Preparations

There's this thing I do every New Year's Eve, I don't really know why.  What I do is I pick a "resolution" spontaneously, and stick to it whether I like it or not.  It's an exercise in self-discipline, or something like that.  It doesn't really matter why, it's just this thing I do.  I don't do it every year, so I suppose it isn't really that disciplined.  Also I don't always stick to it (likewise).  Some resolutions are easier to keep to than others.  In 2002 for example, my resolution was to wear a suit every day.  I did fairly well here; I recall it was about September before I first neglected to wear a tie.  In 2003 my resolution was to eat a tuna sandwich (or baked potato) whenever I felt like it.  This was easier to stick to, and I was a success.  In 2004-5, I lost my mind, which may or may not be related.  I was a student.  Good times.

Spring Onions: The gift that keeps on giving



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?

Vertical garden planning

Winter is a good time to make plans.  Today I started thinking properly about setting up an indoor garden in my new flat.  Two things occur to me: one, sunlight and two, space.  The flat has three large windows, all facing the same direction (due east, more or less).  I'm happy about this because it means a good supply of sunlight - even now, at the end of November, I'm getting some direct late afternoon sun in the kitchen.  This bodes well for spring and summer.  The windows in the kitchen and front room are pretty high (about 2 metres) which suggests the best option for indoor growing is vertical.

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.


Not Buying It. Whatever It Is.

Today is Buy Nothing Day, a "global holiday from consumerism" that originates from the 'Adbusters' and 'culture-jamming' factions of the global justice movement (the people who brought you Occupy Wall Street) that rose to prominence in the late 1990s.  While the anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation protests aren't quite as in vogue as they once were with the left, some of whom have fallen down the rabbit hole of social justice and so-called "politically correct" identity politics, Buy Nothing Day has remained a staple of general 'anti' sentiment for the past 20 years.  More recently, it's come to be associated explicitly with "Black Friday", the hyper-consumerist nightmare binge promoted (perversely as can be conceived) on the day after the American celebration of "Thanksgiving", and which has inevitably spread across the pond.


Search "Black Friday" on youtube for literally hundreds more such reports, clip compilations and even tips on how to navigate your revolting flesh bag through the megastore aisles and escape without getting horribly, horribly injured or perhaps even killed while clinging like a wretched maniac to a really big telly.  (Even, more horrifyingly still, what to wear while doing so).

As with working out how one might possibly react usefully to so many other things in the world today, there's a fine line between sincere incredulity that this is the sort of thing millions of human beings actually do (and not just in moments of psychotic greed but repeatedly, and voluntarily, year after year) and the smug self-satisfaction that comes from telling yourself that at least I'm not one of them.  That's mainly, I think, because you are one of them, or could be far more easily than you're willing to admit.  "In choosing for myself I choose for all mankind", as Sartre wrote, which means that for every well-meaning mother who just wants the best [new X-Box] for her kids and will literally trample over an old lady with a zimmerframe to get it, or misfit beta male who just wants a 43-inch UHD smart TV below which he might more efficiently masturbate to the niche porn of his choice, there but for the grace of Guy Debord, go you.



Thoughts from an empty room.

To be is to occupy space. Walls divide space from space. Walls take space and turn it into place. Place is humanised space.

A place is somewhere to put things. A space is a place with things in it. "Wherever I hang my hat, that's my home". Things are not human. Things are other. What I do to the world, I do by means of things.

Today I move out of one place and into another. I collect the keys, sign my name on various documents I say that I've read, and I arrive. My place. 

Your place or mine?
The place is empty. Some bare necessities have been provided: an oven, electricity, running water. There are no curtains in the windows. The walls are almost white. Accumulated post for the previous occupant, no longer at this address, please return to sender. They have gone to a better place. Round at their place. 

Furniture begins to arrive. It is as though I am already losing something. Space becomes place. 



An unbearable stillness. A king of infinite space. Life is here, I think, somewhere. 

