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Tom Hodgkinson: 'As a family, we go to festivals. And work'


The Sex Pistols, brilliantly, attacked the holy trinity of the modern economy: work, shopping and holidays, that is, paid employment, consumption and paid-for leisure. In "17", Johnny Rotten sang: "I don't work, I just speed, that's all I need," adding, with pride, "I'm a lazy sod." "Anarchy in the UK" complains that our Queen's "future dream is a shopping scheme", and in "Holidays in the Sun" he sneered at those who take a cheap holiday in other people's misery.

Well, when it comes to holidays, I am with him all the way. Our children are now 12, 10 and seven, and so far I have managed to avoid booking a package holiday in the sun. I have been tempted, to be sure: in January, while languishing in the gloom, I started hunting round for summer holidays. The photographs of sunny villas on Greek islands, unspoilt beaches and happy smiling children looked most alluring on my laptop as I sat in my cold Exmoor study.

But they all seemed to be rather pricey, not cheap at all, as Johnny Rotten had supposed. The cheapest seemed to be about three grand. Add another grand in spending money, and factor in income tax on what I would need to earn to get that four grand and you come up with £6,000. Well, that's not really possible.

In any case, holidays generally turn out to be pretty disappointing. Travelling en famille is rarely fun. Airports are bad enough if you are alone. And isn't the holiday soon a mere memory, a fantasy that serves only to make grim reality all the grimmer when you return to it?

What we do instead as a family is go to festivals. And work. This year we will have set up an Idler Academy tent at five festivals: Orchestra in a Field, Port Eliot, Wilderness, Shambala and Voewood. I play the ukulele and promote the joys of idleness. We put on lectures and classes on Greek philosophy. We sell books and T-shirts.

As long as the weather is not too miserable, these festivals can be great fun. Unlike the culture-free beach, there is plenty to interest the adults. And instead of being alone in your nuclear family, you are together with friends. You can talk to grown-ups, it's wonderful to catch up with old friends, and the children can be let loose. These days the only time I see my children at these events is when they ask me for money. In general, festivals are wonderful, safe playgrounds for children: no cars, lots of stalls, lots of fun.

Having said all that, we sometimes wonder what on earth we are doing, putting ourselves through all the work that these festivals involve. The logistics are daunting, to say the least. We wake up worrying about urns and trestle tables at five in the morning. Wouldn't it be easier, I sometimes think, just to go into the office every day, take paid holidays, and go to the festivals as a punter? Work and consume. No tax returns. No risk.

It seems that, tragically, the more strenuously you pursue a life of idleness, the harder you end up working. My efforts to avoid conventional employment have led to being overwhelmed with unconventional employment. I mean unconventional in the sense that it doesn't earn money. When I set out on my working life, my avowed intention was to work little and earn a lot. Instead, the precise opposite has happened. I am working every day and all the time but seem to be permanently brassic.

It seems I am not alone in this. Many of my middle-aged friends – the ones who made the mistake of becoming journalists, artists, musicians, writers, actors and entrepreneurs, rather than just going into the City every day, or joining a corporation and working their way up the ladder, or working in the pensioned paradise of the State – have similar complaints: they are working their butts off but seem to be poverty-stricken.

The conventional path suddenly seems appealing. "I'm the idle one," says my friend Stuart, who has a Wodehousian job in the City where he works for an insurance firm. "A good lunch every day, home at 5.30pm, paid holidays, and I watch the rugby at weekends."

Yes, when it comes to work, shopping and holidays, I have successfully got rid of the second two. But not the first. I comfort myself by remembering that I have my freedom, my autonomy. Could I sit in a boring office every day for 40 years? Probably not. This is my fate and I should count my blessings, I know.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'