Blog: The Motherlode

The Last Newsletter (for a bit) 🎲 The Dice Man rapidly descends into murder and generalised mayhem, but the premise — using chance to reduce decision fatigue — I’ve found compelling since I read the book in 2017

The die is cast

Have you read The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (né George Cockcroft)? It’s a novel about a psychiatrist who one day decides to let the roll of a die dictate his decisions.

In the beginning was Chance, and Chance was with God and Chance was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Chance and without him was not anything made that was made. In Chance was life and the life was the light of men.

The story of The Dice Man, being a work of fiction, rapidly descends into cult, murder, rape and generalised mayhem, but the premise — using chance to reduce decision fatigue and maybe jazz up your life a little — I’ve found compelling since I read the book back in April 2017.

Side note: Documentally, who spent nine years living with dice, beautifully recorded his meetings with George Cockcroft in Paris and London in 2018.

The Dice Man’s playful premise is easily applied to our lives in two, non-murderous, ways:

1. Eliminate to do list decisions (and maybe procrastination)

  1. Write down six things you really need to get done today. Don’t worry about what order to do them in: they will all get done.
  2. Roll the die.
  3. Do the corresponding job.
  4. Repeat, either adding a new task to your options list or re-rolling if you get that number again. (If you roll seven sixes in a row, maybe check your die rolls true…)

Yesterday, I used the die to run through a bunch of stuff I’d been putting off for ages. It made productivity playful.

Intermediate: you can easily weight your tasks by assigning two or more faces of the die to a particularly important job. You can also roll two dice for a longer to do list or to take advantage of the different outcome probabilities.

Advanced: throw in an option that’s a bit rogue. Something you’ve been putting off for years; a dream or long-held fantasy. Or maybe the total opposite of what you ‘should’ be doing; something silly or way out of character.

2. Choose from a number of equally good options

Decision fatigue. Analysis paralysis. The Paradox of Choice.

Sometimes we have no idea what the best thing to do is. Maybe it doesn’t matter what we do. Maybe we’ll never know what’s best until we start.


We’re crying out for someone to tell us what to do. Understandably, friends and family are reluctant to take this job: no one is responsible for your life choices except you yourself. But if you’re really stuck, why not ask the die?

  1. Make a list of all your options. These are all things that you want to do, but you can’t do them all at once. Committing to one of them probably feels like you’re giving up on the rest. There is probably a lot of uncertainty around whether one or any of them could be a success. This might be why you haven’t made a start or seen any of them through to the end. You’re stuck.
  2. Let go of the idea that it matters at all which one you move forward with. Remember: these are all good options.
  3. Roll the die.
  4. Do that one thing and scrap the rest.
  5. Seriously: scrap them. They are gone. At least for now. For now, you are all-in on whatever the die told you.
  6. Okay, okay. There’s an exception to that rule: if the die’s choice has made you realise in the core of your being that you really need to do this other thing, then that’s fine. Do that other thing, but do it with total commitment, no half measures: you still scrap the rest. Sometimes we get clarity from facing the shocking reality of what we don’t want.

Yesterday, the last day of January, I rolled the die on my six good options.

Alea iacta est; the die is cast

For the past month (or possibly the past ten years), I’ve been feeling a strong obligation to dedicate a furious amount of energy into writing. This is my constant; this is my work; this is my being.

That’s all well and good, but there are a lot of ‘shoulds’ lurking in the shadows:

  • I should be writing a book
  • I should be promoting my work
  • I should be writing journalism
  • I should be earning more money
  • I should be working harder

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve felt such shoulds heavy on my shoulders and the weight pinned me to the floor, paralysed by choice and uncertainty. Should energy doesn’t get things done, not unless there’s someone cracking the whip.

On the last day of January, after a month of doing things the same half-assed way as the past ten years, I decided in desperation to turn to the die.

‘Tell me, o die,’ I cried, ‘which writing project to throw my everything energy into?’

I put down six options for the six faces:

  1. You Are What You Don’t
  2. Days of Adventure
  3. Man Sloth Mode
  4. Round Britain Twice
  5. Bikes + Borders

For snake eyes, I went radical:

  1. Quit writing for the whole of February

Then I rolled.

The die — strangely, as I knew it would — came up on that single spotted one.

And so, for the first time since 2010, I hereby shed any sense that I should be writing.

For many years, I have clung to the seductive mirage, the broken crutch that writing will bring me fame, fortune and happiness. It may yet bring those things, but not in the way that I have been approaching it. So, for now, I need a break. A total sabbatical.

Let’s not get dramatic: it’s only a month. Four newsletters’ worth. But I’m excited about the open water ahead of me. By letting go of my self-imposed obligation to publish, I create space for new lifeforms to emerge.

I already feel lighter.


I want to finish by saying a big thank you to you. It’s amazing that I get to write to you folks every week. An honour.

For those of you who have a paying subscription: a triple thank you. I don’t offer much to paying subscribers except my gratitude and an archive of hundreds of stories. But if you would like a physical book edition of all my stories from 2020 (😂), then hit reply and send me your address.

If you miss me and you believe in the God of Chance, then use my brand new Random Story page, which will surface one of the 920+ stories that are lurking in my back catalogue. Good luck!

I know you will understand my need for a creative pause — in fact, some of you have previously suggested I do this exact thing. Sorry for ignoring you.

The truth is that I don’t think I could have taken a decision like this, to step away from something I’ve been doing most of my adult life, without the crazy courage of the die.

I couldn’t have done it alone and I probably would’ve dug my heels in if anyone else had dared tell me to stop writing. But as soon as I saw that fateful digit I knew that it was exactly the right thing to do.

So let’s roll.

Full Terms of Disengagement

  • ❎ I won’t work on this newsletter in February (I wrote most of today’s in January). That means skipping 9, 16, 23 February and 1 March.
  • ❎ I won’t work on any of my own public writing projects or feel any obligation that I should.
  • ☑ I can write my private diary (but I don’t have to). Journaling is an important processing tool and can be independent of the urge to publish and publicise.
  • ☑ I can interview brilliant people, learn from them and elevate their ideas and achievements (but I won’t share anything publicly until March).
  • ☑ I can take notes on books I’m reading and on sessions with my counsellor.
  • ☑ I can take jobs that pay me to write because, frankly, that’s life.

Okay? Deal. 🤝

4 Tiny Big Things At The End

1. Wave at people in SPACE

Wherever you are on Earth, NASA will tell you where, when and how you can see the International Space Station flying through space above your head.

The space station looks like an airplane or a very bright star moving across the sky, except it doesn’t have flashing lights or change direction. It will also be moving considerably faster than a typical airplane (airplanes generally fly at about 600 miles per hour; the space station flies at 17,500 miles per hour).

Thanks dad for showing us last weekend 🌌

2. Random Good News

The EU’s energy-related CO2 emissions fell 8% last year and are now 14% below their pre-pandemic levels. […] The amount of electricity generated from fossil fuels in the United Kingdom has declined to its lowest level since 1957. […] Wind turbines are friendlier to birds than oil-and-gas drilling.

Via Future Crunch (of course). 🕊

3. Discovery of Amazonian ‘Rome’

Using airborne laser-scanning technology (Lidar), [Stéphen] Rostain and his colleagues discovered a long-lost network of cities extending across 300sq km in the Ecuadorean Amazon, complete with plazas, ceremonial sites, drainage canals and roads that were built 2,500 years ago and had remained hidden for thousands of years.

Read more on 🌴

4. Walk Backwards For Balance

Science (and Tik Tok) says:

Backward walking positively affected gait and balance ability after intervention.

[Backward walking] training could serve as a potentially useful tool to improve balance performance among those with a high risk of fall.

Which reminds me of my previous hobby of running up eight flights of stairs backwards. Good for the knees, apparently! (Note: I am not a physio.) ⚖

The Adventure of Scrape Bottom Last night I walked to Markway Hill in the New Forest to watch the sunset, part of my Winter Forest Sunsets challenge to visit all twenty-two high points in the national park, witnessing and celebrating as the envelope of our days is gently eased apart.

Last night I walked to Markway Hill in the New Forest to watch the sunset, part of my Winter Forest Sunsets challenge to visit all twenty-two high points in the national park, witnessing and celebrating as the envelope of our days is gently eased apart.

I chose Markway Hill because I left home a little later than I should’ve done to catch sunset. Markway Hill is right next to a main road: easy to access in a hurry.

Or so I thought.

The car park was separated from the trig point by two kilometres of bog.

Sunset at Clayhill Bottom

After going in ankle deep, I chose not to pursue the waterlogged path across Clayhill Bottom. I struck out for higher ground of (no joke) Scrape Bottom and immediately went in up to my knee.

I had no option but to persevere, climbing as best I could as the ground — if you can call it that — shook beneath me. I’ll admit: it was hard to admire the shivvering miracle of mossy abundance that turned water into soil while I myself was sinking to my doom.

With sodden boots squelching at every step, I traversed the hills through heather, bracken and gorse so deep and so thick that it unravelled the laces on my right boot. This was proper Lewis Carroll snicker-snack Jabberwock territory.

It took me forty five minutes to cover those two kilometres and it was long dark by the time I got to Markway Hill, whatever sunset there might have been totally obscurred by clouds of mist settling over the mire.

It’s fair to say that the New Forest schooled me last night: not as mild mannered as all those picture perfect ponies would have you think.

On top of all that, Markway Hill is, of course, right by the main road. The trudge back to my car not total fun either, blinded by the booming rush of electricity and gasoline.

And do you know what I thought as I stumbled eyeless along the roadside verge, unsure whether my next invisible step would pierce me on the needle pins of a gorse bush or right into the path of an oncoming Volvo?

Give me thigh-deep blanket bog over this!

It’s funny. I’ve watched three sunsets from three different high points in the New Forest this week and none of them have been much of anything: a gradual dimming of the lights.

But every morning’s sunrise, watched, like now, from a window overlooking the ocean, has been determined to dazzle and delight, the sun splitting the sky into colour strips of orange and blue, white and fire.

Sunrise over the ocean

Maybe I should flip my Winter Forest Sunset quest to the morning.

5 Incredible Things I’ve Learned From 340 Days Of Adventure NUMBER FIVE WILL BLOW YOUR MIND! 🤯

Lockdown was a bit of a piss-pot for all of us.

But I wonder: can you think of one positive thing that came out of those months of loneliness? I can, just about.

Lockdown, by taking away almost everything I’d ever taken for granted, gave me the time (so much time) and introspection (so much introspection) to notice what really matters to me in this world.

I mean, of course, this world. More specifically: getting out in it.

At the end of 2020, after our first ‘bubble’ Christmas, I decided that the next year I would try to have 100 Days of Adventure; days where I would spend a significant chunk of time outside on an adventure.

I left my definitions deliberately wide open. ‘Outside’ was vague because I’m a firm believer that adventure can be found anywhere: yes to the mountain tracks of Macedonia, but also yes to a walk through Peterborough. Both outside.

‘Significant chunk’ and ‘an adventure’ were as broad as possible because those terms will mean very different things to different people — including myself, depending on what hat I’m wearing that day.

I don’t think I’ve counted many outings less than a couple of hours, but that’s me. For someone with kids and a full-time office job, getting outside for twenty minutes could be properly significant.

And adventure, well, adventure could be cycling with a hundred people from Glasgow to Athens or it could be asking for a free cup of tea at a snack bar on Bournemouth beach.

Back in 2021, I had serious doubts that I could do 100 Days of Adventure in a year.

It might not seem like a lot, getting outside in a significant way twice a week; but the challenge was to keep the momentum going for the whole year, rain or shine, sickness or health, lockdown or freedom.

Spoiler: I did it. So I did it again in 2022. And again in 2023. Over the past three years, without really paying attention, I’ve racked up 340 Days of Adventure. That, all of a sudden, is a body of work.

I thought it was high time that I look back and distil everything I’ve learned about myself and this world into an internet-friendly listicle.

I have, of course, totally failed in that task. Not really my thing.

But here, nonetheless, are five things that I’ve learned from three years of 100 Days of Adventure (AND NUMBER FIVE WILL BLOW YOUR MIND! 🤯).


1. Even when adventure is a central part of my job, I still have to make time for adventure.

I’m so lucky that my work over the past three years has included 29 days’ supporting schoolkids on their own outdoor expeditions as well as 123 days’ cycling and supporting other cyclists on three mega adventures with Thighs of Steel — but that’s still less than half of all my Days of Adventure.

Even with my vocational head start, 100 Days of Adventure is still a challenge and that challenge has motivated me to do the things that I know make me feel good, but that are not quite as easy as much less adventurous things.

It’s easy to go for a walk along the beach because the beach is right outside my window here in Bournemouth — but that’s not an adventure (unless I get lost and accidentally explore The Millionaire’s Ravine).

It is not so easy to get on my bike, onto a train or into my car and go for a walk somewhere I’ve never been before. That takes a little extra push.

Sometimes that push comes from work: I’m hired to walk with a bunch of kids around the Chiltern Hills. Sometimes that push comes from friends inviting me to stay with them at an off-grid cabin in the Lake District. Sometimes that push comes from a stupid and arbitrary target to go on 100 Days of Adventure.

Whatever the push, the outcome is I feel good. Oh, and also…

2. Adventure is precursor to genius (ahem).

In chemistry, Wikipedia tells me, a precursor is ‘a compound that participates in a chemical reaction that produces another compound’.

Adventure — doing new stuff outside — smashes together not one but two precursors in an alchemical reaction that produces a third really cool thing: genius.

No, really.

This alchemical reaction has been tested by scientists, most famously in a 2014 study by experimental psychologists Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz at Stanford University.

Their coolest results came when they tested human guinea pigs on a test of creativity called Barron’s Symbolic Equivalence Task.

The BSE gives people five minutes to come up with analogies for three prompts. For example, you might be given the prompt ‘a candle burning low’ and you might (if you’re feeling really creative) come up with an analogy like ‘the last hand of a gambler’s last game’.

Importantly, the BSE has what psychologists call good ‘external validation’: it really does measure creativity in the real world. Someone clever went out and gave the BSE to loads of people with all different jobs: famous writers came out top.

Anyway. Oppezzo and Schwartz administered the BSE to forty people randomly assigned to four different conditions: sitting down indoors, walking on a readmill indoors, sitting down in a wheelchair outdoors and walking on legs outdoors.

In five minutes, the sitting indoors group came up with an average of 0.6 high quality novel analogies (fair play: not sure I’d get that many).

But here are the cool bits:

  1. Just sitting outdoors more than doubled the number of high quality novel analogies the guinea pigs came up with.
  2. Walking indoors on a treadmill more than trebled the number of brilliant analogies.
  3. And the combination, walking outdoors, quadrupled the number of analogies. These geniuses were churning out an average of 2.4 high quality novel analogies in their five minutes.

Remember: all these people were randomly assigned to the different conditions. There was no underlying difference in their ‘natural’ creativity. Genius was the result of the alchemical reaction catalysed by the combination of activity and the outdoors.

I’ll say again: creativity quadrupled! It really is that simple. Go. Out. Side.

Without claiming to be a total genius, I’ve certainly reaped the benefits of adventure myself, both in ways that are hard to pin down, such as keeping my day-to-day sanity, and in my working output, most obviously the 67 stories I’ve written based on various Days of Adventure, but also pretty much everything else I’ve done in the past three years.

If you want to become a more productive worker bee in 2024, then you could do a lot worse than committing to a habit that regularly gets you outside doing stuff.

3. I’m so lucky that where I live is so rich in adventure…

As this clutch of photographs will attest, I’m incredibly lucky to live so close to New Forest National Park, the Isle of Purbeck and Brownsea Island: three vast adventure playgrounds between twenty and forty minutes from my door.

4. … But I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the adventures this place has to offer!

I have only recently begun to explore the 71,000 acres of the New Forest, while I scarcely know my way around the Purbecks at all. Brownsea Island, meanwhile, is a hotpot of biodiversity that keeps a team of full-time ecologists entertained for their entire careers.

There is more here to see, feel and learn than is possible in a thousand lifetimes.

Even along the same route, the forest today is not the forest I walked through yesterday. There is always something new to discover. (And hopefully it won’t be so boggy.)

As Heraclitus might have said:

‘You can’t go on the same adventure twice: it’s not the same forest, mountain or ocean as it was yesterday, and, besides, you’re not the same person.’

5a. Do something every few days for a few years and — abracadababoom — you’ve got yourself an awesome life…

This is a lesson that every creative person learns at some point: producing good work consistently is not about intensive sprints or pulling all-nighters; it’s about putting in a decent shift and sticking to a regular routine over the course of years.

The same applies to living a life of adventure, or any other existence you want to cultivate on this sweet Earth. Routine is paramount.

In the kind of quote that makes me want to underline every sentence and italicise every other word, Author Annie Dillard praises the ‘scaffolding’ power of routine in her book, The Writing Life:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. […] A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order — willed, faked, and so brought into being.

I also love the poetic words of William Osler, founding professor of Johns Hopkins Hospital, lauding the generative and enduring power of routine to Yale University students in 1913:

One day must tell another, one week certify another, one month bear witness to the same story.

100 Days of Adventure is a schedule, a mock-up of reason and order, that wills into being a particular kind of life, each month of progress bearing witness to the same story: that I am now the kind of person who routinely goes on adventures. Awesome.

5b. … and an awesome body of work.

Over the course of three years, I’ve racked up 340 Days of Adventure and, in partnership with the regular routine of this newsletter, I’ve written a story for 67 of them.

All of a sudden, without really paying any attention, not only have I learned a lot about myself and the world, but I’ve also accidentally built up enough material for a whole book. That’s a body of work.

I didn’t intend this, but here we are.

Now then. I’m aware that I can’t just print out 67 blog posts and call it a book, so I’m curious: what do you think? What would get YOU excited about reading a book about living with many more Days of Adventure in your life?

Gaping Abundance If an hour when you were a kid was worth tuppence (who gets bored on their summer holidays? Kids, that’s who), then an hour today is worth The Bank of England.

2024 will be my first year without a major Thighs of Steel cycle-raising adventure since 2017.

  • 2023 & 2022: Glasgow to Athens co-organiser
  • 2021: Spell It Out record-breaking co-organiser
  • 2020: Around The World lockdown cyclist
  • 2019: London to Athens core team facilitator
  • 2018: Ljubljana to Sofia cyclist
  • 2017: Bugger all

2017, it’s fair to say, was not a great year. To be honest, I felt like shit most of the time — it was (famously) the year of raging Man Sloth Mode.

For about a year, I did nothing…

Thighs of Steel, it’s fair to say, saved my life. At least, it saved the purposeful part of me that needed something to do, rather than simply something to write (although it also helped with a heck of a lot of that).

The last three years in particular have been dominated, all year round, by organising and then riding Europe’s longest charity bike ride. Ergo: 2024 has a whole lot of gaping hole where Thighs of Steel once was.

As well as crapping my pants about not having anything to do, I’m also choosing to see this hole as a gaping abundance of opportunity.

Quite apart from all those Thighs of Steel bullet points, my life has changed a lot since 2017. I think this is best illustrated with a couple of photos, taken six years and about six miles apart:

In other words: six years is a lot of lifetime and there is no reason to suspect that the next six years will be anything other than, well, full. Almost certainly fuller of life than any previous six year segment in the soap opera Dave (now in its forty-second season) because (and here’s the kicker) that’s how life works, kiddo.

If you thought childhood was wasted on the young, just wait until you try adulthood. It’s amazing. All the dreams of youth, but with the utterly misplaced power to make those dreams a reality (or at least some updated adult version).

Unbelievable (for this city dweller) starlight in the dark skies over the Lake District National Park. Side note: I just learned that Glasgow is the most light polluted place in the UK.

This time we have on earth is damnful of promise. If an hour when you were a kid was worth tuppence (who gets bored on their summer holidays? Kids, that’s who), then an hour today is worth The Bank of England.

That’s why it seems like our six year segments only get richer and richer as we age: we make our time count double and double again.

Time might seem to pass more quickly now we’re older and, sure, part of that is because our brains are slowly calcifying, but it’s also because we compress more meaning into our hours.

Now I’m an adult, I’ll be devilled black and blue if I’m going to spend a second longer than I have to on anything that I don’t see as majorly meaningful, even if (especially if) that means making my own meaning.

Everything I’ve done and almost every word I’ve written since 2017 has edged me closer to an expansively dense existence that prioritises the healing power of jolly well getting outside, and sharing those connective encounters and experiences with other people, both in the flesh and on the page (hello you 👋).

Thighs of Steel has been a huge chunk of that story so far, but it’s by no means the end. More like the prologue.

This year, I have signed up to study for something called The Certificate in Advanced Wilderness Therapeutic Approaches.

Big scary title.

But, if my experience is anything to go by (not to mention the experience of the hundreds of people I’ve guided in the outdoors in the past six years), then the blockbuster slamdunk approach of all our therapeutic encounters with wild nature is this: healing by being.

Unlike the pell-mell of what seems like everything else, nature is there.

Nature is there. Always there*. Simply there. Abundantly there. Quietly there. Raucously there. So go: go! See for yourself, feel for yourself. Slow down to tree time. Stretch yourself over aeons. Be outside forever. Lean your forehead against a tree and breathe in the oxygen that this living tree breathes out. Heal by being.

Two humans healing by being on Great Rigg above Grasmere, looking south into the wintery sun.

* Not necessarily always there if we fuck it up too much. Still: by and large, on our puny human timescales, it seems to be always there. Even if ‘it’ is a weed and ‘there’ are the cracks in the crumbling concrete of a carbon junky civilisation. 😘

Two sheep also

You Can’t Do Everything; Stop Trying 2023 will forever be remembered (by no one at all) as The Year I Read Oliver Burkeman.

2023 will forever be remembered (by no one at all) as The Year I Read Oliver Burkeman.

Below are three links to three short-ish articles by the aforementioned Olly B, all warning us against the ironclad belief that we are immortal, a common belief that lures us into dangerous waters of endless distraction.

I am aware of the contradiction: more content to remind us to reserve our time for what’s important.

So while you could open all these links in new tabs to join the serried ranks of recipes for Mexican fire ant soufflé, podcasts on crypto meta AI parody gameshows and videos about the perils of PVC double glazing that, gasping for attention, will all simultaneously autoplay on double speed in a dystopic Honey Smacks symphony of post-capitalist shock and awe, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach.

Instead, gently ponder my compression of the articles into sentence-length maxims that might transform your life for the wondrous better. (And the links are there for those who love to flirt with deep water.)

52 Things I Learned In 2023 (Part 2)

And a warm welcome from yet another train, this one speeding its way to the snow-capped mountains of the Lake District National Park.

You might have noticed that I like to call our National Parks by their full name. Adding the words ‘National Park’ is not only helpful context for people who might not have any clue what I mean by ‘The Lake District’ or ‘Dartmoor’, but also serves as a reminder that people like you and me fought tooth and claw for these wild places to be opened up for the awesome right to pleasure of people like you and me.

Thank you for doing that, people of the past. In 2024, I want to challenge myself to fight for the rights of people of the future.

Anyway. Today’s story is Part Two of my round up of 52 things I learned in 2023. You can read Part One here or just crack on.

27: I’d never seen a clutch of baby birds in their nest before. Now I know why these mouths-with-wings are called ‘swallows’. Les Sauges, France.


28. Dartmoor is always sunny (except at night when it’s starry)

That’s just a fact I’ve observed from the 25 nights I’ve spent on Dartmoor since 2020.

29. Bladder wrack is a kind of seaweed and it’s both delicious and abundant in coastal waters

Just a little something I learned in May, kayak foraging at Old Harry Rocks with Dani from Fore Adventures.

Starting with the delicious serrated wrack, we gobbled our way over ocean and shoreline: popping bladder wrack, garlicky pepper dulse, slithery sea spaghetti, slimey sea lettuce, spinachy-sweet sea beet, sagey-toothpaste rock samphire, and the invasive, but eminently munchable wireweed.

30. ‘You can’t stop bad things from happening, but you can stop good things from happening through fear and hopelessness’

Credit Rich Chapman for one of the many things I learned at the fantastic Adventure Mind conference. Can’t wait for the 2024 edition.

31. Italy is full of hot springs just bubbling out of the ground

Seriously. Go to the middle bit. It’s amazing.

32. Nature IS Medicine

This is a lesson that goes deeper every time I shift into the nature mind of our wilder places. It’s something that hasn’t always gone hand in hand with my pursuit of the forty ‘Quality Hill and Moorland Days’ needed to qualify for the next stage in my training as an outdoor instructor.

What I need to learn and relearn is much slower and more delicate: I need to learn to stare at the ground and notice the eyebright, knapweed and oxeye daisy; to stare at the sky and read the changing cloudscape; to close my eyes and listen for skylark, snipe and cuckoo.

