Idle Eye 119 : The Things He Left Behind

In November 1922, Howard Carter & Lord Caernavon peered into the newly discovered tomb of Tutankhamun for the first time in over 3000 years, inside which were treasures beyond their wildest dreams. An incredible collection of objects were piled high in every chamber, patiently waiting for their passage to the afterlife where the owner would be judged on the quality of his offerings. Sadly, this was not the case when Chris’s House Clearance turned up at my dad’s gaff in Wales last week:

Chris:  Can you see anything?

Helper:  Yeah, loads. There’s about 80 teddies, some Xena Warrior Princess videos, a packet of Fisherman’s Friend, quite a lot of cardboard and a vibrating bed.

Chris:  A vibrating bed?

Helper:  Yep. And it’s got a remote. One for Sue Ryder, I reckon. Dirty sod.

He wasn’t far wrong. We all get assessed by the things we leave behind, and poor old dad didn’t do himself any favours in this department. And whilst I feel duty-bound to protect the modesty of my late father, it must be said that we, as a family, drew some not inconsiderable hilarity from the tale of the aforementioned bed. Apparently he bought it from a door-to-door salesman, on the understanding that it had massaging pads that would take care of his aching muscles as he lay recumbent. And for a few extra pounds, he could also purchase an attachment that opened the curtains at roughly the same speed that the head zone would raise itself up to a 90 degree position, affording the end user a magnificent view of the Welsh countryside as he made the transition from Nod to the new day. Which, of course, he did.

And yet it is some of the less significant items that remain the most poignant. The electronic alcohol sensor tucked discretely inside his medical bag, the WW1 ‘Magnapole’ compass that must have belonged to his grandfather (with his initials crudely scratched onto the face), the letter he wrote to his own father declaring gratitude and love despite their fiery differences, the half-eaten bag of Sports Mixture that came back from the hospital with his belongings. All these minuscule moments that say more about the man than what the lawyers cooly refer to as ‘chattels’, as if a life only has meaning by its monetary value.

I let Chris fill his boot(s). There was nothing at all left that really mattered, that I felt strongly enough to hang onto, that wouldn’t be served better by a new owner. But I did spend half a day sifting through photographs and selecting what I figured was an accurate, if edited, representation of a career spent largely under the public gaze. And a couple that weren’t. Ones in which we were actually touching when I was a child, something that didn’t happen much afterwards. And the big stuff I left for him. He’ll probably need it out there.

Idle Eye 118 : The Beginning of the End

A black moth shot out of my underpants as I was getting dressed this morning. Not in itself an event of seismic import, but a salient reminder of the passing of thrusting alpha-manhood nonetheless. It must have been rather ancient, as presumably younger moths would frequent the undergarments of more potent individuals, those who would favour Abercrombie & Fitch and the like over the Heath Robinson-esque monstrosities I squeeze myself into every day. And this ageing lepidoptera, exhausted from a lifetime of headbutting lightbulbs, would have given thanks to whatever God it believed in for this sedentary resting place, secure in the knowledge that it would remain undisturbed until its final day came. But sadly, it was not to be.

The symbolism of the moment was not lost on me: The moth, as any fule kno, is a portent of death. That, and that you don’t do dry-cleaning enough. I was understandably perturbed (the very thought of having to waste a Saturday morning bagging up laundry was too appalling to contemplate), but dealt with the issue in a manner fitting to anyone of a certain age familiar with micro-managing problems on a day-to-day basis: I forgot about it. But there is only so much evasion one can muster before the full weight of the inevitable crushes down hard upon the souls of the very simple: That moth was telling me something, and that something I really didn’t want to know.

I leapt onto Facebook for some light relief, as is my wont in times of distress. And up there at the top of my feed was one of those irritating Suggested Posts, this one from from the London Psychiatry Centre, suggesting I should do their wretched quiz to see if I was a one-in-four social pariah who drinks more than they recommend. Of course I was (the alternatives were patently absurd), and next thing I knew I was getting a personal pledge from Dr Christos Kouimtsidis to help me on my journey towards a healthier lifestyle.

Now, I have never met Dr Kouimtsidis and, to be perfectly honest, am unlikely to anytime soon. So it is doubtful I will get the opportunity to explain to him (through whichever slurred words he can understand), that the reason I am right up there on his critical list is because a moth has been residing in my pants for God knows how long, that my days left on Earth are clearly numbered and, this being the case, that perhaps I might choose to spend them cradling a bottle of something half decent rather than being bored witless in a Harley Street waiting room. At prices that would secure the former by the pallet load. Death, in whichever wondrous shape and form it has in mind for me, will bloody well come when I so choose, Dr K. And now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to the laundrette.

Idle Eye 117 : The Silence of the LANs

Way back in 1995, when Brian Eno unleashed his 3 1/4 second micro-ditty on the new Microsoft Windows startup, he unconsciously escalated the extinction of the human race. Bold, I know, but think about it: Ever since then, we have acclimatised ourselves to endless pings and pongs (none of which last long enough to be truly irritating, though still being the aural equivalent of nails down a blackboard), reminding us that an email is in, a lorry is reversing or the filter on your water softener needs changing. It’s the price we pay for living in an increasingly computerised world, where machines take the drudgery out of those tiny, mundane tasks we used to just do unthinkingly.

And now we are once again free. Free to linger twenty seconds longer when we put out the recycling, free to eat another bun before leaving for work, free to swap the ringtone from Coldplay to Kylie, and free to take the time to consider our freedom. And if we forget to do this there will always be another sonic nudge, composed by a teenage digital guru of whom we are supposed to have heard, denying us the luxury of our own free will. Silence has become the flaccid hangover of yesteryear, rather than an essential neutral space from which all ideas spring forth. And slowly, we are morphing into the cabbages we now have more time to chop:

BING BONG!!! Based on the median temperature taken in your area over the last eight months, it is an above average day outside. You will not be needing your walking boots or Echo & the Bunnymen trenchcoat.

SPLOSH!!! Based on nocturnal activities over the last twelve hours, we suggest you hang on to whatever fluids you have available. However, immediate release of solids is recommended to facilitate motion of any kind.

QUACK QUACK!!! This light-hearted alarm call suggests that you have an amusing, alternative persona and would be fun to go out with of an evening. You, and 15,000,000 others just like you.

UUURRR UUURRR!!! No, it’s not an air raid. Time to call your mother.

FWHO-HOO-HOO HOO-HOO!!! Somebody you’ve never heard of has just texted you on the train. Either that, or you are shit at whistling.

All these little intrusions incrementally chip away at our ability to act for ourselves. We know this and accept it without resistance. In time, we will inevitably become pathetic, dependant amoebas, like die-hard listeners to the Radio 4 comedy slot, hopelessly reliant on whatever dross is out there yet powerless to affect any meaningful change. Ironically, we do have the ultimate say: By turning off our devices, flipping our laptops onto silent and taking the reins of our lives for once. By denying the fat controllers of our local area networks the autonomy they so desperately seek by merely flicking a switch. But we don’t. Because they haven’t made an app for it yet.