Idle Eye 150 : The Lure of the Land

Buying the freehold of a property is usually one of those below the waterline affairs, a bit like getting the drains done or lancing the cat’s boils: You sort of know it’s the right thing to do, but there’s scant instant gratification and invariably you come away wondering why you bothered. It does seem frightfully grown-up, and when you mention it to grown-ups who’ve already done it, they all go to that grown-up place where grown-ups go when they’ve grown up and start throwing stuff at you about longevity of leases and the like. Which only serves to confuse you further and makes you wish you’d blown it all on wine gums.

Pretty much anything to do with real estate is breathtakingly dull. From the fatuous language employed by conveyancing lawyers to justify their staggering fees, to the endless bureaucratic leeches waiting in line for their share of the silver, everything is precision-tailored to bore the crap out of you and grind you into acquiescence. Even the figures bandied about at point of sale are so completely beyond your frame of reference, you find yourself internally knocking off a few noughts in order to make sense of them:

Lawyer:   Thanks for coming in. Just to clarify – We have prepared and lodged a memorandum of transfer, checked for easements against existing title certificate, conducted relevant authority and chancel repair searches, discussed buildings insurance liabilities with current landlord, checked official copies and covenants relating to ongoing maintenance of common parts, and some other shit you wouldn’t understand. If all the above is in order, we suggest a sum in advance of £500,000 would be appropriate for services rendered to date. Help yourself to a Freddo Frog on the way out.

See? I mean, how do you respond? By the time you’ve worked out what the first half means to you the layman, the suggested sum will have effectively doubled. Bizarrely, by taking the initial hit you’re quids in. Which is why these SOBs remain gainfully employed and are always on holiday in the week of completion, whilst you are frantically checking the Land Registry for any long-forgotten relatives who may or may not own bits of Norfolk currently in tender to developers.

With the above in mind, I’ve been doing a bit of developing as well, and I don’t mean pictures. What if, in the vein of that bloke Dave who set up his own bank, Idle Eye breaks the mould with a no-nonsense, one-stop shop for people who want to buy stuff without all that suffocating obfuscation? Hear me out:

You:  I’d like to buy this, please.

Me:  Of course! It costs £x

You:  You have been most helpful. Here’s a cheque.

Me:  Thank you. I shall bank it forthwith. Enjoy your purchase.

It’s not hard. Really, it isn’t. And who knows, it might even catch on. After all, there’s an election coming up.

Idle Eye 149 : The Road Less Travelled

There is a certain issue that instils terror into the hearts and minds of those of us who, for whatever reason, have failed to reproduce. And it stems from that most innocuous of sources, the supermarket, where we like to believe we can conduct our business from behind the veil of relative anonymity. Which, to a point, we can. However, just when you think you’ve come through the process unscathed, an atrocious ritual humiliation lies in wait at the tills. A poison bullet with your name on it. A five word bombshell that suggests that you are pitifully lacking as a human being:

“Are you collecting School Vouchers?”

It is a question both pertinent and unspeakably cruel, for it must be answered on the fly and will be absorbed by many. Rejection of the wretched things is tantamount to saying “I do not care for children. Consequently, I shall not be providing a brighter future for them with my wine purchases.” There will also be a phalanx of affronted mothers behind you, boring fiery holes deep into your soul with the sheer force of their unbridled contempt. At which point, you have two choices:

1)  Announce to the rapidly-assembling crowd that you were struck barren at birth after an unfortunate circumcision accident, and that collection of said vouchers will only add to the escalating mountain of angst you have already accrued. If you can weep a little, so much the better. Just don’t get out the goods if asked to prove it. You’re no Dustin Hoffman. 

2)  Take them. Take them and run out into the High Street in order to create a massive paper rick of lost hopes and dreams. Then light a match and sing ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’ in Scottish, like in the Wicker Man. No-one will like you for it but they probably don’t anyway. Sod ‘em.

