How to ruin a perfectly good weekend

These simple steps will help make Saturdays as fun as Mondays

There is nothing sweeter than, at 8 pm on Sunday, looking back at the brief hours of freedom that was your weekend and berating yourself for wasting them.

If you plan the two days well, you will ensure that this mournfulness is the cherry on top of a thick, creamy layer of regret and self-loathing you’ve managed to spread over the whole of your time off.

Did you file the Jenkins report?

To guarantee a miserable weekend, make sure that work is the first thing you think about when you wake up on Saturday morning.

The two days off should be a tranquil Coy Carp pond at the centre of a Zen peace garden. By thinking about a small but unpleasant chore that’s waiting for you on Monday you will be trampling over the flower beds so you can pour a bag of Blue Circle cement into it.

Your achievements define you

One of the most important ways you can ruin a weekend, not just for yourself but everyone around you, is set yourself a vague, ill-defined goal. Or, even better, a series of complicated, yet obscure achievements that run counter to each other, or would take much too long to complete, even if you started one.

For instance, build a boat and learn watercolour painting. Actually, these aren’t very good examples at all. Both are far too specific. Better to set targets such as ‘learn something’. Or even better, simply ‘do something productive’.

As long as your goal remains a washy ‘something’, failure is guaranteed.

It’s also essential to keep reminding yourself that the weekend will be a massive failure, unless you do something creative or meaningful. Without this constant, nagging litany, you won’t have anything to feel rotten about when your alarm starts hammering away in Monday morning.

While your stirring this sensation that you need to do something, make sure you are actually doing as little as possible. The watchword you need to live by is ‘fritter’.

If a task is worth doing, half-ass it

With the whole of the weekend stretching in front of you, there’s nothing wrong with spending time to luxuriate in the tasks that you rush through in the working week.

Spending time to apply consideration and care to a mundane task can reward you with a feeling of contemplation and ease. This is the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve. It is better to take as long as possible on a quotidian event, while at the same time reminding yourself that there are thousands of other things that are more worthy of your time.

To help me achieve, what can only be described as expert-level frittering, I have developed an intricate level of vanity.

Shaving is perfect for building up a requisite level of self loathing, so that you can make yourself as disagreeable to yourself and by extension to everyone else in the household, too.

Firstly, lather up your shaving brush. There’s no room for the convenience of an electric razor in the world of the soured weekend. Rotate the whiskers in the soap for as long as possible. Not only will this build up a pleasing head of foam, it also allows you to spend a goodly amount of time looking yourself in the eye. This allows you to reinterpret the week that has passed. What better time to turn recent history into a maze of wrong turns and bad decisions that you will never extricate yourself from.

Once you’ve built up a good head of foam and a suitable sense that you’re tangled in the sticky ropes of a life you fell into, it’s time to apply the lather to your face. This is best achieved by moving the bristles in a circular motion from bottom of the neck to the chin, then cheeks and upper lip. During this action, you can build a frantic pace, as you work to obscure that pliant, credulous face that gawps back at you, like a particularly loathsome fish; albeit a very foamy one.

For a particularly distressing shave, use an old razor blade. Despite the careful benedictions of your strokes, as you run the blunt blade over your cheeks and throat, much of the stubble is vexed rather than cut, leaving you with a haphazard and uneven finish.

Not only does this take you a considerable amount of time to achieve, it creates a dissatisfying result, which sets you up for a full day of manufacturing little failures.

As you rub an inexpert hand over the stripes of beard, you also have time to silently condemn your own vanity. Ask yourself how long you wasted on this slapdash shave and question whether your inability to even tackle vanity properly behoves larger failings in your character.

For the best results, also throw the razor blade away afterwards. This should generate a small stab of guilt about the amount of waste you needlessly create. With your sense of the inevitable doom you have cursed the world with, you are ready to achieve nothing productive with your day.

The golden rule

The golden rule for ruining a perfectly good weekend is that the amount of things you do should be inversely proportional to the amount you have planned.

