Turns out this is the ‘gig economy’

I’VE been to lots of them, my son plays them round Manchester and now my life has turned into one. It turns out I am living a gig, or more fully that I am taking part in the ‘gig economy’.

Where gigs once used to be something musicians did and other people went along to watch, now a gig can be a way of life for anybody.

Working a gig, according a professor of business writing in last weekend’s Observer, is making the choice to do bits and pieces of work rather than working fulltime.

This choice was pretty much made for me and I am still working out the rules and exploring the bumpy terrain. Of course sometimes it is the case that something new has existed for ages under a different name. So a journalist, writer or musician working in the gig economy is just doing what members of their tribe have often and always done, which is to work freelance; to work for themselves rather than being employed by a company.

The roots of the word are interesting, with freelance dating back to the free companies of the Middle Ages which were, according to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, “free to sell themselves to any cause or master”. Interestingly, Brewers suggests that we probably owe the word to Sir Walter Scott as it first appears in his 1820 novel Ivanhoe “as a term for a knight with no allegiance to any single cause”.

The same source has no entry for ‘gig’ other than “gig-lamps” which is “an old slang term for spectacles, especially large round ones”. The allusion was to lanterns attached to a ‘gig’ or one-horse carriage.

As for the musical gig, Cambridge Dictionaries Online offers: “a single performance by a musician or group of musicians, especially playing modern or pop music”, which is one of those definitions that hardly need spelling out.

The gig economy is more than being a freelance, more than knitting together lots of single performances. To boil down what that business professor wrote: optimists sees the gig economy as an opportunity for boundless opportunity and innovation; while pessimists think ‘sod that’ all is portends is “a dystopian future of disenfranchised workers hunting for their next wedge of piecework”.

Why the gig economy is now a buzzword is down to digital technology, the curse of our age or the liberator of our age, depending on your outlook.

Ever since we started doing Airbnb, I keep reading that we are part of something or other, and now I discover that we are playing gig economics. Airbnb is a new spin on the more traditional way of doing things, in this case offering short-term accommodation to visitors.

The service couldn’t exist without the internet, and what this new digital channel does is link people with a need (a desire to stay somewhere) with those who have a service to offer (a spare room or a room vacated by a daughter away at university). This channel links the two together and arranges an exchange of mutual benefit (well, apart from having to scramble eggs at short notice). In other words, you don’t rent a room from Airbnb; instead you just visit that platform to see who can offer what.

If the gig economy ends up being a way for companies to avoid having to pay employees regular wages, then that won’t be for the general good. But if it allows people to pick and choose and fit work round their lives, rather than the other way round, then it might be beneficial. Early days yet, I guess. One obvious disadvantage is that those gigging away on the margins allow politicians to talk up all the new jobs being created.

What will all this mean for the future shape of life and work? Not sure anyone has that one mapped out yet.


Sit back and relax? No thanks Windows..

“Your computer will restart several times. Sit back and relax…” Relax! I’ve got a column to write on this here ledge. How can I do that and relax at the same time? And aren’t these infantile messages just a teeny bit bloody infuriating? A photograph in The Observer last weekend showed a bench with a National Trust sign in front it. This featured an exclamation mark above the words: “PLEASE DO SIT HERE. It’s such a lovely spot.”

Oh, stop being so cute. It’s a bench, if we like the look of it we’ll sit down. If we don’t we’ll walk on by and find another less needy bench. It’s as bad as those buses that say: “Sorry, I’m not in service.” Better, though, I guess than: “Sorry I’m not in the mood to stop right now. Can’t be arsed.”

Anyway my laptop has been taken from me, stolen for the upgrade to Windows 10. So now I am back on the old computer. No sitting back and relaxing for this keyboard-bashing seeker after, well, not the truth so much as something to write about.

