Friday, 29 April 2016

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.


Related posts

The Game of Evil
Freedom, Work and Boredom (Some Disparate Thoughts)
Bread and Jam and Circuses

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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

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?

In 1969, the newly wed John and Yoko Ono Lennon took advantage of the publicity surrounding their wedding to promote the cause of world peace by spending their honeymoon publicly in bed.  The press were allowed into their hotel suite between 9am and 9pm every day for a week, during which time the pyjamed celebrity darlings, having a sizeable bend on the world's ear, took the opportunity to discuss peace and war and the state of the world at that time.  The Vietnam War was raging and the Beatles were putting the finishing touches to their breakup.

The press reacted with confusion, as the press has a history of doing toward anything it hasn't invented itself.  When asked whether he thought their protest had been a success, John is quoted as saying, "It's part of our policy not to be taken seriously. Our opposition, whoever they may be, in all manifest forms, don't know how to handle humour. And we are humorous."  Which isn't really an answer.  Which was of course the point.

The Vietnam war continued for another six years.

Does this mean that John and Yoko's bed-in was unsuccessful?  Even asking such a question seems facetious.  I don't mean it that way.  John Lennon was a radically-minded fellow in a time when radical ideas were mainstream to an extent that is hard to appreciate today, He was also one of the most famous people in the world.  He could do and say pretty much anything he wanted.  The idea of the "bed-in" was a new idea: an eccentric offshoot of the "sit-in", but in the same radical spirit.  It was an experiment.  Was it a success?  Of course not.  But it wasn't supposed to be.  In today's parlance, you might say that John and Yoko pulled their artistic stunts to "raise awareness".  In this respect, they were immensely successful.  Decades later and the bizarre - perhaps naive, perhaps beautiful, certainly more than a little self-absorbed - antics of a celebrity couple have taken their place as a significant moment in 20th century history.  However, as you may have noticed, the world is not at peace.  Wars still happen.

On February 15th 2003, literally millions of mostly not famous people in 60 different cities stages protests against the imminent invasion of Iraq by the USA and its "coalition of the willing".  Motivation for the invasion wasn't really made clear, although given the history of the two presidents Bush and their relationship with Saddam Hussein, speculation wasn't difficult.  The war killed hundreds of thousands people, cost trillions of dollars and destabilised the Middle East still further, just to put to rest any doubts that such a thing was even possible.  Given the part it played the amorphous, Orwellian "war on terror", whether or not the war was a success is impossible to say.  (Certainly Saddam Hussein isn't in power any more.  And for beheading, religious sadism and sexual slavery enthusiasts, I hear Iraq is just lovely at this time of year).  What we can be absolutely sure about, though, is the protests against the war were not a success.  The Iraq War of 2003 was another of the wars that happened despite the best efforts of well-intentioned humans.  Has an anti-war protest ever achieved its aim?  Which brings us back to where we started: do protests work?

What is protest for?  If you're not John Lennon, and I think you're probably not, this should be an easy question to answer.  Protests are demonstrations against a powerful institution or course of action being taken by those in power.  In one way or another, they are an attempt to disrupt or prevent an institution from acting in a certain way.  Protests happen all the time.  As noted in Part One, you only have to wander through a city centre on a normal day to find yourself bombarded by a plethora of good causes and their worthy proponents.  On Saturday, Manchester Animal Action organised a protest as part of the World Day for Animals in Laboratories, demonstrating against the use of non-human animals in scientific experiments.  They gathered at Piccadilly Gardens and marched to the Stopford Building at the University of Manchester, which houses its Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences.  The university's webpage confirms that the research conducted there, "may involve animals where absolutely no alternative is necessary" in their studies of "major causes of concern for human health and quality of life...[including] cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and dementia, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, schizophrenia, ADHD, autism, and the many different types of cancer."  Details on animals "used" there are not forthcoming: a somewhat petulant request for information in 2012 received a polite response confirming the use of over 45,000 mice, as well as several thousand rats and fish, as well as a number of frogs, sheep, marmosets, goats and pigs during that year.  Numbers confirming what animals have been used, how, and for what purpose more recently than 2012 does not seem to be readily available.  The assumption must be that animal testing still takes place there but in what form, and for what purpose is not clear.  A cursory survey of the recent publications from the Cancer Research UK Institute, which is affiliated with the University, suggests that rodents are still being used there.  This makes the University and sensible target for animal rights protestors.