There is a medicine that you can only absorb through eyes, ears, nose, feet, breath: wind, air, sunshine, rain. Nature, the moor, the relentless acceptance and infinity of it all. Welcome, it says, welcome all. You are whole, it says. We are together, it says, together at last.

Good news though: I now have all forty days in the logbook and can take my assessment to become a Hill and Moorland Leader in 2024.

33: Yew trees are AMAZING. Not only can they live for thousands of years, but they are also entirely poisonous (lethal dose: 50g of needles) EXCEPT for their bright red berries, which aren’t berries at all, but arils. Box Hill, Surrey.


34. 2023 was a 3.48 feel good year (according to one of my three different daily diaries)

I wrote about 196,000 words across 290 entries in my daily diary in 2023. I don’t know what to say about the incalculable value of diary writing that hasn’t been said by people vastly more eloquent than me I me.

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

~ Oscar Wilde. Who else?

I also filled two thick notebooks with my nightly ‘Five Great Things’ journal. Great Things only takes a couple of minutes and is a gentle way to tilt the mind towards quiet calm and restfulness, as well as capturing some of the day’s small wins (albeit illegibly).

Credit: I was inspired to start listing my Great Things after reading this article on For The Interested in February 2019 and it’s one of those tiny habits that make every day feel truly meaningful. Thank you, Josh Spector.

Finally, I also made 156 micro diary entries in a computer program that my dad made for me during the pandemic. (Thanks dad! 👋)

The program was initially designed to track mysterious symptoms of lethargy; in retrospect, I think I was mega stressed out by lockdown loneliness. It launches at a random time each day, asks me how I’m feeling on a scale of one to five and invites an optional written comment.

The results present fragments of my days — although they are all, by necessity, days where I happen to be near my computer.

From the good:

07/03/23 20:50. 4. Good day. Work. Sorting things out. Beach walk. Sauna. Long sleep this morning with plenty of dozing, dreamy, until 8.45amish.

To the less good:

11/05/23 14:43. 2. Headache. Tired. Just classic brain foggy symptoms like last year. Stress? So what’s the solution, if any? I’m struggling to write the newsletter, struggling to see the positive. Meditate? Belly full of gas from beany lunch.

My average recorded score in 2023 was 3.48, up from 3.23 in 2022, 3.24 in 2021 and 3.08 in 2020.

But what do these numbers mean? Not a great deal, I don’t suppose, but the data did help me identify the three counter-intuitive things I need to do when I’m feeling time-pressed and stressed (I say counter-intuitive because rest is not one of them):

  1. Be active outdoors
  2. See friends and family
  3. Aim for the exhaustion of what Josh Gondelman calls ‘good tired’ and what I call ‘being well used’

35. I still haven’t solved an imbalance in my relationship with screens, but a new laptop wasn’t the answer (phew!)

In 2023, I bought a new phone and, infamously, failed to buy a new laptop. Instead, I upgraded the battery on my old faithful 2017 Acer. Atta girl!

I spent about 550-600 hours staring at my computer screen in 2023. That can’t be healthy, but perhaps, gven the nature of my work and passion, it can’t be helped.

My phone use, on the other hand, can be helped. As my entry on podcasts suggests, I am keen to make my phone less useful in 2024.

I can hardly believe that I once locked my phone in a cupboard for a whole month. I missed only 4 calls and 44 messages — 2015 was a very different time…

Early in the year I successfully experimented with taking my SIM card out every evening until whenever I really needed it the next day, usually about 10am. That gave me about 10-14 hours of blissful phonelessness every day.

This experiment came to a crashing end sometime in March when I started to get really important messages from someone really important all the time. 😂

36: This is what I call a healthy relationship with screens. You’ll notice a sticker just below the screen that says: ‘Go away and read a book’. It’s my favourite quote ever and I was sent the sticker when I bought a book from Dog Section Press.

37. Friends = Wealth = Health

I hung out with friends or called them a total of 827 times in 2023. That’s two and a quarter friends a day on average.

This is an exceptionally silly metric and doesn’t really say anything to anyone, but it’s still meaningful for me. If nothing else, the data shows me two useful things: (1) the important people I might be forgetting in the busyness of life; (2) the surprise people I should maybe appreciate more for how often they show up for me.

38. I’m NOT completely broken as a human being (at least in terms of my gut health…)

In fact, my blood sugar control, blood fat control and microbiome health are all among the best in the WORLD (yep, I’m claiming it).

These test results were from the Zoe personalised nutrition program that I went on at the start of the year. I guess it means that my plant-based diet has been absolutely fine for my health.

The main change I made as a result of the program is the massive and joyful consumption of grapefruit.

39: Just a lucky pizza looking for a happy stomach. Homemade so NOT part of the $159 billion global pizza market. The country with the highest consumption of pizzas per person is not Italy or the USA, but, er, Norway, whose citizens apparently consider a particular brand of frozen pizza their national dish. Personally, I’m a total convert to cheeseless pizzas, but the world record for the highest number of formaggi on a pizza is not quattro, but 1001. Silly.

40. Am I runner again? Do I still sauna? And where do I even live?!

I went on eighteen runs across 65.6km in 2023; a looooooooong way off my peak as a runner four years ago when I did a hundred runs for 758km. But eight of 2023’s runs have come in the past two months, including three Parkruns (which I love). Am I back?

Going in the other direction, I did the same number of saunas as I did in 2022, but none since leaving to cycle to Athens in July. Am I no longer a sauna-er? Is visiting the sauna, a habit I once described as the keystone of my good health, important to return to my life in 2024?

Even more confused was the question of where I live. I spent only 156 nights at home in Bournemouth in 2023, a drop of nineteen sleeps from 2022 and a shade under three nights a week at home on average. The other four average nights were split evenly between two nights a-travelling and two nights with friends and family — 🙏 thank you to all my gentle generous hosts!


41. A day’s work as a vehicle delivery driver might get you £230 (and picking up hitchhikers is an assertion of our glorious humanity)

From Be The Miracle:

We humans are only fully self-conscious when we’re talking, laughing, rolling, relating with others.

42. The Supreme Court Has No Clue If You Have The Right To Build Sandcastles Or Not.

What I learned from this story is pretty much captured in its title.

Not even the judges of the supreme court know on what legal basis any of us have any right to go to the beach — any beach.

43. I’m definitely going to do more interviews with awesome humans

I’m delighted that both my Extra Ordinary Adventurer interviews hit the top ten.

The more I see, the more I realise that it’s just fantastic, an interview with epic cyclist Alice Baddeley, was also my most liked and commented story of the year — and for good reason. It’s not every day that you learn there’s someone out there who has cycled through every village, town and city in Sussex without once going back on herself.

44: ‘Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! / Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.’ There’s something arresting about seeing our civilisation submerged in the sands of time. Okay, so a cycle path in Crosby is probably not what Percy Shelley was writing about in Ozymandias, but we would still do well to remember the transience of our arrogance.

45. Most people avoid talking to strangers, ‘despite the fact that they are happier when they do so’

From Interrupt, Gloriously:

Most people avoid talking to strangers — ‘despite the fact that they are happier when they do so’


‘Conversations with strangers not only go better than expected, but generally go quite well.’

46. ‘Don’t put your life on hold — ever’

‘What the hell have I been doing for the last 20 years?’ was the ‘heart-melting’ story of Lis van Lynden, who cycled around Britain in 2022, raising funds and awareness for people like her with multiple sclerosis.

I learned so much from Lis across our two long phone calls. Not least this absolute zinger:

It’s tricky when you have a lot of people die and you think you’re going to die yourself. You do go inwards, no matter how hard you try, but don’t put your life on hold — ever.


47. Consuming half a cup of ice cream per week is linked to a 19 percent reduction in your risk of developing diabetes (yes, reduction)

48. A juice company helped heal a degraded forest in Costa Rica by dumping 12,000 metric tonnes of orange pulp

49. Older people are just as good at learning new skills as young people — if that new skill helps other people, not only themselves

50. In July, The Dartmoor National Park Authority won a unanimous verdict in the Court of Appeal that reinstituted the right for all people to wild camp on Dartmoor

Privatising landowners Alexander and Diana Darwall have since appealed to the Supreme Court to get this judgment overturned. 🙄 Our struggle for free entry to the million star hotel continues…

51. The tale is over and the aubergine is boiled…

… is how you end a story in Tamil. And if you do better than random chance on this global idioms quiz, then fair play 👏 I got five out of twenty.


52. Shout out to YOU!

Finally, as ever, huge thanks to you — yes, you! — for offering me your eyeballs and perhaps a little corner of your mind.

At the start of 2023, 493 beautiful humans subscribed to this newsletter; today there are 666 (😈), including (pleasingly) 52 who regularly read every. single. one. Wow.

I’d like to pause here for a short round of applause for the wonderful people who pay a subscription to keep me in green teabags —

Thank you Mike, James, Joe, Geoff, Georgie, Libby, Maryla, Claire, Harri, Cass, Illia, John, Jo, Tudor and JMJ. And shout out to those of you who have paid subs in the past — I shall never forget you (GDPR permitting) 💚

If YOU would also love to support this newsletter in 2024, then knock me down with a blowtorch because — you can! Prices have been slashed and it’s now only £3.50 per month or £30 per year.

Just click this lovely link 👉 Subscribe now 👈 and a choir of angels shall descend upon thee at the most unexpected and inconvenient moment. 👼

For one-off contributions (or if you would rather not send £$£$ via Substack) you can zap cash straight to my Paypal and I’ll spend it all on books. No, really, I will. 📚

I’m excited to see what stories evolve through the coming seasons and I promise to distil as many as possible into these pages.

If you’re already gagging for more, here are 208 things I learned in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. If you missed it, Part One of 2023’s great things is here.

52 Things I Learned In 2023 (Part 1)

And a warm welcome from various trains running north and south along the east coast of Britain.

Today’s gargantuan story is Part One of a selection of titbits from the fullness of the year just gone.

For easy digestion, I’ve divided the fifty-two into sections, with half of each section coming today and the other half coming in Part Two:

  • 10 Things I Learned From Adventures
  • 10 Things I Learned About My Habits
  • 10 Things I Learned From The 10 Most Read Stories I Published In 2023
  • 10 Small Big Things I Learned From Others
  • 2 Big Shout Outs

But wait, Dave — that’s only forty-two things! Have you taken leave of your mathematical senses?

Aha, well spotted, Marvin. No, I haven’t. You shall also find, interleaved among these sections, ten of the 3761 photographs that I took in 2023, each of which tells a story from the year. Like this one:

1: Snow is beautiful and a lot of fun to share with friends and strangers. Peak District, March.

So, behold! Browse, scroll, submerge as the mood takes you. Enjoy — and keep your inbox peeled for Part 2.


2. Riding the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world is actually a little terrifying

3,842m above sea level is extremely high for a human to be. I spent a lot of time examining the rivets that held the cable car roof on. And screaming my head off every time the tin can ‘car’ bumped over the pylons that carried the cable, swinging vertiginously down, up, down, up, down, up, like one of those pirate ship ‘rides’ you see at inadequately insured theme parks.

In retrospect, one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.

3. I took two planes in 2023 — but haven’t paid for a flight in 14 years

In fact, after getting £300 compensation from Easyjet in August, I’ve actually made a profit — woohoo!

All jokes aside, the flights we take (or don’t) say a lot about us and the pushes and pulls that we feel.

Maybe you have chosen to build your life a long way from family and you travel back by air every Christmas. That tells you something about yourself.

Maybe you love travelling to parts of the world that feel very different to where you live, but you like to come back home too. That tells you something significant about yourself.

Maybe you’re like I used to be and you connect air travel with ‘getting away’. Maybe now, like me, you’re asking how far we actually have to travel in order to get away? — and what are we really trying to get away from or looking to find?

Taking those two flights, I learned more about myself and about what travelling overland has taught me over the past fourteen years:

Since 2010, terrestrial travel has become me. It’s grounded me and grown me up. A divining part of everything. Aeroplanes can’t do that for me. (Doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes pop up on a graph😝)

4. New Forest National Park has twenty-two trig pillars

And I’m determined to visit all of them this winter. Four down, eighteen to go!

5. Mind IS Body

This is something I learned (again) in June, while cycling from Liverpool to Northumberland and eating chips and gravy with a stranger called Graham:

Instead of trying to brute force my way through life on brain alone, I should remember instead to feel my way through the world with all-body senses. A long bike tour works, but so too does a regular morning run or evening stretch time.

The older I get, the more I learn and the more responsibility I take, the more important it becomes, not simply to get out of my head, but to get into my body.

6: Reflexes are AMAZING. I fell off my bike on Bloody Bush Road, 20km of gravel with little water and less food. ‘As the heavy bike slid out from underneath me — threatening to crush my leg under the weight of all my camping gear — my instincts took over. Without knowing how, my left foot hopped onto the falling cross bar and I leapt over the moving handlebars, miraculously landing in a running stumble, on both feet.’

7. A fly swarm sandwich is no hardship compared to flooding across 730 km² of your home

This summer I crewed the Thighs of Steel ride from Glasgow to Milan and then cycled the whole of the last two weeks from Dubrovnik to Athens.

It was hard cycling 1,330km and up two Everests in thirteen days, but not as hard as the devastation faced by locals in central Greece after Storm Daniel:

Barely a week before we cycled through, Thessaly was hit by more than a year’s worth of rainfall in just 24 hours. At least 17 dead. Homes, farms and villages wrecked over an area of 730 square km.


8. Podcasts are so 2023

I listened to 379.4 hours of podcasts on my phone in 2023. That’s more than an hour every single day on average, and an ear-watering 62 percent increase on 2022. This is not how I want to spend my life. Many of those hours were sound filling space; a fear of emptiness and of what thoughts might enter the void.

I have now deleted both podcasting app AntennaPod and BBC Sounds, which I also occasionally used to listen to podcasts as well as the radio. This is one habit that I won’t be taking into 2024 with me.

Huge thanks to the smart, funny humans behind No Such Thing As A Fish (391.1 hours), Quickly Kevin; Will He Score? (79.9 hours), The Anfield Wrap (55.6 hours) and Where Should We Begin (37.7 hours). I’m sorry, but I won’t link to any of these, just in case you are also trying to kick an audio addiction. Suffice to say, they are all terrific. If you are curious, you’ll know where to find them.

Thanks also to the developers behind AntennaPod, both for keeping me at times hugely entertained over the past two years and for supplying the horrifying data that is inspiring me to leave. It’s been fun; I’m glad it’s over.

My podcast listening since downloading an app onto my phone in July 2021

9. My year’s driving cost us about fifty trees — sorry trees, I promise to pay you back!

In 2023, I drove approximately 6250 miles the Corollavirus; that’s about a thousand miles more than in 2022 and 2021. Those thousand extra miles came in one mega road trip from London to the Peak District, Northumberland, Glasgow, Largs, Edale, Winchester and home.

This big stick man route represents many hours’ driving, but also the Adventure Mind conference, several stunning country walks, many friends and five freakin’ DOLPHINS 🐬🐬🐬🐬🐬

All in all, my 2023 carbon debt (the difference between the driving I did do and the trains I could hypothetically have caught) is about a tonne, or 50 trees’ worth.


11. All book reading is good and some of it is truly great

I started 47 books and finished 39 of them in 2023, about three books a month. That’s a completely average annual tally for me, but it’s the first year since records began (2013) that I read more fiction (24) than nonfiction (15).

I give a rating out of five to every book I read. Eleven books got my highest accolade, four of which I read in January and five of which were recommendations from friends. Two observations: (1) maybe I was feeling generous last January and (2) I should definitely borrow more books from friends.

Anyway, here they all are. I’ve bolded the ones that stayed in my mind all year.


  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
  • Nip The Buds, Kill The Kids by Kenzaburo Oe
  • The Parade by Dave Eggers (🙏 thanks N!)
  • Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller


  • Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn (🙏 thanks G!)
  • Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman (🙏 thanks C!)
  • The State Of Affairs by Esther Perel (🙏 thanks C!)
  • Lights In The Distance by Daniel Trilling
  • Proust Was A Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
  • The Book Of Trespass by Nick Hayes
  • 92 Acharnon Street by John Lucas (🙏 thanks E!)

Side note: If any of you are wondering why I’m letting go of listening to podcasts, here is a list of all the podcast episodes that stayed in my mind all year:

  • 🤷

12. My counsellor isn’t good at invoicing (but he’s worth every penny)

I went to seventeen counselling sessions in 2023. That’s an average of once a fortnight when I’m in the UK and a happy increase from ten in 2022.

Doing this little review has made me realise that my counsellor forgot to invoice for one of our sessions back in May. I’m sure there are situations where I’d write that off as ‘bank error in your favour’, but I value our time together so highly that I’ve just gone and paid him.

Related reading: The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

I studiously ignored this book when I was first recommended it about five years ago. Now I’m morbidly fascinated by the connection between autoimmune disease (which I have) and trauma (which, in van der Kolk’s analysis, everyone seems to bear to some degree or other).

In July, New York Magazine published what reads like an even-handed profile of van der Kolk, covering both the reasons I initially ignored his book and the reasons why I have now not only read it, but learnt so much. In fact, the only reason The Body Keeps The Score is not on my best books list for 2023 is because I finished reading it on New Year’s Day.

13. Thanks to a 1% time investment some evenings, I can now comfortably shit in the woods

I did 142 stretching sessions in 2023, at an average of a little under nine minutes each. That’s all it takes to be able to comfortably shit in the woods.

I’ve been doing these evening stretches for four years now and it took about two years to notice a significant, genuinely life changing, shift in my flexibility. I can do the Asian squat, no problem. I can sit cross-legged on the floor, no problem. I can even stand up from lying down without using my arms or a Wallace & Gromit pulley system.

My yoga mat is always rolled out on my living room floor so that I never forget to stretch, almost always the last thing I do before going to bed when I’m at home. My only guidance is follow what the body needs and remember that one minute is better than none.

I’m building on this excellent habit in 2024 by enrolling in the Liftoff: Couch to Barbell twelve-week beginners strength training program designed by Casey Johnston, the brains and brawn behind one of the few newsletters that I read every week. If you’re quick, the program is currently only $4.


14. Name-dropping a celebrity really does get people to read stories

What Would Salah Do? is my most-read newsletter story of all time and hopefully at least a few people stayed for the lesson that footballer Mohammed Salah has to teach us about staying present and enjoying our moments of ecstasy when they come.

If Shankly’s message is a warning about the spiritual danger of becoming over-invested in sport, then Salah’s is a gentle reminder of what we have to gain.

15. I should run polls asking y’all about my writing more often!

Coasting In Public was a humble newsletter in which I asked your opinion on two possible approaches to telling my story of cycling around the coast of Britain twice.

Frankly, I’m surprised that it sits so high up in the list, my second most read newsletter of all time.

Maybe you simply enjoyed my little intro about a conversation I had in the sauna with a man who thought the government should buy a load of decommissioned cruise liners to keep refugees in detention offshore. On the plus side, he also wanted to end homelessness. People are complicated.

16. Sometimes the best emails are the ones I don’t think much about

Eudaimonic Adventure was a little dollop of wisdom gleaned from the fantastic Adventure Mind conference:

Eudaimonic wellbeing … is all about the human search for The Good Life. Eudaimonic adventure is not about what you’ve done; it’s about why you (really) did it. Who are you? What are your values? What does adventure mean to you?

17: Sometimes the sun really does shine out of your arse saddle. Eudaimonic adventure at its finest. Brighton, February.

18. Maybe I should repost more great stories

Are You Experienced? was a repost of a story from 2016 about my life-bending experience with psychedelic truffles in the Netherlands. It’s a great story. Most of you weren’t here in 2016 and I’m glad that a lot of you enjoyed it second time around.

The first indication that anything might be amiss is when I see how the wind in the trees becomes a woodsman with a moustache talking to me through the window.

19. Chronic bad news (as opposed to acute bad news that we can react to and fix) makes us feel powerless, leading to dissociative feelings of paranoia and, at the other extreme, despair.

The End Of Doomspreading was my attempt to coin two new words to help us call out people who spread chronic bad news:

Doomspreading: to dominate a conversation with the perspective that everything is going to shit.

Doomsplaining: to explain how everything is going to shit, especially in response to the alternate perspective that things are kind of going okay.


20. Scientific proof that a bull in a china shop wouldn’t cause any damage

21. A Big UK Trial Of A 4-Day Working Week Had Fantastic Results

Stop working harder; start working smarter less.

22. Schismogenesis is the process whereby two apparently similar groups of people define themselves in direct opposition to the other

Antischismogenesis is my made up word for the reverse process: a divided people consciously finding and building upon common ground. ✌️

23. The number of motorists in London has fallen by 64% since 1999, while the number of cyclists has increased by 386%

And there are now beavers in Ealing.

24. In April, a Syrian refugee was elected mayor of German village


25. Big shout out to the Thighs of Steel community

The majority of my working time over the last two years has been spent organising and crewing the two Thighs of Steel Glasgow to Athens rides.

At over 5,300km a pop, these were Europe’s longest supported fundraising bike rides and, as you can probably imagine if you’ve ever juggled fire while slacklining across the Grand Canyon in a sandstorm holding a newborn baby, they have both been, by turns, fucking amazing and a little bit fretful.

We won’t be doing Glasgow to Athens in 2024 and, to be honest, I’m grateful for a little break from the madness. 😅

More than that, I’m IMMENSELY grateful to the whole Thighs community for all the joy and wonder that you have brought to my life:

  • the 164 other cyclists who rode in 2022 and 2023 and who collectively raised £223,000 for grassroots refugee projects in Greece, Northern France and the UK;
  • the sixteen other core team who crewed these two rides, drove the support van, cooked a hundred delicious carb-loading dinners, and patched up a zillion emergencies;
  • the six other folks in our wonderful organising team;
  • the hundred or so gorgeous host families and communities that have put us up in their fields, forests, farms and museums;
  • all the volunteers at our partner charity MASS Action;
  • and, above all, the thirty (!) epic grassroots projects that cyclist fundraising has supported in 2022 and 2023. Covering everything from science to skateboarding, you can read much more about all those projects here.

It’s been a blast; now on to the next!

26: Even on my third time round, cycling to Athens with amazing, generous people continues to fill me with inspired grateful wonder.

That’s it for Part One — Part Two is right here.

And if you’re gagging for more, here are 208 things I learned in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

The Vengeance of King Edward III I haven’t moved, but these deer are tuned in. One turns and stares right at me. We stand and stare for a breath-holding minute. No danger. They walk on.

Happy Solstice and a warm welcome from the first day of next summer.

We have eight hours thirty-two minutes of sunlight to gain before our zenith in June. Tomorrow we earn barely five seconds, but every day we claw back a little more, and each day until the equinox our gains compound.

Let’s ride that momentum.

The shortest day comes to an end, bleeding out over Andrew’s Mare lake in New Forest National Park

Another Walk In The Woods

A noise alerts me. I freeze, masking my predator outline with a bare tree trunk. I watch in silence as a herd of two dozen deer cut across the forest floor ahead of me.

I’ve been enjoying my winter side quest to watch sunsets from each of the twenty-two trig pillars in New Forest National Park.

Today I walked from Eyeworth Pond out to Bramshaw, which is not only the highest pillar in the Forest, but also perhaps the least impressive, squatting, as it does, on a slightly boggy triangle of flat ground squeezed between three roads.

You’d think there would at least be an expansive view from this lofty altitude of 125.1m above sea level, but the pillar is somewhat plonked in the middle of the kilometre square of Longcross Plain.

And plain it certainly is: the bog never quite rising to the challenge of becoming scrub.

Nevertheless, the slanting beam of sunlight catches the turf in a rather pleasant, hyperrealism sort of a way and, turning west, I already feel much better.

Howen Bottom, a short descent from Longcross Plain

I spent this morning doing infinite spirals of the aisles of Hobbycraft, battling with the paralysing inertia caused when the immovable object of Christmas meets the unstoppable force of inscrutable children.

After what could have been a week, I finally reach exit velocity, my trembling hands clutching a collection of I-don’t-know-whats, snatched from a shelf I might have passed on my way through the outer rings of Saturn.

Voyager 2 is no stranger to the Bournemouth Hobbycraft. Credit: NASA

It’s not that I don’t like Christmas. I do. It’s not even that I don’t like buying other people presents. I really do.

It’s just that the festive season always seems to land on the shortest days of the year, when all I really want to do is lie in the boughs of an old beech and doze until sundown.

Today, the forest is my reward for polishing off my shopping list. Stirred up, agitated, uncalm, I feel like I need it.

After Longcross Plain and Howen Bottom, I turn into the dark thickets of Eyeworth Wood, a tangle of storm-felled oak, navigating the lost old ways by eye and compass.

Eyeworth Wood

That’s when I see the deer. Probably fallow, by some margin the most numerous in the New Forest, but it’s hard to tell from this distance.

They walk sedately, heads up and proud. Hoofsteps crackle in the brushwood.

