate justice. And lastly to Soraya. You must feel discombobulated. But please don’t think me floccinaucinihilipilificatious, for the last thing I want is for you to develop hippopotomonstrosequipeddaliophobia, that being the nadir of all lingual dexterity. And do let us know how you get on…
Hard though it may be to believe as you plough your way through the weekly helping of cattle’s business in front of you now, but on the odd occasion I need to indulge in a spot of research. This is usually achieved with a decanter of ‘2 for £10’ industrial-strength red (min 13.5%, Old World), and a go on my massive ‘style over content’ computer which helps me access topical websites, news stories and films. Ahem. However, the last few weeks have seen my super-speedy 30MB broadband service shrivel to a Coalition-stylee standstill and it has remained thus ever since.
Not being made of the sterner stuff mandatory for a Customer Services face-off, I decided to go the Help & Support Forum route, traditionally populated by angry, semi-literate Neanderthals that use emoticons and swear a lot. Which it was. Only this time they were joined by a teeming throng of bitter, desperate regular folk caught in a quagmire of corporate indifference, their cries disparate but the crux being the same: GET ME OUT OF HERE! Not a good sign. Page after page of anguish read like an online script of Hieronymus Bosch’s Hell and I was right there at the top: Hell’s Hell.
Pessimistically, I posted a newbie complaint and shortly I was visited by Stevetaylor and DannyB01, lamenting my predicament whilst nurturing their own. And as I basked in self-pity I watched it demoted from prime position as even newer sufferers were added. Within minutes I had become a veteran, like Christopher Lee at the end of Taste the Blood of Dracula. Old ladies, students, even web professionals were getting sucked down into the vortex in real time. What chance did I have? Would I ever see iPlayer again? Or even an email? Religion suddenly became a viable concern as all hope slipped away.
And then I thought of Nibs, as one does in a crisis. He is the Elite Republican Guard evangelist of failed services: Dropped a delivery? SEE YOU IN COURT! Shabby marketing? SEE YOU IN COURT! Thread count a bit low on them T-shirts? SEE YOU IN COURT! NO-ONE SCREWS WITH ME!!! SEE YOU IN COURT! AND I WILL WIN!!! I kid you not, this is his mantra and it works. Because now this is what you have to become in order to get what was standard in the Olden Days. Remember them? The Olden Days? When we didn’t have Customer Services because it just happened off the bat, without question? When a little man in overalls would turn up and fix the internet after a cup of builders tea and you’d pop a couple of bob into his top pocket after? Of course you don’t. Because that particular nirvana has been systematically eroded from our consciousness, leaving only the flotsam and jetsam of crud in its wake. So don’t ask me how I managed to post this. Please don’t. Or I’ll see you in court.
Our weather, whether we like it or not, is the great leveller. Just as we were throwing sprinklers into deep storage and preparing to watch our green and pleasant land morph into parchment, the heavens opened and did their traditional holiday middle-finger salute for the full term. And that, of course, is how it should be. Lulled into a false sense of security by March’s clement efforts, we needed to be knocked into place by forces we have no control over whatsoever lest, God forbid, grown men whipped out the shorts and their womenfolk allowed it. In public.
Like the metaphoric horse, your average Brit is inexplicably drawn to water at this time of year. Whether it be heading towards it at 6mph on a snarled artery of choice or watching the educated elite slug it out on the Thames, we sure like it wet. So hats off then to plucky Aussie Trenton Oldfield, coming as he does from climes more temperate than our own, for stripping off and mucking in at this year’s Boat Race. Never mind the fact he was a bit miffed about, er, something or another: The man got wet and that’s all that matters. Welcome, Trenton: Now, deal with the rest of the year.
