The Bored Stiff


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.

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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


Work x Compensation = Consumption + Savings


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


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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Flying Fish


To the fascinating Museum of Water today, where visitors donate vials of water, usually with a story attached, for public display. My favourite was probably the “condensation” (gob) emptied from brass instruments after a concert.

Samara and I made a donation (water from a little canal that runs alongside part of the River Kelvin in Glasgow) and were interviewed by a performer/attendant called Mary. She asked how we met, which brought us onto New Escapologist.

She said that a previous museum visitor had been talking about flying fish and how their flight is a mode of escape.

Apparently they have trouble with boats and tend to fly right into them, either smacking into the bulkhead or landing (and dying) on the deck.

Isn’t that sad? In the natural state, the flight of the flying fish is probably a perfectly good means of escape from predators. Only the unnatural addition of boats to their world has made it futile.

We all agreed this was a fitting metaphor, and that Escapologists will come across our equivalent of seafaring boats: immovable obstacles (bureaucracies, usually) that will scupper escape.

Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try though, does it? Let’s feel the wind beneath our fishy fin-wings! Bugger the boats! At least we’ll have tasted the thrill of flight!

My recurrent line about how Escapologists, if forced to return to office life, “will at least have something to talk about at the water cooler” brought our conversation neatly back to H2O.

So let’s adopt the flying fish as the Escapological totem animal. Let’s work it into our coat of arms. (Or fins).

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In the Interstices

Harry Eyres files the last two installments of his “Slow Lane” column in the Financial Times. In one he writes:

Over-strenuous efforts to get away from it all tend to defeat their object: you encounter the same problems on arrival. The point is to find and enjoy the oases of peace that are freely — and I mean often freely — available in the interstices of the daily round: those easily forgotten or ignored oases, the familiar painting (which you could make a date to spend an hour with) or the poem you half-remember (which you could learn by heart), the pair of bustling blue-tits in the garden laburnum you have hardly noticed for years, the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the night sky, a mode of transport which facilitates richness of experience rather than bullet-like translation from A to B.

And in the other:

My ambition has been to set out a workable alternative to the romantic escapism of Yeats’s Lake Isle of Innisfree. We can enrich our necessarily limited time by learning a short poem by heart, or even writing one; by returning to those viola or clarinet studies we gave up as teenagers, and finding that we can engage with the music in a deeper way and make it our own; by popping in to a museum or gallery to see not a vast, intimidating blockbuster exhibition but just one dearly loved painting; or by playing, at whatever level and with whatever physical limitations, a sport you love rather than watching overpaid narcissists on TV.

I’ve enjoyed his column. Cultural references, being in the FT, were sometimes a little highbrow for my immediate understanding but the ethic behind the column was always extremely sound. Certainly worth a leisurely stroll through the archives.

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Saving and Spending Are the Same Thing

Here’s another nugget from my book to whet your appetite:

As a point of lurid interest, refusing to buy anything may be anti-materialist but it is not anti-capitalist even if that’s your intention.

When you stop buying things but continue to earn money through work, your earnings continue to serve the capitalist machine. The bank in which you store your wealth “spends” your savings when they invest it. (That’s why the bank pays you interest: as a reward for letting them play with your money.) Perversely, saving and spending actually amount to the same thing so far as the economy is concerned.

But when you reduce your income as well as your spending, it actually does hurt the capitalist machine! If your motivation to engage in minimalism is to smash the system, you must remember to reduce your income as well as your spending. Thus, only Escapological minimalism, since it aims to reduce work as well as consumption, will genuinely throw a spanner in the works of capitalism.

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Van Man

NorrisPlay outdoors. Love the earth. Live simply. Use only what you need.

That’s the creed of Daniel Norris, rookie pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball. Despite earning a seven-figure salary, he chooses to live in a VW Westfalia, and gets by on $800 per month.

Here’s hoping he can stick to his principles, stay free, and keep the van running.

★ Buy the lastest issue of New Escapologist at the shop or pre-order Mr. Wringham’s forthcoming book.

The 80-Day Measure of Habit-Setting

I’m still editing the book, which is why the blog’s been a bit quiet of late.

I just came across a part that made me laugh:

Habits are cumulative. Write a thousand words per day and you’ll have an 80,000-word book in the time it took Phileas Fogg to circle the Earth. Eat a pound of lard every morning and be medically corpulent in the same time.

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