The Cost of Living: August 2016

August 2016 is the end of 'stage one'.  This month I move from a flat costing me £650-675 a month in rent to one costing £350 a month. Since rent has been my biggest expense up until now, and will probably continue to be for some time, I'm very pleased about this.  It's also satisfying that I'm moving only about 10 miles from where I am now, into a one-bedroom flat that's about the same size as the one I'm in at the moment.  Manchester city centre has become prohibitively expensive for anyone you might once reasonably have described as "normal".  Perhaps it always was: I don't know, or really care.  Normal is relative of course, but you know what I mean.  Just don't live in a city centre, OK?  Trust me on this one.  I am not a normal person.  That's all I have to say about that.

A normal person.
This month's numbers are actually rather pleasing, all things considered.

OUTGOINGS
Food: £168.59
Postage/ebay costs: £89.20
Prescription: £25.20
Rent: £675
Mobile/internet: £87.19
Council Tax: £84.00
Alcohol: £25.14
Deposit and 'admin fee' for new flat: £680.00
Other: £123.64
Total outgoings: £1957.96

INCOME
Income from work: £958.20
amazon/ebay selling: £221.88
Other: £3.30 (refund)
Total income:  £1183.38

BALANCE:  -£774.58

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...

Two Weeks Remain


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.

Out of the Heartlands and Into the Spleen

In two weeks I move out of Manchester city centre and into Bury, a distance of less than 10 miles but that crosses a couple of constituency lines, taking me out of out of Labour territory and into Toryland.  Middle England, perhaps. If ever an understatement was to be made, it's this: this is disappointing.   A cursory glance through the charmingly useful theyworkforyou.com reveals my soon-to-be local MP to be a Mr David Nuttall, whose astonishing voting record reads like a list of all the top things a person would have to say if they wanted an absolutely guaranteed way to piss me off.

Sacred Economics

This week I’ve occasionally been prying my eyes away from the pages of Charles Eisentein’s 2011 book, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Societyin the Age of Transition.  There are so many well-articulated thoughts in the book that I’ll need some time to absorb them, so this post will consist mostly of quotes lifted straight from the text.  I’ve nothing else to add but the “of course!” sensation that lights my mind on almost every page, that feeling you get when a book falls off the shelf and into your hands at exactly the right time, one of life’s strangest little pleasures.

Freedom, Work and Boredom (Some Disparate Thoughts)

I’m bored.  Every child’s complaint, from lack of stimulation, or just the frustration of having to wait for the next gratification of whatever fleeting whim.  Are we nearly there yet?  You want, and you want it now, whatever it is.  Try to think of a time when you didn’t want anything.  Can you?  Kurt Vonnegut said that every character in a story has to want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.  You’re a character in a story.  You might not be writing it, but you want something.  Right now, you almost certainly want something.  What is it?  Why?

Nuts and Bolts

I'm pleased to report that I've found myself somewhere else to live.  It's a one bedroom flat in Bury and the rent is only £350 a month.  This is a big deal because I'm paying £675 a month to live in Manchester City Centre now.  So I'm calling this a win.

The Cost of Living: July 2016

When I started this blog six months ago as a way to get some kind of handle on my new life, most of my thoughts concerned money and how I might get to a place where I could live without it.  I knew that earning money wasn't something I wanted to spend my time doing, and I knew that given the choice between earning money and having time, I would always choose time.  For those lucky enough to earn money by doing something they would do anyway, something they loved, I understood that there is no need for such a choice.  I knew that I wasn't so lucky, and that I had this in common with probably most other people in the world.  I wondered how happy all the others were, giving over their time to work they had no passion for.  I wondered how many people had no passion at all.  I wondered if I might be such a person.

