117 Beds

Three years ago, I quit having a fixed place to live in, leaving my home for various locales across the UK and beyond. The notes in my phone reveal that, to date, I’ve slept in 117 beds, in locations ranging from the Scottish Highlands and coastal Dorset to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, and the avant-garde Georgian capital of Tbilisi, all while holding down a full-time job.

I’d rather have no job and a single home base to be honest, but this is certainly a tempting way to live. Just think of the opportunity it would afford for adventure.

The writer Lydia Swinscoe has embraced minimalism and utterly challenged the Western ideals of permanence and security, ideals so ingrained that many people wouldn’t even think to question them. When the source of the modern malaise is so hard to put your finger on sometimes, why not question the big ones? The facts of life that are too big to see sometimes? Maybe living in one place instead of nomadically is where we’ve been going wrong.

In any event, she’s footloose and fancy-free: in London one minute and Tbilisi the next. Come on, that’s so cool.

Living nomadically, mostly out of a 65-litre backpack, I’ve become deeply aware of just how much “stuff” we collect but don’t need. Everywhere – on TV, online, pasted across billboards, on the sides of buses – we’re bombarded with materialistic messages luring us to buy the latest gadgets, kitchen appliances (read: air fryers), home furnishings, newest fashion trends and miracle beauty products. I’m convinced it’s a trap.

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Issue 16 (June) is now available to pre-order.

Nor Iron Bars a Cage

I was looking at Escape Everything! today and found myself feeling very happy and proud of it.

It’s really no bad book, you know. And it’s aged well.

This is a small thing, but I enjoyed the Houdini quotes at the top of each section and chapter. Each quote is appropriate for the words that follow. I’m especially fond of “Here follows a long description of a machine” for the section about “The Trap.” And I like “Tear it into little bits” at the start of the Bureaucracy chapter since it’s taken from a book called Houdini’s Paper Magic (you know, because Bureaucracy is paperwork and I’m about to tell you to scorn it).

I remember pouring over library books about Houdini and digital archive scans of his magic books, trying to find just the right quotes.

Earlier drafts mixed some non-Houdini quotes in with the Houdini ones and I’m glad I spotted the error of that: using Houdini quotes throughout the book reinforces the central “Escapology” metaphor and almost gives the impression that Houdini himself is guiding you through the book.

The illusion is only broken once. The introduction does not have a Houdini quote. Instead it has this:

Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage — Richard Lovelace.

Rar! I’m annoyed by this. The draft I submitted to the publisher attributed the quote to Houdini because I had a replica signed photograph on my fridge door on which The Master had scrawled those very words.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Houdini was quoting from a poem by Lovelace.

The fact checker sent a note about this, saying it would require correction. I considered an attribution along the lines of “Houdini, quoting James Lovelace” but it seemed a bit longwinded and, probably feeling the pressure of the deadline, I took the path of least resistance and gave the editors my nod of approval.

I wish I hadn’t. The fixed version is some artless No-Maj shit.

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But never mind! The paperback version of Escape Everything! is called I’m Out and it’s once again available at our shop. The publisher recently sent me a box of 50 copies to apologise for something else, so 100% of the cover price will help to keep the lights on at Escape Towers. Get your copy here.

Wanted: Woes

We have a column in New Escapologist called Workplace Woes. It’s an opportunity for readers to anonymously blow off steam about their jobs, past or present.

In Issue 14, for example, there was the story of an office Halloween Party that went from embarrassing to worse. There was also the tale of workplace racism out of the clear blue sky. Oh! And the story of animals escaping from a pet shop.

If you’d like to vent your spleen, please send me your Workplace Woes by email. All stories will be treated with utmost confidence. That’s the whole point.

Please keep them under 200 words (no need for elaborate scene setting: just cut right to the chase). Stories can be funny or anger-inducing or a little of both. It’s all good.

It would be particularly nice to hear some woes from the worlds of retail or hospitality and also some outdoorsy woes (e.g. construction industry), but if your story is simply office-based then that’s good too!

The deadline for Issue 16 is April 15th but any latecomers can be saved for future editions.

Thanks everyone. Over to you.

Tiny Cowboys

Do I regret getting into the whole tiny-house nightmare? Of course not.

Thus says James Campbell in his candid account of tiny house life. He was ripped off by cowboy tiny house manufacturers who promised an out-of-the-box solution for £65,000.

There were so many problems. The house that was delivered was not the house in the brochure. We had ordered a pitched roof, so that solar panels would be pointed at the winter sun. The house that arrived had a pretty much flat roof.

There were dangerous and infuriating problems with the electrics and the plumbing. Rats soon moved into the walls. Inexpert technicians were repeatedly flown in from Lithuania, despite the company purporting to be UK-based and ecologically-minded.

We quickly got to the point where we asked them to take it away and give us our money back. They refused. We looked at suing them for mis-selling. Our solicitor reported they were in so much debt that if we did and won, they would go bankrupt and we would get nothing.

