An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 32.


Another Expozine. I’m genuinely alarmed by how quickly it rolled around. I thought time would slow down in the post-escape world, but (to me at least) it seems to fly by just as fast as when I was a clock-watcher.

It was a fun Expozine. Fairly disastrous in terms of sales (we only sold nineteen copies, which isn’t really enough) but a good time was had all the same.

Our neighbour was Rebecca Heartz who apropos of nothing asked me if I like Stewart Lee and The Chap: two of my favourite things in the world. What a hero. She makes and sells prints and postcards of cute/grotesque, often post-apocalyptic scenarios. Lots of bunnies with tentacles. Brilliant.

We were visited by V, who originally discovered us by googling “how to escape” or something. She moved to Montreal recently, quite possibly on the advice of New Escapologist Issue Three. “Are you Robert Wringham?” she said upon coming to the table, which always makes my ego inflate to bursting point and sends it whizzing off around the room.

Later, there was a chap, N, who said he’d been in hospital with a mushroom-induced psychosis when someone brought him his first copy of New Escapologist. To pay for his second, he popped outside and busked for twenty minutes: something that filled me with unpredictable glee.

Since he busks near to a farmer’s market and is friends with some of the traders, N also gave us a bag of fresh kale.

I was happy to meet Roxanne and her famous ballz. She recently moved from Montreal to Glasgow. When she emailed a few months ago, I’d assumed she knew I was a Glaswegian in Montreal and that she wanted to talk about that. But she had no idea and just wanted to talk about New Escapologist. We were in each other’s social orbits on both sides of the Atlantic and didn’t know it. She works in The Thirteenth Note, Glasgow friends, so be sure to go and annoy her, preferably by asking lots of questions about her massive, foreign ballz.

We were also visited by many local friends who we don’t see enough of. That’s the thing about Expozine: it’s a beacon to hipster layabouts. Watching so many familiar faces come bright-eyed through the doors is like something from The Tommyknockers.

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An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 32. Unquiet Revolution.

Every evening this week at 8pm, we’ve taken saucepans and kitchen utensils onto the balcony and made a racket. Odd behaviour, I know, but we’re not alone. For twenty minutes each night, residents of Montreal make as much noise as possible. Those at home rattle their pans, motorists sound their horns, pedestrians cheer and shout and whistle. The symphony is heard across the city and everyone knows what it means.

Things are getting exciting here. As I type this, the apartment is filled with the sound of revolution: joyous pan-rattling from rooftops and balconies, shouting in the streets; urgent sirens and helicopters. Thousands take to the streets each night, waving red flags and chanting en Français.

It all started with campus-based student demonstrations opposing a $1,625 increase in tuition fees. But when the Quebec National Assembly attempted to quash the protests by initiating an emergency law called Bill 78 on May 18th, it somewhat fanned the flames.

It’s not just students anymore. The protest crowds and the saucepan-bangers are from all walks of life. People won’t tolerate such brutal top-down interference in what we’re allowed to do. Whether or not you disapprove of the fee increase, you probably feel that citizens have the right to peaceful protest.

On the street, people register their approval of the protests by wearing red squares of cloth pinned to their clothes. As the protests continue and the issues mature, more and more of these red patches appear. What was originally a student meme is now a mainstream gesture of mass objection. Statistics suggest that the majority of the public are not yet behind the protest (irritated as they are by the resulting traffic jams and metro closures) but the racket of the pans each night suggests that a large number of people support it.

A single street protest last weekend was apparently largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.

Tuition fees were the initial thrust of the protests, and residential disapproval of Bill 78 is a catalyst, but banners carried by the crowds suggest a wider dissatisfaction with the current government and capitalism at large. Many see the hiked tuition fees as symptomatic of the political corruption and gross financial mismanagement of the last few years. Since the 1960s, people have worked hard to guarantee a certain standard of public service and accessible education to help ensure a decent quality of life for all. It is a shame to let all of that disappear now.

Hundreds of thousands of street protesters marched past our Park Avenue apartment building last night, proudly flouting the demands of the emergency law. Hundreds will have been arrested.

Montreal’s mayor, says “we need to reclaim our streets” as if the protesters were a pesky minority and that he somehow stands with “us” against “them”. But the divide is not between miscreant protesters and right-thinking citizens. The divide is between residents and government.

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 31.

Each installment of this diary is an addition to the ball of data serving as an answer to the pesky question, “What would I do all day if I didn’t go to work?”

