It’s usually around this point each month, the last few days before I get paid, that I start to plan my escape.
When I say “plan my escape”, that’s perhaps overstating the level of sophistication these idle daydreams have, but I like the way the phrase sounds. Basically, these plans never really involve much more than taking advantage of the narrow window of opportunity between the moment my wages are paid into my bank account and the moment most of that money gets swallowed up by Direct Debits – mortgage, council tax, utility bills, credit card and loan payments. There’s only really a day or two to act, but for that brief period – my bank balance misleadingly high – I feel anything is possible.
Although of course, there’s not really all that much which is actually possible. Even before paying all my bills, I don’t earn an enormous amount of money, certainly not enough to start a new life with. To do that properly, I’d need a new name, a new passport, a new National Insurance number, a new bank account. To set all this up, I’d need money and contacts, I have neither. Failing that, I’d need ingenuity and cunning. I have even less of those.
This article in a recent issue of Wired shows the elaborate lengths people have gone to trying to disappear, and the even more elaborate ways in which they are often found. I don’t really see anyone I know hiring a private detective to hunt me down, and I don’t have a huge amount of faith in the efficiency of the police, but still, it’s obvious that we live in an age where almost everything we do leaves some sort of digital trace somewhere.
Obviously, the best thing to do would be to live off-grid. Cash only, no Oyster, no internet. But where? Staying in London has certain advantages; London is a big place, a man could lose himself in London, lose himself. But it’s also too easy to be found again in London. If the police were involved, there’s CCTV everywhere, and even if they don’t spot me, it would only be a matter of time before I ended up bumping into someone I know.
Australian businessman Harry Gordon, who faked his death in a boating accident in 2000, lived under a new identity for five years until the afternoon he passed his own brother on a mountain trail.
Also, my meagre funds would struggle to cope with London prices. Somewhere else. A city is good though. A big city. Anywhere small and I might stand out. I’d want somewhere big and crowded where no-one cares about anyone else. As well being impersonal enough to allow me to blend in, a big city would also provide entertainment. Having given up my job and spending most of my time on the streets, I would have a lot more spare time on my hands. I’d fill my days visiting museums, galleries and libraries.
I’d follow the example of Henry Shelby:
Shelby is extraordinarily fond of museums and galleries and has become something of an art expert. Vagrants are rarely molested in New York museums and galleries. Shelby is apt to smile and say this is because the guards can never distinguish between a legitimate bum and an artistic one. They never disturb a person like him because they never know when they are trying to eject an artist who is holding a one-man show on the third floor.
In fact, that article is full of excellent advice, much of it still relevant today. Using public transport as a place to sleep, for example, is something I have done many times before (never deliberately). Just need to have a valid ticket and look fairly presentable:
But for two reasons he places more importance on his personal appearance than he does on having a place to sleep. First, he is naturally a neat and tidy man to whom uncleanliness is distasteful. Second, good grooming is a safety factor in his existence. The police will always pick up an unkempt man and will generally walk right by a tidy man. A shower is not only a comfort, but a good investment.
The plans for the first few days are simple. On pay day, I take a day’s holiday – I don’t mention this to anyone else, and say to people that I’m meeting some friends after work for a few drinks. This gives me until the next morning before anyone even realises there’s anything wrong. I go to the bank and take out as much cash as possible, then buy a train ticket to some town or city somewhere with my credit card. I travel there, make a few purchases (again with my credit card) and spend the night. The next day, I take out any remaining cash. Pick a dummy destination, phone a few hotels and B&Bs there and buy a ticket with my credit card. Then I buy another ticket with cash to somewhere else. I switch off my phone and dump it. I get the train to this other town, then buy another ticket to yet another town, again with cash, and travel there. I repeat this a few times, until I’m comfortable my footsteps have faded, careful not to waste too much money on train tickets. Then I start my new life.
The exact details of my new life would need to be worked out once I arrive in whichever city I decide is most suitable. Once I know how much money I have, and how much is the minimum I need to spend each day. Once I’ve studied the public transport timetables and once I’ve learnt the opening hours of the public libraries, galleries and museums.
I get paid on Thursday. This blog might be quiet for a while.