WHAT are you doing this weekend?
Don’t you hate that question? I do.
I feel pressured by it. I feel like it comes with implications. I feel there’s just the merest suggestion that unless my answer involves trips away and parties and gallery openings and festivals and, aye, Sunday’s even busier, I’m going to be outed as a social inadequate.
I feel, ultimately, that an honest reply – “probably just watching Grandstand in my underpants” – is in some way unacceptable.
I blame the age for this.
In 21st century Britain, it is no longer enough to have an alright job and an okay place to live and be quietly getting on with the business of being reasonably content.
Rather, it seems to me, if you’re not seen to be constantly having the time of your life, you’re in some way seen to be barely living at all.
Free hours must always be filled with engagements, arrangements and Sunday morning half marathons. Spare time is no longer your own. It exists only as a means to have fun. Publicly.
It’s keeping up with the Jones’s post-Millennium style. If you’re not Twitter-shouting about an awesome cake-tasting/drink-quaffing/theatre-watching/party-crashing experience then frankly... dude, what’s the point of you even existing?
It is with that in mind I’d rather like to tell you about my fortnight’s annual leave: I did nothing.
I went nowhere more exciting than across the border to West Yorkshire, and I had no experience more thrilling than making a chicken pie.
I wasted two whole weeks going to bed early, getting up late, and spending the hours in between pottering about the flat.
And thoroughly enjoyable it was too.
I read a lot. I listened to a whole bunch of records. I carried on with a novel I’ve been writing for the last five years. I’m almost on page two now. I looked out the window, went on walks, watched series one of Auf Wiedersehen Pet on DVD.
I kicked a sponge ball about the living room. I read some more. I refused to shave.
I cleaned the bathroom, dusted the lounge, tended the plants. I even did some cooking – inspired not by Jamie Oliver dreams but by her look when, as she arrived home from work that first Monday evening, I inquired from the sofa what was for tea. Not a wise move, that.
I went to the shop, each day, and bought a paper, but then barely read it. And, in a brief moment, I wondered if this self-imposed exile was an unwitting experiment in some sort of solitude; a paradoxical attempt, as advocated by various Victorian philosophers, to broaden horizons by looking inward; a kind of (non)journey of discovery.
But really it wasn’t any of those things. It was just two weeks of doing important stuff you never normally get time for otherwise. Like watching On The Buses clips on You Tube.
That was my annual leave, such as it was. Gloriously, grandiloquently boring, and marvellous too. I can recommend it.
What? This weekend? Um...attending a leaving party then visiting friends in Manchester since you ask.