An Escapologist's Diary. Part 6.

My escape has taken me from Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, through New York, to Birmingham, Glasgow and Dudley. As I clean up cat sick in Dudley, I think “I saw the Statue of Liberty the other day”. Such is life when you defeat Bad Faith.


Final words on the War Against Cliché?

Stepping off the plane at Newark, a lady draws her husband’s attention to another man’s cabin luggage: a large case on a trundle buggy. The husband is disinterested but I too had noticed the big bag so remarked that it was strange how he’d been allowed to bring it on the plane.

The husband, joining in for the first time, said “Some bags are little, some are big”.

His refusal to participate was annoying but so was the triteness of his expression. Even more annoying was how he used the expression as if it were a nugget of conventional wisom, passed down through the ages from someone like Lao-Tzu, when in fact it was a moronic non-observation, failing to encapsulate the essence of what we we’d seen.

As if by magic, I came across an applicable quote only moments later. I was reading How Proust can change your life by Alain de Botton. Among Marcel Proust’s dislikes were people who employed naff phrases such as “the Big Blue” when they meant “the sea”. Such paucity of description would apparently make Proust wince and grit his teeth as if someone had scraped a garden fork down a blackboard.

It’s a remarkably similar observation to the one I make in Fight the Trite in the War Against Cliché Issue. I talk about wanting to physically harm myself or lash out at the world when in the presence of too much hackneyed behaviour.

Yes, I have a problem. I have a mental illness that nobody seems to understand. If I explain that it’s a bit like Tourette’s Syndrome, we’re getting close […] When you make small talk or confess to a ‘guilty pleasure’ or are moved to announce that you enjoy Family Guy (doesn’t everyone?) or decide to buy one of those brilliant Mr. Men t-shirts that everyone else is wearing or to strike up a conversation about how good the latest Bond movie was, you are effectively saying, “I am operating on default settings. I am Times New Roman in size 12.”

Alain de Botton explains the phenomenon:

We feel something and reach out for the nearest phrase […] with which to communicate but which fails to do justice to what has induced us to do so. We hear Beethoven’s Ninth and hum poum, poum, poum; we see the Pyramids of Giza and go “That’s Nice.” These sounds are asked to account for an experience, but their poverty prevents either ourselves or our interlocutors from really understanding what we have lived through. […] Clichés are detrimental insofar as they inspire us to believe that they adequately describe a situation while merely grazing its surface. And if this matters, it is because the way we speak is ultimately linked to the way we feel, because how we describe the world but at some level reflect how we first experience it.

Some bags are little, some are big. Indeed.

The Great Escape

idlernightIn Glasgow for “The Great Escape”: an event hosted by Neil Scott and guested my myself and Tom Hodgkinson. “There are the small escapes,” says Neil in his opening address, “such as playing video games and watching television, but these only distract from what one might call the great escapes.”

And that’s what Tom and I talk about for the next hour and ten minutes. Tom talks about the founding of the Idler; about the evil of Facebook and the bounties of nature. I talk about Houdini’s world of metaphor; the Bohemians; small business and the potential of mobile, liquid cash. I wish I had explained the latter item a bit more succinctly: two of the questions delivered in the following audience Q&A involved the ethics of outsourcing and how an escape fund could be realistically established. I should have anticipated these questions: I have answers but I was put on the spot and aware of our limited time, so I didn’t really scratch the surface. A follow-up event, some sort of seminar to launch The Practicalities Issue perhaps, might be in order.

Other than this minor niggle, I think The Great Escape was A Great Success and was certainly well-received by our little audience of Glasgow Anarchists. Photos and an edited transcript coming soon.

Three-million years from Earth

listerI’m cat- and house-sitting for my parents in the Midlands town of Dudley. Today, while cooking spaghetti and listening to Miles Davis in their kitchen I feel like an Haruki Murakami character. Jazz music, solitude, spaghetti and a cat. Feels almost exactly like a scene from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Living in luxurious unemployment and imposing my urban tendencies upon a strange, suburban world. Very Murakami. Or maybe I’m more like Red Dwarf‘s Dave Lister: he was alone in the vastness of space but surround by his own bubble of rock music, comic books and videotapes. Grounded by bits of his own world while abandoned in a tin can, three-million years from Liverpool. He had a cat too.

Whichever fictional character I am, it is hard to believe I was in Glasgow yesterday, New York three days ago and Montreal last week. As I clean up the cat’s sick (note to self: play with the cat before she eats), I think “I saw the Statue of Liberty the other day”. Such is life when you defeat Bad Faith.

The Acropolis

Dudley coat of arms

Dudley coat of arms

If there is one thing dissapointing about travel it is that the destination sometimes doesn’t live up to what we were expecting. Thus spake Freud of the Acropolis (Thanks to Laura Gonzalez for telling me to read it). Personally, I find that things are unremarkable if I’ve been able to adequately imagine them in advance: a trip to Niagara Falls was a dissapointment (because I had imagined it accurately) but a trip to some wind turbines in Ayrshire was exhillerating (the sense of vertigo when looking up at these beautiful, spinning giants has to be experienced first hand).

One of the first things I did after landing in England this week was go to see the Saxon gold at Birmingham Museum. This could have been a very literal telling of the Acropolis problem. There is a three-hour queue to get through before you see the gold: that’s a lot of time to successfully imagine what some pieces of gold might look like. In actual fact, these lumps of damaged sword hilt and brooch were not at all dissapointing. The main property of gold – its magestic glitter – is hard to believe as naturally occuring. Looking at a piece of gnarled bracelet, I am astonished at the beauty of a simple element.

Thankfully, Dudley also defies the imagination. Even though I grew up here, infinite suburbia from every window of the house is a hard thing to keep precisely in mind.

In Proust, Alain de Botton says,

monotony is a welcome break from the effort of looking at interesting things

and he may well be right. After two months of travel, I’m going to enjoy a short holiday and this is the perfect place to spend it.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

5 Responses to “An Escapologist's Diary. Part 6.”

  1. Fabian says:

    What Neil Scott apparently really said was: “Some escapes are little, some are big.” Hey, just ike the luggage guy! (SCNR)

  2. Holly says:

    I like ‘How Proust Can Change Your Life’, mainly for the descriptions of him as the ultimate Jewy mama’s boy, whining in bed all day and firing off daily missives about his bowel movements. I like Proust too, although I have only read Swann’s Way a few years ago. I have the whole set on my shelves. The spines make a picture when put together, like the Mr Men books. You are lucky you live near the Saxon gold, I really want to see it. It’ll probably make its way south soon. I’m glad it’s worth the queue. Audience theory is really interesting, I want to read more about it.

  3. Rob says:

    That is what I liked most too. He was such an amazing pansy.

    I enjoyed his candid letter to his grandaddy too about how he found himself wanking around the clock and unable to perform for a prostitute. Three shillings for the broken chamber pot etc.

  4. Rob says:

    I was trying to cover for him but you saw through my flimsy charade.

  5. Fabian says:

    It´s great anyway… hopefully I will be able to take part in one of these events one day. Because some events are little, some are big…

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