The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 19

Today’s excerpt is a little shorter (p96-100), as we reach the end of Part 1 of Man’s Search for Meaning.

These are the final pages of Frankl’s description of the psychology of the concentration camp inmate.

Even after liberation, the former-prisoner is not out of psychological danger. For Frankl, progress from inmate to human being seems to have been slow and steady.

But for others, liberation was not so easy. Frankl describes the sudden release of mental pressure that occurred at the end of their imprisonment as similar to the bends.

Just as the physical health of the caisson worker would be endangered if he left his diver’s chamber suddenly […], so the man who has suddenly been liberated from mental pressure can suffer damage to his moral and spiritual health.

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 19

Thighs of Steel: A Community on Wheels

Today is the final day of the epic seven week cycling relay fundraiser that is Thighs of Steel.

At about 5pm, the latest peloton of steely thighed cyclists will sweep into Athens, hot, sweaty and exultant after an 85km day’s ride – the culmination of a journey that started 4,600km ago in London.

The bike ride, and the 80-odd riders thereon, have already smashed their target of raising £50,000 to pay the bills at refugee community centre Khora – and are pushing on to beat the record set last year of over £100,000.

These are the numbers. On the face of it, they sound very impressive. But, let’s be honest, there are more efficient ways of raising money for charity. Continue reading Thighs of Steel: A Community on Wheels

Why I travel slow, or “Delays? Really?”

I’m a slow traveller. I’ve taken only one return flight in the last 8 years – and that was to prove to myself that I wasn’t not flying out of pride or habit.

So while the other Thighs of Steel cyclists packed up their bikes and drove out to Sofia airport for a three-hour flight home, I cycled down to the bus station for the first leg in a journey that took three days.

Sounds slow, right? Continue reading Why I travel slow, or “Delays? Really?”

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 18 'Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.'

Today’s pages (p91-96) address the psychology of the camp guard, and the psychology of the prisoner after his liberation from a concentration camp.

With regards to the guards, Frankl makes four observations:

  1. Some of the guards were pure sadists.
  2. These sadists were always chosen when severe treatment was ordered.
  3. The majority of guards were ‘morally and mentally hardened men’ who refused to take active part in sadistic torture, but did not prevent others from such behaviour.
  4. There were some guards who took pity on the prisoners and took active steps to ameliorate conditions for them. ‘Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.’

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 18 ‘Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.’

Crossing the Border

If the wind changes direction, this man is in deep trouble. His mouth is so firmly down-turned that I wonder how he feeds himself.

He shoves out his hands, and I take two steps back. He stares at me, my little wine-red book on his counter.

The muscles in his face are drawn taught, toughness without any sign of strain. Only his eyes move: up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down. Matching photo to face, face to photo.

He flicks through the document, then slides it into a machine and stares expressionless at his monitor.

He returns to my face and my photograph. Except for his eyeballs, his face is completely frozen – do they teach that in border control school? Continue reading Crossing the Border

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 17 'Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind.'

Today’s pages (p88-91, a wee bit shorter) are recollections of a speech that Viktor Frankl gave to his fellow prisoners at the end of a particularly hard day.

The prisoners had chosen to go without food rather than give up one of their number to the guards, and so were particularly hungry, tired, cold and irritable.

Frankl was called upon to give some words of encouragement, and he began with a very Stoic observation, that ‘our situation was not the most terrible we could think of’.

Losses of health, family, happiness and fortune were all replaceable in the future.

He quotes again from Nietzsche: ‘That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.’ Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 17 ‘Having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind.’

Thighs of Steel: Ljubljana to Sofia

How do you sum up two weeks of doing almost nothing but cycling and refuelling?

We’ve cycled from Ljubljana in Slovenia, through the hills of Croatia, the plains of Hungary and the free ice creams of Romania to Sofia in Bulgaria. That’s about 80 miles a day for 12 days, with one day off in the middle to stumble around Timisoara in a daze and eat.

Sitting here now, in the cool of the shade of a fig tree, it’s time to wonder what will stay with me. Memories being what they are, what I write in the next 20 minutes may very well come to define my whole experience. So strap on your safety goggles and let’s see what comes. Continue reading Thighs of Steel: Ljubljana to Sofia

A Morning in the Life of a Steely Thighed Cyclist

0505: Wake up needing the toilet. Hold it in.
0515: Alarm. Switch off with eyes tightly shut.
0520: Open eyes. Stretch out back in child’s pose on air mattress. Fantasise about a spa day. Search for glasses.
0525: Struggle into shorts from yesterday. They are damp. Start packing away unused sleeping bag. Keep searching for glasses.
0530: Pack away sleeping mat and other camping detritus in hope of finding glasses.
0535: Emerge from the tent into the morning dew. Wipe hands on grass and rub into face. Fetch shovel and biodegradable toilet paper from Calypso (the van) and find a suitable patch of ground for the morning constitutional. On the way back, make a cursory hunt for glasses.
0536: FIND GLASSES! Conclude that today will be a good day. Continue reading A Morning in the Life of a Steely Thighed Cyclist

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 16 'Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs.'

