An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 15.

We’ve returned to Montreal from a two-week vacation in Great Britain. I say ‘vacation’, but my real life mainly consists of reading books in the local park at the moment so I wasn’t really vacationing from much. To my girlfriend (who works), this was very much a real vacation (shamefully, her only one for the year) and I was keen to show her a good cross-section of my country of origin. We’d see Brighton, London, the Midlands, Festival Edinburgh and Glasgow.

This entry is a transcript of my travel log of the Brighton leg of the trip. I intend to post a couple more from the other legs of the trip. Will people hate this? If you think these entries are rubbish, please leave a comment rather than unsubscribing. I love each and every one of our subscribers and it would be a shame to lose them by talking about my holiday.
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Thumbs

This is a guest entry by Tom Mellors. Tom is a New Escapologist contributor and has a brilliant piece in the new Issue Four about the Catholic Worker Movement. This entry was originally written for Tom’s Wiltshire blog, re-posted here for its Escapological content.

“The less routine the more life,” wrote Amos Bronson Alcott, a 19th century American teacher.

Routine is undoubtedly important in life. Like all rituals, a daily routine can give a sense of reassurance and order. Without keeping to a routine it would be very difficult to reach goals in life, such as mastering an instrument or excelling at a sport.

But routine can also be stifling. It can make us feel like we exist merely to perform the same set of actions every day. To combat this, I try to break up my routine every now and again by introducing small spontaneous actions.

Earlier this week I hitchhiked for the first time in years. I had been dropped off on the outskirts of Bath and needed to make my way into the centre.

Rather than wait for the bus I decided to ‘thumb a ride’, and stood facing traffic for about 10 minutes before somebody stopped.

I ran up to the car and saw a man in the driver’s seat, frantically taking piles of paperwork off the passenger seat and throwing them in the back of the car, which was already a sea of paper.

After the necessary salutations, we introduced ourselves. Kofi is a doctor on his way to a conference in Dorset. Originally from West Africa, he now lives and works in Manchester.

As the sat nav guided us through the Georgian streets of the city, I learned enough about this man to guess why he would pick up a hitchhiker.

Kofi only works in hospitals for one year before moving on. While he loves what he does, he finds the politics of hospitals so demoralising that he purposefully takes short contracts. Although such a lifestyle is less stable, it affords more freedom, and this is what Kofi really cares about.

I realised that Kofi and I are quite similar. We both value the feeling of freedom, we both need the occasional spontaneous action, and we are both terrible at organising paperwork.

After Kofi dropped me off I felt strangely exhilarated. I didn’t care about having to walk the rest of the way in the rain. I had taken an opportunity for spontaneous living, and had met an interesting person because of it.

Saturdays

Saturday! Freedom! Who wouldn’t like Saturday? It’s party day!

Actually, I don’t really like Saturdays at the moment. My usual haunts become busy with people manically trying to cram as much freedom into their day off as possible. My favourite spot in the park will be teaming with families and picnickers and people on cell phones. There won’t be a spare seat to be found in the library by the time I’ve woken up and got there. It’s a weird inversion.

It got me thinking that for a long time though, Saturdays simply haven’t been my day.

As a boy, the main Saturday activities would be to go shopping with my parents. For a long time, this wasn’t so terrible in itself and often involved a nice lunch in a pub or a cafe somewhere, but would usually involve my being pulled away from my favourite Saturday morning television programmes. I may be anti-telly now but I lived and breathed for those Saturday morning cartoons: Wacky Races, Fender-Bender 500, Scooby Doo, Inspector Gadget. The one I regretted missing the most was the Adam West Batman series. It must have started at about 9:30 because the TV would always be switched off halfway through despite my love of those “POW!” and “ZAP!” splashes during fight sequences. Being pulled away from Batman halfway through—my requests to wait just another ten minutes cruelly disregarded—would usually put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

Eventually, shopping with my parents would result in my being spotted by more independent school friends hanging out together in the town. As a 14-year-old, I found this intolerably embarrassing, so I summoned up the courage to tell my parents I’d start staying at home on Saturdays.

