Frank Hank

Thanks to Reader S for sharing this. It’s a letter from Charles Bukowski to the man who freed him from his day job.

Publisher John Martin agreed to pay Bukowski a monthly stipend if only he’d agree to quit his time-wasting job as a mail clerk. In the letter, Bukowski shows his gratitude and follows it with an almighty complaint about the indignity of employment:

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work.

Say what you like about Bukowski, but he was great at blowing the whistle. I think that’s one of the things people like about him. He wasn’t afraid to cry “bullshit!”

In Post Office he calls out the world of work. In its prequel, Factotum, he does the same for the world of art, expressing his frustrations with publishers, of not being allowed in for so long as a working-class man.

See how he describes his onetime fellow rat racers, with scorn but not without sympathy:

what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Beautiful, furious stuff. The whole letter is worth a read.


Disillusioned with the 9-5? Escape! For a paltry £8, you can download the latest issues (15 and 16) of New Escapologist right this very minute, from your Monday-morning desk.

The White Pearl

These Tiny Home videos are ten a penny on YouTube now, but they’re united by the same drives to independence. “Tinies” are cheap compared to some conventional housing and to build one can be a worthwhile labour of love.

This particular example isn’t a self-build but a converted van. The occupant is a wood turner and he’s done a lovely job of it.

What captures my imagination more than anything though, is its self-containedness. The guy has everything he needs (his craft, his independence, his transport, his mental health, his security and comfort) in one little, mobile capsule. It’s delightful.

It’s rare for me to be charmed by a vehicle-based home (other than boats of course) but this one’s fab.

An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 77. Escritores de Lisboa

Last week saw a short trip to Lisbon. What an anarchic city. People talk about the ceramic tiles on the fronts of buildings but nobody mentions how it’s all up-and-down and higgledy-piggledy. The cube-shaped cobble stones fan out from their groundings like madmen’s teeth. Near the place we were staying, some graffiti read “Alfama, don’t break your ankles.”

At another spot, the graffiti said “clean is boring.” The city isn’t particularly unclean though: this being continental Europe, the streets are cleaned often enough and the people are evidently proud or smart enough not to drop much litter in the first place. There’s a lot of messy graffiti though, mostly unimaginative tags at shoulder-height. They’ll get that fixed one day: it’ll be the big cosmetic change that makes the city super-liveable like the sandblasting of the tenements in Glasgow in 1990.

I’m not down on the anarchism of Lisbon. I like it. The energy, the hustle and bustle, is great. It feels a bit like being in Asia in some ways. Africa feels tantalisingly close. My walking boots were up to the challenge of not breaking my ankles. I like how the old-fashioned wooden trams rattle around the hilly streets. You’ll be in a café somewhere when the light changes suddenly as the tram blasts by the window.

Read the rest of this entry »

Going Bankrupt

I just read Jess Walters’ novel, The Financial Lives of the Poets.

It’s a bit like Breaking Bad, though I don’t think anyone copied. The author must be pretty tired of hearing the comparison too, especially as his real name is a combination of Breaking Bad’s main characters.

In this version of the story, the respectable family man who becomes a drug dealer is not motivated by cancer but by debt.

The plan to sell drugs (pot in this case, not meth) to his respectable middle-aged friends comes to nothing in the end and he just ends up filing for bankruptcy.

The final scenes involve sending his two kids to the cinema without him (because he can only afford two tickets) and splitting a single ice-cream cone with his wife. This newfound hardship is portrayed as relatively noble, the detox our guy needs if he’s to turn over a new leaf.

As it’s portrayed, the simple life of the bankrupted maker of bad decisions is remarkably similar to my own. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment. He doesn’t have money to squander on cinema tickets. Etc.

I chose this life so I can get on with poorly-recompensed cultural production. It’s more important to me to be a writer than to live materially well. It’s the old starving artist model. I never feel like I’m starving though and our small apartment is enough. I’m not complaining.

But unlike me, the guy in this novel enjoyed a decades-long joyride through material wealth and debt generation before coming to accept less. I didn’t have the fun of that! What’s more, the consequences of his joyride were minimal. Bankruptcy didn’t lead to homelessness. He just had to liquidate and downsize. So what?

He says he has “bad credit” now and must claw back his reputation as a borrower through frugality and hard work, but in my experience “bad credit” doesn’t matter a great deal. We didn’t have good credit when shopping for our first non-rented home because, averse to borrowing, we’d never generated debt or therefore paid any off. I’d been warned about this in advance by well-meaning friends, but it turned out not to matter at all: we bought the flat we wanted. Nobody gave a hoot about our credit, “good” or otherwise. Credit turned out to be something of a bogeyman.

I sometimes wonder if my aversion to debt is too extreme. Maybe I should max out a bunch of credit cards and be happy. I could skip the acquisition-and-liquidation of a McMansion part of the story and spend the bank’s money on good food and travel instead, non-material experiences they won’t be able to reclaim to punish me. Maybe that’s what we should all do.

I sense that this is a bad idea. But after reading that novel I’m not entirely sure why.


For more irresponsible trains thought, read New Escapologist magazine, the latest issues of which are available as instant-download e-books.

Latest issues and offers


Issue 14

Our latest issue. Featuring interviews with Caitlin Doughty and the Iceman, with columns by McKinley Valentine, David Cain, Tom Hodgkinson, and Jacob Lund Fisker. 88 pages. £9.


Two-issue Subscription

Get the current and next issue of New Escapologist. 176 pages. £16.

Four-issue Subscription

Get the current and next three issues of New Escapologist. 352 pages. £36.

PDF Archive

Issues 1-13 in PDF format. Over a thousand digital pages to preserve our 2007-2017 archive. 1,160 pages. £25.