Rob is a Leeds office worker who becomes a flâneur for an hour a day
My day job is in a stockbroker’s call centre and involves a lot of listening, talking, pressing buttons and concentrating. So it’s good to get outside at lunchtime.
Lunchtime brings freedom. I call it #workerslunchtime. In the early days of my lunch-hour excursions, I would walk for half-an-hour before turning back, to see how far I could get. I plotted a circular lunchtime range on a map, which revealed an area the size of a small country (the Polynesian Island nation of Tuvalu) at my disposal.
And the lunch hours add up. Twelve months of them equate to around two weeks of free time.
Running, cycling and driving clearly extend the boundaries. One day I made it to York by train, before having to sprint to jump on the return journey to Leeds. I gatecrashed a canoe training session down at Leeds Docks one lunchtime, and taking an extra hour had a trot around the excellent and ancient Middleton Park on a horse and came back to work smelling like a stable – but rejuvenated.
One of the most memorable lunchtimes was a walk as part of the Terminalia Festival, an annual psychogeographic shindig. Artist Phill Harding led a group silently around the city centre, at speed, based on his real-life algorithm (straight on for two roads, left one, right one, repeat), which meant that even he didn’t know where we were going, or would end up. It was strangely meditative, and felt like being inside a piece of music.
Some days I go out looking for animals. Leeds was, historically, a market town. The tracks and roads were used for centuries by horse- drawn carts and carriages, and pigs and cattle would be driven in from local farms to be sold on the Headrow, our main thoroughfare, or at various markets. Animals were everywhere.
These days it is harder to spot fauna. But not impossible, by any means. On my lunchtime rambles I have spotted a man carrying a bearded dragon, a woman with a cat on a lead and a bloke taking his ferret for a walk – all within 10 minutes of the office.
There’s Meanwood Valley Urban Farm which is just three miles from the of ce, and houses pigs, sheep, cows, horses, llamas and a ne café, The Barn, that does exceptional coffee and a hearty full English.
There’s even wildlife, if you know where to look. One lunchtime I went looking for rabbits and found a family of healthy looking foxes in an abandoned churchyard. Within cycling distance there are also peregrines, deer, rabbits, marsh harriers and buzzards, in wasteland, woods and parks. At the right time of year, you might even see salmon or sea trout leaping downriver at Knostrop Weir.
The beauty of lunchtime is its compactness: it is sandwiched between two thick morning and afternoon slabs. It’s an efficient use of time. I joined the Bingo Hall and spent 30 minutes playing bingo one lunch, just because my grandad used to work there when it was Pilkington’s Glass and I wanted to see what it looked like now. I spent three minutes on a sunbed in an Amusement Arcade to see if I felt like I was on a beach (I didn’t), took piano lessons in a stranger’s basement at the fabulous Basement Arts Project, a contemporary gallery in a terraced, brick family house.
In my lunch hour I have also test driven a Tesla, listened to drunk Karaoke, seen a pagan wedding, listened to a choir, had my fortune told by a gypsy, joined unprofessional philosophers in the pub, played chess and table tennis, been on guided tours, talks and lectures, visited libraries and exhibitions, dined with the Chinese Elderly Associations, or at a Langar – communal kitchen – at the Sikh Temple.
This piece appears in Idler 62. Buy a copy here.