Friday, 16 December 2016
Thursday, 15 December 2016
I've had these spring onions for several months now. They're a food you can regrow seemingly indefinitely from 'scraps'. Just keep the stalks in water next to a window, and they'll regrow themselves to about half their original length every couple of weeks. There's actually quite a few other edibles you can regrow - next experiment: broccoli - so far with no results perhaps because of the time of year, or maybe I'm just impatient - and it's a very satisfying thing to do. A few tips I've learned from regrowing spring onions:
1. Stalks should be about two inches long. Occasionally you may need to peel off the outer layer.
2. Refresh the water each time you cut the onions.
3. Keep the water (and the roots) out of direct sunlight, in a cup rather a glass, as pictured.
It's interesting to speculate how it might be possible to live entirely off scraps of regrown food. As with so many other things I've been learning about this year, I'm forced to ask myself: why aren't we all doing this?
Saturday, 26 November 2016
Over at shelvingsystem.co.uk you can buy made-to-measure "multipurpose" wooden shelves (aren't all shelves multipurpose?) to order. So I've ordered a set 30cm wide by 178cm high by 40cm deep to fit into the left-hand side of my kitchen window, the sunniest spot in this room. This is tall enough for five shelves of about 35cm in height each - space enough, methinks to grow some microgreens, herbs, perhaps peppers and tomatoes; a veritable, vertical kitchen garden. So we'll see how that goes. Shelves should arrive next Thursday.
Friday, 25 November 2016
Saturday, 12 November 2016
Friday, 16 September 2016
|Your place or mine?|
Monday, 5 September 2016
|A normal person.|
Postage/ebay costs: £89.20
Council Tax: £84.00
Deposit and 'admin fee' for new flat: £680.00
Total outgoings: £1957.96
Income from work: £958.20
amazon/ebay selling: £221.88
Other: £3.30 (refund)
Total income: £1183.38
When you take account of the £680 for the deposit and admin fee I had to pay for the new flat (and what is an 'admin fee', really? Nobody knows) this is an acceptable result. All being well I have a £750 deposit to be returned to me when I move out of where I am now, which brings me to more or less even for this month. What that means is that with my rent about to drop by £325, I can live as I have been doing, sustainably, while working much less than I used to. Goal achieved. What's next? Some more number-crunching, for a start...
Sunday, 4 September 2016
This week I began to feel for the first time as if I'm really making progress. It's now 13 days until I move out of this flat and into the next one - a step sideways it may seem, but it's really a step down, by which I mean a step up. It won't be as "nice" as where I live now, but it will cost less. And less cost = more time, which is the whole point. That's what I'm telling myself; I may be wrong of course. It feels at least like I'm beginning to gain some clarity.
Friday, 2 September 2016
Thursday, 25 August 2016
Friday, 19 August 2016
Friday, 12 August 2016
Monday, 8 August 2016
Saturday, 23 July 2016
Tuesday, 5 July 2016
Tuesday, 28 June 2016
It's not marked on google maps, hiding between the villages of Llandilo and Maenclochog in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. The centrepiece is a large, dilapidated, listed building dating back to 1795, set in 56 acres of land that includes an orchard, a river, a stone circle, a wooden roundhouse, several yurts, and enormous potential. The 'Temple Druid Community' was founded in 2014 when a group of 3 families bought the land together for only £375,000. Lucky them. Now, in their own words, they're working with "the express interest in purchasing Temple Druid and of developing a year round source of high quality organic food and therapeutic holistic retreat centre for disadvantaged children/families and vulnerable adults..." and towards, "developing sustainable ecological housing though restoration of barns, out houses and self builds...We hope to offer access to an inspiring, nourishing environment in order that people have the opportunity to participate and explore that which brings meaning to their lives through interaction with the natural world and each other." In other words, exactly the kind of place I want to be.