A weekend at Earthship Brighton

Last weekend I was down south in Brighton for a three-day course called "Self Building an Earthship", organised by Brighton Permaculture Trust.  Brighton is a strange and lovely place.  It's in England, but has palm trees.  It's a traditional seaside town, but there's a park with a ruddy great Indian palace in the middle of it:

A Smaller World (Part One)

The first thing to say about Temple Druid is that it's not a temple, and has nothing to do with Druids.  The second thing to say is that it is, or soon could be, heaven on earth.







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.

Experimental High Protein Vegan Breakfast Energy Bars

In preparation for next week's camping trip to Wales, I'm trying to keep my backpack as light as possible.  One of the things I learned on my trip to the Highlands in April was how much of a difference having a weight to carry makes on the distance you can cover on foot in a day.  Without factoring in the weight of my backpack in Scotland (about 16kg) I ended up overestimating how much ground I'd be able to cover.  Most of the weight was taken up by the necessities of camping: my tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear, (including meths for the stove), etc, but I also took a solid supply of chocolate, porridge and peanuts for necessary energy boosts when far from any other source of food, and these added to the weight.  So this time I thought I'd have a go at making some high-protein snack bars that wouldn't take up as much space or weight in my pack.  Easy to grab and scoff while on the move, no cooking required.  Here's what I came up with:


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)
  • Raisins
  • 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.




A Brief Rant on the Nature of Things

Every day, somewhere on earth, water falls from the sky.  Water is essential for all life, which is why it makes sense to drink it every day.  The sun shines, providing ample heat and light for most of the year, and allows for photosynthesis, which makes plants grow.  Many plants are edible, and it is possible to live as a human by eating nothing but plants.  We are a part of a self-sustaining ecosystem.  It took billions of years to evolve, with no personal effort on the part of you or I, whose very existence as the particular individuals we are is astronomically improbable.  And yet here we are.

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.

Out of the city again

I'm in a good mood today because I've successfully booked my next trip - this time to the fledgling Temple Druid community in Pembrokeshire, South Wales.  They're a group of three families who bought a house and a large piece of land earlier this year and are looking to create exactly the sort of community lifestyle I'm interested in.  They're looking for new members to join them over the next 5-10 years, and are asking for volunteers to help them out with a view to reaching their goals (see the website for more information).  Their next volunteer weekend is 22-24th June, where I've managed to get myself a place to find out more about what they're all about.  Looks like a beautiful part of the country too, so hopefully I'll be able to fit in some walking and camping earlier in the week.

Yes.

Brain

This weekend I reduced my dose of Prozac from 60mg to 40mg a day.  I’m being as sensible as I can about this, reviewing my progress (or the opposite) on a monthly basis with my GP, who has a goatee beard and likes to shake hands at the end of appointments.  A nice touch.  After two days on 40mg I feel the same, without any noticeable recurrence in symptoms, though of course it’s far too early for that.  Prozac is a slow acting medication, taking a long time to build up and your system, and just as long to work its way out again.  I have considered keeping a journal to note if and when any obsessions recur - but it occurs to me this could be a way of digging myself into a whole.  Watching out for obsessions, even unconsciously, could very well trigger them.  Try not to think about penguins, and all that.  My hope is that I’ll find a way to function on a lower dose.  I find myself asking if there’s a compromise to be had between the soporific fog of 60mg and the torture that is my mind on 0mg.  It’s a strange question to be asking, and I’ve no idea what the answer is yet.

The Cost of Living: May 2016

May was a strange month.  Firstly, because against my better judgement, I have been doing some paid work.  This was not my intention, but unfortunately, needs must.  I was hoping I'd be able to move out of my city centre flat before September, but as it turns out I'm locked into the tenancy agreement until then.  Always read the small print, my friends.  However, I do have the general incompetence and ineptitude of my previous employer on my side here.  Four months after I resigned, and I still haven't been replaced, for reasons hilarious but too boring to go into.  This has allowed me to switch onto the "bank" (relief) payroll, meaning I can essentially pick and choose how often I cover night shifts.  Now I am no longer a manager, the rate I am paid for this has dropped slightly, although since I can keep my overall earnings below the £11,000 threshold required before having to pay income tax, this works out at more or less the same per hour (possibly more).

