Children See Through Professional Bullshit

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In an otherwise fairly tedious Telegraph article, it emerges that “a third of parents have been asked by a child to work less.” Aw.

Britons’ busy work schedules are being noticed by their children, who are putting pressure on their parents to spend more time as a family. One in three parents has been asked by a child to work less […] while 38% of respondents said they feel that their work is negatively impacting their relationship with their children.

[…] while 33% of people said they would not be willing take a pay decrease to spend more time with their kids, a larger group (43%) said they would trade some of their salary for extra family time.

Once again, it seems like part-time work would be the perfect solution. It can difficult to get employers on side though, part-time work being seen as somehow uncommitted or too casual. All that matters so often to a boss is that you’re warming a seat for the requisite 40 hours.

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An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 42.

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Thursday morning and our things arrive from Canada. Being reunited with our hip Montreal stuff on a tenement-lined Glasgow street feels, in a small way, like worlds colliding.

It was also funny to have such personable Glaswegian removal men help with the unloading when our entire exposure to the shipping system to date had been through online interfaces backed by anonymous ad remote HQs. Human beings are definitely easier and friendlier to deal with. This is something I like about Britain: it’s not yet completely succumbed to the commercial impersonal.

As minimalists, it was a tad alarming to find quite how much stuff is now under our jurisdiction: things from Montreal, things reclaimed from my parents’ house in Dudley, things belonging to our rented flat. The Montreal shipment is not much by most people’s standards–nine boxes of books and clothes, three small items of furniture–but it still felt like a lot as we schlepped them up the stairs and parked them in the formerly spartan living room.

Some minimalists suggest “box parties,” at which you seal your possessions into boxes, only retrieving items you need when you need them. After six months, anything not retrieved from the boxes can be denoted “non-essential” and, if you feel so inclined, jettisoned. I’ve always found such techniques a bit silly (just be a critical thinker, recognise wheat and chaff), but we’ve had a de-facto box party while our stuff was in transit, and it worked well. We’ve already got rid of some of what we shipped.

Good to be reunited with my tweed jacket though, and the nice shoes Samara bought for my last birthday.

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Pleasingly, the first item to emerge from the first box we opened was the pilot issue of New Escapologist. Look at it! All amateurish and wild-eyed, the apocryphal The in the masthead.

If anyone would like to buy it, you could email me with an offer. There were only ten of these ever printed (probably only five left in existence). It has content that didn’t make it into the definitive Issue One, but you’d mainly want it for scarcity value or completism or to giggle at our total lack of finesse circa 2007.

Over five hours, we worked hard to unpack and order our things before catching the tube to Glasgow’s south side where I read selections from my teenage diaries to a packed room of receptive people.

I had the time of my life sharing the torrid and rather pathetic things my teenage self committed to posterity, and the gently surreal entries from 1992 (when I was 10). The other readers were amazing, and something about the cozy environment of the show allowed me to relax and enjoy their readings properly instead of fretting over my own pending performance. A wonderful night. Another installment coming in September.

It occurs to me that diary-writing has always been important to me, albeit an off-and-on practice. There’s this diary for instance, my teenage diaries and the various public readings I’ve done from them, this diary, and the “City Slicker’s Nature Diary” I’ve been thinking of writing as my next book. I should really go back to writing a private one, if only for the sake of the general public.

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The weeks ahead: I’ve accepted a one-month work contract at a university library. It’s well-paid and the work looks straightforward enough, but the commute’s a monster by my standards (a tube, a train and a walk: 1.5 hours each way). Doubtless I’ll have Tiresias-style tales of commuting woe for the next installment of this diary!

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The Bored Stiff

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Reader Mark directs our attention to an excellent article at the BBC website that starts by looking at the urban myth of the five-day-old unnoticed corpse “working” in an office:

Isn’t it strange that so many of us who encounter this apocryphal story genuinely shrug and mumble “Yeah, that’s about right”?

Why does it resonate so well with our experiences of employment today? A number of reasons might be behind this.

and leads up to a deduction worthy of our own organ:

Our work-centric society is swiftly becoming obsolete … the possibility of a jobless future might soon be a reality. It’s up to us to decide whether this future is going to be a nasty nightmare (involving corpses frozen at their desks) or a beautiful paradise of play.

It’s written by Peter Flemming whose book Dead Man Working is good stuff. He’s got a new one out called The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself.

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An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 41. Elves.

A trip to London, ostensibly to sit in on a recording of the television programme QI. I’d recently made the acquaintance of Steve–one of the legendary QI Elves–and as well as granting us an interview for New Escapologist he kindly invited us along as production guests.

Shortly after arriving in London and about to step onto a zebra crossing into Hyde Park, a police officer pulls up on a motorcycle and politely but firmly asks us to “hold on a moment, please”.

A black limo came into view and Samara said “Is it her?” She was half-joking but I’d already spotted the unmistakable silhouette in the back seat. As the car rolled by, I smiled at Her Off The Money and waved. To my surprise, she waved back, though she regally avoided my gaze. “I’ve lived in London for fifteen years and I’ve never seen her,” says friend Tim, feigning fury, “but you’re in town for fifteen minutes and you get a wave!”

