Do Nothing (AKA The Simple Pleasures)

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This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for ages but as this post will reveal I’m not the greatest at getting on and doing stuff.  This however is perhaps for different reasons to those explained by Liz over on her marvellous MargotandBarbara blog in this post Making things happen that she wrote today.  With the publication of that post I thought I’d write a companion piece here along the lines of something I’d been grappling with for ages which was don’t make things happen – Do Nothing !

Now a couple of years ago I went to the Do Lectures which was an incredible experience and one I keep meaning to write about (must get round to doing that) and I do have some semblance of organisation, well I say that, I have some electronic helpy things and a tickler system that is several months behind but I also have a garden that looks like the approach to Mordor, a house that has barely been touched since I moved here many years ago, post that sometimes goes months without being opened and a bike that needs some serious work doing to it.  My head might be full of grand intentions (it also might not) but to be honest I’m still trying to work out what I want to do when I grow up.

I’m often reminded of a conversation I had with one of my best friends at university which was slightly different to my girlfriend at the time although the sentiment was the same.  She said that although I was full of good ideas I’d never amount to anything as I was never going to put any of them into practice (this was eerily familiar to what my primary school headteacher told me at 10) whereas my mate said “Streety your epitaph will simply read – just could not be ar” In many ways that was spot on but of course I have been arsed to do lots of things over the years they just don’t necessarily mean much to anyone else.  Mindfullness is now a full-blown industry now and I don’t think anyone was talking about it all those years ago but as I wrote here I don’t think happiness for me will be found in the traditional approach to doing stuff.  It’s the stuff that is the problem.

Back in the day I wish I had come across a couple of books that have since very much became my bibles as they embrace the whole idea of taking pleasure in the simple things in life and in fact in How To Be Idle it lays out a whole manifesto on exactly that as follows:

  • The religion of Industry has turned human beings into work robots
  • The imposition of work-discipline on free-wheeling dreamers enslaves us all
  • Joy and wisdom have been replaced by work and worry
  • We must defend our right to be lazy
  • It is in our idleness that we become who we are; it is when lazy that we achieve self-mastery
  • Jobs rob our time
  • Productivity and Progress have led to anxiety and unease
  • Technology imprisons as it promises to liberate
  • Careers are phantasms
  • Money is mind-forg’d
  • We can create our own paradise
  • With freedom comes responsibility
  • Nothing must be done
  • Be good to yourself
  • Stay in bed
  • Inaction is the wellspring of creation
  • Art, people, life
  • Bread, bacon, beer
  • Live first, work later
  • Time is not money
  • Stop spending
  • Quite your job
  • Study the art of living
  • Live slow, die old
  • Embrace nothing
  • Know nothing
  • Do nothing
  • Be idle

The book (by Tom Hodgkison) then goes on to explore how to put that manifesto into practice by dividing the 24 hour day into chapters exploring how you can live a more idle and pleasurable life.  Each chapter is brilliantly researched and written from a social history point of view and many lightbulbs went off for me when I first read it.  It is both hilariously funny and incredibly thought provoking.  Accompanying this book is one that Tom also had a hand in, The Book of Idle Pleasures, in which there are 100 simple pleasures simply described covering everything from taking a bath, slouching, sunbeams, straw sucking, cycling, walking home drunk, yawning etc and one especially for Liz -procrastination which is described thus:

Jerome K Jerome once wrote ‘Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen’ and thus we enter the blissful world of procrastination.  When else are those few extra minutes in bed so utterly delicious than when you should really already be on your way to work?  I suppose you could start your homework right now and then have a day off before you have to hand it in but how much better to have that day off now before you’ve even started any work at all? Steal back you time from those troublesome errands and wallow in it, savouring every second.  I’ve certainly never found the extended edition boxed set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy quite as alluring as I did when the deadline for this very book approached.  But it takes dedication to learn how to procrastinate properly.  All deadlines must still be met or the theft of time loses its effect.  In fact the slogan on every work place up and down the land should be just that; ‘Minimum effort, maximum effect!’

The book is the perfect (but highly dangerous) addition to any bedside table.  As you read these books (and especially How to be Idle) you realise how many people across the centuries have espoused the idea of laziness as a positive for body, mind and society but for very obvious reasons they are not the philosophers or thinkers that you get taught about in school.  The Book of Idle Pleasures very much takes it’s cue from Delight by J.B. Priestley.  Now Priestley had a reputation as a bit of a grump but this view will be turned on it’s head by Delight in which he outlines 114 gloriously delightful simply pleasures from Fountains, Gin and Tonic, The Sound of a Football, Dreams, Smoking in a hot bath,  Escaping from time etc.  The book was published in 1949 and much of the pleasures have dated somewhat but the principles still remain and it contains within it the best Delight – the Delight in Members of the Secret Brotherhood….

…. if there were such a thing as secret brotherhoods, then most of us have occasionally met the kind of men who ought to be members of them.  They are men who give us the impression that they have deliberately turned aside from power and fame.  They are content to be comparatively obscure, to be known only to a small circle of friends and acquaintances, who do not hesitate to turn to them for guidance and help at times of crisis.  They are not failures, except in the eyes of the vulgar and stupid.  They may not be mystics, though I doubt if any of them are ever found with a materialist philosophy, but, like the mystics, their lives appear to be rooted in some other world.  They earn a living but never join in the general grab for prizes, possessions, fat jobs and bouquets.  Except when their help is urgently demanded, they are never quite with us.  They are friendly but never babblingly intimate.  From the standpoint of “Whos’s Who” and Fleet Street, they are nonentities; but in the circles where they are known, they are deeply respected and have much influence.  We feel they could have been rich, powerful, famous, if they had wanted to be; but preferred another way of life.  They are leaders who do not choose to lead.  On the other hand, they are never missionaries, fanatical propagandists, martyrs.  They are extraordinary men pretending, fairly successfully, to be ordinary men.  They appear to be having a rest in this life, or to be waiting for some signal that the bulk of us will never recognise.  There are never many of them, and perhaps we meet a true specimen of the type about once every ten years. And just as I do not delight in the powerful and the famous, who have been mostly ruined on the way up, so I do delight in these Members of the Secret Brotherhood, the men who have never started to climb and who seem to have looked in on us from some other and better planet.

I can never read that passage without a tear in my eye as I have met a member and it was my father and I wish I had known about the Brotherhood while he was still alive.  My epitaph may well read that I could not be ar but I hope that come the time I’ll be accepted into the Secret Brotherhood.

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One thought on “Do Nothing (AKA The Simple Pleasures)

  1. Pingback: Jerome K. Jerome: Idling and working « Rubber Tyres –> Smooth Rides

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