For William McInnes, quality leisure time is one big game

09/10/2019 Posted by admin

There’s a park not far from where I live which once would have been called a caravan park, but these days announces itself as a Leisure Park. It has a mini tennis court, pool and an amenities block.
Nanjing Night Net

I know this because there’s a sign boldly announcing such splendours awaiting prospective guests inside its gates. I look at the sign occasionally when afternoon traffic thickens like cooling gravy and coagulates. I saw, the other day, it was no longer a Leisure Park but had morphed into a “Quality Leisure Park”.

The word “Quality” had a newer look. The rest of the sign was unchanged, presumably like the park itself, so it was a little perplexing why it had become a “Quality Leisure Park”.

Staring at the sign from my car I thought about the idea of leisure. It wasn’t a word much used when I was a kid, save by a grumpy maths teacher who’d employ it after ordering some task be carried out.

If a little slow going about your business he began with a bellow and built to scream, “McInnes, solve the next step of the problem on the board.” There was a pause while I tried to collect some random mathematical tit-bit from my brain which he’d invariably end with the roar, “Well Then, At Your Leisure!!!!!!!!” It was as if leisure was an indulgence, some unfortunate character failing that represented a selfish procrastination.

The maths teacher was fond of using Oxford dictionary definitions to describe his students, “The Oxford Dictionary defines an ignoramus as an ignorant or stupid person. So it’s nice to know you are in the good book.”

So I, just for him, checked the good book: it defines leisure as “time when one is not working or occupied, free time”.

Taking the point leisure is your own particular time away from work, it would follow leisure would be kept aside for pursuits which result in pleasure.

This is where things can get odd. A boy I knew at school had a father who seemed constantly on the verge of explosion. He was one of the most nervously intense and cantankerous grown-ups I think I ever met, more volatile even than the bellowing maths teacher. Volcanic even when indulging in his passion for gem setting in a strange secretive little room he’d built beneath his back stairs.

It must have felt like a sweat box in Redcliffe’s subtropical summer. “No noise,” he would say. “I want my quiet time to enjoy myself.” Then would come muffled frustrated groans when the precision of gem setting got too much for him, and we’d quietly peek through a little window and see, bent over a gem setting plate, a creature bathed in a bright light. The magnifiers on his eyes made him look like a strange insect.

If he stuffed something up, he’d ball his fists then silently scream. A Munch gem-setting Scream. Made you wonder how much enjoyment he derived from his leisure away from his occupation as, of all things, a flight traffic controller.

Surely your leisure should be a refuge from work?

My family’s male grown-up, my father, chose a more basic form of leisure which could sometimes be quite profound. The snooze. He had an ability to sleep anywhere when he wanted to get away from it all. It was nothing to come home and see him prone on the tray of one of his trucks or stretched out in state on a trestle table in the back yard. Dressed in stubbies and striped T-shirt, you’d go about your business until he woke, clapped his hands and say, “Lovely”.

I asked him if he dreamed when he snoozed. “If I do, it’s my business.”

I asked my mother where he’d found the gift of dropping off whenever and wherever he wanted. “Well, I suppose if you’ve fought in a war you find ways to sleep in almost any place.”

My father adored snoozing: “A chance to start the day again and the only coot who never got any benefit from a nap was Hamlet – too much per-chancing to dream. Stupid bugger.”

Today leisure can sometimes have a more regimented and organised feel. Almost purposeful.

As a kid, if you weren’t at school or in a part-time job you just generally mucked about and the same seemed to go for adults – the gem-setting silent Munch scream and my snoozing dad.

But on a Saturday morning not long ago, I walked along one of the beaches in the town where I grew up and was quite interested in what went on.

In my youth, you’d see the odd swimmer returning from the water or people fishing at the water’s edge.

On that Saturday I saw squads of people being barked at and drilled by personal trainers. A yoga class stood in their active wear, arms by their sides, breathing deep, contemplating their lesson, all wearing sunglasses as the sun shone bright and hot, reflecting off the sea. It reminded me of old films of atomic tests, where a group of people stand with goggles protecting their eyes from the exploding bomb. Regimented leisure.

The traffic moved in front of the Quality Leisure Park sign, I crept forward a few spaces almost as if a dice had been rolled and I was a part of some big board game.

And I thought of a preferred middle-aged leisure activity – the dinner party. It’s an odd sort of expression. It’s a social occasion that joins a long list of such events: lunch, brunch, barbecue, breakfast, a cocktail party, a pub crawl even. But you seldom meld them together. As in a dinner party. A dinner seems a bit formal and has an air of solemnity involved in the chewing of food. A party on the other hand denotes a bit of fun. A dinner party is also something you engage in as you get on, something a bit more reflective and sedate.

At university I didn’t do dinner parties. The circle I moved in engaged in Bin Parties. Preparations were extensive and nothing was left to chance. A large plastic rubbish pin, usually green with a black lid, was purchased from a hardware store and placed in the backyard. Guests would pour into the bin whatever it was they’d brought to drink, creating a haphazard punch.

The Bin Party’s appeal was best summed up by a large man who was a very good rower. He’d placed a six pack of Brisbane Bitter in the bin just after some bottles of Blackberry Nip had been poured in by a pair of nurses. “This will be the only time Brisbane Bitter will be drinkable, Will. A miracle. Cheers.”

None of that behaviour at a dinner party, just good company, good food and good wine. Sort of. One dinner in particular had a caveat attached – a theme. Besides good company, good wine and good food guests all brought a board game from their youth.

A few people brought Monopoly, Chess and Scrabble but some surprise efforts got used as the night wore on. A retired police officer brought a Hide and Seek where the object was to find other players hiding in a variety of icons of some make-believe suburb – dog kennel, a barrel, bins, stumps, post boxes and a pile of bricks. “He couldn’t leave his police career at home, always on the trail of somebody,” said the former policeman’s partner. “They always hide in the barrel you know,” said the ex-walloper.

There was Twister, a plastic sheet marked with different coloured dots and a wheel you would flick to indicate the coloured dots the players would have to put various parts of their bodies on. A doctor brought, of all things, Operation; an electrician a box of pick up sticks; a couple of teachers had Mousetrap.

I brought a game I had never played in my life but that had been in almost every house and home I have lived in. Squatter. It was described as the “Australian” board game, about making agricultural millions on the sheep’s back. The host, an engineer, chortled in delight. “Squatter!” He held it up and some other guests groaned. “Have you ever played this game? Has anyone here played this game?” It turned out none of us had but we all knew the cover very well. “Well,” said the host, “let’s keep it that way.”

I asked what had inspired the theme. “Thought it might be fun.” He was right. It stopped being a dinner party when we played Twister. “This,” said one of the teachers, trying to put her leg around the head of the lawyer to place her foot on a green dot, “isn’t advisable after having three children.”

It turned out to be a cracking night. Although whether the dusty morning after was caused by the wine or Twister I’m not sure. But sitting in my car, slowly rolling along past the Leisure Park’s sign, it struck me the board game dinner party really was what I would now call Quality Leisure.

William McInnes is an actor and an author; his latest novel is Full Bore.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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