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New Escapologist : July 2023
Too many thankses?
The Kickstarter to bring back New Escapologist as a printed periodical is going extremely well. In fact, we made the target! A hearty thank you to everyone who contributed.
The process was very exciting. The first £120 came from 3 backers within seconds of making the announcement. Thank you, keen beans.
After 9 hours, we’d crossed the 50% line. Things slowed a bit the next day but we still took the next third of the total over 20 hours. When I woke up on Day 3, the £3,000 target had been blown to smithereens.
Thank you, everyone. Have I said that enough? Thank you. We’re on fire in a good way. It’s actually happening.
With a fortnight left of the campaign (we’re not allowed to end it early) I’m not sure what to do next. “Stretch goals” feel like moving the goal posts, but extra funding would still help. For example, I always forget that shipping fees count toward a Kickstarter target; we won’t be able to spend that money more directly on the project so it would be nice to make up for this shortfall by raising another £300 or so.
Most importantly: our aim is not to “get money” but to get readers. The hope is to build a culture around the magazine. For that, it would be nice to reach perhaps 150 readers for the first issue. 70 readers have backed the Kickstarter (no small number) but 162 have said they want the mag to come back. If you’re one of the remaining 92 potential readers, please back the Kickstarter today. It’s the only way to subscribe or to buy the mag at present. (And knowing the total number of readers will be useful when we order the print run).
So that’s the Kickstarter news out of the way. We can now return to the usual but no less happy business of our monthly newsletter. Thanks again (too many thankses?) to everyone who has pledged so far.
Your grateful chum,
In Spite of His Indolent Ways
I’ve just read Little Women. There was a copy on a special display in the library and curiosity got the better of me.
Much of it is too winsome (is “twee” the right word?) for my tastes and the only March Sister I could fall for was Jo. I like her mildly rebellious ways and she’s the only sister who seems to have a brain in her nut.
Anyway, there’s a line I wanted to share here for its Escapological energy:
in spite of his indolent ways, he had a young man’s hatred of subjection,–a young man’s restless longing to try the world for himself.
Isn’t that nice? It’s about Laurie, the March sisters’ only friend who is neither elderly nor an employee.
I must say I never got over the “hatred of subjection” or the “longing” described here so it’s not only native to young men. I’m 40 now (my first escape was at 26 or, arguably, 21) and I still like to “try the world” for myself, despite my Laurie-like indolence.
Luckily, there is advice from Jo March about what to do if you, like me, share this young man’s passion:
“I advise you to sail away in one of your ships, and never come home again till you have tried your own way,” said Jo, whose imagination was fired by the thought of such a daring exploit.
The Guardian reports that
office workers in central London are spending on average 2.3 days a week in the workplace, according to a report that warns against a wholesale switch to working from home.
The thinktank Centre for Cities carried out polling of office workers in the capital and found they were spending 59% of the time in their workplace compared with pre-Covid levels.
The finding of 2.3 days sounds about right. I’ve been hearing that some people work from home all the time now or that they visit the office once a week. Others are being forced back into the office full-time, so 2.3 days sounds like an approximately correct average.
The “warns against a wholesale switch to working from home” part is only conjecture though and probably reveals the motivations behind this study. After all, anyone can “warn against” something imaginary. The study offers no evidence that working from home leads to a decline in productivity (nor, seemingly, was it designed to detect it). In fact, evidence so far suggests the opposite:
Several studies over  show productivity while working remotely from home is better than working in an office setting. On average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.
As well as scientifically-collected evidence, doesn’t it also defy belief that tired workers, fresh from the morning commute, are likely to be productive? Especially in an environment of ringing telephones, fire drills, birthday parties, all the rest of it. How could city centre offices be more productive environments than our homes? As Orwell put it: “imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity.”
Moreover, productivity is but one way to assess how well work is working. What about the quality of output? What about impact (positive or negative) on the natural world? What about contribution to human culture?
The name of the think tank, Centre for Cities, is another hint at the motivation behind the report. According to their website, their “mission is to help the UK’s largest cities and towns realise their economic potential,” which is fine I suppose, but their vision of how to achieve this is of a certain mindset. Clearly, they want people to return to city centres in bigger numbers than they have been, and they want those people to be workers. Just as Andrew Lloyd Webber wants to trap sensitive personalities in a pit, the people at this think tank want to see people in office attire with wristwatches and Bluetooth earpieces criss-crossing glass-fronted streets and spending digital money at franchise sandwich shops. I guess that’s just some people’s aesthetic preference, which is permissible, but it’s not science and its not progressive.
Meanwhile, I recently visited Montreal where the city has a distinct feeling of thriving. Their solution seems to have been an increased pedestrianisation of downtown areas and the expansion of the cycle lane network.
I walked on many streets closed to cars, bustling with well-dressed people on personal missions. They were buying records, walking to and from the mountain, meeting for arty chats, painting on little easels, learning to walk on stilts, doing yoga, quietly jamming with acoustic guitars, busking, cycling and smoking at the same time, reading real books. I’m not exaggerating: I saw all of this in a single afternoon on Avenue Mont-Royal in my old neighbourhood, now closed to cars for the summer.
Imagination to get beyond “BUSINESS” is all it takes really. What I saw in Montreal is still economic activity but it’s also human activity and inherently worthwhile. It doesn’t involve sweating in an office while your real creative projects and the people you’d rather like to spend time with are on the other side of a cinderblock wall.
Tinkers Bubble (no apostrophe)
Founded in 1994, Tinkers Bubble is England’s leading off-grid woodland community: an experiment in rural living that provides low-impact dwellings and a land-based livelihood to a changing roster of 16 residents.
From The Guardian:
It is owned by a community benefit society, and the current residents, most of whom arrive as summer volunteers, are sustained by the income from a steam-powered sawmill, apple orchard and press (which produces a lively dry cider) and cottage food production, including heritage salad leaves. The community’s 20 dwellings and outbuildings are dotted around a thatched communal roundhouse, all sitting amid the lofty firs.
A Right Belloc
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 a 15-hour work week) did not foresee the delinquent appetites of humans under capitalism. Plenty of people 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. So…
Letters to the Editor: Backyard Chickens Come Home to Roost
As many of you know, my partner and I recently bought our first flat after 15 years 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 under a roof and to fix your washing machine when it breaks, it becomes a most amenable relationship.
Alas, several rent hikes (i.e. pay rises for our skiv) made our continued tenancy unaffordable. Our rent doubled over six years.
The fun of renting is to aristocratically dismiss your concerns for the future, but the cost expanded so exorbitantly that we found ourselves concerned 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.
This threatens to become a too-long newsletter, doesn’t it? So let’s leave it there. But if you remain somehow hungry for more, our website also has an entry to my Escapologist’s Diary and a slightly random tirade against “class detention” in schools.
The most important thing to remember, however, is to please subscribe to the magazine on Kickstarter. We’ve reached our target but we can still work together to make our niche little enterprise even stronger.
Your thankful chum,