I have chosen not to go to work anymore. That is, I no longer consent to being an employee. Instead, I fill my days with projects, capers, and a deep commitment to idling.

Here’s a quick review of my 2011: another full year of such indulgent ducking and diving.

The juiciest fruits of the year were the completion of my first book (due for publication this March); my finally emigrating to Montreal from Glasgow (the fruit of almost three years dicking about with the most amazing Brazil-like bureaucratic system); the launch of New Escapologist Issues 5 and 6 (our best issues to date in my opinion); and a thrilling stint at the Edinburgh Festival.

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An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 30.

Blimey. It has been a very busy few weeks. I’d have had a far more relaxing life if I’d only kept my office job. Just kidding. I’d be doing less, but I’d also be having a horrible time. I hate computer solitaire.

After a successful meeting in Cardiff about my writing a [non-escapological] book, I went travelling in Eastern Europe. A friend and I explored Zagreb, Ljubljana, Budapest, and Bratislava. We visited a Turkish bath house, went to the ballet, spotted a voodoo chicken claw, ate too much pickled cheese, and enjoyed a demonstration of a Tesla cage.

I was perhaps inordinately excited to see Budapest because of its inclusion in the Ray Bradbury quote in the first ever New Escapologist:

See Istanbul, Port Said, Nairobi, Budapest. Write a book. Smoke too many cigarettes. Fall off a cliff but get caught in a tree halfway down. Get shot at a few times in a dark alley on a Moroccan Midnight. Love a beautiful woman.

Working on the rest of that one now. Not sure I fancy falling off a cliff though, if I’m honest.

(By the way, that quote has shown up in a LOT of self-helpy contexts since we put it in New Escapologist! I know for a fact New Escapologist is the source of its proliferation because it almost always includes my very own typo!)

After the Eastern European leg of my recent journey, I stopped briefly in Scotland to say goodbye to Glasgow for a while and to perform at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre before flying out to Montreal, where I am today.

I started this diary as a way of qualitatively answering the frequently-asked question “what do you do if you don’t have a job?” and I think my activities of the past few weeks demonstrate some of the best things about the post-escape life. In short, you probably do what you like.

Of course, what daring escape stories often fail to mention is the maddening paperwork that comes with super-mobility. I spent many hours this week trying to get the Internet working at our new Montreal apartment; recovering from jet-lag, and applying for local services like Social Insurance, Medicare, Tax Credit, mandatory French classes and so on. All I really want to do at this point is sit down and write my book, but these annoying things have to be fixed first. It must be possible to escape admin completely, but I’ve not found a comfortable way yet. Such an escape would almost certainly involve some kind of shack and a woodland grove. Not completely unthinkable, of course.

Tired of the everyday grind? Buy the latest New Escapologist at the shop.

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 29.

Every weekday morning, at about 10:15, the postman buzzes the ground floor intercom.

As the only unused person in the building, I have become responsible for letting him in. Sometimes I’m preparing the breakfast when he buzzes, but sometimes his buzzing wakes me up and I have to get out of bed.

This morning, I decided to ignore his buzzing. I’d been up late attending to the pressing business of watching Jeeves & Wooster videos, and was far too sleepsome to worry about activating leg muscles and so on. Someone else would have to deal with it.

But they didn’t. Nobody let the postman in. So there was no post today.

I’ve only been living here for six months. How did the postman ever deliver his load to these flats before I was here to let him in? Did they only start receiving post six months ago? What did they think was happening? “Something’s just come through the door, Jeff. It’s all wrapped up in brown paper. And what’s LoveFilm? I’m scared.”

This reminded me of something I observed years ago but never reported here: the fact half of the planet expects you to work 9-5 while the other half expects you to be continually available.

If you need to meet with a bank manager or even do something as perfunctory as deposit a cheque, you have to be available at some point between 9 and 5 (or 10 and 4, if you need my local HSBC). If you’re expecting the delivery of a new washing machine or a fruit juicer or whatever, you have to be at home between 9 and 5 to receive it. If you need to visit the post office, a government office or a public library, you’d better be available during the conventional working hours. You often can’t even do it on the weekend.

How does anyone achieve even the smallest personal maintenance task while also juggling a job? When I had a job, I would use the office mail room, telephones and computers to conduct personal business. But this is against the rules. I only got things done by being a renegade. If I’d been caught using the mail room to send my own stuff around, I’d almost certainly have received a disciplinary.

