Idle Eye 79 : The Ashes

In the summer of 1992, I wrote a song for a young lady I was rather keen on who had returned to Australia, never to revisit to these shores. I was in my twenties, addicted to the romantic impossibility of the situation and, no doubt, getting off on its Byronic agony. The song was called ‘The Ashes’, and it allowed me the juxtaposition of an obvious cricketing analogy with what it might have been like to scatter the metaphorical chattels of our torn relationship across her homeland. I finished it with this:

Take back the Ashes, Jane
Cup them in your hands
Throw them in the face of my jealousy
and out across your land
And when the dust comes down again
blackened by the English rain
A hundred thousand miles will disappear
I can see it all from here…

I bring this up because yesterday Nibs, myself and my two sisters did the real thing. Not with the subject of the above, I hasten to add: I gather she is alive and well and enjoying life to the hilt. No, this was with the earthly remains of our father, who made it back to his cherished home inside a rather fetching purple box. Together with a neatly typed tag stating the exact moment of his departure: I think he would have approved.

It was one of life’s stranger moments, carrying around what was left of the man responsible for putting us on the planet as if we were sticking him out for the recycling. Which, in a curious way, I suppose we were. And, during the memorial service, the vicar bigged up his love of animals and suggested we scatter his beloved dog, Annie (who was in a carrier bag at the top of the stairs) at the same time. Sort of a BOGOF deal, I guess. So, fuelled by a bottle of 1990 Dom Perignon, we charged a small trinket with bits of dog and bits of Dad and threw them out across the Welsh valley that was the commanding view from his garden. Everyone had a go, said a quick goodbye and then we poured what was left into the brook that ran through it. It felt right and proper, particularly after a few more sherbets.

Now, alcohol and cremated fathers are traditionally not the most comfortable of bedfellows although, God knows, we did our best. Perhaps if we had known there was an incoming wind, we may have chosen our moment more carefully: We did not. Perhaps he was reluctant to leave: We ignored this. Let’s just say that to the outside eye, when the bags were empty and we sat together enjoying fine wine and nibbles, it must have looked like an Egyptologist’s lunch break. So bless you, Dad, you pretty much got what you wanted: 80% back to nature, 20% stubborn stain. Excellent odds, I reckon, and certainly enough to get you through them gates. See you on the flipside xx

Idle Eye 78 : The Underhamster

Call me old-fashioned, but nothing signifies the blossoming of summer quite as much as a massive jug of Nib’s enhanced Pimms and the Brockwell Park Dog Show. Preferably both. In that order. Particularly as this year’s theme was Space Aliens, and there is nothing man’s best friend enjoys more than being forcibly dressed in Lycra to resemble Princess Leia and then paraded around a circle in 31° heat to an audience of inappropriately-clad humans. Really, they absolutely love it. And so do the dogs.

Now, I’ll be straight with you. I’ve long been pretty miffed with this blanket adoration of the canine. The little prima donnas have always benefited from the lion’s share of love, not only in person but also online, in print and in reputation. And yet their long-serving cousin, the hamster, has had to be content with any bullshit leftover scraps he can muster. It’s just not right. Even his minority status has been grammatically marginalised by the heavyweights (See title: I’m redressing the balance).

So anyway, there I am underneath the blistering sun like a low-rent George Smiley, checking out the competition on behalf of the small and furries, when I turn to the adoring crowd for purposes of reportage…

to be honest, i’m also getting a bit worried about shoehorning dogs and hamsters in with the pub, but i’m working on the presumption that you’ll all be off your tits on idle hour pink wine and you won’t really give a toss

…and, immaculately-groomed, sweat-immune ladies aside, I was tsunamied by Man in Summer doing what he does best: Wearing shorts without a top. Why does he do this? All those grotesque folds of flesh cascading over inexplicably long short trousers, as if to demurely protect the public from a full assault of thigh whilst the elephant in the room avalanches down from above. As I said earlier, it’s just not right.

However, there was an element of underhamster here which I totally approve of. Mercifully free of Posh and her vile ilk, this peculiarly British sideshow fully embraced the very antithesis of fashion and came out smiling. In laymans terms, it was a bit shit but that’s what we loved about it. Dog’s Got Talent, Prettiest Bitch, Best Puppy, Golden Oldies, what’s not to like? And the Public Address system was pure British Rail circa 1975, all feedback and sibilance that made us teary-eyed with nostalgia. Even the Mayor was there with his absurd gold chain and straw boater, giving out certificates and treats to anything with four legs and a pulse. Class.

remember last week when i said i’d do a shameless advert for the pub amongst all the dog stuff? and i promised i’d make it all tie in? well, i cocked up, so could you do me a favour? just tell nibs you really liked the dog blog and i’ll buy you a large glass of one of his responsibly-sourced biodynamic wines. cheers xx

Idle Eye 77 : The White Heat of London Town

In my capacity as sole roving representative of the Idle Hour London, occasionally it behoves me to have a quick shifty around the capital and report back on stuff that makes us live here in the first place. Not regularly, granted, mainly because I can’t be arsed, but often enough to kick me into gear. So today I decided to amble along Shaftesbury Avenue and take in a bit of the West End, partially to check out competition but mostly because I had to get my eyes re-zapped. Long story which I won’t bore you with, so here’s the short one: They screwed it up. Bastards.