When I was working in Egypt, I was asked on several occasions how many kids I had and whether they were boys or girls. Initially I tried to set the record straight, but soon found out I was on a highway to nowhere. To them I was, at best, a curio, so I decided to lie in order to get by. I invented a beautiful wife, four sons and two daughters, and by the end of the season had become quite jealous of myself. Why didn’t I have a life like that? And how would I keep my new-found family in the style which we had yet to become accustomed when I got home?

Standard existential stuff and nonsense. But in those frozen moments back in the supermarket, I often wonder how my other self would have felt, watching a middle-aged man bundling booze into a bag and denying the next generation a decent start in life. And if I’m honest, I’d probably be in the vanguard of those livid mums, silently berating myself for having taken the road less travelled.

Idle Eye 148 : The Eisenhower Matrix

It’s harder than you think, being your own boss. Try it sometime and see for yourselves. Traditionally I have been pathetic at organising my day, which is why I usually get other people to do it for me and hopefully throw in a few quid at the same time. But right now, I’m out of the plane without a chute and unless I sort something out pretty quick, I’ll be land pizza before you know it. There are, however, little tricks you can employ to create the illusion of structure, some of which I shall outline below for anyone in the same predicament:

1)  The old ‘leaving the flat’ ruse is a bit of fun – Get dressed in a hurry, swig down a mouthful of instant coffee (leaving the rest) and, if you’re feeling bold, give yourself a quick peck on the cheek. Then walk around the block a couple of times and come back in, panting and complaining bitterly about the inefficiency of whichever rail network you weren’t on.

2)  Create a few formal breaks. These will prevent you from atrophying at the computer and provide the added bonus of allowing you to catch up with all the latest gossip. It’s important to stay in the loop.

3)  The Reward System, albeit rather primitive, is a great incentiviser. That call you made to Virgin Media Customer Services took a while, right? Have a sweetie. Made it through thirty emails about erectile dysfunction and/or PPI? Have another sweetie. Anything whatsoever to do with the Inland Revenue or TfL? Crack open a bottle of single vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir. Actually, make that two.

4)  Stay focused. Tempting though it may be to stray with another episode of Inside Health and discover you’ve probably got shingles/leg ulcers/something irritable going on with your bowel, you’ll only spend the rest of the day on the med sites and give yourself PTSD to boot.

5)  Draw the curtains. Because the people you can see outside are almost certainly having more fun than you, will be rich in Vitamin D and couldn’t give a monkey’s that your delete key has packed up again. For them, life is one big picnic. For you, it’s an eternal game of chess. Against Magnus Carlsen.

6)  Nothing of interest will come through your letterbox and no-one of interest will ring the doorbell. Ever. Hold your nerve.

7)  Facebook and Twitter are not your friends. They are the Trojan horses of the internet, willingly invited into the workplace where they bed in and beckon, stealing your time and reason. Like Mata Hari. With cats and babies.

After these, you’ll need an endpoint. Something to neurotransmit a strong signal to the brain, telling it to pack in the chores and loosen up a little. Sex, recreational drugs, alcohol and repetitive pop tunes have always been popular with the young, but if, like me, you find yourself in your twilight years, The Archers seems to work okay. In conjunction with the above.

Idle Eye 147 : The Ant

People say that your world shrinks or expands in direct parallel with your immediate environment. If you so happen to be the Foreign Policy Minister of a suitably distressed nation, your brushstrokes will, by default, be rather broad. If, however, you are housebound for whatever reason, the tiniest of details can get magnified beyond all recognition, often becoming the primary focus of your day. And ever since I decided to seismically alter my own life parameters by switching an active job for one that ties me to the computer, my home kitchen has become an exotic new tundra, populated by minuscule, indigenous creatures with whom I must learn to cohabit. My favourite being the common ant, three of which I have become quite fond.

