How many last straws does it take for a member of the Tory party to think: “I’m not voting for that fool”? If I was in that position – and believe me, I’m not – the camel-breaking straw would have been Boris Johnson’s embarrassingly silly waffle about “bus building” last week.
As we are all aware by now, when asked what he did to “relax, to switch off” Johnson launched into a terrible ramble about making buses out of old wine boxes. It was a routine that collectively made the entire country’s sphincter tighten en masse (seriously, you could hear the collective clench as suddenly an entire nation developed bum holes you could sharpen pencils with).
For me, it wasn’t just the lazy incoherence of the exchange, but also the subtext. Johnson couldn’t even be bothered to take the question seriously and his response essentially dissed the hobby. He was disregarding something that actually has a massive impact on the nation as a whole: the ability to unwind, to let go of stress and anxiety, to release the tension of the buttock clench. We should never underestimate the importance of a hobby: they can be lifesavers, relationship savers and sanity savers.
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The mental health of the population is greatly dependent on people being able to calm themselves down. Without hobbies, there would be more people out on the street gibbering with rage and kicking lampposts. Anything that makes you breathe better and feel happier is vastly beneficial to the world at large. I don’t care if you do make buses out of whatever you’ve got lying around the house, but I do care if you pretend to create buses and, in doing so, make the whole enterprise sound stupid.
No genuine hobby is stupid and it doesn’t matter what you do. You can collect belly button fluff and weave it into tiny animal shapes if that’s what you fancy, make the Eiffel Tower out of dried pasta shapes or mosaic a window with sweetie wrappers.
It is not as if Boris is too young to appreciate the off duty pastime either. He’s 55, which is peak hobby age. I will forgive anyone under 30 for sneering at hobbies and, obviously, teenagers think they’re ridiculous. But that said, the other day I watched a girl make up her face on the train and the dreamy calmness that came over her as she shaded and bronzed, highlighted and enhanced, made perfect sense to me (the fact that she was also making herself look 10 years older was beside the point).
Personally, I belong to the part-time crafting, painting and nature community, which is possibly why my social media timeline consists more of gorgeous pictures of embroidery and back gardens than political carping and sniping. Hobbies came into my life in my early fifties, they have taught me that sometimes sitting down and doing something else that is not related to my real work can make me a calmer, nicer person. Painting lowers my blood pressure – a benefit that I can physically feel.
Having a hobby also makes you appreciate the skills people need to do what you do (badly) to unwind as a profession. Having tried pottery (officially the hardest thing ever), I will never underestimate an artisan mug, complete with a handle, ever again. Having attempted and failed at crochet, I will never again snigger at a handmade crocheted item, however hideous it might be.
Hobbies are the backbone of this country and what starts as a hobby can end up changing a neighbourhood. The other day, I was in an Uber on my way to catch a train. Just around the corner from the Elephant and Castle, in a small gap between two nondescript buildings, I saw an explosion of multicoloured hollyhocks. They were tall, sturdy specimens, bursting with health and vitality standing sentry around what I later discovered was a small children’s playground.
Having tweeted a photograph, I was informed via social media (at its sleuthing best) that the flowers were the work of a guerilla gardener by the name of Richard Reynolds who has created this “pocket park” from salvaged plants. Some of these include roses that originally bloomed on a recently demolished notorious local council estate.
This information thrilled me. People can do such marvellous things and this park wouldn’t exist if someone hadn’t had an extra-curricular interest. Personally, I don’t Bioreports a middle-aged man who doesn’t know how to enjoy himself when he’s not doing the day job. You can make your mark on the world doing all sorts of important things, but in the end, it’s hobbies that maketh the man (or woman).