Saturday, 24 December 2011

Firstly ...

Hello again. Here is the first real foray into the meat of the book. In just a few examples I describe more or less what I'd like to get away from in order to Just Do It. A good starting point! Of course I could go on and on with hundreds of such examples (don't get me started!) but you are sure to know what I mean. It will all become more defined as we proceed anyway.

Life is a long learning curve. If you have an interest get in deep.
Even if you don’t understand it at first it can grow on you.

Originally, I was going to write a very worthy introduction. This would have explained in great detail why it is important for the reader to understand where I am coming from. I was going to give a great many reasons why the book was written and about my passion for my subject and why I so much want to get my message across. Then, one day, a friend handed me a piece of paper containing one of those email messages which do the rounds. There are sick jokes, old jokes, occasionally a funny new joke and occasionally a few words of wisdom. On this occasion, although the context might not have been exactly what I would have chosen, I was struck by how true the essence of the simple message was and how it could so very concisely sum up much of what I wanted to say in these opening pages of my book. So I scrapped my original plan and offer this instead …

An Old Indian Chief

An old Indian Chief sat in his hut on the reservation, smoking a ceremonial pipe and eyeing two U.S. government officials sent to interview him.
“Chief Two Eagles” said one official, “You have observed the white man for 90 years. You’ve seen his material wealth. You’ve seen his progress. You’ve seen his wars”.
The Chief nodded in agreement.
The official continued, “Considering all these events, in your opinion, where did the white man go wrong?”
The Chief stared at the government officials for over a minute and then calmly replied, “When white man found the land, Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, plenty buffalo, plenty beaver, women did all the work, medicine man free, Indian man spent all day hunting and fishing, all night having sex.”
Then the Chief leaned back and smiled, “Only white man dumb enough to think he could improve system like that.”

Studies and research by people far cleverer than me have concluded that “Happiness” (whatever might be meant by that) is so important to all our lives and can contribute so much to our way of life that national government policy should be geared to achieving more of it. Does being wealthy make us happy and contented? The answer is “no” - not in the long term anyway. The opposite is true. Being materialistic generally leads to unhappiness and even a poor state of mental health. The research has shown that we are no happier than we were 50 years ago, despite a huge increase during that time in real incomes.

A satisfying way of living your life is far more important than material wealth. You might or might not agree.

It will probably be necessary to give a few such examples to explain what I am getting at. As I do, you might gradually come to a conclusion about whether you are content with your lot or whether you do want to break free from the cage. Clearly, I need to set out the background first. We will come to the really interesting bit - some ideas which you might be able to use - later in the book. Here are a couple of examples which may help to illustrate my personal view. They describe a couple of the things which I enjoy most of all. The first is very simple - it’s about taking my dog for a walk. The second was after enjoying a pleasant meal in the company of friends.

My dog and I know each other very well. We have very predictable needs. Our daily walks are a joy. For me, they mean a bit of exercise, fresh air, the countryside in all its seasons and the pleasure of seeing my dog, released from the confines of home and thoroughly enjoying herself. For her, it is the sheer joy of the chase - rabbits usually (she never catches them), the splashing in the stream and the happiness and contentment of it all. If, in other circumstances, she needed for some reason to follow her pack instincts she would know that she was part of a small society, all pulling in the same direction for a common purpose - survival. But the domesticated animal is content, sure in the knowledge that the essentials of life are really very simple and readily come by.


Every creature is an animal with similar freedoms and contentment (save possibly for the manner in which Nature has organised the food chain). I, too, am an animal. Superior - some would say - to other animals, though I sometimes wonder about that. My life has been modestly good I suppose. The usual mixture of happiness and joy, sadness and grief. A very average income providing my family with a fairly standard existence. Nothing wrong with that at all. That existence, has been fairly easily achieved, against the ever present demands of a Society which exercises an ever-increasing degree of control over our lives - and extracts an ever-increasing fee for the privilege. Ah well - pay up and look happy.

Recently, however, the pace of change in that relatively cosy existence has quickened. To my increasing concern, it is very clear that They are taking over my life. Whatever I want to do - as a free individual - I am immediately hampered by Them and their ever-growing numbers of rules and procedures I must follow, wherever I turn, or else. There are the well-meaning ones of course. Those who display a great concern for my welfare but in subtle ways do seem to alter the pattern of life by ensuring that ever more ‘Rules’ are brought to bear. From the manner and place in which a baby is born to the rules governing the size of the room in which we must spend the declining months or years of our life. That’s not to say that, in a complex society, rules are completely unnecessary. Even my dog has to abide by a few essential Rules. But there are very few.

