Hobby horses


Not since that introductory postcard to a fictional penpal at the age of 14 have I had to list my hobbies, and it struck me during the week that if I were asked to now, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
Lots of people I know don’t have any time for hobbies. Falling asleep with a book in your hand after the daily commute might be as good as it gets. And you can’t count TV, which just exists – it’s not an ‘interest’ – or walking the dog, for the same reason.
According to the OECD Better Life Index, a full-time worker in the OECD works 1,765 hours a year and devotes 62% of the day on average, or close to 15 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.)
They don’t break down how much of this 15 hours is spent on leisure. But if you’re sleeping for 8 hours and eating for three, or even just two, and, say, cleaning the house and paying bills and showering and trying to find that card you were going to send granny that you were absolutely sure was in this drawer… that’s not a lot of time for stamp collecting or fencing, is it?
That age of seeking out knowledge that you can’t apply to your career, for reasons other than advancement or impressing people, seems to be gone. Or so I thought.
A listener to our show phoned in on Tuesday, concerned for the welfare of a pigeon she had found in her garden. It had coloured bands on its legs and, as it turned out, was just one of a huge number to take refuge in Cork’s gardens after Sunday’s fog made them lose their bearings. The number of calls we got with good advice for her was astonishing. There is a secret network of pigeon fanciers out there. So, it was revealed to me thus that pigeon fancying, beloved of Jack Duckworth, is still a thing.
Oddly, Mike Tyson is a fan. Yes, the same Mike Tyson that raped his wife and bit someone’s ear off. I couldn’t really picture Mike Tyson and Jack Duckworth bonding over a chat about pigeons and a pint of bitter, but you never know. I guess you don’t need to be ‘like minded’ to bond over a hobby. Maybe that’s the point. They’d never fight, because stuck in a pigeon loft together, Jack and Mike’s views on Leo Varadkar, the war in Ukraine or even the fate of Jonny Sexton would never be tested.
Pigeon fancying seems to be kind of a men’s thing. There are women pigeon fanciers too, but it was all men who phoned us, eager to talk about their birds. Maybe it’s the Jack Duckworth association but it looks to me the ideal kind of pastime that keeps you out from under someone’s feet. I suppose it’s golf without the walk or the jumpers.
Niche hobbies seem to be more geared towards men. I’ve never come across a female train spotter or model maker. Or a female collector of things (with one notable exception – a woman who collected 400 handbags before she died – and instead of having the cop-on to open his own museum, her husband threw them out). All these are rather solitary pursuits and all require a particular kind of focus. None of them are exactly adding value to their careers. But perhaps that’s the point.
Among my friends there are some areas that fall across the divide. In a hugely unscientific straw poll, cooking, baking, music, writing and gardening all came up for both genders.
To my mind, though, cooking and gardening are both somewhat necessary pursuits. You have to eat, and unless you really love it and are very enthusiastic, gardening falls into the same category as cleaning – something that makes your home look decent. Both sexes listed sports, popular and niche, and Twitter, while only women listed things like yoga and taking classes.
Just one of the men said he’d taken up a sport purely for his CV. But does anyone care what your hobbies are in your workplace, unless they include murdering co-workers and burying them under your newly built decking? Maybe it sets you apart at interview.
He was the only man who seemed to use his hobby for networking or self-improvement, but a number of women said they would only do something if they saw it had a purpose – self-improvement, career change or advancement, or as a deliberate way of meeting new people.
So maybe we need to learn to let go. Embrace pointless activity. Forget the tyranny of self-improvement. Take up a new pastime that is utterly valueless outside the joy it brings you. I fancy getting a pigeon.

From The Herald 21.09.14

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