How To Be Idle

When I took life vows on a boat in London my former spiritual director gave me a book. I can't imagine why. It 's entitled 'How to be Idle' by Tom Hodgkinson.

The first chapter calls upon us to stay in bed when we wake up. The second chapter harangues the miserable puritans who invented the work ethic and 9.0 to 5.0 working hours. Animals and aristocrats don't live like that. 'The mania for consumer goods has created a deadly culture of overwork', he says, 'lets bring fun back into work.' So chapter three is about the delights of leisured people such as pop stars who can experience the creative flow that comes from a lie in. A long elevenses is time for 'a little smackerel of something' as Pooh bear had it. The author commends Robert Louis Stevenson's view that school children learn more about life when they are bunking off than they do in a classroom Noon is time for a hangover, which may lead you into a visionary state. Was that when William Blake saw 'a universe in a grain of sand'? The slow movement has much to teach us about lunch. Extend it for several hours. Don't let a speed-addicted life destroy the pleasure of eating.

By now, of course, one can afford to be ill. The author suggests that 2.0 pm is a good time for this. Perhaps a better word for it is 'convalescing'.

The nap comes at 3.0 pm. I think 'power nap' sounds better. It certainly makes me feel better. The Prophet Muhammed is said to have taken a nap in paradise, so it must be O.K. It's best to have a nice squashy bed for this if we are still on earth.

4.0. pm is tea time. Those of us in the UK must not let this great British institution be eroded by all those wretched countries that replace the tea break with performance targets, timetables, and a quick coffee. A plague on them! 'One drinks tea to forget the world's noise' writes T'ien Yi heng. 5.0 pm is Ramble Time. In Italy they call it Strolling Time. Hodgkinson thinks the prophet Ezekiel followed this practice. Keep your eyes open as you walk and a different world will be opened to you. Sherlock Holmes became a great detective because he loved to loaf like this. 6.0 pm is time for the first drink of the day (but when does the day begin?). Just a celebratory aperitif, you understand. Fishing, of all things, is suggested for 7.0 pm - where does this man live? Well, he claims that Winchester Cathedral has a stained glass window of just such a fisherperson. We have to defend fishing against city toffs who glower over their papers in a tube train at 7.0 pm. 8.0 pm is time to light up one's pipe. Oh dear, oh dear! Yes, he knows that 'smoking kills', but to make his point he quotes Richard Klein ('Cigarettes are Sublime' 1993) who explains that tobacco was needed to calm us down. So find something - anything - to calm you down. 'The 9.0 pm chapter is about The Idle Home: 'Without stirring abroad one can know the whole world; without looking out of the window one can see the way of heaven' Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching 4th c BC). Taoists believe 'Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail.'

I really should not mention the following most distasteful chapters. 10.0 pm :The Pub. 11.0 pm: The Riot. Midnight: The Moon and the Stars. 1.0 am: Sex and Idleness. 2.0 am: The Art of Conversation. 3.0 am Party Time... Ah! There's no need to excoriate me for the next ones. 4.0 am:Meditation. 5.0 am: Sleep. 6.0 am: The Holiday 7.0 am About your Waking Dreams.

As I say, I can't imagine why a spiritual director should give me such a book. Nor can I imagine why I have revised how I keep my vow to maintain a good rhythm in my life... I hope you like this blog. I wrote it during my new lie-in time.

Posted at 02:26am on 3rd October 2010
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