I've been back in the city for two days and already the exhausted, detached, distracted feeling that's come to characterise my life has set back in again. I spent the weekend there as a volunteer, but compared to the last two days, it felt more like two weeks. Life outside the 'real world' is slower. Working on the land, learning from like-minded people, sleeping in my tent and waking to the sound of the birds, with only the kindness of strangers and the gear I can carry on my back to sustain me; this, I know, is how life should be. It's humiliatingly simple. Get back to nature. Make your peace. Don't worry about "finding yourself". You're right here, a tiny part of something much, much more important.
I took my 40mg of Prozac in the morning, as I have been doing since I reduced the dose three weeks ago. Back in Manchester, my brain has tried to haunt me again since I did this, but out of the noise, and out in the fields, I can't remember having a single flash of dark thoughts all weekend. This means something.
Thursday, 16 June 2016
That's what they look like on a plate, when I've eaten some of them, because let me tell you, they are quite tasty. The ingredients are:
- Porridge oats
- Smooth peanut butter
- Golden syrup
- Soy milk
- Crushed cashew nuts (unsalted)
- Mixed spice
- Vanilla extract
- Protein powder
The first four are the essential ingredients, that you need to mix together in a bowl until you have a nice, thick and sticky dough. The rest of the ingredients (apart from the protein powder) are mainly for taste. Experiment according to yours. I used protein powder because I had a sachet of rice protein kicking around and I didn't know what else to do with it. It's pretty much tasteless, so if you've anything of the kind, throw it in. Protein = energy. (Can you get enough protein as a vegan? 'Course you bloody well can). Quantities are hard to specify, just go with what feels right. Go easy on the milk though; use just enough to make your 'dough' easy to mix but not be too runny.
All you need to do then is spread the mixture into a baking dish and leave in the fridge overnight to cool. No baking needed! You can then cut it into bars (or any shape you like, to be honest) and you're ready to go. Should freeze nicely too, if you're making a large batch.
Wednesday, 15 June 2016
On the one hand, nothing could be better fit for the definition of the word, "miracle". On another hand (there are more than two) all of this happened entirely naturally, with no reason to suppose there was any intentional or divine intervention in these natural processes that led to our existence. So nothing could be a less fitting definition of the word "miracle". It depends how you describe it. And however you describe it, the result is the same: here we are. It's strange and wonderful and horrifying, and just like those, or the word "miracle", or any other word, it just is. Here we are, and don't we know it.
I have always found our subjection of these perfectly basic necessities of life - water, food, heat and light, and shelter - into our fallible, corruptible social and economic infrastructures to be obscene. There is something deeply wrong about it. I think we all know that, whatever our politics. There is enough food and water for all of us, yet hundreds of millions of us are malnourished or starving. There is enough room for all of us, yet even on the affluent outskirts our enormous planet, people are homeless and destitute. And all the while the shine is shining, drinkable water is raining down on us, and edible plants are blooming into life. Technology now exists to automate all the processes we may wish to implement to make the use of these raw materials as simply as possible for the masses. In India, one of the most populous countries on the planet, solar power is now cheaper than that derived from fossil fuels. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to have to give over the time working in exchange for money they then use to pay for these freely available abundant necessities.
And yet that is what all of us do. It's so natural and normal that even to resent it comes across as irresponsible or contrarian. I find this objectionable. A natural progression of this line of thought would be towards total anti-capitalism, but for all the problems with that system, I'm not sure such extremity is necessary. We may not need a world without money, but I'm convinced we do need a world without the need for money. A world where participation in the market is possible, perhaps even encouraged to a limited extent, but not required for those who would rather just opt out, and live simply, without possessions or wealth. It shouldn't be that hard to bring such a world about. It really shouldn't.
