The Effort of Idling

Tom Hodgkinson of the Idler writes entertainingly in the Standard about his return to London after twelve years of self-sufficiency in the English countryside:

Country life is beset by disasters. Chickens get eaten by the fox. Home-grown lettuces get eaten by slugs. The cabbages get eaten by the pony when it breaks into the vegetable patch. Pipes freeze. The bees die. Homemade bread gets burned. The bore hole pump goes and you have no water for three days. The neighbours complain because you organised a gig in the village hall with Alabama 3 as the headliners. The authorities investigated us when we had our pigs illegally killed at home. Ten years of sipping martinis in the Groucho Club does not, sadly, prepare you for the self-sufficient life.

I’ve loved Tom’s epistles from the countryside in his Country Diary blog at the Idler website. It was precisely the kinds of disaster mentioned above which made it so entertaining. You’re on his side throughout, but it’s the comical floundering of an idealist townie that made it such a pleasure to read.

Such predictable disasters are why I try to avoid the countryside wherever I can. Too much hard work for my liking. Just daily, it’s always a chore to chisel the mud off one’s Oxfords and to get the smell of dung out of one’s three-piece suit.

The proffered alternative — running a trendy shop in a capital city — doesn’t do much for me either. Hobnobbing with Michael Palin and Rhys Ifans looks like a hoot, but the organisational woes would be far too much hassle for this idle gent.

My advice, Escapologists, is to keep things simple. Rent a nice little apartment in a non-capital city and live on a part-time paycheque or — ideally — on the fruit of your independent labours.

Perhaps the most important lesson in Tom’s latest move is that the idle life does not have to be engineered with big, showy lifestyle changes. Total relocation is rather drastic. If you want to work less and to shrug off the mind-forg’d manacles, you’re better off looking for smaller ways to shift your current lifestyle gradually into a idle-friendly way of being.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

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