That prickly sensation you get when you sense you’re being watched is eerily subconscious: even totally blind people get it.

I haven’t moved, but these deer are tuned in. One turns and stares right at me. We stand and stare for a breath-holding minute. No danger. They walk on.

The closest I get are these deer tracks on the banks of Latchmore Brook

I cross into the Island Thorns Inclosure, over a humpback of earth that marks the line of an ancient fence, the park ‘pale’ that once kept deer in and commoners out, and I follow my compass north, uphill, to what my map calls Studley Castle.

Historic England has this to say about the fourteenth century Studley Castle:

The royal hunting lodge at Studley, in the New Forest, survives reasonably well … it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance.

Well, here’s what I say to the Secretary of State:

Sorry, what castle?

What we’re talking about here is the slightest indication of a ditch and the merest suggestion of a raised bank. It’s the one time on this walk that I have to use my phone’s GPS, just to double check that I haven’t missed something like this:

The other Studley Castle, in Studley, Warwickshire. Credit: Amanda Slater

I haven’t. All I’ve missed — I now realise — is the sunset, right now happening somewhere out there, beyond the pale, if I could only see through the flailing limbs of the winter oak.

The ‘castle’ is, however, adorned by the most remarkable tree: splintered into neat planks that I’m tempted to cart home for a bookshelf.

(Having written that sentence, I’m now very annoyed that I didn’t.)

A splintered oak on the site of Studley Castle. Look at all that shelf material!

Searching for ‘what causes a tree to shatter?’, I come across the phenomenon of exploding trees.

I couldn’t see any evidence of lightning on this poor specimen, so I’ve decided it was caused by frost. One winter, the tree sap froze and expanded, bursting its bark skin with an almighty gunshot crack.

It was either that or the vengeful ghost of King Edward III come back to ask what the bloody hell we’ve done to his favourite hunting lodge.

With darkness descending and no head torch, I leave the castle to its mysteries and make a beeline for the trailhead, back over the brooks and through the bracken, walking in the bootprints of history.

I have nothing to end this little story, except this trail thought, found yesterday, on the way over Lucas Castle (also not a castle):

There is an abundance of everything for everyone, especially if you focus on the most important things, which are not only super abundant but infinitely renewable. Love, friendship, fresh air, music, laughter, fresh food, water, stretching and sleep.

Here’s to that — and thanks for reading, friends.

Winter Forest Sunsets: 3/22


A pink sunset sky in the east, over Eyeworth Pond

Five Tiny Big Things #4 Good News / Counterintuitive Bicycles / Getting Rich / Jungle Wedding / Meaning Of Life

If you only click one thing…

1. 66 Good News Stories You Didn’t Hear About in 2023. My single favourite publication of the year. Every year.

Four more nice things…

2. Bicycles are Zen koans in action: ‘If you want to turn left, you must first turn right.’ The Incredibly Counterintuitive Physics of Bicycle Turns.

3. A Few Laws of Getting Rich (via 👋)

Happiness is complicated, but if you simplify it into things like a loving family, health, friendship, eight hours of sleep, well-balanced children, and being part of something bigger than yourself, you realize how limited money’s role can be. It’s not that it has no role; just smaller than you may have assumed.

4. How I Survived a Wedding in a Jungle That Tried to Eat Me Alive. This story goes places you want no story to go. Go there safely with Melissa Johnson.

5. John Updike on The Meaning of Life at The Marginalian:

Ancient religion and modern science agree: we are here to give praise. Or, to slightly tip the expression, to pay attention.

Sundown In The Forest My winters are usually spent sheltering from the darkness, bathed in electric light. By celebrating sundown, I hope to keep up a strong connection to the outdoors, discover beautiful new places — and maybe even sleep better.

And a warm welcome from Bournemouth, a ‘once desolate heath — now home to famous sequoias, cedars and cypresses’.

I am lucky to live beside the sea for so many reasons. Here’s one: the infinite horizon of the ocean means that, even on the gloomiest of winter days, I still see sunshine, if only for a moment.

In the precious minutes after the sun has risen from the waves, before she disappears into the thickening clouds, the sunlight hits the beach through a band of clear sky, far, far away.

And I start the day secure in the knowledge that, no matter what shit goes down today, there is always somewhere the sun is ringing strong through cloudless skies.

I’m aware that this intro might be bloody annoying for anyone living between tower blocks, where the horizon is manmade and sunrise is artificially delayed, sometimes, in winter, for hours. Sorry!

London shade map at 9.30am: some shade in the narrow strips of green.
Bournemouth shade map at 8.09am: full sunlight across the whole seafront over an hour earlier

Maybe climb that tower or find a river flowing east? Or use ShadeMap to find your own local bright spot.

Failing all, take solace in the knowledge that a video of an awesome sunrise can give your brain a tiny dose of the good vibrations of nature.

Sunset at Blissford

Yesterday afternoon, I had an errand to run a half hour drive out of town. Looking at the map, I realised that I could leave early and catch sunset in the New Forest.

I parked in Frogham and walked out along Hampton Ridge to the trig point, where I watched the sun set over Blissford, Chilly Hill, Long Bottom and Burnt Balls.

Don’t you just love Forest names?

All hail OS Maps!

I was only there for about an hour, but this most micro of microadventures gave me an idea for wintering.

There are forty-seven trig points in the New Forest National Park, twenty-two of which are beautifully photogenic pillars.

My idea is simple: watch twenty-two sunsets in the Forest this winter, one from each of its pillars.

My winters are usually spent sheltering from the darkness, bathed in electric light. By celebrating sundown, I hope to keep up a strong connection to the outdoors, discover beautiful new places — and maybe even sleep better.

As I mentioned last week, I suspect I might be one of the ten percent of people who especially benefit from spending more time outdoors at dusk.

I’m generally an early-to-bed-early-to-rise kinda person, and I know it’s only a single data point, but after my hour in the Forest at sunset yesterday I slept until 8.30am.

I awoke astonished, but rested. Hallelujah to more of that feeling, please.

Winter Forest Sunsets: 1/22


Five Tiny Big Things #3 Flourless Bread / Free Agatha Christie / The Power Of Journalism / Be Not Boring / Walk & Talk

  1. 1-Ingredient Flourless Buckwheat Bread. Got to be worth a try, surely? (Thanks L!)
  2. Public domain Agatha Christie ebooks. Technically not out of copyright in the UK, but I don’t have an ereader so I’m not about to test how far the strong arm reaches. Another idea: go to the library.
  3. Reporting on Long Covid Taught Me to Be a Better Journalist: an uplifting redefinition of the power of journalism by Ed Yong. See his newsletter The Ed’s Up for more of this sort of thing and, this week, a digest of readings on the Israeli assault on Gaza.
  4. How not to be boring (according to some psychology studies): change the subject more often than you might feel is polite; tell old family stories that you know get a laugh; nod slowly three times when someone seems to have stopped speaking.
  5. Walk and Talk by Derek Sivers. A week of walking with a group of friends. ‘It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Very healthy for your brain, body, and friendships.’

Eudaimonic Adventure Eudaimonic adventure is not about what you’ve done; it’s about why you (really) did it. Who are you? What are your values? What does adventure mean to you?

Days Of Adventure 2023: 94

🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕ What is this?

We’re in the last month of 2023 — no, really, here we are. At times it’s all been a bit much, hasn’t it, this 2023 what we’ve done here?

But the times when it hasn’t felt all a bit much are represented by those 94 little green circle emojis; these are the days when I have put myself outside in nature for a neat slab of what I call adventure.

I’ve been counting my Days of Adventure every year since 2021 and this year I’ve been a little stricter on what counts, with a greater emphasis on time spent in nature, rather than simply adventuring.

I’m lucky that my whole summer was spent travelling, from Glasgow to Athens and back, but simply being elsewhere doesn’t necessarily give me what I’m looking for in an adventure.

What I’m looking for is restoration: a place of balance, connection and purpose.

At last week’s Adventure Mind conference, academic Susan Houge Mackenzie drew our attention to two species of ‘happiness’: hedonic and eudaimonic.

Hedonic wellbeing is characterised by the dopamine buzz of achievement. It’s all about what you’ve done: you climbed that mountain, cycled those miles, swam that ocean. And, once you’ve done that, it’s all about what’s next — higher, further, tougher.

The adventure industry, led by elite adventurers and their awe-inspiring stories and images, is OBSESSED with hedonic wellbeing. But, actually, chasing the dopamine dragon gets quite boring after a while. Boring or flat-out unsustainable physically, emotionally and existentially.

Eudaimonic wellbeing, on the other hand, is all about the human search for The Good Life. Eudaimonic adventure is not about what you’ve done; it’s about why you (really) did it. Who are you? What are your values? What does adventure mean to you?

Eudaimonic adventure is where we find restoration and the good news is that it works, and will continue to work, in small doses. Eudaimonic adventure can be found in the little wood round the corner from your house; a place where you could sit on a log for ten minutes during your lunch break.

That little wood (or riverbank, heathland or field hedgerow) isn’t striving with you for higher, further or tougher. The wood is not doing; the wood is being.

When we step away from the straight-edges of modernity and enter the magic circle of organic growth, our doing becomes being too and, here, under the leafy canopy with the beetles and the fungi, we can restore our sense of ourselves, our values and our intentions, in symbiotic relation to everything else.

As naturalist John Muir wrote, ‘Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.’

That might sound ambitious, but I don’t think he’d mind a wee edit: ‘Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of lunch.’

See you out there; bring sandwiches.



Five Tiny Big Things #2 Juicy Forest Restoration / News Revolution / Natural Light At Dusk / Nature Therapy / Everything Is Going To Be Fine

Tiny thing: orange peel; big thing: forest restoration
  1. A juice company dumps 12,000 metric tonnes of orange pulp and accidentally heals degraded forest in Costa Rica? (I had to check the date on this article — it’s legit.)
  2. I know the world is in need of deep systemic change in so many ways, but small wins can help. Join the revolution and sign the petition that I personally have been waiting for since about 2007 — ‘Reduce the number of news bulletins on BBC 6 Music’. Thank you.
  3. Exposure to natural light in the mornings is meant to be really great for, like, health and stuff. But, as someone who still hasn’t adjusted to the clocks going back, maybe I’m one of the 10 percent of people who get more out of exposure to natural light at dusk? I never knew that might be a thing until I heard this podcast with Achim Kramer, the head of chronobiology at Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and Russell Foster, a professor of sleep and circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford. Related tip: don’t use your alarm clock to force yourself awake, but as a signal that you have had enough sleep. (Thanks C 👋)
  4. I’m excited about this Nature Therapy Conference in April 2024. I would be much more excited if I could actually go… But you should!
  5. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE FINE (a 15 minute film). An archaeologist, a therapist and some preppers discuss the end of the world (includes a quiz about seeds). Related: How anxiety about the planet’s future is transforming the practice of psychotherapy (NY Times).


Adventure Mind We need to start valuing adventure, not as a ‘nice to have’, but as a life-support system for our bodies, brains and personal development, for our friendships, families and communities, for the global village, our lived environment and the whole planet.

Derwent Reservoir, Peak District National Park (Credit C)

On Monday and Tuesday, I was at a conference for mountain guides, bushcrafters, ocean riders, forest bathers, vagabonds, doctors, psychologists, neuroscientists and therapists of all stripes.

The theme of Adventure Mind 2023 was ‘small adventures, big impact’ and that tagline would also nicely sum up the two days I spent listening, learning and throwing myself off a small platform precariously balanced on top of a telegraph pole.

(That last one was a Leap of Faith workshop run by psychologist Dave Gallagher to demonstrate how we can use our breath to regulate wobbly emotions while climbing a wobbly pole.)

Adventure means something different to everyone, but there are a few design elements that are common to most:

  • Novelty: even if it’s simply the recognition that our physical and emotional experience is renewed in the flux of every moment.
  • Challenge: even if the challenge is simply getting out of the house, out of bed or out of our heads.
  • Nature: even if nature is simply the weeds that grow in the cracks between the concrete slabs of our local skate park.

Similarly, there are some emotions, brain states and psychological responses that are common to most adventures:

  • Autonomy, purpose, meaning, choice, direction, control.
  • Competence when an adventure is successfully carried through.
  • Connection to the natural environment and to our adventure buddies.
  • Resilience developed by facing challenge and adversity.
  • Mental flexibility and problem solving under stress.
  • Flow, being in the zone.
  • Beneficence: helping others get through tough times.

These things are all really sodding important to human life, even — or especially — modern human life, so often mediated by screens and radiator thermostats.

Sure, there are other human activities that promote these things, but adventure gets there faster and in a way that we don’t usually forget. There are no better training courses for life than going on an adventure — whatever that means for you.

Benefits of outdoor sports for society, as evidenced by science and stuff

Perhaps the most powerful feeling that I took away from the conference was the feeling of strength from being with hundreds of others who also know that the role of adventure is overlooked and undervalued in our society.

In the words of Belinda Kirk, adventure is not frivolous but essential; adventure is not only for elites but for everyone; adventure is our human nature, our wellbeing.

We need to start valuing adventure, not as a ‘nice to have’, but as a life-support system for our bodies, brains and personal development, for our friendships, families and communities, for the global village, our lived environment and the whole planet.

Abbey Brook, Peak District National Park

I’ve been inordinately lucky to spend this past week in some beautiful places with some beautiful people. Much love to C (👋), P, C, B & A, G (👋), E (👋), H (👋), J (👋), S and the rest. Special thanks to the Peak District, Northumberland National Park and the Cumbraes.

We woke up to sunrise on the first day of advent, singing Mariah Carey and Shakin’ Stevens while surrounded by four dancing, racing dolphins.

Impossibly enormous thanks to Somerled and her skipper Scott from Yachting Scotland for making this happen.

The west coast is a playground/sea for hikers, climbers, beachcombers, bikers, spotters and sailors alike. Somerled (and Scott) are available for adventure sailing charters and expeditions all year round. And you don’t need to know your beam-reach from your close-haul, #dolphinsguaranteed.

‘What the hell have I been doing for the last 20 years?’ It’s tricky when you have a lot of people die and you think you’re going to die yourself. You do go inwards, no matter how hard you try, but don’t put your life on hold — ever.

And greetings from La Piazza cafe on Brightside Lane in Sheffield. This week, I’m sharing the story of Lis van Lynden.

In 2022, with her fiftieth birthday on the horizon, Lis set off to cycle around the whole coast of Britain and Ireland, raising funds and awareness for people — like her — who are living with multiple sclerosis.

This is her story, but it’s less a story of cycling around Britain and Ireland and more a story of the twists and turns that bring a person through the depths of tragedy to the threshold of a marvellous adventure.

So don’t expect lengthy discussions about bottom brackets and twist shifters (phew). Instead, this is a story for everyone who has ever sat on their dreams for too long.

As Lis says:

It’s tricky when you have a lot of people die and you think you’re going to die yourself. You do go inwards, no matter how hard you try, but don’t put your life on hold — ever.

‘What the hell have I been doing for the last twenty years?’

I’ve never seen rain like it. It had been rain, rain, rain, rain for the last six days — wet tent every night. I mean, it was depressing.

Lis van Lynden needed a break. She was as far from her Chiswick home as she could be while still on the island of Britain.

She couldn’t afford a hotel or a bed and breakfast, so Lis rolled into a waterlogged campsite on the northwest coast of Scotland, with stormy views of the isles of Raasay and Skye on the horizon and Britain’s greatest road climb, the infamous Bealach na Bà, at her back.

The Applecross peninsula might have been ‘one of the most beautiful areas of the entire trip’ — but gorgeous landscapes don’t keep down hypothermia.

Desperate for something more protective than her sodden canvas, Lis spotted an empty glamping pod and offered the campsite owners a tenner — all the cash she had. After a little humming and hawing, they accepted the offer and Lis moved into her humble abode.

Good thing too: there was a colossal rainstorm all night.

Miraculously, the next day was forecast clear and Lis was keen to get moving. She popped to the campsite reception to say a huge thank you — and noticed outside a fully-laden touring bike, fitted with a numberplate that read ‘Yello Velo’.

It was Alice Baddeley: the only other woman to cycle around the coast of Britain in 2022.

In disbelief, they leapt into a gigantic hug and gabbled fast-swapping stories of their adventures, riding that ‘pure joy’ rush of finding your exact kind of person.

Round Britain cyclists Alice Baddeley (left) and Lis van Lynden (right)

‘It’s extraordinary,’ Lis says. ‘Alice was going clockwise, I was going anti clockwise, and we were both leaving almost at the same time. We would have missed each other within moments.’

Two women out there doing what they love, meeting the world.

At the age of fifty, Lis has truly rediscovered her life’s purpose and her love of adventure, a love that was suppressed for twenty years by grief.


Lis grew up an adventurer, spending summers sailing in the Mediterranean, and, in the winter, skiing in the Alps with her parents and two brothers.

In 1993, when she was twenty-one, Lis trekked up Mount Kilimanjaro with Alan Hinkes, the first British mountaineer to climb all fourteen Himalayan mountains above 8,000m.

Totally inspired, the next year Lis signed up for a mountaineering expedition with the aim of reaching the summit of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak.

It had been snowing heavily for the past couple of weeks and, with Mont Blanc itself shrouded in mist, the expedition team reluctantly shifted their goal to a slightly lower summit in the Mont Blanc Massif: Gran Paradiso.

But only halfway up the mountain, Lis was exhausted, utterly drained from the constant effort, sinking into the snow, one thigh-deep step after another. She didn’t realise at the time, but she was already suffering from the ‘unreal’ exhaustion caused by her undiagnosed multiple sclerosis.

That day ended with the expedition leader yelling at Lis and taking her back down the mountain, still hours from the summit, to the refuge hut where the team were staying.

Lis was emotional, angry and embarrassed, yet, at midnight, drawing on unimaginable reserves of determination, Lis found the strength to go again and convinced one of the guides to give her another chance.

This time, with the snow lit up by starlight and the sun rising over the summit, Lis made it to the top of Europe.

‘It blew my mind,’ she remembers, and, at twenty-two years old, Lis dedicated herself to a life of adventure.

Life had other plans.


In October 1991, two years before Lis’s summit of Gran Paradiso, her seventeen-year-old younger brother and his friend had died, presumed drowned, after their dinghy got into difficulties on Loch Fyne. Exactly one year later, in October 1992, her father died of stomach cancer aged just forty-six.

The van Lynden family was deep in grief. When Lis arrived back home from the Alps, she was surging with young lust for life, for exploration, discovery and adventure. It was too much for her twice-bereaved mother, who begged Lis: ‘Please, please don’t do any more mountaineering. I can’t lose anybody else. I just can’t cope with that.’

So Lis got a job as a primary school teacher and channelled her love for adventure into running an after school club for young explorers.

Over the next two decades, Lis worked at the school, fell in love, moved in with her partner, got married and, although she never had kids, the couple did buy a house together, which is almost the same thing.

After Gran Paradiso, Lis never went mountaineering again and, although she still went on the occasional more grounded expedition until her thirties, the unprocessed grief of losing her father and one of her brothers as a young woman meant her dream of living a life of adventure faded into the background.

Then, at two a.m. one cold night in March 2013, Lis was startled awake by a shooting pain down her right arm. Taking care not to wake her wife, she took a hot shower.

Then she realised: ‘Shit, I can’t feel the whole right side of my body.’


In January 2005, Lis’s fifty-eight-year-old mother had died of lung cancer. Now, only eight years later, Lis assumed the worst: a decade of smoking had caught up with her. Like mother, like daughter.

Lis went straight to her GP, who recommended an emergency MRI scan. They thought she’d had a stroke.

The MRI results came back showing a cerebrospinal fluid leak. In July 2013, a specialist confirmed her diagnosis: Lis had multiple sclerosis. She was forty-one.

Multiple sclerosis can be a frightening diagnosis: an overactive immune system mistakenly attacks the coating that protects the nerves, damaging the connection between brain and spinal cord, and causing a wide range of symptoms, including, in Lis’s case, tingling, pain and numbness down the right side of her body.

There is no cure, only pain management with medication, and quality of life interventions like meditation and, most importantly for Lis, movement.

MS is something you live with — or don’t. Lis’s wife chose the latter.

‘My marriage was not a great one,’ Lis says. ‘My wife wasn’t really supportive. She told me, “You’re gonna be in a wheelchair and I’m just not cut out to be your lifetime carer.”’

All Lis needed was for someone to put an arm around her and tell her that they’d work it out together, as a team. She never got that. The divorce came through in 2018.

Within a few months of the divorce, Lis found out her ex-wife had re-married. The day after that bombshell, Lis flew to the Tromso in the Arctic Circle, to support her cousin on an incredible human-powered expedition from Marble Arch to Svalbard, Norway.

You see: adventure runs deep in her family, deeper than any diagnosis. Lis could only resist the call for so long.

‘That experience in Svalbard opened everything up,’ Lis says. ‘It got me back to my adventuring days, back to when I was twenty. And I suddenly thought: What the hell have I been doing for the last twenty years?’


Until September 2019, Lis was not a cyclist. She knew how to ride a bike and she did technically speaking own one, rusting away in a corner of her garden. But Lis had lived in central London for three decades and, frankly, she thought cycling in the city was ‘so bloody dangerous’.

Everything changed one fateful day in September 2019: Lis was running late for a travel event at the Corinthian Hotel. Instead of messaging to say she’d be late, Lis wondered to herself: ‘If I cycle really fast, could I get there before the Tube? Let’s try it!’

There are over 130,000 people living with MS in the UK. You might be more likely to associate the disease with wheelchairs than with bicycles, but Lis is one of thousands whose lower body mobility is good enough that cycling gives her ‘absolutely no pain whatsoever’.

In fact, Lis was about to discover that cycling could change her life forever.

She arrived at the hotel drenched in sweat, five minutes early, having cycled faster than she ever thought she could. Someone pointed out: ‘Oh, you’re the only cyclist here!’ Instead of confessing that it was her first time cycling to work, Lis smartly replied: ‘Well, we need to change that — we should all be cycling!’

And, from that moment, she was.

In early 2020, Lis read One Man And His Bike, Mike Carter’s tale of cycling around Britain. Then she read it again, cover to cover, totally entranced.

‘At the end of that second reading, I suddenly thought that maybe this is my adventure,’ Lis remembers. ‘I never have one hundred percent conviction that I can do something, but I had it then. I knew that I could do it.’

With her brother egging her on, Lis planned her adventure: she would cycle around Britain that very summer. That very Covid summer of 2020. Just like Alice Baddeley, Lis found herself postponing the trip, but the delay only served to cement her determination.

That autumn, Lis started following the adventures of Vedangi Kulkani, the youngest woman to cycle around the world. As it happened, Vedangi was running a competition to win a bunch of cycle touring goodies, including a blueprint on how to plan an expedition and a year’s subscription to Komoot, a tour mapping app.

Much to her surprise, Lis won. Reading Mike Carter’s book, winning Vedangi Kulkani’s competition — these were all signs to Lis that she was on the right path.

The final push was attending the Covid-struck online edition of the Kendal Mountain Film Festival and watching a film called Gitonga, about a man pursuing his dream to become the first Kenyan to climb Mount Everest.

A conversation with Gitonga producer Joe Bunyan underlined the importance of listening to the nagging voice in her head: it would never shut up, not her whole life, not until she finally got on her bike.

‘I have to pursue this,’ Lis told herself. ‘I have to do this cycle adventure, even though I’m shitting myself with fear.’

Finally something like normality descended on the country: 2022 would be her year. All she had to do was rent out her Chiswick flat for a year — how hard could that be?



The first estate agent got cold feet (literally?) when a leak sprang up in the corner of the living room. Without the ready cash to fix the leak, Lis simply found a new estate agent, who soon phoned back with good news:

ESTATE AGENT: Lis, you’ve got a contract!

LIS: Fantastic!

EA: The thing is, it’s not for one year.

L: What do you mean it’s not for one year?

EA: Well, erm, it’s for three years.

L: Three years?! What am I going to do for three years?

EA: Well, you know how you’re cycling around the coast of Britain — couldn’t you just do another trip?

L: No, absolutely not. Sorry, I’m not being dictated to go and do it for three years. Absolutely not. That’s lovely for you because you’ve now got three years’ worth of monthly rental income. What about me? You know, where’s my home?

EA: …

L: Look, I tell you what, give me twenty-four hours and I’ll come back to you.

That night, Lis thought long and hard about the offer, turning over the different scenarios in her mind, balancing the allure of the adventure of a lifetime against the instability of three years of placelessness.

Should she stay or should she go?

The next morning Lis phoned her biggest supporter, her brother, to chat through her decision.

‘Sis,’ he said, ‘there’s no point us chatting about this: you’re going to say no anyway.’

‘Well, actually,’ Lis replied, ‘I knew you would tell me to say no, so I rang them up before speaking to you — and I said yes.’