In today’s pages (p84-88), Frankl addresses head on the question of the meaning of life.

The search for this meaning is in itself a matter of life and death – for the deterioration of a man’s courage and hope bears a direct correlation to the deterioration of his physical strength.

Quite simply, those prisoners who hoped the war would end by Christmas were very likely to die by New Year.

The only cure for this malaise was to follow Nietzsche’s advice: ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’ Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 16 ‘Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs.’

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 15 'With the end of uncertainty there came the uncertainty of the end.'

In today’s pages (p78-83), Viktor Frankl addresses the dangers of the past, the sufferings of the present and the promise of the future.

For concentration camp prisoners, the ‘most depressing influence’ on their psychology was the fact that no one knew how long they would remain imprisoned for.

This created, in the words of one unnamed research psychologist, a ‘provisional existence’, to which Frankl adds ‘of unknown limit’. Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 15 ‘With the end of uncertainty there came the uncertainty of the end.’

Abu Falafel

Our guide and translator was a Syrian engineer I’ll call Abu Falafel. The first time I met him was at the house he’d been allocated by the ministry on the outer ring of Thessaloniki. It was on the ground floor of a unspectacular apartment building and he shared it with his youngest son, who is deaf.

Abu Falafel started, as all Syrians do, by ignoring our protestations that a second lunch would be unnecessary. He’d gone to so much trouble already, prepping ingredients, that we gladly acquiesced.

And so began the theatre of falafel that would give him his name. Continue reading Abu Falafel

Diavata Camp, Thessaloniki

Before driving to Diavata camp, we had to pick up our interpreter. Being all-smiles Syrian, he was first compelled to cook up huge plates of falafel, mutabbel and hummus, and feed us until we could take no more.

Then we drove out to the camp.

Diavata is hidden away in the warehouse suburbs of industrial Thessaloniki. No one could come across these people if they didn’t know they were here – it’s a long way from the polished waterfront and expensive international chain coffee. Weatherbeaten old gypsies are on their haunches outside, selling vegetables and huge watermelons laid out on tarpaulins. Continue reading Diavata Camp, Thessaloniki

How travel works on the mind

If ever you feel that life isn’t quite lining up, or that your blood isn’t quite circulating as it should, or that you haven’t seen or smelt or heard anything different in a while, take a trip out of your front door and ask strangers how you can help.

That’s what I’ve been doing this past week. Continue reading How travel works on the mind

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 14 'If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.'

In today’s pages (p74-78), Viktor Frankl sets out the first principles of his theory of logotherapy: addressing directly the question of man’s search for meaning.

Following his description of the psychological trials of the camp inmate, Frankl asks whether or not the ‘human being is completely and unavoidably influenced by his surroundings’.

Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors – be they of a biological, psychological or sociological nature? …

[D]o the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings?

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 14 ‘If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.’

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 13 'There they were locked in the huts and burned to death.'

Today’s pages (p70-74) bring us to the end of the Nazi rule of the concentration camp where Viktor Frankl was kept prisoner.

But not without one last twist of fate.

Frankl’s celebrations at the coming of the Red Cross delegate was short-lived. The SS arrived that night and ordered the camp to be cleared, and the prisoners taken to another camp where they would be transferred to Switzerland.

But after a mistake by the Chief Doctor, Frankl was not put on any of the trucks which understandably left him ‘[s]urprised, very annoyed and disappointed’. Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 13 ‘There they were locked in the huts and burned to death.’

From Chios to Crisis

I’m writing this from Chios, hoping that my phone reception doesn’t flip into Turkish and I get charged £12.50 per megabyte. First world problems, I suppose.

Where I am now is less than 5 miles from Turkey: the mountains of Anatolia rise easily over the horizon. It’s the tantalising gap between Asia and Europe, between fear and safety for refugees from the wars in Syria and beyond. Continue reading From Chios to Crisis

A User’s Guide to Cycling in Athens

Here I present to you a user’s guide to cycling (with a bicycle) in Athens, Greece. The guide is presented in no particular order and intends to offer bicyclopaedic information on Athenian attitudes, traffic, roads and even the mythical cycle lane(s).

