Reader O writes:
At the other end of the age scale to you, at 76 I have discovered liberation!
I am a wood turner but thanks to long covid can no longer make the huge pieces I so enjoyed creating.
My professional lathe and massive chunks of wood have been looking at me balefully for the last three and a half years, so I have given them all away to a father and son who seem absolutely thrilled. In return they are setting me up with an excellent dinky lathe and cleaned out a bit of my workshop. I have also given away all my exhibition stands and plate racks to a very grateful recipient. I feel completely liberated, especially as everything has found a good home!
I’ve attached an image of some of my work.
I was sad to hear that your crafting practice has come to an end, but it certainly sounds liberating in many good ways and your generosity in passing the flame to another generation is lovely to hear about.
Congratulations on a working life well spent and it’s good to know that you can still tinker and enjoy creative satisfaction on a smaller scale.
Reader G writes:
I was thinking about your fondness for what you call “epiphanies,” that moment you said when one foot is on the train and the other foot is on the platform. I remember mine and you’re welcome to it.
I was photocopying something in the office and for some reason it had to be done with the lid open. The light that goes back and forth was gradually blinding me in a very particular way. I could still see the motion of the yellowish light when I closed my eyes.
The whole thing lulled me into a hypnotic state, at which point I knew something was wrong. I forced myself to snap out of it, not just for the sake of this moment but forever. I carried my notice around in my pocket for a few weeks and finally signed it, dated it, and handed it to my boss’s PA. I was free.
Reader L writes:
I just read the magCulture interview. Why do you put so many of your books in your bookshelves spine-in? Are those the ones you’ve read and the spine-out group is fresh reading fodder?
Hi L. Yes, that’s correct. But it’s only temporary. I saw a YouTuber doing it and I thought it would be cool to get the live visualisation of read versus unread. I’ll put it back to normal soon though because it’s hardly practical for finding a specific book.
The same YouTuber described it as “playing with my library.” I thought, “hmm, I never play with my library. Maybe I’ll play with my library.”
It’s also fun to see the different colours of book paper: some of them aged and others new, some of them bright white and others burnt umber or practically orange.
The room is very sunny so I’m always aware that the spines of my books are becoming gradually bleached. Some yellow spines like that of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which I’ve owned for 20 years, is as good as white now. This gradual bleaching is always on my mind like how Foster, a librarian in Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion is troubled by his surplus collection being housed in a drippy cave. So it’s nice to have a break from that worry while they’re all turned backwards, away from the sunlight.
I realise this has very little do with Escapology. Unless of course… it does?
Feeling bookish now? How about buying one?
We are really pleased New Escapologist is returning to print – Can’t wait 🙂
Just a quick question about AI and your closing comment in response to the algorithmic poetry examples. You said: “We’re doomed. I for one welcome our new sonnet-writing computer overlords.”
Was this a reference to Roko’s Basilisk?
I read that some Silicon Valley libertarians and “crypto bros” are well into this theory.
Thank you for all your articles and books.
We are big time Robert Wringham fans in our house!
What an excellent question! Alas, my attempt at a cultural reference was even lower brow than that:
Thanks for the nice things you said. Not much longer to wait for some ways to subscribe or buy the first issue. In fact, it’s available now.
I always open your newsletters with a mix of hope and shame. I remember my second day of full-time employment, sitting alone in a subway, tears dripping into my sandwich, an escape plan forming in my mind.
Fifteen years later I remain imprisoned by my cowardice and lack of imagination. We are all born straight-backed and defiant, but the world has twisted my body and broken my will. You shared a post of mine in the newsletter once, when I was still on Twitter, but I am a fraud! Unworthy!
Oh no! I don’t want anyone to feel like that when they’re reading our newsletter.
Escape from full-time employment is a tough nut to crack. That’s why New Escapologist exists really. Escape plans are hard to formulate, so we have this periodical to share them and to lament their failure when failures happen.
There’s zero shame in not escaping. Most people don’t escape. We show in our pages that escape is possible, but it’s by no means certain nor even merely probable. Examples of successful escape aren’t there to taunt you but to give hope that maybe, just maybe, you can follow suit.
To escape, you might have to look poverty in the whites of its eyes and certainly to face down the idea of failure. You need to build failure into the plan. What would happen if you failed? What would be the worst case scenario? Could you face it?
Fifteen years isn’t such a long time really. Your job, for all that might suck about it, will have provided material comfort in that time. You’ll have something to show for it. And, if you really want to escape, you eventually will. Even if it’s just at the natural point of retirement into a state pension. In that way, escape is inevitable really. You just have to stay alive and be patient.
You know Hilaire Belloc, don’t you? He wrote Cautionary Tales for Children in which naughty children are joyously dispatched by fire, skewering, and devourment by lions.
But he also wrote The Servile State, a 1912 critique of Big Business and its relationship with the State. A problem with this relationship, Belloc writes, is that it builds a nation of grudging, demoralised Wage Slaves instead of engaged, independent-minded craftspeople. He was right, obviously.
