Never start on an expedition without the trusty thermos
Paul and I have many things in common, and one of those is the passionate pursuit of the idle life. We like slow. We like quiet. We like pottering and wasting time. We like stopping and chatting. Paul is a champion chatter and can talk to just about anybody about anything, at great length. We never go to the movies, or to restaurants, because we just don't feel like it. We like messing about in the garden, and if we are doing a job, we stop a lot to make tea, or because it's wine and cheese time.
When we go out somewhere, we take a picnic and a thermos, and a picnic blanket and some rugs and some cushions, and sometimes a book. Then it is an expedition, which is exciting, because who knows what will happen? We planned an expedition on Sunday. We planned the picnic, and what we were going to bring, but not where we were going. When we got in the car we still didn't know where we were going.
"Where are we heading?" I asked.
"No idea!" said Paul, happily.
We meandered aimlessly up the river, going by all the back roads and looking at the boats and Paul told me about his little boat and where he had moored it, and when I asked what it had looked like we were driving past the boatyard where he used to work on it, so we turned in and mooched around the quiet Sunday afternoon yard, with its litter of ropes and lines and piles of scrap, paint tins and the old tractor that tows the boats up the hard. Paul showed me the little clinker-built boat that was like his, and told me about the working bees they would have on the boats that turned into parties at which more drinking than working was done. We talked to a nice old man about his cray boat that he fishes from out of St Helens, we inspected an old Chinese junk being smartened up and repainted, we watched the old boats slowly rusting into the ground in front of our very eyes.
Further up the river we discovered Patricia's Beach, a little spit of sand and bush. Just big enough for a picnic blanket and a nap while watching tiny birds in the flowering tea-tree, cormorants and seagulls flying by, and the white sails of yachts tacking up the river. The Tamar is a tidal river and we watched it come closer and closer until we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and packed up to come home.
I remember I was going somewhere with this tale, but there has been so much meandering I have temporarily lost my bearings.. loafing and idling - yes, and the value of doing nothing. This expedition is was one of the more energetic ones we have undertaken. Sometimes we walk a hundred metres from Paul's mountain cabin and lie on a giant boulder for the afternoon and listen to the birds. After twenty years of sitting on a mountain listening to birds, Paul can actually speak Bird, and he tells me what they are saying. Today he rang me to tell me that the birds had been yelling that there was a snake, and he went outside, and sure enough, there was the snake. It takes a lot of years of idling and loafing and listening carefully to learn to speak Bird. Since I have had my verandah built I have been spending many hours watching and listening to my city bird friends. I can recognise them all now, by their calls, and have noticed that some of them are seasonal. Who knew? Birds say different things at different times of the year.
Another wonderful thing I have started to do up on the mountain is to find out what the wild flowers are called, and write a list of when they flower. Paul has set up his microscope so I can look at the flowers in minute detail. I have discovered that a single wattle blossom looks like a bouquet of orchids under the microscope. It is a whole new world of marvellous.
There is a whole world of busy out there for those who want it. There are endless ways to spend money in order to have 'fun'. Me, I love to spend what time I have to spare lying about and listening to birds, idling away an afternoon on a picnic blanket with a cup of properly brewed tea. I say, if you are tempted by the idle life, create some space for loafing about. Turn off your screens and lie in a hammock. Find a small, absorbing, cheap hobby that takes you outside. Birdwatching, finding out the names of flowers, identifying edible weeds, looking at creatures in rock pools, star gazing, finding shapes in clouds, reading poetry under a tree.
Hammocks make idling at home into real luxury. I recently put up our old hammock between our new verandah posts, and life suddenly got so much better. Idling is now possible just a step outside the back door.
Idling and creatively doing nothing very much seems to be a bit of a lost art in a world devoted to productivity. But I commend it to you as a way of sinking slowly back into yourself, finding pleasure in the small and insignificant details of life and rediscovering the joy of naps.