Her brother couldn’t believe what she’d done. Halfway into her three year exile, I think Lis can’t quite believe it either. ‘I still think it was the best decision,’ she says, ‘but it’s quite a hard one, that.’


At the beginning of this email, I promised you a story that would bring you from the depths of tragedy to the threshold of a marvellous adventure. With her three-year flat contract signed, sealed, delivered, Lis had not so much stepped over the threshold, but flung herself down an entire flight of stairs.

Not that it means she felt well prepared. Her only training consisted of the odd lap of Richmond Park, without the inconvenient burden of any of the camping, cooking and living kit she’d need for the next unknown months in the saddle.

The night before she left, her brother rang to wish her good luck.

‘He said, “You must be excited; nervous, but really excited,”’ Lis remembers. ‘And I said, “Actually, I’m really pissed off. I cannot fit a single thing into my bags.” That’s how I started: with no knowledge whatsoever — or with just enough knowledge to go.’

And, on the morning of May 7 2022, go she very much did.

Spoiler alert: on Saturday 10 December, after six months of adventure, Lis completed a lap of Britain and arrived back in Chiswick.

Not that everything went to plan, mind.


Only an hour after being waved off by a party of friends and well-wishers from The Multiple Sclerosis Society, Lis’s Garmin GPS ran out of battery.

Scrabbling around in her bags for any kind of a charger, Lis realised that she’d left them all on her kitchen table. ‘I really didn’t know what I was doing,’ she says, ‘not at all.’

While she was wondering what to do without her route maps, Lis noticed a man standing by the side of the road, smiling at her. Lis struck up a conversation and found out that, by chance, he was there to pick up his daughter, who’d been at the farewell party for an amazing woman who — would you believe it — was going to cycle around the whole coast of Britain.

Slyly, Lis asked him, ‘And how amazing was this woman, exactly?’ The man looked confused and then laughed: ‘Wait, it’s you, isn’t it!’

After she’d explained her current predicament with the out-of-battery GPS, the man offered Lis his own charger, right there and then. Being a well-trained, self-sufficient Londoner, Lis couldn’t possibly accept, but the man insisted. Lis was bowled over.

One of the first things that struck me about Lis when I asked her about cycling around Britain was that she immediately said, ‘There are so many people I need to thank.’

Before she left, Lis knew that she was going to meet lots of generous and supportive people on her journey — ‘Mike Carter bangs on about it at length,’ she says — but she could never imagine exactly how (or even why) they would help her. And she certainly never dreamt she’d get such above-and-beyond support so soon into her journey.

Since time immemorial, the people of Greece have lived by a moral code of philoxenia: generosity towards strangers, guests, gods, gods in disguise, foreigners, travellers and friends of friends of cousins of friends.

I’ve written before about my own experiences of philoxenia while touring (here and here and here) and, as Lis quickly discovered, it’s while moving through this land that we so often encounter the best of the British people and our shared human capacity for the kindness of strangers towards strangers.

A ‘solo’ and ‘unsupported’ ride around Britain is anything but.

‘The whole trip was all about people,’ Lis says. ‘If there were no people, I would have struggled. It’s the people I met that made it so interesting.’

Like that time when a dog peed on Lis’s tent and the dog’s owner was so mortified that he not only cleaned up, but made Lis a bacon sandwich for breakfast.

Or that time when Lis was offered a cup of tea by a couple in Wick and, before she could say ‘two sugars’, found herself and her Multiple Sclerosis Society fundraiser splashed all over the local news.

The same couple stayed in touch with Lis and, a couple of months later, on her fiftieth birthday, she got a message from them: ‘We’ve paid for you to stay in a hotel for the night. Happy birthday!’

But that was thousands of miles into the ride, full of confidence, with the sun on her face and wind at her back. On her first day, leaving London, Lis did sixty-eight miles, along the same route that Mike Carter took.

Her summary? ‘It was hell — it nearly killed me.’


Day one was something of a wake-up call for Lis: sixty-eight miles fully loaded without much training is a huge distance. Especially crawling through the sprawl of East London.

Within a week of departure, Lis ripped up her carefully prepared blueprint of the ride and her plan to cycle at least fifty miles a day. In fairness, the blueprint had done its job: it’d got her out the door. But now she was on the bike, Lis re-committed herself to enjoying the adventure and that meant doing whatever she felt like.

‘I could take three years to get around the coast of Great Britain!’ she says. ‘So why am I counting the miles?’

The first few days and weeks of any long bike tour, especially your first one, represent a steep learning-about-yourself curve. Lis made three radical adjustments: she stopped counting miles (‘I totally relaxed; it was the most amazing feeling’); she started wild camping (‘that’s when I truly loved it’) and she threw away her multiple sclerosis medication.


In June 2022, a month or so into the ride, Lis chucked her boxes of medication into the bin. Nearly eighteen months later, she’s still off the meds.

I’m going to put the next paragraph in bold type to emphasise how important the following caveat is to Lis:

Although she says that coming off medication has ‘done me the world of good’, Lis is very clear that she is not a medical miracle and she would not recommend that anyone, particularly those recently diagnosed, stop taking their pills.

‘I’m not an advocate for getting off your medications,’ Lis says. ‘Medication made me feel so much better: they kept everything really stable. I’ve lived with MS for 10 years and I know what it feels like when I have a relapse. I absolutely wouldn’t hesitate to go back on them.’

So what happened in June 2022 to trigger such a radical change?

MS medication is powerful stuff and Lis had a pretty strict schedule, taking one pill in the morning and one pill in the evening. Missing doses could be hard on a body and mind accustomed to regular pharmaceutical support. The problem was that bike touring doesn’t play nicely with strict schedules.

After accidentally skipping five days, Lis decided she was better off either all-in or all-out. She took a risk and threw her meds away. She was ‘dumbfounded’ by what happened next.

‘I realised that the pills had been blunting a lot of sensation around my body,’ she says. ‘When I came off the pills, I was dumbfounded to feel sensation coming back in different parts of my body.’

Another bold paragraph:

This is not the story of an inspirational maverick thumbing her nose at conventional medicine. ‘I’m still being monitored,’ Lis says. ‘I have a yearly MRI scan, with online meetings with a neurologist, and I can always go back on medication if needed.’

It is a story of a woman getting into her body and looking after herself. ‘Before the bike ride, I didn’t listen to my body,’ Lis says. ‘Nobody knows what will happen, but I feel strongly that if I carry on with the cycling, I’ll be fine.’

Lis comes from a ‘very stiff upper lip’ family that didn’t talk openly about their grief. That silence and suppression might have cost Lis her health. She now draws a direct correlation between her family tragedies and, decades later, her burnout and subsequent illness.

Getting back into her body by cycling really bloody far has not only transformed Lis’s health and helped her rediscover her life’s purpose, but the ride has also helped her process her grief.


About twelve miles short of John O’Groats and the northernmost tip of Britain, Lis found herself getting ‘quite emotional’ about cycling almost the whole way up the east coast, a journey of a thousand miles or more.

Here she was: living the life of adventure of which she’d always dreamed. Finally.

‘I suddenly felt this big warm hand on my back,’ Lis says, ‘almost telling me, “It’s okay, you’re gonna be fine.” I actually turned around and looked back to see if there was anyone there.’

There wasn’t, of course. But her mind instantly went to her younger brother, father and mother.

‘They were all very young when they died and I suddenly thought, gosh, all three of them are with me — they have to be because that’s the strangest sensation I’ve ever had.’

Her whole family, this big warm hand, were reunited, cheering her on, celebrating her return: her return to adventure, her return to joy.

The final word is with Lis:

‘It’s tricky when you have a lot of people die and you think you’re going to die yourself,’ Lis says. ‘You do go inwards, no matter how hard you try, but find little things to keep you moving forward.’

‘If you get diagnosed with something like MS, grab anything you can to move yourself forward rather than standing still. Find out how you want to live and how you want to spend your days. Why not be happy?

‘If you’ve got a really big idea in your head, yes, it will scare you. It will scare the living daylights out of you and maybe you’ll not do it for some time because it scares you so much.

‘But if you’re still dreaming about it three months down the line, for God’s sake, get to the start line. Conquer your fear because, actually, you’re always going to have that fear.

‘Don’t put your life on hold — ever.’


Huge thanks to Lis for taking the time to tell me her story over two fascinating phone interviews. This is, of course, only a small part of the tale: Lis is writing a book and I can’t wait to read it.

Until then, follow Lis van Lynden’s adventures on Instagram @coddiwomple2wander and please consider donating to her Multiple Sclerosis Society fundraiser.

Psychedelic Truffles: Are You Experienced? The weekend ended exactly the way it should: slicing tomatoes, cooking spinach and spreading hummus on bread. Making sandwiches for others.

And greetings from an armchair overlooking the ink black sea, where I’m listening (as I almost always do) to Le Pas du Chat Noir, an album of delicately thoughtful music written and performed by Tunisian ‘oud player Anouar Brahem, accompanied by piano and accordion.

According to my music player of choice, I’ve spent over 200 hours listening to this album since 2017, almost always while writing. Shout out to T (👋) for first sharing Le Pas du Chat Noir with me, way way back in 2007.

Isn’t music amazing, how it stays with us?

This post is a little different: a reprint (and minor update) of a story I wrote in 2016 about a guided psychedelic experience I took in Amsterdam that year.

I want to share this with you — for most of you I’m sure for the first time — because, like the music, this psychedelic experience has stayed with me through life. Earlier today, in fact, I brought one of my 2016 hallucinations as a starting point for a particularly insightful and moving session with my therapist.

I hope you enjoy the story. I’d love to hear from you: your experiences, your insights. It’s powerful stuff, this.

Are You Experienced?

Imagine the scene. You’re on holiday with a big group of people you don’t know too well. The twelve of you hired a huge house in the countryside, sharing rooms to split the cost. You’ve been sunbathing on cushions in the garden, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of summer, drifting away in a meditation on beauty.

At some point, somebody brought you a glass of water and a hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread. You weren’t too hungry at the time, so only ate half the sandwich, leaving the remainder on the plate to dry in the hot sun. You drained the glass of water, grateful because you’d left your water bottle upstairs.

An hour or so later, you decide to return to the attic bedroom you share, for a lie down in the shade. As you poke your head through the attic trapdoor, you see the following, in series: a collection of cushions arranged around the sun-trap window overlooking the garden you’ve just left; a plate bearing a half finished hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread; and a half full bottle of water – your bottle of water.

You can’t help but be overtaken by the odd sensation that you’ve just entered a scene you only recently vacated: the same meditative garden view, the same sandwich, and your bottle of water.

Life is full of leaping gaps. In this case, the leap is across the gap between the evidence before your eyes and the indisputable knowledge that you did not in fact recently vacate this room. So you make a leap and reconstruct the most likely story.

The cushions were most probably arranged there by your room-mate who, just like you, wanted to look out over the beautiful summer garden. Just like you, he became thirsty in the hot sun and, not wanting to leave his meditative perch, cast around for water. Then he saw your water bottle. You imagine him in that moment, twisted in his sitting position, caught in a deliberation: would you mind his drinking from your bottle? No, he decides: you’d understand.

You’re surprised, as you stand there in the trapdoor taking in the scene, that you’re grateful to your room-mate. You’re grateful that your water bottle could be there for him in his moment of thirst and that you could share with him the fundamental gift of water. But most of all you’re grateful that, despite only meeting the evening before, he showed faith in your generosity of spirit.

You walk up the last remaining steps and lie down on the bed, still looking at the scene: the arrangement of cushions, the sandwich and the water. A peace descends and you find yourself switching easily between the two perspectives on the scene. There’s yourself, unwittingly generous giver of water, and your room-mate, grateful receiver of water. Then it strikes you that both of you have been generous, for there is no gift without gracious acceptance. That’s why we ‘give’ thanks, you think to yourself: gratitude is itself a gift.

But you realise that there is a third perspective. Just as they had with you in the garden, someone, presumably the same someone, had thoughtfully prepared and delivered to your meditative room-mate an identical hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread.

As your heart begins to beat in a revelation of loving connectedness, you feel an urge to complete this circle of gratitude. Your clamorous stomach awakes and you get to your feet, walk to the cushions and fall upon the half-finished sandwich in glorious appreciation. The gift is completely consumed and the third perspective, the selfless sandwich maker, acknowledged in full.

The closing image of this scene is of you gratefully polishing off someone else’s sandwich. It’s an act infused with symbolism and indicates that, perhaps for the first time in your life, you fully comprehend exactly how much love goes into leaping the gaps that separate us as independent human beings. Next time, you promise the universe, you will be the one making the sandwich.


For me, the preceding scene sums up the enduring psychedelic experience, far more than tessellating visions of geometry, wise faces in wind-blown trees and melting roundabout rides. The psychedelic experience was one of connectedness, a dissolution of the narrative voice that we hear in our heads that seeks to separate our shared encounters with this world, to divide the I from the Us, the Mine from the Ours.


Psychedelics are illegal in the UK, and throughout most of the world.1 Psychedelic mushrooms are Class A drugs, a classification reserved for pharmaceuticals deemed to be of no known medical or therapeutic value and bearing a high risk of abuse. The crime of possession carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act extends that threat to cover the possession of anything that ‘affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state’. In its current form, the Act could be used to outlaw incense, perfume and flowers. Alcohol, caffeine and tobacco are exempted, while our prisons prepare for a vast influx of florists.

What we need are not more fear-provoked and fear-provoking legal bans, but mature, informed encounters with drugs, therapies and medicines that have such potential to create profound, mystical-type experiences of the world. Encounters such as the one extended to me by The Psychedelic Society: one timeless weekend in a rented house in Amsterdam.


We stood in a circle in the garden, sun shining on our faces, feet bare in the grass. Nine of us were there for the ‘experience’ and for most it was to be our first psychedelic trip. Guiding us through the encounter were three experienced sitters from The Psychedelic Society. Their job was to stay sober and use their wisdom and love to support us through whatever might arise: hunger, thirst, trauma and ecstasy.

In turn around the circle, each of us shared our emotions, fears and intentions for the trip. Some expressed nervous anxiety, others were thrilling with anticipation. I felt ready to accept whatever was to come with an open mind. Not too open, though. I was keen to explore the sensations of ego-dissolution that I had read about, but I was not prepared to go deep into trauma therapy and I wanted to trip alone, feeling my own way through the experience.

Besides the dose, there are two important factors in determining your variety of psychedelic trip: set and setting. Set is what we shared in that circle: our internal psychological environment prior to the trip. Setting is the external physical environment you will be tripping in.

The house where we stayed felt like a four-storey mansion squeezed into a cosy bungalow, sitting in pleasant grounds by the side of a canal in a commuter satellite of Amsterdam. It had been chosen for its comfort and the double-height downstairs living area was scattered with sofas, armchairs, pillows and cushions. Off to one side was a Japanese style dining chamber, to the other a jacuzzi. The hosts were clearly used to having tourists coming here to take advantage of the psychedelic loopholes for which Amsterdam is famous.

A sound system bathed the whole space with music designed for an Imperial College medical trial exploring the therapeutic uses of psychedelics for people with depression.

After a sage blessing, we enter the house in thoughtful silence and, one by one, brew a lemon, ginger and honey tea. When the water has cooled, we add 22g of strong Psilocybe Hollandia truffles. This will contain enough psilocybin to trip, but the exact quantity isn’t verifiable. The Dutch legal loophole that permits the sale of truffles doesn’t extend to extracting the psychoactive psilocybin compound, so we can’t dose precisely. Some of the more experienced, or adventurous, members of the group also take a capsule of Syrian Rue, an enzyme inhibitor that prevents the breakdown of tryptamines, including the psilocin that makes us trip, thereby deepening and extending the experience.

I drain the first infusion. Some people experience stomach cramps: that’s why we make the tea with ginger. I feel the first tinglings of a high, but it’s no more than a strong cup of coffee.2 I prepare a second infusion. I try to suppress my laughter, like I’m in a library, watching a bunch of strangers trying to keep it together, while everything dissolves around us. As my vision begins to fragment and my fingers lose their precision, I dig the truffle fragments from the bottom of my glass and chew them down. Then I lie back.

The first indication that anything might be amiss is when I see how the wind in the trees becomes a woodsman with a moustache talking to me through the window. I can’t hear his words, and it’s no more remarkable than an optical illusion or imagining the man in the moon. I’m still able to switch between reality and dream. It feels as though my blood is flowing engorged through my veins, somehow closer to the skin surface that usual. My heart seems to centre itself in my throat while a dull ache ties itself into my stomach. At precisely the right moment, I stand up and make my way into the garden, just about holding it together. I lie down in the grass, put on my eye mask and immediately disintegrate.


My upbringing was most definitely drug-negative. I went to a school where ‘drugs’ were for drop-outs, all illegal pharmaceuticals trawled and dumped in the same drag-net of mystery and fear. I never knew for sure whether my friends and family had taken psychedelics, and I had certainly never been in a situation where I could have taken any — and I’m fairly certain I would have refused if I had been offered.

Fear began to mutate into curiosity when, in my thirties, I first met people who were both well-adjusted and regular psychedelic users. Indeed, these people weren’t just well-adjusted, they were in many ways better-adjusted than I. Through them, I learnt that behind the fearful media image of psychedelics there was both science and history, which could, if we allowed, contribute to a much more mature and complete awareness of psychoactive compounds. Psychedelics have been used as both medicine and spiritual guide by humans for thousands of years and to dismiss such compounds as of ‘no known medical or therapeutic value and bearing a high risk of abuse’ seems to me at best an act of gross arrogance, at worst gross negligence.

After the hysteria of the 1971 global shut-down on scientific psychedelic experimentation, the doors are once again creeping open. Recent academic studies have found that responsible psychedelic treatment can help war veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, patients with advanced cancer diagnoses face death, and addicts overcome their drug, tobacco and alcohol dependencies in cases where years of conventional treatment have failed.3

For those of us mercifully free of serious addiction or severe trauma, Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University led a 2008 study into the power of psychedelics to occasion mystical-type experiences. More than half of the 36 people involved in the study, none of whom had ever taken psychedelics before, found that just one session with psilocybin was enough to rank inside their top five most personally meaningful experiences of their entire lives. This remained true fourteen months after the psychedelic was taken. Almost two-thirds concluded that this one psilocybin session had increased their sense of well-being moderately or very much, again with the results undimmed over a year later.

If this is news to you, then imagine my astonishment when I learnt that as long ago as 1991, psychologist Rick Doblin found that seven theological seminary students reported similar results — deeply felt positive mood and persisting positive changes in attitude and behaviour — twenty-five years after their only encounter with psilocybin.


In 2008 I was diagnosed with an under active thyroid and my doctor told me that I’d have to take synthetic hormones every day for the rest of my life. Over the first few months of taking these drugs, what I’d call my personality changed dramatically. I went from being comatose calm, cold even beside the radiator, sleepy-headed and slothful, to being energetic, carefree and ready to devour the life that had gone missing with my dying thyroid.

As the absurdity of our gaoled florists shows, all substances have psychoactive effects: everyone buzzes after strawberries and cream, and crashes with the sugar come-down. The only question is whether the balance of psychoactive effects make the drug valuable to the user. Thyroxine, for me, unequivocally answers the question in the positive; but if you, dear reader, took my dose, you’d probably shit yourself (and lose your hair and your sex drive, have trouble sleeping and climbing stairs, besides the heart palpitations and arrhythmias, nausea and vomiting).

In 2015, I became a vegetarian. My energy levels dropped through the floor: I just couldn’t eat enough. On day five I felt on the verge of dizzy collapse and had to roam the streets at night begging for vitamin pills. I gradually recovered, but over the following six months I lost four kilograms in weight. This caused a knock-on effect to my medication, flipping my thyroid into over activity. This imbalance led to anxiety, irritability, sensitivity to heat, fatigue and insomnia.

Whether we are aware or not, our biological and psychological well-being is in lock-step with all the stuff we ingest: food, drug, drink. The unnatural dichotomy between legal and illegal drugs is a distinction that I see as increasingly arbitrary and untenable. In my opinion, it would be shocking negligence indeed to dismiss the exploration of entheogens that human beings have used for millennia to explore the buried riches of our psyche and the furthest dimensions of the universe.


Don’t Panic. There is no established scientific link between taking psychedelic drugs and either physical or psychological health problems. Psychedelics are extremely low in toxicity: it is far easier to overdose on paracetamol, which is deadly in quantities you can pick up in any supermarket. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, there has never been a recorded overdose of psychedelics and, in a comprehensive review of the literature in 1984, psychiatrist Rick Strassman found that “well controlled studies of neuropsychological function have generally failed to discern significant differences between groups of LSD users and controls”.

Two 2015 surveys with a combined population of over 300,000 people found that users of psychedelics were no more likely to suffer from mental health problems than anyone else. Quite the opposite, in fact: one of the surveys, of 190,000 people, found that “[l]ifetime classic psychedelic use was associated with a significantly reduced odds of past month psychological distress”, suicidal thinking and planning, and suicide attempt. One team of researchers conclude that “it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure.” In other words: if you are a healthy adult, you have nothing to fear from responsible psychedelic drug use.4


It would be easy to screw up. We are entering a delicate phase in our cultural appreciation of psychedelics. As the scientific community is finally permitted to resume sober examination of the potentially remarkable therapeutic and personal development uses of psychedelic drugs, there is a responsibility on all of us to educate ourselves and re-awaken a mature awareness of this precious treasure from our more enlightened past. We must remember that it was only in 2008 that the Netherlands made magic mushrooms illegal. The psychedelic truffles we ingested are only legally available in so-called Smart Shops (€25 per trip) because they were (probably by accident) left off the schedule of banned substances. Politicians very rarely lead; they react.

During this delicate phase, the work of organisations like The Psychedelic Society is vital to connect the strengths of the scientific academy with individual experiential knowledge and us. Only when we have taken personal responsibility and shown our courage, knowledge and maturity will politicians be able to find the courage, knowledge and maturity to change the laws we live by. The signs are promising, but — as the enduring 1971 global ban shows — it would be easy to screw up.


One of the beauties of the psychedelic experience is that you are entirely lucid throughout: everything you see, feel and do, you can remember and bring back to earth afterwards. That’s what makes psychedelics so useful for therapists treating anxiety, post-traumatic stress, addiction or depression: the patient can face their pathologies in a very physical and experiential way. There is no sense that my visions are unreal or that my thoughts and imaginings are fantasies: I can reach out and touch them and return home with them if I choose.

The first hour or so of my trip is spent rolling around on the grass, watching the light play with kaleidoscopic colours and geometry. I laugh at the absurdity of my internal narrative voice and watch as ‘I’ play whack-a-mole with the different voices of ‘myself’, squashing each one, only for another to arise. ‘Outside of this eternity,’ I write, ‘there is a me to wake up to. And who do I want that to be?’ There’s a lot of underlining in my notebook, as the words land with weight on the page.

At some point, one of the facilitators brings me out a sandwich. ‘Are you hungry?’ the voice says. ‘I’ve made you a sandwich. I’ll leave it here for when you’re ready to eat.’ I thank him distantly. Time and space has lost its meaning. Audio turns to visuals. The sound of a rustling in the shrubbery behind me turns into a family of rabbits, or a squirrel who snuggles to me for warmth. The harder I close my eyes, the more the universe turns purple. Later (whatever that means), I notice the sandwich beside me and eat half, leaving the remainder on the plate to dry in the hot sun. I gulp down the water someone has left for me.

Gripping my notebook like a life-buoy as the world swirls around me, I try writing down some of the realisations that arrive as I overhear other people talking. ‘Everyone’s on their own trip, but we’re all together,’ I note. ‘It’s frustrating because we’re not all as connected as we are.’ Then: ‘We share a memory.’ And: ‘Understanding each other is hard. So just listen.’ It feels like the veil of what we call reality has fallen away: I see that we are a unified, mysterious us — an us that includes each soul in its human body, but also each thread of consciousness in the plants and the planets — and we are all, in every moment, co-creating the universe.


After this peak experience of visionary revelation is over, I manage to stand up. I make my way slowly up the stairs to the attic room I share. As I poke my head through the trapdoor, I see the following, in series: a collection of cushions arranged around the sun-trap window overlooking the garden I’ve just left; a plate bearing a half finished hummus, avocado, spinach and tomato sandwich on continental dark bread; and a half full bottle of water — my bottle of water. I can’t help but be overtaken by the odd sensation that I’ve just entered a scene I only recently vacated: the same meditative garden view, the same sandwich, and my bottle of water. Finally, I understand the depth of gratitude we feel towards each other for sharing the bounty of consciousness with all of us.

The weekend ended exactly the way it should: slicing tomatoes, cooking spinach and spreading hummus on bread. Making sandwiches for others.



While still a true statement, it’s worth nothing that, since I wrote this story back in 2016, psychedelics have been legalised, decriminalised or made low priority for criminal conviction in numerous countries around the world, with the USA, Portugal, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK joining the traditional heartlands of psychedelic use in Central and South America and Africa — and, of course, good ol’ Amsterdam.


