Tom Hodgkinson extols the virtues of sitting on a public bench
“On the way back from the shop, sit on a bench, shut your eyes for five minutes and listen to whatever sounds are in the air, be they cars, birds, aeroplanes or sirens. Be silent. That’s the meditation done”, Arthur Smith
There are free aids to idling dotted about in most cities, and they don’t get enough press, in my view.
They are the public benches. I wonder who invented them. They are probably an ancient idea, and an extremely good one.
The bench is always there for you. Earlier we talked about forms of meditation and I mentioned bench yoga as invented by the comedian and Epicurean philosopher Arthur Smith. In his recent memoir, he gave the above top tip for happiness.
Arthur Smith also told me that he loves those inscriptions you see on benches, the in memoriam ones: “Sid used to love to sit here.” It would be nice to have a bench inscribed with your name after your death. “Tom used to love idling on this spot.”
I once put quite a lot of effort into an “art bench” scheme. My idea was that the council would commission artists to create a bench. So you could sit on art. I talked to some people at Islington council but they put me off by saying that benches were more complicated than they looked. They needed to pass certain health and safety standards. I eventually gave up.
I did send my “art bench” proposal to the Bristol City of Ideas competition and started to get quite excited, as I was certain that the idea would be far superior to any other idea submitted, and that the councillors in Bristol would be more progressive and art-friendly than the ones in Islington. Needless to say, I never got a reply.
Benches were a saviour during lockdowns. They were used as meeting places, lunch venues, pubs, libraries, meditation zones and nap spots. And many of us are going to continue to make use of this marvellous public resource. Truly, the authorities are not all bad.
Find a bench, preferably a wooden one, and sit on it. Do nothing.
Extract from An Idler’s Manual by Tom Hodgkinson. Order direct from us before the book appears in bookshops. One copy for £8.95; two for £15.95 and three for £21.95. Buy here.