An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 59: 2019 Review

The end is nigh! The end of the year, that is. Which means it’s time to file an annual report for my imaginary shareholders.

Anxious political horizon-scanning aside, my 2019 was dominated by Operation Breadhead. As of a few weeks ago, the entire business is complete. Here’s what my motivational pie chart looks like now:

It looks like the flag of a parallel universe Japan. Job Done.
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Nothing New Under the Sun

Well this is something. A predecessor.

Remember when Homer finds that Japanese detergent box with his face on it? Well, I’m experiencing similar levels of uncanniness this morning.

No, I’m not talking about the guy from the YSL movie. I’m talking about THIS, which is from 1937:

Like all Englishmen […] I was trained from the cradle up to be an escapologist.

I would define an escapologist as a person who looks looks the facts of life in the back of the neck, or by sheer force of imagination conjures them out of existence, or runs away from them.

In all industrial countries functioning under the glorious profit motive system an increasing interest is being taken in the spot of escapology; but England is an old sport-loving country, escapology is a fine ripened tradition here, and we easily lead the world.

Isn’t that great? The book is called Away From It All: An Escapologist’s Notebook by Cedric Belfrage.

Belfrage was a film critic, a great advocate for Liberalism and the arts, a Communist, and most likely a spy. The more I learn about him, the more interesting a character he appears to be. This book was his first and seems to be essentially a travel book. Its worldview seems more “escapist” than what I call “Escapological” in that Befrage is seeking different forms of “dope” (his word) with which to temporarily escape reality. The first chapter is called “Portrait of a Man Seeking Hashish.”

His primary criticism of life, however, seems to be a disgust for social and economic inequality and the exacerbation of this sitution by Capitalism. We have at least this much in common.

I can’t to read further and to note the similarities and differences between his Escapology and ours.

My edition (pictured below) seems to have been abridged by the author for Penguin, but it’s still a sizable volume. I will report back when I have devoured it.

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This Year’s Christmas Film

When you’re a minimalist vegetarian household with no children and you’re at least 50% Jewish anyway, deciding what to do for Chrimbo can be a tricky thing.

You don’t want to be hostile to Christmas and the facts remain that you like Charles Dickens and Michael Caine and kisses beneath the mistletoe.

But when the entire world seems dedicated to rampant consumerist mania and is shocked–almost offended–when it learns you don’t have anything to say about how you observe the big day, it can be easy to be pushed into unintentional Humbuggery. The festival of light begins to feel like The Purge and your instinct is to board up the windows and hope that the special day will pass you by.

I think this Humbuggery is important to resist. Even if it means coming up with some new traditions.

Two years ago, in a bid to do something a twinkly on Christmas Day, my partner and I went to see The Last Jedi at the Odeon. It turns out there are enough people in the world to whom Christmas isn’t a big deal that some cinemas are open on 25th December. And it was great! The cinema was overflowing with excitable Sikh children with their little topknots; it was a great atmosphere of fun-loving non-Christmas observers.

“Star Wars is my new religion,” I think to myself, settling back into the reclining chair and letting the dependable, iconic opening crawl fill my vision.

Reaching the cinema with no public transport had been a dispiriting exercise though. We’d walked through the rain across an almost-completely deserted cityscape. The no man’s land around the Skypark was especially post-apocalyptic-feeling. We saw the occasional Christmas light display in a high-rise, just like Brendon Gleeson’s flat in 28 Days Later.

The following year (last year) we stayed indoors, in the carbon-neutral warmth of home, and watched John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) with our Brussels Sprouts. This was a good choice. It turns out that old horror movies are our new religion. Star Wars was a red herring all along! And if we can find a really, really good old horror movie that neither of us has seen before, we’ve hit the jackpot. They Live was bliss.

This year, we’ll be watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). I think it will be perfect for Christmas. Leonard Nimoy, Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum practically are family.