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:

OUTGOINGS
Food:  £101.21
Postage:  £32.54
Rent:  £650
Mobile/internet:  £91.83
Prescription:  £16.80
Council Tax:  £81.14
Other: £212.49
Total outgoings: £1186.01

INCOME
Income from work: £542.67
amazon/ebay selling: £316.90
Total income:  £859.57

BALANCE: -£326.44

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.

A Potato's Progress

I thought maybe you'd like to see how my potato growing experiment is going. Well, it's going well. Here is some photographic evidence:

The First World Problem

"We won't let you starve".  That was one of the first things my mum said to me when I told her I was giving up working full time and money was going to become more scarce for me from now on.  She meant of course that if I did start to struggle to pay the rent or the bills, she had money available to help me out.  My parents are not rich, in comparison to probably most of their peers, but certainly come under that middle class umbrella of the "comfortably off".  When my grandad died four years ago, my dad (his only child) inherited the house he left behind, which my parents then sold to pay for their own.  When they die, I can safely assume that my sister and I will inherit half of this house each, which we will then of course be free to do with as we liked.  If they died suddenly and unexpectedly today, needless to say I would immediately sell my half.  I believe they paid around £230,000 for their home, so let's assume I would be able to pocket around £100,000.  Assuming - and why not? - that I can simplify my life at least in line with the rate of inflation, living exactly as I do now, I could live off this money about another 100 years  Facetious as it may seem to think about my own parents in such calculating terms, and don't think for a moment that I wish for any such thing, numbers don't lie; and on the conservative assumption that the indefinite life extension technology that is apparently on the horizon will not become available in time (or if it did, they would have no great interest in using it) death is inevitable.  Add to this the fact that with ten years experience of working in health and social care, I could walk into a minimum wage-paying job tomorrow if I chose to (believe me, pretty much anybody in the UK without a criminal record could, even without experience) and I can safely assume that more or less whatever happens, I'm not ever going to be destitute.

In Praise of The Quiet Life

The School of Life is a very presentable little YouTube channel, covering all kinds of philosophical/spiritual issues from Marxism to Buddhism, Wittgenstein to Adam Smith, consumerism to sexual deviance.  The sort of thing that should have a lot more views in this day and age: pleasant introductions to what really matters in life: ideas.

Here's one of my favourites, for obvious reasons:


Next Steps

Three months into my experiment, I realise I've hit a rut.  This is frustrating.  By nature I'm a lazy person, and this part of me is starting to take control.  It occurred to me recently that if I suddenly won the lottery (unlikely, as I don't usually play) I would probably do very little but eat, read, fart about on the internet, and sleep.  I say to myself I'd start up all kinds of ambitious, radical and charitable projects for the betterment of the human race (myself included) but I don't think that's the truth.  I'd stay inside, away from things that annoy me.  Which is a lot of things.  Actually nearly all of the things.

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.

The Cost of Living: April 2016

I haven't been looking forward to this post.  April was expensive, and some of that is my fault.  My trip to Scotland was valuable in a sense more important than the monetary one, but not making it as cheap as I could have irks me.  This, remember, was also the month I stopped earning a full time wage.  Spoiler alert: I do not come out of April 2016 with a balanced budget.

Here's the numbers:

OUTGOINGS
Rent:  £650.00
Mobile (£51.20) and phone/internet (£37.50): £88.70
Prescription:  £16.80
Food: £18.98
Electricy bill (Dec-Mar): £178.91
Postage: £90.00
Other: £502.77
Total outgoings: £1546.16

INCOME
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.

