Saturday, 24 March 2012

Making Merry

As someone who is unutterably bored by work and would prefer to spend all my times baking cakes and cookies and making up gift baskets (for pleasure, not profit), I totally agree with Tom Hodgkinson. You know the guy? Read "How To Be Free"? Well, you should.

Anyway, I'm excerpting something from the book, the bit about Merrie Olde England....and why it was called that.

Seems apposite. That's one place I would have loved to live.


The tragedy of the 19th century was that Western man came to see himself, first and foremost, as a worker. Life became a serious business. Frivolity, mirth, play, ritual, dance, music, merriment, dressing up: those childish pleasures, all central parts of life for the nobles, priests and peasants of old, had been under constant attack since the middle of the 16th century.

Before the Reformation, England was one non-stop party. It really was merry. Ronald Hutton, author of a splendid book called The Rise and Fall of Merry England, writes of the all-year-round festivities of the merry English. Christmas, for example, lasted a full 12 days, during which time you were not allowed to do any work. This was quickly followed on 2 February by a holiday known as Candlemas and then more merriment on St Valentine's Day on the 14th. Then came Shrovetide, which started on the seventh Sunday before Easter and lasted for 3 days. Easter lasted a full 10 days, till the festival of Hocktide. There was just time for a bit of work. Then there was St George's Day on 23 April, another day off. A week after that came May Day, of course, which marked the first day of two months of merry-making and sex in the woods. Then there was 23 June, or Midsummer Eve, and the feast of Corpus Christi. Then came St Peter's Eve on 28 June, followed by Lammas on 1 August, opening a season of summer fairs and harvest suppers. In November came Martinmas, followed by the fasting of Advent, and then it was back to Christmas once again.


Be a jack of all trades; abandon perfectionism. Embrace the creed of the amateur. Do it for love, not money. A spade, a saw and a chisel, that is all you need to be free.

In play is freedom, says Huizinga, because it is self-directed and voluntary:

Child and animal play because they enjoy playing, and therein precisely lies their freedom. Be that as it may, for the adult and responsible human being, play is a function which he could equally well leave alone. Play is superfluous. The need for it is only urgent to the extent that the enjoyment of it makes a need. Play can be deferred or suspended at any time. It is never imposed by physical necessity, or moral duty. It is never a task. It is done at leisure, during 'free time'. Only when play is a recognised cultural function - a rite, a ceremony - is it bound up with notions of obligation and duty. Here then, we have the main characteristic of play: that it is free, is in fact freedom.

We need to make all of our time free. Do what we like all day long. Do nothing all day long. Much about all day long.

If you enjoy your work, then it's not work. As my friend Sarah says, the trick to living free is to wake up every morning and screech: "Morning, Lord, what have you got for me today?" She maintains that this really works. Freedom can start today, right now. You can change your life in one second. Freedom is a state of mind.

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