Busy doing nothing
Yup, that’s me up at the top, putting my feet up with a parakeet.
But this is a rare moment. I can’t remember now what it feels like to have nothing to do. Even when there may be nothing that needs doing immediately, the awareness of long-neglected tasks can be oppressive. This is why one of my two most enduring fantasies* is [b]anal in the extreme: I am lying on the sofa in front of a roaring fire with a glass of wine and a good book, secure in the knowledge that every drawer is tidy, every plate and pot clean, every non-digital photo in an album, every email answered – and nowhere either inside or outside the house is in need of any attention. Even then, there is prospective anxiety over the glass to be washed up and the grate to be swept . . .
This is what happens when you are schooled in the discipline of deferred gratification at an early age. As you grow up and your responsibilities multiply, you realise that in theory you could end up with no leisure time at all.
People complain about the tedium of long flights, but to me they are a delicious licence to do nothing (or they were until recently, when airlines allowed the use of mobile devices after take-off). What could be more pleasurable than being actually obliged to while away a few hours watching inconsequential rubbish or reading?
And when things have been particularly manic at work, I’ve often longed to get stuck in the lift – on my own, preferably with my bag so I’ve got my book with me, and not in one of the glass-sided lifts, otherwise people would realise I was enjoying my enforced idleness, which wouldn’t be very corporate.
In brief interludes like these, you are protected from the blizzard of things to be done. For it’s not just a case that there is always something to be done; there are always a million things beckoning. As a result, even activities that require you to focus on just one thing become strangely restful. Meetings, for instance: it’s quite a relief to be expected to come along and give your undivided attention to the matters at hand, ideally removed from demands from outside. The only drawback is that unless you’re very careful, you’re likely to be acquiring more things to do. One of the reasons I used to quite like exams was that for the two or three hours that I was actually sitting them, I was free from the pressure of revising for the others.
So it’s not surprising that I find myself in complete agreement with Blaise Pascal’s famous dictum, ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’
* Just in case you’re wondering, the other fantasy has to do with me playing the Carnegie Hall, clad in midnight blue velvet.