The QI recording was a hoot. It felt very strange to watch Stephen Fry and colleagues being witty and knowledgeable in the flesh and for two straight hours. The show will be edited down to 30 minutes but the whole two hours struck me as perfectly broadcastable: in the age of the podcast, which is allowed to be lengthy, it struck me as a bit of a waste. The panel do their own warm-up, incidentally, and do well to include the audience. In fact, it felt more like a stage show than a studio record, to the production’s credit.

Everything–set, people, format–was familiar from television but different. I found myself glancing repeatedly at a camera operator’s monitor, which looked exactly as QI looks on television, to help restore normality.

After the recording, we were lucky enough to spend time in the green room. Steve the elf took pains to introduce me to John Lloyd, simply because I’d asked him in advance not to. My fear was that I’d turn into a blubbering pile of fanboy slop, having been a fan of JL’s work for a long time. The Meaning of Liff was a sacred text of my teenage years and Spitting Image all but provided the building blocks of my sense of humour. For want of anything else to say, I explained to John why Steve had mischievously decided to introduce us. He was very kind about my inarticulacy and gave me a high-five! When it became apparent that I was unable to converse further, he chatted warmly to Samara about Canada, where apparently he grew up.

I managed to escape when I spotted some of the other elves huddled in the corner. I went over to say hello and to congratulate them on their recent Chortle award. They seemed happy to be recognised and struck me as funny and clever people. They’ll be performing in Edinburgh this year, a live version of their podcast, which will certainly be worth a look.

Leaving the green room in a lift, Steve points out that my flies are partially unzipped. “You’ve been talking to comedy royalty with your knob out.” No wonder Sue Perkins had given me the raised eyebrow.

As if this weren’t enough hob-nobbing with celebrities, we spent the next morning in the Natural History Museum where an advert offered a free tour of museum treasures “including the giant squid”. Well, we didn’t have to be asked twice. The squid, being giant, did not disappoint but the real thrill was meeting Darwin’s adorable pet octopus, preserved in alcohol but categorically not a specimen.

In a mission to similarly preserve ourselves, we took flight to the Coach and Horses. Outside, we bumped into Dickon. It was all I could do to restrain myself from embracing him and kissing him on the face, so delighted I was to see him (in his natural habitat, no less, Greek Street being a place he sometimes mentions in his online diary), but I somehow managed to cork my delight for the benefit of all involved.

We spent the rest of our London time with Tim, who’d just returned from the Isles of Scilly. We’d not seen him since his trip to Montreal over two years ago. Catching up was a warm pleasure, but it didn’t feel like we had quite enough time. We left London vowing to return soon.

Before returning to Glasgow, we took a National Express coach to visit my parents in Dudley. It was a beautiful and colourful journey, England green in the springtime with Red Kites hovering over yellow fields of rapeseed crop. I’d intended to sleep on the journey since we’d missed so much sleep in London, but I opted to stay awake and absorb the early morning splendor. Exiting the motorway into Birmingham, agriculture gave way to suburbia and I was immediately overwhelmed by the gaudily-printed, sometimes-misspelled, consistently witless signage of local businesses, the names and functions of which betrayed frightened and meager minds. Now now, I tell myself, this is where you’re from. Be kind. But when a place feels more violent and less beautiful than a motorway, it’s hard to be positive about it.

Still, fine times were had with my parents (a pretty drive to Ironbridge, a tramp around the Roman ruins of Wroxeter, a great curry from Wolverhampton), and with my sister who mentions her plan to retire next year at the age of 30. I’d never pegged her as an Escapologist, but she’s a better one than I, having knuckled down properly in business and made enough money not to worry anymore. She takes my picture for an art project.

We finally arrive in Glasgow rejuvenated and with exciting moments to look back on (the Queen! J. Lloyd! Darwin’s octopus!) but looking forward to being still for a while. We’ve had our Glasgow apartment for a couple of months now but have not yet settled in at all, what with catching up with Glasgow friends and even popping back to Canada and now this mad week in London. Time to calm down and get on with things, I think. And our stuff from Montreal should be arriving any moment… now.

★ Buy the latest issue of New Escapologist at the shop or pre-order the book.

The Theory Of Escapology

EinsteinPosted by Lentus Ambulandus

“If you can read, you can cook.”

So said my dear mother. She was referring to a person’s ability to read a recipe, follow the instructions, and produce a proper meal. It works, in theory.

Here’s another theory:

“If you can perform elementary school math, you can be a successful Escapologist.”

So said Lentus Ambulandus. I’ve unearthed the essence of Escapology, herein represented in its raw mathematical form.

We know that

Income = Work x Compensation

where Work is a time value and Compensation is a rate.