I enjoy a modest drink - nothing complicated or excessive - a pint of bitter in a country pub or a malt whisky or a glass of wine. Something to suit the occasion. We had just finished a bottle of red wine over a meal with friends and I then looked idly at the colourful label. Turning the bottle I looked at the back label. In a small panel at the top I am advised that the grapes were grown on a sunny mountainside in perfect conditions (is there a grape in a bottle of commercially produced wine which isn’t?). I am advised what to eat with my wine. Then I am given a long list of ‘ingredients’ including the stuff used to clear the wine. I am told the bottle has been closed with a cork. (I had discovered that, would you believe, but I will forgive - I could not have known otherwise before buying). The majority of the label is taken up with horrific dos and do nots. There are 9.8 units of alcohol in the bottle (and an average of 6 glasses - now where’s my calculator?). I am given daily guidelines about how many units I must not exceed, especially if pregnant. I am given orders, no less, in capital letters as to which are the circumstances in which I must not drink this wine including the obligatory - “not while driving or operating machinery” - but also while playing sport. Thankfully all I am about to do is to walk across a busy 6-lane dual carriageway, so that’s OK. Also, thankfully, the bottle was bought quite legally by someone over the age of 18. The label tells me that’s OK, too.

I have no doubt that the sellers of this bottle of wine believe, hand on heart, that by printing these labels they are performing a valuable public service and will go down in history as the saviours of the human race by preventing all manner of illnesses, deformed babies, accidents, drunken drivers thrown in jail, lawbreaking, athletes saved from falling over and the complete and utter abject failure of the population’s general knowledge to allow everyone to know that the principal ingredient of most wine is grapes.

More likely, the sellers are responding to the latest batch of a few dozen more regulations churned out by Those Who Know Best, along with the knowledge that if one full stop is missing they will be unable to defend themselves against an action by the ambulance-chasing, compensation culture legal beagles whose latest client just happens to be that athlete who fell over, half way through the Marathon. 

All this, of course, comes about because Those Who Know Best (for the moment, let’s call them politicians, civil servants, experts and general do-good busybodies) are actually completely subservient to Those Who Really Know Even Better. They roll over on their backs and allow their tummies to be tickled by Those Who Really Know Even Better (for the moment, let’s call them Our European Masters and Those With Vested Commercial Interests on a Global Scale). When Those Who Know Best get back on their feet and go back to their desks they are so anxious to please that not only do they implement the latest of thousands of regulations to the absolute letter but also, just to please a bit more, add a few extra, helpful, twists to ensure the regulations really bite.

If you’d like just one of numerous examples of what I mean, try this: I heard last year that a European Directive running to 30 pages, introduced new regulations about how to run an abattoir. You know, those places which have been closing down by the dozen because of the new regulations, leaving just a few giant factories to which animals have to be taken much longer distances and which cannot provide such a personal local service resulting in good choices of good quality local meat for local people who would prefer it. Standardisation rules! Anyway, in France (whose good people seem to ignore most of the stupid regulations anyway) the officials translated the 30 page Euro document into just seven pages for French consumption. Very sensible, I say. Of course, in the UK, the equivalent officials converted it into a 92 page document. (From a CBI report, August 2004). Now I know very little about abattoirs so I shall have to admit that it might actually be impossible to run such an establishment with only a couple of essential sentences of regulation. One of these would presumably include the words “kill humanely” and the other would include the words “supply safe meat”. Is much more than that needed? Sorry if I have missed something here.

Sorry, also, to go off on a tangent to use just that one tiny fragment to illustrate the kind of nonsense which has been creeping into our lives for a number of years and which is now multiplying at such a fast rate that it will soon take over and completely smother us. There will be no more original thought. Every action will be smothered in regulations. Even now, our ability to act out our lives is impeded at every turn. We cannot do a thing of our own free will. We are becoming robots, we are being stripped of the need to take personal responsibility, or to use initiative or commonsense.

When asked recently why our country was lagging behind, why it wasn’t doing better, why we failed to capitalise on so many good home grown ideas, why employees were frustrated that they couldn’t give of their best or use their initiative and commonsense, a respected commentator’s instant response was “health and safety”. Of course we need sensible measures in place, we must have clean hospital wards and all the rest but virtually everyone agrees our present regime - the manner in which the requirements have to be implemented - is way over the top. Recently, a H&S consultant told me that nobody was all that concerned if accidents happened, provided the paperwork was all correct, so that the employer was secure. What a way of going on!

