Bridge of Idleness

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Sep 27, 1947 

Bridge of Idleness

The other day I saw a letter from a newspaper reader in which he announced that he has no intention of working overtime while millions of money are being wasted on building a “completely useless” Severn bridge.

I can always listen with sympathy to objections to working hard, or, indeed, to working at all. I myself am not naturally a worker. Even as a small boy I preferred playing wild boar in the street to memorizing the exports of the Gold Coast or getting by heart “The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed.”

All through my life I have done my best to avoid work, or, at least, to put off doing it to the last moment. If I have not been a spiv it is because I was not clever enough, and if I have not been a drone it is because I had not money enough.

* * *

With all the reasons I ever thought of for not working, however—such as “feeling tired,” “There’ll be plenty of time tomorrow,” or a promise to go and see a friend’s stamp album—I was never imaginative enough to think of including the fact that somebody was building a bridge that I did not like.

If the building of bridges is to be made an excuse for slackness, I am afraid few of us will do much work, since there is usually a bridge being built somewhere in the world—a bridge, too, that is not absolutely necessary.

The Severn bridge alone, if the example of the letter-writer I have quoted were generally followed, would produce a situation in which the farmers and farm-workers of England would doggedly refuse to produce an extra ounce of food till the plan for the bridge was abandoned. Nurses would be unable to work in the hospitals for thinking of the millions that are being wasted on the Severn bridge.

* * *

“Drat the Severn bridge!” or words that affect, you would hear a bus driver saying. “What’s the use of working with all this waste going on?” And he would leave his bus in the yard and spend the day smoking and meditating on the wickedness of building unnecessary bridges.

All over England hands would become limp and brains turn to pulp as a result of the national obsession with this Pons Asinorum over the Severn.

Worse things have happened in England than the building of the Severn bridge, but the poets went on writing great poetry and the shipbuilders building great ships and the reformers achieving great reforms, and, as a result, civilization increased and more bodies and minds were better fed than before.

The ploughman toiled away in spite of the Crystal Palace’s being built in Hyde Park, and the barbers of England went on cutting hair and shaving from morning to night when they might have struck work as a protest against the design of the Albert Memorial.

* * *

The fact is—I say this, prone to idleness though I am—most men, like our old friend the village blacksmith, are happiest when they have work to do; and, if they have work to do, they are happiest when they are working hardest. The good farmer, as well as the good artist, will tell you this. The half-way house between idleness and work which is inhabited by the slacker—that is the sure home of discontent.

The truth is, unfortunately, that if we don’t all work pretty hard we shall be, as the saying is, sunk. And the non-completion of the Severn bridge won’t save us. I only wish it could.


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