Read this: Away From It All: An Escapologist’s Notebook by Cedric Belfrage

Away From It All: An Escapologist’s Notebook
by Cedric Belfrage


I seem to have a knack for finding magical diamonds in the rough when it comes to books. I’ve found a LOT of amazing books hidden in the shelves and piles of my favourite second hand books stores, and this one is no exception. During a visit to City Basement Books, I found myself in the travel/history section (no surprise there), and I noticed the spine of this book up on a high shelf that required me to get onto my toes to reach. Much like my discovery of the University of Hard Knocks, I have no idea what drew me to this one, but as soon as I pulled it off the shelf, it felt right in my hands. You know those crazy cat ladies you hear about? I think I’m a crazy book lady… I can live with that.

This book was written by Cedric Belfrage, an English journalist, film critic and writer. He enjoyed a long career as a journalist and political activist, and died only 14 years ago, at the age of 85. This book, published in 1937, chronicles his escape from the world in his early years…

It was amazing how much the opening of this book is still so relevant today; he begins by speaking about our need to get our drugs, our opiates, our highs and escapes from the world, be it by the way of actual drugs, movies and other media, lies we tell ourselves and others.. He decided that his opiate would be travel. Escape. Man, how I can relate…


What follows is a fascinating adventure around the globe: Spain, Palestine, Egypt, Baghdad, India, Singapore, Bali, Australia, Auckland, the South Seas islands, and meeting some very interesting characters along the way. Beautifully written with a good dose of humour and a very real view on the world, Belfrage doesn’t mince words. Sometimes telling it straight, and sometimes writing with amusing sarcasm, he talks about his observations, mostly without much opinion, on the different cultures and religions he encounters, the way their lives are lived and the strangeness of it all to him.

I am SO glad I found this book – it had me captivated right from the start, and I read my way through it a hell of a lot quicker than I’d have expected – it’s easy, entertaining reading, particularly for similar minded escapologists, and was a really great read leading into my upcoming travels (2 sleeps to go, but who’s counting?) – if you’re not able to find an old version in your favourite second-hand bookstore, you can pick up a new copy here! Here are a few favourite passages, in the mean time 🙂

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“I had to get a piece written for the paper about Ceylon. The process was even more painful than usual. I went badly broody over the typewriter, seeing it as a mocking burden I carried round like Sinbad. It was a morbid and unnatural habit thus, with this machine of little hammers, to nail down on sheets of paper the moments whose natural function it was to come and go at the same time and never exist.”

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   The arrival at Tahiti had wen a dream dreamed since so long ago that the mere sight of the actuality, the consciousness of its solid presence there before my eyes, was disillusionment itself.
When one is unhappy and takes comfort in visions of an escapological paradise, the fantastic and magical vision had an apparent reality more intense than any tangible combination of mountains, valleys and foliage could have.
I could no longer remember what my dream of Tahiti, which had consoled me through the bitter years of adolescence had been like. It had been made up of the more glamorous passages from Brooke and Stevenson and O’Brien and Stacpoole distilled in the superheated retort of my juvenile imagination. I could no longer see the vision, it had been put away in an attic of faded things for so many years. I could only, as I leaned in the prow of the mail steamer watching the island rise out of a blue mist of ocean and sky, see myself as a boy seeing it, as if the boy were someone else and I were a friend of his whom, because I was an adult, he could not share he dream.
I welcomed the disillusionment which meant that the old dream was finally killed. I did not envy the boy his dream. I was sorry for him because of the pain of reality which had made the dream necessary.
Here, approaching the last stage point of my escapological journey – for when I sailed away from Tahiti it would be for America and my old world from which I had fled – I came face to face with the realisation that I had finally exhausted the potentialities of dream and opiates.

3 thoughts on “Read this: Away From It All: An Escapologist’s Notebook by Cedric Belfrage

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