I have been accorded a great honour – I have had an essay published in the latest issue of The Idler. The 43rd outing of this journal is themed ‘Back to the Land’ and has contributions from many amazing friends: Paul Kingsnorth, Simon Fairlie, Jay Griffiths and Penny Rimbaud. Illustrations from Gee Vaucher rub shoulders with (and stand up well to) those of David Hockney.
I had heard about The Idler – but, to my shame, had never read a copy until issue 42 – a delicate offering entitled Smash the System. And now it has mutated from magazine to magazine disguised as a book, there is a risk that many others may too miss out on the opportunity to engage with one of the most radical and anarchic publications we produce. I was going to describe the essence of The Idler, but, in the spirit of the journal, I will let the already well-crafted words of editor Tom Hodgkinson take the strain:
“The Idler is a bi-annual, book-shaped magazine that campaigns against the work ethic. It was founded in 1993 by Tom Hodgkinson and his friend Gavin Pretor-Pinney. The title comes from a series of essays by Dr Johnson, published in 1758-9 in the Gentleman’s Magazine. The intention of the magazine is to return dignity to the art of loafing, to make idling into something to aspire towards rather than reject.”
The reason I am in the book is due to the wonderful Gavin – he of The Cloudspotters Guide, the Cloud Appreciation Society and – arriving in the post the very same day as The Idler, The Wavewatcher’s Companion, his very new … in fact as yet unlaunched … and undoubtedly best-selling book. I had stopped in to visit Gavin in Somerset, and while we strummed a couple of the ubiquitous ukeleles (I am not sure where the ukelele comes into the Idler ethos, but it is a recurrent theme), determined that there was a need for a deeper exploration of the importance of hedgehogs to a vision of an improved society – and where better to exposit than The Idler.
Yes, ukeleles – we bought one for Mati, but I think I have played it more. When presented with a chart for the chord shapes it is fairly easy to transfer most of what I know on the guitar into uke … And the ukelele featured, improbably, at the launch of Back to the Land.
I went because it sounded like a strange gathering of fascinating people – though most of the ones I know did not turn up. But that did not stop the event being memorable. Not least because I now know what Rough Trade is … a record shop (I thought it might have been some sort of night club). The evening was opened by Tom on the uke, next up was Ian Bone, the founder of the gentle campaigning (dis-)organisation, Class War. And then came the noise … it has been a long time since I have felt my teeth rattle in my head. I had heard of Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction (and their off-shoot, Zodiac Youth) but had not had the pleasure of hearing them (and, to be honest, I had managed to get them mixed up with Doctor and the Medics …) They were supposed to be joined by Adam Ant (who I had heard of) – but he failed to materialise – as did the love-reaction’s bassist. But this did not deter Mr Mindwarp from pulling out the stops, grabbing his crotch and making my ear-drums whimper in powerless protest to the onslaught (oh and if you follow the link to the myspace page, the music should carry one of those parent-advisory stickers – so if you are of a sensitive disposition – you have been warned).
An intermission, of sorts, from The Asbo Kid … again composed of people I had heard of – James Atkin and Justin Welch – and we came to the main act (or at least the most extraordinary) – Tom back on his ukelele giving a rendition of the Sex Pistol’s classic love song, ‘I am an anarchist’.
I left with my ears ringing, weaving in between the Brick Lane curry touts and down by Verdes – where I looked up at the windows above the shop in the hope of catching a glimpse of my hero – before being gently coerced into eating free (and rather excellent) falafels in the next door cafe (as they celebrated their first year).
By the time I got to the coach back to Oxford I was shattered and in need of something. You know that feeling when you just cannot quite put your finger on what it is you need? Well, I was there for most of the journey. And then I just tried my luck with my ipod – Richard Strauss, the Four Last Songs. Somehow that was what I needed – something to sooth my battered soul. It does not feel like it was that many years ago that Zodiac Mindwarp would have met my needs – and the me of then would have been astounded to find the me of now brought to the brink of ecstasy by songs for the end of life.
Oh – and the point of this post? Order a copy of The Idler – eye/mind/heart-opening and beautifully presented.