Before I was so rudely interrupted by Microsoft, I was about to turn my eyes towards Calais. I see that some of the tabloids regard the migrant chaos as an excuse to inflame ancient wounds and send the Army in. Invade France – what a splendid idea. While we’re about it why don’t we reclaim Calais for the English, as our monarchs did once claim sovereignty there? Never mind it that was back in 1346, what are a few centuries when our national pride is at stake?

As for the migrant crisis, well it does seem to be a mess for people wishing to reach France for their holidays or for business reasons. Circumstances have ruled out foreign travel this year, but last summer’s quick break to Lyon would likely have been sabotaged by what is going on now.

And behind all this, behind the political huffing, are human stories of people so desperate to come here that they are willing to endure mammoth journeys, endless suffering and possible death – all to land a foot on British soil.

Some people complain that this isn’t our problem and it’s all to do with the French. No it isn’t this is Europe’s problem and we are part of Europe, whatever Nigel Farage might wish. And if you still wish to scrub Europe from your mind, it’s the world’s problem and we are part of the world, no getting around that one.

If migrants are trying to get here, if we are the dreamed-of destination, then we have a duty to be part of the solution. And we need to come up with something better than potty notions about sending the Army in.

And surely the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has a point when it says that the extra £7 million announced on Monday by the government should be spent in processing asylum applications rather than building higher fences. When people are so desperate, fences won’t hold them back.

Incidentally, in the time that I have been sitting back and relaxing while writing this blog, my Windows upgrade has reached 21 per cent. Perhaps I should go and find a National Trust bench to sit on. 90 minutes later… done at last!

The lion roars no more

I’M not usually one for a social media backlash, but is this the queue for Cecil?

Cecil the lion had a price on his head. A US dentist is reported to have paid $50,000 to take part in a hunt in Zimbabwe. In hunter’s terms, Walter Palmer got lucky; the lion less so, as he was shot by bow and arrow and reportedly took 40 hours to die.

Sometimes people have too much money for their own good and the good of the planet. If a dentist from Minnesota can splash that much on killing African wildlife, there must be an awful lot of dollars in molars.

Not content with shooting each other, Americans – or at least the wealthy ones – are now taking their love of weapons abroad and finishing off endangered wildlife instead, all in the name of sport.

If you want to feel annoyed and upset, read up on Cecil the lion and see how he was skinned and beheaded after that lingering death.

In some reports you will find a photograph of the US dentist with another hunter getting pally with a dead lion. Palmer has his arms round his companion’s shoulders. The lion lies before them, eyes closed and great paws resting on a mound of red earth, looking as if he might be taking a nap. Well, he is – the last and longest, the big sleep, thanks to the hunter’s bullet. Or maybe arrow, it isn’t clear from the picture, although no arrow appears to be embedded in that particular once-proud lion.

The lion in that photograph isn’t Cecil, just another magnificent big cat with the misfortune to find himself on the wrong end of an American man’s horrible hobby.

Just what is it about people who have the money to indulge their dreams and desires? At what point does someone think: “You know what would make my life better? Going to Africa and shooting a lion, that’s what…”

Palmer was reported to be “quite upset” about the Facebook furore his actions had unleashed. Not as upset, at a guess, as the dead, skinned and now headless lion. The dentist issued a media statement in which he said he’d hired several professionals and secured the proper permits for a trip that was to his knowledge “legal and properly handled and conducted”.

Cecil, locally celebrated for his black mane, was popular with tourists and was wearing a GPS tracking device as part of a study by Oxford University into his movements. The lion is said to have been tempted out of a national park by bait, at which point Palmer got out his bow and arrow.

The dentist issued a statement in which he said: “I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt.”

He added that he deeply regretted that “my pursuit of an activity that I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion”.

So not all that contrite, then. Palmer had no idea the lion he shot was a local favourite. But he did, at a vague guess, know that it was a lion. You know, one of those big cat-shaped mammals that are increasingly said to be endangered. As apologies go, that hardly rises high enough to ring the sincerity bell, being in effect an admission of sorrow for shooting the wrong lion – “Look, I dearly wish I’d shot some other goddamn lion and not that one everyone is making such a fuss about.”