The details are important, because without them we can't answer the questions that need to be asked.  What are the goals of an animal rights protest?  It seems to me there can only be two: a) getting people to go vegan and b) saving animals' lives.  If you can do both at once, so much the better.  If a protest succeeded in persuading those in control of the University of Manchester's Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences to go vegan, and thus to cease immediately from using animals in their research, this would be the best possible outcome.  The important thing here is that both these outcomes are, in principle, measurable.  Either people are influenced to go vegan, and actually do, as the result of a protest, or they aren't.  How many is a matter of numbers.  Either fewer animals are abused and killed as a result of the protest, or they aren't.  That's a matter of numbers too.  As far as I'm aware, protests are not usually proceeded by follow-up studies.  I wonder if it would be of greater benefit to the cause if they were.  Why not apply the scientific method to protest movements?  We could use statistical analysis and empirical observation to determine which forms of protest are the most effective, in which context.

If these seem like strange questions, or just to be missing the point, I think it's worth asking why.  If no anti-war protest march has ever achieved its aim, why do anti-war protest marches still happen?  The protest march is a standard technique of the left and radical movements.  Why?  They're motivated by a powerful impulse - to change something - and pick up momentum with the size of the group on the march.  Ten people looks sort of pathetic and can and will be ignored as readily as a street evangelist.  One hundred will probably merit police attention.  A thousand or more, perhaps a television crew.  Ten thousand, and only the most charismatic leader could prevent a peaceful protest tipping over into a a riot.  On Saturday, while World Day for Animals in Laboratories protesters were still gathering, I spied this lonely sight:


Nobody approached this man.  Nobody took a leaflet.  My standing there and filming him was conspicuous in a way it wasn't when I grabbed some longer clips of the larger crowds later on.  It goes without saying that this man's protest was not a success, and he appears to acknowledge that himself.  This isn't to mock or belittle him - his passion is worth celebrating, and he's motivated by that very same impulse to just do something.  He wants to "raise awareness".

But do protests even achieve that?  They have become such a common sight, such a cliched and uncritically accepted method of effecting change, that at the level of a whole society, whose change as a whole is what is really being sought, all the causes seem to bleed into one.  Millions of animals still suffer and die needlessly every day.  That matters.  Every life matters.  So we should look into whether protests save lives or not.  Saving one life might make the efforts of several hundred people worth it, but is this the best use of our resources?  Are we only raising awareness, or are we doing nothing at all?  Might it not be time to change tactics?  Perhaps we could all spend a week in bed.  As far as I'm aware, there's no evidence that to do so would be any less effective.

Related posts

Individually packaged sugar portions are stupid, and so are you, and so am I, and so is everything else in the world
Baby's First Constituency Labour Party Meeting
Fucking Big Wisdom
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Sunday, 24 April 2016

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.

Saturday 23rd April was the day of the Northern Vegan Festival, a pleasingly popular event I attended for the first time last autumn, spread across several sites in the centre of Manchester.  At the same time, Manchester Animal Action was taking the sensible opportunity to promote its "World Day of Action for Animals in Laboratories".  Vegan activists from across the country converged on Piccadilly Gardens, dressed predominantly in black, to reflect the "funeral theme" of the protests, which were to converge on the University of Manchester Buildings where vivisection and various forms of animal testing are conducted.  Needless to say, not everyone concerned was entirely happy with this.

Now I preface everything I am about to say by declaring my own veganism and firm belief in the value of animals as individuals who have rights for all the same reasons human beings do.  The use of animals as food and property is one of the single most important issues facing the human race today.  It is causing devastating, and perhaps irreversible, damage to the only planet we all have to live on, as well as our health both bodily and spiritually.  Life as we know it is at stake.  It's still controversial to claim that the way one species (us) exploits so many others is not only destroying our world, it is also a great moral evil in and of itself - perhaps the greatest evil of which we are, collectively, still guilty.  Yet, as far as I can tell, any serious philosophical examination of the enlightened principles that brought our civilization to this stage of its development, necessarily entails veganism.  For many billions of animals (and a fair few billion humans as well) life is nothing but misery from impoverished beginning to premature end.  This is largely our fault.  (Please go vegan immediately.  It will help).  So, all criticism I'm about to give is meant constructively, even if I do lapse into polemic or vitriol.  I do that sometimes.  I can't help it.  (It's also fun).

