As the long winter nights draw in and Call Me Dave’s austerity measures begin to bite, you’re probably wondering, like me, how the disaffected rural peasants of pre-Revolution France managed to stay afloat when hard times came a-knocking. Of course you are. Well, the answer is two-fold: You cross-subsidised, which loosely meant getting another job, such as rat-catching, ash-collecting for laundry purposes, or you became a tétaire (my particular favourite), an astonishing job for the boys which involved sucking mothers’ breasts to start the flow of milk. Probably a long queue at the Town Hall for that one.
Alternatively you did nothing. Nothing at all for months and months, and there was no shame in this: Men and women literally curled up together like gerbils in squalid basements throughout the land for up to fifteen hours a day, and by doing so kept warm and lowered their metabolisms dramatically, thereby reducing the need for food which was in scant supply. In short, it was survival by hibernation.
‘All very interesting’, I hear you thinking, ‘but what has this got to do with the Idle Hour?’ Well, funny you should ask. You see, we can learn a lot from our French friends of yesteryear, but before you cover yourselves in dung and head for the cellar, think on this:
The word ‘Idle’ has long been associated with sloth, from louche dandy fops to Wayne and Waynetta, and yet if we dig a little deeper we find that to be idle was a pragmatic form of self-preservation; a temporary shut-down in preparation for the physical working months ahead. These are the very qualities Nibs had in mind when IH Barnes was born ten years ago, and for his part, self-preservation seems to have worked very nicely, thank you. For my own, I can vouch for the exact same from the perspective of my teenage exchange year in the town of Foix, just north of the Pyrenees, when I shared a room with a goat in lieu of central heating. This is not one word of a lie (unlike most of this blog), and when the time came for me to return to the UK, I wept like a girl for that goat. As she did for me.
So perhaps it’s high time we reclaimed the word in much the same way that we did with the Union Jack from the Far Right. Come on, Hammersmith and Fulham! Our ancestors (Johnny Foreigner actually, but work with me on this) didn’t sleep together in their own filth for hundreds of years for you to do nothing. Time has come for you to stand up with your pint of Harveys and say:
‘I’m idle and proud of it! Tomorrow may be another day but there’s just enough of this one left for me to raise a glass to Wills and Kate, to Nibs and all who sail with him, but most of all to those foreign types who did bugger all and got us where we are today. God save the King!’