Tuesday, 7 June 2016
Monday, 6 June 2016
Thursday, 2 June 2016
I feel ugly and dirty having to do this, but sometimes in life you can't avoid doing ugly and dirty things. Still, the satisfaction I get from turning up to my previous job, putting in some hours and buggering off again, without having to become ensnared in meaningless bureaucratic inanities, almost makes it worth it. Almost. In fact, hardly at all. But a little. Small mercies, I suppose. Here are this months' figures:
Council Tax: £81.14
Total outgoings: £1186.01
Income from work: £542.67
amazon/ebay selling: £316.90
Total income: £859.57
Still a negative balance, but compared to last month, a vast improvement. It's interesting to note that I've spent considerable more on food than I did last month, when I didn't do any paid work at all: £101.21 compared to £18.98. That's quite a leap. Goes to show the value of taking your time to track down cheap food, shopping at the right hours in the right places. This is something that the time taken up by work doesn't always allow for: exhaustion is the mother of convenience. Worth thinking about.
Sunday, 15 May 2016
Saturday, 14 May 2016
Tuesday, 10 May 2016
Here's one of my favourites, for obvious reasons:
Friday, 6 May 2016
The thought occurs to me now that the medication I've been taking for the last eleven years - Fluoxetine, better known as Prozac - may have something to answer for here. Eleven years is a long time. Perhaps laziness is only second nature, and not my first. From a teenager to the age of about 21, my brain was burning with ideas I could barely contain. I used to write music and poetry and scraps of novels and stories, and let myself be taken over by the ecstasy of the creative urge as often as it called. It was terrible and it was wonderful and gave me joy. Then it faded, to cut a long story short. I went off the rails, if I was ever on them to begin with, my mind full of nothing but horrible self-destructive images that terrified me half to death for just long enough before Prozac came along and gave me a liveable life again.
Survival has meant compromise. I developed 'Pure O' OCD, a generally 'unseen' condition that's horrible even to describe, let alone experience, after a sudden onset in my final year of university. Life was good at the time - I loved being a philosophy student and why the symptoms came on as they did, and so suddenly, had no obvious psychological explanation. I wasn't feeling anxious or depressed. Life was simple and carefree. I wonder if the mental stimulation of reading and studying day after day triggered something in my brain to slow me down. It didn't seem like that at the time, but if so, that certainly worked. I haven't really been able to concentrate on anything so intensely since. And that's what I want to do: concentrate.
So now I'm faced with the choice of weaning myself off a medication that has effectively kept me alive into adulthood. I went to see my GP last week to ask about this. He said it was a matter of "balancing risk". This was an intelligent observation. On the dose of 60mg, I can wean myself down to 40mg, and then to 20mg, dropping the dose each month. If it doesn't work - and by "doesn't work", I mean if symptoms become intolerable again, I can always up the dose again. But if it does, I feel I would have a lot to gain. I think I'll give it a go. I'm scared.
Tuesday, 3 May 2016
Here's the numbers:
Mobile (£51.20) and phone/internet (£37.50): £88.70
Electricy bill (Dec-Mar): £178.91
Total outgoings: £1546.16
Income from work: £0
Other (amazon/ebay sales): £230.23
Total income: £230.23
APRIL BALANCE: -£1315.93
If my life was a business, this month it would have been in the red. The board of directors would be unhappy. Share prices would plummet.
But life is not a busines, which is the whole point of this exercise. Look at your life as if it was, and then ask yourself, am I happier for it? Am I really, in all senses of the term, "better off"?
So now the issue comes down to simply weighing pros against cons. Is the loss of £1315.93 worth what I have gained this month? Well, what have I gained this month? What have I learned? What I have achieved? Who have I helped, apart from myself? I'll just answer the first question for now. I've gained a complete reset of my biological clock. My trip to Scotland took me out of the world of night time and shift work that's been my life for so long, and into the natural world of day and night, noise and darkness, peace and quiet. Was it worth the material cost? I would say definitely, yes.
And that's actually all I have to say for now. It's time for bed. It's dark. You're supposed to go to bed when it's dark. So goodnight. I'll answer other questions tomorrow.
