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.’
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
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.’
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
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.’
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
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
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.’
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
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.’
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.’
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.’
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 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?
As you can see, the Department for Work and Pensions are optimistic that my comedy writing career is really going to take off over the next 31 years. I’m sure that the reason they have so much confidence is that they’ve heard I write in Arcot Street. Continue reading Everyone needs an Arcot
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
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.
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
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
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
One of my favourite aphorisms is “Happiness is the very opposite of selfishness”, attributed to Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University and obsessive historian of Tony Blair. [Read an elucidation of his aphorism on the BBC]
This aphorism is a great tonic for when I find myself footling around in my brain for that elusive drug, happiness. It gently nudges me back onto the path, calibrates my compass, gets me out of my head and connects me with others.
But there are times when it doesn’t work. Continue reading Work is the Opposite of Worry
My radio play, Options for Dealing with Squatting, is now out! The Narrativist is a unique podcast that splices a conventional interview with an original radio play on the same theme. My episode is about squatting. No: not weightlifting, but the nefarious art of appropriating unused buildings for shelter. Continue reading Options for Dealing with Squatting: A Mockumentary Radio Play
The half term holiday was the perfect opportunity for Beth and I to go down to Wales, breathe the comic airs and get started on series two of Foiled.
The temptation, of course, was to treat the half term holiday as, well, a holiday – and there were indeed blows along the respective proms of Barry and Penarth, as well as long cups of tea in the terrace sunshine. But sitcoms, even radio sitcoms, have to start somewhere. And ours, however leisurely, started here. Continue reading Foiled Series 2: A Sitcom Writer’s Diary
I last took a flight in January 2010. I was still in my mid-to-late 20s, of no fixed abode (no change there) and had only been taking writing seriously for a year. I didn’t own a bicycle, had never worn a beard or grown my hair, and knew Cairo better than I knew any town outside London and my county of birth. Continue reading No No Aeroplanes: 98 Months and Out
Dum loquimur, fugerit invida aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
Even as we speak, envious time flies past: harvest the day and leave as little as possible for tomorrow.
Horace, Ode XI (65-8BC)
I’m currently reading Carpe Diem Regained by Roman Krznaric (incidentally, a book funded by Unbound – it is possible!) and this blog post is inspired by the tools and techniques he explores in the second chapter: Dancing with Death.
The ancient philosophy espoused by Horace in the first century before Christ is one of the most ubiquitous in modern culture, but its ubiquity disguises how little any of us actually think about what it would really mean to live by. Continue reading Carpe Diem: Dancing with Death
The best positive constraints are easily explicable and as simple to follow. Before bed, I put my phone on airplane mode and hide it away in a drawer. Then I don’t touch it until after noon the next day. (Unless there is some pressing human need; but that’s only happened twice in the last three weeks.) Continue reading No Phone (Before Noon)
Scotland, it turns out, knows how to put on a show.
As Ben and I walked out on Monday afternoon, squeezing in one last tramp before the drive back to civilisation, we were audience to a scene that the Scottish Tourist Board couldn’t have choreographed better. Continue reading Bothy Bothering: Cairngorms
In 1973, the anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote something wise:
“We are, in sum, incomplete or unfinished animals who complete ourselves through culture – and not through culture in general but through particular forms of it.”
The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, 1973
I love this idea: it’s what makes life so exciting and so terrible. We are born, not as blank slates, but certainly unfinished. Our parents and carers start our finishing, but as adults we, in collusion with our society, continue the process. Continue reading Unfinished Animals: A Novel
Last Sunday, I was the beneficiary of some friend-wisdom – that variety of wisdom that you can only hear from friends because otherwise it just doesn’t sink in.
What 5 things do you love doing? 5 things that invariably fill you with joy every time you do them. Feed yourself with them. Continue reading Your 5 Things
This year, I have tried my best to ignore the edutainment of what is colloquially known as “The News”.
According to my internet browser history, I have visited only 52 unique pages on the BBC News website this year – previously my number one news source. There was an understandable peak around the General Election (6 pages) and I was also interested in the referendum in Catalonia (3 pages) and the German election (2 pages).
