Real Living: Man's World

"WHAT you need," said my wife as I sat sighing in the kitchen last Sunday, "is a hobby."

She's right, of course. In these days of expanded leisure time, almost everyone's got a hobby, if not more than one. Look at the people on Masterchef. Not only do they have the hobby of cooking (remember, Masterchef is for amateurs only), but several others besides, so that Lloyd Grossman can say: "When not slaving erver a hot sterve, Julie loves nothing more than hanggloyding off the Cairngorms."

If I went on to The Generation Game, what would Jim Davidson be hilariously funny about? And just imagine my entry in Who's Who: "Recreations: none." My lack of a hobby must be the only thing stopping the compilers from putting me in, although, if pushed, I could come up with something. I go to the pub quite a lot, so I could say "appreciation of fine ales", or "involvement with the local community".

I'm aware of the argument that hobbies are for anally retentive, petit- bourgeois men who belong in a Mike Leigh play, but I don't agree with it. After all, Martin Amis has hobbies (tennis, chess), as does Prince Charles (he has nothing else when you come to think of it).

I've always been desperate to find a hobby, and I think it's nothing less than my duty as a bloke to have one. Otherwise what happens? You spend too much time thinking, and that's unhealthy for a man. Being known as a hobbyist carries the implication that one is decisive, busy and well organised. I'd like people to be able to say: "Andrew Martin? He's that journalist bloke. Big fisherman; keen ice skater too ... and has he shown you that cathedral he built out of used matchsticks?"

The hobby I eventually settle on will involve a lot of jargon, the beauty of which is that it stops you having to make proper conversation, which I find myself increasingly unable to do. People say "How are you?", and I just think: oh bugger off, will you? University's the time for all that existential stuff. What I want, like Mr Gradgrind, is the facts, and hobbies can supply these.

I love, for example, the conversation of golfers: "Dave's getting 180 yards out of his eight iron, you know."

"Really? I thought he could barely muster 150 out of a two wood, and by the way is it true that you halved the fourth with Jimmy on the 26th?"

But then again, maybe I'll never settle on anything. As a boy, I took up (and dropped) hobbies on an almost weekly basis, always with the idea of converting them into a glorious career. I dreamt of being the most glamourous stamp collector the world had ever known; or feted on all sides for the breathtaking quality of my trainspotting. But now these options are not open to me: anything that I take up as a hobby will remain a hobby, and I will remain a duffer at it, because I will have left it too late. (Have you noticed, incidentally, how those crown green bowlers are looking younger every year?) No, I guess I've got to face the fact that I lack a sufficient amount of the true hobbyist's primary characteristic: humility.

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