But never mind that: Summer has finally arrived, and London comes alive when nature decides to cook it a bit. Pond life/Street life/High life mesh together here, all inextricably-linked despite themselves. Soho teems with the very drunk, the lost, the gullible, the predatory and the shit-scared. Charing Cross Road houses the mad, the bad and the furious. Cambridge Circus offers up farmers tans, builders cracks, cellulite and beer guts. St James, the well-heeled gentleman clubber, quality artist and purveyor of life’s finest. And Piccadilly, the endless flow of cheap hats, shiny new sunglasses, St George’s flags and that evil tourist mecca on the corner, outside which stands a life-size Robert Wadlow (8ft 11ins) in National Health specs, mocking me on my journey to Optical Express.

All around, for those who care to look up and notice, is architecture unique to this specific quarter-mile: Red brick with white detail, four storeys and counting, rising above vehicles of all flavours, car, bicycle, taxi, rickshaw, bus. It’s an inner-city cauldron, loved by many, loathed by some, but never at all compromised. An acquired taste, idiosyncratic but quite unlike any other major city on the planet. To be honest though, quite often it just pisses me off. For sure, I’ll leap about in an ‘I heart London’ shirt if Boris bungs me a few quid, but usually I’m too busy searching for a seat on the redeye into town, doing the daily grind and shovelling in something toxic afterwards to perceive any specific locational benefit. And I’m not alone: It’s why He created the suburbs.

Now, Nibs is no fool: Barnes is on the cusp of inner cool and outer respite, which is probably why he picked it for his little boozer. When you fortunate West Londoners tire of West End carousal, he’s only a skip and a jump away for you to keep going, far from the madding crowd yet close enough to be part of it. And unattractive exposed flesh is unlikely to be an issue unless you really want some.

Ok, I’ve done my bit. I’m actually gearing up for the Brockwell Park Dog Show this Saturday, over which I will miraculously stitch canines doing tricks’n’stuff with a shameless advertisement for the pub. God only knows how, but I’ve got a week to sort it.

Idle Eye 76 : The Talented Mr Reynard

I was making my regular journey to the train earlier today when something stopped me in my tracks. And before you get out of your prams, it wasn’t the sciatica or any other dreary ailment that prohibits the fluid motion of youth. No, this was far more interesting: On the pavement not one hundred yards from my flat lay a vast pile of fox business. Not, as you might imagine, lying there passively like a couple of ancient churros. Far from it. These were super fresh and neatly stacked, resembling a miniature log rick to be used at a future date for some demonic purpose or other. And it got me to thinking that your fox has evolved in ways that couldn’t have been imagined when I was a kid. Back then, they were timid, seldom-seen creatures that you may occasionally catch a fleeting glimpse of when you visited your nan in that countryside. Not any more: His urban cousin has got streetwise, people-savvy and bold as brass. And I love him for it.

Let me give you an example: Earlier this year, the evergreen Daily Mail ran the story of Tod, a fox who got barred from his local pub in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Impressive, huh? I only wish I could have seen his tab. But the naysayers all came from the ‘vermin’ camp, and consequently poor Tod was prevented from enjoying what was rightfully his after a long day of wrestling pizzas from parochial wheely bins. And the delightful sickofthiscountry was so righteously indignant that such a wretch wasn’t properly toilet-trained, she almost dropped one of her own off online.

Now, I know this might upset some of you country folk, but the Idle Hour is furry friendly. Yep, all disease-ridden social pariahs can pop in any time they like, and down a Jäger or two in their own good time. And the foxes are welcome as well. Oh, and anyone who has a problem with this can have a chat with me outside: Just because we city types don’t have an arsenal of profitable livestock to protect doesn’t mean we can’t extend a common courtesy to strangers. Otherwise you other lot, Dubrovnik Dave and Sarajevo Steve, can swing for it. Them’s the rules these days. And while we’re at it, instead of getting all Theresa May about our hirsute brethren, how about we capitalise on their inherent skillset and integrate it into our own? Imagine the possibilities:

Sly, highly-motivated worker required for hen house security position. Must be slim, furry and hated by the right-wing press. Penchant for sleeping infants a bonus, as is the ability to create a pyramid of turd just wherever. Enjoys running, fast food, medieval fables, Yorkshire bitter and squealing after midnight like a girl. Rates negotiable. Start when we’ve mended the French doors…

Message? What we fear is not necessarily the enemy. And put your bloody rubbish in a bin.