A Decade of Idling at Port Eliot

The Idler Academy have been with us from the earliest days of the fest, and it’s somewhere you’ll inadvertently end up for hours, absorbing a multitude of random skills from bee-keeping to grammar lessons. Since this will be their 10th year at the festival, Idler Academy co-founder and author Tom Hodgkinson explains how he got involved in the festival and what you’ll find there this year. 

LOUIS ELIOT invited the Idler to come and do a tent at the festival back in 2009. We invented a fantasy school called The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment, the idea being to teach the various arts of living. Our first lesson was with a Savile Row Tailor, and he taught us how to sew a button on properly. I wore a mortarboard and gown asked the audience to stand up when I entered the room. We wanted to recreate the atmosphere of a 1950s grammar school but with talks on drugs and anarchism. And ukuleles of course.

What would a 10th anniversary be without a nostalgic throwback?! Tom playing the schoolmaster in 2011.

Back then my children were small. Sometimes they did naughty things like have fights with each other and I’d have to address their issues between talks. I remember shouting at one of them, telling them off for something or other. I later discovered that a friend had seen me from the distance, in my gown and mortar board, wagging my finger at a little child. “Tom’s taking this schoolmaster thing a bit too far,” the friend thought. I think he thought I was about to get the ruler out and whack the child.

Despite this altercation my children still love Port Eliot and always say it’s their favourite festival . If we ask them what were their best summer holiday moments, they always say: “Port Eliot”. I think it’s the freedom they love: they can wander anywhere and do what they want and it’s safe.

Ten years on and we’re still aiming to bring you a selection of fascinating lectures and useful life lessons. This year the radical author Paul Mason will be discussing why we need to resist the capitalist worship of machines and put the human at the centre of the picture. The actor and Paddington 2 writer Simon Farnaby will be discussing the art of screenwriting and acting. Vice’s Zing Tsjeng will talk on history’s great but forgotten women, and psychoanalyst Josh Cohen will explain why doing nothing is good for your mental health. There’ll be dancing, singing and music playing and our sports master, the brilliant Ben Moor, will be leading sessions of Frisbee Tree Golf. Plus we are looking forward to a lesson in basic accountancy from Johnny Martin, aka the Numbers Coach, perfect for anyone running their own creative business. “Truly, Competence is at the heart of happiness,” as the great William Cobbett had it.

See the full Idler Academy talks line-up. Workshops to be announced soon!
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