Today I discover that even the postman needs someone to be at home. And yet! The other half of the world – the education system, the job centre, even your own family – seems hellbent on getting you out of your pajamas and into the blasted workforce.

To be a functioning member of society, you have to sell your hours of 9-5. But in doing so, you essentially remove yourself from society by being perpetually unavailable for anything. Is that how society works? The employed serve only the unemployed? If so, the jobbies should be thanking the skivers for keeping them in a job.

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An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 28.

The Sulking Ape and Other Stories (last week’s launch event for Issue Six) was a smash. I’d go as far to say it was the best launch event we’ve ever done. Live performance definitely trumps DJs and wine receptions.

The Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms saw Escapological readings from Neil, Aislínn, Reggie and myself; live music from Reggie, Nick and Scotch Todd; Laura took the photographs; and Samara did the promotional artwork.

The event was organised, quite excitingly, almost at the last possible minute. We knew in advance which readings we’d do and approximately how the event would fit together; but thanks to our jam-packed August schedules, the venue and promotion were always going to be last-second affairs.

We managed to find a cancelled show at the Voodoo Rooms, which put us in the position of being stand-ins for an entirely separate show (an ‘alternative cabaret’ show) so most of the audience had actually arrived in anticipation of something else entirely. I think they’d been expecting a burlesque dancer to do something inventive with ping-pong balls, so it was a relief to see that they didn’t expect the same from us.

This may seem like something from a nightmare: you and your five pals have to entertain a discerning audience who have come to see alternative cabaret. The crowd took a sporting chance and I think we were able to sufficiently intrigue.

Each reader was a contributor to Issue Six, and so we read from our own pieces. Neil read from his evolutionary cautionary tale, ‘The Sulking Ape’, the title of which we took for the event itself. I read a whimsical piece imparting the virtues of sitting to pee. Aislínn read from her astonishing directory of unorthodox funereal practices, and Reggie from his biographical article about the naturalist Leonard Dubkin. Reggie’s piece, accompanied by music from the Wireless Mystery Theatre was simply beautiful.

Still buzzing from my own Fringe show at another venue, I was full of beans as the MC. I felt obliged to point out that Reggie’s beautiful reading “contained no urine, testicles or dead bodies” as the previous readings had done, but that “it did include a reference to spider silk, which I think we can all agree is fucking filthy. Thanks for that Reggie”.

Reggie and the Wireless Mystery Boys then played the audience softly out of the venue.

I must extend big thanks to all of the performers and to everyone who came along. Thanks also to Peter Buckley Hill for allowing this last-second addition to his Free Fringe lineup.

MEMO: There may be a slight delay with sending all of the subscriber copies out. We printed a very small number for the event, in case of printer errors. We’re going to do one last proof-read before we print the second batch. Shouldn’t be much longer than a week though. Thanks for your patience!

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 27.

Last week, Typographer Tim and I set out on the Lyke Wake Walk. Though we didn’t do it to make any kind of Escapological point (we did it for fun), it did feel like a New Escapologist field trip of sorts.

I suppose there are connections to this kind of activity and Escapology:

1. Endurance: knowing you can do difficult things yourself increases confidence and decreases dependence.
2. Against-the-grain: because walking 42 miles certainly isn’t normal.
3. Self-initiated: nobody told us to do this.
4. Personal liberty: it’s good to know you’ve the fitness to take flight with minimal equipment or assistance.
5. Minimal cost: in tune with a life on the lam, the best Escapological activities are cheap or free.

I completed 34.5 miles of the 42-mile walk. I had to abandon the last stretch after my knee became the source of a lot of pain. I could have pushed on, I suppose, but I agreed with Haruki Murakami’s sentiment that “suffering is optional” and, ever Epicurean, didn’t see the point in suffering to such an extent. My podiatrist sister (after a very proficient series of questions on the phone: “does it crunch like broken glass or pop like an elbow?”) says that my bad knee can be attributed to simple lack of fitness. This is good news to me as fitness can be improved.

The walk was great fun but not easy. There were swamps to navigate, steep inclines, treacherousness rocky declines, and vast expanses of soul-sapping nothingness. Beats having to stop for cars every two minutes though.

Anyway, I’ll not go on about it. Last time I posted an entry about walking, fifteen people unsubscribed from the RSS! For anyone interested in the minutiae of our epic a-pied adventure and to hear about how much I moaned about it on the day, here is a PDF of Tim’s report to the New Lyke Wake Club with pictures.

