Tom Hodgkinson and the importance of being idle

Tom Hodgkinson photographed at home in Devon. Photo Rick Pushinsky,

Tom Hodgkinson photographed at home in Devon. Photo Rick Pushinsky, - Credit: Archant

Co-creator of The Idler explains his plans for an even bringing together philosophical discussions, medieval music and gin cocktails

The Idler is hosting a garden party at Fenton House that will be “a cross between a village fete, a Greek philosophical school from 300BC Athens and Merrie England”.

On July 6, the orchard at the 17th-century National Trust property will vibrate to the strains of baroque and medieval music while stallholders offer Latin and ukelele lessons and sell coffee, gin cocktails and anarchist magazines.

Tom Hodgkinson, co-founder of the Idler magazine and academy, which campaigns against the work ethic and promotes liberty says: “It will have the feeling of a village fete or vicar’s tea party, only far more eccentric.

“Members of our faculty will give talks and demonstrations in gardening or philosophy. One is expert in bartitsu, a Victorian gentleman’s martial art used by suffragettes to kick policemen and repel bag snatchers using only an umbrella. It’s lovely to be able to take over Fenton House’s garden and fantastic orchard. We hope it will be the first of many celebrations.”

He said the outdoor event chimed with ideas of Plato’s school in the groves of Academe.

“Plato’s academy was a retreat outside the city where you went around in your toga and listened to philosophy and debate. The Greek idea of a school was that learning was a leisure pursuit. The garden party is how we imagine a Greek philosophical school in Athens 300BC to be, crossed with a tea party. The Idler Academy is about ‘husbandry, philosophy and merriment’ – so imagine bread baking, singing classes and beer drinking. It will be like Merrie England for a day in Hampstead.”

Most Read

This year, Hodgkinson celebrates 20 years since founding The Idler, a magazine which now publishes annually as a hardback book, crammed with interviews and essays on radical politics, bohemians and refuseniks, including recently David Hockney and a hard-left working-class anarchist.

A freelance journalist who writes a column in The Independent on Sunday, he dreamt up the idea while working on the Sunday Mirror.

“I felt trapped and oppressed by office hierarchy which was a world away from university when we played in bands, ran our own magazine and lived an intellectually rich life with autonomy over our own time.

“It was a revolt of the spirit against being contained by the nine to five, a magazine for people who hate their jobs, a celebration of Bohemian spirit and independence.”

‘London is tough’

Ironically, after writing an article for The Guardian entitled “Why I don’t want a job”, they offered him one and he spent three happy years before going freelance to finance The Idler.

In order to live the life he wanted, he and partner Victoria Hull moved to north Devon to bring up their three children.

“London is tough. You can’t afford to go to restaurants. It makes you feel poor the whole time, so people weigh themselves down with big mortgages then end up feeling like a slave. In Devon, we stay at home and have fun.”

He admits it can be hard to see friends and peers back in the smoke “rolling in it” while he tries to make ends meet, writing articles and books, including one on The Idle Parent and another on the ukelele which is due out in September.

“The Idler is non-profit-making, not deliberately so but accidentally. Paradoxically, being an idler is quite hard work – can you make a living without being employed by the state or big business?

“Sometimes you wonder would it be easier to have a job, but I haven’t had a job for so long I’ve forgotten all the downsides – at the moment I feel overworked and underpaid – but at least I have freedom.”

He and Victoria recently took on a new venture in the form of the Idler Academy, a café, bookshop and event space in Westbourne Park Road, Notting Hill, offering literary talks and courses in a range of subjects including the ukulele, philosophy and calligraphy.

“Opening a full-time shop has been incredibly hard work and it’s just about breaking even. You pay people to do the stuff you are crap at, but the trouble is they have to be paid before you.”

Perhaps, he muses, he should write a business book for idlers.

“Business for people who don’t want to do it – business for bohemians: learn to love the spreadsheet.”

Then he chuckles and is gone.

n The Party is on July 6 from 10am to 6pm. Entry £6