‘Hello. What’s your name and do you have a hobby?’
Back in the late eighties when I turned the pages of my Tricolore textbook in Madame Scott’s form room, the single most important fact you could learn about someone (French or otherwise) was whether or not they had a hobby. What a person was interested in doing when they weren’t at school was right up there with their hair colour and home town as their key info: the fact that Le Samedi, Jean-Luc liked to jouer au ping pong and Marie-Claire was keen on la natation told you everything you needed to know about them.
There was the unsuccessful stint as a young ballerina, the piano teacher who informed my parents that it would be for the best if I stopped attending her lessons, a brief and meaningless fling with trumpet playing. And the one my family find most amusing of all, the unforgettably faint praise on one of my secondary school PE reports: ‘Lucy is a reliable member of the hockey team.’ Here the ‘reliable’ is, of course, teacher code for, she’s not much cop at the actual hockey but she does at least always turn up. More rewardingly I liked to trawl the record shops of Birmingham and attend record fairs on the hunt for Smiths seven-inches. And charity shops for vintage clothes. They were hobbies of sorts.
But then they tailed off. Stuff got in the way: exams, university, social life and jobs. All of which meant that your hobby wasn’t the most interesting thing about you any more – what and where you were studying and which career you had chosen eclipsed the hobbies in the story of your life. Looking back it probably would have been a good idea to take up more hobbies before starting a family, because the chances of starting something new when your kids are small, are even smaller.
These days there are plenty of hobbies, but none of them belong to me. The years of taking kids to baby and toddler groups have given way to a new era of youth groups and a myriad pastimes.
The list over the last 12 years for my brood includes football, tennis, swimming, netball, korfball, hockey, art club, ballet, coding, choir, bell ringing, and the full gamut of uniformed groups. Jean-Luc and Marie-Claire would certainly be impressed.
Kids these days or maybe just kids round here are spoilt for options of things to try their hand at, and this is indeed a wonderful thing. Cambridge is the sort of place where you can try anything. If you were looking to find a club dedicated to the appreciation of underwater uni-cycling, I imagine you’d find it here. For this and the fantastic opportunities afforded to my children, I’m very grateful.
But what about me? – Apart from the occasional exercise class I have been hobby-less for 12 years or more. I’m hoping that while you grow out of some hobbies, there are others you grow into. However time-poor we are, surely it must be possible to claw some of this time back and channel it into a passion or a pastime, something that could reasonably be called a hobby?
I am making a conscious effort to get stuck into a something new, something for me, and it had taken me long enough to get round to it. I do different things to different degrees of success and completion. I have numerous craft projects on the go, half finished. My husband despairs of the old bits of furniture kicking round the house that I may or may not get round to upcycling. I play netball on Mondays and here I am writing again. I need to find time, make time, or just beg steal and borrow it from my other commitments to make sure I have a hobby of my own.
So maybe if I ever happen to visit La Rochelle and have a conversation with Jean Francois, I’ll be sure to mention that ‘je m’appelle Lucy et je joue au netball.’ And when I grow up, I want to be a writer…