The Front Page of the Daily Express

I was just in the Co-op, where I managed to nab myself five fresh leeks and a tub of cous cous for a grand total of 97p.  Throw in the leeks with a couple of tins of ALDI potatoes and some home-made vegetable stock and I'll have myself a nice vat of soup to last me a good few days.  But that's not even what I'm here to talk about.  I'm here to talk about the front page of today's Daily Express, which looks like this:



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.


Good Causes, Lost Effects (Part Two)

Is protesting effective?  I am asking a scientific question.  Put another way: do protests work?  As a general question, perhaps it doesn't have a yes/no answer.  As a question about specific protests, it's not a question we ask at all.  Why?

Good Causes, Lost Effects (Part One)

Wander through any British city centre on a shopping day without your hands thrust objectionably into your pockets or sporting something approximating a "fuck you" kind of scowl, perhaps a resting a bitch face and pair of shades, and if you're not paying attention, you'll come away with hands stuffed full of leaflets, mouth full of free samples and, unless you're being really really careful, a brain converted to some new religion.  If you're not taking the morning's twenty-eighth selfie right that second too, someone might also nick your phone.  This actually happened to me once: true story.  Luckily I caught the caffeine-starved scallywag by earlobe the before he could scarper: less luckily, he only agreed to give me back my phone if I converted to Mormonism on the spot.  Turns out the clean-shaven, not polygamist any more, bespoke-suited smiley missionary smiley smilers have switched to a more guerilla form of evangelism in recent years.  I really needed my phone back - I've got loads of good porn on it - so now I'm a Mormon now.  They made me delete all the porn, but I got my phone back.  And a new religion.  These things happen I suppose.  Like I said, true story.  All of this is par for the assault course, of course, of petitions to be signed, market research questions to be answered, electricity suppliers to switch (back) to, buskers to ignore, evangelical diatribes to power-walk past, and all the diversity of causes and unhidden agendas in your headspace and face, competing for your ever-shortening attention in the marketplace of life in a multicultural, consumer capitalist (neo)liberal democracy.

Doing Without

Earlier this year I bought 5 litres of extra virgin olive oil.  I love olive oil, and apparently extra virgin is the best kind.  I don't know what "extra virgin" really means, or how the addition of further virgins improves the quality of the oil; but it's usually more expensive, and that usually means it's better.

The Cost of Living: March 2016

March was expensive.  Ironically this was because of the money I had to spend to get myself into the Highlands, properly equipped for some time in the wild hills, for the peace and quiet, and so as to think about the future, and the possibility of a life without money and things.  Life is strange.

A Good Night's Sleep

My first night camping in the Highlands was cold but it was quiet.  I haven't felt real quiet for a long time.  When you live in the centre of a city, you never do.  There's a neverending hum, and that's only the backing track for the of bin vans, sirens, drunken arguments, throbbing bass, bastard pianos beneath the floorboards.  It becomes a kind of sonic skin; close as can be, inescapable.

The Great Indoors

Twelve days in the Scottish Highlands that felt more like twelve months, and I'm back in Manchester again.  I have a lot of things to tell you.  This will take some time.  I begin with some photos that I took while I was there, to set the mood.  Click on the lovely picture below to take you to the album.


I only returned home last night, so I confess I'm posting this hastily because I happen to have received an email from bloginfusion.com informing me that I'm "blog of the day".  This may, of course, mean nothing: I have no idea if bloginfusion.com is a heavily used site, or what sort of prestige (or traffic) being their blog of the day really brings.  Still, it sounds good, and makes me feel a little giddy.  Thank you to the good people and bots of bloginfusion.com  They asked me to ask you to submit a review of this blog to their site.  Please do that, if you feel like it.  This probably won't last.  

Healthy bowels, limited Internet access.

I am in the Highlands. Internet access is patchy.

Some thoughts:

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.