Friday, 29 April 2016
To anyone reading from outside the UK who may not be familiar with our obscene publications, the Daily Express is a tabloid newspaper at the right-wing end of the disconcertingly mainstream part of our political spectrum. While it does stray frequently into the realm of the overtly bonkers - this article from January about a scientist who isn't really a scientist discovering alien micro-organisms that aren't really alien, and which "may be carrying out covert surveillance on Earth" but almost certainly aren't - being one good example among many, many others, the Daily Express' first love is for unsubstantiated sensationalist claims about the latest cure for age and lifestyle-related illnesses that are probably a genuine concern for a sizeable majority of its readership. Already this month its headlines have announced a cure for Alzheimer's "at last" in reference to a drug that hasn't has finished the clinical trial stage yet and "could be available in five years", as well as the shocking claim losing weight through exercise might be a way to prevent diabetes, an illness that absolutely everyone already knows is related to being fat. The Daily Express also shares an enthusiasm with the equally ludicrous(ly popular) Daily Mail for paranoid reactionary nonsense in relation to immigration, the exact number of penises that belong in a marriage, and general contempt for anything new or interesting that has happened in Britain since Queen Victoria died. In short, if it was published in America, it would support Donald Trump without the slightest hesitation.
This is the context in which we can understand today's headline: "WORK IS THE KEY TO A LONGER LIFE". Is it? The key? There are no other factors to consider? Wow. Should I go back to work after all? Let's investigate.
The web version of the article, which I 'm assuming is identical with the print version but may not be (I don't care) does at least refer the work of actual scientists, whose work has been published in a peer-reviewed journal - so well done there Daily Express for fulfilling an absolutely basic requirement for reporting scientific facts. That's about as good as it gets. Quoting a co-author of the study, stating, "our findings seem to indicate that people who gain active and engaged gain a benefit from that", the Express goes on (without, apparently, asking a single follow-up question in response to this almost meaninglessly vague statement) to grab a few quick quotes from the director of Saga, current government Minister of State Pensions Baroness Altmann CBE and the director of the International Longevity Centre, a UK-based "think-tank" that focuses on population demographics and related economic issues. All three apparently welcome the implied conclusion that the government's plan to raise the state pension age to 66 for men and women from 2020 is a great idea. I'm particularly fond of Longevity Centre director David Sinclair's analysis that, "we have to find ways to help people live better in mid-life so that they can have the opportunity to work longer". Not live longer - work longer. Thanks David. I knew there was a reason to go on living. It's this kind of uncritical assumption that work (and, aside from the odd passing comment about volunteering, the context of the article makes it quite clear that by "work" they want us to think mainly of paid employment, regardless of how dangerous, meaningless or degrading that employment might be) is intrinsically good, more or less no matter what, and which you will find pervading all debate about the value of work and material wealth, which really, well, pisses me off. I could go on, but I won't. It sounds too much like hard work.
Ha, ha, ha - but then right at the end of the article comes a statistic that more or less makes my point for me. 1.2 million people aged over 65 work in the UK, we are told. Interestingly this is exactly the number of people in 2014/15 who were suffering from a work-related illness according to the Health and Safety Executive. I'm sure that's just a coincidence, of course. Make of it what you will.
Wednesday, 27 April 2016
Sunday, 24 April 2016
Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Friday, 15 April 2016
Thursday, 14 April 2016
Tuesday, 12 April 2016
Sunday, 3 April 2016
I am in the Highlands. Internet access is patchy.
1. Until you have fallen into a bog, found yourself knee deep in sheep shit and climbed your way out with a 16kg backpack on, it's hard to appreciate how nice a dry pair of socks can be.
2. I am looking for a life free of the burden of possessions and material wealth. Hiking through mountainous terrain with everything I need on my back, and the resulting aches and pains, provides a resonate metaphor to focus the mind.
3. Those tinfoil-like "emergency blankets" provide a surprising amount of insulation. You will wake up beneath them, with your sleeping bag covered in a thin film of watery mist. This is not as unpleasant as it sounds. Highly recommended for the wild camper.
