Opening soon: The Idler Academy
In Ancient Greece, the word for school, scholee, also meant ‘leisure’. Education was a pleasure, a privilege freely chosen by the freeborn citizens of Athens. The Idler Academy, which launched earlier this year, wants to bring this spirit of cultivated leisure to the 21st century, and cross it with the lively atmosphere of an 18th century coffeehouse. We’ve met up with founder Tom Hodgkinson to find out why we should be going back to school.
The Vintage Guide to London: What exactly is the Idler Academy and why did you set it up?
Tom Hodgkinson: The Idler Academy of Husbandry, Philosophy and Merriment is a coffeehouse and bookseller in Notting Hill. Our aim is to instruct and delight in equal measure. We sell books that are beautiful and useful, and serve good coffee and nice tea out of bone china. We run a programme of talks, lectures, symposia and lessons. We teach Latin, embroidery, ukulele and much more. My wife Victoria and I set up the Idler Academy as an extension of the Idler magazine, whose simple aim is to liberate. The Academy’s motto is libertas per cultum, meaning “freedom through education”.
The Vintage Guide to London: What can your students expect – it’s not like school, is it?
Tom Hodgkinson: It’s not like modern school, which is all about self-esteem boosting and empathy lessons. We are decidedly old school in our educational approach. We believe in rote learning and text books which are free of cartoons. In fact, I’ve just delivered a load of 1940s textbooks to the shop, and gorgeous things they are, too.
The Vintage Guide to London: Where does the recent trend towards traditional skills and values – vintage, slow life – come from?
Tom Hodgkinson: I think we are seeing a reaction against the unsatisfactiory nature of modern life, and also the low quality of its products. William Morris called the produce of the industrial world “shoddy”. Today we have millions of unhappy workers making rubbish which will be bought and then thrown away by unhappy consumers. In traditional skills and values we hope to find creativity, beauty, durability and quality.
The Vintage Guide to London: And why have we lost the connection to these skills and values in the first place?
Tom Hodgkinson: We have lost that connection as a result of the “brave new world”, ie, the world which is in love with the new and shiny. The commercial world needs to grow and it does this by shoving rubbish down our throats via the advertising industry.
The Vintage Guide to London: What makes the perfect modern gentleman/lady?
Tom Hodgkinson: A good education is I think essential. The gentleman and lady should have at least a nodding aquaintance with Virgil, for example. Courtesy and self-restraint I think are important, as well.
The Vintage Guide to London: What other courses and talks might you offer in the future?
Tom Hodgkinson: We are organising mending mornings and would like to introduce a strudy wartime spirit of competence and creativity. Today so many of us are rather inept. To this end we plan courses in English grammar, rhetoric, Ancient Greek, drawing, calligraphy and all kinds of needlework. We want to bring beauty into everyday life.
81 Westbourne Park Road
London W2 5QH