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 26.

In the New Escapologist survey, our readers’ joint-favourite activity (joint with ‘reading and libraries’) is revealed to be walking. We are a well-read and eternally roaming bunch. As if we needed a survey to tell us that.

What does walking have to do with Escapology? There’s certainly a strong sense of freedom in knowing you have the physical fitness to take flight at a moment’s notice and with minimal assistance. It’s also the cheapest mode of transport there is, meaning less need to sell your time for money. Walking keeps you fit without resorting to the expensive indignity of the gym, and allows you to discover parts of the city you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise: secret alleyways, blue plaques, hidden bars, unusual statues and masonry.

I’m an eternal pedestrian, walking mainly as a way to get from A to B. If ever I resort to the subway or a taxi, it feels like a slight failing. Sometimes I even forget that the subway exists, which is a shame because the one in Glasgow is very charming. Walking, these days, is my primary means of transport.

On rare instances of walking specifically for pleasure, I am likely to do so as an urban flaneur. Unlike the hiker or hill walker, I am not particularly interested in the countryside. I am trying, however, to take a more active interest in walking, and it has inevitably taken me into the countryside. I may have been pulled in this direction by Stephen Barry’s inspiring account of the Rambler’s Association in New Escapologist Issue 5.

Yesterday I walked 23 miles from Glasgow to Loch Lomond. It was training and a fitness indicator for next week’s challenge of walking 41 miles across Yorkshire moorland: the dreaded Lyke Wake Walk, which my dad remarkably completed as a hungover twenty-year-old in the 1960s.

I’ll be doing the Lyke Wake Walk with New Escapologist‘s typographer, Tim. My dad, meanwhile, will be our support team, meeting us by car at each of five checkpoints along the way.

Here’s the report I sent to Tim about yesterday’s walk to Loch Lomond:

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An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 25.

Organising the zine fair was a surprisingly stress-free caper. There are really only three components: venue, audience and contributors. Thanks to the Internet, these things all fell into place quite easily. This can be our little secret though. The event looked very impressive and we’re happy to take any credit that’s going around.

Less easy was the physical work of carrying the all-important trestle tables up the hill from a local church, which Samara and I did together at 10:30 on the morning of the big day. The chap from the church who’d arranged to meet us was amused that a lanky young man in running shoes and a tiny Canadian woman had planned to tackle the whole load alone. True, we’d have done better with more volunteers but it felt too much of an infringement upon various friendships to ask for help at such an intolerable hour. It was only upon Samara’s insistence that I didn’t do the entire schlep on my own. Samara, who is accustomed to much harder work at major art shows (“carrying a bronze sculpture, backwards, while wearing heels” is her job description) made light work of it, but two days later my muscles are still burning from the rare feast of lactic acid.

It was fun (and unusual for me) to scurry around so early in the day with a clear agenda. It felt perfectly symbolic to carry the zine fair tables past the building in which I used to work; my bleary-eyed former colleagues almost certainly labouring quietly within, unaware that I was up to such monkey business. They’d be clicking around on Facebook and drinking poisonous instant coffee, while their one-time water-cooler pal was embarking on an Escapological caper right outside the window.

The zine fair took place at the Free Hetherington, the student-occupied university building I mentioned in my last diary entry. The numbers blue-tacked to the ground floor window declared that it was Day 122 of the occupation. Most of the occupants were at a student protest at nearby Strathclyde University, but a few sleepyheads were still savouring some zeds on the upper floor and two friendly girls were juggling colourful balls on the front step.

After parking the tables at the Hetheringon, we went home for a shower, a rapid lunch and to collect our stock of New Escapologist. We brought an ambitious number of Issue 5s and a smaller selection of back-issues. In the end, I think we sold more back-issues than we sold of the new edition, but these things can never be predicted.

As we cleared the upper floor and began to set up the tables, the other dealers began to file in. Among their number were our friends from Team Girl Comic, Kleinzeit, Lock up Your Daughters and Aye-Aye Books. I was also happy to see Stuart Smith with his back-issues of Beard magazine, about which I am fondly nostalgic.

For posterity, the full list of dealers can be found on our event page at the eternally brilliant Zine Wiki.