Last update: July 2018. Continue reading A User’s Guide to Cycling in Athens

Things I Have Learnt About Khora

The generously observant among you will have realised by now that I’m raising money for a community centre for refugees in Athens called Khora.

I promised you all that I’d do my best to find out where our money is going, and that I have done. Thanks to sunset on Strefi. Continue reading Things I Have Learnt About Khora

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 12 'They tried to save themselves, but they only sealed their own fates.'

Today’s pages (p64-70) concern Viktor Frankl’s attitude to fate.

Frankl believed that destiny will run its own course, and his only responsibility was to his own conscience.

One day, Viktor Frankl’s name (or number!) appeared on the list for transportation to a ‘rest camp’.

The other prisoners were all convinced that this was nothing more than a euphemism for ‘gas chamber’, but Frankl did nothing to get his name crossed off the list – even when the camp’s chief doctor told him he only had to ask.

I told him that this was not my way; that I had learned to let fate take its course. … He shook my hand silently, as though it were a farewell, not for life, but from life.

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 12 ‘They tried to save themselves, but they only sealed their own fates.’

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 11 'One literally became a number: dead or alive - that was unimportant; the life of a "number" was completely irrelevant.'

Today’s pages (p60-64) start with the observation that, in the desperate fight for survival, the inmates could easily lose the feeling of being an individual with ‘inner freedom and personal value’.

He thought of himself then as only a part of an enormous mass of people; his existence descended to the level of animal life.

Viktor Frankl notices that the inmates started to behave like sheep, when herded from one place to another by the guards.

[W]e, the sheep, thought of two things only – how to evade the bad dogs and how to get a little food. Just like sheep that crowd timidly into the centre of a herd, each of us tried to get into the middle of our formations.

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 11 ‘One literally became a number: dead or alive – that was unimportant; the life of a “number” was completely irrelevant.’

Daily Dérive #2: The Museum of Parkaeology

What makes such a place eerie?

  • A place, like this, unfamiliar.
  • The only human sounds are far off shrieks, and you’re hemmed in by the screams of insects.
  • Everything is coated in a layer of dust.
  • Discarded cigarettes, feathers and condoms.

Continue reading Daily Dérive #2: The Museum of Parkaeology

The Limits of Rationalism: The Existential Journey of Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

I recently finished reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and was struck by the philosophical wranglings of the character of Levin, particularly in the final book.

Some readers might write Levin off as a bit of a prig, especially in contrast to the wild passions of the eponymous female hero, but I find his incessant naval-gazing appealingly familiar.

In this blog post, I’ll pick out Tolstoy’s line of argument that takes Levin from the torment of existential doubt to the clear certainty of his purpose in life. Continue reading The Limits of Rationalism: The Existential Journey of Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

Daily Dérive #1: Agios Panteleimonas ~ Exarcheia

The air is cool, but the sun is hot. I can smell that smell of hot stones and gasoline, sweet rotting rubbish, atomising flowers, or charring meat. It’s what my nose knows as the southern Mediterranean.

A man tidily dressed in a cotton shirt and trousers sits down beside me. He’s looking around like he’s lost a friend. He yawns ostentatiously. His beard is frizzled with grey and white. A toddler cackles and runs toward and away on the flagstones. Continue reading Daily Dérive #1: Agios Panteleimonas ~ Exarcheia

London to Greece via Paris, Milan and Brindisi with (but not by) a bike

Travelling by bike is a dream, travelling with a bike is goddam nightmare – if (like me a week ago) you don’t know what you’re doing.

This is a recollection of my ‘with bike’ journey from London to Patras in Greece, via Paris, Milan and Brindisi. The trip took 5 hot days in July 2018, encompassing 3 trains through France and Italy, and 1 ferry across the Adriatic. Along the way, I got to see plenty of Paris, a little of Milan, and probably too much of Brindisi’s gelaterias!

Before I left, I searched everywhere for information about travelling across Europe with a bike and, although I found plenty of Official Rules,  I couldn’t find anything like this – a straight-forward guide written by a cyclist who’d actually been there and done it.

I was pretty stressed on this journey simply because I didn’t know how much to trust the Official Rules – will Eurostar mistakenly send my bike to Brussels? will there be enough space on the TGV in among justifiably irate commuters? will my bike bag be 12cm too long? and will I be sent directly to jail without passing go by an over-officious guard?

