Tom Hodgkinson escapes to a land of fun and learning
When the Reformation kicked in, the fun-hating Puritans took away most of our old holy days, claiming they were Popish and superstitious. This was sad because days off for feasting and worshipping in the temples had been a feature of most civilised societies for millennia.
It was a relief therefore when the hippies reintroduced merry-making via the medium of the pop festival in the 1960s.
Many of the early festivals were free and could be quite intimidating: naked hippies selling hash cookies, old vans openly advertising LSD for sale. And there could be violence, too: think of the Battle of the Beanfield.
Over the years these festivals have evolved into something quite different, more commercial perhaps, but also more family-friendly, and gentler too.
Festivals offer a precious zone of fun and learning, and an escape from workaday reality.
Last weekend we went to Alex James’s Big Feastival in the Cotwsolds to teach ukulele and philosophy and generally introduce new people to the many and varied delights of idling.
Idler Academy Head of Philosophy Mark Vernon and I put our togas on and talked about the schools of ancient Greece: the Cynics, the Sceptics, the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Academics and the Peripatetics.
And our Head of Ukulele Danny Wootton taught several groups of delighted festival goers how to play “Sloop John B”.
A manifesto for merry-making
When we founded the Idler Academy 10 years ago, we decided that the three pillars of the curriculum would be philosophy, husbandry and merriment, and this is indeed what festivals offer: loads of classes in bread-making and beekeeping, the time to ponder what life is all about, and then go dancing.
The next and final festival of the year for us will be Camp Good Life in North Wales, 17-19 September, when we’ll be teaching cartooning with Harry Venning and more philosophy with Mark Vernon.
As I write, tickets are sold out but you can join the waiting list here.