4. Peace can be found in simple routine: go to bed as soon as it gets dark, turn off all devices and really sleep. Wake up when it gets light. Eat a hearty breakfast, drink a litre of water at least and do your best to move your bowels before going about your day. I cannot emphasize this enough: sleep through the night, every night, as much as your body tells you to, and every morning eat a good breakfast and have a poo before doing anything else. Poo is nature's way of telling you it's time to move on.
Friday, 25 March 2016
Wednesday, 23 March 2016
Monday, 21 March 2016
The future is some kind of goal, though not usually a goal you set for yourself. When you're a child, the goal is "growing up" and becoming an adult. I never really wanted to be an adult. Adults drive cars, have mortgages, take out insurance, choose wallpaper, have children, hairstyles, pensions and conservatories. I never wanted any of these things, and I still haven't had most of them: never driven a car or chosen wallpaper, I rent rather than “own” - whatever that means - insurance is essentially just gambling (and I own nothing so valuable that I couldn't replace it if I had to anyway) and I don’t have any children. This isn’t to say I never will want any of these things; only that they've never been as attractive to me as they seem to be to others. I'm sure there's nothing unique in feeling like this, but it's a lonely feeling nonetheless.
Sunday, 20 March 2016
I think you'll agree that these boots were made for walking. They arrived yesterday. In this picture they're under the table with my feet, legs and trousers in the reading room in Manchester Central Library, which is circular and warm and has free wifi.
I bought them on ebay (which assures me the boots are vegan, though they don't smell like it) for £9.95 (free postage). What's good about that is that I raised £9.95 from using Slidejoy, an android app that gives you a bit of money for unlocking your phone. Considering that's something you do 85 times a day anyway, on average, why not pick up some pennies at the same time? Naturally, you have to sell your soul a bit - the money comes from advertising, so every time you unlock your phone, you have to swipe though an advert - but never mind about that. Or you could just sell your phone, but never mind about that just now. I'm locked into my contract for the next 12 months and still haven't found a way out. So might as well make some money back. Slidejoy pay through paypal on the first of each month, and I've managed to accumulate about $5 a month from this. Enough to pay for a pair of boots, an essential ingredient of my upcoming camping trip.
Thursday, 17 March 2016
Saturday, 12 March 2016
Thursday, 10 March 2016
Tuesday, 8 March 2016
Here's what seven homemade vegan 'ready meals' looks like. Boiled rice, mixed beans, kale. Simple, tasty enough and very cheap. ALDI rice and tinned beans, and some left over kale I'd cooked a while back and frozen in portions for, well, something like this. If you don't mind eating the same thing every day for a week (and I don't really) then do something like this. Couple of quid, seven meals. Microwave as required.
If you're a facebook user, and you are, at some point today you'll have seen an inspirational "quote" in your feed. I put the word "quote" in, um, quotes because I'm referring, of course, to things that aren't really quotes at all. Things like this:
Tuesday, 1 March 2016
One month has now passed. I am halfway through my notice period for my job. So far, I have made no attempt to find another job. "Have you found another job?" is the question I've been asked the most when people find out I'm leaving this one. My answer is often met with surprise. Some people don't say anything, they just look at me. I quite like that. Some ask what I'm going to be doing next. I don't always feel like talking about it, so I say that I don't know, which is of course true. Sometimes I lie. I have some idea what I want to do, but it remains vague.
Numbers are not vague, and numbers don't lie. So as I said I was going to do, I've been keeping track of all my expenses day through the month on a spreadsheet. I fucking love spreadsheets. Really I do. Here are the results:
Sunday, 28 February 2016
It's going on the wish list anyway.
I ask again, why aren't we all living like this?
Saturday, 27 February 2016
Paying the bills, is the answer to that. And usually that's where it stops. Why not carry on asking questions instead? Why not ask the same questions again? Are the things you're paying for making you a better person, or the world a better place? If not, then what the fuck are you doing?
