Idle Eye 168 : The Ladygrape of Wrath

Wrestling myself into consciousness on Saturday morning I noticed, right there in the bed beside me, a bump I didn’t recall inviting in the night before. It had not been a dramatic Friday, for I’d only had a quick pizza with my friend Donald before making it home without a statutory flying visit to Wetherspoons. I did briefly consider waking it and offering it a cup of coffee until I discovered, to my escalating horror that, indeed, my guest had not muscled its way back after an ill-advised drinking session, but was actually attached to my person. And as if that wasn’t appalling enough, to an area not traditionally associated with the finer points of romance.

A more intimate inspection was clearly requisite, one that involved my shaving mirror and a rudimentary attempt at yoga. And there, as in one of those early Victorian birthing daguerreotypes, was a minuscule extension of myself, nestled deep within the nucleus of an unattractive forest of hair and flesh. It was approximately the size of a hazelnut and seemed perfectly at ease with its newfound location, to the extent that it made me feel like a low-rent Henry Morton Stanley having just stumbled upon Dr Livingstone. I almost apologised for disturbing it.

Several online diagnoses later brought me to the unhappy conclusion that I was going to have to radically alter my diet, drink less Pinot and more water, do exercise and shower every five minutes just to appease the little bastard. For this was to be no symbiotic arrangement, at least as far as I could tell, which I bitterly resented. And as its correct medical moniker was way too long and disgusting for me to use on a regular basis, I decided to call it Samantha by way of softening the blow. In retaliation for this perceived slight, she made it nigh-on impossible for me to sit down for three days.

Unless I’m steaming, I’ve never been particularly deft at making new acquaintances. I tend to linger behind the protective cloak of shyness until somebody else makes the first move. The doctor at my GP’s, however, was unfettered by any such inhibitions. She and Samantha got on famously, chatting away as if they were ensconced inside a nightclub lavatory and had known each other for years. I lay on my side, facing the acid green wall with my knees pressed up against my ears and wondered at which stage of the appointment they might notice I was still present. After they’d exchanged phone numbers, I was told that Samantha and I would have to learn to get along, and turfed out into the rain.

To be fair, she’s eased off a bit on the searing pain. But frankly, I’m getting sick of having to make all the effort. If she were a flatmate, I’d have words. But she’s not. She’s a thrombosed external haemorrhoid. Try telling that to your mates and staying fashionable, bitch.

Idle Eye 127 : (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

The trouble with hitting your middle years, apart from the incessant failings of the body’s risible infrastructure, is the creeping awareness of one’s own mortality. No-one tells you precisely when that middle point is either. It would be terrific if, at the exact median of your time on Earth, they gave you a ticker-tape parade with a brass band and silver watch and street bunting or something. With a desperately shy homecoming queen landing you a big kiss and an iced cake with ‘NOT LONG NOW’ piped onto the top. But they don’t, largely because they’re terrified of being sued for getting it wrong. These are litigious times.

And yet, as we march relentlessly towards the final curtain, the signs are all around us: That unexpected Alzheimers mailshot, being offered a seat on public transport (despite not being saturated in wee), feeling at ease in a Wetherspoons, caring about socks and the longevity of footwear, enjoying a butterscotch. All these incremental details are nature’s way of letting us know we’re on the slide, and that we had better start making the most of what we have left. It isn’t pretty, but what is when you don’t know where you are on the scale? Should we start making arrangements? Making that list of inappropriate tunes to be played out on the day of our memorial? Or should we just leave it to chance? It’s a lottery, make no mistake.

I’m working in a church right now, filled with saints and sacraments, effigies of the martyred Christ and his attendants, and endless reminders of the transience of existence. Just to give myself a breather, I take my sandwiches to Brompton Cemetery, alone and surrounded by the gravestones of those who, like me, used to take a lunch break somewhere before the reaper claimed them. The difference being that I’m the only one around who can clock it for now, until it’s my turn to be posthumously observed by some beardy berk with an artisan bloomer stuffed to the gunnels with halloumi and alfalfa sprouts. Even the stone carvers who meticulously chiselled out their client names & places of departure into marble or alabaster are no longer with us. You can’t fight it: It’s the inevitable cycle of life and death, and we’re all on board.

So what’s the point here? Perhaps, like Sally Bowles’s ex-flatmate Elsie in the movie Cabaret, it is to live every day as if it were your last (there is very little in that film that will not inform your every move at a cataclysmic level). Do something brave: Go see Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey? Who knows, it might be life changing. Eat something weird. Fly off to somewhere you’ve never heard of and stay there a few days. Walk to work. Chat to strangers. Do yourselves a favour just for once. Because the halfway mark may be long since gone. And you don’t get a second chance.

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 65 : The Mercy Dash

Ladies – This week, I’m afraid I’m going to have to drop my metrosexual guard. Sorry, but sometimes a man has to write what a man has to write. It’s mean and it stinks, but so did Clint and you liked him in spades.

Gents – If you’re lucky enough to be under forty, the following will not be applicable to you. My advice would be for you to either hang with the ladies until next week or read on and learn. If, however, you’re in the clan, I sincerely hope I can be of some assistance and perhaps any mutual pain shared can be mutual pain halved. I’m referring here to the perennial dilemma of any male of advancing years: The Mercy Dash. Back in the day, we could all skull a skinful, lose our wallets and/or keys in a Wetherspoons rest room, engage ourselves in a pathetic fight on the High Street and still make the last train home. And we still can, right? Wrong. Not any more. Picture this & weep:

It’s 7.15pm & you’re in the Idle Hour, squeezing in a sharpener. Just the one. You’ve had a text informing you that the dinner’s on. But, oh no! Jamie’s just got another one in and you need to milk him for info on his electrician. So you down it to be polite, but deep in your heart you know you’ve already hit your ceiling. And now, in the words of Irving Berlin, there may be trouble ahead. Yes, home is only three stops away but it might as well be on Jupiter for all that matters. Because you’re going to have to do the Mercy Dash. You know the one: When you’ve made it to within twenty metres of your own front door but the bladder thinks it’s already inside. So you pick up speed (not too much, you’ve been there before and remember what happened then) but this only exacerbates the problem. But if you slow down you’ve got a farts chance in a wind tunnel of making it to the bowl unscathed. The agony of choice, cut short by an unwelcome telegram from the crumbling infrastructure of your poorly architected damming. You break into a sprint, simultaneously attempting to release your keys from Ground Zero. And then, by some miracle of science that would have Brian Cox eating out of your hand, you find yourself in the Splash Bay, but even here your problems are far from over: Someone’s left the dump door down and your belt is on maximum hold. And you pray to whatever God you believe in, like one of Mel Gibson’s Aztecs or Gareth Gates, that you will not be forsaken at the eleventh hour. And He listens and He is merciful, as once again your golden arrow hits hard its porcelain target. And all is well with the world…

Ring any bells? Of course it does. See you in the traps on Boat Race Day and a very happy Easter to you all.