A House From Scratch

The final house inspection by the Nanaimo Regional District building inspector was on May 3, however it took a couple of more weeks to secure the occupancy permit as we had to replace the glazing in a stair bottom window with tempered glass so the inspector could sleep at night.

I’ve posted about it before (and possibly mentioned it in EE!) but New Escapologist contributor Rob West and his family have been building a house in British Columbia, escaping a stressful life in expensive London and Vancouver.

Well, after five years, they’re moving in and it’s a beauty. Look at that circular window! Congrats, Wests.

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Drawlloween: The Terrible Workplace Humour Edition

New Escapologist‘s art director Samara is taking part in a drawlloween thing for the duration of October. The idea is for artists to illustrate a different Halloween concept each day according to prompts set in advance.

As well as following the prompts, Samara’s chosen sub-theme is “terrible workplace humour,” so we get to see what various Monsters of Horror would look like if they had day jobs.

Today’s prompt is “Cryptid” so she gives us the Mongolian Death Worm as if it worked in an office:

Samara says:

This is the Mongolian Death Worm, which releases a miasma of poison that kills anything it touches, and also chews loudly and reads its emails out loud to itself.

Check it out and, if you’re on Instagram yourself, give her some likes of encouragement.

Except The Impossible Things

These quotes are from Trawl, a 1966 novel by B. S. Johnson, further evidence, if any were needed, that a hatred of dreary employment runs through our literature, being so close to the human heart.

What I made money from [seemed] irrelevant, arbitrary, and I felt it should not be. One thing I did decide, was sure about, was that was that I was not going back to being a bank clerk as I had been in the six months between leaving school and being called up: I could not stand any of the work, the people, the atmosphere. But what I would do I just did not know, and could not think: and I could not even think of anything I would like to be, except the impossible things, like a writer, or a film director, or just rich.

I had gone at fourteen to a school which specialised in turning boys into clerks and accountants, and girls into typists and secretaries: and could therefore keep accounts, type, even do shorthand, though very slowly, and was fitted, even trained and qualified after a style, to be a clerk in some sort of office: which fitting was dismaying to me after my experience at the bank. The point was that such work involved repetition, often quite complex repetition, but nevertheless the same sort of thing day after day after day.

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An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 58. Moment.

I’ve just returned from a whistle-stop tour of England. Well, London and Birmingham and bits of the countryside anyway.

A fine time was had, but when I saw an otherwise-pretty country cottage plastered with Brexit Party logos and slogans, I felt a surge of genuine shock. I wouldn’t want a world so homogenised that people didn’t have different ideas on how to run it, but my life is so insulated from hardcore Brexit sensibilities by living in Scotland and rarely visiting anywhere other London when I venture south, that it felt like I’d seen a house emblazoned with swastikas.

I’m willing to accept that this might say more about me than it does about the world. Nobody yet knows how history will see the present moment, but as a rootless cosmopolitan I found it chilling to say the least. It’s the idea that this madness was present all along–all through the sanguine ’90s and the neolib noughties–lurking darkly and burning hot.

Around the time of the EU Referendum, I saw some graffiti in Glasgow that read, “Let all the poison that lurks in the mud, hatch out.” This turns out to be from I, Claudius by Robert Graves (from whom, incidentally, New Escapologist takes it’s subtitle, “Goodbye to all that”). Maybe this is what we’re going through: letting the poison hatch out, getting some bile up for a nation’s health and a better world, the cottage I saw being but one manifestation of this. I’d like to believe it, but I don’t. I think there’s years of this bullshit yet to wade through and there will be huge amounts of additional damage to control.

