The Winds in the Mangroves

Further to our recent post about living on a boat, here’s a nice video about an off-grid house boat called the Gypsy Rose. The person who lives here, a peaceful fellow who used to be a clown and mime artist, has essentially found himself a spot in paradise.

In the video he speaks of “the sounds of the tides flowing in and out, and the winds in the mangroves.” And just look a that chalk-coloured water. I could handle that.

There’s some additional info at the Living Big in a Tiny House website.

Patreon and Newsletter News

Awooga! There’s a new NE Patreon essay online called Ye Olde Internette: Or How to Escape Web 2.0.

It differs a little from the usual “why and how you might leave social media” arguments in that the escape from social media is only one part of the Big Idea and also in that it offers a distinct plan: go back to Web 1.0.

I crave proper engagement again: the lengthy blogs, chats, threads and emails we’d exchange circa 2000 were so much more interesting and creative than anything mediated by Twitter or Facebook.

The world of Web 1.0. is still there, like your childhood toys, a little dusty perhaps, but waiting in hope for your return.

The essay has proved popular with readers so far. There have been several nice comments and emails.

To read the new essay, you need to support New Escapologist projects through Patreon. Please do! There will be more essays of substance like this one released later in the year.

In slightly-related news (related inasmuch as I’m rethinking how to use the Internet), I’m sending out a newsletter to New Escapologist mailing list subscribers tomorrow. If you’re not already on the list, why not join now? It’s free.

I hope to rejuvenate the old newsletter and to send out something fun and interesting every month or two from now on. It’s a half-step back to the magazine days. Fun!

EDIT: The newsletter is now rejuvenated. First issue is here.

Canal Boat Life

There are some neat profiles in today’s Observer of people (couples and singletons) who live on Canal Boats.

Some of you singled out the brief mention of a boat-dweller in Escape Everything! so perhaps this is of interest to you. Their lives are certainly Escapological.


I’m on an army pension and it does not suffice me to live in a flat or a house. I’ve lived on a boat for seven years. Now my rent is cheap, council tax is cheap, it’s cheap living and I can afford it even if I lose all my benefits.


What do our wardrobes consist of? About 10 pairs of dungarees. Matt wears a waistcoat with a tiny vest underneath in the summer. Large party dresses with netting underneath are a big no-no on a boat because you’d knock everything over, and if you fell in you’d sink. 


I use this place to sleep, write, design and then I go to work in my studio. The best bit is being able to have a real fire. It means I can look at the flames and use my imagination to think about what I want to do with the rest of my life, so I don’t need a television.


Living on a boat forces you to be green. I have two solar panels. Our water is in a thousand-litre stainless steel water tank that we fill up from water points. All the wood we use is reconstituted wood and the electricity is run by batteries – we don’t plug in to the short. I think it’s one of the greenest ways to live.


You become aware how much is needed to live and you live a much simpler life. It’s quite liberating.


I went on eBay and bought a boat, just like that. 

More Lanier

You, you, you, have the affirmative responsibility to invent and demonstrate new ways to live without the crap that is destroying society. Quitting is the only way, for now, to learn what can replace our grand mistake.

I recently read Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier.

It’s a brilliant book and not your typical “abandon social media” tirade. It is filled with unique insight from someone who really understands Silicon Valley and is in fact still a part of it.

I like how he has not abandoned the Internet wholesale and instead urges the social media giants to reform their dark and creepy business plans, encouraging us to delete our accounts at least until it is fixed.

Check it out if you want to. In the meantime, the quotations in this post are the ones I marked in my copy of the book. They make wider Escapological points beyond discussion of the Internet.


What if listening to an inner voice or heeding a passion for ethics or beauty were to lead to more important work in the long term, even if it measured as less successful in the moment? What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing.

and this:

Your character is the most important thing about you. Don’t let it degrade.

and this:

You must solve problems on the basis of evidence you gather on your own, instead of by paying attention to group perception. You take on the qualities of a scientist or an artist. When you’re in a pack, social status and intrigues become more immediate than the larger reality. You become more like an operator, a politician, or a slave.