Maybe, use one of the perpetual Udemy sales to buy access to several online courses, which you tell yourself you will definitely start later. Spend time downloading as many of the tutorials as possible. This is also a good time to revisit some of the courses you have previously purchased, so you can feel a brief stab of guilt at the growing number of things you’ve made 1% progress towards mastering.

As long as you don’t give any sense of priority to your impossible list of endeavours and you continue to listlessly flit from meaningless, unimportant task to another, you’ll be well on the way to sabotaging your days off.

It’s time to take a break. One of the most important things about frittering away time is to never keep to your deadlines. If you’ve told yourself that you’ll start your big, creative, productive weekend after lunch, make sure to take three hours. This time is best spent in front of the TV, flicking between old episodes of Time Team, Diagnosis Murder and a Spanish western on Movies for Men.

I always find that, by now I’m beginning to fidget and I’m wrapped in a smothering blanket of boredom.

Take time out

This is always the best time to go shopping.

On good days, shopping is a restorative experience. It speaks to our need to acquire. Something we have done from our hunter-gather days. However, with your sense of disappointment well established, spending time aimlessly walking round the shops can fertilize that seedling of unpleasant anger that sprouted in your heart on waking up.

Visiting the shops is most effective if you don’t actually need to buy anything. The bustle of other shoppers, and the dissatisfaction with the shops available will all help sharpen your mood. None of the uninteresting high street chains seem to have anticipated your nebulous desires; wants that you have struggled to articulate even to yourself.

Once I have reached this level, sometimes I find that my sense of frustration plateaus. When this happens it is best to visit a shop that reflects ambitions you held when you were younger. This might be a record shop, art supplies or sport shop. For me it’s book shops. There’s nothing like surrounding yourself with the fruits of others’ labours to amplify the feeling that you are stumbling closer to the grave through a series of fruitless days.

It’s one of my least favourite things to do: to pace the aisles of Waterstones, each wall crammed from floor to ceiling with books that exemplify the hard work, dedication, stamina and perseverance of its author. This is the perfect place to question your own abilities, measure your own motivations and find them wanting.

Here you are as a mere (best to say it as a dirty word) consumer. Someone who gobbles down what others have crafted and loved. whisper it to yourself until you feel the tears prick at your eyes and you want to run from shelf to shelf, flinging the books to the floor rather than let them taunt your failures and laziness.

If you do find something to buy, tell yourself that this purchase will not make you happy and that any thrill of acquisition will be fleeting. It’s best to do this quietly but insistently, before you reach the cashier.

Time is not on your side

Once you have fretted away Saturday, it is best to remind yourself of your age and see if you can rekindle that existential dread of time falling away from you: an inexorable downpour of days, flushed way and lost. Why not review what you have done with the day? Especially as you’ve convinced yourself tat it’s far too late to achieve anything today anyway. Open a bottle of wine.

Blame is a kind of love

If you are lucky enough to have a partner, family, or even a pet, I highly recommend displacing some of the disappointment you feel about yourself by putting it on to them, instead. After all, in some oblique way it is their fault you spent four hours sitting on the edge of the bed, playing Fruit Ninja, instead of learning to whittle.

Remember, there’s no better way of letting someone or something know that you cherish them by making passive aggressive comments from behind a wine glass. Another favourite strategy is to answer their questions about what’s wrong by saying nothing in a way that makes it 100% clear that everything is wrong and that somehow they are the bitter centre of it all.

Once you have accomplished a miserable Saturday, make sure you promise yourself that Sunday will be different. for best results make sure that you repeat this cycle in its entirety.

Thanks for reading. If you want more ideas for ruining a perfectly nice two days off, you can procrastinate about joining my mailing list.


The eighth wonder of Southwest England

To call any holiday truly great, a visit to Porlock should sit at its very heart.

This small Somerset town is probably unfairly judged for its execrable place in English literature. While just down the road, the rolling hills of gorse and bracken serve as the backdrop to RD Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, Porlock is most famous for having people barge in on romantic poets, making them forget what they were doing.