Something else. There’s been an aesthetic change in England since I’ve been gone. Things feel distinctly folksy and anti-Modernist in a theme parkish way well suited to the era of Amazon and Etsy. I saw lots of people wearing tweed waistcoats and Peaky Blinders caps, and everything now seems to be covered with bunting. These pretensions to “vintage” style are aligned somewhere between hipster and UKIP, a Wartime tweeness represented in cutesy little cakes, pinafore strings, the union flag, electro-swing, and stocking seams. It all seems to say “This is as it should be,” but the aesthetic has confused authenticity with kitsch. I can just see them all huddled in bunkers after the Union and the EU, singing “we’ll all go together when we go” and believing it to be a consoling English song. The English are bringing back Their Day, reimagined and remixed through the lenses of nostalgic conservatism, CAD technologies, and an online shopping experience that grants people whatever they want. What they want in provincial England seems to be a sort of Replicant village May Day, Empire without the Empire.

Hey, do what you like! But please remember to also do the right thing.

*

I witnessed further historical moment in London when rubbing shoulders with Extinction Rebellion. I joined a small Idler contingent at Trafalgar Square for a “Do Less” campaign proximate to the somewhat larger XR disruption. I was over two hours late, which means I win at idling.

The event was quite exciting. I’ve been to lots of protests and marches and Anarchist or Socialist events over the years, but there was a palatable sense here that the protest was a genuine interface with Power, that They might be paying attention. Who knows?

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to climb to the level of the lions on Nelson’s Column, but Tom and Brendan and Flo offered encouragement: “Just get your knee up!” I’ve said it before: the strongest force in the universe is peer pressure.

Flo has filed a nice and more detailed report at the Idler website:

Also present was Robert Wringham, Idler contributor and frugality expert. Robert doled out cheese sandwiches at Nelson’s Column to keep starving editor Tom Hodgkinson from going full anarchist and smashing up a police van. Thankfully he arrived at just the right time for lunch, or we may have been making this report from a prison cell.

We sang Lie Down And Be Counted by Neil Innes to the strumming of Tom’s uke. I’ve been suffering from laryngitis and so my deeply-hoarse Larry David (Larynge David?) voice was extremely audible over the others, especially when I routinely came in early on “what are we standing for.”

*

I missed my Patreon deadline last month because I decided that my essay about tiny houses wasn’t quite up to scratch, so nobody was charged. This is the kind of quality control you can expect from New Escapologist. Will there be an essay at the end of this month? Join us on Patreon to find out.

An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 57. One Year Ago.

Sound the party alarm, for this is the one-year anniversary of escaping my most recent brush with employment. To hear about why I ever went back to a jay-oh-bee, you can read this previous diary entry, but for now I just want to say a resounding “phew!” and also “wow!”

Nothing on Earth can hold Houdini a prisoner!

It can be hard to know for sure if your decisions are the right ones. I’ve learned over the years not to sweat the small stuff though, learning that optimisation and “best possible outcomes” aren’t as important as just having a nice time and doing things well and in the right spirit. I’ve also learned to ignore pesky thoughts of Sliding Doors-style alternate realities: “what if I did this instead of that?” But on this occasion, I am certain I made the right choice by escaping as soon as possible. The job really was a hindrance to getting on with what I wanted to do. It was also beginning to make me fat and depressed. Zero regrets.

I find myself in good shape one year on: financially, creatively and in terms of physical and mental health. I do not feel sluggardly or anxious at the moment, ready instead to have fun and to create some amusing, useful works.

My first order of “business” on escaping again was to write my next book, The Good Life for Wage Slaves. Based on a true story! It’s coming out in Germany in March and in the UK… eventually. But it is written and I’ve even seen the typeset German version and its lovely cover, all of which is a fairly amazing turnaround for just one year of finger-wiggling, and I still remember how good (if slightly odd) it felt to start writing as soon as I’d quit, almost as if nothing had happened.

The rest of the year has been busier than I’d typically be when unused because of Operation Breadhead. This, I’m happy to report is going well too. We are now (as of 5th October) halfway through the event and 86% through target. We might even have made target by the end of November. This is a relief, as all we’ll need to do to win our “indefinite leave” visa at that point is to run out the clock and complete the forms. The financial woe—always the hardest part for me—will be behind us. For this I have to thank some of you for buying my stuff and for engaging my writing and editing services. Thank you, readers and friends. Moral turpitude issues aside, I might yet not be chased out of my own country!