Hopefully this guide will ease your troubled mind because this journey IS EASILY DONE. Continue reading London to Greece via Paris, Milan and Brindisi with (but not by) a bike

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 10 'Suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering great or little.'

Today’s pages (p55-60) start with what must be one of the most shockingly apposite analogies in literature.

[A] man’s suffering is similar to the behaviour of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber.

Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.

The choice to use ‘gas’ for the metaphor is both macabre and entirely fitting. Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 10 ‘Suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering great or little.’

Travel from the Heart

This post is coming to you LIVE from the Milan-Brindisi train. Currently paused at Trinitapoli, where the air smells of rain and the clouds are ripped from oil paintings. Somewhere over there is the Adriatic, across which (with any luck) I shall be sailing tomorrow evening.

The man opposite me, in shirt sleeves and eyebrows, is eating one of those doughnut-shaped apricots, bringing the sharp tang of Italian soil and sunshine to the carriage. Continue reading Travel from the Heart

Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 9 'I bit my lips till they hurt in order to keep from laughing at one of his love poems, and very likely that saved my life.'

The prisoners’ inner life was so important to their survival, whether it was the mundane nostalgic memory of catching the bus or answering telephone, or the sublime sight of the setting sun through the tall trees of the Bavarian woods.

After admiring such a sunset, one prisoner said to another: ‘How beautiful the world could be.’ Continue reading Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 9 ‘I bit my lips till they hurt in order to keep from laughing at one of his love poems, and very likely that saved my life.’

Foiled Diaries: Finito!

The Foiled recordings last weekend went down an absolute storm (see above cast photo). In the memorable words of one superfan: ‘That made Series 1 sound shit.’ And I couldn’t agree more fervently.

Probably my favourite moment of the whole weekend was the read through before what will become Episode 2. Sitting across from the exquisite Miles Jupp as he transformed my words into actual live comedy is something I will never forget – barring a governmental lobotomisation programme or degenerative brain disease. Continue reading Foiled Diaries: Finito!

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 8 'The salvation of man is through love and in love.'

Today’s pages (p45-51) are some of the most touching in the whole book.

Viktor Frankl begins by describing, almost light-heartedly, the ‘cultural hibernation’ that took place in the concentration camps.

Two exceptions to the absence of interest in art and intellect were ‘almost continuous’ discussions of politics and religion:

The depth and vigour of religious belief often surprised and moved a new arrival.

This deepening of spiritual life is Frankl’s explanation of why ‘some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature’. Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 8 ‘The salvation of man is through love and in love.’

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 7 'In those ghastly minutes, I found a little bit of comfort; a small piece of bread.'

Today’s pages (p41-45) are largely concerned with food, notable for its paucity in concentration camps such as Auschwitz.

Viktor Frankl recounts the daily menu:

[T]he daily ration consisted of very watery soup given out once daily, and the usual small bread ration.

In addition to that, there was the so-called “extra allowance,” consisting of three-fourths of an ounce of margarine, or of a slice of poor quality sausage, or of a little piece of cheese, or a bit of synthetic honey, or a spoonful of watery jam, varying daily.

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 7 ‘In those ghastly minutes, I found a little bit of comfort; a small piece of bread.’

Brilliant Bivvying: The Mother Lode of Wild Camping Advice

The Top Line

A bivvy bag is not much more than a waterproof sack for you to sleep inside. Despite that unpromising description, bivvying is a superb alternative to full-blown tent-based camping – especially when weight or discretion is important.

Without exaggeration, a bivvy bag could completely transform your vagabonding – as one did mine 7 years ago.

The following is the mother lode of lessons that I’ve learnt over dozens of bivvying adventures since 2011. Take all this advice with many pinches of low-sodium salt, and find your own way. Continue reading Brilliant Bivvying: The Mother Lode of Wild Camping Advice

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 6 'No dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us.'

In today’s pages (p37-41), Viktor Frankl describes how even the most hardened concentration camp prisoner can be roused through insult to rash – and potentially suicidal – indignation.

The beating Frankl received after defending his honour as a doctor against the insults of a particularly repugnant foreman was only relieved by the favour of the Capo in his work party.

How had Frankl won the good favour of this Capo? By lending a sympathetic ear to the Capo’s tales of matrimonial strife! Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 6 ‘No dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us.’

All News isn’t Good News; Most News is Crappy

Today I thought I’d buy a couple of newspapers, one national and one local, and cut out the stories that I considered ‘positive news’.

