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A not so leisurely road – by Justyna

27 May

Another two-in-one whammy. Sorry guys. Both ‘leisure’ and ‘road’ fit in nicely though.

I’ve never been into proper leisurely holidays. Never been on one of those all-inclusive deals in a resort, never sat an entire week on a beach sipping cocktails, have never actually gone on holidays with a suitcase come to think of it. I like to sweat it out a bit before I enjoy myself. A deserving rest only after there is exertion etc. I also have mild vertigo. Which brings me to our holiday in Georgia. Which brings me to the most harrowing road I have ever been on. Which brings me to the exact opposite of leisure.

Back in 2010 we went to Georgia. The country isn’t huge and we crisscrossed it getting about by mini-buses, trucks, trains and hitching. The Georgian Caucus mountains are the most impressive mountain range I have ever seen in my life. And to get to remote villages set in the depth of the mountains we hired a Lada Niva (a Soviet 4WD that is the most uncomfortable car ever, yet the hardiest and can be fixed with just a hammer and a spanner) for four days. The heart of the most remote region in the country was accessible via a mere 120 km drive from Tbilisi to an elevation of 3000m. This took nine whole freaking hours. The dirt, winding road allowing this accessibility is only open for three months of the year, due to the severe weather conditions and due to the road’s absolute crapness. The road is as wide as your standard dump truck (in this case the Russian Kamas), and likes to collapse unannounced in various parts causing you and your vehicle to plummet thousands of meters to your death. This happens every year. No one knows who its next victim will be. A bunch of Polish tourists in a Lada Niva or a goat herder with his whole flock. When winter ends the road work crews commence to restore the road’s semi-road resemblance caused by avalanches, mud slides and fruity cement mixtures. We were driving on this ‘road’ right at the end of September, only days before it officially closed in October.

I spent most of that trip with my eyes closed and an acidic taste of reflux in my mouth. I really was shit scared. The 4WD would lick the edge of the road and we would be briefly exposed to the gashing ravine below. This happened hundreds of times due to the hundreds of switch-backs. When a Kamas would come, we would have to hug the cliff wall or reverse to a passable shoulder, praying that the two vehicles would only clip one another’s side mirrors. I had that feeling in my gut telling me that I was stupid, that I had left a kid behind with grandparents, that this was such an idiotic way to die and that this WAS NOT a leisurely way to spend my holiday. Once we reached the saddle at 3000m though, and I felt solid mountain earth under my feet, and the most jaw-gaping views ever, I felt a bit more justified. We reached the village on a plateau and saw 360 degrees of hard arse mountains and I almost felt relaxed. Almost. We ended up pitching our tents at an army post. The Georgian soldiers treated us to a supper of lamb and tomatoes, telling us that since Russia had ground invaded Georgia in 2008, there were now army posts scattered all around the mountain range. We were camping on the border with Ossetia and Chechnya where all the trouble had begun, sleeping under a Georgian flag, right near a dude who had the night post holding a machine gun. Leisurely indeed.


Leisure – by Karen

20 May

Leisure Time in an Elegant Setting, Pieter de Hooch (Dutch, Rotterdam 1629–1684 Amsterdam)

I really can’t make much sense of this painting, which failing probably underlines the ways in which leisure pastimes have altered since the 1600s. Only one person in the picture really looks like they’re having fun – a girl who is holding a dry paintbrush next to some bread. Her little brother is bummed out, her mother’s face scolds, and her pipe-smoking dad is looking at the mum like wtf? And indeed, as pointed out by the Met, from which I’ve poached the image, “[t]he merry dialogue in the near ground is foiled by the mysterious encounter of a young man and elderly bearded figure in the antechamber and vestibule.” They mean foiled in the arty sense, not the gotcha! sense. Personally I think it’s just Grandpa coming to join in the dry paintbrush hijinks, but it could be a forboding and grim approach, I suppose.

It’s true that in the midst of many rollicking good times, a dour figure lurks in wait – be it the dawn of Monday, an assignment due date, perhaps even feelings of guilt and frivolousness for the particularly conscientious, which Renaissance-era Dutch folk surely were, no matter how much gold-slathered leather adorned their walls. You might argue that awareness of the fleeting nature of leisure time heightens our enjoyment of it, but I’m sure you also remember the pleasurable ennui of an endless school holiday in your warless 1980s.