I don’t drink coffee, so maybe imagine how it felt when you drank your first ever strong cup of coffee. Or a cup of really really strong tea.


The following are a selection of studies available at the time I wrote this story in 2016. Much much further research has been done since then, including systematic reviews and meta analyses that find in favour of guided psychedelic use as a safe breakthrough therapy for a variety of psychiatric disorders.

Oehen, Peter, Rafael Traber, Verena Widmer, and Ulrich Schnyder. “A randomized, controlled pilot study of MDMA (±3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine)-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of resistant, chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Journal of Psychopharmacology 27, no. 1 (2013): 40-52.

Gasser, Peter, Katharina Kirchner, and Torsten Passie. “LSD-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with a life-threatening disease: A qualitative study of acute and sustained subjective effects.” Journal of Psychopharmacology (2014): 0269881114555249.

Bogenschutz, Michael P., Alyssa A. Forcehimes, Jessica A. Pommy, Claire E. Wilcox, P. C. R. Barbosa, and Rick J. Strassman. “Psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol dependence: A proof-of-concept study.” Journal of Psychopharmacology 29, no. 3 (2015): 289-299.

Johnson, Matthew W., Albert Garcia-Romeu, Mary P. Cosimano, and Roland R. Griffiths. “Pilot study of the 5-HT2AR agonist psilocybin in the treatment of tobacco addiction.” Journal of Psychopharmacology (2014): 0269881114548296.


Strassman, Rick J (1984) Adverse Reactions to Psychedelic Drugs: A Review of the Literature The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease Vol. 172, No. 10 October 1984 Serial No. 1223 p591

Hendricks, P. S., Thorne, C. B., Clark, C. B., Coombs, D. W. & Johnson, M. W. Classic psychedelic use is associated with reduced psychological distress and suicidality in the United States adult population Journal of Psychopharmacology March 2015 vol. 29 no. 3 280-288

Johansen, P-Ø. & Krebs, T. S. Psychedelics not linked to mental health problems or suicidal behavior: A population study Journal of Psychopharmacology March 2015 vol. 29 no. 3 270-279 (2015)

See also: Krebs TS, Johansen P-Ø (2013) Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study. PLoS ONE 8(8): e63972. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063972

These studies used data from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 130,152 respondents, of whom 21,967 (13.4% weighted) reported lifetime psychedelic use. “[I]n several cases psychedelic use was associated with lower rate of mental health problems”.

The Supreme Court Has No Clue If You Have The Right To Build Sandcastles Or Not Egregious power imbalances, wherever they show up, can be challenged, but only through the strength and support of community. And a bit of fun doesn’t hurt either.

Last night, I went to an event put on by the universities of Bournemouth and Southampton called Sharing The Coast: Should We Extend The Right To Roam?

The format was simple: three fifteen minute stories from a legal historian, a community organiser and a marine biologist. They were all provocative tales, but, as the title of this little story might suggest, it was Andrea Jarman, the charismatic legal historian, who blew my mind with the following revelation:

Not even the judges of the supreme court know on what legal basis any of us have any right to go to the beach — any beach.

The confusion began in 2008 when the French owners of Newhaven Port decided to fence off the adjoining beach for that ominous spectre: ‘future development’.

In response, the council and townsfolk of Newhaven tried to get their beach legally recognised as a ‘village green’, which would force the bucket-and-spade hating owners to restore public access.

Despite being very obviously not a village, not green and, in fact, completely underwater half the time, the Court of Appeal averred: West Beach was indeed, in legal terms, a ‘village’ ‘green’.

West Beach Village Green

Unfortunately, the Rouen-based owners of West Beach went one better and appealed to the Supreme Court, who upheld the challenge in 2015.

West Beach remained — and remains — closed.

While deliberating on this case, one of the questions that the judges of the Supreme Court tackled was whether or not cap-doffing members of the public had any right at all to feel the sand between our toes.

As it happens, the wig-wearing hotshots felt that they didn’t actually need come to a final decision on this fundamental question of our access rights to all beaches in order to make a final decision in the particular case of West Beach.

Nevertheless, they did make sure to write down their thinking-in-progress on the topic in a kind of non-binding legal document called an obiter dictum. So that’s nice of them.

According to the finest legal minds in the country, there are three possible answers to the question of whether the riff-raff have a right to build sandcastles. Here they are:

  1. We all have a freestanding right to seashells on the seashore. Yay!
  2. We can all presume that we have permission to get sand in our sandwiches — unless the landowner says NO by means of a sign, fence or mutant sharks. Meh.
  3. We have no right to be there at all. Bathers = trespassers. Yikes.

(If you’re interested in all the gory details, I can heartily recommend this rip-snorting commentary by David Hart KC.)

In a way, I’m mightily glad that the judges didn’t make a firm decision on this. As the Newhaven case shows, the will of the people rarely overcomes the will of the landowner — at least in England Wales.

In Scotland, of course, the right to the beach is enshrined in law:

Access rights extend to beaches and the foreshore. Follow any local guidance aimed at reducing dune or machair erosion or avoiding disturbance of nesting birds. Public rights on the foreshore will continue to exist, including shooting wildfowl, fishing for sea fish, lighting fires, beachcombing, swimming, playing and picnicking.

(Very cute that they specifically include ‘playing’ in that little list.)

We could have that kind of deal in the rest of the UK —

18 May: Wahoo!

But, I say again, it is HARD to crack through the concrete ceiling of the landowning classes —

25 October: Oh.

But back to the talk last night — and, as a legal historian, Angela Jarman is an optimist. She’s seen progress unfolding over the centuries and it’s always uneven, a serrated graph of triumph and setback.

It does, however, take a lot of graft to fight power. When there is such an imbalance in financial and property resources as there is in the UK, the people have to use the only thing they have: people.

And that’s the story of the night’s second speaker, Steve Elsworth.

Steve was one of the movers behind a community campaign to restore public access to Castle Cove beach in Weymouth.

A postcard of Castle Cove beach

Castle Cove beach had, since at least 1899, been accessed from the town cliffs via a set of steps. In February 2013, the steps were removed, supposedly due to health and safety concerns, but (in my eyes) suspiciously soon after the beach had been bought at auction.

Imagine the horror of the townsfolk — no, even better, imagine your local beach, park, forest, river, lake suddenly enclosed. Steps are removed, signs go up, a fence is hammered down.

After a period of typical English catatonia — shrug shoulders, shake head, maybe some tutting — a meeting was convened by the local Green Party, where the community was urged into action. No one else will stand up for this. No one else cares.

So they organised.

They started with simple proof: an Ordnance Survey map from 1899 proving the existence of the coastal footpath, including the steps down to the beach. They backed this evidence up with a wonderful collective memory box: a hundred years’ worth of postcards and holiday snaps, showing how the community had enjoyed the beach ‘as of right’.

Holiday snaps like this one, taken of local lad Brian Wilkins in 1938:

Brian Wilkins exercising his rights at Castle Cove in 1938

When documented proof didn’t result in the immediate restitution of the beach steps, the community group started pulling every other lever they could.

Petitions, pamphlets, socials, fundraisers, freedom of information requests, publicity stunts. All of a sudden, The Steps of Castle Cove became a national problem.

Steve’s big tip for building a campaign is simple: communities have families and families have children and children need to be entertained. So make sure your community events are actually FUN and people will show up and get involved.

With this approach, the campaign snowballed (beachballed?) and, three years in, the community group became a charity, The Friends of Castle Cove Beach, so that they could take donations to fund their increasingly determined struggle for access.

Steve originally thought that the campaign would take six months; it took six years.

Eventually the council caved in. The Friends could have their bloody steps back. But they’d have to design them, get planning permission, pay for the builders and then manage the beach.

So that’s what they did.

Finally, on Easter Saturday 2019, the stairs were opened in a grand fancy dress ceremony. Local politicians, now tripping over themselves to bask in the reflected glory, were turned away.

Instead the red ribbon was cut by that very same Brian Wilkins, back on the beach he’d been enjoying since 1938.

Having done his ceremonial duty, Brian went for a swim, which his wife thought a bit silly at his age.


If you’re vaguely local to Dorset or Hampshire and have even a passing interest in spending time in nature, then I implore you to go to the second access rights event that Bournemouth and Southampton are putting on: Sharing The Forest: Should We Extend The Right To Roam, next Wednesday 15 November in Lyndhurst, New Forest.

On this remembrance weekend, what I personally wish to remember is that now is not the time for shrugging, shaking and tutting in the face of oppression. Egregious power imbalances, wherever they show up, can be challenged, but only through the strength and support of community. And, as per Steve, a bit of fun doesn’t hurt either.

Lest we forget that, people, lest we forget that.

The more I see, the more I realise that it’s just fantastic Don’t always think that you need to go abroad for a big adventure. Don’t underestimate the value of things on your doorstep. Don’t underestimate Britain.

This is Alice Baddeley

Alice Baddeley arriving at Camber, the last village in Sussex

It’s 2021 and, in this photo, Alice has just arrived in Camber at the end of a long bike ride around Sussex, her home county.

It wasn’t the bike ride she’d had planned for that summer, but you remember — that wasn’t really the summer for best laid plans, was it?

I was meant to be doing the coastline trip [cycling around the whole coast of Britain], but it was Covid and obviously I had to keep postponing it. And, you know, we had this message of ‘stay local’, stay in Sussex…

So boy did Alice ‘stay local’ — in the most extreme way imaginable:

Alice’s Sussex 1000 route on Komoot

This is the story of how Alice ended up on a one thousand mile bike ride that passed through every single city, town and village in Sussex. Every. Single. One.



Even though it was on my doorstep, it was a real adventure. And the great thing about doing things locally is that now, when I’m a bit bored on a weekend, well, I know pretty much every pub in Sussex.

And, thanks to Alice’s obsession with map-making, now you do too.

Clearly, this is a very silly route to cycle. And I’m no stranger to very silly bike routes myself: in that same summer of 2021 Thighs of Steel rode out the words REFUGEES WELCOME in GPS artwork across the entire south of England.

Crucially, however, I did none of the route planning for that ride. I graciously let Georgie take that task. It sounds like a total nightmare.

Not so for Alice:

It did take a long time, but I love route planing so it was sort of like a hobby during the evenings — time that most normal people would spend at the pub.

The west to east zigzags were actually version two of her route: a pattern of north to south rides wouldn’t work because, Alice quickly realised, that would mean cycling up the steep hills of the Sussex Downs over. and over. and over. and over. again.

Instead, by going west to east and east to west across nine switchbacks, each day Alice got to see the same landscapes at different levels: yesterday’s ride followed the contours below her; tomorrow’s ride will follow those above.

It was a bit psychologically exhausting because you go from one end to the other, and then you have to go all the way back again.

Ah, yes. The psychological torture of the arbitrary cycle route!

‘Hey Georgie — why are we going around Dartmoor again?’

For no good reason, Alice made her goal of cycling through every habitation in Sussex twice as hard with the entirely arbitrary rule that she would neither leave her home county, nor cycle down the same road twice.

Why, Alice, why?!

It was like being in a video game

Golf, it has been said, is a good walk spoiled. And it’s spoiled by some very silly rules about tiny balls, long sticks and holes.

But the same thing that spoils a walk for some is considered sport — and even a profession — by others.

Likewise, cycling means many different things to all kinds of different people.

Besides a universal love of whooshing downhill, what Alice and I do has little in common with what those folk on the Tour de France and Tour de France Femmes do.

And I love how Alice is bringing playfulness back to cycle touring. By introducing silly rules, Alice turns the art or drudge of riding her bike into a challenge and a game.

(And, as a Collections Editor for Komoot, now her profession too.)

It was like being in a video game. I find cycling a bit pointless if I don’t have rules — I’m not in it for the pedalling. Physical exercise is a good byproduct, but a lot of people do rides to really punish themselves. Imagine — that’d be hell!

I didn’t realise it was possible to do massive long distances

Alice got into cycle touring back in 2008, when she rode Land’s End to John O’Groats with her friend, er, Alice.

I’m always really interested in what first moves people from Not Doing A Thing to Doing That Exact Thing. In Alice’s case: what inspired her to go from Not Cycling Long Distances to Cycling Long Distances?

What triggered the notion that this would ever be a good idea?

A long time ago I remember overhearing a group of men talking about cycling Land’s End to John O’Groats and I remember at the time thinking, wow, I’d never be able to do that. Like: that’s not something that is possible.

But something in this overheard conversation stuck with her. She shared what she’d heard with Alice 2 and together they started to wonder aloud: ‘Hang on, wait… Maybe we could?’

They pulled out some maps (this was before the whole world had smartphones) and started to break the journey down, day by day, until ‘maybe we could’ morphed into ‘fuck it, let’s try!’

So they did.

(The self-help aficionados among you will have spotted an absolute classic of the genre: Alice and Alice broke down something that felt intimidating and abstract into smaller concrete and achievable pieces. The technique works, people — use it!)

From that first Land’s End-John O’Groats ride, Alice got obsessed, following up with two more ‘end-to-end’ diagonals of Ireland and New Zealand.

I knew that I loved cycling, but I didn’t realise — I think a lot of people still don’t realise — it was possible for a normal cyclist to be able to do these massive long distances.

Actually, once you do it, it does become a bit of an addiction. I felt such a high. The combination of daily exercise and constant adventure is like an actual drug.

But the one place that keeps Alice coming back for more is the place she calls home: Britain.

The more I see, the more I realise that it’s just fantastic

Starting with her Sussex ride in 2021, the past three years have seen Alice take on three massive long British rides that form an impressive body of work.

I think cycling in Britain is so underrated. The more I see of it, the more I realise that it’s… it’s just fantastic. Some people would say they want to do Europe or travel around Asia, but I feel content with this island — and I suppose I’m on a bit of a mission to see all of it. I want to be able to say I’ve done it all.

And she’s totally on track: the following year, Alice cycled around the entire coastline of Britain.

Round Britain is a ride that we both have in common — although Alice rode 700 miles further because she didn’t do any cheating island hopping AND she did it ‘backwards’, starting instead of finishing with the toughest cycling in the whole world: Devon and Cornwall.


Alice could make millions as a cartographer

I won’t dwell on our shared love of coasting round Britain because, in a way, those rides make the least interesting stories: impressive, sure, but so dense with experience that it’s hard (for me, anyway) to process and package the whole into a beginning, middle and end.

Besides, Alice’s trip is sumptuously documented on her Instagram, including Very British Observations, such as this analysis on the three species of Co-op:

  1. Tiny Co-op: ‘All pastries gone by mid morning. Most customers are on first name terms with the staff. You can leave your bike unlocked outside.’
  2. Medium Co-op: ‘My favourite type. Well stocked, quick to get around and a choice of humans at tills.’
  3. Too big for its boots Co-op: ‘These stores are so big that you have to manually pause your GPS recorder in case it thinks you are still active. All self service check outs. I often get stuck for ages over an item that confuses the system. Usually a banana.’

So let’s skip her 80-day coastal epic and fast forward through to this summer, when, with very little forethought or planning, Alice rode the full length of the country from south to north — wait for the twist — in as straight a line as possible.

Wonderfully silly:

Shoreham to Oldshoremore on Komoot

And shockingly hard (at least once she’d chugged through the first few days of commuter land).

From the Midlands to the Borders, central England is dominated by the Pennine Hills: the backbone of Britain, the English Andes. And, when you’re trying to cycle in a dead straight line, there’s no question of following the gentle, but meandering, dales.

No: Alice was cycling the more direct Pennine Bridleway: ancient drovers roads and packhorse trails over grassy gravel and stone setts.

The road between Monyash and Glossop

I say ‘cycling’ — there was actually a lot of walking, a bit of a first for Alice and Cindy (her new mountain bike).

It’s opened my eyes to what’s possible by combining hiking and biking. A great invention would be a ‘comfort handle’ that could be clamped to a seat post.

(Note: bike carry handles already exist, including ones like this and this that you can — and I have — make for yourself.)

Alice kind of enjoyed this hike-a-biking — she wasn’t in any rush and didn’t have a rigid schedule, unlike previous tours — but it wasn’t the pedestrianism that was the problem.

The problem was fuel:

It was very remote in stretches. You think you’re just gonna find a shop, but there were times where I didn’t have any food and I was like, ‘Oh god!’

It turns out that the middle of Britain is far less inhabited than its edges — a fact that makes sense when you remember that we are, by and large, a lowland people.

Roughly 85 percent of people on the British mainland live south of the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors and the North Pennines.

North of that famous band of national parks, people tend to be concentrated in the cities — Middlesborough, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Inverness Aberdeen — while inland village communities are spread further and further apart, meaning fewer and fewer Tiny Co-ops and fewer and fewer bananas.

Unexpected hunger in the biking area.

The upside of cycling through quieter country? Random encounters with generous strangers, especially those who dole out massive slices of vegetarian lasagna from the back of a colour-coordinated campervan, lime green inside and out.

Ahhh, the joys of cycle touring!

I always have that fear: ‘What if I hate it?’

I’m curious to hear how Alice’s mindset has changed off the back of three consecutive years of epic British cycle touring.

Out of all of the rides, the straight line was probably the most physically challenging, but also the one I was most casual about beforehand. That’s the great thing about pushing your limits: it makes big things seem less daunting.

And big things do feel daunting:

Before all of these trips, I always have that fear: ‘What if I hate it?’ But that never happens. I always love it. More and more, I’m trusting that this is what makes me happy.

And what makes us happy is such an important thing to learn about ourselves.

It is good to acknowledge that doing big things is hard, but equally to remember that we have chosen that path and to know ourselves well enough to trust that, one day, maybe not today, we’ll look back and see how this path guided us all the way to happy.

For me, for many years, the fears of failure, unknown disaster and hating the whole experience would only ease as the finish line came into view and I’d realise that it’s all going to be okay.

Then, before I know it, it’s over.

Nothing good ever ends well

And so here we are: at the end.

Gosh. Endings can be a bit weird, can’t they?

I always have a little bottle of wine or something to celebrate finishing, but I tell myself don’t expect to feel really good because it’s kind of the saddest bit, isn’t it, when it all comes to an end?

There’s this great line I heard earlier in the year that’s been rattling around my head ever since: ‘Nothing good ever ends well’ — and I love it because it sounds so horribly pessimistic, but is in fact wonderful.

The quote starts with the joyous recognition, so easily glossed over, that this Thing that’s happening right now is actually good; and it ends with the Stoic acknowledgement that, in addition, this Good Thing shall soon pass by, as all moments and feelings have passed before.

It reminds me to cherish what I have now.

When Alice finally rolled onto the beach at Oldshoremore, onto the ‘roof of Britain’ after twenty days of hiking and biking, technology and landscape conspired to create ideal conditions for an eminently cherishable ending:

I didn’t have any mobile phone signal, which I think was really good because otherwise there’s a real temptation to get on my phone and start texting people. Instead, I found this lovely spot on the beach to camp and just had a really nice evening.

That’s one thing I will always do at the end of these trips now: have that moment to myself and soak in the atmosphere.

Soaking it all up at Oldshoremore

Alice’s Three Take Homes

1. Don’t underestimate yourself

My one big thing is don’t underestimate what you’re capable of.

The worries you have are really normal, but they’re kind of pointless because most things that you worry about don’t happen on the trip. And if they do happen, or if something else happens that you haven’t worried about, there’s always a way to overcome it.

2. Make your own way

Route planning is a real part of the whole trip.

A lot of people think that they have to stick to ‘official’ paths or do a route that’s waymarked. But there’s a real joy in making up your own trips. Often the roads I’ve cycled are not part of a cycle network or named route.

Discovering stuff: that is the joy of touring — and there’s loads of undiscovered turf in Britain so don’t be shy.

3. Don’t underestimate Britain

Don’t always think that you need to go abroad for a big adventure. Don’t underestimate the value of things on your doorstep. Don’t underestimate Britain.

And not every adventure has to be loads of days in a row or wild camping every night — there was one night I stayed at Champneys health spa!

As backpackers or bike tourers, we can be a bit hard on ourselves. We think we have to do everything on the rough. Touring with a bit of luxury is also an option.


Please follow all of Alice’s ridiculously wonderful adventures via her Yello Velo website, Komoot cycle touring profile and as @yello.velo on Instagram.

We All Need Living Room There is a medicine that you can only absorb through eyes, ears, nose, feet, breath: wind, air, sunshine, rain. Nature, the moor, the relentless acceptance and infinity of it all.

And greetings from Okehampton Youth Hostel, where I’ve spent the last ninety minutes on a work Zoom call.

But the six hours before that were spent up on Dartmoor, happily tramping around in the sunshine. Yes: sunshine. Look!

True love on Dartmoor

But all I know is that I felt super grumpy this morning.

State of mind: gloomy

The man with whom I was sharing a hostel room got up three times in the night to empty his bladder — once every two hours, like the shittiest cuckoo clock — each time he’d clump woodenly across the floor in what can only have been vintage Dutch clogs before setting off the scary movie cree-erk-thunk of the snap-close fire door.

Then, exactly three and a half minutes later, like the shittiest runny egg timer, the same cacophany in reverse.

I was then terminally awakened in the lightless pre-dawn by a persistent bleeping alarm — you know the ones: a fridge door that’s been left open, a washing machine that’s reached the end of its cycle, a smoke detector overwhelmed by the nocturnal farts of too many teenagers — that came from somewhere both way too close and not close enough for me to punch repeatedly until it stops.

This delightful morning chorus went on and on and on until the ensuing headache forced me out of bed around seven, the opposite of rested.

I feel, then, not unreasonable in my opinion that, this morning, I did not want to see, speak or share space with any other human being.

In other words, not a good time to find oneself in a popular youth hostel, surrounded by the lowest rung of humanity’s ladder: the loudest jolly good morning people who could ever have summoned the temerity to wantonly occupy what I thought of as very much my kitchen.

‘Can you please not do that here?’ I told a couple peacefully preparing porridge on the stove, before turning to a healthily-dressed, Wheetabix-obsessed family of four: ‘Why don’t you all shut up and sod off until I’ve had breakfast?’

But none of them heard my silent cries.

They all just kept on saying syrupy things like, ‘Good morning!’ and ‘Doesn’t your breakfast look delicious!’ and ‘Do you know where we can get more Wheetabix?’

So I gritted my teeth, kept my head down and did the bare minimum to ready my stomach and rucksack for a day’s hiking on the moor.

It was not going to be a good day, but I didn’t have to enjoy it: I’m here with a job to do.

A fork in the life / railway

Since late 2018, I have been training as an outdoor expedition leader.

The impulse to retrain came from the fact that, as a writer, my work can make me feel boxed in. Writing is an indoor and solitary occupation, but humans have undeniably sociable and outdoorsy brains.

So when I realised that some people actually get paid to mess around in the outdoors all day, I quickly signed up and passed my Lowland Leader award. Despite a false start due to the Covid lockdowns, I have been lucky enough to work in the outdoors ever since.

(Side note: If you even have mild feelings that you might like to do more work outside, then I urge you in the strongest possible terms to get your Lowland Leader award. The barriers to qualification are low and there is currently a shortage of leaders so you will immediately find work paid in money.)

Since I got that Lowland Leader award, I have been working towards assessment on the next rung in the outdoor hierarchy: Hill and Moorland Leader.

This qualification wouldn’t massively change the work that I actually do — I enjoy working in the lowlands of England, which is handy because that’s where most of the opportunities are — but technically becoming a Hill and Moorland Leader would mean I could work in areas like Dartmoor, Brecon Beacons and the Peak District.

This is what Dartmoor looks like (sometimes)

Before I can take my Hill and Moorland Leader assessment, however, I need to log at least forty days hiking in hilly and moorlandy terrain (logically enough).

Regular readers will know how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know Dartmoor in particular.

But there is one problem: I think the Hill and Moorland Leader assessment requirements are very… how to say? Masculine.

Forty days out on the moors — fantastic. And, naturally, in order to lead, one must know the land.

Where I take issue with these days is the stipulation that they must involve at least four hours of ‘travel time’.

At least four hours of watching, listening, sketching, writing, meditating, sensing — none of that is good enough.

We must have four hours of travelling, each and every day. And what that means is hiking. A lot of hiking.

For me, even across the boggiest moor, four hours’ hiking covers at least 14km. Today it was nearer 19km. Over my forty days, I’ve stomped down about 600km of heather, gorse and sphagnum moss.

I know that, historically, a lot of hiking is exactly what people expect when they come to places like Dartmoor.

But I am saying that this is wrong and we should not be training our outdoor leaders to follow this very masculine ‘smash out a proper hike’ mentality.

The emphasis of the training falls too easily on breadth of coverage rather than depth of experience.

But it’s depth that I desperately need — particularly after grumpus nights like last night — and it’s only in wild open places like Dartmoor that I can sink down and reach the fathoms of nourishment and restoration.