Should we feel in any way sorry for Palmer? Well his actions have put him at the centre of a social media hate-storm, which isn’t a good place to be. He did think he was doing something legal, and perhaps he would have been if he had killed some other unfortunate lion instead. But isn’t there is difference between the legal and the morally responsible?

As for all those unkind comments about his own teeth and lack of anaesthetic, perhaps the next time Palmer hears the word “Open wide, please” he will find his head inside a lion’s mouth.

Passing through…

IT HAS been raining all day and I am standing in the garden with a young man from China. We only met an hour ago. I didn’t just bump into him out there or anything. It’s a big garden but not that big.

He has been taking photographs of the house on his phone and now he wants to have a look round the garden. So here we are, covered in drips from the trees and wetted by that English meteorological phenomenon known as summer holiday rain. I don’t bother trying to explain about the rain that falls once the schools break up. It will take too long and we are getting wet.

We duck beneath the dripping rose arch, the blooms now tattered or gone, and walk past the greenhouse, where the tomatoes are at least beginning to appear, like hard little green full-stops.

Pushing through more water-dressed branches, we come to the big pond, then walk round the smoke bush, fiery against the soggy blanket of a sky.

I show him the veg patch and the wildish area at the end, then we trudge back, damp and delighted. Well, we are both damp and he is delighted. Everything about our house pleases our guest. He tells me that he has never been in an English house before. He likes the decoration, he tells me. I decide not to take the credit. The pictures are to send to his mother at home in China. ‘But not now,’ he says. ‘In China it is midnight.’

At first I couldn’t catch what he was saying, but now we understand each other better. Our guest was a late booking, there on the computer first thing in the morning when we thought we had a free night. It seemed a shame to hit the decline button, so here he is.

Life has changed in many ways since I shuffled onto this vertiginous little ledge. Not having a regular job is the biggest change. Next up is opening our house to strangers via Airbnb.

Our young man from China is a 24-year-old postgraduate student attending a summer school somewhere or other. At first I don’t understand and just nod, but then my ears un-stuff themselves and I catch what he is saying: ah, Oxford. He has come to York by himself for the day and that strikes me as quite brave in a way. Here I am doing what I normally do and here he is, spending the night in an English house for the first time.

Two other guests stayed at the weekend. First up was the young French academic who spoke in a loud cartoon-gabble and gesticulated wildly. He stood in front of the bookcase with all the old jugs and vases on the shelf, arms waving all over. He stepped back and we held our breath. Was he going to dislodge something with his waving arms? Thankfully not.

Then came the British-based young man from Israel, in York for a wedding, who was friendly and interested and interesting.

Now here I am making small-talk with a young man from China. My wife is out at her choir. I begin to worry it might be a long evening of stuttered half-understand exchanges. But the young man is friendly and charming and just so pleased with everything. He is studying English and politics and he looks along our bookcase. I show him my two published novels, out of vanity or maybe just something to do. He looks at the books and tells me that he doesn’t think there are crime novels in China. Then he lays the books flat on the table and takes a photograph to add to his collection.

Soon after this he smiles and asks if it is all right if he goes up to his room now. Perhaps the conversation has worn him out too.

I sit and half watch something on television while playing around on the laptop. All this still feels strange, but good strange.

Pretty lures and old fools

IT’S happened to us all. There you are innocently going about your daily life when an attractive young prostitute comes over all charming, offering you drugs.One minute you are keeping your own counsel, and the next you are spilling more beans than a Heinz factory.

Only the other day I was sitting on my ledge feeling at a loss when just such a thing happened. Fortunately the wind got up and the cocaine was blown away. After that I gave the pretend prostitute cum undercover reporter a gentle push, and she tumbled off and disappeared into the clouds below.

