Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sometimes we all need to escape

Over the last six months, I have blogged about how to escape. From secret speakeasies to immersive cinema, London is an escapist's playground. But what I haven't mentioned until now is why to escape.

When asked what my blog is about and I reply with 'escapism', I usually get one of two reactions; either someone instantly gets it, their eyes light up and they say 'Ooh you should write about ….'. (Please keep this coming!).

Or they look at me like a sympathetic therapist and say, 'But what are you escaping from?'

Humans have always felt the need to escape, and over the centuries this has taken many forms; Roman gladiator fights, Shakespearean romps at the Globe, hippy communes and happy hours.

True, escapism can have darker connotations; drug addicts, spendaholics and fantasists are prime examples of escapism gone a bit wrong. And our current rose-tinted nostalgia for bygone eras and the 'good old days' does beg the question, 'What's wrong with the here and now?'

But I also wonder what's so virtuous about gritty realism? If we lived only in reality, and expanded our minds no further than our immediate surroundings and daily routines, how would anyone ever conjure up the imagination to write music, to dream up Narnia and Hogwarts, to build a spaceship or even to challenge their current situations and dream of a better way of doing things? Life would be very dull indeed.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Walt Disney Pictures, 2005)
The importance of escapism should never be underestimated. Having worked in the hospice sector for nearly four years, I've seen first hand how seemingly small pleasures like learning to paint, going to the seaside or enjoying a favourite childhood meal can make the biggest difference to someone in the most difficult circumstances of all.

My own interest in escapism admittedly started as a result of a broken heart, when my friends rallied round, making sure I was never alone and filling my calendar with fun and diverting activities. And although now, thankfully, everything seems to be ticking along quite nicely, I'm still nurturing my escapist state of mind.

This doesn't have to mean you are dissatisfied with your own life; I think it's about living in the here and now whilst opening your eyes to the everyday moments of magic that are all around us. It's about embracing everything that's not sensible, realistic, rational or mundane, and not getting bogged down by the necessities.

In short, escapism keeps you sane. The trick is to enjoy 'bite-sized' pieces of harmless escapism, just enough to take the edge off real life without retreating to another world altogether.

Having had a very real, very sad last few weeks as our beautiful Granny slipped away from us, perhaps unsurprisingly I've struggled to get into that mentality where I want to write about fun little diversions.

But then I remember that Granny herself was somehow both hilariously pragmatic and a born escapist; she travelled, she laughed, she read, she bet on horses, she drank before lunchtime and she fell in love (usually with “big men with little brains”, in the words of my great aunt).

So in memory of Granny, I have chosen a few quotes to help me – and anyone else who might need an emergency dose of escapism – to recapture the magic in everyday life.

Night Sky by Babak Tafreshi, from
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” - Oscar Wilde

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

“What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets.”
Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” - JRR Tolkien

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." - Luciano Pavarotti

"Some movies are slices of life, mine are slices of cake." - Alfred Hitchcock

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”
Roald Dahl

“Ah, music! A magic far beyond all we do here!” - Albus Dumbledore

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” - Oscar Wilde

And finally, for those worrying about the escapist's hangover, whoever said that coming back down to earth couldn't be part of the fun...?

Felix Baumgartner's leap from space, from


  1. Hi there Emily, I hope you don't ming me getting in touch on here. I couldn't find any other way to contact you. I love your blog! I'm Hannah and I'm assistant features editor for a new online magazine called Pebble - (check it out). Anyway, I am trying to write an article on escapism at the moment and stumbled upon your blog on my hunt for some inspiration. Since you seem expert in the subject, I was wondering whether you might want to get involved with the article? I was thinking perhaps I could interview you on your top ten ways to escape... or something along those lines. Anyway if you think you'd be interested my email is please get in touch and we can chat. Thanks!

  2. Hi Hannah! Sorry for slow reply, just seen this. Hope I haven't missed your deadline. Would love to help with your story for Pebble - I've emailed you so just drop me a line and we can chat! Thanks! x