Baby's First Constituency Labour Party Meeting

I joined the Labour Party back in September, as a lot of people did, when Jeremy Corbyn was elected as its leader.  I wouldn't say I'm particularly socialist in my politics - I lean more towards anarchism, if I'm honest, but I stubbornly resist all ideology to the best of my ability.  There is no political ideology that could ever create a perfect society the size of a modern nation state.  There are too many variables.  Individuals on their own are complex, contradictory entities.  I don't even know what I want, or what is best for me.  Neither do you, I imagine.  Of sexual relationships that even make it as far as marriage, 50% of those end in failure, and those only involve two people.  The children that couples produce as often as not end up dysfunctional, neurotic and ill-equipped for adulthood.  There's no test you have to pass before they let you have children.  Anyone old enough can do it, no questions asked.  It shows.  So the idea that any one person, or political group, could presume to know how to improve the collective lives of millions, is preposterous.  There are no gurus in politics, no saviours.  Just some people who are less corrupted by its insane operations than others.

Scraps #2

Yesterday was a good day.  I spent four hours in the library, sold four books on amazon and ate three good meals.  The ingredients for my meals cost me a total of £2.55 (bulked up with a bit of rice).  Scallywag around the supermarket aisles at the right time of day and it's easy to stock up on vegetables and bread and other staples for less than half the price it'd cost you in the peak daytime shopping hours.  Best time where I live is between about 7 and 9pm, when the stuff they have to sell before midnight gets knocked down even more than it already had been.  It's sometimes worth a shot first thing in the morning too, around 6 - 7am.

Scraps of a Manifesto

Think about this: For as long as you can remember, there's been a future.  Tomorrow never comes though - until the next day, when it does, and is replaced by itself.  So tomorrow comes all the time: the future never comes.  And it's the future that you really want.  The future is what's worth waiting for. The future isn't always a date known in advance: it's more of a promise.  Something that will definitely happen.  And when it does happen, that will be it.  You will have arrived.  Congratulations and welcome: now your life begins.  You were alive already, but that wasn't "real life" (TM).  This is.  Life begins at 40.  Or is it 50 now?  Is 60 the new 30?  Oh shit, you're dead.

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.

Sole Mates

Take a look at my new boots:




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.

Why don't we live in Utopia? (and other stupid questions)

Why isn't life wonderful?  Some lives are wonderful but chances are, yours isn't.  Mine isn't.  Granted, it's not the life of a Syrian refugee (and there are 9 million of those) or an Indian or West African slave (30 million) or Chinese peasant (about 482 million).  It easily could have been any of those lives.  Pick a human being at random, and there's about a 50-50 chance s/he lives in poverty (defined as less than US$2.50 a day) and about a 1 in 7 chance s/he lives in extreme poverty (less than US$1.25 a day).  The skyrocketing number of humans competing to consume the resources of a planet no larger than it was back when there were only a few million of us, are demanding a even more intangible number of other individual animals be to sacrificed so that we can eat their bodies, in the hope of thereby strengthening and extending the lifespans of our own.  These animals spend their entire lives in conditions unimaginable even to most of the humans living in extreme poverty, only to murdered at an age far sooner than they would have otherwise have died.  Without getting too metaphysical here, I suppose I could just easily have been one of those animals.  So yeah, my life isn't so bad.  Statistically speaking, the chances of living a life at anything close to the level of luxury I've enjoyed so far are astronomically tiny.  So chin up, you grumpy bastard.

High Lands

I've decided to spend some time in the wild.  It seems like the right thing to do.  Inverness is the end of the line, so far as trains go.  From there it's a three-hour bus ride to Ullapool, and then, definitively you're into the Highlands.  This is where the road ends.


First Shoots

Learning by doing, that's the thing. Behold the first shoots of my indoor potato plants:






I'm using stackable plastic boxes so I can have a kind of drainage system that doesn't make any unnecessary mess or dampness, and so I can easily move the plants if needs be.  At the moment they're just in the corner of the kitchen area , between the washing machine and the window - a nice warm spot that's starting to get some sunlight.  The top box has holes in the bottom to allow the water to drain into the box below, which can then be emptied as needs be.