I confess to feeling nothing much about Lord Sewel, who has resigned as deputy speaker of the House of Lords after being clandestinely filmed taking cocaine with sex workers. This is partly because until last night I had never heard of the man, not a whisper or a whistle, nothing. Now he is all over the papers for his scandalous behaviour. He has resigned as deputy speaker of the House of Lords, and I can tell you that we are petty cut up about this in our house.

Other politicians have leapt on this careering bandwagon and demanded further punishment. Well, I guess that’s what happens when you are filmed snorting cocaine through a rolled-up fiver while cavorting with sex workers (note to self: no, just no).

During the Sun on Sunday video, Lord Sewel says all sorts of rather splendidly incautious things, including the observation that David Cameron is “the most facile, superficial prime minister there has ever been” and that Boris Johnson is “a joke” and a “public school upper class twit”.

Gosh, don’t some people talk a surprising amount of sense when they are snorting cocaine in the company of pseudo-prostitutes.

In an attempt at balance, Lord Sewel is also heard to describe the Labour leadership contest as being in “a ****ing mess”.

These affairs are always puzzling to Man On Ledge. For starters, the victims are often not exactly top-flight candidates for exposure and ridicule. Why did Mr Murdoch’s newspaper chase after this particular man no one had heard of – and wouldn’t it be more of a scandal if you recognised the victim? The suspicion here is that a fairly soft target has been picked for a big-scale fuss. It’s not a fuss about nothing, but it is a fuss about someone most people don’t really care about.

The template is nearly always the same. A middle-aged or elderly man is flattered into doing something stupid and damning by attractive young women. That saying about there being no fool like an old fool springs to mind, I suppose. And these tawdry tales do so often display the capacity of old men to do foolish things.

Then there is the trickery involved, the pretty lure dangled before the selected fool. The victims have almost always been coerced in some way in what seems a grubby sort of journalism. Couldn’t undercover journalism be put to higher ends than this, to exposing real scandals and genuine lapses?

Anyway, in the name of sanity I shall regard with suspicion all prostitutes who inch onto my ledge with rolled-up £5 notes and a bag of white stuff, unless it’s sherbet of course.

Not so green now…

AMBER Rudd – what a name that is. Fossilised tree resin for a first name and a freshwater fish for a second. Connected with nature, or so it would seem. Perhaps that’s why they gave her the climate change brief.

Ms Rudd’s full title is Energy and Climate Change Secretary. Let’s just stop there for a moment. Lumping those two together seems wilful. After all, doesn’t the first cause the second? And if so, how can a minister have responsibility for both? She was on the radio yesterday, batted about in the day’s bulletins. And each time she came on a strange sound could be heard. That was me growling.

Here is part of what she said: “The Conservatives are committed to action on climate change and we are clear that our long-term economic plan goes hand in hand with a long-term plan for climate action. Climate action is about security, plain and simple – economic security.

“The economic impact of unchecked climate change would be profound. Lower growth, higher prices, a lower quality of life. It is the ultimate insurance policy.”

In short, it isn’t about climate change, it’s the economy, stupid. Yet surely the economic motors help to cause climate change, don’t they?

Now I don’t claim to be any sort of a Green. I have voted for the party once. I drive a big old car, trapped by circumstance in an ageing Volvo that is now bigger than we need (good old car, though) and thirstier than is sensible. I do like to cycle, and that’s as green as you can get.

But I can’t claim to be a Green evangelist or anything. Just someone who thinks that the more green energy we can generate, the better. Yet Ms Rudd and her party seem hell-bent on quickly doing away with as many green policies as possible – creating a bonfire of their past green vanities.

Onshore wind, solar energy, green homes, flogging off the green investment bank, reducing the incentive to buy a greener car, giving up on zero carbon homes – all this and more comes with an unhealthy obsession with old-style energy grabs such as fracking. Ms Rudd and her party seem happy to go about smashing up low-carbon policies, with the weasel excuse that the government has met its international climate obligations more or less. Even if that’s true, why stop there – and why not lead the way in green energy instead?

