Last weekend at the Port Eliot Festival, I launched the début outing of the Idler’s Academy for Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment.
This is a scheme that I had been turning over in my head for some years. I’d read that the medieval school curriculum consisted of grammar, logic and rhetoric, and these three subjects seemed to me to be far superior to the Viking empathy and Diwali awareness classes that get taught today.
My equivalents for the modern age were thinking, doing and partying, and it struck me that in actual fact, these disciplines need to be taught. They are not necessarily inborn.
I also had in mind the Epicurean school of Ancient Rome, where young men retreated from the distractions of the city and devoted themselves to quiet contemplation, study and art. For the Greeks, education was synonymous with lesiure: the Greek word for free time is skolia, from where we derive our word for school.
The point was that a good education was something that you chose to pursue in your leisure time. It was not, as today, an exercise in containment. And a liberal education was an education fitting for a free man, not for a slave.
A motto for life
It was with these thoughts in mind that I developed the idea of an Idler’s Academy. Our school motto is ‘libertas per cultum’, which translates literally as ‘freedom through education’. But ‘cultum’ gives us words like ‘cultivate’ and ‘culture’, and so has associations with growing rather than programming.
My idea is that if we are better educated, then very simply we will be less likely to be ripped off and controlled by capitalists and state bureaucrats. Good grammar will lead to good thinking. An example of this is the supermarket slogan ‘every little helps’.
Now, here we see a classic case of bad grammar being used for the purposes of mind control. ‘Little’ is not a noun, it is an adjective, and so this sentence makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It is like saying ‘every small helps’, or ‘every large helps’. Also, helps what?
The implication is something along the lines of ‘every little bit of financial help helps you to run your household more effectively’, but this is just interpretation on my part.
The result of these ungrammatical slogans is a muddy brain on the part of the consumer. But a little tutoring in basic grammar could help us to sharpen our minds and therefore detect the traps that the scoundrels and rogues out there set for the unwary.
A day of education
So I invited about twenty masters of their arts down to give lessons. A spacious marquee was erected for the purpose. We installed a blackboard at one end, and a tuck shop at the other. I wore a mortar board and gown. Harry Mount give a Latin lesson. Harry has written a book on Latin called Amo, Amas, Amat.
We also had the poet Murray Lachlan Young, who presented a brilliant lecture on what he calls ‘The Way of the What’.
This is a technique he has developed which can help you to avoid succumbing to rage, and which is very amusing at the same time. If someone gives you a load of abuse, stranger or friend, you simply need to to hang your head in dejection and clear your mind. You then look up at your foe with a confused expression on your face, and simple say: ‘Wha?’
The former pop producer and now artist Bill Drummond spent the weekend outside our marquee making a bed, so there was our woodwork teacher. Never let it be said that the Idler’s Academy forgets those pupils who are good with their hands. Also in the yard was the sculptor William Peers, who gave lessons in modelling with clay.
Carpentry and scuplture are in fact two of the noblest arts, and they are useful too. As well as creating clear-minded graduates, the Idler’s Academy wants to give people practical skills. Today’s men and women are woefully helpless when it comes to practical skills. That’s why we tend to delegate them to others.
Not forgetting some fun
And finally, to merriment. This was an area of life that the Puritans cracked down on in the 16th century. Cakes, ale, maypoles, late night revelry, sex in the woods and cutting a caper were all frowned upon by the post-Reformation powers that were.
So I invited Charles Hazlewood to give a singing class, and he got us all singing an old Latin song in a round. It was fantastically satisfying.
I think next term we will offer some dancing lessons, and if anyone would like the Idler’s Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment to make an appearance at your event, we can tailor an outing to suit any budget.
Just contact me, the Headmaster, through The Ecologist.
Tom Hodgkinson is editor The Idler magazine
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