Recently, Dame Verity wrote a blog about enforced idleness. It resonated with me because I too confess to finding it difficult to ‘do nothing’. In my family, my female cousins and I are the first generation of women to go to university, and then work pretty much constantly, with breaks to have children – or not as per individual choice. I often reflect on how different my life has been from my mother’s. She gave up work the day she got married, as most women did in those days. She was always busy, and I remember a time when we had neither central heating nor a washing machine, so housework took up a major part of her day when we were small. She knitted beautiful items for us all, and worked complicated tapestries.
As we grew older she did a lot of voluntary and charity work, including setting up family planning clinics in the part of London where we lived. I assume there was a significant pool of housewives in her position who could offer their services for similar causes. Now, of course, the demographic has changed completely, and only bankers’, tax lawyers’ and footballers’ wives seem to be able to afford the luxury of not going out to work to earn a living. As I rarely mix in these circles, I am curious to know whether these women are fulfilling the same role that my mother did two generations ago, i.e. supporting the local community and offering their services to help those less fortunate?
The cynical side of me assumes that these people are far too busy having lunch, shopping, planning exotic holidays, spending time with their personal trainer and attending their salon to ensure that hair/nails/face are always at top notch. However, this is actually none of my business. Part of me is probably simply envious, but the part that really fascinates me is the idea of a life of leisure.
I just don’t think I’ll ever be any good at not quite doing anything. Maybe I’ve inherited this from my father. I remember him in the last month of his life, celebrating his student granddaughter’s birthday, and borrowing a hefty tome of F R Leavis from her for some bedtime reading. No fluffy male equivalent of chick lit for him, just something to get your teeth into, and definitely no time spent preparing to meet his Maker. One time we were watching a TV game show, unusual as my father rarely engaged in such frivolity. There was a female assistant whose role, apart from providing some eye candy, was undefined, to say the least. Suddenly, he exploded with rage. ‘That girl’, he shouted, pointing angrily at the screen, ‘does exactly nothing!’ Heaven forbid I should be classed in the same category.
The other day I was given an opportunity to test out this doing nothing business. Courtesy of a generous group of friends, I was treated to a wonderful Ayurvedic body massage, followed by a face massage.* The massage included a 15 minute spell in a steam cubicle, and later I was left alone with soothing music as the face pack hardened. So I had plenty of time to be idle.
I have to say I really rather enjoyed it.
*Details of the health clinic available on request..