9 of the 52 pages were news stories about sport. My news injunction did not extend to sport: I visited a gluttonous 516 unique pages on the BBC Sport website this year, which gives you some indication of my previous BBC News addiction. Continue reading 2017: No News is Good News
After the Christmas, the crisis. Or Crisis. I’ve been helping out at the Harris Academy Bermondsey, where volunteers have transformed a school into a week-long refuge for homeless people.
Crisis at Christmas is a brilliant idea that started 50 years as a publicity stunt. It’s been going every year since and thousands of homeless guests come through the doors for the good food, companionship and advice offered by more than 11,000 volunteers across 13 sites in London and beyond. Continue reading After the Christmas, the Crisis
This post is so sophisticated it should have its own Times Literary Supplement font. That’d distract you from the embarrassing fact that most of these are non-fiction. But hey – these seven books inspired me this year, each in their own way. Continue reading Dave’s Books of the Year 2017
Instead of slogging across the M4 corridor from London to Bristol, I took a one day flying-cycle across three counties from Bournemouth to Midford.
If I needed any reminder of why Britain is the most beautiful country to traverse, then I got it. I haven’t always thought this way about our shores, always wanting to be elsewhere and ideally elsewhen. But what better place is there than right here? Continue reading Biking Bournemouth-Bristol
I just spent an invigorating hour with M., a refugee language teacher from Syria. I found him through Chatterbox, a social enterprise that matches refugees with a talent for teaching with language students like me. Fantastic idea.
I haven’t spoken Arabic properly since the last time I was in Egypt in January 2010. That’s a heck of a long time for a language to lie dormant, but I was surprised by how easily some of came back to me, and M. was amazed – ‘You’re half Egyptian,’ he very much joked. Continue reading Learning Arabic from a Syrian wanted by ISIS
O soul of mine, will you never be good and sincere, all one, all open, visible to the beholder more clearly than even your encompassing body of flesh?
Will you never taste the sweetness of a loving and affectionate heart? Will you never be filled full and unwanting; craving nothing, yearning for no creature or thing to minister to your pleasures, no prolongation of days to enjoy them, no place or country or pleasant clime or sweet human company?
When will you be content with your present state, happy in all about you, persuaded that all is and shall be well with you, so long as it is their good pleasure and ordained by them for the safety and welfare of that perfect living Whole – so good, so just, so beautiful – which gives life to all things, upholding and enfolding them, and at their dissolution gathering them into Itself so that yet others of their kind may spring forth?
Will you never be fit for such fellowship with the gods and men as to have no syllable of complaint against them, and no syllable of reproach from them?
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 10:1
Read in front of a raging fire on a frozen starry night in the Tomsleibhe bothy on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. With grateful thanks to the Mountain Bothies Association.
Inspired by Robert MacFarlane’s book Wild Places, I’ve spent the last few days tramping about the Inner Hebrides, specifically the isles of Mull and Iona.
First, for any doubters out there: the weather has been glorious – which for this country means only a couple of rainstorms. Other than that, only drizzle and sunshine.
Continue reading Tomsleibhe, Isle of Mull
The man whose heart is palpitating for fame after death does not reflect that out of all those who remember him every one will himself soon be dead also, and in the course of time the next generation after that, until in the end, after flaring and sinking by turns, the final spark of memory is quenched.
Furthermore, even supposing that those who remember you were never to die at all, nor their memories to die either, yet what is that to you?
Clearly, in your grave, nothing; and even in your lifetime, what is the good of praise – unless maybe to subserve some lesser design?
Surely, then, you are making an inopportune rejection of what Nature has given you today, if all your mind is set on what men will say of you tomorrow.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.19
Continue reading Meditations on Meditations: Praise and Service (4.19)
In your actions let there be a willing promptitude, yet a regard for the common interest; due deliberation, yet no irresolution; and in your sentiments no pretentious over-refinement. Avoid talkativeness, avoid officiousness.
The god within you should preside over a being who is virile and mature, a statesman, a Roman, and a ruler; one who has held his ground, like a soldier waiting for the signal to retire from life’s battlefield and ready to welcome his relief; a man whose credit need neither be sworn to by himself nor avouched by others.