Clocking kms, bagging tors: that speaks to our masculine energy of domination. (Especially when the literal red flags are flying around the military firing exclusion zone.)

Here be guns

The energy of domination is not what our often addled bodies and brains need. And it’s not even what nature does best. We’re wasting the riches that time on the moor affords those of us lucky enough to be out here.

A 14km yomp is basic military efficiency. It’s not going to teach me anything I don’t already know: that my body can follow orders.

What I need to learn and relearn is much slower and more delicate: I need to learn to stare at the ground and notice the eyebright, knapweed and oxeye daisy; to stare at the sky and read the changing cloudscape; to close my eyes and listen for skylark, snipe and cuckoo.

From time to time, I need to lie on the ground like it’s my sofa and soak up nothingness.

I don’t need an intense day of exercise. I need the moor to become my living room, literally: an open expanse with room for all living things.

There is a medicine that you can only absorb through eyes, ears, nose, feet, breath: wind, air, sunshine, rain. Nature, the moor, the relentless acceptance and infinity of it all.

Welcome, it says, welcome all. You are whole, it says. We are together, it says, together at last.

I probably stayed irritable for about two hours as I stomped across the moor this morning.

And then, from one minute to the next, for no reason in particular, I noticed that I wasn’t so grumpy anymore.

I wasn’t even tired. (I am now, mind.)

I needed restoration and I got it.

We all need living room.

All living beings; our precious living room

Taking Adventure Out On The Town Keep your antenna up for moments you could explore. Shelter from the rain in a public museum, slow down to soak up a stone-grey street scene, swivel your lobes for a little light earwigging on the bus.

Days Of Adventure 2023: 83

🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢🟢⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕ What is this?

Every year since 2021, I’ve tried to fill my days with at least a hundred adventures.

‘Adventure’ for me has a pretty low bar compared to the sorts of things that some people do. I’m not sailing across the Atlantic, like my friend Jess (and 200 other skippers) will be very soon.

My kind of adventure is the kind that you can do around your day-to-day: it need be nothing more than a bike ride to a woodland for sale or a morning spent getting in the English grape harvest.

Having said that…

The bulk of my summer, 43 days’ worth, were spent cycling from Glasgow to Athens with Thighs of Steel. So there is definitely big-ticket adventure in my life as well.

But now I’m back from Greece, things are about to get small.

I can’t wait.

I’m so excited that I’ve come up with a neologism.

From Outdoorsy To Exploresy

We all know what outdoorsy means:

Associated with or characteristic of the outdoors; fond of an outdoor life.

We often use the word to describe people, like in this example from 1952:

In my attempts to be a truly outdoorsy woman at all times I had a ludicrous crab-hunting misadventure of my own.

Despite spending approximately 94 percent of most days closeted away indoors, I also like to be known as an outdoorsy sort of a person.

I don’t know how to crab-hunt, but I do own a pair of boots and can (just about) light a fire in the woods.

However, there are two limitations to being outdoorsy:

  1. No one thinks that an urban existence is compatible with being outdoorsy, even though, technically, a traffic island on Oxford Street is entirely outdoors.
  2. Outdoorsy doesn’t necessarily include the sniff of adventure: novelty, daring, audacity or excitement.

That’s why, humbly, I think we need a new word: exploresy.

Exploresy is used in the same way as outdoorsy, but to describe someone who is fond of exploring — whatever that means to them.

Indoors, outdoors, online, offline, together, alone, in walking boots or fluffy slippers.

The only unifying requirement is that the exploresy person sets out to discover something new (to them).

Now then. There is a school of thought that says that neologisms need justification.

But you know what I say to that:

Even so: why make a new word when an old one will do. Isn’t exploresy the same as being curious?

No. Well, yes, but I can’t copyright the word curious, now can I? Also, it’s a bit insulting to call someone a curious fellow. It just means they’re weird.

(Fun fact: curious used to be a euphemism for porn.)

So, as we crawl head down into winter, I would like to propose an expansion of adventure. It doesn’t have to be outdoorsy, especially if (like me) you find yourself more urban than Alpine.

It can, instead, be exploresy.

Keep your antenna up for moments you could explore. Shelter from the rain in a public museum, slow down to soak up a stone-grey street scene, swivel your lobes for a little light earwigging on the bus.

While the great green outdoors is a wonderful place to explore, it’s beyond okay to invite adventure inside and take it out on the town.

TWo IRritating SHift KEys The story of The Odyssey is in the song, in the improvisation, in the tone, the cracking of the voice, in the manipulation of attention by performer to rapt audience.

And a warm welcome from the Gipsy Palace, where I’m waiting for the delivery of my sixth laptop of the year.

This technophobic rigmarole sprawls without resolution over the past two and a half months, spanning four countries, three vendors, TWo IRritating SHift KEys, two HPs, two Lenovos, two Acers, one faulty fan and one blue screen of death.

And, so far, the only machine that appears to be working perfectly is the one that I originally needed to replace.

The rigmarole has got me thinking, though. How much of what we do, as writers, is done through the medium in which we write?

The two most ambitious works of European literature that I can think of are Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu and James Joyce’s Ulysses; both were written longhand in pen and ink (and both primarily, incidentally, from bed).

Staggering: the ability of these authors to hold in mind the overlapping constellations of such complex novels, without the aide-memoire of a decent spreadsheet.

More bedsheet than spreadsheet: Marcel Proust’s preferred writing style

But Joyce’s inspiration, The Odyssey, wasn’t even written.

Homer, perched on a three-legged stool in his little eighth century bedsit on the Greek island of Chios, could never have dreamed he’d become one of the most famous novelists of all time.

He was, after all, a beat poet, a wandering bard, a story-singing balladeer who never wrote a line, never even put pen to paper, let alone pinky to SHift.

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.

Translated by Robert Fitzgerald (1961)

Homer would be tripping out if he learnt one day his words were read. Homer, if they ever existed, would scream and shout — no, no, no — this is not canon, this is not where the storyheart lies!

The story of The Odyssey is in the song, in the improvisation, in the tone, the cracking of the voice, in the manipulation of attention by performer to rapt audience.

In printing, in canonisation, some things are lost, just as they are when novelists move from bedsheets to spreadsheets.

For better or worse, I’m the spreadsheet kind.

Anyway — I’ve just had a message that my driver Anthony will be with me between 10:19 and 11:19, so I’d better get cracking.

The Essential Element Of Naughtiness This story is for anyone who has ever struggled to shower themselves with the kind of indulgences that they would so easily afford to others. You’re not alone.

‘I’m going to treat myself to a slice of bread’

Today’s story is for anyone who has ever struggled to shower themselves with the kind of indulgences that they would so easily afford to others.

You’re not alone.

I have been at the receiving end of some mockery this week for saying that a slice of my homebaked bread is a treat. Not only delicious, but a treat. As in: ‘I’m going to treat myself to a slice of bread.’

The offending loaf

With only a couple of weeks before the door knocking of Hallowe’en begins, the question has never been more pertinent:

What makes something a treat? (And why the bloody hell isn’t my bread one?)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a treat is:

Something highly enjoyable; a great pleasure, delight, or gratification

By this definition, my bread is certainly a treat: it is highly enjoyable, especially still warm, fresh out of the oven.

But, my loaf-disparagers argue, that doesn’t get anywhere near the nub of what it means to treat oneself.

And, with heavy heart, I have to agree that they are right.

The Essential Element Of Naughtiness

There is a strong line of argument that a treat should contain an essential element of naughtiness.

The argument goes that it’s the naughtiness that makes what you’re doing for yourself a rarity, and it’s the rarity that makes it a treat, in this case, by definition.

I don’t necessarily agree with this blanket definition of essential naughtiness — I would hate to rule out the angelic — but the concept of a ‘guilty pleasure’ is as good a starting point as any for learning what it is that makes a treat.

And even I confess that there is nothing naughty or guilty about my seeded rye sourdough. If you could bake, slice and butter the word ‘healthy’, then it would taste exactly like my bread. (If you want the recipe, it’s here.)

Naughty, however, is a relative term. What’s naughty for me — buying cut flowers for myself, catching the bus for two stops, or staying in bed past nine — might feel totally square to you.

That’s why I’ve devised a little game that will standardise our relative naughtiness. It’s called

The David Charles Patent-Pending Cocoa Solids Naughty-Treaty-Chore Scale

and you can play along at home.

Start reading from the top of the following list of chocolate bars. The game is to notice three points on the scale:

  • When do the bars stop feeling downright naughty to you?
  • When do they start to feel like a treat you’d happily and occasionally scoff?
  • When does even the idea of passing them between your lips feel more like a chore than a delight?

Here we go:

  1. Milkybar or any other white chocolate (zero cocoa solids)
  2. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (minimum 20 percent cocoa solids)
  3. Cadbury’s Bourneville (36%)
  4. Lindt A Touch Of Sea Salt Dark (47%)
  5. Cocomolli Milk Chocolate (55%)
  6. OmNom Chocolate Madagascar (66%)
  7. Hotel Chocolat Island Growers Saint Lucia Milk Chocolate (70%)
  8. Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate (70%)
  9. Pralus Madagascar Criollo (75%)
  10. Chocolate & Love Panama (80%)
  11. Republica Del Cacao La Concepcion (85%)
  12. Amedei Toscano Black (90%)
  13. Amedei Acero With Maple Sugar (95%)
  14. World Market Dark Chocolate (99%)
  15. Hotel Chocolat Rabot 1745 (100%)

(Scale created with thanks to the encyclopaedic Chocablog.)

My personal naughty-treaty-chore range runs from the Chocolate & Love Panama (80%) to the Amedei Toscano Black (90%).

What that means is that anything below the Chocolate & Love Panama is proper naughty territory of which I would be a little scared and anything above the Amedei Toscano Black would be more of a battlefield than an all-you-can-spa pamper day.

But what’s really clever about The David Charles Patent-Pending Cocoa Solids Naughty-Treaty-Chore Scale is that the cocoa solid percentages can be used as a direct correlate for your own personal tolerance for naughtiness in any kind of a treat — indulgent desserts, luxury holidays, consumerist splurges, you name it.

So this is me:

As you can see, my tolerance for naughtiness is pretty darn low. For whatever reason, I shy away from naughty treats: they come with too much guilt to be pleasurable.

If this bell curve, spuriously derived from the pleasure I take in various chocolate bars, really can stand for how I view pleasure more generally, then it also reveals something mildly earth-shattering about my existence: how stingy, how limited, how unambitious I am with myself.

The human pleasure-verse, the area under the bell curve, is enormous and, for me, the vastest hump of experience is out of bounds.

I can see now: that really has to change.

Saunaing Alone

Something weird happens to my Naughty-Treaty-Chore Scale treat range when other people are involved.

Suddenly things that were, for me alone, unambiguously naughty, are back on the table (quite literally in the case of a decent tiramisú).

Have you ever noticed that?

It’s like my brain is constantly running up a ledger of okay-not-okay behaviour.

  • Not okay: tiramisú alone
  • Okay: tiramisú shared

But why should the presence of other people skew my behaviour so decisively in the direction of treatiness?

And what would it take to allow myself the treat, without company?

Well, yesterday, quite by accident, I learned the answer.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the Brothers in our men’s circle dropped a message in our Whatsapp group to say that he was going to The Saltwater Sauna on Sandbanks beach this Thursday at 15.45.

I love a sauna, but this is a fancy treat sauna — they have qualified Sauna Masters, for goodness sake.

It really is quite nice in there

Rather than straight-up deciding that I wanted to go to the sauna for myself, my brain did a rapid mental calculus and concluded that I was indeed permitted to attend this event because, not only would I get a sauna, but I would get to spend time with a Brother in a social setting outside of our men’s circle.

In other words:

  • Not okay: £15 sauna for me alone
  • Okay: £15 sauna with someone else

With only eight places available, this sauna sells out fast so I booked to join him right away.

Fast forward two weeks: I show up at the sauna yesterday at 15.45.

The man’s not there.

I spend 65 minutes at this treat sauna, all alone. And it’s worth saying right now that I had a lovely time.

This is a crucial point: I enjoyed the treat that I never would have allowed myself.

The logic of my pre-sauna calculus, however, boils down to something quite horrifyingly existential:

I believe that it is worth my while making a connection to others.

I do not believe that it is worth my while making a connection to myself.

Working within the confines of this belief, my little brain can make things incredibly complicated.

Instead of going straight for what I want, my little brain must find external factors that justify and permit what I want.

And it’s not only a connection with other humans that will permit my desires. There is a whole inventory of okay-not-okay justifications that my brain must run through before coming up with its final decision.

The Calculus

On and off for the past couple of years, I have been a member of a less fancy sauna and I would go two or three times a week, quite alone.

But these sauna sessions are not justified as me-time treats. They are justified by the following calculus of external factors:

  • Saunas are a healthy workout for the cardiovascular system
  • The period of cooling between sessions is an opportunity to read books, make notes, learn stuff and have ideas
  • Sometimes the conversations and stories I (over) hear in the sauna make me laugh, give me inspiration or shake old prejudices
  • Therefore, this quiet me-time, away from technology, is far from being an indulgent treat — it’s actually super productive!

It’s like my brain needs to be constantly monitoring my thought processes around my decision-making in order to evaluate whether or not what I’m doing is worthwhile.

My brain is happiest when it finds plenty of evidence that my desires are indeed permissible, like with the sauna. I’m going for my health, for my work, for the sake of other people.

Only then can I excuse my behaviour and justify each relaxing sauna with the soothing knowledge that it’s not really for pleasure.

But my brain really struggles when the evidence is mixed or conflicting. The poor thing keeps bashing at the buttons of the calculator, searching and researching for evidence to back my desires, and, ultimately, overheating, leaving me feeling exhausted and fully stressed out.


And my brain is so proficient at this process of justification and permission that it will always get there before me. It’s had forty-one years of practice and it’s going to take a lot of unpicking.

Noticing, as ever, is the first stage of recovery.

Noticing when my brain is cranking up to work on The Calculus. Credit the brain for how hard it’s working: how clever, how fast, how complex — respect to you, brain!

Only in the moment’s pause after noticing, might I have the space to reconnect with what lies beneath The Calculus: my needs and wants.

Somewhere, deep beneath all that high-wire brain gymnastics, there is a part of me that wants the treat for me: the simple reward of being alive.


Troubleshooting Treats: Start With Micro-Nice

There are days (like Wednesday) when it feels almost impossible to treat yourself with much love.

You’re grumpy. You’re unmotivated. You’re convinced that you’re nothing more than a lazy piece of crap.

What do you do with days like that?

The answer (courtesy of my friend Nettles) is the micro-nice.

You might not be able to give yourself much love today, but can you give yourself five minutes to roll around on the floor like a dog? (This was Nettles’ first suggestion. She’s that kind of person.)

Grand gestures are off the table today. No gourmet meals for one. No all-you-can-splash baths. No solo tickets to the cinema, theatre or bounce park.

Instead, ask yourself: What is the micro-nice version of being kind to myself today?

Start from where you are (a bit pissed off with yourself) instead of where you feel you should be (your own best friend).

See if there’s not still a corner of compassion where you and yourself can go for a little sit down and a cup of tea.

Start with micro-nice.

Could This Be A Moment? On Friday I counted seven moments. Seven, for the whole day.

And a warm welcome from Highgate Woods, once part of the ancient Forest of Middlesex.

This Forest was once described by Thomas Becket’s admin guy as a ‘vast forest, its copses dense with foliage concealing wild animals — stags, does, boars, and wild bulls’.

Now it’s the dominion of the dog walkers of Muswell Hill, the ring-necked parakeets of London, and me: a man in a green and gold jumper, perched on an ivy-wreathed beech trunk, staring into his lap-topped laptop.

We all know how many hours there are in a day (24), how many minutes in an hour (60) and how many seconds tick by in a minute (also 60) — and every schoolchild knows all too well how many nanoseconds there are in a double maths lesson (54,000,000,000,000).

But how many moments do we get in a day?

You know what a moment is, I hope. If you’re not sure, then let me show you what I mean.

On Friday, when I started writing this heinously delayed thought-prayer, I counted seven moments.

Seven, for the whole day.

  1. A moment when I woke up in bed, on a boat, with the roaring of the weir all around me.
  2. A moment of nostalgic reflection as I stripped our Thighs of Steel support van of its soapy assets, wondering when we’ll ride again.
  3. A moment in the car, parked up by the farmhouse, admiring the weeds that have grown up along the red brick garden wall, mortared with moss.
  4. A moment in Marlborough, playing my part in a traffic crawl along the Bath Road, idly watching the schoolkids in tartan skirts, blazers or tracksuits, all clutching binders of notes, walking between lessons.
  5. A moment of pilgrimage with the family plum tree in the sunshine. All bar five leaves fallen. The five nibbled by unseen insects, leaving bullet holes against the blue sky
  6. A moment in the ticket hall at Bournemouth train station. No words, holding each other tight.
  7. A moment of stretching on the yoga mat, sharing poses before sleep.

A moment, in this sense, is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as —

A period of time (not necessarily brief) marked by a particular quality of experience.

(p.s. If you are based in the UK, then you almost certainly have access to the full subscriber edition of the OED through your local libraries card. GTK.)

For me, moments are the little times in life that you notice that you are alive.

Moments dawn on us: aha, we might think, this is a moment.

It’s awareness.

‘Well, if this isn’t nice, then I don’t know what is.’

A good way to practice noticing moments is to look around you and say to yourself, ‘Well, if this isn’t nice, then I don’t know what is.’

Another good way to notice is to write or sketch the moment.

I’ve done a little of the latter and a whole lot of the former.

Writing makes a moment pop out into consciousness instead of passing by.

Even the most mundane moments take on a meaningful significance if you sit and notice them for long enough.

There was nothing special about that moment, only that it was noticed.

This kind of writing is something I call close writing.

Here’s a snatch from my first (published) close writing, back in 2007, sketched out while sitting on a bench in the gardens of Russell Square:

Opposite, two police officers talk to a man, standing, pointing. Another man sits and the dog plays around them. They are taking details. The man sits and I can see that he is aged, with a flat cap and white beard. The mother bends to take a photo of the child and the dog interrupts, sniffing at whatever that is. He leaves to take a piss.

It’s not a big moment, not like that moment you met the love of your life. Maybe it’s not even a moderately significant moment, not like that moment you got your maths exam results.

But it is a moment, nonetheless, and one that I’ve remembered vividly for more than sixteen years.

It was a moment when I — the I back then, whoever he was — took the time to notice that I and we, the cast of characters around me in the square, were indisputably alive.

And that is a joyous thing to remember indeed. All the more joyous precisely because there was nothing ostensibly special about that moment, only that it was noticed.

This really could be a moment.

I’d encourage you as I would love to encourage myself today and tomorrow. Let’s look up and around us. Let’s notice things. Above all, let’s notice the living breathing awareness of things.

We could, just as easily, be not aware of things. And yet we are. Or we can be.

This really could be a moment.

And, when we do notice these moments, we can always go back to them. Recognition of a moment extends that moment into the future and beyond.

A part of us will always be sitting in Russell Square gardens in the sunshine, will always be paying pilgrimage to the family plum tree and will always be holding each other tight in the ticket hall at Bournemouth train station.

That is a wonderful thing to remember.

Only then, if you like, share.

A word to the wise: writing can take you out of a moment as well as deeper into it.

This is especially true when our noticing mutates into the modern urge to share too soon: to take our words, or images, and send them to distant loved ones, nownownow.

My favourite form of noticing is when my words or sketches come from inside the moment. There becomes a oneness, a unity between art and presence.

Against this unity, sharing our noticings too soon is like ‘othering’ our own experience, creating distance in place of connection.

Allow your art to explore the moment in its fullness. Then, when the moment has passed, return there in the art, refine and expand.

Only then, if you like, share.


In the fifty-five minutes that it has taken me to write this little thing, Merlin tells me that I’ve shared space with seventeen woodland birds, including a nuthatch.

Merlin in the Temple of Tranquility This feels a lot like magic — not only because I personally have no idea what a siskin or a dunnock sound like (except perhaps a pair of Shakespearean insults), but also because of the speed at which Merlin works.

And a warm welcome from Thorpeness, Suffolk, a smugglers’ village that was re-designed from the sand up in 1910 by Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, the son of a Scottish railway magnate. Ogilvie’s vision was for the village to become:

[A] Temple of Tranquillity, where the Soul of over-civilised Man may escape the thraldom of the Great Cities and find its Self alone with Nature and at one with God.

I’m sitting here in the hour after dawn, listening to birdsong, and watching my phone.

For the second time in my life, I have downloaded Merlin, a free bird identification app from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

As everyone keeps telling me: Merlin is insanely good, using my phone to ‘listen’ for bird calls and flashing the screen when it identifies likely matches.

In the last half hour, Merlin has come up with twenty-three bird IDs.

I’m pretty sure some of them are false positives, surely, but, for me, it doesn’t really matter. By exploring the database, I can still learn what a coaltit sounds like, whether or not there ever was one footling and furtling in the bushes behind me.

This feels a lot like magic — not only because I personally have no idea what a siskin or a dunnock sound like (except perhaps a pair of Shakespearean insults), but also because of the speed at which Merlin works.

While writing just now, I was keeping half an eye on Merlin’s radar — magpie, chaffinch, robin — when I saw it pick up a greylag goose.

Now, I may be an idiot, but even I know what a goose sounds like and I couldn’t hear anything. Black mark for Merlin, I thought.

Then I looked up.

In the distance, and now here, over the houses, two teams of geese are sledging across the sky, all at once, here and above me. In the silence of a Sunday, I feel their wings beat the air.

How Merlin could detect these geese before my human ear, I’ll try not to wonder too much on — but I’m so glad that he did.

Time enough for me to stop writing, look up and, for a moment, marvel at this Temple of Tranquillity.

C’est La Vie En Rose That is life. It is what it is. But there is a lot more positive than negative in what it is. And we could all do with pointing that out to each other more regularly.

* Title credit: CW

Cycling long distances in the company of other humans has many benefits, but I think my favourite is how the movement, landscapes and conversation moulds the way our brains perceive the world.

Today’s little story comes from a realisation found in conversation, somewhere among the gentle hills of Magnesia and Pthiotis.

Why is it that the phrases ‘C’est la vie’, ‘That’s life’, and ‘It is what it is’ are only ever deployed, most often with a shrug, with reference to unlucky, unpleasant or undesirable events?

  • You miss your turning on the motorway: ‘C’est la vie.’
  • Your computer shows you the blue screen of death: ‘That’s life.’
  • The Tories are somehow re-elected: ‘It is what it is.’

I’m not arguing: that is life. It is what it is.

But I would argue that there is a lot more positive than negative in what it is. And we could all do with pointing that out to each other more regularly.

More often than not, life does wear rose-tinted glasses.

The slow autumn sun rises over the trees, the wind rearranges the turning leaves, and a robin out calls to me: ‘C’est la vie, my friends, c’est la vie.’

Together Through The Flood Barely a week before we cycled through, the region was hit by more than a year’s worth of rainfall in just 24 hours. At least 17 dead. Homes, farms and villages wrecked over an area of 730 square km.

And a warm welcome from the back of a 2005 Ford Transit called Beryl, doing 110kph into the Aosta Valley, an hour shy of Chamonix and our beds for the night (👋RK🙏).


I left home on 10 July, eleven weeks ago, to ride Thighs of Steel 2023.

This was the sixth time we’ve cycled to Athens and the second year we got there all the way from Glasgow.

It’s a bloody long trip: in fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s Europe’s longest fundraising bike ride.

It took our freewheeling community of 101 cyclists eight weeks of hard sweat to ride the full distance.

I was there at the beginning, rolling down from Glasgow Youth Hostel under drizzle skies, and I was there at the end in Athens, calves burning, asphalt melting, song shouting, up Mount Lycabettus, the steepest of all finish lines.

It feels mad weird to be unravelling our tyre tracks in only six days of diesel-powered vanlife.

Our community (including a fair few of you👋) has now raised over £90,000 for grassroots solidarity projects that support people on the move.

Sorry Not Sorry

I can’t promise that I won’t shut up about this fundraising for a few weeks because it’s important to me to ensure this ride makes the biggest possible contribution to the grassroots solidarity movement.

It takes about eight months of hard work to prepare and launch Thighs of Steel. It’s another three months of work to, not only cycle across the continent, but facilitate the experience and ensure a safe environment for more than 100 participants.

We don’t do all that just for the jollies.

We do it to support grassroots solidarity initiatives, starved of cash in a hostile environment for people on the move.

Since 2016, Thighs of Steel cyclists have raised about £740,000 for projects like the Khora Collective’s social kitchen, Hakoura Organic cooperative farm and the Chamomile housing project for displaced people with mental health challenges.