I have been in a nostalgic mood lately, especially after visiting my parents last week and, when fancying a stroll, deciding to recreate my old walk to school and back. I hadn’t seen these houses and corners and minor landmarks for over twenty years and I almost blubbed. So in thinking about the old office job as I sit to write my diary now, I find I have some fond memories of former colleagues and of the Blitz spirit of shared boredom. But no! Always remember, never forget!

Thanks for your help this past year, everyone. If you’d like to help with the final furlong of Operation Breadhead, you could buy some stuff here. But don’t feel pressured because (and I’ll say this part quietly) I think we’re fine.

The Prisoner

Kudos to The Economist (and thanks to reader Antonia for bringing this to our attention) for using The Prisoner as the basis for an article about hot-desking!

The hero of the cult British TV show “The Prisoner” wakes up one day in a mysterious village. His possessions have vanished and he is not referred to by his real name but as “number six”. His every attempt at escape is frustrated and each episode ends with a set of iron bars superimposed on his face.

The experience of the prisoner will be wearily familiar to one class of office worker—those who undergo the daily trial of “hot-desking”.

Hot-desking really is awful, isn’t it? As the article points out, the real reason behind it–despite whatever reason a company may cite to make it sound appealing–is to save money in quite an extreme way. Someone, somewhere, has calculated that the “average property cost in the first year for a British office worker is £4,800.”

But what of the human cost of hot-desking? All the fretting over tidying up at the end of a day so that your personal items aren’t binned by the cleaners or impounded as lost property? All the fretting over whether you’ll have a seat in the morning at all or if you’ll end up working on your lap in the kitchen?

Even if you can trust that there’ll be a seat for you somewhere in the building, not knowing what it will look like makes it hard to visualise (and therefore emotionally prepare for) a working day.

The suffering is untold and it can’t be good for a worker’s output either, unless perhaps the company is hoping for some sort of suffering-enhanced foie gras product.

If companies don’t want to pay the real estate cost of a worker’s seated bottom, how about abolishing the need for physical presence and being done with it? Let people work unsupervised at home so that there’s no need for offices at all. As well as saving company money, abolishing offices would put paid to the commute, ending the associated pollution and stress and rising at 6am just to stay employed. Not bad.

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Cut Loose

I just turned the final page on The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology by Mark Boyle (whose experiments in living I’ve blogged about before and also mentioned in Escape Everything!).

The book chronicles his first year of living in a fairly remote and self-built cabin in Ireland from which he subsists on the land without the aid of modern technology. He writes his memoir by hand, chops firewood, grows vegetables, fishes for pike, butchers deer, and tans their hides.

It’s a fine book, a modern Walden really, and served in small morsels, which is reflective of the way he had time to write around the thousand other things he did to stay alive. It also captures his sense of time without recourse to clocks or watches and you end up sort of swimming with him in non-time aside from an awareness of the season.

Thrilling to me and germane to New Escapologist is the following passage from the beginning of the book:

I wake up this morning to two thoughts. The first is that, from this moment onwards, I haven’t got a single bill to my name. I feel free. The second is that, from this moment onwards, all of the toll bridges linking my life to modernity are gone, and that I’m going to have to live on my gumption alone. I am cut loose from the only culture I’ve ever really known.

Just think of it. That sensation of being so dramatically cut loose. One experiences it to an extent when quitting a job–or the entire world of jobs–to go it alone, but to leave modern, technology-mediated society almost completely (he makes friends in the area, communicates by post and sometimes teaches short courses at Schumacher College but he certainly never drives or flies) must be liberating to the point of complete disorientation. For madmen only perhaps.

I remain unconvinced that “to live in the city but not of it,” (see my notes about “the city recluse” in Escape Everthing!) is not the best way to live and, indeed, Mark Boyle himself offers some beautiful thoughts at the end of his book about purist cries of “hypocrisy” and having ideals greater than those you can live by. But, man, what an experiment in living The Way Home turned out to be. I recommend it.

Do support us on Patreon if you are able. x

Canadian Shipping Container House

As a chaser to yesterday’s post about the artist pods in Scotland, here’s a nice video tour of a shipping container house in Canada.

