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.
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).
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.
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.
Play 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.
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.
Few would argue that trying to have a career (and get paid) is an easy ride. And yet choosing not to have a career seems to be the new social taboo.
Reader JR Lewis directs our attention to an interesting article, written from the perspective of a 29-year-old woman, about the realisation that “having it all” might not be worth having, especially when it’s such a bloody struggle.
Life doesn’t suddenly stop when you decide to leave a job, or change tack and do something completely different for a bit. You don’t become a different, lesser person overnight. Admitting that the coveted position you’ve spent years of student debt, overdraft fees, and shittily-paid junior roles grafting your way toward doesn’t make you happy isn’t giving up. If you have learned skills, you can go back to them.
You might not remember me because last time we exchanged emails was three years ago, but I thought an update was in order.
Three years ago, I told you how I discovered New Escapologist whilst working as a naval officer in NATO. I have now said “Goodbye to all that” and I’m working on the production of a documentary on radical life changes, travelling six months around the world with my best friend to film people who have been through this process of change.
I can’t stress enough how instrumental discovering your blog has been in making this decision. Thank you!
Hello Gwenn! This is wonderful news and of course I remember you. It was 2011 when we last spoke, but I don’t get email from NATO very often. Thank you for the update. It’s always interesting to hear about readers’ escape plans and extremely gratifying when they come to fruition as yours has. We can tell the readers about your project and blog through Letters to the Editor. But now: have a marvelous adventure. RW.
The ends for which they give away their priceless youth, for all they know, may be chimerical or hurtful; the glory and riches they expect may never come, or may find them indifferent; and they and the world they inhabit are so inconsiderable that the mind freezes at the thought.
This statement, equal parts indictment of, and warning to, the ambitious, is how Robert Louis Stevenson concludes his essay An Apology for Idlers. Better known for books such as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson appears to have been an Escapologist at heart.
He reminds us that our concept of work-as-a-virtue is merely convention and tradition, and not necessarily valid. While he doesn’t denigrate work, he builds the case for the alternative — Leisure — to be given its due:
Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognized in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its position as industry itself.
Stevenson makes a very compelling argument for truancy (take note, Parents!), making me wish I had a time machine…
If you look back on your own education, I am sure it will not be the full, vivid, instructive hours of truantry that you regret.
While others are filling their memory with a lumber of words, one-half of which they will forget before the week be out, your truant may learn some really useful art: to play the fiddle, to know a good cigar, or to speak with ease and opportunity to all varieties of men.
The idler…has had time to take care of his health and his spirits; he has been a great deal in the open air, which is the most salutary of all things for both body and mind.
Come to think of it, I do not regret skipping Econometrics class in fourth year to ride my bicycle across a frozen stretch of Lake Ontario and drink beer at a pub on Wolfe Island. It’s one of the few things I remember about fourth year: although I recall nothing of Econometrics, I did learn a thing or two about windchill.
Finally, on the subject of duty, Stevenson has this to say:
There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.
Be happy. Call into work sick tomorrow and take the kids out of school. You owe it to the world.
I have enjoyed reading your blog (discovered via Mr Money Moustache) greatly since forming my own escape plan. I liked the poster of Rita Hayworth from The Shawshank Redemption and have been thinking of ways to leave a copy at work to be found when I’m gone.
It also got me thinking about Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 which is another amazing escape story. The ending is so powerful as Yossarian paddles off in his dinghy not knowing if he will live or die but with his dignity intact. Also, the character of Orr must be the ultimate role model for Escapologists everywhere. He was regarded as insane/idiotic for continually crashing his plane into the sea but was all the while formulating and practicing the perfect escape plan.
I don’t recall you ever featuring Catch 22 but it does have so many parallels and themes to many of your messages.
Dear Sam. You *should* leave a Rita Hayworth poster at your office! The clever kids will get the reference. Those who don’t will see the movie eventually and it will finally occur to them what happened. Alternatively, you could print off a copy of this symbol and leave it pinned to a notice board somewhere. Nobody will understand it but it’ll draw less attention than Rita and you’ll be more likely to get away with it. I’m certain I’ve mentioned Catch 22 in the blog or the magazine somewhere, but perhaps I haven’t. I’m fond of that novel too though, especially Orr. I also like the poor soul who screams all night: he represents “the others”. Rob