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I've always had a healthy scepticism when it comes to 'how to' books. All the nonsense in lifestyle magazines never appealed to me: I thought it best to leave the likes of OK and Hello to my wife, since I was always more than happy with my life.
Then, last year, I was diagnosed with cancer. After surgery, chemotherapy and a real struggle in getting myself back together, I happened upon a book by Tom Hodgkinson ('How to be Idle') which appealed, since I thought I'd always been a bit lazy anyway and that the book (which led to the magazine) would be my kind of read. The book helped me to realise that I was not, in fact, the 'chilled out' character that I thought: I really was quite hung up about my job, my 'career' and (meaningless) possessions.
What a magazine! Yes it's weighty, yes it's quite heavy weight reading for anyone who's not into history/philosophy/poetry, but the general premise is simply brilliant: don't try any harder than you have to, don't strive because it is simply not worth it. Brilliant! To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, doing nothing is rather hard to do, and the Idler points the erstwhile slacker in the right direction on his/her road to a better life.
The Idler is a magazine/book that is issued quarterly through subcription or by purchasing individually from amazon.com. This quite amusing magazine extolls the virtues of idleness (in the pursuit of self-fulfillment) and counter-culture in the wake of the mundane, 'daily grind' of working life. Written primarilly with men in mind- there is a kind of 'boys club mentality', it claims to educate the intelligent individual in the art of self-sufficiency, 'loafing', and living the bohemian idyll. I personally dont care if this mag is largely aimed at a male audience, since firstly Im not always up for your prissy girly reading material (Ive also been know to look at 'Bizarre' magazine which is pretty gross really), and secondly because a number of the articles in the 'Idler' are written by women, as are their short stories.
~So, Whats the Idler About then?~
The 'Idler' was first penned in 1993, and was created on the backdrop of Brit-pop music and the concept of 'Cool Britannia'. There isa certain artistic idealism evident in this magazine, in that the contributors strive to preserve the odd, often eccentric interests they have by sharing them with like-minded 'quirky' people.
Those people who contribute to the 'Idler' seem to believe that leisure time is central to creative thought, self-detemination, good mental and physical health, and as an antidote to the banalities and stresses of the Capitalist labour market. Some of the 'Idlers' in this collective, dont have jobs, or are smallholders, or freelance journalists who relish 'trying out' wacky ways of living; for example: a regular feature in this mag is 'Crap Jobs', and in issue 36 'Your Money or Your Life', Chris Hull examines the dubious career of the Sewerman- nice.
Many of the 'Idler' features concentrate on figures of popular culture who have 'opted out' of mainstream society to pursue a personal vision- often rejecting formal employment. Alex James, ex-Blur member, has been a regular contibutor to this magazine, and is now an honorary farmer-type, I believe. Louis Theroux is another character involved in this utopian book of dreams, exploring further weirdos as an extension of his fascinating 'Weird Weekends' escapades!
Musicians, writers, comedians, artist, you name it, each issue will study these icons contributions to the creative world, and interview them on the merits of idleness in the pursuit of personal fulfillment. Philosophers such as Henry David Thoreau, and John Locke are postumously examined, and I find this a quite interesting read. One issue focuses on the legendry comic Tommy Cooper, whilst an interview with Bill Oddie analyses in depth his depressive spells, and his obvious resentment at the BBC never showing the Goodies!
~What Do the Idler Writers Claim the Idler is About?~
Heres a quote from the inside cover of the Idler issue 36, 2005:
"The Idler is a magazine that celebrates freedom, fun and the fine art of doing nothing. We believe that idleness is unjustly criticised in modern society when it is, in fact, a vital componant of a happy life. We want to comfort and inspire you with uplifting philosophy, satire, reflection, aswell as giving practical information in the quest for the idle life".
......Sounds good to me.
I guess you could say that some of this statement is tongue in cheek, but on a serious note, the 'Idler' does champion the idea that good, productive society operates with a decent leisure time in tandem with work. Many of the contributors are probably of the New Marxist ilk; there is certainly a lot of libertarianism and utilitarian thought pervading this literature! I just like the humour and satirical vibe these people use; extraordinarily intelligent and well-educated people who want to 'spread the word' through laughter, wit, and a damn good read.
~What Sections of the Idler are Entertaining?~
I personally gain something from most of the articles and craziness contained within, but these are my particular favourites:
*Bill and Zed's Bad Advice-Theyve fu*@ed up their lives, now its your turn!*
This is a hilarious parody of those stupid agony columns you get in magazines. These two misfits give the poor so-and-so with the apparent problem pretty crap, and frankly quite unpleasant advice. If you are a sensitive soul, dont read- it can be quite shocking; I just take it in the spirit of humour and sarcasm that it was intended.
