On the art of idling

Argentina 2007

Of the great arts one learns during one’s student years — idling, Jedi, drinking — idling is the most useful. I put it to good use in Río Gallegos

In the foreground, a cup of coffee; in the background, my diary, open on the page I wrote this entry

Idling is writing. This diary entry, in its original form

The first thing you forget when you’re travelling is what day it is. It becomes irrelevant. Occasionally, in an attempt to reorientate yourself, you might ask ‘What day is it? Friday?’

The faces around you scrunch up in concentration until someone cries out triumphantly: ‘No, it’s Tuesday.’ That satisfies everyone.

It usually turns out to be Wednesday.

Sometimes this free-and-easy attitude can get you into a bit of bother. Like the time I was in Río Gallegos.

Ree-oh Ga-whatey?

It was ten in the morning. I had checked-out and dumped my backpack, and I had a plan: take my clothes to the launderette, buy that sweet-ass jacket I had seen the night before, and get a haircut. I was pretty pleased with myself.

Out on the street it was quiet. Really quiet in fact. Probably because it was Saturday night last night, and everybody’s having a—

Saturday night. That means it’s Sunday morning. Balls.

Towns in Argentina shut down on Sundays. Nothing opens. No launderettes, no clothes shops, no barbers, nothing. There I was in the middle of the street with a bag of dirty laundry under my arm, no coat on, and seven hours until I needed to leave for the airport.

Time to practice the art of idling.

Idling is finding the longest route to a cafe. Idling is sitting in a cafe, lingering over a cup of coffee. Idling is taking great interest in the French Open match on TV. Idling is surreptitiously reading the Lonely Planet to find the next cafe.

Idling is reading every interesting article on the Guardian web site. Idling is reading your friends blogs. (Idling is wondering why Suthers and Fat Conan don’t write more often.)

Idling is writing an entry for your own blog while slowly eating lunch.

Of course, part of the art of idling is not to look like you’re idling. So as you walk past that security guard for the seventh time you need to look like you mean to be walking this way then that, with your dirty clothes under your arm.

Once you’ve mastered idling, it can be a relaxing way to spend a day. Even if you are gutted you couldn’t buy that jacket. Even if you are carrying all your pants and socks in a plastic bag.