I got a Christmas card from a friend this morning with a picture of a steam train on the front.
No surprises there, my friend loves steam trains. Since retirement he’s worked as a volunteer on a heritage railway line, mainly restoring old carriages. It keeps him happy, but face it. It’s not the sort of thing most people would choose to do with their spare time. It’s not a cool thing to do.
It occurs to me that few, if any, of my friends are cool. So far this week I’ve had cards from brass band players, Sunday School teachers, a cub scout leader and possibly the uncoolest of the uncool: a Science Fiction writer. I’ve had cards from the sort of people who are generally figures of fun, an easy laugh in a standup routine.
There’s a name for the hobbies and pastimes described above: guilty pleasures. According to Wikipedia "a guilty pleasure is something, such as a film, a television program or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard, or is seen as unusual or weird."
The term is a recent one. The concept, however, has been around for a long time.
In The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Screwtape the devil says "you should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the best people, the right food, and important books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions."
I don’t believe in devils. People are perfectly capable of acting against their own interests without the intervention of supernatural entities. Why else would anybody feel guilty about listening to a piece of music they enjoy? Or indeed working with steam trains.
If you think about it, it takes a certain strength of character to not care about doing things that most people think are ridiculous.
It’s worth it. In my experience, these sort of people tend to be a lot happier.