What do I mean by that? Although not necessarily ‘good news’ (certainly not in the Biblical sense), for me positive news stories are reported with an eye on constructive analysis and solutions. Above all, they steer clear of threatening or fear-mongering language.

Armed with my copy of The Guardian and The Bournemouth Daily Echo, I set about on the floor with a pair of scissors. Continue reading All News isn’t Good News; Most News is Crappy

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 5 'Disgust, horror and pity are emotions that our spectator could not really feel any more.'

In this section (p31-37), Viktor Frankl moves onto the second phase of the psychological response to incarceration: apathy, a ‘kind of emotional death’.

As he says, such an ‘abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour’.

This ‘mortification of normal reactions was hastened’ by the punishments meted out by the camp officials:

It was a favourite practice to detail a new arrival to a work group whose job was to clean the latrines and remove the sewage.

If, as usually happened, some of the excrement splashed into his face during its transport over bumpy fields, any sign of disgust by the prisoner or any attempt to wipe off the filth would only be punished with a blow from a Capo.

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-Day Book Cult: Day 5 ‘Disgust, horror and pity are emotions that our spectator could not really feel any more.’

Foiled Diaries: Writers Rooms

This is necessarily going to be a super short diary update: I’ve done more than enough typing for one week on Foiled and I haven’t slept in a bed for a few nights – the glamour!

One particular highlight of the last 7 days was realising on Wednesday that our producer wanted a rewrite of one episode by 9pm – at 8.40pm. I still don’t know how I managed to write 8 pages in 20 minutes – and only half of it was chucked out the next day! Continue reading Foiled Diaries: Writers Rooms

Ultimate Medal Hope

Last week I was invited to join my friend’s Ultimate Summer League team. Minutes later, I chucked her Frisbee into the river Thames. I’ve double-checked and the invite still stands.

Ultimate is the codified sport of throwing a Frisbee around a field. The rules are a cross between American Football and Netball: you score in end zones, but you can’t travel with the disc and there’s no physical contact allowed.

I’m not sure about the dress-code. I sincerely hope the uniform isn’t also a cross between American Football and Netball. Shoulder pads and short skirts are not a good look on me. Continue reading Ultimate Medal Hope

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-day Book Cult: Day 4 'A man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.'

Today’s pages mark Viktor Frankl’s transition from naive optimism to the moment he ‘struck out’ the whole of his former life and started his bare fight for survival from Auschwitz.

Those who had survived the initial cull were stripped of all their belongings and shaved bare with not a hair left on their bodies.

While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness was brought home to us: we really had nothing now except our bare bodies: all we possessed, literally, was our naked existence’.

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-day Book Cult: Day 4 ‘A man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.’

Sunswim

I was undeterred by the sight of a gaggle of ‘Run Doggy Run’ dogs being hauled into the water for a splash. Not even after one particularly enthusiastic hound decided to urinate over some reeds.

I’m sure his pee is already thoroughly diluted. Besides: worse things have certainly oozed in that water unseen, but still. Slightly distasteful to actually witness the event.

There is something magical about the swimmer’s view of the world. Instead of being on top of everything, you are 95% submerged. The banks rise up and the horizon stretches on forever as you gaze over your belly down stream. Continue reading Sunswim

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-day Book Cult: Day 3 'The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute.'

These five pages (p22-26 in my 2004 Rider edition) begin with the first phase of the inmates mental reactions to life in a concentration camp. Unsurprisingly, the dominant symptom on admission to Auschwitz was shock.

There are three passages in today’s reading that stand out for me. The first is Viktor Frankl’s observation of the ‘delusion of reprieve’:

The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute. We, too, clung to shreds of hope and believed to the last moment that it would not be so bad.

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-day Book Cult: Day 3 ‘The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute.’

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-day Book Club: Day 2 'We know: the best of us did not return.'

These first pages (p17-21 in my 2004 Rider edition) of Part 1: Experiences in a Concentration Camp contain the most chilling passage I think I have ever read in a work of non-fiction.

After describing how desperate was the fight for survival in the concentration camps of World War Two, Viktor Frankl matter-of-factly states:

On the average, only those prisoners could keep alive who, after years of trekking from camp to camp, had lost all scruples in their fight for existence; they were prepared to use every means, honest and otherwise, even brutal force, theft, and betrayal of their friends, in order to save themselves.

We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles – whatever one may choose to call them – we know: the best of us did not return.

Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-day Book Club: Day 2 ‘We know: the best of us did not return.’