We also know that

Income = Consumption + Savings

Therefore

Work x Compensation = Consumption + Savings

and

Work = (Consumption + Savings) / Compensation

We are also aware of The Unfortunate Law of Leisure:

Leisure = Adult Lifespan – Work

where Adult Lifespan is an unknown constant.

But Leisure is really Escapology in its quantifiable form. Thus, we may say:

Escapology = Adult Lifespan – (Consumption + Savings) / Compensation

In order to maximize Escapology, and taking Adult Lifespan as given, we have three options: minimize Consumption, minimize Savings, or maximize Compensation.

However, experience has taught us that there’s an inverse relationship between current Savings and future Work:

Savings(now) x Work(future) = k

where k is a constant.

It would be foolish to minimize Savings, because this would increase Work(future). Our options are therefore reduced to two: minimize Consumption and maximize Compensation. But is increased Compensation really possible? Theoretically, yes, but the preponderance of evidence shows it to be a rare occurrence, and therefore not a reliable course of action.

In the end, we are left with only one clear, dependable path to Escapological maximization:

Stop buying stuff.

If we can do the math, we can Escape.

It works, in theory.

★ Buy the latest issue of New Escapologist at the shop or pre-order the book.

On Mobility

HoboPosted by Lentus Ambulandus

I have two favourite travel quotes. The first is by Paul Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar):

…leaving was a cure: “Have you tried aspirin?” “No, I think I’ll go to India.”

The other is by Bruce Chatwin (Anatomy of Restlessness):

“I’ve always wanted to go there,” I said. “So have I,” she added. “Go there for me.” I went. I cabled the Sunday Times: “Have gone to Patagonia.”

When I was younger, I was always thrilled at the prospect of setting off for parts unknown. The melancholy associated with leaving — if it existed at all — was superseded by the excitement of what lay ahead. Change was a virtue. The more different and challenging the new place promised to be, the better.

But as time passed, the lustre of travel seemed to fade. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe I thought I’d seen enough…or perhaps we decided so much change had become costly. I wrote about the merits of staying in place, and told myself that it was time to focus locally. My wife and I made a concerted effort to settle down, in what might be described as an ideal location. It felt unnatural.

And then…

About a week ago, my wife (an accountant, of sorts) phoned me as she was boarding a flight home from a work trip.

“I just got offered a six-month contract in Colombia.”

“When do they want you to start?”

“In two weeks. They need to know tomorrow.”

“Do it.”

We’re going to Colombia. On Saturday.

The most striking part of this was the complete lack of debate. When the opportunity to hit the road presented itself, it was like we breathed a huge sigh of relief: we aren’t settling down, after all! It’s almost as though the Colombia offer was a test, designed to reveal a great truth about how we really ought to live.

It’s also testament to the freedom of manoeuvre one gains by living an untethered, unencumbered lifestyle. Translation: we rent, we hardly own anything, and we have no commitments. The ass-pain associated with moving on short notice is fairly low.

Escapological lessons abound. I’ll write about freedom of manoeuvre, as well as the economics of our decision (hint: South America is a lot cheaper than Canada), in the next print edition of New Escapologist.

We’re taking two suitcases, two backpacks, and two bikes. After we’re finished in Colombia, we’ll put a moratorium on work and head further south — Peru, Chile, Argentina — where we’ll hike, cycle, and live simply. We’ll be gone for at least a year.

Leaving is a cure.

Have gone to Patagonia.

★ Buy the latest issue of New Escapologist at the shop or pre-order the book.

Radical Rambling

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Watching a good BBC documentary this evening about the Pennine Way–a long-distance walk in the UK–I learned about Tom Stephenson who fought hard through the 1930s to officially establish the walk.

He was a journalist and activist and campaigned to open the walk to the public, since so much of the English uplands were then owned by private landlords.

A clip of him in the documentary has him saying this of his fellow walkers:

Those of us who have been concerned with projects like the Pennine Way, national parks, access to the countryside, are often accused of being escapists, of being impracticable, of being cranks. Well I admit, we are escapists.

We ran a great feature about the escapist (and Escapological) pleasures and the radical beginnings of long-distance walking in New Escapologist Issue Five (get it here). In it, Stephen Barry writes:

Despite the National Trust and the Ramblers Association appearing very stuffy, they both have quite alternative and non-conformist histories. Thee National Trust was set up by three philanthropists who were concerned about the impact of uncontrolled development and industrialisation, and set about buying and protecting the UK’s coastline, countryside and buildings and have done a fantastic job of it. Meanwhile, a breakaway group from the original Ramblers Association called The British Workers’ Sports Federation (established in 1932 and often quoted as a quasi-Communist organisation) staged a mass trespass on landowners’ land at Kinder Scout, the highest peak in the Peak District. The original protest swelled from some four-hundred to ten-thousand people and reflected the frustration of many working-class people over their lack of access to land that was often only farmed or used for just a few days a year by rich landowners. This was the start of the process that now sees thousands of acres and paths across the UK open for everyone to enjoy.

Let it be understood that walking is political and the perfect cost-free, low-impact, free-will-exercising activity for Escapologists everywhere.

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