Queue on Oldham Street outside Sasha's Hotel, 10:45am.
The festival ran from 10am to 6pm, based mainly at Sascha's Hotel and Methodist Central Hall in the city centre.  When I arrived at 10:45am, there were already large queues outside Sascha's.  I was worried I might not make it inside in time to look around a bit and get back to Piccadilly Gardens for 12pm to hear the speakers scheduled to rally the crowd before the protest march, but the queues moved quickly and the sun was shining and everything was good.  It felt good to see so many people - some vegan, some vegan-curious, some just curious, some probably just hungry - turn out for an event celebrating a movement still dismissively tagged along with the lunatic fringes of society.  Occupying so much space and so many people's attention in the centre of a major city on a Saturday morning made being a vegan feel anything but "fringe".  It felt positively mainstream.

These fuzzy feelings began to fade once I made it inside.  The queues filed in to rows of stalls, arranged in such a way as to allow for a mostly one-way flow of people around the room in a clockwise direction.  There were stalls selling vegan food, promoting various vegan products and displaying literature on various animal rights causes.  The latter, I hasten to add, were in the minority.  For every stall inviting you to sign a petition to stop badger culling, or illegal whaling, there were three stalls selling vegan cookies and cupcakes, vegan hot dogs, vegan popcorn, vegan burgers, vegan pet food, vegan cheese - one oriental food stall was even selling "vegan crispy duck".  I wished I'd asked them what this really was.  It looked and smelled very much like, um, traditional crispy duck.  (Of course it wasn't, and I'm not suggesting for a moment that it was.  Some of the "cheese" looked and smelled very much like cheese too).  As well as food, other vegan consumables competed for cash and attention: soap, tee-shirts, bags, shoes, embroidered accessories.  Vegan "skin care" seems to be a particularly saturated market.  (I'd always been led to believe that long as you have a wash about once a day, your skin pretty much takes care of itself, but apparently not).

It hit me then - a market - not a festival - was exactly what this was.  Consumerism poisons everything.  To me, veganism is intimately connected with anti-consumerism: we refrain from consuming animal products not only because of our moral objections to their origin, but also because of the wider environmental concerns into which the animal industry ties.  The vegan alternative to a hot dog doesn't have to be a vegan hot dog: it could just be a baked potato, or a nice big plate of fried mushrooms.  If you're a vegan and you miss eating cheese, well, tough.  Remember how cheese is made.  Your cravings are irrelevant.  Just stop eating cheese.  Have a bag of peanuts.  It's really not necessary to scour the market for the most cheese-like vegan cheese substitute to satisfy your cravings.  Cravings go away on their own.  Crass consumerism isn't going anywhere.

But what's wrong with vegan cheese? you may be thinking.  Well, nothing is wrong with that as such.  But nothing is really right with it either.  If you're going to play the capitalist game, why not play it well?  Imagine if every vegan cheese business in the country merged into a single conglomerate, produced vegan cheese on a massive scale that was tastier, healthier and cheaper than traditional cheese.  Imagine if every organic vegan pastry chef pooled their resources into a business model for the vegan alternative to Greggs!  Cheaper, healthier, more ethical and environmentally friendly food shouldn't be a hard sell.  Except of course, when sold on a small scale, marketed only at those who would already be inclined to buy it anyway as a general show of solidarity with a vegan comrade, when produced by enterprising young entrepreneurs who need to cover their own costs of production and promotion, a hard sell is exactly what it is.  There were vegan burgers on sale at the festival for £5.00 each.  There were vegan bars of soap on sale for a similarly uncompetitive price.  Three minutes walk away, in the recently opened MacDonald's in Piccadilly Gardens, you can buy two Big Macs for the same price.  A few doors down at Superdrug, you can buy 4 bars of (non vegan) Imperial Leather for £1.35.  For all its many, many shortcomings, one truth of consumer capitalism is irrefutable: the customer is always right.  Lower prices attract the most customers, and competition drives down prices.  Is a non-vegan going to choose one vegan burger over two non-vegan ones?  The crowds at the vegan festival were there for a twice-annual event.  MacDonald's serves crowds incomparably larger every day.  What if there was a vegan MacDonald's right next door?  How many more animals could be saved then?