If you believe in free movement, or even free-er movement for people having a rough time, you can share and donate here.🙏

The Flood

The final week of the ride brought together sixteen mostly-strangers to cycle 600km down the east coast of Greece from Thessaloniki to Athens.

That was the plan, anyway.

This was a week with some breathtaking highs — sunsets over Mount Olympus, sea swims and watermelons every day, hot springs and mineral mud baths, beach camps, olive groves and a spooky abandoned hotel resort frequented at all hours by teenage canoodlers.

But our little bike ride was, of course, dominated by the devastating floods left after Storm Daniel passed through central Greece.

Barely a week before we cycled through, the region was hit by more than a year’s worth of rainfall in just 24 hours.

At least 17 dead. Homes, farms and villages wrecked over an area of 730 square km.

Thessaly floods. You can just about see where the reservoir used to be. Everything else was once fields, vineyards, homes — there’s even an airport under there somewhere. Before Storm Daniel, this region provided 15 percent of Greece’s domestic agricultural produce.

It will take five years for the bread basket of Greece to recover its soil fertility. Assuming no further catastrophe.

And that’s a big assumption.

Finding A Way

We reached the floodlands on Day 3 of the ride. After an open discussion, one group of cyclists formed an advance party to find out whether our planned route was even remotely feasible.

From our beach camp, we climbed 20km up and over a mountain to gather more information (and a bag of frozen spinach) from the nearest town, Kalamaki.

The local supermarket owner encouraged us to try the old road that ran alongside the reservoir that had once drained the fertile plain. The reservoir had burst its banks and now the water stretched beyond the horizon.

The end of the road

At the end of the road, we found only a police blockade and had no choice but to cycle straight back over the same hill in the heat of the day with flies swarming our faces.

It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had on a bicycle, but finding perspective was easy. A fly swarm sandwich is no hardship at all compared to the massive rescue and cleanup operation happening in the fields and villages below.

Former vineyards, former livelihoods

While we climbed back over the mountain, the rest of the cyclists pioneered a rocky off road route along a ribbon of coastline, which blessedly and eventually joined asphalt roads that, we were told, would circumnavigate the floodwaters.

Thank you to the people of Kamari for welcoming us in that night and letting us camp on their beautiful beach, now littered with storm debris, flotsam and jetsam swept down from the hills.

Almost cut off from the rest of the country, supplies of fresh food were at a premium in the coastal settlements. The crates stacked up on the back of a single pickup truck was all they’d seen for several days.

We were lucky. Our resourceful cyclists rustled up a dal dinner from the dry stores we’d brought with us from Glasgow — plus that long-defrosted bag of spinach.

Here & Now

Gazing out over the inland sea was a sobering reminder that climate disasters — massive and accelerating drivers of displacement — are here and now.

Globally, more than 20 million people are forced to flee their homes every year due to climate catastrophes.

Here and now.

Here and now, the kindness shown to us by the people of Thessaly was humbling. Their lands and in many cases their homes and livelihoods were underwater, yet everyone we met was open and supportive.

People helped us navigate off-road between devastated vineyards and orchards, find safe places to camp at night, and opened their shops, bakeries and cafes to we travellers.

These acts of generosity made a huge difference to us and helped us complete our quest.

The devastation we witnessed made each of us feel powerless in the face of inexorable nature.

The support we received from the local people made us feel strongly that anyone, any one of us, still has the power to make a difference.

We can still ride. We can still fundraise.

We can still tell the story of solidarity with people whose lives have been turned upside down by increasingly frequent disasters like the recent cyclone that struck Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Libya.

Even when we’re up against unstoppable forces, we are not powerless. Small acts of solidarity are signficant.

So Thank You

Thank you to all the cyclists who made this final week, with all its highs and hardships, a supportive and joyful space.

The Thessaloniki-Athens cycling crew. Somewhere in the background: Athens.

Thank you to all our hosts and the dozens or hundreds of humans who supported us along the way, from the octogenarian neighbourhood watch in Thessaloniki who helped us lift a car out of the way so we could get out of our parking space, to the team at Vicious Cycles Athens who once again welcomed us with cold drinks and spray bike tattoos.

We’ve now raised over £90,000 for grassroots refugee solidarity projects through our charity partner, MASS Action.

2,908 people have already donated to the main page, anything from £5 and up. A fiver might not seem like much, but it could be a hot meal with friends for someone who might not have much of either during a difficult time in a hostile environment.

Thank YOU for all your donations and your sharing of our stories. This kind of fundraising, so important for organisations working on the ground, only works because of our shared networks.

Thank you for caring. Thank you to every person reading this.

We reserve our deepest gratitude for the people leading the real work, putting in a shift at projects that open up dignified and sustainable spaces for migrants and asylum seekers.

100 percent of your donation (more if you Gift Aid) will be redistributed by MASS Action to grassroots solidarity projects across the UK and Europe.

Every pound you donate makes the world a richer place. 🙏This is happening, right now. Bring your friends.

A Midpoint 738km and 8,672m of climbing from Kotor to Thessaloniki in six and a half days

And a warm welcome from Thessaloniki, named contemporaneously for the sister of Alexander the Great of Macedon, an etymology that hints at the long human history for culture and conflict at this crossroads of the world.

But (in the words of The Tim Traveller) we’re not here to discuss any of that.

Or maybe we are, but not until after showing you a map that does absolutely nothing to hint at how hard and beautiful the last week has been: cycling 738km across (what felt like) a dozen mountain ranges through Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Greece.

738km and 8,672m of climbing from Kotor to Thessaloniki in six and a half days

There will be some of you who will now be expecting a 6,000 word story about cycling hundreds of miles clean across the Balkan Peninsula, from the Adriatic to the Ionian.

Sadly, I shall have to disappoint you, for tomorrow at dawn I don once more my padded shorts and prescription sunnies and take to the saddle.

For tomorrow we ride to Athens.

This is but a snatched midpoint.

For some ridiculous reason, after four weeks of crewing Thighs of Steel from Glasgow to Milan, I decided to cycle the whole of the last two weeks: a lucky thirteen days riding from Dubrovnik to Athens, via Thessaloniki.

No wonder the ride began with some pretty heavy anxiety.

The night before we left Dubrovnik I found myself eyes wide open until past three in the morning. Breakfast was at five.

I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. It wouldn’t have been safe so sleep deprived on those hectic roads out of the city.

So I cancelled my alarm and caught a few hours’ kip.

I spent the morning in the support van, back as an auxiliary core team member, helping fetch and carry crates as we packed up the weekend.

Fast driving, slow borders, and finally I joined the ride further down the road in Kotor.

I spent the rest of the day sweeping and scratching up the infamous Kotor Serpentine — twenty-five or more switchbacks offering views grander and ever-grander, south, north, south, north, for a thousand metres of elevation and a place in the heavens with a sunset never beat.

The point of this whole ride is to raise funds for refugee solidarity projects across Europe.

You can donate with love and gratitude here.

You’d be joining 2,726 other supporters who, collectively, have donated £86,257 so far this ride.

Thank you.

And that’s where I’ll leave this update. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more profound.

Three Tiny Big Things At The End #1 Allez Les Bleues / The Biggest Problem With Journalism Today / Energy Makes Time

1. Allez Les Bleues

If you’ve watched as much football as I have, at some point you’ll figure out what’s happening in this video. It still made me cry a bit.

It also made me notice the massive role that crowds have to play in our experience of spectator sport.

The more supporters there are in the stadium, the bigger the occasion, the higher we rate the skills of the players on show.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise: a big part of the reason we laugh at comedians on stage more than we laugh at random show-offs in the street is because there is an audience there, laughing along with us.

We are infectiously social animals. It’s been wonderful to see a flourishing enthusiasm for another side of the beautiful game spread over the past few years.

As well as being generally badass, this video also reminds me to appreciate the more neglected moments, the moments where the cameras aren’t rolling, where the crowds aren’t already cheering.

An overhead kick at the under-8s down the park is as good as one from the boot of Sam Kerr.

2. The Biggest Problem With Journalism Today

A couple of weeks ago, Future Crunch ran an experiment to see what kind of stories ‘humanity’s prime information-gathering apparatus’ are telling.

It wasn’t good news:

The news is supposed to tell us what’s happening in the world. It doesn’t. Instead, thanks to a combination of commercial pressures, cognitive biases and cultural habits, news organisations have become modern-day doom machines, showcasing the absolute worst of humanity. There isn’t even a pretence at balance.

That’s why we think the biggest problem with journalism today isn’t fake news, or filter bubbles, or polarisation, or elitism, or the ongoing obsession with the website formerly known as Twitter. The biggest problem is bad news.

You can subscribe to Future Crunch immediately here.

3. Energy Makes Time

Here’s a nice piece from Mandy Brown on Everything Changes:

We all know that time can be stretchy or compressed—we’ve experienced hours that plodded along interminably and those that whisked by in a few breaths. We’ve had days in which we got so much done we surprised ourselves and days where we got into a staring contest with the to-do list and the to-do list didn’t blink.

And we’ve also had days that left us puddled on the floor and days that left us pumped up, practically leaping out of our chairs. What differentiates these experiences isn’t the number of hours in the day but the energy we get from the work. Energy makes time.


Don’t Confuse What They Think With What You Know One of the things that some people know about me is that I don’t use aeroplanes. I don’t fly. Well, turns out that I do. Sometimes.

A warm, rather stormy, welcome from Dubrovnik.

Coming into Dubrovnik harbour

It’s been a long journey for me to get here, to this single room seaview apartment, somewhat infested with opportunistic antlife.

First I cycled from Glasgow to Bristol to Paris to Geneva to Milan, then I roadtripped with C. from Pisa to Lucca to Lake Bolsena to Posta Fibreno to Mattinatella to Trani to Bari, then I — well, then I gathered material for today’s story — then I caught a ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik and finally I cycled, yesterday morning, in the heartbeat between rains, up the hill to where I now write, the twin bed in this single room seaview apartment, somewhat infested with opportunistic antlife.

One of the things that some people know about me is that I don’t use aeroplanes. I don’t fly.

Well, turns out that I do. Sometimes.

It’s a long story, but last Friday I flew from Bari to London, and then back again a few days later. It was my first flight in over five years.

The last time I caught a plane was in February 2018, which itself broke an eight-year absence from the skies. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Not flying has been a part of my personality for so long and I’m only a little ashamed to say that sometimes I’ve felt quite smug about it. What part of me am I destroying by flying again? This flight feels sometimes like an obliteration of self.

Today’s story is about how things have changed for me in the past thirteen years of by-and-large not flying.

For starters, flying last week did not feel like an obliteration of self. I don’t feel like I’ve dropped and smashed my favourite teacup. I panicked for a day or two that maybe I had done, but then I remembered something Bob Dylan once taught me:

1. Don’t Confuse What They Think With What You Know

As humans, we make choices.

After getting back from Egypt in January 2010, I didn’t fly again that year. It wasn’t really for any reason other than I couldn’t afford to travel at all, let alone book a flight.

I spent that summer hitchhiking.

As one year of not flying turned into two and three, it dawned on me that overlanding was not only making me much more imaginative about how I travelled, but also taking me to more beautiful places, introducing me to more wonderful people, giving me more adventurous experiences, and inspiring much deeper, more satisfying stories.

Cycling around Britain and around Tunisia. Catching rides with strangers to Lille and Barcelona. Pilgrimaging to Canterbury and Winchester. Sailing the Jurassic Coast.

By the fourth year, the idea of taking the plane was absurd: I didn’t have any need to fly, as some do, for work or family, so why would I do anything so limiting with my precious travel time?

But we are human and some of our choices can be misinterpreted by others.

Some people heard about my quitting aeroplanes and assumed that it was because of the crazy carbon emissions involved. Some of these people thought that going overland was a very noble thing to do, a sacrifice I had made for the sake of our environmental greater good.

Because of what they thought was my noble sacrifice, some thought of me as an example to be followed, some even suspected that I was a morally superior being (🤮), some admired this choice, some seemed to resent it.

Don’t get me wrong: one of the upsides of not flying is lower carbon emissions. That is a great thing. It’s not why I stopped flying, but it’s still a cool reason not to fly and part of the reason why I continue to not fly (most of the time).

Choosing not to fly was never a sacrifice for me, though. And certainly never a moral choice. Never.

Choosing alternative overland and sea transport has always been an essential part of the adventure — not the lesser of two evils, but the vastly greater of two joys.

Now to the reason why I’m telling this little story of how some people have misinterpreted my motivations for not flying: sometimes other people’s ideas of us can be so compelling, and repeated so often, that they get confused in our minds with our own idea of ourselves.

And that’s when the trouble starts.

The opportunity to take this flight came up a couple of weeks ago. It was a surprise trip: not in the calendar, but not one that I wanted to turn away.

With less than a day to get from Bari to Suffolk, and less than a day to get back for the ferry to Dubrovnik, travelling overland in either direction was impossible.

I’ll be honest: I got into a right tizz.

How could I both spend the weekend doing important things with people I love AND stay true to who I am, the person who doesn’t take aeroplanes?

It was a simple choice between love and principle.

Except that the principle — never fly — wasn’t really mine. It was one that I had internalised from the way that some people had interpreted my actions over the past decade or more.

This is no shame on them: we’re all abundantly free to take whatever we can from the way others behave. All power to the thief — I do it all the time.

But the lesson for me? Don’t confuse what others think about you with what you know about yourself.

I think Bob Dylan said that.

Not taking aeroplanes is still something that I believe in. But it’s not always the most important part of who I am.

I said that.

2. I’m Lucky I Found Something: Three Epochs Of Air Travel

My flying history falls into three epochs:

  1. Childhood, 0-18 years old: 24 flights
  2. Young adulthood, 19-28 years old: 53 flights
  3. Grownupness, 29-41 years old: 4 flights

Strangely, this neat division marries with the stories I tell of myself to myself.

Although I made what I call my first adult decision in 2007 (to study Arabic in Egypt, hang the academic consequences), it wasn’t until 2010 that I committed to what I think of as my grownup career and homelife.

Similarly, it was only after I stopped using aeroplanes that travel, and the writing that came with it, became essential: life-giving.

Shamefully, I can’t actually remember where most of those flights took me during those jetsetter years. Not like I remember those David-defining hitchhikes, pilgrimages and cycle tours of 2010-2013.

Aeroplanes got in the way: youthful, erratic, timid. A noisy distraction from the heart work of discovery travel.

That ten year burst of flights in my twenties mirrored the way I felt, the way a lot of people feel at that age: grasping, flailing, stretching, neurotic, near panic, reaching, twisting, begging, praying for what they might become.

I’m lucky that I found something and could calm down a bit.

(p.s. I’m not saying that this is what air travel means for everyone, only what this graph looks like for me, in retrospect.)

Since 2010, terrestrial travel has become me. It’s grounded me and grown me up. A divining part of everything.

Aeroplanes can’t do that for me.

(Doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes pop up on a graph😝)


These stories have been written to the soothing accompaniment of Listen To The Cloud, live air traffic control chatter set to ambient music.

I have so much to unpack about my recent encounters with aeroplanes, but I’m going to split the stories over two emails because, frankly, we all have lives to live.

Coming in a future episode: reverse vertigo, delirious cabin crew and grounded spaciousness. Plus how you can get paid for flying… 🤑

Not A Miracle The extraordinary ordinary, or: how lucky we are when we work hard together on something worthwhile

A warm welcome from the walled city of Lucca, a sacred grove of luminous space in Tuscany, Italy.

Eight hundred years ago, a beloved domestic servant of Lucca was buried.

Three centuries later, her body (definitely not her body) was exhumed, discovered miraculously undecomposed, and put on display for veneration.

A hundred years more and the dead woman was canonised by the Catholic Church as Saint Zita, patron of maids and lost keys.

Today, for three Euros, you can visit her ‘incorrupted’ shrivelled body in its glass case on top of an altar in the Basilica di San Frediano.

If that’s your sort of thing.

But I didn’t come to Lucca to ogle cadavers; I came here to lie in the shade, eat pizza by weight, and find perspective on the last five weeks.

Perspective: Lucca, Tuscany

Since I last wrote — a glance at the stranger side of my cycle-tour packing list — the forty-four cyclists of the first four weeks of Thighs of Steel have successfully ridden all 2,384km of road between Glasgow and Milan.

That’s a heck of a long way.

The vast distances, the never-ending hills, the sleepless nights and the heavy summer rain stretched many cyclists well past what they once thought their physical and mental limits.

Summer cycling in Versailles, Île de France

More significantly, we have now collectively raised over £70,000 for grassroots refugee and migrant solidarity projects.

Last year, the whole ride raised £114,632. It was a record total for one of our summer mega group rides and I genuinely thought it couldn’t be beat.

This year, with four weeks more to ride before Athens, we are £1,000 ahead of where we were this time last year.

The ride is not a race and our fundraising is not a competition, but I have been gratifyingly dumbstruck, once again, by the generosity and support shown by thousands of ordinary citizens for a cause unpopular with both politicians and the press.

Thank you to everyone who has already donated. Your money is already being used to keep the doors open at the Khora Collective in Athens.

Khora is an association that runs a community centre across three buildings in Kypseli and Exarcheia, and provides services to anyone that needs them.

We value solidarity, autonomy, community, and the right of everyone to access the basic means to live in our city.

Khora includes a social kitchen, asylum support centre, a free shop for clothes and toiletries and a maker space with a focus on arts and crafts as therapeutic practice for women and LGBTQIA+ migrants and asylum seekers.

In the days before Thighs of Steel left Glasgow, we heard that one of Khora’s major funders had run into financial difficulties and been forced at short notice to withdraw their €60,000 grant.

Khora costs €8,000 per month to run. They had enough in the bank to stay open until August. Then: nothing.

Luckily, at this point, MASS Action, the charity for whom Thighs of Steel fundraise, were able to step in and grant out €32,000 from this year’s ride donations.

That’s enough to keep Khora running until the end of the year.

I say ‘luckily’; it’s not luck.

It’s what happens when a load of people get together to do something they believe in, and when they stay focused on the purpose of why they do that something.

I’m talking about the cyclists, Thighs of Steel organisers, MASS Action volunteers, and of course the thousands of people who donate.

Cormet de Roselend: a warm-up of a climb to 1,968m in the French Alps

Saint Zita, a humble house maid, was known in life for doing ordinary things extraordinarily well — such a rare quality that she’s been credited with a hundred and fifty miracles.

This summer, Thighs of Steel cyclists are doing ordinary things.

We’re all just spinning wheels, sharing stories and inviting our friends to donate in solidarity with people on the move across Europe.

Nothing of what we do is a miracle, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think we do our ordinary things extraordinarily well.

If you would like to donate and join the 2,225 people already supporting this cause, then please do.

If you’re a UK taxpayer, then you can also choose to add Gift Aid and the government will automagically slap an extra 25 percent to your donation. That’s money they can’t spend on building prison boats.


Finishing Week 4 at the Duomo Cathedral in Milan, Italy

Enter The Packing Room Five items that wouldn’t make it onto most touring cyclists’ packing lists (let alone into their blessed packing room)

The reason I’m not writing to you until now is that I’ve spent the day hammering through the zillions of pettifogging tasks that cram the hours before a lengthy departure from home.

Tasks like these:

Kudos to DRL’s Points Productivity Planner for keeping me on track. This is working document, so keep your spelling spots to yourself. Mainfest indeed.

As you may or may not have gathered, on Monday I leave for Glasgow, for four days’ final preparation before meeting the first cohort of sadists cyclists taking on the first week of our two-month, 5,400km bike ride to Athens.

I should be back home sometime in September or October.

It’s not a vanishingly long time, but it is certainly something of a disappearance.

And so this morning began with me randomly chucking things into what I like to think of as my ‘packing room’.

I think every adventurer needs a packing room: a place to dump the first practical stirrings of an adventure before it either (a) fizzles out and is forgotten or (b) slams you in the oh-fuck face of last minute dread.

(I also think that every human being is an adventurer in a choose-their-own domain.)

Here’s what my packing room currently looks like:

And I thought it could be a nice idea to take you through five items that wouldn’t make it onto most touring cyclists’ packing lists (let alone into their blessed packing room).

1. A Flag

This flag was hand-stitched many years ago — 2018, I think — for the third edition of Thighs of Steel, which rode from London to Athens, through Slovenia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

Ljubljana to Sofia — 1,400km riding, 14,000m climbing and 78 hours of saddle bum — was my first thighs ride and I was mightily proud that they entrusted me with the carrying of the flag.

I still am.

That’s me on the left after two weeks of cycling Ljubljana to Sofia, 2018

2. Seven Debit Cards & 500 Albanian Leke

This photo represents the stomach-popping logistical and administrative rough and tumble that we all go through, both before and during the ride, to grease the wheels of summer so that they spin as smoothly as could reasonably be demanded.

I mean: have you ever tried to acquire seven debit cards that are free to use in Europe for a non-profit that isn’t a charity and doesn’t have money to burn?

Thank goodness for Equals Money.

This entry could just as easily have been a photo of our Public Liability certificate, representing the last two months of nerve-clenching horror as ‘a costly claim in the events industry’ totally ham-slapped our ‘risk profile’.

The good news is that I’m spending my final Friday evening at home writing these words to you, so we must be more or less ready to ride.


3. A Very Specific Book

Lights In The Distance by Daniel Trilling

I wrote about this excellent book a few weeks ago, so I won’t say any more.

The purpose of Thighs of Steel is to raise funds in solidarity with refugees, migrants, asylum seekers and people on the move across Europe.

We help grassroots organisations keep doing everything they do.

We share a dream of a borderless world once again, with free movement for all.

You can add your heft to the hew by donating here. Thank you.

4. Defence For The Defenceless

It’s summer and we’re cycling through Scotland.

After my experiences a month ago in Northumberland, it’s time to up my anti-midge game.

Smidge is a classic, but now I’ve added a citronella candle and a frankly awesome midge head net to my battlements — both bought from Totally Herbie of Scotland.

Their website might be from the nineties, but they mean business. And so now do I.

5. Dougal The Bugle

I bought Dougal from a Hastings junk shop on the first leg of my second ride around Britain back in 2020 so that I could have a part to play (literally) in the mock-funeral of a friend of a friend.

(It was something he’d always wanted to do: my friend played his spirit guide, a badger.)

Tragically, I recently found out that this friend of a friend has now passed away for real, which adds an appropriate sense of gravitas to the sounding of my most unusual touring accessory.

Some love it, some hate it (especially when it wakes them up at 5am for another expletive-sodden ride up a mountain), and none can ignore it.

Mercifully, every once in a while, someone comes on the ride who can actually play the blasted thing.

At those moments, atop a ravaging hill climb in Wales or at a sundown lakeside in the Italian Alps, Dougal the Bugle will sing a sweet tune that I like to imagine wefts its way into outer space, into the resonating space between atoms where the stardust lives.

This one’s for you, Jimi.

Andy Murray’s Nice It takes effort to look deep into the worst of us and to share the ways that humans, out of the darkness, respond with energetic hope and creativity

As a writer, I am — naturally enough — very deliberate about what I put out into the world for other humans to think about.

I’d be INSANE if I wasn’t equally deliberate about I take in from the rest of the world.


But somehow, a writer’s natural deliberation isn’t always mirrored by the reader.

Readers — audiences of all kinds, myself included — often accept what we’re told without critique.

Particularly when it comes to content that is presented as impartial fact.

I’m talking about The News.

You Can Take Dessert Or You Can Pass

In these pages, I’m the writer. Every idea I write about, you can be sure I’ve thought very carefully about.

I don’t expect every idea to land with everyone, every week. That’s fine. As long as you get something out of most of my stories, then you’ll probably stick around.

If none of the stories ever help you make the world a better place, then I expect you to take the sensible decision to unsubscribe and stop reading.

That’s normal. I write stories that help you (and me) understand the world a little better, not stories that you can’t live without.

You can take dessert or you can pass.

With its apparently impartial presentation of fact, The News somehow, perniciously, sidesteps this judgemental faculty of ours.

We swallow The News as a vitamin.

It might not taste good, but, like vitamins, we believe that The News really does ‘contribute to the normal function of a healthy immune system’.

Unfortunately, it really doesn’t. And, secretly, we all know this.

If I told you that I got my news from The Daily Mail, Fox News and Russia Today, you’d probably draw the conclusion that I was a shitbag.

If, on the other hand, I got my news from the same place you get your news, however — why, what a discerningly well-informed world citizen I am!

We always believe that everyone else’s news sources are trash, but never ours.

The News is not a vitamin; it’s dessert and you can choose to pass.

No News Is Good News

Taking care over The News that I read, watch or hear is something that I’ve written about on these pages before:

Since 2017 — for more than five years now — I’ve not regularly read, listened to, or watched any newspaper, website or broadcast.

For much of this time, I have allowed only one feed into my life, the constructive journalism of the fortnightly Future Crunch email newsletter.

