In Flight Idling

To be Published as a Letter in The Idler Magazine (

The flight from Vancouver (Canada) to Sydney (Australia) is over sixteen hours. What does a dedicated idler do with all this time? On a recent trip, I made a list of high quality idling activities worth pursuing to maintain your idler status throughout the flight.

To make the most of these sixteen hours, dress for quality idling. I find corduroy pants, a nice cotton shirt with double pockets and a cardigan the most comfortable. Comfy shoes, easy to slip on and off, and a small messenger bag for “stuff” are essential.

It is also important, before you leave the ground, to establish the rules of engagement with those sitting next to you. My habit is to introduce myself, say I hope to get some quality reading and sleeping in the next sixteen hours and then look away. If you don’t establish alpha dominance, you’ll end up talking about things of no interest for eight hours or more.

Sixteen hours is long enough to write a short book. I once flew from London to Johannesburg next to Edward de Bono. He wrote Six Action Shoes on this journey. On one flight from London to Nairobi, I managed to write the last two chapters of a book about the future (I didn’t anticipate British Airways losing my luggage on this trip).

Most people are not addicted to writing, thank goodness – there is already too much competition. But sixteen hours is good to read a complete Ian Rankin Rebus novel, a book of poetry (I recommend reading neglected poets, like Kipling or W M Thackeray) or five pages of Proust. My preference is to read a few pages and then do something else, coming back twenty or thirty minutes later. This increases the intensity of reading while keeping faith with the principles of idleness.

You cannot rely on your chosen airline having movies you want to watch or music you want to listen to. My iPad always has new music ready to go – currently I am working my way through the symphonies of Mieczysław Weinberg (he wrote twenty-two). I also make sure I have at least two movies ready to go – always happy to watch Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in Mel Brook’s The Producers – very appropriate in the age of Trump. Good noise cancelling earphones are an essential part of any idlers travel kit.

My new pastime, especially on a long flight, is to try and imagine why everyone else around me is traveling. What are the up to? Is one a Russian cyber hacker? The woman who insists on wearing a hat a secret ukulele player? The man in knee length shorts, knee length socks and sandals another Idler subscriber? The woman in a mini dress aware of her disclosures? You can use these imagined characters to start constructing the plot of a mystery novel. Doing so often sends me off to sleep – another must for the idler.

There are three things a respectable idler would never do on a long flight: open an excel spreadsheet; play a musical instrument; sing sea shanties. Doing so is likely to cause permanent harm, as well as lead to consequences from a vigilant in flight steward. The philosopher comic Steve Wright also suggests that bringing your own food is a no-no – airlines seem to be opposed to the use of charcoal BBQ’s in flight.

If you need to make such a journey, plan for quality idle time. There is little else you can do.

Stephen is an Honorary Member of the Idle Working Men’s Club (his father was a paid up member for many years) and a Subscriber to The Idler Magazine Subscribe Here.

An Open Letter to Ivanka Trump


Dear Ivanka

Daughters often look up to their fathers with some awe. After all, they have made all sorts of things possible, especially when they claim to be worth billions, own buildings all over the world and can tell stories about all the famous people they have met.

But there comes a time when sons and daughters look at their parents, especially when they get to be seniors, and begin to wonder if they are ok. There are signs we sons and daughters look for. The first is whether they can function physically. Clearly, your Dad is well. He plays golf frequently, eats well and still doesn’t need a lot of sleep. His hair is still in place (as far as we know).

Second, he doesn’t seem to be lonely. Whenever he feels alone, he calls in people and has a rally, an argument or causes confusion and sits back and enjoys watching the chaos he is causing. So no change in his behaviour there.

Third, not new, but worrying, his is delusional ramblings. For example, his claim that the crowds at his inauguration were huge; that 3 million people voted illegally; that Germany owes NATO and the US money; that Obama “wiretapped” him in Trump Tower before the election with the support of the British GCHQ; that all CNN and BBC and New York times is “fake news”. As you well know, being a smart women, this is all nonsense. When he ran Trump Inc you were used to this kind of thing and ignored it and pushed ahead. But, you may have noticed, your Dad is now President of the United States. When he says, tweets or repeats things that he has heard on Fox news that are not true, people worry that he is (to put it directly) “out to lunch”. He looks to be at the early stages of dementia.

Right now, he is still able to cope and we are all out here coping with this, but at some point this will all come crashing down. For example, when he comes on television and says that he is ordering a military strike against North Korea based on intelligence reports no one will believe him. More nonsense, yet it may well be true. How would we know.

It is time to stop just being an adornment and be a daughter. He needs help. He needs treatment. Its over to you to do the right thing.