Consequently, it’s no surprise that Race Weekend is the busiest of the year for most pubs on the main drag and the Idle Hour, conveniently located a coxswain’s piddle from the river, is no different. So when all hope of fleshy exposure is dashed against the cruel rocks of climate, the good folk of Barnes head indoors for a restorative sharpener and watch the hardy on the idiot’s lantern. Great for business but staff are run off their feet, tempers fray as service struggles to meet demand and, at the end of play, everyone’s as shagged as the rowers (ahem). Good thing we’ve got our internationally renowned sense of humour to pull us through, eh? And as we down those optimistic Pimmses and fancy French rosés , we learn to put aside our grievances and laugh at the absurdities of life instead of having a pop or flinging ourselves into the nearest river in disgust. It may not have the desired impact but it’s a lot more fun. Damn straight.
The more intrepid Bank Holiday reader may be interested in this: I note that 100 years on, fans of failed liner Titanic are off to pay homage to Mr Cameron somewhere deep in the Atlantic. For somewhere between $4,445 and $9,520 per person. Now, call me old-fashioned but this is devotion to the cause way above and beyond: A simple heads-up on Twitter seems to suffice for most politicians and the monies spared could go some way to improving security at public events, particularly in this our Olympic year. It’s not rocket science. I wonder sometimes, I really do. Perhaps all that water’s made them soft in the head..
What a shame. The past seven days have thrown up more blog fodder than usual as the hapless pilots of our land have steered us into Pastygate, Granny Taxgrab, a phantom fuel crisis and the splendidly-monikered Peter Cruddas taking bungs for No.10 access. But, if you will forgive me, this week I’d like to focus on something a little closer to home. The ill-conceived, boozed-up tripe you have come to know and love will be back next week: You have my word.
Very sadly, friday saw the last day of trading at Idle Hour Barons Court. It was a day I know Nibs was dreading, not merely because it was the end of an era, but also because all the hope, energy and love he put into making it look and feel so special was scythed down into administration, arbitration and all those other things beginning with ‘a’ that, by their very nature, are the polar opposite of soul. And, let’s face it, soul is what you need in spades to get these things off the ground in the first place.
I’m feeling for my little bro right now. In the ’90’s I watched him blossom after a prolonged training period in America, where he learned the hard way how to marry personable service with efficiency. After a few minor hiccups over here he poured everything he had into Idle Hour Barnes, which he turned around from being a grimy backwatering hole to a much-loved local hub. And despite fierce competition (never a bad thing actually, sharpens the resolve) it remains more popular than ever to this day. Not one to rest on his laurels, he branched out on more than one occasion: Putney, Henley-on-Thames and finally Barons Court. All way better than your average gastropub but the problem they shared is that there is only one Nibs. I’m trying not to be mawkish here but the facts speak for themselves: Dilute the talent and the most remote suffers. It’s a brutal truth, made worse when you consider the human cost of loyal staff, goodwill of investors etc.etc..
So, now he’s back down to what he does best under one roof and my gut tells me it will soar. As you may have read elsewhere in this shower of drivel, there will be an extension in place by the end of the summer, a spanking new website, some stunning new wines on offer and, best of all, he’ll be there to give it 100%. And, on a more personal level: Hang in there, bro. You’ll bounce back, you always do. And I’ll keep on writing the bollocks. It’s what I do.
Goodbye Barons Court. You were a magnificent ideal. You had the courage to aim for the stars against all the odds and in your short time you gave a lot of people something to remember. And like so many of the great romantics you died beautiful and you died young. Now, upwards and onwards…
It seems that finally, unexpectedly and mercifully, the good weather landed last weekend. And what better way for yours truly to spend it than to head over to Idle Hour Barnes and enjoy a few sherbets on the roof with my younger and lesser sibling. And when we weren’t taking apart the relentless attack on pubs by successive governments, he showed me the plans for the soon-to-be extension which will double the covers and annihilate those wretched lavatories. So, more of you will get in for Burger Monday but less of you will be able to ‘create room’ unless you bring a bag or get creative.
Now, the relationship between ‘what goes in’ and ‘what comes out’ has long been a bugbear for those in the hospitality industries. The latter demands significant landmass by law and yet yields next to nothing in return (when I say ‘next to nothing’, I mean, of course, nothing of salient value. Don’t make me spell this out.) The former, on the other hand, is the meat and potatoes of profit and loss which, at some point in the proceedings, ends up with the latter.