The trick apparently is to add soil on to the shoots as they grow, until your container is filled.  Hence the space left for this to top up with soil as the plants grow. 

A little inspiration:



A couple of useful links:



Let's all do this.

Scraps


One week remains until I stop working.  I have lost all motivation to even pretend I care about my job or that it is any way worth doing.  I'll have more to say on this subject retrospectively.  Suffice to say that from next week, things really get going and I'll have much more to blog about the practicalities of my new life.  For now...


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.

Pseudo-Spirituality the Meaning of Words (Part One)


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:


 

 


You know what I'm talking about.  They're everywhere.  The three examples above come from the first page of a google image search for "inspirational quotes". Their defining characteristics are as follows:

1.  Words superimposed over a picture, usually of a sunset, landscape, or other generically serene image.

2.  They convey a positive, pithy or inspirational message, that usually appeals in some way to your sense of individuality and uniqueness.

3.  They are not, or not necessarily, quotations of anything anybody noteworthy has actually said.



The Cost of Living: February 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:

More of this sort of thing

Yesterday someone introduced me to the cube project.  I am very grateful.  If I had £50,000, I would buy one of these tomorrow.  However, I don't have £50,000.

It's going on the wish list anyway.




I ask again, why aren't we all living like this?

A House of Cards

Giving up your job is a liberating feeling.  I can recommend it.  Do you love your job?  Is it making you a better person, or the world a better place?  If not, then what the fuck are you doing?

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.

The Library Of

Books are a wonderful thing.  I own a lot of books, but owning things isn't the game I want to play any more.  So over the past few weeks I've been recklessly selling off my library of about 700 books on amazon.  As I said, this sort of thing becomes addictive.

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.

Uncomfortable Questions



It's funny, because it's true.  Carlin had some valid points.  In another genre and context, so did Agent Smith:


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?

Preliminary Investigations

Having lots of money would make my goal of transcending the need for it considerably easier.  I'm well aware of the irony here, but I'm determined not to let it stand in my way.  So, I've started looking at options.

Same Day Delivery

On Friday I spent all day in bed. I remember reading once about an ancient culture who practised a "one day on, one day off" way of living. I don't remember the specifics, so it could just as easily have been a dream, but the idea appeals to me greatly. (Let's pretend it's my idea). You work for one day, rest the next. No weeks or weekends as such. Presumably this made practical sense: the manual labour and agricultural work that occupied most ancient people is exhausting. Each working day you rise with the sun and rest with its setting. A rest every other day to recuperate before going back to the fields, furnaces or workshops would presumably make the whole process twice as tolerable. Not only that, but it's a wonderfully simple way to emphasise and enshrine in your culture what today we laughingly approximate to with the idea of a "work-life balance". (Note the tacit, otherwise unspoken, acknowledgement that to work is not to live). In Jewish tradition, the "Sabbath" is of central importance: one day out of every seven is spent in a rigidly understood state of abstinence from melachah - "creation" or "work". Since God rested on the seventh day of creation, so should people. The idea of balance - between nature and divine activity on one hand, and artifice and human work on the other - is key, and I think the idea, that refraining from work is the side of the coin more closely associated with the natural and divine, is worth considering: all the more so from this side of the Reformation, since when the protestant work ethic's disastrously unbalanced emphasis on the virtue of work has come to engulf our now ridiculous culture.

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.
 

Normal Things for Normal People


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.

Fucking Big Wisdom

I've always loved the book of Ecclesiastes.  Anyone of a stoic, existentialist, fatalistic and even nihilistic bent, religiously-minded or otherwise, would do well to ponder this odd little book tucked away towards the back end of the Old Testament.  I think one of the things I love about it is just the fact that it's there: hidden in plain sight amongst the Bible's tales of unfathomable brutality, violence, tribalism, xenophobia and zealotry, often demanded by a divine being of dubious motives and questionable competence, we also read:
"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.