“I usually have a cup of tea at a quarter to 8, then literally lie in bed staring at the wall for about half an hour.”
It’s not that writer Tom Hodgkinson doesn’t “do mornings,” as it were. As an idler, he just doesn’t do them the way a lot of working people do—that is, by waking up early, scarfing down a quick bite, and racing out the door. “It is a sad fact that from early childhood we are tyrannized by the moral myth that it is right, proper, and good to leap out of bed the moment we wake in order to set about some useful work as quickly and cheerfully as possible,” he writes in his indispensable book, How to Be Idle.
For decades, Hodgkinson has advocated for a different approach to work and life through his magazine, The Idler, and several books including The Freedom Manifesto, How to Be Free, and The Idle Parent.
“By idler I don't mean someone’s who’s copped out and does literally nothing and is sponging off other people,” Hodgkinson told me recently during a call from London. “I mean a creative person, or even an entrepreneur, maybe someone’s who’s restless, who couldn’t stand to be part of a large bureaucracy or become a lawyer or work for a big corporation—so they’re looking around for alternatives.”
Hodgkinson found his own alternative to the 9-to-5 life in 1993, when he started The Idler and began preaching the virtues of sleeping in, napping, drinking tea, partying, and other idle pleasures full-time. But all idlers, Hodgkinson said, must find the occupation and lifestyle that works for them. Generally, though, an idler’s pace is slower, and his daily capacity for joy is, arguably, far greater than most. That begins, of course, with a proper breakfast.
Extra Crispy: How do you approach mornings?
Tom Hodgkinson: In general, people like me find it quite difficult to get out of bed in the morning. If left to my own devices, I’d lie in bed until about 9 or 10 in the morning. But for me, a typical day actually starts fairly early because my wife and I have three children getting up for school in the morning. I usually have a cup of tea at a quarter to 8, then literally lie in bed staring at the wall for about half an hour. The children leave at about 8, and then I make breakfast.
As an idler, what do you like about breakfast?
What’s nice is there’s a sense of freedom. At breakfast you can sit there completely silently and that would be fine, whereas if you went to a dinner party and sat there in silence and started reading the newspaper or wandered off to go and watch television it would be considered rather rude. But at breakfast, anything goes.
Ever like eating in bed?
Lots of idlers like breakfast in bed, but I’m a bit puritanical. I don’t really like it. I think it’s messy. I’m not going to say no if it happens. but if I’m staying in a hotel, which I occasionally do, I’d much rather get out of bed and go downstairs and line up at the buffet and be with the other people than just sit there on my own eating breakfast in bed. I find it a bit miserable, actually. For the idler, brunch is more appealing than breakfast, really.
Breakfast is too early. I associate breakfast with go-getters and people who work on Wall Street who get up really early and have a breakfast meeting at 8 in the morning. Brunch is a completely different thing. It’s very leisurely, and I think there’s a little bit more freedom in what you can eat.
How do you feel about coffee?
When I lived in the country, I didn’t really drink much coffee. I could go for weeks just drinking tea, which is much gentler. When I’d make a trip to the city, I’d find it quite depressing that everyone was walking around with Starbucks cups. It made me think, “Wow, these people are spending quite a lot of money on waking themselves up in order to better serve their employer.” Now that I’ve moved back to London and there is a faster pace, I really enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning. But you have to be careful. Too much coffee can make you feel extremely anxious and it can also stop you sleeping at night. Certainly I don’t think you should drink coffee after 2 o clock in the afternoon.
A lot of people eat breakfast on the go. Thoughts?
I’ve read about Silicon Valley executives who do this, and they almost boast about it. They say, “I get up at half past 6 and I go for a run, then I grab a protein snack and run to my car and drive to the office.” Don’t you ever enjoy any part of your life at all? That’s incredibly sad. Maybe I used to do it when I was young sometimes because I was late. But as a matter of course for somebody to be working so hard or having to start work so early that they don’t give themselves time to sit down in the morning and actually enjoy breakfast and savor it—that is really, really sad.
Idling is about fun, freedom, and pleasure. To what extent is good food an expression of those values?
I think it’s really important, but I think you can go a bit far with this food thing. This word foodie has come into the lexicon over the last few years. I wouldn’t describe myself as a foodie. I’m really more interested in the other people I’m talking to over a meal. For me, food is about simplicity, good quality ingredients, and the time to enjoy it. I’d rather eat at a friend’s house than go to a restaurant. I find restaurants too expensive and disappointing. They give me indigestion. London’s in the grip of this foodie revolution now, which I find incredibly irritating. Food is not the only thing in the world. It’s important, but we’re in danger of making it into a sort of fetish.
What do you like to eat for breakfast?
The most important thing about breakfast for me would be the quality of the bread and the quality of the bacon. I read William Cobbett, an English writer from the 1820s who said, “If only we had enough of the three B’s, we’d all be happy.” That’s beer, bread, and bacon. I tend to think if you’ve got good quality beer in the evening to look forward to and you can look forward to a really proper homemade bread or artisanal sourdough for breakfast with some really good proper bacon it would be quite hard to make you depressed.