The answer to that is convenience. Convenience is a defining characteristic of our world. Running a fridge or a car is convenient. You don't need a fridge, in the strict sense of "need". You don't need a car either. Buses exist. So do trains and bikes, and horses. But trains and bikes and horses aren't as nice as cars. And pickled eggs aren't as nice as fresh eggs. It's better to have nice things. More convenient.
Tuesday, 23 February 2016
I remember when I was little sometimes I would throw books down the stairs. I really don't remember why I did this, it was probably just a phase I was going through. Sometimes I'd be holding a book, I'd be at the top of the stairs, and I'd wonder what it would be like if I suddenly threw it down the stairs. So I did. My mum didn't like me doing this. She used to say "Books are our friends". She was right. Books are our friends. Nowadays, as you're probably aware, "ebooks" exist. With some patience, you can find more or less any book in "e" format online, download it, and read it on an electronic device. So electronic devices can be our friends to.
My goal here is to transfer every book I have, and want to keep (which isn't quite all of them) to a digital format (pdf or epub preferably) that I'll keep in a google drive folder, and can read on my tablet. Google play books lets you keep 1,000 books in your library at any one time, meaning I can upload and download as many books as I could ever need at any one time, and carry them all around with me. This is a good thing. More of us should be doing this. Having shelves full of books is nice and decorative, but it's really just showing off.
If you would like to access my library please email me and I'll reply with a link to the library. From here you'll be able to download and read anything I put in there. I'm still in the process of adding things - I've collected a lot of things over a solid 10-15 years of internetting, so this will take some time. If you have anything you'd like to contribute and make freely accessible to others, please also get in touch. Sharing is caring. Books are our friends.
Saturday, 20 February 2016
I'll have something to say in future posts on the use and abuse of anti-materialist and nihilist philosophies by popular culture. There are more important questions to ask first. Most generally, how far do we follow these thoughts? How do you know if you're really awake? The matrix is everywhere...
Carlin's monologue is comical, Agent Smith's is dramatic: both are memorable because of the ideas they tap into, ideas that are neither original nor new, thoughts as old as human beings themselves. For all the love, depth and meaning we can find in human existence, can we ever escape the sense of living inside an enormous, meaningless cosmic farce? Philosophies like antinatalism or movements like VHEMT (each, of course with subcultures and subreddits of their own) seem to take a kind of sociopathic delight in their iconoclasm, so often that it becomes nearly impossible to tell who is sincere and who is just along for the ride. But then, in the post-Baudrillardian pseudo-culture (and this side of the notoriously disappointing Matrix sequels) of 2016, is there a difference?
I've spent a lot of time this week working on "downsizing" - selling things on ebay and amazon, taking bags of stuff too worthless to sell to charity shops. It's been satisfying to discover how many of the cherished paper books I thought were hard to find are in fact readily available online for free if you're persistent, but how despite this many of them still hold their monetary value as things, making the process of bothering to sell them worth my while. But there's an inherent danger in enjoying this sort of thing too much - a kind of holier-than-thou sentiment of what I've dubbed "frugal fetishism" that's all-too-easy to lapse into. How far can I go along this path without disappearing too soon up my own arse?
Tuesday, 16 February 2016
Monday, 15 February 2016
All that said, spending a whole day in bed, floating in and out of consciousness to classic Star Trek episodes on your chromebook probably doesn't fit exactly into any ancient concept of reverence for life and its divine creator. Oh, and yes, I like watching Star Trek. So what? It has an optimistic vision of the human race's future. Despite everything, so do I.
