What is a Deserter?

This week, for reasons that will become clear in the fullness of time, I have been pondering the nature of the Deserter.

Regular readers will know that the Deserter website offers a thrilling compendium of hyperlocal daytime piss-ups in our native South London alongside quasi-philosophical balls on how to see beauty in the ordinary and get more out of your life by doing less.

Broadly, it’s aimed at three groups: Those in work who think there surely must be something missing (there is); those out of work who require support and reassurance; and those who are retired or dreaming of retirement. It’s our contention that, as youth is wasted on the young, so retirement is wasted on the old, and we encourage everyone to get on with it immediately.

But what sort of person is this ‘Deserter’?

Working from home
Working from home

The Deserter is not part of the herd, is different to the crowd; you may even say wilfully abstruse, contrary. They are leaders, not followers. Unless they are told to be leaders, at which point their only desire is to follow. They don’t take no for an answer. Nor indeed yes. Often they are unable to recall the question.

Independent in thought and deed, you can spot a Deserter sitting on the lawn with their shoes and socks off, next to the notice that reads ‘Keep Off The Grass’. Confronted by a sign saying ‘Turn Left’, the Deserter will be overwhelmed by the urge to immediately turn right, turn back or at the very least, stand stock still and light up a fat one.

They are free. They are the ones who, while you’re squeezing onto a train to work, are on the far platform boarding an empty train marked ‘Brighton’ or ‘Kempton Park Races Special’ or indeed any train that is going the other way.

‘From what are they Deserting?’, you may ask. Work, perhaps, or the rat race in general; society, maybe and certainly from that which they are expected to do.

Our kind of dog
Deserter dog

They are not lazy per se but it can sometimes be difficult to discern what exactly it is that they actually do. The Deserter will often struggle to answer questions about work or career at parties or other social gatherings, but that is because they are the wrong questions. Ask not of a Deserter ‘What do you do?’, ask instead what they do not do, and you will receive an answer so fulsome you may decide to get another drink even though you haven’t quite finished the one you’re holding.

In fact, they often excel at what they do – however little it may be – but find it emotionally and physically exhausting. And so another trait of the Deserter is to take the opportunity for a nap whenever it arises, even if they’re not terribly tired: In a car, perhaps, at work, or a funeral.

In short, you might characterise the Deserter as a rule breaker. Not the big rules like ‘Thou shalt not kill’, obviously, but certainly the rules that state you must hand your life to an employer, work you’re arse off for 50 years for bugger all and find happiness a struggle.

I arrived at the Deserter life by a combination of personal experience and the enlightened guidance of others. I vividly recall my first day at work and my reaction to it: ‘I really do not fancy doing too much of that’. A goal to which I was to dedicate my life.

I was influenced by my father, for example, who would fall asleep instantly in the passenger seat of any car and on arriving at his destination would awake with a cheery, ‘Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?’ to the weary driver.

And then there’s Cousin Max, who once invited me over to his flat in Clapham. During the course of the afternoon I had reason to open his fridge, which was filled solely with Champagne and tennis balls. I knew immediately I was in the presence of greatness.

There is Deserter chum, Spider, who was fortunate enough to buy a house 20 years ago and has been re-mortgaging it ever since in lieu of work. For years we laughed at him, now he laughs at us, while we take notes.


Or there’s Roxy, who met fellow Deserter, Dirty South, when she was his boss at one of the UK’s lesser known magazine publishers. The Dirty one had asked to see her to discuss his hours and opened the meeting with: ‘You know how I currently do three days a week?’

Here we go, she thought, another poor hopeful stranded in the foothills of a coveted media career, looking for a leg-up to the summit. ‘Well,’ he continued, ‘I’ve checked my bank balance and I’d like to go down to two days a week.’ They’ve been friends ever since.

And then, inevitably, there is Half-life. The Deserter par excellence. Six foot four inches of recalcitrant non-conformity, mostly to be found propping up bars, pinching pork scratchings and getting the party started; a life funded by alarming poetry, dole and the on-demand redistribution of herbal wares. Half-life may well, as someone once remarked, have lived his life ‘as a warning to others’, but he has also had the most sheer fun of anyone we know, arrowing through life on a desire path to, if not happiness, then certainly pleasure.

Which brings us to the fundamental characteristic of the Deserter: The proactive seeking of pleasure. They have had enough of deferral and denial, these brave knights, enough of discipline and the toeing of the line, enough salad and sparkling water. For crying out loud, they seem to be saying, pass the sausages.

But ‘All good things must come to an end’, goes the popular miserabilist saying. Well, who says? OK, it was Chaucer, and what he actually said was, there is an end to everything, to good things as well, which is more a statement of the obvious than a maxim with which to wreck your life. We prefer Kurt Vonnegut’s dictum: ‘We are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different’.

There may of course be those amongst you who disapprove of Deserter philosophy, on the insistence upon wresting back our fleeting lives from the pointless strictures of endless production, on the call for freedom and benefits for all. Perhaps you’re out of work and desperate for a 52” flat-screen TV or some £250 trainers. Perhaps you’re in work and an evangelist for some kind of misguided work ethic. Well, it’s possible Deserter is not for you.

The pursuit of money is simply too expensive for the true Deserter, who is happiest with soft furnishings, a book and a vessel of home brew or devising complex games in the park with a frisbee and a Wellington boot; strolling aimlessly by the river with a cheroot or staring out of the window on a train to the coast; selling junk on eBay, strumming a guitar, sketching lilies, Netflix, beans on toast… 

Everyone needs enough to live on, of course, but what we actually need can be substantially less than that which we have been led to believe. Just remember the two biggest regrets of the dying:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Now take a look in the mirror. Terrifying, isn’t it? And that’s just your hair.


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Image credits: Main photo by Mike Taylor; Deserter dog via @Mr_Mike_Clarke