Sunday, 10 April 2011

Whatever happened to all that leisure we were supposed to be enjoying by now?

I’ve been to a couple of BBC leaving shindigs recently (plus a 50th birthday dinner for an old friend and colleague): it seems the corporation is, for once, having a genuine clear-out – not just the usual human shield of low-paid support staff and those approaching retirement age in any case.

My former colleagues were both senior managers at the height of their powers and nowhere near retirement age (which now appears to be around 83). I met at least a dozen others who had recently departed or were on the verge of doing so. (To those that haven’t yet found new jobs or consultancy work, good luck.)

I also met a handful of old geezers who, like myself, had left a few years back. Far as I can tell, we belong to the last generation that’s going to be allowed to retire before the onset of Alzheimer’s.

It set me thinking: whatever happened to all that leisure we were supposed to be enjoying by now? Back in the 1970s, we talked about little else but how rich automation was going to make us, and how we’d all have to get used to job-sharing before retiring at 36. Intellectuals worried that if we didn’t educate the masses on how to fill decades of comfortable non-employment with intellectually nourishing activities they’d all lose the will to live and drink themselves to death.

Well, they got it half right – a sizeable portion of the population spends its whole life on benefits, and many of them do drink (or drug) themselves to death rather than fill their lives with books, poetry, art, classical music and intellectually stimulating debate. And, apart from these wastrels, it’s questionable whether what a large section of the civil service gets up to every day can strictly be classified as work in any meaningful sense.

Of course, most of us earn a lot more than we did forty years ago, but instead of buying ourselves more leisure, we’ve spent it all on keeping up with everyone else – Chelsea tractors, more holidays, private education, home improvements, exorbitant rail fares and pre-shredded lettuce in plastic bags: greedy banks and stupid governments soaked up the rest. The “genteel poverty” option - once enormously popular - isn’t really available any longer: I imagine distressed gentlefolk don’t get treated with the automatic respect which once served to make reduced circumstances even remotely bearable. 

I’ll admit to be being disappointed by this bizarre refusal on the part of reality to fall into line with the predictions of futurologists (after all, they usually get so little wrong). I was positively looking forward to retiring at 36. I don’t think I’m exceptionally lazy (although I’ve never shirked the burden of time off). And I’ve pretty much enjoyed every type of work I’ve done – not surprising, given that I’ve earned my living in publishing, writing, magazines, TV, radio and new media: all sounds quite glamorous!But I’ve never been able to understand those people who say they hate the thought of giving up work – I’ve always rather looked forward to being able to (as long as it didn’t mean being forced to introduce Kennomeat into my daily diet).

Anyway, I’ve done my best to fulfill the predictions of those great thinkers of the 1970s by retiring early. This momentous event occurred officially at the stroke of midnight on 31st January 2010. But as is pretty obvious from a glance at the number of entries in this blog (over 360 in fifteen months – the equivalent of a 750-page novel) I didn’t exactly bust a gut during 2010.

At the end of my last big project, I gathered all the industry magazines and journals I hadn’t had time to read for six months, “consolidated” all the daily news emails I hadn’t looked at during the same period (I was busy, honest!) into one enormous Outlook folder (labelled “Bollocks”) and girded my loins to catch up with everything I’d missed, hoping to impress potential clients with just how blisteringly up to speed this psycho-nutter-bastard of a consultant was regarding all things interactive.

My mistake, looking back, was to rip the cellophane wrapper off the latest issue of New Media Age first. This, for the uninitiated, is the Bible (orNecronomicon) for all commercial interactive marketing activities – red button, IPTV, Video On Demand, websites, smartphones, iPads, and a whole bunch of other whizzy gadgets and services you haven’t heard of and couldn’t less about. I used to write digital strategies (no, I don’t exactly know what they are, either) for anyone who’d pay based on my knowledge of all this stuff – and to be fair to myself, they were pretty damned good.

After three pages I realised I hadn’t taken in a word. I tried again. Nope. Third time lucky? Not a sausage was reaching the conscious part of my brain. 

I switched to Broadcast, the glossy, weekly guide to the TV industry – and I was buggered if any of that would stick either!

Now, I’ve always had a shortish attention span (normally about two years) but necessity has always helped me refocus. This time around, there wasn’t really any need to keep on doing what I’d been doing – so my loins remained stubbornly ungirded. 

I slid a capacious wastepaper bin over to the desk – and tipped all the magazines into it with a pleasingly meaty thud. Then I deleted the “Bollocks” folder and went out for a stroll.

Unless I find myself having to pay regular visits to the pet-food section of the local Sainsbury’s, the world’s just going to have to do without all those digital strategies and interactive TV programmes I might otherwise be churning out.

And in case you’re fashioning a voodoo doll with a view to sticking pins in, far from being smug at the opportunity put my feet up early, I realise how incredibly lucky I am.  


  1. Despite what you say I’m typing this with my nose while whittling a voodoo doll with my hands…I’d love to do the same with all my work-related reading but I too don’t really want to have to rely on dog food for sustenance. Pity you’ve retired because I was just saying to the wife the other day that what’s really missing from my life is a digital strategy but she offered to take over which programmes to record on Sky Plus, so that’s sorted.
    Monday, April 11, 2011 - 12:40 AM

  2. The answer to your initial question is, we spent it.
    Monday, April 11, 2011 - 03:50 PM