Opinion

'I like the idea of being able to earn a living alone in my glorified shed'

Is the 40-day working week a scam? If we all spent a bit more time staring blankly out the window, the happier we would be

Sam Delaney

I’ve had one of those garden offices built out the back of my house. It’s small, warm and soundproofed and, God willing, will allow me to earn some sort of crust for the rest of my working days without having to leave home.

There are people who claim humans are naturally gregarious creatures who require interaction almost as urgently as food and water. I’m not convinced. I like the idea of being able to earn a living alone in my glorified shed. I don’t want face-to-face meetings. I don’t need chit-chat. I will be delighted if I never have to sing Happy Birthday to a vague acquaintance from bought ledger again. I’m only 46 but already dream of full retirement. The garden office is a stepping-stone I will have to make do with until (a) I win the lottery or (b) we reconstruct capitalism to allow more time off to play Fifa and listen to Prince.

I’ve been reading a book called Recovery: The Lost Art of Convalescence by Dr Gavin Francis. In it, he explains the almost magical benefits of rest, reflection, leisure and travel. In 20 years as a GP he has often found such lifestyle changes more effective than any prescription in helping patients regain and sustain good health.

Which is obviously easier said than done in the ludicrously graft-centric society we live in. As Francis puts it: “Self-compassion is a much- underrated virtue, and the rhythms of modern life are often antithetical to those of recovery.”

But why should we only focus on self-compassion when we are in a state of ‘recovery’ from illness or trauma? A better idea is to try to practise this stuff before we get sick in the first place. I’d like today’s kids to grow
up understanding that taking time out to do something you enjoy, get some rest or just stare blankly out
the window for half an hour every day is actually a worthwhile use of their time. Unfortunately my own kids will have to work for a living on account of me having never saved a single penny in my life. There will be nothing left for them once I’m gone. I’ll probably have to flog the house at some point to pay for care when I’m elderly so my children will be truly high and dry. Oh well, it might do them good, I suppose.

As long as they understand that work is mostly a load of bollocks you have to do just in order to survive. For most it is an exploitative power game whereby an unscrupulous employer forces you to travel to and from a depressing corporate headquarters every day on an overcrowded train in return for a piss-take of a wage. Most of us have no choice but to enlist – the trick is to not get brainwashed into thinking any of it matters beyond the transactional process. One of my worst fears is my children becoming the sort of people you sit next to at a work event who take pleasure in talking about marketing strategy and refer to the seasons of the year as Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4 as if they’re fucking C-3PO.

The fact any of us still have to put in 40-hour weeks is a scam dreamt up by the establishment to keep us exhausted and docile. Bertrand Russell (as quoted by Francis) was on to this when he wrote: “Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen instead to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines. In this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.”

Russell wasn’t wrong, either. And bear in mind, he wrote that long before the emergence of Apple, iPhones and apps. Don’t misunderstand me – I enjoy writing this column. But there must be an app that could do it just as well, if not better, while I lived off a universal basic income funded by a tax on robots. If we were foolish in 1935, when Russell penned In Praise of Idleness, we must be positively barmy to still be flogging our guts out in 2022. From now on, if anyone wants me, I’ll be in my shed.

Read more from Sam at samdelaney.substack.com

@DelaneyMan

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