Without Work, Who Do We Become?

If work were no longer what it used to be, how we would cope? Who would we even be?

Mark Kingwell is a long-serving thinker in the fields of work and leisure. You’ve probably read some of his work already. Among other things, he wrote the introductory essays to Josh Glenn’s Idler’s and Wage Slave’s Glossaries. He’s also a UoT colleague of Joseph Heath whom we interviewed in New Escapologist Issue 9 (we also interviewed Josh in Issue 7).

This quick column of his is over six months old now because I sat on it for too long. Sorry about that. It contains many nice nuggets:

More than two millennia ago, Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, argued a fundamental point: The essence of human life is not work. Work lies in the realm of necessity, not philosophy. Leisure time, understood as the contemplation of the divine, is the true aim of life.

Another Escapee

Hello Robert, 

I just wanted to say a huge thank you. I read your book and took the back catalogue of your magazine away on my Summer Holidays last year. Fast forward ten months and this week is my last in my [civil service] job. I handed my resignation in and have found part-time work with a friend in street food catering. 

I am happier, more carefree and have a smile back on my face.And this wouldn’t have happened without your writing.  

Thank you for the inspiration to make the great escape.

Kind Regards

An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 55. Operation Breadhead

I’ve been working harder than usual to make money. It’s a year-long project of uncharacteristic money-grubbing. I call it Operation Breadhead and we’re three months in.

I have a big pie-chart, which I look at every day to see how far I am from making the money I need. Cash earned so far displays in the pie as green (my favourite colour) and it advances against the red (my least favourite colour) in a genuine attempt at motivating myself (to replace red with green). Instead of red, I thought about using a picture of Theresa May’s office-manager face, which I could gradually cover with pleasant rain-forest green, but I couldn’t work out how to do that in Google Sheets.

This is all to do with the visa again, I’m afraid, and the associated minimum income requirement. We satisfied it last time through horrible, horrible employment [place werewolf howling sound effect here], but this time we have chosen to resist such catastrophic disruption to our lives and to do it through part-time employment (on my wife’s part) and self-employment (on mine). Tactical!

For my part, this has meant writing, writing, writing. And managing that writing enterprise in a way that I have never bothered about before. Honestly, I even have an accountant now. I’m dabbling with overseas editions and things like that too.

It’s actually been a lot of fun. Being creative and resourceful instead of submitting to a tedious day job is Escapology in a nutshell. And where the project is not “fun” per se, it has at least been instructive and interesting. I’ve had to stretch myself and increase my usual annual income by about 20% but, let’s face it, that’s something I should do anyway.

It’s also rather exciting to know that once it’s done, it’s done forever this time. At the end of this financial year, we’ll have everything we need for “indefinite leave” on the visa front, and my wife and I can be together with minimum threat of being separated or forced to leave my own country.

Anyway, we’re three months into Operation Breadhead and all goes well. In fact, I hit 50% of my target after the first two months, which was a considerable confidence boost and a welcome relief of pressure, but this large chunk relied on shaking some old piggy banks — calling in my book royalties and the likes — rather than creating new work.

I’ve also been running around, writing bits and bobs for magazines, though this has been for comparably small amounts of money and involves an inordinate amount of chasing people up to actually get paid. I don’t know why they’re like this: I doubt they’re so evasive about paying, say, their electric bill, so why give the writers a hard time when they’re arguably an even more important ingredient in conjuring up a magazine? Has there ever been a strike? Surely, we’re essential?

It has proven less difficult to extract money from less-creative writing projects. Copywriting and the likes. This is because the money for such work seems to come from marketing budgets, which are generally taken more seriously. You know, because marketing.

In particular, I’ve been doing some copywriting for English universities whose marketing budgets are clearly through the roof. This is fairly dull, though the people are nice. One fellow for whom I’m writing is a kindly Canadian who grew up two streets over from where my in-laws now live in Montreal. He’s a lovely fellow with a passion for his academic subject, though he rarely seems to remember who I am when I call. This sort of thing always bewilders me: even if you can’t remember my name, why isn’t this pre-arranged phone call in your diary? Why are you expecting the call? Still, at least this sort of scatterbrain nature doesn’t seem to be in service of “forgetting” to pay me.