The Viktor Frankl 5-a-day Book Club: Day 1 'A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a psychiatrist worth listening to.'

Gordon W Allport opens his preface to Man’s Search for Meaning with an anecdote about Viennese psychiatrist-author Victor Frankl. Apparently he used to ask all his patients one question: ‘Why do you not commit suicide?’ Continue reading The Viktor Frankl 5-a-day Book Club: Day 1 ‘A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a psychiatrist worth listening to.’

Cycling to Syria – Back in the Saddle!

In 2016 I embarked on the somewhat ambitious target of cycling from London to Syria, reporting on the refugee ‘crisis’ from the saddle of my bicycle. In 46 days, I got as far as Vienna, before rushing back to work on Foiled at the Edinburgh Festival. It was a busy summer!

I always said that I’d carry on the cycle some day. Well, some day has arrived. Continue reading Cycling to Syria – Back in the Saddle!

It’s a wonderful life – isn’t it?

It’s not every day that the premise for a Hollywood film gets turned into a psychology experiment designed to make you feel more satisfied with your life.

But that’s what has happened to Frank Capra’s perennial schmaltz-fest It’s A Wonderful Life. Continue reading It’s a wonderful life – isn’t it?

Look after the weirdos and delete everything

So apparently Facebook have had some bad press recently. What can I add to the debate, other than being smug about being 5 years ahead of the curve?

The way I describe quitting Facebook is that it’s as if a tiny little bit of your brain suddenly becomes available again. I didn’t realise that it was being taken up by Facebook 24 hours a day until I quit. If you haven’t already, and if only for that reason, quit.

If you’re worried about What Might Happen, take courage. After deleting my account, I didn’t get a single twinge of remorse. I didn’t miss a thing, although I do now have no social life (unrelated, I’m sure…) Continue reading Look after the weirdos and delete everything

The Only Serious Question of Philosophy The lesson from history is that humans are infinitely adaptable, and the most adaptable are those who are able to see the potential for growth among abject suffering.

In the preface to my edition of Man’s Search for Meaning, Gordon W Allport tells us that Viktor Frankl used to ask his psychotherapy clients what it was that stopped them from committing suicide.

It’s a question that existential philosopher and bon vivant Albert Camus considered the only serious question in philosophy. Continue reading The Only Serious Question of Philosophy The lesson from history is that humans are infinitely adaptable, and the most adaptable are those who are able to see the potential for growth among abject suffering.

Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning

I read a lot of books. Not a ridiculous quantity, like my sister, but a lot. I also make a lot of spreadsheets. Not a ridiculous quantity, like my dad, but a lot. Putting those two aspects of my nature together, I can tell you things like:

  • I read an average of 32.7 books a year.
  • About a quarter of those will be fiction.
  • I also give up on an average of 6.9 books every year.
  • In the last 5 years, I have given 45 books a rating of 5 out of 5. That’s 27% of all the books I’ve read.
  • Only 1 book in 202 has scored 1 out of 5. Most of the books in this category I don’t finish, and therefore don’t score. This one I finished, and it was irritatingly bad. It was by Jeffrey Archer.

Every now and again I read a book that defies my rating scheme. If I was a different sort of person, a more devil-may-care sort of person, then I’d break my 5-point rating for books like this.

This week I read such a book, after finding out that Alastair Humphreys reads it every year: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Continue reading Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning

Why I sauna

On Wednesday, for the umpteenth time in the last year, I found myself in swimming shorts, dripping in sweat, and making small talk with strangers. Even in the UK, saunas are a great place to meet people.

“What even is the benefit of doing a sauna, anyway?”

I’ve heard that question while sweating my guts out so many times that I really wonder what brought them there in the first place. You just walked through the door, son, you tell me! Continue reading Why I sauna

From a log in a quiet noisy place with mud underfoot

After a week of fluctuating symptoms of flu, yesterday I was reminded of the healing power of a bike ride. The weight came off my shoulders as I cycled through the southerly reaches of Greater London, through back streets of spring sunshine, between grid-lines of daffodils, dodging traffic on green lanes and perking up parks. Has it been so long since that summer we shared?

The feeling was of a reflective moment during the playing of an old song: a moment of calm and clarity. It made me pick up the phone this lunchtime and call an old friend, stitching something together where it might have severed. That’s what a bike ride can do: that’s what being in-the-world can do – for me, at least.

It also ties the first loop in a chain of habit; today I walk out of my (borrowed) front door and into a wood. Continue reading From a log in a quiet noisy place with mud underfoot