It starts at lunchtime. The minute that multipack of American-style bagels is in town, Dominic and Samantha get active (yes, they have names), darting up to and away from the chopping board without so much as a by-your-leave. They do get on my tits a bit, so I have developed an early warning system, whereby I knock several times on the worksurface and usually they get the message. Obama, on the other hand, does not. His remit is to push the envelope, which invariably he does by hopping up to the cucumber slices and flicking me a V. Fair enough, but I most certainly would not care for him to end his days in my sandwich. So I have words. Stern ones.

A grown man reprimanding a single ant for insubordination must appear somewhat irregular to the uninitiated. But rules are rules, no matter how diverse the cultural boundaries, and Obama would do well to take them on board. Being a big softie, I tend to let him off on the proviso he doesn’t nose-dive into the coleslaw. Because then I’d just get plain ugly. As well he knows.

Yesterday though, he pushed me too far. I had torn off the Marigolds and set them down by the sink. It’s my way of saying ‘in a few seconds I’m coming through with a J-Cloth. Steer clear.’ Dom and Sam totally got it as per, but Obama took umbrage and stood his ground. How exactly do you alert an over-cocky formicidae to the real and present danger? That with one brutal left swipe, I could create more havoc for the little shit than Hurricane Katrina or that big tsunami a while back, without batting an eyelid? Even the clattering of expensive Japanese knives and the sonic deterrent that is Milton Jones on Radio 4 did nothing to stem his tenacity. So I flipped. Crouching down so that our eyes were level, I blew him straight into the washing up bowl. And then apologised profusely.

There’s been no sign of him today. He’s definitely not dead, because I rescued him with a spatula and dried him down with kitchen paper. Probably sulking with Dom and Sam, I’d imagine. But we’ll work something out.

Idle Eye 146 : The Parcel

In a mad fit of enthusiasm for all things Idle Eye, I purchased a camcorder off of the eBay last week. Not an expensive one (£40) and not new either, but something to document our relentless march of progress nonetheless. When the initial rush of a successful bid had simmered down, I checked the spec on the reviewer sites, only to discover that the very model I am shortly to own has been universally panned:

  • Poor quality video/Image stabilisation a joke/Irritating control scheme
  • Focus awful/Shocking battery life/FOUL AND PESTILENT software (sic)
  • Unattractive picture/Useless low light performance
  • Horrible LCD/This small piece of obscene machinery hardly does itself justice

And so on. But at least it works and comes with an attractive carry case, so I paid up and waited eagerly for shipping details. These were duly sent in a cheery email from the seller the very next day. I was given a reference number, and a website I could go to in order to live track my parcel from Derby to Crystal Palace. Now, according to Google Maps, this is a journey I could feasibly walk in 43 hours if I kept to the M1 and M6 (sleeping arrangements are not mentioned but I would imagine I could do without, spurred on by the thrill of new ownership). So the fact that my camera was to be delivered by one of the UK’s premier courier services could only mean I would be in receipt within a day or two, surely?

Not so. When nothing had turned up for over 100 hours, I had a quick gander at my status. Here I found a bewildering series of green boxes, virtually representing the arduous trek my poor parcel is currently undertaking. According to its unique history, it was collected a week ago, then marked for despatch. The following day, something called a Hub Sorter scanned it and threw it onto a Hub Trailer. Next it was sent to a Depot, processed at same, and scheduled for shipment. The final box proudly declares it is now ‘Manifested for Delivery’. Manifested for delivery? It’s a camera, for Christ’s sake! Not a subversive piece of neo-Nazi agitprop!

This is the legacy of our once-proud Royal Mail, scandalously undersold to profit hedge funds and the like. Yes, it was a bit pants at times, but aren’t we all? And they were reassuringly pants, unlike the charlatans I am dealing with now. This lot have the temerity to suggest they are the messengers of the gods, begging the question: Which ones exactly they are serving? Tedius, the keyholder of infinite patience? Verbose, the supreme mistress of eternal obfuscation perhaps? Or how about Prophylacticus, the virginal numen of delayed gratification? None of whom are mentioned on the website, I note.

Slight addendum. As I put in the full stop above, the doorbell went. It was a thoroughly pleasant courier with a box, a smile and a beard. And winged sandals.