I watched a Ted Talk the other day (the perfect accompaniment to the washing up) which talked about the balance between work and leisure and how, contrary to how we might treat it, leisure can be just as tiring as work. What we need is some idleness. This is an idea I have subscribed to for a long time. I think I have become extremely good at idleness, or at least finding the time for idleness without sacrificing other important things.
Yesterday I had the day off work (I actually have this whole week off) and decided to have the kind of idle Monday that I occasionally need. I got up late, had a slow potter around the house, took a drive into Cambridge where I went around the bookshops, had lunch in my favourite cafe, and then came home to read the books I had bought and watched the football. When I tell people at work I have some time off coming up they always ask if I am doing anything. No, I say, not really. I’m not sure if they really get it, but they always say it sounds nice.
Days like that are really important to me. If you have ever decided to have a full-time job and simultaneously write novels then you will know how much time that demands. If you let it, those two things will balloon out and consume every minute you have. Which is why it is important to annex a little of it and do nothing. I am shameless in my nothing-doing.
I didn’t even mind getting caught in a four-way traffic jam around some roadworks in central Cambridge. That is the driving equivalent of doing nothing. I just watched people go by and listened to the radio. It was a nice day, a clear and bright sky, warm enough; best traffic jam I have ever been in.
Doing these things on Mondays is especially pleasant. You can’t pop out for a trawl around bookshops and a cafe lunch on a Saturday. Much too stressful. On a Monday though there is no one around. No crowds to negotiate. If I try and browse on a Saturday I am always in someones way. If I want lunch on a Saturday I’m not even sure I will be able to sit down to eat it.
Mondays are such a famous drag that it is brilliant to reclaim them. A slow browse of a variety of bookshops is one of my favourite idle pastimes, doing it on a Monday, doubly so.
And football, by the way, is the perfect idleness. It makes very few demands of you. For a couple of hours you can suspend everything and pretend that it is critically important whether or not a ball goes over a line. Totally refreshing.