My mind wandered in this way, my eyes onto my watch, my feet then back outside.  12 noon was ticking on, and protesters were gathering in the Gardens.  By 12:30, an impressive turnout of around 200 activists had assembled.  Megaphones were tested and banners were distributed.  Then the first speaker echoed inaudibly out of a microphone.  I checked with an adjacent bystander: she couldn't hear either.  The applause from closer to the front of the crowd than I, suggested at least some people could hear what was being said, but from only 20 feet away I couldn't make out a single word.


A stone's throw away, crowds of lunchers munched their meatburgers in the sunshine, oblivious or indifferent to the spectacle of earnest activists straining their ears to hear a man tell them things they most likely already knew and agreed with anyway.  It was preaching to the converted at its finest.  I applauded in the right places, perhaps I even dutifully cheered, but inside I just felt sad.


Continued in Part Two

Related posts

The Animal Abuse Industry is Shitting Its Pants
Why don't we live in Utopia (and other stupid questions)
A Brief Rant on the Nature of Things

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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

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.

I've nearly run out now.  Therefore I should buy some more.  What if I don't?  Then I won't be able to eat fried rice any more.  I really like fried rice.  Never mind, I can do without.

Simple thoughts flicker through our minds all the time.  We don't pay them much attention because they're boring.  I think this can be a mistake.  The simple and the boring governs our lives.  Life is mundane and tedious.  You have to wash yourself and cut your hair.  You have to eat and go to the toilet.   You have to pay bills and read emails.  You have to go shopping.  You have to spend about one third of the day immobile and unconscious just to be able to function properly for the other two thirds.  Being a human can be annoying.

In pursuit of the simple life, I find myself coming back to simple thoughts.  My first principle in giving up my job was the idea that time is more valuable than money.  Only give up as much of the former as you have to in exchange for the latter.  Therefore the less money you need, the more time you can have.  Imagine not needing money at all!  You'd have all the time in the world.

But then the question is, what am I going to do with all this extra time?  Many people say they like having a job because it gives them something to do - not only that, but a sense of purpose, of being useful.  I've never been so lucky.  By nature I'm something of a cynic and a misanthrope, and very much a loner.  This is odd because I worked in health and social care for ten years: a career often described as "rewarding", despite its notoriously low pay and generally poor working conditions.  There's a lot to be said for that.  If you want to meet some truly compassionate, selfless and generous human beings, visit a care home for the elderly, mentally ill or severely learning disabled.  It's tough work, and the ones who really love it aren't there for the money.  But these are the people who deserve, if anybody does, the six and seven-figure salaries we give to people who kick footballs, ponce around under expensive haircuts and distract the very pennies from our pockets with tacky and frivolous tat in ever more subtle and insipid ways.  We don't live in a culture that really values compassion.  We live in a culture that values entertainment.  We live in a culture that is very, very sick.  However much of a positive and healing role you play inside that cultural system, you're still inside that system, and the overall good you achieve amounts, in effect, to zero.  What if all the effort putting into caring for the elderly and disabled, for example, was transferred into trying to cure them?  Or in refusing to submit so readily to the cruelties of nature, and preventing such things as illness and disability from rearing their heads in the first place?  We're on the cusp of an era in which such things might just become possible.  Assuming we have a planet left on which to live our new, healthier, longer superhuman lives, that is.  It's all a bit up in the air at the moment.  Still, the urge to step outside our cultural systems, our presuppositions, our habits, our comfort zones, is not something any of us should ignore.  I'm doing my best not to.