Shipping containers are a classic of Tiny Home design (see New Escapologist Issue 8 for further insight) and the chap in the video has a directly Escapological reason for taking on such an alternative dwelling:

I just decided the working life wasn’t for me. And I wanted a lifestyle change, so [I researched it] and found budget shipping container living and thought I’d give it a try.

The hours were long, working for someone else. Yes, I was trading my time for good money but at the end of the day it wasn’t really worth it. It took its toll on my body and my social life. It was not ideal.

I’ll confess to being attracted to this lifestyle and to the rewarding nature of having built your own home with your two bare hands.

Of course, anyone who knows me at all will be in stitches at the thought of my flailing around with power tools, knowing full well I’d saw those “two bare hands” off in no time at all.

But if nothing else, imagine being done with mortgage or rent so quickly and cheaply and forever. This shipping container home cost between 13,000 and 14,000 Canadian dollars, which is very little and means the owner can just live how he wants to live now, not worrying about pulling in the huge sums of money required for having the audacity to live in a conventional house in the city. Small business or romantic cottage industry (or washing your hands of money-making altogether) suddenly becomes viable.

It’s another escape. Let nobody tell you there is no way out, especially for those with willpower and imagination.

Check out the video. It’s a dream situation, planted in the wilds of Victoria, British Colombia.

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Artist Pods

I visited Cove Park in Scotland last week, a place for artists to escape the city and get some work done.

As much as anything, I wanted a peek at the living-and-sleeping quarters, some of which are dome-topped wooden pods while others are converted shipping containers. They all seem to have grassy green roofs.

At the time, it was not my intention to post about the visit so my pictures aren’t the best, but here’s what I snapped up anyway.

The interior shots are all of the oakwood pods (I didn’t take any inside the shipping containers) except for the final picture, which is in a separate non-pod building serving as a communal workspace.

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Should I Buy a Record Player?

Should I buy a record player? I’d genuinely like some advice on this, whether from vinyl enthusiasts or from get-a-grip friends. So leave a comment below or drop me an email.

Whenever I betray my anti-consumerist, minimalist ethics by joining in with some craze or other, I usually regret it. Joining Twitter for example was a mistake that has cost much fretting and fiddling that I could have done without.

Buying a record player would be the physically-biggest move I’ve made away from minimalism in years, currently owning absolutely no physical media. After a few months or years of buying records, it would likely be the most expensive too, and it would also represent a significant bump in energy usage here at Escape Towers.

On the other hand, it would be nice to correct a certain lack of music in our lives. Yes, we can currently play music from YouTube or Spotify (and I digitised my 300-strong CD collection before selling it a decade ago, so it still lives on in the cloud). But this involves a dependency on Silicon Valley and the infernal jab-screen, which is something I’d like do less of, and it’s not much fun to stab at an app when what you want from music is human connection.

Moreover, I’m sometimes a little (though not a lot) embarrassed to invite friends to Escape Towers when we offer little here but quiet retreat. A record player, would offer a bit more event to an invitation. “We’ll play some records,” I’ll say and “bring a couple of records over.” Selecting music would become a social activity and friends won’t have to watch me fumble with an app, playing autocratically-selected music, and trying to remember if I have a certain Stereolab album because I can’t see the whole collection and the search function isn’t working properly.

I like the idea of browsing the records in Monorail (fun local spot steeped in history) on a Saturday morning with Samara and of hanging out with Friend J who works in a second-hand vinyl shop with more reason to my being there than just to stare at his face. But is this not precisely the sort of positive lifestyle situation dreamed up by any product-hungry consumer?

Having set off my own vigilance-against-consumerism alarm, I at least think this could all be done fairly cheaply and with a non-rampant consumerist credo if we just buy our equipment and the bulk of our records second-hand and never from Amazon. Of course, this could just be a sort of internal green-washing on my part to justify what would actually be quite a silly purchase.

Any strong feelings? Would this thing (and that’s what it is: a thing) enhance life or would it just be another infernal regret and a loss of personal integrity?

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