Tom Hodgkinson: 'Having successfully quit the rat race, I now find myself trying to get back into it'



After 12 years of country living, I am moving back to London. Having more or less successfully quit the rat race in 2002, I now find myself in the peculiar position of trying to get back into it. Bourgeois values beckon. I seem to be embracing what my friend Penny Rimbaud of Crass fame calls "consensual reality".

The move has been motivated partly by a desire to make a success of the Idler Academy, which is based in London, and partly by a desire to get our children involved in London schools. There is a wealth of exciting state schools in west London right now. Though by nature I am against state control of schooling, you'd have to be a bit of a curmudgeon not to recognise that huge amounts of talent and resources have been put into state schools over the past 10 years or so.

And really, without wanting to sound like too much of a breadhead, the move is about money. As Eric Gill pointed out many moons ago, unless the artist is to starve, he must engage with the London markets to a greater or lesser extent. And things are pretty tight on the old finances. I mean, I accepted a few years ago that I was never going to be able to afford to send my children to private school. But now it seems I can barely afford to send them to state school either. What with school meals, school trips, school uniforms, school donations and all the rest, you're talking five grand a year for three children. That's eight grand before tax, which is a lot of book sales.

So it looks as though I am going to have to try to earn a bit more. I used to believe that riches were embarrassing, uncool, a sign of having all the wrong values. And I still think that, for example, spending 30 grand on a car is the height of folly. But there's a limit. It would be nice, I guess, to afford to have my iPhone mended. It would be nice to fill the Idler Academy with beautiful second-hand books. It would be nice to take the children to a decent burger chain without moaning to them about being in debt and frowning in a theatrical manner when the bill arrives.

I've been reading On Rhetoric by Aristotle this week. Unlike his hero Socrates, Aristotle seems perfectly happy to defend bourgeois values. The purpose of life, he writes, is happiness, or, to use the original term, eudaimonia. This strange word literally means something like "being at one with your demons", and has been translated as "flourishing" to distinguish it from the bland, Brave New World-positive-psychology-influenced happiness movement.

To my surprise, the wise Aristotle, in one of his many bullet-pointed lists (I wonder what the Greek equivalent of the bullet point was. Perhaps "arrow point" or "seed of grain point"), mentions "wealth" as one of the conditions of happiness. The happy man, he writes, should own "furniture, slaves and cattle of outstanding numbers and quality" – an idea attacked later by Christianity, which has always stressed the holiness of poverty.

Aristotle adds that to be happy, you need a wide circle of virtuous friends, quick wits and a good reputation. We should play an active role in society, he says. In this he would not agree with Epicurus, who said wealth did not free the mind from worry. The wise course was to withdraw from the bustle of the world, and live simply in a rural community. On the Epicurean retreat, you'd grow your own veg and philosophise amid the shaded groves.

At the risk of sounding a tad prétentieux, it occurred to me that my own adult life has been divided into three distinct stages. First there was my hedonistic twenties. Parties, drugs, booze, staying up all night. That was followed by the Epicurean phase: small children, country living, thrift, growing vegetables, keeping chickens. Now fate has decreed that in middle age I am entering an Aristotelian phase. I am a shopkeeper, a small businessman, a petit bourgeois.

My friends accuse me of selling out. "First you told everyone to move to the country. Now you're going back to London." My defence is that The Idler has always been about the attempt to follow your own path. That can be done in the city as well as in the country. And life itself changes and mutates, often due to circumstances, as they say on First Great Western, beyond our control.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

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