Faffing for Beginners


by Peter Skan

This is an introductory guide to the art of Faffing, written with members of a Youth Hostel group in mind. In it, I tell you what faffing is, when and where to faff, and how to do it in such a way as to cause maximum aggravation and inconvenience to others.

What is Faffing?

First let’s see what the dictionary has to say. I wasn’t even sure how to spell the word at first. For some reason, I assumed that it would be pfaffing, phaphing or some other combination with lots of ‘ph’s. But the Oxford English Dictionary contains the following entry:

    FAFF v. & n. (Brit Colloq);
    -v.intr. (often followed by about, around) fuss, dither.
    -n. a fuss.

So there you have it. As I suspected, faff can be either a verb or a noun. One can legitimately say I am faffing, or I am having a faff. It also tells us that (when used as a verb) faff is an intransitive verb, i.e. it does not take or require a direct object. Neither of the words fuss or dither really conveys the full reality of faffing, however.

Now let’s look at how the parts of the verb work:

    I faff    You faff	 He faffs   She faffs
    We faff   They faff
    Past participle: faffed
    Present participle: faffing
    Future: will faff

No surprises there! Having sorted out the terminology, we can move on to practical matters.

How to Faff

On a regular day’s hostelling, you have limitless opportunities for a good faff. Start as soon as you wake up. About half an hour before everybody else in your dorm intends to rise, get up (or lean out of your bunk) and begin sorting through your bags. Do this as noisily as possible. It is helpful to have your gear in lots of plastic bags of the type that make a good rustling noise when opened. You probably won’t be able to find your clothes in the dark, so flood the room with light and start again. Get up and go to the washroom, banging the door behind you. By forgetting your towel or something, you can make a revisit to the dorm necessary. Of course, if there is a washbasin in the dorm, use that instead.

Moving on to breakfast, the confined space of the Member’s Kitchen is the ideal place for a faff. Lean over your food box, which you have placed in front of the fridge, and rummage through the contents. Always bring at least three large flasks to be filled with hot water. These will create a bottleneck around the electric kettle that will last all morning. Remember to knock the lid off the overfilled dustbin every time you go past. Put some bread under the grill and forget about it.

Sit down to eat and engage in the usual breakfast conversation. Don’t be pushed into making up your mind which walk to go on. Instead, deluge the weekend organiser with questions like What’s happening today, preferably before plans have been finalised. At about 9am, there will probably be a meeting in the dining area or common room, at which the proposed walks will be announced and each walk leader will describe his or her respective offerings. Be sure to ask each leader how far they are going, and how fast. Insist on the exact mileage, to the nearest quarter mile, and for full details of the pubs, tea shops and other attractions on the walk. Then spend some time mulling over the answers and asking other people what they’re doing. Make a decision and go and stand on the designated side of the room. Have a look who else in on your walk. Then change your mind and go to the other side of the room. This process can usefully be repeated a few times as the game of musical chairs ensues.

At about 9.30 (on a good day) the group attempts to assemble outside. If you arrive early, you will soon become quite justifiably bored waiting for the rest of the group to assemble. Wait until they have nearly all appeared and then pop back to the dormitory or the loo for ten minutes. By the time you return others will have taken their turn to desert. Suitably coordinated, this can ensure that the entire group is never in one place at the same time.

Cars are often required to get to the start of a walk. Sometimes there is a mad scramble to pack into the selected vehicles, other times you may be allocated by an enterprising leader. Here is your chance: disappear just at the critical moment, your driver is unable to leave and, most probably, will block the way out for a couple of others as well, who were hopelessly boxed in the night before.

On some occasions, a round trip walk is impossible or undesirable, for example on the coast. At these times we indulge in a more complicated ritual known as the Car Shuffle, which is an attempt to place the appropriate number of cars at the end point of the walk to accommodate all the drivers, while still having enough cars left to take the rest of the group to the beginning. Solving this problem is one of considerable mathematical difficulty, like solving one of those if there are 3 men with 8 camels and 15 sacks, how long … puzzles. The organiser may proceed to give each driver inadequate and conflicting directions to the end point. Once having set off, the cars soon lose sight of each other at the traffic lights and end up in different car parks or perhaps in a different area entirely. Remote and cut off from any means of communication, the drivers soon become worried and begin to drive around aimlessly.

If by some miracle you manage to reach the correct destination car park, you can cause real mischief by announcing that you have left something behind at the hostel, especially if this is now over ten miles distant. Choose something vital: it’s probably no use saying you’ve left your lunch behind. This will simply result in several members offering to donate you a one of their precious sandwiches. Very noble, but do you really want a mixture of peanut butter, jelly and marmite butties? No, the best bet is probably your walking boots, since it’s unlikely that anyone will have any spares, and even if they do they won’t fit. This ploy can hold up a walk for half and hour or more and get people really p****d off.

Always begin the walk wearing unsuitable clothing. If the weather is warm, put on all your spare layers. If it is cold, wear your tee shirt. When dry, start by putting on your cagoule. In this way, you will need to stop after the first hundred yards and add or remove layers. Remember to put on gaiters at all times of the year because they are a good fiddle. Leave the car boot unlocked so that you will have to go back and do it just after departure.

During the walk, the possibilities are endless. Particularly useful is your rucksack. Get everybody to stop while you look for your gloves/mars bar, etc, which you have stashed at the bottom of your pack. Accessing it involves pulling literally everything else out and then repacking it all again. For greater effect, when you get to the bottom you announce that the item is missing and, after a protracted period of thrashing about with a puzzled look on your face, you suddenly discover that it was in your pocket all the time.

At lunchtime, stroll around looking at the view, the vegetation or taking photographs. Only start on your food just before everybody else is ready to move on. If you see an interesting shop/pub/building, disappear into it without telling anybody.

Leaders should fold their maps so that only a small portion of the walk is visible. This will allow plenty of re-folding stops. At intervals, insist on taking compass bearings even though the destination is clearly visible. At all times, remember the golden rule that only one person may faff at a time: look around you and choose your moment.

So there we have the basic techniques of faffing. With a bit of practice you will soon perfect the art and learn to apply them in new and original ways. The faffing possibilities of hostelling and walking actually pale into insignificance compared with the opportunities offered by more complicated activities such as climbing, caving, canoeing and sailing. Further details of the procedures involved is beyond the scope of this article, but perhaps, may be detailed in a follow-up for Advanced Faffers.

Copyright (c) 2009 St. Albans Adventure Group. This article was first published in the group magazine Stagger in July 1996.