Therein is the secret of cheerfulness, of depending on no help from without and needing to crave from no man the boon of tranquility. We have to stand upright ourselves, not be set up.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 3:5
Continue reading Meditations on Meditations: Core Beliefs (3.5)
Be like the headland, on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm, while the foaming waters are put to rest around it.
‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future.’
This kind of event could have happened to anyone, but not everyone would have borne it without getting upset.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.49
Continue reading Meditations on Meditations: Adversity (4:49)
Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad.
But I have recognised the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity.
So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative or hate him.
We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2:1
Continue reading Meditations on Meditations: Love (2:1)
“No one ever died while breathing.” Anthony Abbagnano’s words are only somewhat comforting, as I settle down on my girlfriend’s yoga mat for an hour of hyperventilation.
Last night I spent the evening with about a hundred other yoga-matted breathers in the vast domed sanctuary of the Round Chapel in Clapton. The event was called Psychedelic Breathwork, and jointly organised by the excellent Psychedelic Society and Anthony’s organisation Alchemy of Breath. I had no idea what to expect – but at least now I could be optimistic that death would play no part in it.
Continue reading “No one ever died while breathing.” Psychedelic Breathwork with Alchemy of Breath
We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it? What does Nature hold dearer, or more proper to herself? Could you have a hot bath unless firewood underwent some change? Could you be nourished if the food suffered no change? Is it possible for any useful thing to be achieved without change? Do you not see, then, that change in yourself is of the same order, and no less necessary to Nature?
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7:18
Continue reading Meditations on Meditations: Change (7:18)
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills. But this is altogether un-philosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself at any time you want.
There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind, especially if he has within himself the kind of thoughts that let him dip into them and so at once gain complete ease of mind; and by ease of mind, I mean nothing but having one’s own mind in good order.
So constantly give yourself this retreat and renew yourself. You should have to hand concise and fundamental principles, which will be enough, as soon as you encounter them, to cleanse you from all distress and send you back without resentment at the activities to which you return.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.3
Continue reading Meditations on Meditations: Retreat (4:3)
“How barbarous, to deny men the privilege of pursuing what they imagine to be their proper concerns and interests!
Yet, in a sense, this is just what you are doing when you allow your indignation to rise at their wrongdoing; for after all, they are only following their own apparent concerns and interests.
You say they are mistaken? Why then, tell them so, and explain it to them, instead of being indignant.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6:27
Continue reading Meditations on Meditations: Indignation (6:27)
Loosely based on Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, The Most Living is lifehacker Tim Ferriss meets David Mitchell (both of them) in a dream-like tour of the meaning of life in modern Britain. Continue reading The Most Living: Synopsis
Robert Louis Stevenson’s former residence is a glum affair, not least because it was completely destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.
The day I visit is blue skies and October sunshine, but Skerryvore is cast in a shiver. Pines loom over the miserable ruins, given time to grow and overgrow since the bombsite was turned memorial garden 60 years ago. Continue reading Robert Louis Stevenson at Skerryvore, Dorset
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, summer is sliding inexorably away. With heavy hearts, we pack away our shorts and sandals and dig out our autumnal garb. This is it, guys: we’ll be layered up until next spring.
So why haven’t I worn a jumper or a coat since Tuesday? Continue reading Wim Hof: The Cold is Our Teacher
I’ve always been somewhat in awe of Christianity: two millennia of earnest study on the nature of being and how to live the good life – all based on one book. And there is plenty of good in the Good Book. Like Mark Twain said:
[The Bible] is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.
Continue reading Stoicism and The Word of God
When was the last time you caught a train to nowhere, walked across fields and up a hill, before sleeping out under the stars?
That was the question I was asking myself after finishing last week’s piece on A.I.. The next question was: What are you waiting for? Continue reading What are we waiting for? A Box Hill Microadventure
I’ve been reading a lot about Artifical Intelligence recently. It’s a topic that has a way of capturing the mind. Not surprising given the mind-boggling timeline: Continue reading 2040: Don’t Worry, Be Happy