It’s often said that hunter-gatherers, which we all were at some point in our evolutionary history, spend far longer than we do at leisure, but this has since been disputed by pickier anthropologists who point out that if you include all the damn time these guys spend on food preparation and other practical little tasks beyond hunting and gathering, they’re working about as long as we are. What seems certain though is that these populations (which do tend to have far better mental health than us, despite lack of access to modern medicine), spend many more hours in a state of “flow”, and that their work is much more similar to their leisure pursuits than ours.

Leisure – by Beth

19 May

I’ve felt pretty out of touch with music for a while now. When I get the chance for some headphone time  I listen to podcasts, and up until recently Leo refused to listen to a lot of my favourite music. But now, the worm is turning, and he likes nothing more than listening to B52’s ‘Cosmic Thing’ in the car. We muse about which our favourite songs are (mine: ‘Junebug’, his: ‘Love Shack’), and sing along as he head bangs from his car seat. In the house we compare dance moves. It’s hot fun.

After the success of getting out B52s again, and when the topic this week made me think of the early 90s Blur album, I thought I’d mine the letter ‘B’ from the CD cabinet and see what else I came up with. (Bands beginning with ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘S’ have the best music in my experience).

I do realise that not discovering much new music and listening to my old music is SAD! and OLD FOGEY-like. I discover about 10 new great songs a year and that’s just how it’s going to be until something changes. Funny that now I discover ‘a song’ and when I was younger it was about whole albums… My reactions are below.

Unmoved by:

  • Blur – ‘Leisure
Or yeah, it’s OK:
  • Belly – ‘Star’

This is a freaking classic:

  • Boards of Canada – ‘Geogaddi’
  • Beatles – ‘White Album’
  • B52s – ‘Cosmic Thing’

Leisure – by Tabitha

17 May

My brother Toby and I spent a great deal of our childhood playing adventure games on the family’s Amiga computer. The computer, which my mother irrationally hated, was relegated to a corner of a nook of the television room, between a fireplace that was only used for hanging Christmas stockings, and a bookshelf dedicated to taller books that didn’t fit on the other bookshelves.

In school holidays, Toby and I used to sit side-by-side at the computer desk (was there ever an uglier piece of furniture?) for hours on end, day after day, nutting out one adventure game series after the other: Kings Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, the Secret of Monkey Island and Leisure Suit Larry.

This was when I was about eight to eleven years old, the absolute heyday of my friendship with my brother. For that brief period we shared some common interests, like the computer games and some TV shows, and I was old enough to not be too embarrassing to him, and he was young enough to not yet have closed his bedroom door permanently behind him, swallowed up by adolescence.

Because he was older, and already “good at computers”, he was almost always in charge of the controls, but we worked together to navigate our way through the games, solving collectively the various riddles and challenges presented from one screen to the next. If the games were to be played, we had to both be there. It was social, it was collaborative, we chatted as we waited for screens to load. The games were funny and delightful to us, and were suited to our skills as a pair (I was never a satisfying partner to him in any other kind of game that involved fighting or shooting or joystickery).

The series I remember most is Leisure Suit Larry. I find it a bit surprising that my dad allowed us to buy this game, centred around a sleazy middle-aged man’s pursuit of prostitutes (or “hookers” as they were known in the game) and gambling, but I guess he knew it was laughably harmless, which it was, and that we wouldn’t really understand it anyway, which we didn’t.

Every time you started up Leisure Suit Larry, you had to pass a series of multiple choice questions which were supposed to keep children like us at bay. Instead, we would simply shout out the questions to our parents – “Mum, what’s a G-spot?” – or click random answers until we eventually passed.

The only reason Leisure Suit Larry is so memorable to me is that I’ve reflected on it more than the other games, trying to remember how it made me feel, and wondering whether it was inappropriate. But most of my reflecting has come about precisely because there is nothing memorable about it. At the time, my brother and I didn’t approach it any differently to Kings Quest; in one, you had to get the princess, in the other, you had to have sex with a hooker. So?

During those years while Toby and I sat at the computer desk, our family was falling apart around us. Our sisters were in their mid- to late teens, raising hell, screeching at each other almost constantly. My dad was always traveling for work, and then he started sleeping on an inflatable mattress in the front room, and then he moved out. Much like my approach to Leisure Suit Larry, none of this seemed particularly noteworthy to me. It was just stuff that happened. We got a new couch, my dad moved out. So?

This period of my childhood should be a therapist’s goldmine, but actually, my memories of it are very dear. Just me and my brother, wedged between a fireplace and a bookshelf, immersed in our adventures, oblivious to the adult world.