The Timewaster Diaries: “time worth spent indeed”

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ONE of my favourite parts of MediaCityUK is the word that illuminates on the roof of Dock House.

Each year, BBC Radio 4’s Front Row asks a person, who has contributed to the arts, to choose a word for its neon artwork project.

The current word is “words” chosen by Liverpudlian playwright Willy Russell. Previously, it has seen contributions from Danny Boyle (“wonder”), John Wilson (“listen”) and my favourite – and sadly poignant – Victoria Wood (“happy”).

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I was once asked by a friend what my word would be. The temptation for me was to suggest a crude selection, but instead I opted for:

Mischief.

And I could not think of a better word to describe Robin Cooper’s The Timewaster Diaries.

You can tell that the book is 12 years old by the simple fact Cooper is embarking on the dated method of letter writing.

If his tongue-in-cheek correspondence to the interesting people of the Freshwater Biological Society or the National Federation of Fish Friers Limited was sent via e-mail, they could have very well been ignored.

But the fact that there are responses jotted in ink on paper makes this collection of pranks très amusant.

You would be forgiven to assume that the correspondence was fake, written as sort some of parody of nimbyism Middle England. Whilst Cooper is indeed a character, the responses are written by real human beings, beleaguered and treating this epistolarian with a reluctant British tolerance; as though their reply has been penned with a sigh.

It’s the little flourishes that makes the mischief managed. Although I am appreciative of the grander prank, it’s the minute asides that provide the chucklesome moments.

When writing to the Royal Festival Hall enquiring about the possibility of Cooper and his wife performing there, he begins:

“We all love music (particularly my wife and I – even with her bad ankle!)”

The response:

“I do hope you find a venue that is suited to you and your wife’s show. Please send our best wishes for a speedy recovery for her bad ankle.”

Even when faced with a surreal request from Cooper, the victim remains laughably polite and sympathetic. You detect an ounce of pity from many of his new pen pals – but being in on the joke further extends the hilarity.

Big companies such as Debenhams are brought down to their knees through Cooper’s epistolary escapades. Five letters are exchanged on the pressing matter that Mr Cooper has lost his shoelace in an Oxford Street store and would like to launch a search party.

Through the giggling at such a surreal scenario, you really do have to admire the customer service from Debenhams who search the store at least two times.

The letters are surreal but subtle, naughty but not noticeable, tongue firmly placed in cheek without protruding through the side.

The Timewaster Diaries is an addictive book where time can pass without much attempt on work and housekeeping – but it certainly does not do one thing: waste time.

Robin Cooper’s mischief is time worth spent indeed.