No one knows or cares that I do them, but I couldn’t live without my hobbies
SOMETIMES, MY SANITY seems to hang on a few quick strums on a guitar, or a couple of minutes doing a crossword.
And when I was depressed about my school job, it was my hobbies that helped keep me going.
While my colleagues would sip tea and chat in the Staff Room break – or smoke and offload, just out of sight of the kids – I would sneak into the music room every morning break and set a timer for exactly nine precious minutes of guitar practice.
I’d turn the amp on and try and nail the lead part to Plug In Baby or the pre-chorus of Queen’s Now I’m Here. Getting it right was the aim, but the joy lay in learning something new, something that really fired up my brain.
I also found that I couldn’t go in and face the routines of work without getting in 20 minutes of early morning German practice.
Just being able to say ‘Everything Is Awesome’* in another language was proof that – at 53 – I could still change and move forward. I was capable of growing.
Capable of more than being a Teaching Assistant, or a House Husband.
It was the hobbies that told me that I could quit the job and do something that used my brain; that my brain was a good one; that I didn’t have to be bored all the time.
And when I realised that I’d have to keep working and save up for six months before I could start my new life as a writer, it was hobbies that helped me hang in there just long enough.
Being married to a breadwinner who gets back late from work most nights is also an opportunity to try stuff out.
Now I’m at home alone all day, I’m a bit like the occupation-free Hugh Grant character in About A Boy: I have to be disciplined about how I use my time.
For example, when my son was doing his GCSE revision in the early evenings, I tried not to reach for a beer but for a crossword.
And I stepped over another neural Rubicon this week when I attempted… a Cryptic.
Armed with a couple of primers that I found on the Internet, I delightedly completed about a half of the easy cryptic puzzle in the Big Issue and then two-thirds (Ta-daaah!) of the Guardian’s Quiptic.
I was now officially a genius; or, more accurately, capable of doing something I had long thought beyond me.
Growing up, we didn’t do Cryptic Crosswords in my house. So when I cracked one, I was so chuffed that (as a wise man once said) I could have pushed over a pile of pennies.
In my battle to maintain self-esteem, hobbies are vital. They bring balance and depth to a life that, in many other areas, is still lacking it.
They mean that I’m not just a Dad or someone with depression. I have a Hinterland: a private, hopeful place that is about stuff I can do.
Sometimes, I start to think that I should take some of the hobbies further. Or come out in public with what I am secretly good at.
I’ve a good voice and, even at my age, daydream about being in a pub band, or something like that.
Occasionally, I share what I do with other people – perhaps playing a song for a kid at school, or duetting with my daughter, which always brings us closer together.
But I suppose it doesn’t matter if no-one knows about what I do: if no-one ever hears me failing to hit a high note, or mangling a riff by an obscure band that I loved back in 1982.
If just doing it – whatever it is – makes me happy, it makes me better.
* Alles ist toll!