Country Diary: 12
The Idler’s Editor, Tom Hodgkinson, has retired to a Devon Farmhouse to write a book. Here’s the twelth part of his diary.
THE DIGGING of our vegetable patch has been long and laborious. My original plan was to finish the digging in November and leave the soil to settle down before planting in March. Well, three months later and the patch was still not finished. This digging is hard work. First you have to cut the grass of the top of the soil, then plunge in the fork or spade and turn over a great clod of earth, removing weeds, stones, roots and brambles as you go. So I decided that it was time to call in the pros: my friends Alan and Rupert had both offered to help out some months ago, and finally I had managed to pin them down. The difference in working speed was remarkable: Alan and Rupert got stuck in and after an hour or so of grunting, the job was finished. It had taken them one hour to achieve what I could do in a month. We sat down in the kitchen and drank a beer, an Adnams , which I buy by the case from Majestic Wine Warehouse in Barnstaple. William Cobbett wrote that “beer puts the sweat back in” and certainly it never tastes so good as when drunk after an intense bout of physical labour.
YOU MAY SAY that all this toil is arather unseemly for an idler. Perhaps you may even accuse me of selling out, by throwing myself into back-breaking work. Well, no. I have always maintained that idlers can work, that they like work, but that they tend to do it in short “paroxysms of diligence”, in the words of the historian EP Thompson. One, two, even three hours can be pleasant and satisfying. When work beats you down is when it becomes mere drudgery in the service of another. The routine, the sameness of every day, every week, every month, the lack of variety: this is what kills us. Self-directed work, undertaken when we choose, and which serves our independence: to me, this is fully compatible with idleness.
ALTHOUGH it’s not strictly relevant to the countryside, I just wanted to mention a really wonderful band that I’ve come across lately. They are The Libertines and they have just sold out three nights at Brixton Academy. Two weeks ago I had the good fortune to catch one of the small gigs that they will often spontaneously organise and it blew my mind. The music is in a tradition that we could put very roughly as Beatles-Undertones-Clash-Smiths-Pogues and to see them play is a spine-tingling joyful experience. They also really are libertines in their behaviour: the singer, genius Peter Doherty, spent a few months in jail last year for stealing to get drug money. He has a son from a one-night stand, writes poetry and diaries, can vanish for days but has real charm and intelligence. Elusive and approachable at once, Doherty is using the net to create an extraordinarily intimate relationship with his fans, who read his confessions, announcements and reflections on the band’s forum. The band also put up jam sessions and new songs, recorded direct into the computer, on to their website. This means that a five am recording session can be heard at 5.30am on PCS from Tokyo to Surbiton. Doherty and his song-writing partner Carl will invite their fans into their flat for an acoustic session. This enormous generosity of spirit is, I think, what has led to them gaining such a huge following with little conventional marketing spend. They are managed by Alan McGee who is reportedly very excited by them and with good reason: they are starting a revolution.
A MONTH ago we were sinking in mud and water was even seeping in through the lino on the kitchen floor. The gutters leaked, water oozed into the dairy, the cars got stuck in the mud, the children would not go outside. Now the sludge and rain has gone to be replaced by freezing cold and frost. Getting Arthur to go outside is still very tough: he dramatically wraps his arms round him self and says “it’s freeeeeee-zing”. I did manage to get him out last week and we had a big bonfire of all the brambles and bits of wood I have been chopping and clearing. But he soon crept back in and hassled me to set up the “putier” so he could play Cbeebies games on the net. The other day I said to him, “Arthur, which do you prefer? London or the country?” Without really looking at me and as he passed he said nonchalantly and in a tone which suggested that I really should know the answer and why was I bothering even to ask: “London.”
PUB NEWS: The pub has been a bit too cold to spend much time in lately and has turned into a painting workshop where Arthur and I make conceptual art out of bits of wood and newspaper clippings, and it’s where I restore shelves (it’s best to start out simple in the restoration game). I have framed the opening speech made by Jock Scot last year, using a charity shop frame. This is a good tip for thrifty idlers: buy charity shop frames and put your own pictures in them. I also found two bar stools for ��3.50 each in South Molton. However, now that the table has been moved to the kitchen, the pub is barless and table-less. Perhaps with my new found practical skills I will be able to knock one up.