She also said that it could not be for one part of the political spectrum to find all the solutions – adding that too often energy change was seen from a left-wing perspective. Well, it wasn’t when David Cameron used to bang on about it all the time, but now that his party is in sole control of the government he seems happy to have kicked off the green wellies.

Solutions can come from many sources, as witnessed, say, by the efforts made by the motor industry to produce more fuel-efficient cars, hybrid cars and battery-powered cars. But governments set the mood music, and right now the Tories are reverting to climate-sceptic type and jamming their fingers in their ears while singing Money, Money, Money.

Big conversations about killer seagulls and other matters

FROM this ledge at this moment I can see swirling seagulls causing bloody mayhem, a middle-aged couple harming themselves with a cheeky drink or two and a grey-bearded man apparently intent on bringing a political party to its knees.

Yes, it’s one of those pick-and-mix days.

Seagulls have long been a bit of a nuisance, but thanks to a bout of overheated reporting this summer, they are now public enemy number one.

A woman in Cornwall was attacked while walking her dog and a boy eating a sausage role had his finger injured by a swooping gull. Such incidents have led to a cry on the nation’s newsdesks of: “Get me a killer gull.”

In the days when nothing happened in the summer this time of year was known as the “silly season”. Stories which would normally not be considered worthy of newsprint or air time would be elevated for the want of anything else being available.

“Killer seagulls” fall into that category. All sense goes out of the window and everyone goes gull crazy. Even David Cameron has stepped into the great gull quandary, saying during a visit to Cornwall, where he likes to holiday, that we needed “a big conversation” about gulls.

Don’t you just love the way that man is ready with an important-sounding quote for every possible situation and scenario. I wonder what a big conversation about gulls would sound like. Will it be different in tenor to a small conversation about sparrows? Will the prime minister order a gull task force or will he perhaps send in the RAF armed with tiny gull-dispatching missiles?

Now I admit that gulls are a nuisance. I once saw one swoop and steal an un-licked ice-cream cornet from a woman’s hand. In Helston, meanwhile, Sue Atkinson was reportedly pounced on as she walked her dog. The attack left her bleeding and in shock, although not so disturbed that she couldn’t come up with an obliging quote for the newspapers: “It was like a scene from the film The Birds.”

Although in that case it was crows not seagulls. Perhaps if Alfred Hitchcock were still around today he would instead make a film called The Seagulls.

Apparently, gulls attack or make a nuisance of themselves at this time of the year as the birds have their young to defend. Also they often attack because of man’s behaviour, sitting and eating fish and chips within beak’s range, for instance. Man On Ledge loves alfresco fish and chips, but I guess you do have to admit that the harbour wall or wherever is shared territory.

People often have it in for birds. York is infested with Canada geese and their droppings at certain times of the year. But is a cull ever the answer?

There is a new report out. Where would we be without those? Report-less and less prone to anxiety, perhaps. Anyway, this one warns that middle class middle-aged people are most likely to be the ones drinking too much, especially if they are healthy, active, sociable and highly educated. I guess this isn’t surprising: people in that category are free to do as they wish, and that includes drinking to excess. Drinking too much for men is officially regarded as more than 21 units a week, which translates as nine pints. Man On Ledge probably drinks that much beer in an average month, although to be strictly accurate there is some wine in there too.

The study was based on responses to a survey by a body called the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. Now there’s a name to love. I am worried? At present finances are too tight for excess, so no I am not. But it is possible to see the dangers here.

Finally, Jeremy Corbyn, a man regarded in some quarters as little better than a swooping gull. Only the left-wing MP is not filching fish and chips. He wants to grab the Labour leadership, with one poll suggesting he might be on course to win.

This has led to plenty of wrangling and the sort of internecine wrestling that occurs when a party is on the skids. There was even a silly suggestion from the Daily Telegraph that its readers should join the Labour Party and vote for Mr Corbyn as a way of ensuring that Labour elected a leader who would damage the party.

