Harriet Walker: 'Adjust your fun-dar. You are a human being not an automaton'

 

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I've been thinking a lot about spare time recently, which would imply that I've got plenty of spare time to think about and in which to think, which I don't.

Ostensibly, I don't have any spare time because I've just worked more hours than Methuselah lived on the launch of a digital magazine. But, having thought about it more properly during a moment that couldn't technically be described as "spare", I realise I've never actually had any.

Because what is spare time but a window in which you have nothing else to do? And there is always something else to do. Whether it's washing up, checking your email, making a doctor's appointment or fixing the coat-stand that fell apart in the middle of the night last week, crashing to the floor and causing you to sit up in bed screaming for your mum (I haven't fixed it yet), there's always some further claim on your leisure time.

This is why you must never say, "Oh, that's something I'll do when I get a minute," because you won't. You must say, "I will do this thing according to when I want it to be done in my incredibly sparse, thinly smeared free time." If it's going to Disneyland, it might not take you long to get round to. Fixing the coat-stand, however, might have to wait a bit.

This is why people with hobbies have the right idea. I've never had any and have always felt the lack. A hobby is just a crafty way of categorising something you want to do as something that needs to get done. And it's only our Lutheran, flagellatory and self-improving heritage that causes us to view hobbies such as needlepoint and handbells as any different to watching the telly.

And when you think about it, it does sound a lot better saying that you have to leave work on time because you have a Lindy Hop class to get to, rather than because you want to go and lie on the sofa.

The tactic I have developed is to tell myself that, if something isn't urgently pressing and imminent, it is no more important in the "getting done" stakes than the thing I'd rather do, which is probably far less efficient and far less helpful to society.

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to go for lunch. It was a decision that came after a day and a morning of sitting around eating cheese and watching films – good films, you understand, films that you could learn from, rather than your average Tom Cruise tat (though we haven't ruled that out).

It was the weekend; neither of us had anything that needed doing more pressingly than anything else. The way to codify tasks is to work out whether people will shout at you if they don't get done. If, like me, you live alone and your parents or the public-health cleaning squad aren't about to burst in unannounced, then washing up, vacuuming and taking the bin out fall into the category of "Yes, it needs doing" and "Yes, I'll feel better if I just do it" but ultimately, "No, it doesn't really matter if I go for lunch instead of doing it right now."

So we went for lunch. But both of us were stricken, because we felt we had overdosed on our ration of fun for the weekend. It's a sign of good parenting, I think, when you feel like you've used up your fun quotient, because it means you were brought up not to expect things to be non-stop fun. When you break that down, it isn't quite as miserly as it sounds: simply that life is hard, so don't expect to have a good time all the time. It's a lesson we all need to learn early doors.

But we racked our brains for a reason why we shouldn't do something nice, and fun. And all we could come up with was that we might feel more earnest at having done the thing that wasn't fun instead. So we went and ate pies in a café with a terrace that abuts the busiest road in north London. Now that's fun.

It's about adjusting your fun-dar, then. It's about telling yourself that you work hard and that you're a real human being and not an automaton. And that, every so often, you are allowed some fun, when there isn't a more pressing need.

That fun, in and of itself, is a hobby. And so are Sundays. So sit back down, put the telly on if you want, and let the vacuum cleaner stare at you balefully from the corner. It will have its turn on a cold, bleak weeknight evening. This time is yours. Enjoy it.

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