I mention Chris’s account as another example of how things can go wrong when fleeing the daily grind or trying to live alternatively. Nobody really thinks its going to be easy but James’ problems were quite extreme and unlike, say, Mark Boyle’s efforts to adapt to a life on the land, they’re hard to see as a worthy challenge when you’ve paid through the nose for a commercial solution. Chris didn’t go into the project looking for a challenge. It was just supposed to work.

Greenwashing is real and so, I suppose, is escapewashing. Capitalism is watching: it’s forever on the lookout for lifestyles to sell. Chris couldn’t have done much to avoid being ripped off, but there is at least one teachable moment:

One day I was given a copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s first River Cottage Cookbook. I devoured it and swiftly realised my future would involve living in the countryside, doing my best to be self-sufficient.

Maybe don’t completely change your whole life after reading one book. Especially a cookbook. Especially a cookbook written by a wealthy person who stands to get even wealthier by it. By all means be inspired by watching Escape to the Country if you like, but read, read, read. Proper books. Case studies. Talk and listen to people who have done it.

Do your research. Downsize gradually (Chris writes that he purged 90% of his stuff quite quickly — and unproductively too, by taking it to charity shops or the tip). Pilot the new idea by testing it first (which, to be fair, Chris sort-of did by moving into a cheap caravan before buying the tiny home).

Or, y’know, just jump in. But do it with eyes open and ready to fail.

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New Escapologist’s back catalogue is packed with case studies of escape. Download the complete first volume (Issues 1-13) on PDF for £25 or pre-order the forthcoming summer issue in print or digital formats.

Letter to the Editor: A Pro-Rest Episode

To send a letter to the editor, simply write in. You’ll get a reply and we’ll anonymise any blogged version.

message-in-a-bottle

Reader G writes:

Dear Rob,

The world of work is trying to colonise our every waking moment, so it’s heartening to learn of ever more people (like yourself and those you write about) who are fighting back by running for the exit.

Someone once told me he admired me for jumping ship each time a job wasn’t for me, while he was too worried to leave his. I hadn’t realised how much of an Escapologist I was!

And it’s not just our waking moments they want. This week, BBC Sounds has a podcast about sleep. Capitalism is trying to monetise our sleep by selling us masks, calming apps and the rest of it.

But why do we need these things? What’s causing the difficulties of falling asleep? It’s the prospect of having to get up the next morning and earn some pennies to pay for the apps and masks!

Apparently in the mid 2000s some entrepreneur tried to encourage people to learn to lucid dream so that they could keep working on their PowerPoint presentations in their sleep! There really is no frontier past which capitalism/work will not tread. Luckily the podcast guests called this out too. It was a very pro-rest episode.

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Hi G. That podcast was very interesting and informative, so thank you for drawing our attention to it. Imagine using your sleep to work, unremunerated, on PowerPoint presentations. That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.

Awkwardly enough, I just ordered my first “soft headphones” designed for sleeping in. They were only a fiver from Vinted, so I shouldn’t have to give too many bus station hand jobs to make back my investment.

Personally, I’m not looking for commercial assistance with sleep: I just like to go to bed early to listen to podcasts sometimes. It’s pleasant. Unfortunately, I often fall asleep after ten minutes and the corded headphones (I have a bundle of them, stolen from airplanes in part so that imprisoned slaves don’t have to clean my ear wax out of them) end up wrapped around my neck. No more! I take the point though: sleep paraphernalia is another nonsense industry.

I was thinking recently how lucky I am to have never failed to fall asleep at night. Even brutally restless or party nights end with me conking at 5am. I stayed in a terrible hostel in Utrecht recently (see New Escapologist 15) where I was awake all night. Even then, I slept at 6am on the first train out of town.

Let’s keep work out of sleep, folks. As previously related in Escape Everything!, I once dreamed about stacking shopping baskets at my old retail job. What a rip off. This week I dreamed about reading beautifully-designed 1970s children’s encyclopaedias with my wife and looking at midcentury furniture in a department store with my friend Wentworth. Genuinely good dreams, those. The key, of course, is to work as little as possible in waking hours so that your unconscious mind doesn’t need to process the trauma at night.

Yiddish

I’ve failed to find convincing attribution for this quote but it’s a goodie.

Aoyb di arbet iz geven azoy groys, volt di reykh es gehaltn far zikh.

or:

If work was so great, the rich would have kept it for themselves.

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We’re Sorry to See You Go: How to Escape All Social Media Forever

I’ve been social media free for a few months now. The psychological benefit is greater than I ever imagined. It feels like real life is back. I don’t suffer the constant nagging drag of having a mind in two places. I highly recommend it.

You already know why you should delete your social media accounts. At best it’s a huge waste of your time. But maybe the threats to democracy and life and free will also get you down.

Here’s how to do it. The following links go to the official support pages for each platform, so hopefully these instructions will be valid in perpetuity.

