Saturday, 10 October 2015


Getting away from it all is a phrase we use to mean "taking respite from the tedium of daily life", and the phrase a change is as good as a rest describes the supposed benefit of doing so. Holidays: how much better it would be if they only meant a change of enjoyment instead of respite.

Those who are in regular paid employment will recognise this scenario: doing the company's bidding in exchange for periods of paid leave: it's a fair-enough deal as long as they don't mind spending the greater part of their time doing the company's bidding. Those who are not in regular employment or who are effectively unemployed - like me - may do as we please (means permitting). But but this puts us at risk of doing nothing in particular and, since I am keen to do something with what's left of my time on Earth I like to think of getting away not as escape but as opportunity; to refresh my outlook and check my assumptions.

To this end I look for what it is about other places that makes their peoples' lives different from our own. (How and why do Spaniards eat dinner so late yet still manage to sleep and get up for work in the morning?) During my recent trip to Canada I observed that the way of life is similar to that in the UK, even to the extent that the ongoing national election campaign mirrored the party politics and issues of those at home so faithfully that I could have joined in the debates. Nevertheless the undercurrent of North American culture did tug at my feet and dislodge the tendency to "feel at home". Complacency thus banished, I reflected on how best to resume life back in the UK and I made a resolution to be more focused on those things that are important to me. But resolutions are easily made: application is the thing. "A routine is what you need," said my partner.

A routine sounds boring - and so it may be - but there is a theoretical advantage to having one: a small but regular allocation of time dedicated to sorting out life's essentials can free up enormous amounts of time to spend on other things - such as making oneself and others happy. A priority list is essential, of course: no use using the allocation up on insignificant stuff - you might unexpectedly run out of day before you get around to what really counts. So here was my plan: spend each morning writing. It's the thing I really want to do but don't because I procrastinate.

My new routine worked well: a few hours at the keyboard, in my pyjamas, set me in a good mood: the 'achievement' freed my conscience of the guilt that accompanies procrastination. That first afternoon, feeling pleased with myself - and it being warm and sunny - I walked over to the Northern Quarter, stomping ground of youthful hipsters - to whom I am thankful for the widespread availability of craft ale and authentic coffee - where I spotted two splendid new cafes. I resolved to come back one morning for coffee - before remembering that that my mornings are no longer free for dalliance. The following morning a social obligation necessitated showering, shaving and dressing; the morning after that a software problem distracted my attention for an unnecessarily long time - and so on. By Saturday morning, my resolve had weakened and I was easily persuaded by my partner to go for coffee at one of those newly-discovered places. Unfortunately, they were closed: young hipsters, it seems, have no reason to get up before noon at weekends. So we compromised and went to a predictably reliable chain cafe. It was there I made the case for a two-week sojourn in Athens.

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