As a consistent side project that will take far longer than the Breadhead period to complete, I’ve been editing and transcribing sections of a friend’s life-long travel journal. He is kind to pay me for this as I used to read his writing purely for pleasure. The total work is (genuinely) three times longer than War and Peace and its not finished yet. He’s going to be the Samuel Pepys of end-of-the-century travel writing one day. He has, quite simply, been everywhere. Literally everywhere you can think of.

Elsewhere for this omni-caper, I directed a one-person comedy show, helped to design a library (not sure if that qualifies as literary work but it was at least pleasant and studious and was no struggle to get paid), and edited part of a book about ’80s indie music.

Aaaaanyway. I just wanted to let you know what’s happening at the moment in this life on the lam. I’m treating the visa situation as just another escape: escape from a pesky situation using tactics and a little bit of elbow-grease, this time (largely) on my own terms.

I know this all looks rather busy and manic but the fact remains that I really do only put in about four hours a day before kicking back with a book (I’m currently reading the diaries of David Sedaris and a funny old book about “microbes”) or hitting the pub or the cinema.

Don’t worry, gang. The next Escapology-focused book is in the works too. It is written and is in the hands of my agent. More on this when I have it.


The point of this here long-running Escapologist’s Diary series, by the way, is to chronicle the life of an Escapologist, to help answer the question of “what would I do if I didn’t have a job?” in almost sarcastic detail. You can now do this in even more granular detail (what joy!) over here. Leave a comment to help me feel less like I’m spaffing away into the abyss.

Ye Olde Internette. Or How to Escape Web 2.0.

[dropcap]I’m[/dropcap] turning back the clock on the Web. I want to experience the Web as I did some twenty years ago, and I invite you, madam, to join me.

Usually, turning the clock back on the way we live is only ever intended to be a partial operation. Think of Medievalism: those who advocate living according to the ways of Merry Olde England clearly believe in the virtues of localism and “husbandry,” but they don’t usually mean we should forgo adequate dentistry.

Such backtracking projects at least offer an ideal to hold in the mind. So while there is doubtless some dentistry-like improvement I will continue to use, my rolling back of the Web really does aim to be as close to total as possible. I want to go back to Web 1.0. I want to go home.

The most obvious first step in this time-travelling campaign is to ditch social media. I’ve salted the earth on 75% of my social media, and I invite you to do the same.

You can do it straight away.

It’s easy.

Before even needing to get into Jaron Lanier’s advanced arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now” (each of which is perfectly illuminating), I’m simply bored by social media. Aren’t you? I’ve lost interest in “liking” and being “liked.” Moreover, the idea held by many (most?) that social media is a somehow necessary evil, that “I don’t like it but you have to be connected these days,” isn’t really true. Does it not ring a little hollow to you? Do you have to be on social media? Really?

I crave proper engagement again: the lengthy blogs, chats, threads and emails we’d exchange circa 2000 were far more interesting and creative than anything mediated by Twitter or Facebook.

The Internet of yore provided a sense of connection–genuine connection to other minds–which is what social media claims to do but doesn’t. Back then, ideas and insight prevailed and the sense of defying borders (geographical, psychological, social) was palpable.

At its best, thanks to nuanced personal essays on blogs and email groups, the old Web often felt like prophylactically journeying into another universe, or like Spock going into V’Ger.

I remember astonishing an American in a chatroom simply by being British. He couldn’t believe it. “A Brit,” he typed, “I. Am. Talking. To. A. Brit.” It was beautiful.

Web 2.0–that is, the Web now dominated by social media–is by contrast deeply ugly. Aesthetically as well as culturally. The old Web could be ugly too, but there was an instructive, home-made beauty to that ugliness rather than the totalitarian, corporate ugliness of Facebook today.

We know who benefits from our being on social media and they’re bastards. They sell our data to dark and creepy clients to get rich, siphoning off our power to maximise theirs. It’s vampiric. As a Web designer friend puts it, “how evil would Facebook need to be for people to stop using it?”