I don’t think he will win and a very left-wing leader wouldn’t do Labour much good at the polls next time round. But at least Mr Corbyn has clear-cut beliefs and none of the Tory-aping manner of other candidates.

Incidentally, in conversation the other night one of our Airbnb guests expressed his admiration for David Cameron and said he just felt safer with him in charge. He wondered if I agreed. A polite silence ensued.

Normal or not or going Gaga

I CAN’T say I have ever thought of myself as the least bit outré, so it was a surprise to discover an affinity with the singer Lady Gaga.

Seeking clarification of this unexpected state of affairs, I checked the definition online and came up with: “Unusual, strange or shocking, especially in a humorous way.”

Well, it’s not for me to say, but at least three of those adjectives might fall on stony ground if thrown in my direction. As for Lady Gaga, she is known for outrageousness after assorted bouts of ever more extreme attention seeking. She once donned a dress made of meat. At this very moment I am wearing old Levi jeans and a stripy red T-shirt from John Lewis. The only meat about my person is the digested remains of whatever flesh I last ate. As for clothes made of meat, my wife the vegetarian might have something to say about that. It’s a good job I already do my own ironing.

So where is all this shocking stuff coming from? Page 27 of last Sunday’s Observer, in which a long feature said that Lady Gaga had changed her ways and was now “normcore” – and that, apparently, is fashion-speak for normalcy.

Miss Gaga has turned normal. This apparently is news, whereas the fact that most of us have been normal for years isn’t even worth the amount of printer’s ink contained in a boring old full stop.

Incidentally, if we might return to that fashion word for a moment, I fancy writing something in which there is a character called Norm Core. The name has a comfortably deadened ring or more of a clang probably. Perhaps that could be my new nom de plume, although nom de pencil might be more fitting.

Evidence called forth in support of Lady Gaga’s shocking departure to the land of normal includes singing and recording jazz standards with Tony Bennett last year, and then last week being recorded on stage in Switzerland belting out the Edith Piaf classic La Vie en Rose.

Man On Ledge has managed normalcy without resorting to either of those activities. Of course there is normal and there is normal. My old normality was sitting in an office for 27 years until one day at the end of May when someone pressed the button on the ejector seat. My new normal is sitting at home with my laptop, shuffling words and thoughts around.

Whether or not being normal is a good career move for Lady Gaga remains to be seen. The girl doesn’t do anything for me as a singer, but she was lively company on the Graham Norton show a while back, and the thing about people being whacky and weird and flamboyantly out there is that at least their behaviour sets up a gaudy perimeter fence over which the rest of us can peer and tut.

Cutting remarks

The US crime drama The Wire had different settings for each season – docks, a school and a newspaper being three. In the newspaper segment, the fictional publication was inspired by the Baltimore Sun, where the writer David Simon had worked as a reporter.

One scene in that season has always stayed with me. It wasn’t the most dramatic moment but it rang true to a journalist working on a paper no longer at its peak. An editor or manager climbed on a desk, or he does in my memory, to address his staff at a time of gloom and cuts. The reporters and desk staff stared up at him with weariness in their cynical hearts.

‘We will have to do more with less,’ the editor said. There were groans in the fictional newspaper office at that dispiriting rallying call. And a sigh of recognition in my heart, as I’d been hearing that script for a while.

British politicians usually claim the West Wing as their favourite American drama, but I wonder if the chancellor, George Osborne, might not be more of a Wire man. I do hope not, as I wouldn’t wish to share a TV affection with him.

Yesterday Osborne announced more cuts. That man must cut more often than a hairdresser. What he said was: ‘The usual, sir, or shall I just save the price of future trims by cutting off your head instead?’ Well, no, what he actually said was that the government had to find ways to “deliver more with less”. He has asked departments that are not ring-fenced to cut up to 40 per cent from their budgets from 2019-20

Yesterday he told Parliament: “When it comes to building a Britain that lives within its means, we need to finish the job.” Earlier this month in the summer budget, he set out £12 billion of savings from welfare and £5 billion from changes to the tax system. All this, he says, would deliver half of what is needed to clear the deficit.