I must have enjoyed a couple of years worth of mostly-free Saturdays, though it was around this time I had a paper round, so I still had to get up at some ungodly hour to schlep a heavy bag of Dudley News around rich people’s houses on the hill.

By the time I was 17, I took a Saturday job at a big bookshop on the far side of town. This meant early rises, commutes across town (though my dad kindly drove me there most times—thanks, dad!) and seven- to ten-hour shifts in the stockroom or on the cash register. I’m not complaining: I enjoyed receiving a salary for the first time (about £300 a month from what I can remember, which isn’t terrible) and the work eventually became easier when the older staff all left for university and I became the de-facto senior with various unwritten privileges. It was still a shame to have whole days of youth noshed up by work though.

I kept this Saturday job until I was 21 and left home for Glasgow. In Glasgow, I worked full-time in a library so Saturdays were spent in the same fashion I witness in the Montreal workers today: a manic attempt to do the things that work prevented me from doing all week. I also wanted to be a writer so I’d spend Saturday nights at my desk, tinkering with a terrible novel that never saw the light of day. When my contract at the library ended after a year, I continued to live in Glasgow but subsisting on (can you guess?) a weekend job.

Eventually a two-year career in an office freed up my Saturdays again, but they of course became recovery days from the week’s work and the evening’s manic revelry, followed by a further recovery day on Sunday, followed by the whole cycle starting over again. I ended up consciously reclaiming the sabbath (the Jewish one, naturally) by deliberately not lifting a finger on Saturdays. For a while they were mine again.

Here in Montreal, Saturdays are technically mine (as with all other days), but so marred are they by the manic workers mussin’ up my territory that I tend to stay indoors. A comedian once picked on me for wearing a suit in his audience on a Saturday. “I’m retired,” I explained, “The weekend means nothing to me”.

Last Saturday evening, as I lay in bed with the window open, I could hear the sirens of fire-engines, police cars and ambulances all around. On Sunday, I noticed, the neighbourhood was silent. So keen are the workers to revel on their only night off that they end up in jail or hospital.

Do buy the brand-new Issue Four of New Escapologist from the shop.

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 14.

On Tuesday evening, my girlfriend and I had planned a low-budget date. I would cook a delicious meal for us at home and then we’d enjoy a leisurely walk to a downtown cinema. We would take advantage of the citywide Tuesday discount by enjoying Christopher Nolan’s new psy-fi blockbuster for 5$ (Take that, Nolan). Someone had also told me that the cinema’s popcorn counter stocked a rare flavour of “Timbit”—a nasty Canadian doughnut snack, of which I have become extremely fond much to my girlfriend’s amusement—so I was rather braced with anticipation.

Alas, things didn’t quite work out as planned. Torrential Montreal rain scuppered the walking element of the plan so we caught the bus instead. I’m becoming less and less inclined to take busses: it took over 40 minutes to reach the cinema by bus and I know I can walk there directly in 50. Even an excellent municipal bus service is no match for a good walker.

When we got to the box office, we found that every screening of Inception had sold out. It seemed that everyone else behind us in the line also wanted to see this film but would be turned away. I overheard a girl trying to console her own date: “Have you seen Despicable Me?” she offered, which seemed to add insult to injury.

We didn’t want to see any of the other films on offer so we decided to make the most of being downdown, since we had both invested a bus fair to be here. Of course, this was easier said than done: the object of the evening was to enjoy a low-budget date but we couldn’t walk around because of the rain, and neither of us wanted to eat or drink since we’d already done that at home. We had to be inventive!
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Issue Four now available

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Issue Four is the ‘Bad Faith’ issue. It explores Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of ‘Mauvaise Foi’ and George Orwell’s claim that “we don’t do the things we want to do […] there’s time for everything except the things worth doing”. We also have great articles on travel, time, economics and Flaubert. 80 pages of finely-typeset wisdom.

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