Perversely, even the armies of public servants (and I certainly include teachers and nurses in this) can no longer give the service they would wish because they themselves are equally hide-bound by the ever increasing flood of regulation and paperwork. I know this from personal experience.

In 1996 - all in the guise of ‘public accountability’ - new financial regulations were imposed on local government - even upon the humble parish council. Now, nobody other than an accountant, book-keeper or somebody with an intense interest in such things, can understand the accounts. Bah!

This is not a minor issue - it’s a major one. Incredulous? Well over the top! Written by an extremist of some kind! Anarchist! Madman! OK. So you are happy with your lot. Read no further. I am genuinely very anxious that you should be content and would wish no other. This book is clearly not for you but I had to get it into your hands before you could find out.

But mostly, I suspect, people do search for something better, more satisfying, more meaningful. A way of turning their backs on the type of standard offering I have just described. “Contentment” is a word I use a lot in these pages. It is a gentle word, nothing fanciful or superlative. It probably has roots in a gentler age and maybe that means it is worth looking there to find the ingredients of Contentment. My argument in the first part of this book, principally, is that there can be no Contentment while we are constantly bombarded by Those Who Know Best/Better, or by the ‘them and us brigade’, the marketing people, the global economy, the endless stream of so-called ‘news’ in the so-called ‘media’, those who love to tell us that “we must be educated” about this or that aspect of life which they subscribe to. I’d really like to punch them on the nose.

My mission in the second part of this book is to point to a few ways in which a gentler, more content, existence might be achieved. That is, for those who are already attuned to the idea and are already looking for ideas and also for those who might be willing to allow their minds to open up to the possibilities.

It would be very good if ever-growing numbers of people were influenced by what I have to say, becoming a flood, so the world could actually return a little towards gentleness and contentment. But being a modest man with a highly developed sense of realism, I do not expect this is likely to be the result. If some readers are able to find some pearls of wisdom in these pages, which help them towards their goal, then I shall be more than pleased. Indeed, please believe me when I say that it is certainly not my purpose to try to set you against anything or anyone in particular. Your choice of beliefs, interests, politics and all the other choices you make in life are yours. If you read something here which you think gives a different impression, I am sorry because I must have expressed myself badly.

My only purpose is to bring to your attention the possibilities of looking at some aspects of life, small as well large, which, if they are within your power to change them, might bring you greater contentment - your style!
Contentment for me can, for a while, very easily be brought about with a good run with my dog. Or a pleasant meal, the good company of family and friends and a bottle of wine. I’d better open another but I will in future be trying to avoid brands with certain labels. These attempts to give you an initial impression about the message I want to convey in this book may seem a bit clumsy. They may or may not succeed in their purpose. So let me try another way - for me a much more significant way - of doing it.

Let me tell you about Michael …

Michael is very important to me and to the book/Blog. I'll tell you about him around about the start of the New Year. See you then.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Preface: "Do What You Want to Do"

Well, the first thing I must do - particularly for any reader who picks this up right away - is to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012. Speaking of which, maybe the tradition of “New Year Resolutions” should be remembered as I do hope the contents of my book/Blog might inspire some to take either small or big steps to Just Do It during the coming year.

The first few pages of the book set the scene and maybe the tone. (By the way, do check back to the first post so you know what this is all about!) I have included the preambles - publisher’s notes, dedication and acknowledgements because they are all relevant - especially Michael, as you will see.

It is certainly not the purpose of the book to try to make anyone adopt a particular view about anything or to encourage anyone to be for or against anything or anyone in particular. And certainly, for the avoidance of any doubt, nothing within the book should be taken as encouraging anything other than honesty. Indeed - an honest life as part of a contented one is part of the aim! The reader’s choice of beliefs, interests, politics and all the other choices made in life are the reader’s alone. If the reader finds something within these pages which appears to give a different impression, the writer apologises because he must have expressed his thoughts badly.
Despite what may appear to be the case when reading some passages in this book, any similarity to the content of BBC TV’s Grumpy Old Men (or Women) is purely coincidental!

Dedicated to Michael

If we wait for the moment when everything,
absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.
                                                                                                - Ivan Turgenev

I gratefully acknowledge the wisdom imparted down the Centuries to the present day by those many observers of life whose quotations I have thought relevant to pass on to illustrate and perhaps enliven some of the topics in this book. I hope that by including them, I might help to emphasise to readers that I - and they - are not alone in thinking there must be a better way.