It's hard, so I'm starting small.  I revere those who can "make the break" so easily.  Most of us don't.  How many Christians have sold everything they own, given the money to the poor and gone to live the kind of lifestyle the founder of their faith tells them to?  How many of us of any faith or worldview, sensing something wrong with our materialistic way of life, have the guts to just leave it all behind and walk off into the wilderness that calls us?  Almost none.  For me just now, it's a question of whether I should buy another 5 litres of olive oil?  Yes, I'm daring to dream.  The answer is "no".  Fried rice is nice, but plain rice is nice enough.  I don't need to give up the hour or two it would take to earn the money to buy another 5 litres of olive oil.  Very soon, perhaps, nobody will.  I could be sitting in the glorious sunshine with my head in book.  I could be playing my ukulele.  The idea is, the more I can do without, the closer I get to the kind of life that's calling me.  I feel it's calling many other people too, but most of them, just like me, are weak and scared and lazy and human.  Let's take things slowly.  Let's give up working so much and find ways to start living more.  What do you really need?  What can you do without?




Related posts

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Please consider disabling your adblockers when reading this site.  I make every effort to ensure no inappropriate, rubbish or offensive advertising appears here, and nothing that is contrary to the spirit of this blog.  So it's really nothing to be afraid of.  Cheers.

Friday, 15 April 2016

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.

This may not be a very interesting read, but I'll be posting these monthly "cost of living" breakdowns for two reasons:

1.  To be explored more in an upcoming post, I think money should be demystified.  Let's all be honest and open with each other about how much money we have, how we got it, what we spend it on, and why.

2.  It helps me think.  Each month I can reflect on how I spent my money, what I did to acquire it, and repeatedly ask myself the question, was it worth it?  Time is more valuable than money: was the time given over in exchange for the money a worthwhile exchange?  Would it have been better not to work at all, and stay indoors?  These are questions that need to be asked if I'm to hope of finding a future without the need for money at all.  These are still the early days.

For the benefit of any loyal, but bored readers who might exist, I'll try to throw in the odd hilarious quip.

The cost of my Highlands trip straddles March and April so needs to be looked at separately.  Since the whole thing was kind of an experiment, or toe-dipping exercise, into other ways I might live, for now I'll class it as a luxury.  Apart from travel costs, most of things I bought were 'one off' essentials, which now I own, hopefully won't have to be replaced for years.  I'll have more to say on the possibility of moving to the Highlands forever in other upcoming posts.  There's lots to be written, and most of it not here.  I've started writing a book, you see.  You'll have to wait.

Here is a breakdown of the cost of the the 12-day trip:

Return flight to Inverness: £189.23
Bus Inverness to Ullapool: £10 each way
Bus Lochniver to Ullapool: £5 one way
Night at Admair Point with electric and water, even though I only used the water: £20
Five nights at Clachtoll Beach Campsite with electricity and water: £75
Tent, sleeping bag, waterproof jacket and miscellaneous camping items: £121.40
Two nights in Lochinver bunkhouse: £44.00
Three nights in Polcraig bed and breakfast: £135
Total cost of trip: £609.40


Not exactly shoestring, I know.  But it had to be done.  The idea was to go without too much preparation, and while this was exhilarating in a reasonable sort of way, it did cost me.  Now that I'm not earning money full time, £600 is a good chunk of my savings.  Before it that is was about a week and a half's wages.  But if it's a toss up between money and experience, give me experience.  Having seen the scenery, and sussed out suitability of the landscape for all weather wild camping, I think next time I'll hike from Ullapool to Lochinver and back, camping wild throughout, or perhaps refreshing myself one night in the Bunkhouse in Lochniver (which incidentally I can highly recommend if you're in the area: £22 a night gets you a very comfortable bed, and the use of a shower and shared use of a fully-functional kitchen/lounge area as good as you'd get in most self-catering places or B&B's.  As long as you don't mind the possibility of sharing your room with others at short notice, it's no different).  This would be about a 73-mile hike, as the road goes - less as the crow flies or the hiker hikes, but through some spectacularly beautiful landscapes and with plenty of clean water to drink and spots to pitch your tent out of sight quickly.  Follow the road more or less and in the daytime there's a good you can thumb a lift within an hour of waiting if you've had enough, or if you're dying or something.  Flight to Inverness included, I could do this for around £300 next time, and probably live that way for several weeks.  You'd be surprised how long you can last on just porridge, peanuts and chocolate.


