Robert Wringham, comedian, writer and editor of the magazine New Escapologist, lives a life of comparative leisure. Pootling about at the edges of the great machine that is Consumerism, he has fashioned for himself and his wife an existence that does not feed the beast, for the most part. He survives rather comfortably without feeling the need to anxiously obsess over television programmes, purchase a cup of coffee for more than the coffee bean picker is paid in a day, pay into a pension which the bank only uses to invest in the arms trade or ploughs into a hedge fund. And he is happy, or so he wishes us to believe. He is debt free, angst free, and has come up with a way for all of us to join him outside of the rat race by adhering to a few simple tenets, which I feel moved to reproduce for you here. Please note they are in no particular order:
- Optimum health.
- As much free time as possible.
- A few dependable friendships.
- An appreciation of our existing surroundings.
- Sensual pleasure.
- Purposeful and purposeless intellectual stimulation.
- A satisfying creative output in which we have personal pride.
- A clean and dignified living space.
Sounds amazingly simple, up to a point. How Wringham himself managed it was to first perform a life audit, identifying the things that were important, what he wanted, and firmly interrogating his own motives. In this manner, he curbed his excesses, cut his consumption, defeated the innate urge to compare and contrast with his neighbours' lives, and saved up enough money to quit his job and move to Canada, where he inhabits a Stoical and Epicurean life for part of the year joyfully adhering to his own rules and living free of fear. And that, simply put, is the message–live free of fear. The Machine as he calls it pulls you in with fear and ties you down with fear. Fear of appearing different, fear of not standing out, fear of debt and worry and insecurity and loneliness; they all contribute to the chains that keep you in your place inside the mechanism. Without fear you can have all the joy you want in your life. You may not have Sky Sports, but you can always go to the pub with friends to watch the game, and pubs also have beer. You may not have a flash motor, but walking is healthy and meditative and a joyful act in and of itself. Best of all, you may not have to work 92,000 hours over the course of your short and pitiable life and fall exhausted into an early grave.
To balance the argument, it is worth noting that Wringham et femme don't and don't seem to want to have children. I can't see myself seriously devoting my days to leisure when there are school fees to pay and food to put on the table. But then I have found myself arguing vociferously with colleagues against the work at all costs mentality of Western life, advocating a more gentle and perhaps agrarian lifestyle over that of the daily commute and grind. I may have repeated, repeatedly, that even a small amount of work can stretch to fill the time that you are expected to be present, in your office or place of work, in the centre of your radius of action chained interminably to a desk or cubicle or cab or whatever. I may also have argued myself into a rationalisation of our team, which, if I'm honest, would likely see my expected presenteeism cut to 2.5 days from 5, and my purchasing power likewise. I frankly don't do a lot of work, or at least it doesn't feel like it. But I am required to be at my desk nonetheless.
So even if you, like me, can't jump from temp job to temp job at will, working only enough to cover food, reading material and idle intellectual dilettantism, you will probably find in this book enough sound, escapist wisdom, to take a good, long, hard look at your life and wonder what the fuck you're doing. What happens next is up to you.