Do as I say, not what I do.

If I had my life again, I’d do so many things differently.

Those old sayings are interesting, although not necessarily very helpful. It’s easy to offer advice. It’s much less easy to accept and use advice effectively. Our self-confidence and ego intervene. It’s true - I haven’t followed all the suggestions I’ve put into this book by any means. That’s because I didn’t know they mattered  at the appropriate time of my life. I’ve written this book exactly because - looking back - I am sometimes angry with myself for not doing the right thing on so many occasions. Sometimes quite important things. It’s a case of: “If only I could live my life again, I’d do so many things differently”. But in the process I’ve had so many good experiences too. And learned a lot, especially in the recent, later, years. I do think I am wiser for life’s experience. Then the simple thought occurred to me that I could maybe pass on some of the ‘Good News’ and a lot of hints and tips which might help others. Later, I offer something of an explanation about why it should be me - just an average guy - doing this, rather than a great many other, probably wiser, people.

Well, here they are. My thoughts on modifying your life to achieve contentment. Plus some advice which readers might find useful. I hope you do find this little book of some value in realising your ‘Escape Plan’.

Do What You Want To Do - Just Do It! That’s easier said than done. Perhaps. So, what am I doing - sitting for hours at a keyboard, suffering endlessly from Writers’ Block (in which you can’t think of the next thing you wanted to say or how best to put the words together)? Is that really what I want to do? I hope this book will reach many interested readers so it is not intended that it should sell for a high price. Some readers may be turned off right away because this is not a ‘money-making manual’ or a ‘downsizing book’ or a ‘dieting book’ or a ‘positive thinking’ book. But Doing What I Want To Do is to try and get a message over to many who might be able to benefit from it. Mind you - as I will have said in these pages many times - I’m not trying to preach. What any reader gets out of these pages will be entirely up to them. Sometimes, someone will read this book and, with an open mind, understand what I am trying to say and pick up a few tips. Or even, in a few cases, become fully converted!

Whether, in your case, I shall be pushing at an open door or whether your door is already firmly stuck shut, I have no means of knowing. Nor can I know how many millions of the population will never have any interest in what I have to say. But, whoever happens to be holding this book right now, read on - you never know!

The reason why I am doing this - Doing What I Want To Do - is to make a modest case for borrowing these words and to say:

“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed,

briefed, debriefed or numbered! My life is my own!”

“The loss of one’s individuality is a nightmare”

“I am not a number - I am a free man”

- Patrick McGoohan/The Prisoner - 1960’s TV series

Throughout history, we have never been completely free to do exactly as we would wish. Shangri-la is elusive. When two or more human beings live in proximity, rules will develop. Punishments for breaking the rules become established. Boundaries are set and skirmishes and wars break out over territory, resources and the dislike of the other clan’s way of doing things.

In Centuries past, a change of King might make the difference between your chances of being hanged or beheaded or not. Either as a traitor or maybe because you had the wrong hair style. Or maybe it would decide on which side you would be fighting to your death in the next war. For most ordinary folk their only other real concern was to have a bit of shelter and to be reasonably sure of the next meal.

Only a Century or two ago the chances of living or dying might depend on whether or not the famous medics had made their remarkable discoveries by the time you needed them. Vaccines. Anaesthetics. A less painful method of amputating your leg. Again, for most ordinary folk their only other real concern was to have a bit of shelter and to be reasonably sure of the next meal.

In modern times we can let Nanny State provide everything. We no longer need to use initiative or commonsense, we are regulated and monitored like never before and we can suffocate or die of over-consumption of just about everything.

In our millions we stare at our screens for hours. We succumb to the urge to buy the latest gadgets and just about everything else for which the global economy so easily persuades us to part with our money. We meekly lie down on our backs and allow our tummies to be tickled by the ever-enlarging Nanny State. We swallow everything we are told with barely a murmur. We happily succumb to everything which makes it easier for Them to control our lives as we are told to look to the promises for the future rather than to learn the lessons of history. The promises are so often so terribly, terribly hollow. We are monitored and regulated as never before. We are gagged if we wish to speak our minds on specific topics which They have chosen and which we are required to regard as special. We seem happy to keep paying more and more for the privilege of being allowed all this. We just keep allowing ourselves to be sucked into Their system.

And you - most people anyway - are probably quite happy to be part of that system!