And the solution he proposes for systemically ending Wage Slavery is… private property ownership.
I’m yet to decide if that’s an excitingly unconventional position or a drearily conventional one. Every Muggle in Britain today seeks to own property, but those who pursue it most fervently (those who become landlords for example) don’t generally want to end Wage Slavery. So. I’m interested.
“If we do not restore the Institution of Property,” he writes at the very top, “we cannot escape restoring the Institution of Slavery; there is no third course.”
Perhaps he’s saying that, once rent is out of the picture, a person approaches financial independence and can get on with something meaningful instead of toiling full-time. I wonder if Belloc (much like Keynes, who predicted we’d all be on a 15-hour work week by now) did not foresee the delinquent appetites of humans under capitalism. Plenty of people who pay off their mortgage but continue to toil, usually with some other thing in the balance — like a pension or even another mortgage for a bigger or second house.
I’ll say more about Belloc’s argument another time when I’ve come to firmer grips with it. Reader’s voice: what a cop out! It reminds me, however, that we’ve not said anything about the “renting versus owning” issue for a while.
As many of you know, my partner and I recently bought our first apartment after decades of renting. We enjoyed renting and it was our preference: if you see your landlord not as a boss or superegoic parent figure but as a skivvy paid to keep you housed and to repair your washing machine when it breaks, it becomes a most amenable relationship.
Several rent hikes (or pay rises for our skiv), alas, made our continued tenancy unaffordable. Our rent doubled over six years.
The fun of renting is to aristocratically dismiss your worries about the future, but the cost expanded so exorbitantly that we found ourselves worried not just about the future but about the present. This doesn’t mean “ownership wins.” It means the UK rental situation is fucked up beyond measure.
Friend Ian’s email was amusingly useless:
Hope this finds you well. As a communist homeowner I have strong and conflicted views on this, which I meant to share with you following your first email about it, but, obviously, I never got round to it.
[I also wanted] to let you know that I might have clicked on the grieving face emoji in response to how I feel about your Kickstarter campaign. Rest assured this was in error: I intended to click on the happy face, but I’m in a bit of a vaccine fever at the moment, so not at my maximum competence.
PS: ‘grieving face emoji’ was an autocorrect typo; I meant to type ‘frowning face emoji’.
Ah, the vaccine. Heady days. Ian doesn’t go into detail about his conflicted feelings as a communist homeowner, but I imagine they are something like “property is theft but, since we’re economically bullied into committing theft, what are you going to do?”
Reader X wrote:
You may need to clarify – renting for 1000 quid vs. buying for 100 apiece?? Are house prices in Scotland that reasonable?! If so, sign me right up. I’ll draw on my escape fund and we can set up a nice escapological homestead littered with tinkering shops and garden space.
After the rent hikes, our old place was nearing £1,000 a month to rent. It was the cheapest flat on a fairly posh street where rental prices are now around £1,200. Our current mortgage repayments by comparison are £180 a month each (£360 total). I don’t know how typical this is: we wrestled a great deal out of the bastards at the bank. It’s a fixed-rate mortgage too, so we have not yet been hit by the inflation apocalypse.
Property prices in our city are more reasonable than in London though. All I can say is: don’t live in capital cities. Move north! I know the bright lights are exciting but (in my opinion) it’s better to live cheaply in a “workshop city” like Glasgow or Manchester or Liverpool where culture is produced rather than merely sold. To oligarchs.
Reader Q wrote:
As I start to get a bit older I am more in favour of buying. One can quarrel in the mind over the economics until your backyard chickens come to roost. But, you most likely can’t have backyard chickens when you’re a renter.
As renters, our equivalent of a backyard was a spare room. Readers of The Good Life for Wage Slaves will know the importance I place on having ample space for creative work and being able to accommodate friends. We could not afford to buy a place with a spare room though. We sacrifices the spare room to the reduced cost. And we still don’t have a garden. Not that we particularly want one.
My current rented abode is filled with the half-finished intentions and tastes of another couple looking to make a few bucks after upgrading their digs. Sometimes I get a weird eerie feeling like I’m living in someone else’s past with their poor choice of cheap plastic jellyfish chandelier and thick purple wallpaper. But that’s the price of freedom, baby.
Now this I relate to. Our rental was supposedly “unfurnished” but it still came with the landlord’s filthy old roller blinds, lighting fixtures, and tasteless decorative curly things on the ends of the curtain rails. We unscrewed everything on Day One, stashing them away in the flat’s least-useful cupboard. For all we know, the former tenants did the same and these things go up and come down again with every tenant. See also the fireplace and the hole.
For more on “rent versus ownership” and other thoughts about homelife, please buy The Good Life for Wage Slaves to help pay my mortgage.
Friend McKinley writes:
The “vast grey sleep” reminds me of a line from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s memoir, Wind, Sand and Stars, when he catches the bus to the airfield for his first ever mail run as a pilot (which was very risky and glamorous at the time).