So what’s to do? When margins are tight, where would you compromise? A dilemma one of our most loved TV personalities is probably not experiencing right now:
Housekeeper : Mr Cowell, I think there’s someone in the conveniences.
Simon Cowell : Never mind that now, I’m on the telly.
Housekeeper : No, really. I think there’s someone up there. Will I ring the Police?
Simon Cowell : Yes, of cour… Er, no, actually. Leave this with me.
Housekeeper : Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir.
Simon Cowell : Max! My Man! Slight snag. Apparently there’s someone upstairs trying to break into one of the traps. Could you give me my position on this one?
Max Clifford : Armed intruder or crazed fan?
Simon Cowell : Crazed fan, I think.
Max Clifford : I see. Ok, Simon, don’t panic. Would you say it was like something in a horror film?
Simon Cowell : Yes, Max, I would.
Max Clifford : Excellent! Sure they’re not armed?
Simon Cowell : To be honest, I haven’t checked.
Max Clifford : No need. Probably a chick with a brick. In one of your least profitable rooms. I’d turn in if I were you.
Simon Cowell : Thanks, Max.
Max Clifford : Don’t mention it. Goodnight.
I was, of course, making out that Nibs isn’t going to provide somewhere for you to ‘drop the kids off’ for comic effect. It’s part of my weekly remit. To make you laugh but keep it topical. And you have my word: The Porcelain Bus will simply be relocated, not removed. Unless it contains a crazed fan with a brick, in which case he will put in a swift call to Max and leave the rest to the bizarre powers of tabloid journalism. But I very much doubt it will come to that. Or will it?
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.
Nibs: Thanks. It means a lot.
Me: I know…
Boy, I’m in a mood. The thieving car insurance gypsies* I generally use without batting an eyelid have raised my premium by 21.39380268313%. Now, ordinarily I am predisposed to taking a slight annual hit because, despite my never having made a claim, I am happy to help out anyone who is prepared to jaywalk the M4 in order to provide for their families: Good on ‘em, or at least what’s left of ‘em. However, this year’s astonishing price hike has tipped me over the edge in a kind of Michael Douglas/Falling Down stylee. If only the ineffectual, middle-class sop that I am could pick up an AK-47, stroll into Insurance House, Basingstoke and spew bullets about the place, I surely would. Trust me.
But we don’t, do we? Being British, and instilled with values we don’t quite understand from a time we never lived through, we just take it. Again and again. I rang up Nibs to express my dissatisfaction with the status quo but he was doing battle with his own personal nemesis, the inkjet printer:
Nibs: They deliberately make them so they break and the IT departments just cash in. I’ve just spent £30 on inks and £30 on support and it still doesn’t work. Bastards! BASTARDS!!! And don’t get me started on the till.
Me: What’s up with the till?
Nibs: Same bloody thing. They force you to use their crappy hardware that breaks 50 seconds after they deliver it and then charge you £300 callout to have a look and £200 per hour to fix it. We’re in the wrong game, bro.
He’s right, we are. Because we are both victims of The Squeezed Middle. That wretched, unrepresented state we get labelled with by politicians when there are no better words for being screwed over. It starts in the supermarkets, filters down through insurance and services and takes a scythe to our pay packets along the way. Suddenly we’re all scrapping at each other (when in fact, we’re all on the same side) and the only ones smiling are the string pullers. And you can only reach them if you’re prepared to ring a premium rate number and stay on hold for longer than it takes to grow a beard. It’s enough to make you, well, jolly cross actually.
So what’s to do? I shopped around for a new premium in a fit of pique but after speaking to a couple of brokers I finally understood why these people have your balls in a clamp. Because the alternative is actual contact, albeit only verbal, with the kind of human detritus that diminishes the quality of your life by its very proximity. Screw it, I’ll pay the difference: JUST….GO….AWAY!!!
Hold up, just had a text through. Apparently I’m due £25,000 compensation for that accident I had. Now, as much as I’d like to chat..
*cleared with Viz Comic & Romanian High Commission