WELL - ARE YOU HAPPY ABOUT THAT ? Well, there’s a good statistical chance that you belong to The Masses (that’s how They see most of us). You are expected to be quite content with all that. Of course, you might not be content and you might already have realised that there should be something much better. Many have already discovered - indeed have always known - that they do not have to accept the standard offering. Or even - you might be one of those who seems to be content but there is something gnawing away, telling you that you - a free-willed human being - equal to any other - could discover a better sort of life. For yourself, your family, maybe even for your wider circle of friends or community.

Real Quality of Life and Contentment seems to me to be so important. Using our time positively rather than meekly accepting the standard offering (which involves our compliance with all the ‘rules’, written or not, which we allow others to set for us) seems to me quite a valuable thing to achieve. Escape from most of that - peace of mind - contentment - a sense of purpose and meaning - will surely follow.

It’s possible, you know. Like any good cause, one by one, bit by bit, the numbers rallying to the cause steadily increase. The cause grows in confidence and the masses who are content with their ‘lot’ get left behind. There - even reading about the possibility makes you feel better! Think how reading, and re-reading, this book and then actually going forward with a purpose could make you feel!

Fulfil your childhood dream or pursue your adult passion. Put your ‘Escape Plan’ into action.


Well, that was what I called the Preface in the original book. We haven’t got to the meat of the subject yet but it has, I think, pointed us in a certain direction. I will let it stand this time, leaving additional discussion for individual topics as we come to them. And so, around Christmas, I’ll post the proper “Introduction”. See you then.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

To Begin

I think this picture represents "new beginnings". It was taken
at the farm across the road where we live. We buy
quite a lot of our food there. In such small ways, it might
never be completely too late to Just Do It! 

The inspiration for the TITLE of my 2006 book - and so this Blog - came from a series of TV programmes about 5 years ago which followed a family which had made their own escape from an urban rat race (in Sheffield I recall) to establish themselves amongst the olive groves on the steeply sloping side of a river valley in Tuscany. Idyllic! But of course everything was a major struggle. Partly the Good Life but a good deal more of the Hard Life. How to grow olives? How to harvest them and extract the oil and sell it? How about learning the language, shops, the legal system, housing, schools? How to convert a derelict barn into letting accommodation and finding paying visitors? How to overcome any fears about the Italian maternity services (inevitably they became a necessity after a year or so). But the good life was enjoyed although the very hard winters came as a surprise.

That kind of lifestyle portrayed is one which I would have loved to encompass for my own and I suspect this is true for many. Whatever the hardships, it was clear that the couple would never leave their new life. Even if they ran out of money and had to give it all up, they said they would live in a tent down there by the river rather than return to Sheffield. When they were asked to offer their advice to anyone else contemplating their own “escape”, they said, “Do what you want to do - Just do it!” Hence my title.

But of course most of us begin to think such thoughts when it is far too late for a major upheaval in our lives. Is that so? What if there could be a way? Perhaps by making small changes we could get part of the way. Or we could overcome our inevitable fears and go the whole hog. Many do.

It was a subject I’d thought a lot about. Also, my life’s experience had been one of getting many things wrong (nothing new there then) although I had hopefully learned a great deal in the process. If I were to combine a lot of these thoughts and experiences into a small book - it might be of interest to some folk. It is quite a hard-hitting book. No beating about the bush - it says it as it is.

Of course, my regret is that I didn’t know about these things until much too late in my life to make a big difference - though I have caught up a bit. I’d love to think that my book - or this Blog - might inspire some younger folk especially. Just a few small changes involving small degrees of ‘self-sufficiency’ and ‘taking responsibility’ as early in their lives as possible could make such a massive difference. I don’t deny there are difficulties but in some cases I would prefer to call them challenges to overcome.

And so, this Blog will begin - from next time - with the first chapter of the book, followed by the rest, post by post until complete. But it will be much more than that. The chapters themselves will be updated and expanded. Also there will be additional thoughts and comments on any relevant topic and much more. Especially it would be great if others joined in with comments.

Finally, this Blog will be wide-ranging but I suspect it will regularly cover a few themes of common interest. These are sure to include “downsizing”, with its associated theme of “frugal living”. A website, run by Richard of 'Down the Lane' fame since 2001, has given me a lot of pleasure over the years. It might not be what you're looking for but it is fascinating and you could be there for hours. Have a look:

I hope you have found my first hesitant steps at blogging hve whetted your appetite and that you will think it worth looking out for the proper first instalment next time - in a week or so. Then, as we get into the subject I want us to embark on a fascinating journey together.