Delete your Facebook account (just remember to download your photographs first and check that you definitely have your elderly relatives’ phone numbers)

Deactivate Twitter (after maybe sending a few DMs to swap email addresses with people you met there before the enshittening took place)

Delete Instagram (because it may look friendly but it’s owned by Facebook)

Delete WhatsApp (it’s stupid and insidious and also owned by Facebook. Group chat might look convenient but email has been capable of the same thing for decades; if you have a webmail app you’re even still using the same device so the convenience is an illusion. Don’t be strongarmed by cunts volunteer platform evangelists)

Delete Snapchat (unless, of course, you’re 12 or a flasher. No wait, then you really should delete Snapchat!)

Delete TikTok (it’s worth nothing to you and everything to Xi)

Delete Pinterest (fetch will never happen)

Delete LinkedIn (I briefly had a soft spot for the squarest space of all and even Jaron Lanier says it’s a friendly option, but it’s turning to shit anyway)

Delete Reddit (don’t worry, you’ll still see it constantly thanks to its increasingly high place in Google rankings)

Speaking of which, you could always make DuckDuckGo your default search engine instead of Google

Hypocrite’s Corner

Migrate from Gmail to Proton Mail (I don’t do this because Proton Mail is too expensive for me and I don’t like its search functionality, but it’s a good move if those things aren’t a problem for you)

Delete Tumblr (I share an account with my wife and it’s strictly ‘write only,’ a place to store photographs for free. It’s owned by Automattic who I’ve long seen as good guys of the Internet but there may be trouble ahead)

Each time you escape a platform, turn back briefly to say this:

Are You Addicted to Workahol?

The Guardian has published some pretty tragic examples of workaholism:

When Marion’s workaholism caused her to lose the sight in one eye…

You don’t really need to finish that sentence for it to be a shocker. And yet:

…her response was to work even harder to prove she was healthy and fit enough to do her job.

And then:

John was hospitalised and off work for six months when he finally burned out after more than 20 years of workaholism. When he was eventually able to get up off the sofa on his own, his 21-year-old son had to physically struggle with him to prevent him from getting to his computer.

“I’ll always be ashamed of that,” John said.

I don’t want to make light of workaholism… but yikes.

I suppose the difficulty in taking workaholism seriously is that “I’m addicted to work” sounds like a humblebrag. It’s like saying “if I have one flaw it’s that I’m too perfect.”

So I’ll say this: we should take workaholism seriously because the very fact that we don’t exposes our messed-up values as a society. Hard work is considered a virtue. When it isn’t.

If there’s a fire and the firefighters “work hard” to extinguish the blaze then, yes, working hard is good. But that’s an extreme and short-lived example. Working hard at a PR agency? Working hard to stack cans of cat food? Working hard to become yet another influencer? Meh.

Treatment for workaholism is a welcome short term solution that picks up after a much bigger social problem. The long term solution is to change the way society thinks of work. Start with yourself perhaps.

A helpful phrase when you see people working hard is: “do you want a medal for shovelling shit uphill?”

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On Fences and Scarecrows

I was thinking about low-tech automation this morning.

My walk to the Post Office sometimes takes me past a school. There’s a big fence around the playground but I can hear the kids running around like hellions inside.

I had a reflexive curmudgeonly thought that it’s a shame we can’t see the kids playing because there are baddies in the world who spoil it for everyone but of course the kids need to be protected, etc.

When I was that age (in the 1980s) we didn’t have tall fences around the playground and we’d regularly talk and be cheeky to passersby. There were playground supervisors to make sure we weren’t too cheeky and that we weren’t kidnapped.

The fence, it strikes me today, is a form of low-tech automation. A fence around a school playground removes the need for (or at least reduces the workload of) so many supervisors.

We generally think of digital technology when we talk about automation, about how so-called AI is dispensing with the need for copywriters or how robotic appendages reduce the need for assembly line laborers. But a fence is a sort of automation too.

So is a scarecrow. AI’s just another name for a turnip on top of an old duffel coat really. It keeps the crows off so you don’t have to.

I’m not entirely sure what to do with this thought. Seen one way it says “don’t sweat, automation has been going on for years” but you could also use it to say “AI is just the latest threat in an ongoing war against wages.”

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Personally, I’m still in favour of using automation to get rid of the sort of mindless jobs that corrode the soul, but I recognise the problem of how we can all pay for our lives when there’s no more entry-level work. The longterm solutions seem to be either UBI (in which we’re paid for leisure) or bullshit jobs (in which we’re paid to waste our life). The latter destroys life and gives birth to Escapology. The effects of the former remain to be seen, but subsidising the basics sounds like a badge of civilisation to me.

Another option nobody’s talking about is that we just set up a whole new economy separate to the old one. Start again basically. When people talk about books being “written by” AI, I sometimes think “great, how about making some bots that will read the shitty things as well.” While AI’s talking to AI and while buying and selling just happens between AI systems, maybe we can all just get on with real things. Like writing and reading and talking to each other and feeling the sun our faces.

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New Escapologist will never, ever be automated. It’s written by humans for humans. Get your copy here.

Sagittarius

I saw a YouTube video today where someone was asked “what they do.”

She said “I’m a Sagittarius.”

Whatever you think about astrology, that’s a great way to escape that stupid question.

Three cheers to the Sagittarius!

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