This is of course what happened to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as he was most of the way through writing Kubla Khan. Having woken from his laudanum laced dream with the poem fully formed, he was interrupted by a ‘person from Porlock’.

While the resident of the town has become literary shorthand for an unwanted intrusion on creativity, anyone who has traversed Porlock Hill will know that, whatever that person wanted to tell Coleridge, it must have been damn important to trek all the way up the incline.

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The inanimate objects I feel most sorry for…

are traffic bollards. One kind in particular: the white plastic oblong that are placed around small roundabouts, make me feel wistful. If you are reading this outside of England, you maybe confused by several things mention in the first two sentences.

So let me explain. Roundabouts are Britain’s answer to the question ‘how should drivers behave when they reach a crossroads’. Our answer is a small bump in the road, which all of the drivers need to steer around, giving way to the right. In other countries, where maybe rugged individualism is more of the norm, traffic lights decide the conundrum of four carriageways meeting.

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The politics of soup

How the posh ruined eating for everyone

There are two ways to eat soup: correctly or properly.

A good example of the first is a Victorian explorer. See him tumbling out of the tundra and into the tent, where a billy can of soup simmers on the stove. He hunkers over the hot soup, gripping the spoon in his fist and slurps the thin liquid into his mouth, a fast as possible. In his other hand he grasps a heel of bread, which he uses to sop up more of his meal.

The correct way to eat soup is with gusto. After all, everyone loves soup.

For the second, remember any Jane Austen adaptation you’ve ever watched. Behind the gaiety and splendour lies a world of pinched, paranoid social frenzy. One’s behaviour is monitored for evidence of deviance. Not like today, where perhaps bringing a motorbike to the table would be seen as a step too far. Jane Austen novels make it plain: an ill-timed giggle or grabbing the wrong fork means instant opprobrium.

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If you want to start what you finish

Questionnaires are the last place you should start. Especially if you’re trying to find out something extraordinary about yourself. In fact, no matter how hard they sell themselves, multiple choice questions can’t give you insights into your own life. Can they?

If it’s an online quiz, then I’m delighted to take it. Especially if it will help me find out which Friends character I’d be (Gunther), or if I’m good at grammar (mostly). Anything that might tell me something about myself that goes beyond the superficial? Sorry, no, my scepticism gauge just shot up to 100.

It was because of work that I first encountered Belbin and the realisation that, no, I wasn’t a completer finisher.

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Your hair, but louder

Women’s hair products used to be obsessed with volume. Each one boasting about its ever increasing achievements in the field of bulk. No self respecting shampoo would dream of taking a shower with a young lady, unless it could make her hair the size of a barrage balloon. Two barrage balloons; three! Just one wash will make your hair swell to a coiffured grandeur fit for a courtier of Louis XIV.

Thankfully that drive for volume has now shrivelled like a punctured souffle. Instead, modern hair products obsess about the nourishment they offer. As the way people eat has changed, so has the respect that advertisers insist we pay to our hair’s dietary needs.

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The Devil’s house

The house at that corner sags into its tangled garden of brambles. Ivy strangles one of the windows and gropes towards the chimney pot. From where they stand, Suzanna can see a triangle of yellow curtain falling across one of the windows. Behind that only black shadow. That was a child’s room, Suzanna thinks and the thought causes cold to skitter across her skin. She shivers. Beyond that little sliver of yellow a void squirms. A huge, sucking mouth of wet blackness.

Suzanna’s grandmother suddenly curls her thin fingers around the little girl’s upper arm and turns her to face the old, abandoned house. ‘See the house there?’ She says. ‘See it; it is haunted; possessed’. Suzanna feels the same fingers of dread scrambling over her skin.

The whole village knows that the house is cursed. Indeed, many years ago, when grandmother was a young woman, she and some friends crept into the house jut before dusk and scattered flour over the floor in the top bedroom. ‘That bedroom there,’ says grandmother, pointing to the window where the tatter of yellow peeps out from behind rotten frames.

