I hate getting haircuts. The feeling of being trapped in a leather chair, forced to make conversation with a stranger as they fondle my head and cover me in hair trimmings - it’s a nightmare.
Never does a haircut go by without me fantasising about escape. I would leap from the chair, tear myself away from a bewildered barber and his clippers, and make a run for it, silk apron-thing billowing out behind me.
Surprisingly, my last haircut turned out to be quite pleasant. The chap cutting my hair had been planning his own escape and he was keen to fill me in on the details. He’s been putting money aside so he can drop everything and flee to Mexico.
That’s old school, isn’t it? Skidding over the Mexican border is generally reserved for daring prison breaks or problems with the FBI. Could it be that my barber’s in a spot of bother with the authorities? Is he on the run? And what for? Theft? Murder? Maybe he’s the drug kingpin of Newcastle? Pablo Escobar with a Geordie accent, laundering billions through this friendly barber shop. Probably not. After some tentative questioning, it sounded like he fancies a change of scenery and is rather fond of tacos.
Regardless of why he’s going, the story managed to keep my anxious mind off the actual haircut. Rather than glaring at clumps of hair on my trainers, I sat back and discussed the art of escape.
The subject was brought up again last week, this time by a disgruntled BT engineer. As he knelt down in my living room and fiddled with the router, we chatted about my recent move to Manchester. I told him how attached I feel to the place. It has, after all, fostered a failed degree and a successful relationship.
“It’s great to be back,” I concluded.
Kevin (we’ll call him Kevin) straightened his back and sighed.
“I hate it here,” he said.
A deafening silence followed. I looked at my feet. He fiddled with some cables. The conversation seemed to have reached an impasse.
Luckily, Kevin decided to elaborate and fill the awkward silence.
Turned out the bothersome traffic of the M60 and Manchester’s endless rain (and, might I be so bold to suggest, a decade of working as a BT engineer) had conspired to extinguish his love of the city. And much like Don Pablo in Newcastle, Kevin wasn’t going to sit around and be miserable. He’s been putting money away to fund a permanent escape to sunny Spain.
I just hope Mexico and Spain live up to their expectations, or at least that they settle down somewhere. I say this because I used to have similar ideas of escape.
After working in an office and saving the money, I ran off to the other side of the world for ten months of travelling. I remember sitting on the train to the airport, just over two years ago, thinking I’d escaped. All my troubles and worries would now be cured because I was free.
It didn’t work out that way. It was a plaster stuck over a septic wound. Months of travelling, although fun and enlightening, could not cure the discontent I felt. This was something deeper. Pure escapism was not enough.
Certainly there are tangible things that we can and should escape. King of scarpering, Robert Wringham, has written the seminal text on 21st Century escapology - Escape Everything! - which outlines the main “traps” and how we might free ourselves from them.
Wringham says one of the strongest forces holding us back is Bad Faith. The term, coined by Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir, refers to our betrayal of absolute freedom. We fear the boundless opportunities available to us, so we ignore them and blindly follow a narrow path. This natural tendency towards safety can enslave us. We become servants of a tyrant, the most common example being our role of worker-consumer within a relentless economy.
Defeating Bad Faith, by recognising our capacity to escape, is the first hurdle to overcome.
However, we must also accept that thrilling escapes don’t necessarily fix anything. They provide headspace - time to think and freedom to move - but they can’t replace the deep contemplation required to ward off restlessness.
There’s nothing wrong with heading for warmer climes, or colder ones for that matter, so long as the roots of discontent and their realistic solutions aren’t lost amid romantic notions of running away. Drudgery, debt, consumerism, social status, bureaucracy, loneliness - these are the traps to minimise or outmaneuver.
For me, when my travels ended and I found myself in Newcastle, it became less about escape and more a final confrontation. That longing for something different returned. My freedom had been temporary. My plan had lacked resolve. I hadn’t known where I was escaping to and this required some serious thought.
Thankfully, things have become clearer. I’m trying to arrange a modest life that aligns with reasoned values and deep passions. “Authentic”, as Satre would say. And I’m now wary of the conviction that everything will be solved by running.
I hope Kevin from BT and Pablo Esco-Barber (genius, right?) don’t succumb to the same pitfalls as me. I hope their escapes are part of a logical, deliberate plan. Godspeed, gentlemen.