Life in the Very Slow Lane


Sweet Idleness, Rupert Bunny, c.1890

by Jenny Diski

Lassitude, indolence, extreme laziness, idleness beyond belief – I don’t know how to convey the degree of my incapacity for activity. People don’t believe me. You don’t believe me. You think I exaggerate. No, I don’t. You won’t believe that either. You think it an affectation. So yesterday I went out. I did a reading with the estimable Francis Spufford at the Small Wonders Festival at Charleston. There was nothing unpleasant about it (apart from the Bloomsburyness of Charleston. Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Virginia visiting. God I hate that drippy painting and twee tastefulness).

My publisher sent me in a chauffeur driven car from Cambridge to Sussex, causing much hilarity to The Poet who pointed out that I’d have my very own chauffeur on Yom Kippur. (The academic term might be starting again but even that doesn’t stem the flow of punnery from the turmoil, no, maelstrom, in The Poet’s mind.)

‘Thank God, I’m back,’ I wailed as I walked through the door and collapsed into The Poet’s arms at eleven o’clock last night. ‘I’ve done it. It’s over now. I’ve don’t have to go out for the next ten days.’

I’d been out since 2.30 that afternoon. All I’d done was sit for two and a half hours in the back of a Jaguar (‘Would you mind not wearing your cap?’ I asked the driver nervously), spent three hours talking and reading to people, signed a few books, and sat for another two and a half hours in the back of the Jag. If you live what they call A Life, my abjection and exhaustion might strike you as extreme. What can I say? I think my blood runs slower than your average three-toed sloth, and that I got born without the gregarious gene that made the human race the monstrous social success it is today.

Actually, I’m about to find out exactly what my problem is, why I’m such a sliver of a soul. My friend S. send me a card the other day. We were best mates in the Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital in 1968. Difficult, annoying, angry young women in the bin. It turns out, astonishingly, that they’ve still got the medical records from back then, and that the Data Protection Act means I have the right to get copies. S. got hers. Every session with the shrinks is noted, all their diagnoses and comments still there. ‘Are you sure you’re up to it,’ S. said. ‘What with being madder than I am…’ It’s a debate that’s been going on between us since 1968. In fact, she is madder than me, but she just refuses to see it. So I’ve filled in the form and I’m awaiting a shoebox full of my deviant past. Just nobody mention Pandora. But perhaps it will explain my epic idleness. Or idyllness, as I prefer to think of it.

Very excitingly, just by the by, I got paid for doing the reading in scarves. Instead of real money (hey, writers don’t need money, do they, it’s not like they need to earn a living?) F. Spufford and I got a voucher each to spend at the Charleston gift shop. So now I’ll be spending the winter with my neck swathed in bloomsbury-hued silk and satin. I looked on the shelves for elegantly rounded stones to keep in one’s pockets in the event of a sudden river in one’s vicinity, but they must have run out. So I shall have to content myself with wearing my Vanessa-and-Virginia scarves sitting in the room of my own in which I plan to stay for as long as I possibly can.

Piece crossposted with Biology of the Worst Kind

Cover image Idle Time, by Katherine Squier