Clodagh Finn: Leap Day is the day for the lost art of pottering

Clodagh Finn: Leap Day is the day for the lost art of pottering

This is a leap year and February 29 provides us with that gift we all pine for: more time. More time to do nothing but appreciate life.

Tomorrow is ‘Leap Day’, or whatever the term is for the extra day given to us in a leap year.

It doesn’t matter what you call it as long as you recognise that this day offers us the thing we wish we had more of: time. Well, here it is: a windfall of 24 hours. Embrace it, because, heaven knows, we need as much stolen time as we can get.

Every person I know is too busy. And I don’t know anybody who has the answer to the question of our age: ‘Where does the time go?’ There are theories. Apparently, time seems to go by more quickly as we grow older, disappearing like quicksilver as we try to reconcile ‘clock time’ and ‘mind time’. You can explain it with physics and some equations, but here is the short version. Time goes by in a blur. Blink and it’s 2024.

And it’s not just time; everything around us has speeded-up. Blame the digital era, if you like, but the world is getting faster, faster, say the experts. We now walk faster, eat faster, talk faster, to quote Robert Colvile’s book, The Great Acceleration.

You probably don’t need a book to tell you that. Just gauge your reaction when your phone takes more than a nano-second to flash into action. Yes, the speed of the expletives is pretty impressive, too.

It makes me yearn for the days when I used to write on a typewriter, hammering word after word out onto two sheets of paper separated by carbon. That way, you had the story and a ‘black’ or copy. Even writing that makes me feel prehistoric, which, in a sense, is a wonderful thing.

It’s surely an advantage to be able to remember a time when life was not quite so frenetic. It makes it a little bit easier to call a halt on a day like Leap Day, when — theoretically, at least — we have been given some extra time.

Please don’t waste it by using these precious extra hours to put more ticks on your to-do list. ‘Leap day’, that special time gifted to us every four years, is perfect to recall the lost art of pottering.

Can you even remember how to do it?

I know. They tried to knock it out of me at school, too — ‘Clodagh Finn: stop dawdling’ – but, thankfully, the faffing gene was much too strong.

If you have forgotten the gentle art of getting nowhere slowly, here are some helpful guidelines. The first rule of pottering is that there are no rules. No goals or deadlines, either, just a willingness to go where the spirit takes you.

It might be as simple as waking up and then turning over to go right back to sleep again. If you want some action, consider padding down to the kitchen, making a cup of something warm and comforting, and curling up on the sofa with a good book.

Whatever takes your fancy; remember,you don’t have to achieve a single thing. For one day, let’s be free of the need to justify ourselves in an increasingly results-driven world.

The most results-driven activity I plan to do tomorrow is to wash dishes in sudsy water, while looking at the birdfeeder swinging from the beech tree outside the kitchen window. The dishes might emerge clean — that is really secondary — but watching the birds come and go is a meditative joy that you can have for free. The light might even catch in the suds and throw up an unexpected rainbow. Down with dishwashers, I say.

Or, at least, just for the day. Whatever you do, try to keep it technology-free or 100% human.

Take off the fitbit — that spawn of the fitness devil — and remember what it is to simply mosey. If you have a garden, or ‘yarden,’ that is the ideal home of the potterer. There is nothing more life-affirming than pushing your fingers into the cool, dark soil.

There is science to explain why. According to a 2007 study, soil contains a friendly bacterium called mycobacterium vaccae, which increases the body’s level of serotonin, the so-called happy chemical.

But it goes deeper than that, I think. There is nothing more satisfying than planting a seed, even in a pot on the windowsill, and watching it grow. That will slow the jumping-bean mind. You can’t force lettuce to grow at 21st-century rates if it’s left to do its thing, naturally.

I remember the joy of harvesting courgettes one year and serving them up to my brother. What harm that he found it hilarious when I came in with the entire crop snuggly held in the palm of one hand.

Baking is another favourite for the committed potterer. Or even planning to bake, because, as we’ve said, you don’t really have to achieve anything. The mouth-watering pleasure of leafing through the Saturday supplements, planning the next feast, is vastly underrated.

You can be a master chef for a morning without even putting on an apron. Sometimes, I make lists of ingredients and check the store cupboard. Sometimes, I even fish out the baking bowl and spend more time than is necessary creaming butter and sugar by hand. There might even be muffins or scones at the end of it, but that is not quite the point.

Then again, if you happen to swing by while you’re dilly-dallying, we could have scones and tea and lots of aimless chat.

Alas, it is much more likely that we’ll all get caught up in the usual, busy Saturday routine of shopping, sports runs, laundry, and whatever else you’ve been putting off until the weekend.

Even so, give yourself the gift of a ‘Leap Day’ break — an hour, a morning, a stolen chunk of the mid-afternoon — to recall what joy there is in the simple act of pottering.

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