I digress.  As I said, some of the camping costs will go on this month's sheet, some on the sheet for March, but taking that into account, this is what March cost:

OUTGOINGS:
Rent: £650
Mobile phone/broadband: £103.34
Prescription: £16.40
Food:  £55.74
Other: £579.97
Total outgoings: £1407.45

INCOME:
Income from work: £2335.22
Other: £245.81
Total income: £2581.03

MARCH BALANCE: £1173.58

Most of the £579.97 'other' outgoings come under the cost of the Highlands trip.  In fact, I only spent £63.43 on what could be called 'luxuries' in this regard.  This is within the budget I set for myself last month of £68, so I suppose that's a good thing.  Target met.

Like a fool, I stopped earning money on April 1st.  So far this month, my only income has been approximately £80 from books sold on amazon.  Having done a little top-dipping into flipping, I speculatively bought a few books with a view to selling them off at a profit, when student season comes.  We'll see how that goes.  The stock market remains flat.  What investments I have are worth less than what I bought them for.  This month is where things actually start to get hard.  This is the idea.







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Thursday, 14 April 2016

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 cold night means the day was clear, which out of the city means stars.  Hundreds of millions of stars.  I felt like I could see every star in the universe.  Then I remembered we can't see most of the universe.  Then I remembered that in the city at night, you can't see any of the universe.  The sky is only ever sort of dark, and you never see a star.

Bed time.

I fell asleep in my tent at Admair Point with quiet in my ears.  It was a joy.

Are you getting enough sleep?  Almost certainly not:

http://ukhealthcare.uky.edu/The-effects-of-sleep-deprivation/
http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/tiredness-and-fatigue/Pages/lack-of-sleep-health-risks.aspx
https://www.leeds.ac.uk/news/article/3809/public_sector_workers_sleep-deprived_says_study
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/staff-should-start-work-at-10am-to-avoid-torture-of-sleep-depriv/
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/apr/01/chronic-sleep-deprivation-uk-staff

It's not just work that's doing it to us, though.  We're doing it to ourselves:

https://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/electronics-the-bedroom
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749597814000089
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/another-compelling-argument-for-starting-school-later_us_56007a5ae4b00310edf84172
http://mentalfloss.com/uk/health/33175/working-9-to-5-is-torture-says-sleep-expert

We're doing it to our kids.  We are killing ourselves with our conventions.  Let's stop doing that.  Think of a world where we all went to bed when it got dark and got up again when the sun did.  I'd like to live in such a world.  Would you?  Let's rage against the 9 to 5.  Good night.





Related posts

What is a meal? (And other difficult questions)
Deep Breaths and How to Take Them
On staring out the window

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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

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.

Anyhow, if you've come here from blog infusion, hello.  This is a blog about a person trying to find a way to live a simpler life, hopefully one day soon to be free of money and material need altogether.  I decided instead of dreaming of such things, or wait until I could afford it, to just do it, and see what happens.  Have a read at some posts from March and February to see what I'm going for.  The blog, as is the new life I'm trying to make, is very much work in progress.  Every life is work in progress.  Or should be, I suppose.

I have just returned from time away camping and hiking in Scotland that I took after quitting my job, for some much-needed head-clearing time.  It was a partial success.  I have learnt at least two things:

1.  I don't want to live in the city any more.
2.  I want to write a lot of books.

Neither of these are staggering, profound spiritual insights.  I have learnt some other things as well, but these are not as easy to put into words.  Clarity is relative.  Over the next few days I hope to blog here prolifically, so please subscribe, like, comment, share and all that shite.  I can be found on facebook, twitter, tumblr and google+ (oh, and youtube.  Oh and oh, and sometimes I am in disguise).  Posts blogged here are all synced with my feeds there, so feel free to follow through your medium of choice.  That reminds me, I really need to mirror this blog at medium.com  That's where everyone blogs these days isn't it?  Much to be done.  Time to make porridge.

Peace be with you.



Related posts

A Good Night's Sleep
Thoughts from an empty room
Brain
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Sunday, 3 April 2016

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.



Related posts

High Lands
Give and Take
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