Once we were all set up, the rest of the day whizzed by very quickly. Just as I had done at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair and Expozine last year, I had perfected a little sound bite to describe New Escapologist to anyone browsing the stall. I explained that we are an “anti-treadmill publication with a nice mixture of funny and earnest articles, and with contributors from all over the world”. I don’t know why exactly, but different venues make me want to describe the publication slightly differently. In Montreal, I was keen to describe us as “a humour periodical from England” simply to explain my accent immediately. Here, it felt that the anti-treadmill (education>employment>retirement) angle was the key for some reason.

Lots of pals showed up to support the gig. I was particularly glad to see my comedian friend Ian Macpherson. I had been feeling pretty ragged from the table carrying and magazine touting so I was very happy to see the hangdog chops of this not-quite-fallen-but-hanging-from-a-thread trickster god in our midst. He regaled us with anecdotes about getting his new book published by Rory Bannerman-Coutts, who sounds quite a character.

It was also good to meet Graham Fulton whose funny poetry about office life will make an appearence in Issue 6 of New Escapologist; and two of the librarians from the Glasgow Women’s Library: a cause highly worthy of your support.

As ever at these things, we had to ration the number of publications we bought from other people, lest all of the days proceeds be completely absorbed in the same enterprise. Nevertheless, we bought some of Graham Fulton’s brilliant stuff (a book of poetry about the Glasgow subway system and a single poem about The X Files); New Escapologist contributor Paul Jon Milne‘s zine, Guts Power; issues of Team Girl Comic; and a Lock Up your Daughters to boot. Browsing through the latter, I was surprised to see a photograph of myself! It was this one.

The zine fair was a modest success, I reckon. Big thanks to Tom Coles and everyone at the Free Hetherington.

Today we managed to find the energy to march along with the Slutwalk between George Square and Glasgow Green. You can see my head sticking out of the crowd emu-like in this picture. It looks like I’m talking to myself but I’m actually enjoying a nice conversation with tiny Laura Gonzalez about Momus who we hope to see perform in Edinburgh next week. New Escapologist salutes the Slutwalkers.

Thanks to Neil for the above pic.

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 24.

Photo by alisder

This week, Samara and I visited the Free Hetherington – Britain’s longest-running student occupation – ostensibly to hear an address by comedian Josie Long. Josie was great, but the main impression I was left with was one of respect for the merry band of passionate students responsible for the Free Hetherington.

You may have seen the initiative in the news. Basically, the Hetherington used to be a university-run watering hole and social space for postgraduate students and staff. University bean counters closed it down last year with the intention of turning it into offices. There was a collective sigh of frustration and some brilliant young students decided to do something about it. The club was actually a bequest for the students of Glasgow University; and so the students rightfully and skilfully took occupation of it. I think the official occupation has come to an end but the students are still there, running the day-to-day business of the club, and generally running a nice space for socialising and study. They also support industrial action on behalf of university staff and are, needless to say, highly vocal about the evil of the public sector cuts.

I don’t know why it took me so long to visit the Free Hetherington. It’s bloody brilliant. The people there are warm and friendly, the club seems to run purely on the power of donations of time, money and supplies (which appear to have been abundant). There’s a free lending library and some rousing, witty and sincere Anarchist slogans about the walls. It’s an especially amazing victory to those of us who remember the club when it was a university-run membership-only affair.

I used to frequent the original Hetherington Research Club back when I was an employee of the university library. I enjoyed a few nights of upstairs party decadence and even more nights of cozy downstairs chat with academics and PhD candidates. Some great memories. But I also remember the unnecessary stuffiness of the place and the rather harsh rules about membership (you had to pay for an annual subscription and you’d be given your key to the door, the lock of which was changed annually).

On one occasion at the former Hetherington, I was asked rather pressingly to produce my membership card at the bar. I had it with me, but couldn’t retrieve it quickly enough to satisfy the irritable person at the bar. I fumbled around in my wallet in a kind of panic and even after producing it, she seemed barely satisfied. I decided not to order a drink after all and left the premises in protest, taking my party of friends with me. An unpleasant atmosphere had been created unnecessarily and I didn’t want it to be the backdrop for our leisurely pint. This week’s experience at the Free Hetherington couldn’t have been more different: I was actually encouraged to go behind the bar and help myself freely to the freshly brewed coffee. It felt quite naughty (and perfectly liberating) to walk on such previously-hallowed ground, akin to shouting ‘God is dead’ in a desanctified church.

The club seems better run under the current student regime and it’s great to see messages of support coming in from people like Ms Long and even such luminaries as Liz Lochhead. Just wonderful. And a real case of people standing up for what’s right.

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