Many a decent interview to be had in this section; Damien Hurst, and the philosopher Raoul Vaneigem to name two. Keith Allen also makes an appearance, but I loathe him (doesnt mean Im not interested in his warped take on life though- im willing to hear him out once!), as does another loser Pete Doherty (hey, Im not saying this mag is perfect!).
In one issue there was a funky Cockney Alphabet, purile but funny. Written by Damien Hurst and Mungo Park. Heres a snippet:
D for ential
F for vessant
J for oranges (oh dear, bad one)
N for seema (heehee)
O for the love of a woman
P for relief (Sorry, this one gets me every time)
U for mism
~What Issues are There~
Some of the early editions are out of stock now, and are out of print, so best bet is to start purchasing now. Some back copies can be obtained, but they do become scarce. I suggest you try amazon initially for your first dose of the Idler, and then use their back copy ordering service as advertised on the inside on their back covers.
Heres an example or two of the issues that have been published. Each one concentrates on a central theme:
1. Winter 2000 *Everyone Loves a Fool*
2. Summer 2001 *Retreat*
3. Spring 2004 *Ladies of Leisure*
4. Spring 2005 *War on Work*
5. Winter 2005 *Your Money or Your Life*
~How Much Do Copies Cost?~
At the time of writing they retail at £9.99 each. Bleedin' hell I hear you say. Well, yes, they are pricey, but they are also a glorified book, and not really a magazine except in inside format. There are very good short stories included, by talented people, we're not talking 'Peoples Friend' calibre here (no offence, Im sure those quaint stories are lovely for some). Back copies bought from the 'Idler' can be much cheaper, ie £4.00 and upwards. Visit www.idler.co.uk for more information (the website gives a taste of the magazine, and is pretty funky).
Prices of the idler vary enormously on amazon.co.uk, so shop around. Remember postage and packing may well be added on too.
An excellent counter-culture publication- makes me feel educated and a little bit 'superior' (lol) for having it on my bookshelf.
The Idler is one of my all time favourite magazines, or in this case 'mook' as the publishers like to call it (half magazine, half book). It's a hefty (300 page) A5 paperback which is only published 4 times a year. This is quite fortunate really, as it takes an age to battle through, and I generally end up reading a third, skim reading a third, and giving up on the other third. A 60% success rate doesn't sound too good I guess, but the main reason for my failing to get to grips with it is the sheer size of it. You loose place so easily that you eventually stop thumbing through, by which time the next one's out anyway. It's written by what seems to be an old boy's club (and most of them are boys), with a contributors' list like the guestlist at the Groucho (you get the feeling most of the items were thought up there after a few absinthes too many). You'll find features by hundreds including Louis Theroux, Adam and Joe, Damien Hirst, Alex James, Keith Allen, Will Self, Rob Newman, Uri Gellar (!), James Jarvis, and Bill Drummond. The articles are drawn from short stories, literary and art reviews and biographies (not too highbrow write ups of highbrow works), cartoons, cocktail recipes, diaries, travelogues and current affairs essays, interviews with the famously obscure (or just obscure) or just half-humourous rants (Adam and Joe's anthropological analysis of the 80s Bounty TV ads was a winner). The whole idea is to make a collection to leave on a (fairly sturdy) coffee table and dip into regularly to kill time. The tone is heavily ironic and self consciously arty, presented as a 'sophisticated' review for people of leisure (I imagine most of the readership don't have as much time on their hands as most of the authors do). It seems a bit like an exclusive club, with lots of in-jokes and very niche interest articles, though the small distribution network means it does end up being
pretty limited (only Borders stocks it here in Oxford). The magazine invented the term 'live to loaf', which was ripped off by Strongbow as an ad slogan. They thought about complaining, but decided that would be too much like work for a bunch of self-confessed slackers. At a tenner an issue it isn't the cheapest magazine around (!), but it is very light on adverts (supported mainly by Hills' Absinthe - hence many many references for the fine drink - and Channel 4 - hence many Channel 4 types writing for it), and it's produced to a better standard than most books, so it doesn't feel overpriced. Most of the writing is great (though bits pretty dire) and design and illustration is of very high quality. Having said all of the above, it looks like it doesn't really have many selling points - an expensive, far too big, collection of half funny and half clever pseudy articles by and for people who should know better - but it somehow does work very well. It's perfect for killing an hour or two in the garden with a long drink (or several) at the weekend. It's a huge amount of information, but refreshingly few of it is any use in a practical way, so reading it really feel like an antidote to productive work. The best tip I can give if I can't convince you is to take a look at the website http://www.idler.co.uk .They reproduce a bunch of the shorter articles there, and give you a pretty good feel of the content (though the site design isn't anywhere up to the excellent magazine design). Worth a few yuks anyway. Due to its small circulation it's pretty unknown. Hope this inspires a few people to look it out, and hopefully enjoy it too.