Finally I saw the old-fashioned vehicle come round the corner and heard its tinny rattle. Like those who had gone before me, I squeezed in between a sleepy customs guard and a few glum government clerks. The bus smelled musty, smelled of the dust of government offices into which the life of a man sinks as into a quicksand.
I see now that I had misremembered it. He’s comparing the office dust to quicksand. I had the phrase remembered as “one of those government jobs into which the life of a man sinks as into a quicksand,” which certainly feels like the people I know who got a job in the public service with every intention of getting out in a year or two. He’s saying the exact same thing, just sticking closer to his metaphor.
I now have this sudden fear that I first came across the line in Escape Everything! and it’s what prompted me to read Wind, Sand and Stars in the first place, the timing is about right. Regardless!
That’s a nice quote and it’s not one from Escape Everything!. The closest thing I remember quoting is this moment from a J. M. Coetzee memoir.
Something I failed to note about that quote is that, as well as being an early example of using a computer to skive, it’s an early example of computer programmers working devotedly for no extra money into the night.
My brother and I are long-time readers of your blog and applaud your efforts to avoid work.
When we speak of the ills of technology, we often refer to Friend Henry, who you mentioned was quitting the internet for good. I’m curious: how is Friend Henry doing? Have they avoided the internet since then?
Hope you’re well and enjoying home ownership in idle bliss.
Friend Henry is still going strong. He’s improbably sincere in his escape from digital technology and I do what I can to support him (which really just involves sending him an old-fashioned letter in the post every few months).
He tells me about his successes and failures in his project. A recent success was in his newfound ability to chop logs for firewood; he’s also building a tiny house of sorts and writing poetry. A recent failure was when he gave in to social pressure to buy a mobile phone, albeit an old Nokia-type thing and not a smartphone, but I don’t think he uses it much. He has certainly never messaged me from it.
In my next letter to Henry, I will tell him that you asked after him. I have tried to encourage him to write a “Notes From [his house]” column for the forthcoming print version of New Escapologist. He didn’t seem very keen when I first asked but I think my original request was for Web content; he might be more willing now that we’re talking about print. I’m not sure. I do like the thought of him writing his column by hand, Mark Boyle-style, perhaps even by candle light, filing it by post for Yours Truly to laboriously re-type.
Best Wishes, RW
With regards to your take on LinkedIn and Jaron Lanier. I’m a big fan of Lanier and I read his books but I think he’s wrong on LinkedIn. Sure it can help people find work, but it’s designed with lots of psychological tricks to make you feed it.
Features like “x people have looked at your profile” try to make you pay for LinkedIn Plus or whatever it’s called. Trying to get you to “complete your profile” by nagging. And have you ever tried to find how to quit it?
It also encourages shallow correspondence and lazy people connecting and spamming you with whatever service they think you should buy.
All a bit “grind culture,” shallow and non-human. It’s the opposite of the old Web and what blogs seemed to have, and why I hope they’ll have a resurgence.
You’re right of course, A. Your “grind culture” is inherent to most social media (by which I mean moaning about overload or showing off about dubious white-collar successes) but LinkedIn is solely towards work. I suppose I saw it as a way of connecting employers to CVs, which is marginally useful, but if users are encouraged to fart out a perpetually-scrolling litany of humblebrags, it can “get in bin” as they say.
Death to all social media! So far as online life goes, it’s email, blogs and forums for me.
The current chatter about Twitter suggests that people really will go back to some of those methods, though I recently heard a young pop star describe email as “so toxic” and she does all her talking though Instagram and WhatsApp. I suppose she means that email can all too easily pile up and become unmanageable, but aren’t social media posts and messages practically infinite? At least with email you can unsubscribe from things you don’t like and just change your address if it comes to the worst. You’re less likely to be trolled by email than on social media and your email client probably isn’t Facebook (or Meta or whatever they’re calling themselves now) like those two platforms are, which is surely as toxic as it comes if we’re talking social responsibility. I don’t really know what she meant by “toxic” but I hope she’s an outlier and that the cool kids get on board with alternatives to the mega-platforms.
As someone who decided to finally give up any pretense of work and to take up full-time idling just one month ago, I’d love it you brought back the magazine.
I worked full time for 43 years at various jobs including roadie, sound engineer, archaeologist, barman, and then 25 years as a web developer. I can safely say I came to hate all of my jobs after a short honeymoon period each time I changed careers.
It was by reading your books, and Tom Hodgkinson’s books and magazine, that made me realize that, with a bit of effort and luck, I could pack in work at last.
With my family’s support I did it last month and I have never been happier! We moved to the US ten years ago from Scotland. We currently have no health insurance, which is a worry for me as a diabetic. I hoarded insulin for ages before jumping ship and my wife will be eligible for coverage before Christmas so my only worry will be over soon.
Thank you for your books and magazine. They were very inspiring and I really do hope you relaunch the mag. I will be one of the first subscribers!
All the best,
Reader M, wintry Indiana 😀