I spent the day in bed on Friday because I was exhausted. I wasn't exhausted from a hard day's work on Thursday, or a poor night's sleep. I'm just generally exhausted. I can’t remember the last time I had a proper night’s sleep. This is what working night shifts for three-and-a-half years will do to you. At first, your human body just starts to get mildly confused. What are you doing? it asks. You know you’re supposed to be asleep, don’t you? It’s dark outside! It’s 3 in the morning. Who cares about spreadsheets? You ignore the question, because that’s your job. Your body, gradually and begrudgingly, adjusts. OK, so you’re a night owl? I can work with that, ‘course I can. Adjustments are made to sleep patterns, energy levels, appetite, ability to concentrate, patience. It wants the best for you, does your human body, it really does. It’s more sensitive to the nuances of daylight, climate and the changing of the seasons than you, the young 21st-century urbanite, will ever understand. That’s because it’s not really young at all. Yours might be – but yours is only the latest model in a long line of ever-evolving human bodies. It only got to be where it is today through generation after generation of very hard work. There was a lot of trial and error, but now it’s ready for anything. It can subsist indefinitely on nothing but Monster Munch. It can survive in the air pocket of a capsized boat in the Atlantic ocean, a cave in the Utah desert or floating in zero gravity inside a sealed metal tube for months, miles above the earth from whence it came. I have never done any of those things (though the Monster Munch-diet does sound tempting) so I don’t know what I'm talking about. I do know, however, that after a few years of a regimen of working 3-5 twelve-hour night shifts a week, the body stops asking so many questions. Any time you want to sleep, that’s fine by me, it says. So afternoon naps become nine-hour comas. This is your body’s passive-aggressive form of revenge. Sleeping well is the best revenge.
So on Friday, I slept - all through the day, and most of the night. Around 5:30am on Saturday, I stirred my lazy bones back to a vertical position and checked my email. Several of the books I’ve listed on amazon had sold. I processed the emails, and wrapped and labelled the packages ready for my morning jaunt to the post office. I noticed that one of the addresses was in Stockport. Stockport, I thought. That’s not far from Manchester. I could walk it, deliver the package in person. It will save on postage costs. My body, who hadn't really woken up yet and still needed a piss, tried to pay attention. Don’t do this, it pleaded. So I did it anyway, because I hadn't written the previous paragraph yet. It was a nice enough day for North West England in February (it wasn't even chucking it down) and what else was I going to do? Clock in some more overtime at work on those sexy spreadsheets? No. Turns out I don’t care about spreadsheets at any hour of the day. I know some people do, some of the hours. These people are not my friends. Give me an absence of spreadsheets or give me death.
As the googlebird maps, my destination was 7 miles from home. It looked like the kind of walk at that would become more pleasant towards the end, as I left the inner city behind and encroached upon the Cheshire countryside. I put the package to be delivered into my bag along with a packet of peanuts, two tins of beans - the ones that open with a ring pull, so I didn't have to carry a tin opener – a fork, my headphones and a day’s worth of mp3s. The peanuts and the beans were for energy along the road, and to save having to spend money on food. A petrol station sandwich and a bag of Wotsits are not actually the food of the true nomad. This is the game I'm playing now. Thought maybe I could channel the spirit of Jeremy Corbyn for lunch.
Turns out google doesn't know absolutely everything about everything. One of the things it doesn't know is that you can’t just go for a country walk along a motorway. So adjusting for reality, this lengthened my hike to just over 9 miles. An 18-mile round trip. Worth the cost of a small, first class parcel, if you ask me.
Saturday, 13 February 2016
As soon as I posted on facebook last week about my decision to leave my job, interesting things started to happen. The post received a solid 19 likes from my 116 friends (hey, it's not a competition), and the comments were universally positive. Bristol Pete, by any acceptable standard one of the nicest and funniest men alive, insisted I blog my experience immediately (which, as you've probably noticed, is just what I did). Former schoolmates I haven't seen in over 15 years posted messages of encouragement. As one put it, "well done for stepping off the hamster wheel on your own terms". Kieran in London, a brother and comrade from from way back when, who today is nothing less than a Lecturer in International Relations at University College London, remarked, "I continue to look to you for the right move". As you may recall, Kieran is a lecturer at a prestigious UK university. He knows more about African child soldiers and Sierra Leone than anyone I know, anyone you know probably, and perhaps even than many people actually in Sierra Leone know. His recently published book is available on amazon. I haven't got round to reading it yet myself, but that's not necessary for me to be able to tell you that it's a stonking good read and you should buy it immediately. Evidently Kieran has made an impressive number of right moves in his life. Quite what he hopes to learn from me is unclear.
