An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 54. 2018 Review.

Wehey! I have escaped again. How’d you like that, my imaginary shareholders?

Admittedly, this particular escape involved running the clock down on something like a prison sentence more than the commitment to a clever escape plan. But an escape’s an escape and it feels good to be on the lam again, feeling the breeze around the old wosnames.

As some of you know, I put a peg on my nose and took a job when we came back to Scotland from Canada. It was to help my partner secure her visa to live here.

We won that visa in September (using the immense stack of paperwork pictured below) and we immediately set about getting our lives back on course. On my part this means a full-time return to the cheerful, frugal literary life. Much better.

Bagging the visa and escaping office life again were the key events of our 2018, though they do not feel particularly like achievements. It’s just a happy return to the status quo, to what we were doing until someone stopped us.

But hey! there was also the book deal. That was big news. The first half of the advance came in and I started writing. I’ve almost written a whole new book this year. I hope to have finished it by the end of January 2019.

At the start of the year, I set up a mailing list to try and guarantee a readership for my weekly diary. I kept up the diary itself until October (31 entries – medal please) and was rewarded with the highest numbers of visits ever to my website (even if those numbers are admittedly small potatoes). I plan to pick up the diary again in 2019, but not until the book is written, obvs.

There were seven new installments of my Idler column, bringing the total up to 17 (plus extra bits and bobs) and my longest-running gig outside New Escapologist, which hardly counts. I’ve enjoyed getting the occasional email (and Idler letters page response) about the column, none of them (yet) irate.

My stupid face appeared in an art installation (Sven Werner, City Art Centre, Edinburgh) and also in a more domestic setting by my clever wife. 

Tim Blanchard’s book about the novelist John Cowper Powys was published in November. I had some small editorial involvement before Tim found a publisher so I was very happy indeed to see the book come out.

For travel, we saw Paris, Malaga, Seville, Gibraltar, and Copenhagen (pictured below in a photograph by AJ).

In non-writerly action I spent the occasional Friday at a botanical library near to where I live. Here I have a freelance project to catalogue the collection.  I spend these days handling attractive books about trees and flowers and mushrooms and the likes. Why not?

I also had the pleasure of calling the fire brigade, joining Instagram, remembering the spice girls, finding run-up-to-the-visa solace in the best ever Lego set (and reselling it – minimalism!) and taking a reaction test.

*

As traditional, here is my year in books. A change on previous years is that I’ve stopped recording comic books in this list. There’s too many of them and, let’s face it, it’s a completely different aesthetic experience. (If you’re interested, I enjoyed Ms. Marvel this year and the first volume of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I was surprised not to enjoy the new Multiple Man series.)

I made an effort this year to read some new fiction instead of old everything. I also made my usual effort to read more women and non-white writers. 

Lest we forget, an asterisk* denotes an out-loud read while the dagger† denotes a re-read. Schwing!

Bill Bryson – Neither Here nor There
Bill Bryson – The Road to Little Dribbling
Daphne du Maurier – Not After Midnight
Alastair Bonnett – Off the Map
Bill Bryson – African Diary
Joe Dunthorne – The Adulterants
George Orwell – Coming Up for Air
Shoukei Matsumoto – A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind
George Orwell – Keep the Aspidistra Flying †
Patrick Hamilton – Hangover Square
Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Sam Selvon – The Lonely Londoners
Donald Westlake – The Hot Rock
Yanis Varoufakis – Talking to my Daughter about the Economy
George Perec – W, or the Memory of Childhood
T. H. White – The Once and Future King
Clive Bell – Old Friends
Darren McGarvey – Poverty Safari
Alex Masters – A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip
Muriel Spark – The Girls of Slender Means
Helen Russell – The Year of Living Danishly
Caitlin Doughty – From Here to Eternity
Fumio Sasaki – Goodbye Things
George Saunders – Pastoralia
Limmy – That’s Your Lot
Michael Booth – The Almost Nearly Perfect People
Nan Shepherd – The Living Mountain*
Matthew Crawford – The Case for Working With Your Hands
Haruki Murakami – Men Without Women
Matthew De Abaitua – Self and I
Helen Lamb – Three Kinds of Kissing
Kamin Mohammadi – Bella Figura
Tade Thompson – Rosewater
PD James – Sleep No More*
Evelyn Waugh – The Loved One
Jonathan Meades – An Encyclopaedia of Myself

Books read in substantial part but left unfinished:

Richard Sennett – Together: the rituals, pleasures and politics of cooperation
Mary Beard – SPQR
Richard Gordon – Nuts in May
Robert Skidelsky – John Maynard Keynes 1883-1946

I am currently reading After the Snooter by Eddie Campbell (a comic) and Proxies by Brian Blanchfield (essays).

*

I end 2018 happy with my personal lot at the age of 36, though I also feel irritated and under siege for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. I might have to stop drinking. Or ideally they’ll cancel Brexit.

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Home for the Holidays?

Ah, there’s no time like Christmas to feel sentimental about a load of old crap.

I went to visit my parents last week (not this week, mind you. Our Christmas will be spent in our actual home, watching They Live and possibly Terminator 2!).

Sleeping in my old room — the centre of my cosmos for so long — is always a nice experience. I enjoy the nostalgia of being there, of course, but I also enjoy how the room has become less “my room” with every visit. My stuff has gradually moved out and my mum’s new decor and the sundries of a guest room have moved in.

The closet that held my clothes from birth to 21 is now a linen chest for visitors, my old desk a sort of display surface of ornaments to impress or entertain guests. Sweetly, there are framed posters on the walls of Forbidden Planet and Metropolis, little nods to things I liked as a teenager.

In the bottom of said closet is a small stack of comic books (the very last things of mine to still be there) but most evocatively for me, a floor of green shagpile from when this room really was mine — my childhood bedroom. That carpet had been replaced twice before I’d even moved out and it now brings back memories of playing with toys and wrestling with my sister. We once hid in that closet from a friend who’d come to play, eventually bursting out on her like monsters. I think that if my parents ever sell the house, a square inch of that carpet might, weirdly, be the souvenir I request.

Anyway, here is a funny piece from the Guardian about returning to the old hatching grounds and encountering “the family stuff,” which also makes me glad that I have so little of it.

One of the more sobering aspects of returning home for Christmas is encountering all the junk in the parental home which it has proved impossible to throw away. For years my dad ran a low-level campaign against my A-level notes and this was, in the end, successful. But after they went into the skip, the dust merely cleared to reveal mountains of other stuff – bits of old clothes, 30‑year‑old birthday cards, work diaries from the 1990s – all of which have survived several house moves and carry the air of the cockroach no manmade event can destroy.

I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos by young minimalists lately. I’ll post some faves here soon.

Please support New Escapologist enterprises on Patreon. Doing so grants access to six new (and six old) essays and the promise of more to come.

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