‘When we went back the next day, the flour was full of footprints. Cloven hooves, like a goats, but only one set’. Whatever had walked there that night had done so on two feet. ‘See’, says Suzanna’s grandmother, ‘that’s proof that the Devil strolls through that house at night.’

Suzanna is older now; a tall, blonde, elegant woman, who I have met at least twice at dinner parties. She lives in Britain and the possessed house and her grandmother’s small Polish village are anecdotes – dark-edged fairy tales to recount across the white clothes of Middle England’s dinner tables. Britain has a large Polish population, and the stereotype is a nation of dispossessed plumbers and builders. But you do not have to dig beyond this easy banality to find how readily we English will accept Poland as a land of dank pine forests, where silent peasants stand watching suspiciously from their austere doorways. We dinner guests all sit and listen, transfixed.

It is a perfect story. Suzanna tells it well. She tells it in a way that is half belief it, half gentle mockery. It is that dose of the incredulity that makes it all the more believable. She is reaching back to be the little granddaughter again, suspicious that her grandmother is pulling her leg. Yet that crust of disbelief is a thin veneer over her darker childish faith that eldritch forces stalk this world.

While I believe the story of the story is true, I do not believe that the old house was imbued with the presence of evil; that the devil was callow enough to trot his foot prints through the flour. Instead, this sounds like a mischievous tale told by a grandparent to scare and beguile a child. That malicious act of love: abusing your position of trust to tell a tale that will live with that person through their life – so much so, they are telling it to a relative stranger twenty years later, on the other side of Europe. Although I doubt it is a conscious thing, it is an amazing thing to transmit that feeling of wonder and the excitement of real dread to someone for whom those emotions are real and vivid and alive. Probably in the way that Grandmother’s own grandmother gripped her arm and pointed to a ramshackle old place, falling in to ruin, and told the story of the foot prints in the flour.

Then again, this is me placing my own reasoning on the tale. I would tell it because it was scary, not because I believe it. I think it’s fun to be scared. Nothing more. Perhaps Suzanna’s grandmother told the story because she believed it was true. It is not so extraordinary that people believe in the supernatural is empirical and real – a measurable and discoverable force. I work with a young man who grew up in a deeply religious household. He believes in spirits, in the real worldly existence of demons. So when Suzanna’s grandmother grips her thin arm, her fingers squeezing hard through the material of the little girl’s coat, and whispers a story of the little group hurrying from the house, their hands white with precious flour, it is not a story to amaze and startle. Perhaps the whispered words are a warning: stay away from the devil’s house. For what is more precious and irreplaceable in this world than your granddaughter’s soul?

Again, I do not believe that it was the devil’s feet, part of me does not even believe in the scattered flour. I think that we grant agency to things, motive and intent beyond their solid objectivity. An argument erupts, a disease strikes, people die. And why? The fact that there is no reason, no agency behind people’s lives can be more terrifying than a foolish devil, slinking back to hell to scrape flour off his hooves.

What sort of story is it to say that was the house where Patryck and Marta lived. He became sick and died. Marta moved away. See, there is his grave, there in the church yard. Now no one wanted to live in the house where Patryck died. So the house sits empty. Wood warps, the house begin to slouch on its foundations; it looks cold, untended. Now it is an unlucky house. Tiles slip from the roof, birds live in the rafters, people can sometimes hear their noisy avian lives: the sudden scratching and shuffling; the house creaks as it settles into its dereliction.

One day a board breaks with a loud crash. All of the people in the village freeze, caught by the sudden violence of a sound from such an empty place. It is no longer Patryck and Marta’s house, it is no longer unlucky. Instead it is cursed. Grandmothers clutch their granddaughter’s arms as they walk past. Beware. Three brave children steal a small sack of flour and the next day find the empty house is alive with creatures (who now sit in their nests licking flour off their feet). Our minds create their own uneasiness about a place where the humanity has left, but the structures remain. As if the house itself should disappear along with its residents.  But their own beliefs mean that they don’t see the birds, only the dark and sinister edge of emptiness: feel the shudder that says it is the devil stamping infernal patterns across the floor at night.