Friday, 12 February 2016
"What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it". (Ecclesiastes 3: 9-14)and:
"There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun". (Ecclesiastes 8: 14-15)It's a proto-socialist, proto-nihilist, proto-situationist tract, several thousand years out of time. Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, but I'm more inclined to believe that it's words like this that have the right to claim "divine inspiration" than, for example, whoever wrote that a man possessed by "the spirit of the LORD" once allowed his own daughter to "roam and weep" in the wilderness for two months before keeping his promise to murder her as a "sacrifice" her to that very same Lord (Judges 11:29-39).
Much as I enjoy a good argument about that sort of thing, that's not what this blog is for. I'm interested in anti-work/anti-materialist thinking, wherever it happens to come from. I love ideas. Still, it's hard to separate the practical from the metaphysical and I think, ultimately, it's probably a bad idea. When the writer of Ecclesiastes asks "what do the workers gain from their toil?" I think he has both the material and the spiritual sense of "gain" equally in mind, just as you might say Jesus did when asking, "what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?" It isn't that anyone who does "gain the world" automatically loses his soul - that's something that depends more on the type of person doing the gaining - but it certainly doesn't make the average person's soul any easier to hang on to.
Even the tiny, tiny part of the material world I've gained seems already to have put my soul at risk. Two weeks ago I bought a new television. I've never owned a television before - a fact I've always been rather too smug about than is really necessary. It was an impulse buy. I was bored, frustrated and tired, as I have been now for years. So I bought a 43-inch, Ultra-HD 4K, smart, wifi-enabled television. Because I could. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I carried it home in the rain (I live a five-minute walk from Manchester's Arndale Centre). Remember Trainspotting? "Choose life, choose a job, choose a fucking big television..."? After I'd unpacked it, plugged it in and queued up some youtube playlists, gloried in the realer-than-real wonder of 4K 60fps video, I started to wonder what my next drug of choice would be. This one's sat on my coffee table for two weeks now, (and I've had several hours of pleasure from it, there's no point denying that) but the thrill of consumption has already gone. The money I could have spent instead on making the world a better place has gone too. The frustration, boredom and exhaustion has not.
Thursday, 11 February 2016
It's tempting to indulge in a bit of pseudo-psychology to explain why this might be; but believe me, it doesn't help. It's not a matter of low self-esteem, poor body image, repressed childhood trauma, unsatisfiable animal impulses or subconsciously wanting to have sex with my mother. It's a matter of serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter - one of the means by which the brain processes information chemically. Lower than optimal levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive thinking. Fluoxetine is a type of medication known as a "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor" (SSRI) most commonly used as an antidepressant, but can also help to treat the symptoms of OCD, the obsessive thoughts in particular. It's certainly worked for me.
Sacrifices have to be made if you want not only to stay alive, but also if you want to have a life that is really worth living. (A useful metaphor: to feel the resonance of Michael J Fox's excellent acting in the scene above, you also have to endure the sentimental gibberish of a Coldplay song. Life is strange). I'm sure that if a treatment for OCD hadn't been found that works for me, I wouldn't be alive today. I wouldn't have been able to live like that for ten days of how it was at its worst, let alone ten years. So coming off the medication isn't an option for me - not yet, anyway - but coming back to life in other ways, is. Leaving my job was the first step.
Now without going too far down the conspiracist path - another time, perhaps - I don't think there's any doubt that many of the trappings of 21st century life have a 'deradicalizing' effect on the individual. Prozac has certainly had that effect on me. A lot of the time I find I'm living my life through a haze - when I say words, it's like it's not really me saying them; I say what others expect to hear without believing any of it. I've actually become a very good liar. I lie to myself and I lie to others. I lie all the time about what I think, about what I want, about what I value. It gets easier the more you do it. Medication makes it easier still.
Life isn't going to be easy any more. I wonder if an easy life is really life at all.