How middle-aged men actually fill their day

Simon Mills
·5-min read
Tom Hollander - Dave J Hogan/Getty
Tom Hollander - Dave J Hogan/Getty

Actor Tom Hollander created a brand new literary category over the weekend: Pedantry Porn. His unflinchingly honest “Life In a Day” column for a Sunday glossy detailed the hour-by-hour listlessness of a resting, middle-aged, west London-dwelling actor. Despite currently starring in the BBC’s adaptation of David Nicholls’s Us, Hollander confirms that “owing to forces beyond my control, life has not been as busy as it used to be”. 

His typical day is joyfully pedestrian and Patridgian; a dreary Dido song made great by Philip Larkinesque lyrics. Instead of bragging about a punishing, crack-of-dawn exercise regime, the 53-year-old might try a couple of sun salutation stretches... “but often I don’t.” Instead, he reheats coffee from the previous day’s plunger, examines his bald spot, sucks his stomach in and out, then takes an 11 o’clock nap before indulging in a spot of “self-service”, of an afternoon. Half an antihistamine helps him sleep at night but he’ll wake at 3am for a wee in the dark, “using my phone screen to illuminate the target”.  

All this should be stultifyingly boring, but turns out to be an absolute hoot. Why exactly? Perhaps it is the gently schadenfreudic buzz of discovering that, despite all their money and celebrity friends, Bafta winners (Hollander won for The Night Manager in 2017) go about their days pretty much like we do, with, mostly, nothing much of any interest happening at all.  

Even better for me, as I live near Hollander and often see him in the local garden centre or on his morning market-stall passeggiata. I always presumed that the much in-demand actor was “grabbing” a cortado “to go” from the Portuguese café on his way to a Soho lunch meeting with Tom Stoppard. How utterly delicious to learn that his most pressing appointment is listening to the World at One on his sofa.

But here’s a challenge, Hollander: I reckon I can out-dull you any day you like. Life in the slow lane came quickly to me. One minute – in my thirties and forties mainly – I was on everybody’s guest list, man about town and MFI (mad for it). Boredom was the enemy; distraction, stimuli and variety a life force. The next, I was old and NFI (not f------ invited). Now I’m 56, an introverted, Norman-no-mates loner with a thing for jazz funk and vintage hi-fi, and I’ve been revelling in the unexpected joy of tedium for years.

I get a thrill from finding a knock-down price on supermarket products surfing the “best before” date. Stationery stores and ironmongers fire up my inner Alan Bennett. I look forward to cutting my toenails and posting letters, and I feel a genuine shiver of achievement when I successfully replace a broken electrical element in the toaster.  

My favourite thing on the telly is not some knowingly woke, 48-episode time travel drama from America, but Victoria Coren Mitchells’s bafflingly Seventies Only Connect know-it-all quiz show on BBC Two  (and, yes, I will take unbelievably tedious pleasure in explaining to you that its name is lifted from the epigraph of E M Forster’s Howard’s End).

Only Connect is one of TV's more esoteric quiz shows - Parasol Media Limited
Only Connect is one of TV's more esoteric quiz shows - Parasol Media Limited

What else? I enjoy vacuuming, doing laundry and rewiring three-pin plugs, folding my clean clothes and stacking them with the care and precision of a Benetton staffer from the Eighties. When I am away from her, I can pass 10 minutes of a phone call with my beloved girlfriend by explaining, at length, not just what I ate for breakfast or lunch, but also the details of its preparation.

My friends are boring now, too. Toby calls me five or six times a day to update me on his schedule: “Just had a falafel for lunch. Might have a lie down soon.” I am inexplicably engaged at this news. 

Other subjects up for discussion with my ever-decreasing circle of acquaintances include the efficacy of beta-blocker variants, the quality and reliability of local shoe repair establishments and the weather. Oh and I also have one of the world’s most boring names: Simon Mills. My porn star name (the name of your first pet, plus the first street you lived on) is no less uninspiring; “Henry Church” is unlikely to go far in the skin flick industry, is he?   

The thing is, my pedantry, pedestrianism and predilection for Hollandaise horizontalism (I also enjoy an afternoon snooze), all seem about right for these strangest of times. We need to enjoy and appreciate the little mundanities of life, because all the big and exciting stuff has been put on hold. 

If, like Hollander, you still lay awake at night despite the slower pace of life, try listening to Sleep With Me, a podcast where host Drew Ackerman tells a nonsensical bedtime story that gets progressively more boring until the listener drops off. Or just come over to mine for a cup of tea. My free-flowing stories of kitchen appliance repair and bicycle tyre removal techniques will have you napping like a toddler faster than a half-tab of Tom Hollander’s antihistamine. 

Is this an accurate portrayal of a day in the life of a middle-aged man? Share your own in the comments section below.