It’s already pretty darn evil! We already know that “advertising” is a euphemism for behaviour modification now. We know that it plays a part in swinging the global balance of power in favour of evil.

So let’s stop using it, eh? Let’s withdraw our support individually and together, switching off the lights one by one until it all goes dark and we can see the stars again.

The means by which we access the Web can be turned back too. I’d like to use a smartphone less and return to the days of sitting down to “go on the Internet.” This is hopelessly old-hat, I know, but that’s the point. I’m going cyber-Amish.

By sitting to “go on the Internet,” I might still be wasting my eyesight by gawping into the often-moronic universe of the Internet but at least it becomes a conscious act when approached this way, instead of absent-minded or automatic or, usually, while struggling to concentrate on something else. Something like a book.

David Cain’s recent experiment to “make [his] iPhone a tool instead of a toy” inspired me to follow suit. His description of phone use is uncanny. I’ve only had a phone for two years (as opposed to most people’s ten) and I can already feel the spiritual draw to damn thing and the urge to thumb away at nothing in particular.

That has got to stop! So I joined David in his experiment. I immediately removed the “fun” (Twitter and Instagram) from my iPhone to made it appropriately boring. It now feels far more like the “Swiss army knife of modern life” it’s often hailed as now that I’ve put paid to the creep of social media apps.

But what will we do with the Internet once we’ve absented ourselves from social media and turned back the clock on which gizmo we use to access the Web? How can we rediscover the transcendence of connecting with others online and, y’know, skive off from doing any work?

The answer is to go back.

The world of Web 1.0. is still there, like your childhood toys, a little dusty perhaps but waiting in hope for your return.

The Internet is not the problem. It’s just an infrastructure like the sewers or the pavement. It just happens to have fallen into the hands of dickheads, psychos and bullies. (Imagine if those other examples of infrastructure fell into their hands: sewers would be free to use so long as you agreed via a checkbox to having your stool analysed and the results sold off to advertising agencies or political campaigns; pavements would likewise we free to use but would be lined by garish billboards in favour of White Supremacy.)

So let’s go back to the idea that the Web is a place to play and create and build and communicate–on our own platforms, draped with the standards and liveries that make up our own hand-crafted contexts–as it was before the trolls took over and made billions of dollars from our clicks and our conversations and our negative behaviour.

So far as I’m concerned, websites, mailing lists, forums, and blogs are the new old thing. Web 1.0 deserves a vinyl-style comeback.

Operating on this new/old programme, I read other independent websites and blogs (using an RSS reader!) more now, and I post at a forum and subscribe to great mailing lists. An Australian journalist called McKinley Valentine has a newsletter, the Whippet, which is a lovely example and is filled with interesting science stories and her “unsolicited advice” agony column.

Taking cue from McKinley, I hope to make my own mailing list a more fun thing in which to participate, with a newsletter going out every couple of months with some book chat and whatnot. Join this!

The energy I used to put into social media has been re-channeled into my independently-designed and hosted blog. I focus at the moment on shorter, more frequent posts while I overcome the need to tweet.

Stop by if you want to, have a read, leave a note for me.

Nobody, so far as I know, will gobble up your data or monitor your eye movements at sites like mine. I’ve even started building a new “skin” for my site in the true fashion of HTML sites of yesteryear. It may or may not sing.

And no, of course, life isn’t all online. Ideally, very little of it would be online. We can still read actual books. We can read them outdoors even. We can “connect” with people face-to-face and in the pink.

But if we’re going to use the Web as it was originally intended, we can “go on the Internet” like we used to instead of idly thumbing through social media on our pocket infinity machines at great, great cost.

Yes, I am going back to Web 1.0: rejoining the world of blogs, forums and newsletters: longer-form, nuanced, hand-crafted writing instead of memes and likes and lols. You can too.


The picture at the top of this post is cropped from the poster of Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, a 2016 documentary by Werner Herzog with a brilliant opening chapter about the earliest days of the Internet.

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