All of this makes me wonder what makes a good Christmas film. The telly used to show festive fixtures like Muppet’s Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, but it also used to show The Great Escape, which has become associated with Christmas despite being completely unrelated. What you want, I suppose, is something that gives you a thrill, restores justice, feels nostalgic perhaps, hits your soul at just the right angle, unites everyone in the room. For us, that seems to be old horror movies.

So if, fellow Escapologists, you find yourself similarly ambivalent about this year’s day of the shiny baubles, why not join us in watching this film? Leave a comment here if you end up watching it. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, guys. It’s what’s for Christmas Dinner.

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Tiny House Interview

In July, New Escapologist contributor Paula Billups and her partner Scott moved into their brand-new tiny home in Western Massachusetts. They built it themselves with some help from friends. It has 384 square feet of living space with a basement and storage loft. Congrats, guys!

After watching loads of Tiny House videos online–which are usually success stories and often quite miraculous feats of resourcefulness–I wanted to hear about the challenges and expenses that I suspect would be encountered if you just wanted to build a Tiny Home right where you are. I mean, before even getting started, the land anywhere near where I live would cost so much money you’d be better off buying an apartment or continuing to rent one.

I asked Paula and Scott to be candid, not only about cost but about some of the Tiny House practicalities I’ve been curious about for a while. The interview happened in October. Hence the pumpkins you can see in that exterior photograph.

Paula says:

We belatedly realized that every article we read on the subject was by someone in rural Oregon, rural Montana, Arizona, places where building regulations are lax and few. Try doing that in Massachusetts sometime.

Over the course of the build the requirements, permits, and bureaucratic hoop-jumps grew daily. Our original plan was for an $18k yurt, but you can’t have a yurt as a primary residence in Massachusetts. And the permitting and code for building primary residences here is stringent. We ended up building a more permanent dwelling. Once land, a well and septic system were accounted for, we spent about £150k.

We bit off way more than we could chew.

There is a dark side of tiny-house building, which is to say that some people in some areas can build a home for under $20k and more power to them. But there are plenty of places where local government makes that an impossibility. You don’t hear much about that amongst the Tiny House crowd. It can be done. It is worth it. But there is a splash of cold water for those who find themselves in such a situation.

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Property Guardianship

This perfectly nice person talks a lot of old shit, but burried in said jobbie lies an undigested diamond:

My niece told me about a friend who was a property guardian – someone who looks after an empty property in return for cheaper rent – and so I researched different organisations and used Dot Dot Dot, which offers affordable properties and in return asks guardians to commit to 16 hours of volunteering a month. I ended up with a little four-bedroom townhouse in Abbey Wood in London. It’s a lovely place with a garden, a balcony off the kitchen, a workshop and a music room. It costs £560 a month to live here. Bills are extra and come to about £200 a month. I really like the community aspect of being a property guardian. So far, I’ve run a mosaic course in a residential home and helped out with some gardening locally.

A £760 month with the potential to divide the cost by four? Sixteen hours a month of friendly volunteer work? Sounds like a gig for an Escapologist.

I first heard about property guardianship circa 2008 when someone suggested I move into the recently-abandoned BBC Scotland building (which lives on, quelle surprise, as luxury flats). It all seemed more trouble than it was worth. While my rent would have been just £200, I’d have to work as an unpaid night watchman.

I just couldn’t quite bring myself to pay money to live in a perpetual state of one-eye-on-the-door paranoid half-sleep, while also slipping around in the ectoplasm of Scottish Light Entertainment.

A decade on, however, there are arguably worse housing fates than this. Especially if it’s possible to find yourself in a “little” four-bedroom London townhouse.

Although it’s expected to be knocked down in the next couple of years, when I’m not working or volunteering, I spend my time doing the house up. […] I spend about £200 a month on materials and furniture for the house.

Just don’t enact this part of the plan and you’re golden.

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Vocational Guidance Counsellor

Well, chartered accountancy is rather exciting isn’t it?

Exciting? No it’s not. It’s dull. Dull. Dull. My God it’s dull, it’s so desperately dull and tedious and stuffy and boring and des-per-ate-ly DULL.

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