Well, maybe in will, maybe it won’t. Often these statements are as much about mood music as hard financial facts. The sub-text here is that Osborne is cleverly painting Labour into a corner – something Labour seems determined to do to itself, in its post-defeat, leaderless, don’t-mention-bloody-Ed panic.

One example of how such cuts will work can already be seen here in York. City of York Art Gallery opens next week after a long closure and splendid-sounding renovation. Entry will now cost £7.50 for visitors and locals alike, with some concessions for residents. Before it closed, entry was free, as it should be for all art galleries, especially when they show works gifted to the city in the past. Galleries should belong to the people and be for the people, which I know sounds a bit old-style socialist, but they just should. As should museums but now, according to a report on my old newspaper, York will be charging visitors to museums too.

This is one tiny aspect of what doing more with less looks like: you still pay your taxes, and then you pay again when you wish to visit your local art gallery.

Incidentally, one weasel excuse dusted off by Osborne for his hymn to more with less was the falling crime rate. Well, crime rates fall for all sorts of reasons, from statistical blips to, say, motor manufacturers improving security systems on new cars. So governments claiming credit for a fall is a little like governments claiming credit for the weather. Mind you, with Osborne you never know he might just go and do that.

An alternative use for a garden

I AM on my travels this week, Iceland yesterday and Morocco today, all without leaving my ledge. This is thanks to a welcome spot of freelance work with a travel company.

Perhaps because of that, or thanks to the precariousness of life at present, this story struck a chord. A postgraduate student studying in Manchester could not afford to pay rent on top of tuition costs of £20,000. Evan Eames, 24, came up with an alternative solution. He visited various online forums asking for somewhere to pitch a tent while he studied at Manchester University for a master’s degree in astrophysics. Charley Mantack of Stockport saw his plea on Gumtree and offered him a pitch in her back garden. He erected his small tent and lived there for ten months, even staying put in the snow, according to the Manchester Evening News.

Eames paid for this impromptu camping pitch with maths tuition to help Mantack through her GCSE course at Stockport College. She told the newspaper: “I was looking for a flatmate. I saw he wanted to stay in a back garden and I thought, why not, it was weird enough. I loved telling people about it, I like weird, out of the ordinary things like that.”

Eames accepted his place on the course with no idea how he could afford to fund his stay in Manchester, but he’d already done something similar in Melbourne, Australia. Astrophysics is not geography, clearly, and perhaps Eames had never visited Manchester, where high winds, rain and even snow greeted his ten-month camping stint.

And, yes, the basics were accounted for. Eames promised to use the bathroom facilities at the university as much as possible, declaring himself to be on good terms with his bladder. So no nocturnal bathroom ramblings for him. Camping in the garden is clearly a young man’s game.

Anyway Eames has just returned to Canada after successfully completing his masters. His worst memory of his stay was the time he came home in a snowstorm to find his tent had blown over, and he had to put it up again before he crawled in, shivering. His best recollection was a warm spring day when gentle rain pitter-pattered on his canvas roof.

Good on that man, known to his landlady as her physics gnome, thanks presumably to his chin-straggle beard. Not at easy thing to do, camping for that long in someone’s back garden.

This is a fine example of the alternative economy, of people trading in what they have to offer. And with our Airbnb experiences in mind, I recall that we do have a very big back garden. I wonder if my wife the gardener would notice a tent or two erected amid the blooms and bushes of her blessed plot. Man On Ledge will only introduce that idea from a safe distance.

My own student days were spent down a long tunnel: not a location, just that it was an age ago. Studying at Goldsmiths College in New Cross, south east London, I lived for three years in a hall just down the road from Blackheath. Three or four large terraced houses had been knocked through and turned into student halls more superior to what is offered nowadays. Something with which I have often bored our three children, so I won’t bore you with the details.