Sometimes, as during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, I’ve gone directly to more-or-less non-news analysts, such as research scientists and civil servants, or to crowdsourced aggregators like Wikipedia.

Everything else newsworthy comes to me through the filters of friends and the people around me — as likely to be the birth of their new niece as the sinking of a submersible off the coast of the Americas.

It’s not a perfect system, of course. I’m sure I do miss out on the odd thing that might change the way I think or act.

But it is one hell of a lot better than the old system I had, which was to try to stay on top of E V E R Y T H I N G.

Opening The Fire Hose Of Shit

From around 1995 until 2017, I used to listen to the radio news every day and (once I had an internet connection) trawl the pages of the BBC News website, scrapping for more information on whatever stories were top of the media agenda that week.

I felt like it was, in a vague, non-specific way, an important duty as a citizen to stay informed. And one stayed informed with a daily news report.

Unfortunately, this is how most of The News is reported:

  • Crap thing happening
  • Life getting worse
  • No end and no solution in sight

If you don’t believe me, let’s do an experiment. I’m going to go over to the BBC News website right now and see what kind of story they’ve chosen to tell about the world today.

(Feel free to skip this bit — it won’t make your life a better place.)

  • Murder arrests after man fatally stabbed
  • Sexual violence helpline pauses over lack of funds
  • Former PC faces trial over misconduct charges
  • Julian Sands’ brother on ‘overwhelming’ tributes
  • National police training in wake of mass shooting
  • Glastonbury Festival crew member dies in tent
  • Drink-driving arrest after car crashes into house
  • Andy Murray surprises girl who uses tennis prosthetic

Let’s be honest, opening the BBC News page — with its carefully cultivated projection of impartiality and fact — is like opening a fire hose of shit.

But here’s the kicker: just like me, the writers behind The News put a hell of a lot of thought and effort into the stories they’re telling.

The fire hose of shit is a choice; it is only one story, one vision of the world.

We don’t have to buy what they’re selling.

Let’s All Be Andy Murray

This shitty story nightly repeats, like the tolling of a death knell, the message that humans, collectively and globally, are failing.

(Except for Andy Murray: he’s nice.)

We’re failing ourselves, we’re failing each other and we’re failing the planet.

Andy Murray aside, there is no energy, no hope and no creativity.

Thanks to some quirk of human psychology, this apocalyptic vision is an extremely compelling story. So we share the worst of us.

It actually takes a great effort to share the best of us.

It takes even more of an effort to look deep into the worst of us and, resisting the temptation of negativity, to share the ways that humans, out of the darkness, respond with energetic hope and creativity.

That’s why it was wonderful to hear that Angus Hervey, one of the people behind Future Crunch, was recently invited to open the TED conference with his version of The News.

Hope Is A Doing Word

When we only tell the stories of doom, we fail to see the stories of possibility.

The hundreds of examples of progress in human rights, rising living standards, public health victories, clean energy breakthroughs, technological magic, ecological restoration and the countless extraordinary acts of kindness that take place on this planet every day.

I believe that if we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to start changing the stories that we tell ourselves.

And we have to remember that hope isn’t a noun. It’s a verb. It’s not something that we have or something that we’re given. It’s something that we do.

Millions of people around the world chose to hope in the last 12 months and then rolled up their sleeves to get it done. Perhaps it’s time for the rest of us to do the same.

And Now The Weather

It’d be totally remiss of me not to include a proper theme tune for today’s news broadcast and, who else, but Bill Bailey.

Always Take The Doughnut The tricycle was a scuffed red, with a wire basket fixed behind and a black electric motor strapped to the basket. Also in the basket: one box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, four remaining

Yesterday morning I was walking back from the beach, up the cliffside zigzag, after a sunny run, swim and friend surprise (👋), when I heard the shuddering skid of something wheeled and weighted right behind me.

An electric tricycle.

The young driver wrestled the heavy vehicle into a right angle turn and pointed himself up the zigzag (No Cycling).

‘I nearly missed it,’ he said, before whirring the engine, pumping the pedals and overtaking me at a crawl.

Rather than giving in to some kind of nimby-level irritation at the interruption to our pedestrian slowway, I inspected his vehicle.

(In fairness, the painted No Cycling warning was covered in sand and may well, in any case, be insupportable under law — see here for the fascinating difference between cycling on a footpath and a footway.)

The tricycle was a scuffed red, with a wire basket fixed behind and a black electric motor strapped to the basket. Also in the basket: one box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, four remaining.

Before I really knew what I was doing, I blurted out: ‘Where are you going with those doughnuts?’

‘I’m going to see my wife, share ‘em with ‘er,’ he yelled back, reaching the first of the zigzag’s zigs. Then: ‘D’you want one?’

At this point, post-run, pre-breakfast, I should have said, ‘Ahh — yes please!’

But I didn’t.

Instead, I automatically said, ‘Nah, you’re alright, thanks. That’s really kind, though.’

‘I got ‘em free, at Waterloo station this morning. I told ‘em I was a delivery driver and if I could have a doughnut — they gave me the ‘ole box!’

At this point I definitely should have said, ‘Ahh, go on then — I’d love one.’ After all, it is nearly my birthday.

But I didn’t.

‘I missed my train last night, had to sleep at the station, didn’t I?’ the young man explains, letting me catch up as he struggled with his engine on the steep zags.

‘They won’t give me my money back, even though I got train insurance. Two ‘undred quid they owe me. It’s a joke.’

I commiserated, then smiled as his engine kicked in and the tricycle burned off up the zigzag, scattering the first of the family sunbathers and the last of the early dog walkers.

This microscopic, heartfelt, sunny connection with tricycle-doughnut man got me thinking.

And list-making.

Things I Can’t Do Right Now Because Of My Wrist

  • Type words on a mechanical keyboard
  • Play guitar
  • Shift gear on my bike (chainrings)
  • Open doors while carrying an object in my right hand
  • Get into downward dog pose

All very specific things that can be adapted around easily. (And at least one of which I can’t do even with a fully functioning wrist…)

Things I Can Still Do

  • Dictate words through my phone
  • Run
  • Flounder in the gentle waves
  • Have funny little interactions with strangers
  • Connect
  • Listen
  • Love
  • Allow

All the important things, in other words.

More than anything, though, tricycle man’s beautiful attitude taught me another of life’s little mottos: Always Take The Doughnut.

Proust’s Wrist Unlike Proust, rather than spend the whole of the rest of my life lying in bed tracing back to source this momentary mnemonic sensation, I searched my 2022 and 2021 digital diaries for the word ‘wrist’

Happy Friday and welcome to Bournemouth, where I am writing — no, wait — that’s a lie.

I’m actually dictating this to you through my phone because I have somehow injured my left wrist and it hurts to type.

This injury was really bumming me out — until I re-read my old diaries.

When this injury made itself known last Friday, I had no idea from whence it came and was seriously concerned that my 560km ride from Liverpool to Newcastle had triggered nasties.

Not good when only weeks away from joining Thighs of Steel on a little two month ride from Glasgow to Athens…

A friend of mine got a horrible hand injury from cycling last year that took six months to recover. I can’t do that.

Then, on Monday, the shooting pain caused by my mild evening stretches triggered a flashing memory — a moment exactly like Proust’s petites madeleines, only with more downward dog.

One day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind.

She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell.

And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake.

No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.

(I absolutely love that book.)

Unlike Proust, rather than spend the whole of the rest of my life lying in bed tracing back to source this momentary mnemonic sensation, I searched my 2022 and 2021 digital diaries for the word ‘wrist’.

Prosaic, but effective.

I found two patches of entries, in April and November 2021, where I complained of an identical injury to my left wrist.

Reading on, I was relieved to learn that neither of these injuries happened after cycling. The first might have happened pushing my nieces on the swings for an hour, while the second probably happened on a climbing wall.

In November 2021, the injury took about ten days to recover, but only after I stopped typing for a week.

The worry of my injury’s uncertainty has been replaced by resignation — even relaxation — and, furthermore, my diaries uncovered a recovery action plan and timeline.

Score one for diary writing!

Round Britain Twice: Graham Eating Chips And Gravy It’s then that I realise who we are: two men, strangers, telling each other how we fall apart. And how we might put ourselves back together again

It’s not every day that you meet a motorcycling electrician called Graham eating chips and gravy in the sunshine at a village tearoom in Northumberland.

In fact, I’d say that it’s only ever happened to me once in my whole entire life.

Just once. Last Sunday.

I was about 470km into my 560km ride from Liverpool to Newcastle and had just decided that it was time for lunch. Again.

Because, you see, If I’ve got any Northumbrian cycle touring advice for you it’s this: whenever you see a tearoom, it’s time for lunch. Again.

Quick Detour Regarding Bloody Bush Road (Unsurfaced)

Northumberland is the least densely populated county in England, with only 62 inhabitants per square kilometre.

This is an incredibly misleading statistic.

Across a 36 kilometre stretch of my route, on the terrifyingly named Bloody Bush Road through the high pine forests of Kershope, Newcastleton and Kielder, there were precisely zero inhabitants per square kilometre.

This means I went five hours of riding and sixteen hours overnight without refilling my water bottles.

Parched. Slightly panicked.

It was only at the very end of the rocky gravel track that I found a sign warning me against the route I’d just taken — READ THIS BEFORE RIDING —

This route is 20km through remote forest areas on unsurfaced tracks and narrow paths.

This route includes steep climbs and crosses exposed open hills and fells. It is therefore better suited to proficient cyclists with higher levels of fitness, stamina and good off-road riding skills. Quality off-road bikes are considered to be essential.

No water, no food, no phone reception and no houses except a couple of eerily abandoned rental cottages: this was not the place to hurt one’s self.

About halfway through my unwitting 20km off-road stint, rolling downhill on the gravel, my unsuitable road tyres skidded.

As the heavy bike slid out from underneath me — threatening to crush my leg under the weight of all my camping gear — my instincts took over.

Without knowing how, my left foot hopped onto the falling cross bar and I leapt over the moving handlebars, miraculously landing in a running stumble, on both feet.

I got away with it this time.

My dusty dry throat was finally lubricated at The Forks, a clutch of forest cottages, thankfully occupied (and each with a wolf-head door knocker), before rushing to the civilised and fully stocked activity centres of Kielder Water.

Lesson learned: population density matters.

Back To Graham Eating Chips And Gravy

So that’s why, only half an hour after tea and scones at the Tower Knowe cafe on Kielder Water, I rolled to a stop outside Falstone village tearoom.

And that’s where, for the first time in my whole entire life, I met a motorcycling electrician called Graham eating chips and gravy in the sunshine.

Quick Detour For Some Miserable Setup

I left to come on this bike ride two days late.

I was originally booked to get the train up to Liverpool on the Monday, but I decided to delay for a couple of days.

Helping to organise Thighs of Steel — an eight week fundraising bike ride with over a hundred participants across eleven countries — is a rat’s nest of responsibility.

Many aspects of facilitating the organisation of the ride are totally within my control: choosing dates and routes, finding ride leaders, paying staff, planning routes, recruiting riders and, of course, fundraising.

But some aspects are wildly out of my — or anyone’s — control. For the past six weeks, I’ve been wrestling with such a task.

And here it was again, that task, demanding more time from me and, if not forcing, then at least prising two days’ holiday from my short break.

Actually, this sacrifice of two days was actually pretty good going for me. In 2022, I would’ve cancelled the whole holiday.

Last year, I felt as much responsibility for the organisation of Thighs and the stress I held manifested itself as a dumpy lethargy and a claggy brain fog.

In my fatigue, I made the mistake of cancelling any extracurricular activities and staying at home, hoping to rest and recovery in the quiet hours when I wasn’t working.

I even took two courses of antibiotics, before realising that my symptoms were ‘just’ stress, far beyond the reach of pharmaceutical treatment.

I learned that, in the responsibility of a stressful situation, my mind and body tend to hunker down, shutting off function in the hope that, by hiding away in stillness, the danger or threat will pass by safely.

While this avoidant strategy might have worked for me in the past, it’s exactly ZERO percent fun and, in most grownup cases, leaves the problem worse than before.

What helps are precisely the things that, last year, I cancelled: seeing friends, playing games, going dancing and, of course, riding my bike for days at a time.

Anyway: turns out that Graham, the motorcycling electrician eating chips and gravy in the sunshine, goes through the same damn thing.

Graham Eating Chips And Gravy

Graham, a man with spectacles and the lived-in look of late middle age, arrived in his leathers and backed his motorcycle into the small parking lot beside the tearoom’s outdoor toilets.

He ordered chips and gravy and a coffee for afters — ‘I’m in no rush here.’

We sat outside, on high stools, with our plates resting on a waist-high sandstone wall, looking out over the shaded village green.

Graham had come up from Sunderland, a trip he often makes on a weekend. He likes to get to the tearoom before twelve, in time for their to-die-for breakfast.

He’s far too late today, which is why turns down their offer of a bacon barm — I can make that at home, like — and settles for chips and gravy.

Graham tells me that he’s an electrician, working for himself, but through an agency, mostly industrial.

I’m not sure what I imagine an electrician doing all day (I know it can’t only be lightbulbs and 3A plugs), but it’s nothing like what Graham does.

He’ll spend weeks wiring up identical units on an industrial site, ticking off the cabling on a schematic works sheet.

None of his work will connected to power until long after he’s gone, so he has to get it right, maybe not first time, but reliably, every time.

A lot of other electricians say they don’t have the patience for it, they get bored, but Graham likes it. It suits his methodical mind and that means he’s never short of work.

Graham felt he had to get out on his bike today: he’s got a job starting tomorrow, a job he already regrets taking.

He holds up thumb and forefinger, about a chip’s width apart: ‘Summer’s only this long up here.’

‘The agency said it’s a two month job, but that doesn’t mean anything. Could be two days, two weeks — two years,’ he says.

‘They said I could have a week off after a month, but that’s…’ He looks over at me, a little desperately. ‘I don’t want to put a time limit on it, you know?’

‘That’s My Sign I Need To Get Away’

Graham is out on his bike for the same reason I’m on mine: it’s his way of getting back into his body, opening up and letting go.

He’s learned to heed the warning signs and take to two wheels before things get worse.

A couple of years back, after his mother died, Graham was on a six-month job on the coast near Edinburgh.

As the months rolled on, he started getting a thick knot of pain in the centre of his chest.

Nothing he did shifted the pain until, one day, he jacked in the job and went for a long motorcycle ride in a loop along the green border and up through Dumfries and Galloway.

‘I was on the road, coming out of Ayr, when I noticed it,’ Graham tells me. ‘The pain in my chest was gone. Completely gone.’

It’s then that I realise who we are: two men, strangers, telling each other how we fall apart. And how we might put ourselves back together again.

‘When I feel that in my chest,’ Grama says, ‘that’s my sign I need to get away.’

It’s the same for me: when I feel that heavy veil falling across my brain.

We shook hands, Graham and I, and swapped names.

‘Good luck with the stress,’ he said, as I took the steps down to my bike.

‘It’ll be straight back when I hit that hill,’ I said.

‘And then you’ll get rid of it again.’

Mind IS Body

That’s been my motto the last few weeks. It’s one I’d like to wear through the summer.

The brain is all very good, but it’s only a tiny part of how we think.

And the poor thing is terribly self-obsessed.

The brain has such an inflated belief in its powers that it thinks (ha) it can sort everything out on its own — and frequently overheats in the attempt.

But when I remember that brains only work well when the whole body is moving, then my mind flows again.

Instead of trying to brute force my way through life on brain alone, I should remember instead to feel my way through the world with all-body senses.

A long bike tour works, but so too does a regular morning run or evening stretch time.

The older I get, the more I learn and the more responsibility I take, the more important it becomes, not simply to get out of my head, but to get into my body.

Some Maps

Round Britain So Far… 2020-2023. Built using Jonathan O’Keeffe’s Strava Multiple Ride Mapper
Last week’s ride: 558km from Liverpool to Newcastle. Map built using GPX Studio
Extra geek points: all 5339m of last week’s hill climbing. Built using GPX Studio

Indebted to D.G. 'The book, published in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, provided a new vocabulary needed to explain a changed world'

A while ago, I was invited to contribute to a Red Pepper magazine retrospective on what a bunch of academics and activists learned from Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by anthropologist all-star thinker and doer David Graeber (RIP).

Well, the article has just been published: Learning from David Graeber.

I’m thrilled that Red Pepper gave my bit the headline ‘Debt is bollocks’ and honoured they decided it was good enough to open up the article — but there are many more worthy contributions from folks who knew DG far better than I ever did.

Not least Nika Dubrovsky, David Graeber’s partner and collaborator, who gives us an insight into the process of writing and publishing Debt:

As we waited for publication, David was increasingly nervous; he complained to me he needed to publish the book to change public discourse and the time was right now. He was right: the book, published in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, provided a new vocabulary needed to explain a changed world.

Today this new language—on how we understand debt—is used by everyone, including by power itself. This is what David called a revolution. He said revolution is not when palaces are seized or governments are overthrown, but when we change the ideas of what is common sense.

First, go and read our Red Pepper retrospective — I love Christopher J Lee’s bit about practising competitive generosity over competitive accumulation — and then go and read the book itself.

The full text of Debt: The First 5000 Years is available free online at the Anarchist Library.

Round Britain Twice: From Egremont Castle The faded card leaves me thousands of miles richer and, daily it seems, on the edge of new life.

And welcome to Egremont Castle, in the shade of the ruined keep, where Amber has freaked herself out playing hide and seek and started first crying for her mama, before shifting up through the gears of shouting, yelling, screaming and now finally shrieking.

Amber’s mum walks up the steps towards me, wearing big shades and a tired smile: ‘Who said playing hide and seek in the castle was a good idea?’

Anyway, before I left Bournemouth to pick up the latest leg of my second ride around Britain, I was surprisingly emotional about my new debit card.

The old one, you see, has been with me since June 2018.

There aren’t many possessions in our lives that are so clearly timestamped and with so clear an expiry date and I took the cutting up of this old workhorse as an opportunity for a bittersweet taste of nostalgia.

This card has served me well, joining the team when I was rootless, directionless, empty, and there at my side as I found confidence and purpose in my writing and my outdoor work, both instructing and with Thighs of Steel.

The faded card leaves me thousands of miles richer and, daily it seems, on the edge of new life.

It feels stupid to be saying this, but thank you old 4543. You done well. I’m excited to see how your successor fares.

Liverpool to Newcastle: The First Three Days

Today’s story is going to be heinously short and primarily photographic. As I mentioned, I’m in the middle of a bike ride, stage seven of my second ride around Britain.

I have too many thoughts that will turn into stories, but perhaps not today, not when I am dictating this into my malfunctioning phone in the late afternoon sunshine on a castle park bench.

Today started gently, with a roll down to Lake Windermere and a glorious, bare bottomed soak in the fresh water.

I then spent an hour and twenty quid in Joey’s, a plant-based cafe at Wray Castle on the north end of the lake. Essential fuel for the climbs, the steep steep climbs, of Wrynose and Hardknott.

So steep, it was, that I watched one Belgian number plate sliding backwards down a 30% incline, engine squealing.

‘You have lots of luggage,’ the Belgian said through wound window as I passed. ‘Lots of luggage and lots of courage.’

Yesterday started early and finished late.

This had little to do with the illuminating distractions of Blackpool and Morecambe, and more to do with:

  1. An inauspicious tide at Fleetwood, which made for a 14km detour around the estuary.
  2. A series of failed camp spots, which resulted in an extraordinarily steep, unscheduled, hill climb as I came into the Lake District, and then a fairly unsatisfactory pitch on the slopes of a denuded Forestry Commission ‘forest’, cocooned in a cloud of ferocious midges.

Dinner was served at 10:00 p.m, a hasty repast of Co-op olive bread and vegan coleslaw.

Between yesterday’s beginnings and yesterday’s endings, I delighted in new discoveries: especially Silverdale, a no-reason-to-visit-it-unless-you’re-visiting-it outcrop of land to the west of the M6.

It’s exactly the sort of why-not place that I want to see more of on this second round of Britain.

And Wednesday? Who can remember that far back?

Suffice it to say that I still think Liverpool is an ace city, with a canalside run through Bootle that gently escorts the traveller into nature’s soft embrace.

I really enjoyed Crosby dunes until I came across a cycle path sign buried up to the hilt in six foot of shifting sand.

I wonder how many hapless round Britainers have met with such granulated fate underfoot?

Anyway. Sorry I can’t be more coherent in my storytelling this week.

It’s time to make myself scarce.

A couple of polite young lads just asked if I minded them flying a drone up here, and, besides, I must seek camp.

‘Hi, I’m Dave.’ No shame. Do something for yourself first thing in the morning. You won’t get a chance later.

This morning, I decided to take that hoary self-help motto to heart:

Do something for yourself first thing in the morning. You won’t get a chance later.

I went for a run along the beach.

About a kilometre in, I heard the heavy foot-slap and raspy breath of a long distance runner coming up fast behind me.

Before long, I could feel them right on my heels. Subconsciously, though I didn’t mean to, I sped up until we were matched stride for stride.

My lion race instinct taking over.

(One for Narnia fans: in Turkish, the word for ‘lion’ is not ‘aslan’, but ‘arslan’ 🍑)

I looked over my shoulder to see with whom I was now sprinting down Bournemouth promenade: barefoot shoes, ponytail, nose piercing.

Between agonal inhales, they gasped: ‘Thanks for running with me. I’ve got one k left and I don’t want to ease off.’

I then proceeded to ask my fellow runner a battery of questions, none of which, I swiftly realised, they were in any position to answer, being (as they had so politely explained) into the last thousand metres of what had clearly been a long, hot, fast, hard training run.

I did manage to understand that they were training for some kind of biathlon, a run and swim, possibly in Tenerife, possibly as part of Team GB.

I did not manage to see them over the line, however. Five hundred metres short, I spotted two friends (👋👋) on a morning stroll, flasks in hand.

I stopped to chat, of course, before polishing off my run: my sweet spot is currently four kilometres.

As I turned at the halfway mark, I realised that I was gaining on a tanned cyclist loaded up with panniers. As I got closer, I noticed that they were flying a mini Welsh flag.

I said hello.

Jack was originally from Wales, but now lives in Oswestry, on the borders.

My head did the automatic mental route planning that is the reflex of all long distance tourers: Oswestry, Shropshire, probably down the Wye Valley trail into Newport, over the Severn Bridge to Bristol, then country lanes to Salisbury before dropping through the rolling Dorset hills, down to the coast.

Nope. Jack had just come in on the overnight ferry from Cherbourg, Normandy.

Two weeks of cycling into the wind, round through Brittany and back north. Would’ve taken him only one week if he’d been going the other way.

Living, as I do, by the beach, it’s considered bad ettiquette not to finish a sweaty run with a dunk in the waves and a handful of litter picking.

That’s when I met a council worker, litter tongs in one hand, bin bag in the other.

They wore that rusty, ruddy look of an outdoors dweller: eight hours a day on the beach, they told me, from March to October, walking eighteen miles a day, shovelling sand off the prom or shifting last night’s litter from the shore.

Normally there’s a three a.m. tractor that does the bulk of the litter trawling, but last night they were on a training course. So there’s a lot for the team of pickers to get through today.

There’s no real purpose behind these little vignettes of a Thursday morning, other than to make the point, again, that we are always free to make chance connections, to play the game of propinquity with the world: learn a little, expand a little, and — god dammit — commune with each other and this stupid little universe.

And, when you do get chatting with the universe, it’s always worth remember a little something that the Dalai Lama (fourteenth edition) once said to a pal of mine who runs a garage:

When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.

Ahem. Anyway. As I made my way back up the cliff slopes to my home, a silly poem, an aide-memoire, popped into my head:

Be brave.
Say: 'Hi,
I'm Dave.'
No shame.
'What is
Your name?'

Later than I expected, I returned home to start writing this email to you. I wanted to get it done by lunchtime so that I could prepare for this bike ride tomorrow.

I failed.

Instead, I spent the morning in the Lush Green Hub with a friend (👋), picking out delicious donations, showertime products that might have unsellably passed their Lush-fresh peak, but are still very much fabulous.

Lush are kindly passing these intoxicating products onto Thighs of Steel so that our disgusting, smelly cyclists stay fragrant all the way to Athens this summer. Cheers!

The Number Twenty-Four (And My Inevitable Mortality) There comes a point in every reader’s life when they realise that the number of books on one’s shelf vastly outnumbers the number of allotted hours for reading that remain on their own mortal shelf-life

Today’s story isn’t even a story. It’s a silly game, born of the ocean-inspired collision of three things floating on the waves in my mind.

  1. The number twenty-four.
  2. My two shelves’ worth of unread books.
  3. My inevitable mortality. (Or at least, a busy summer wherein I shall do little reading.)

1. The Number Twenty-Four

This is, of course, the best number out there.

No — don’t contradict me, I’ve done a full survey of all the numbers, including many that are top secret, and none of them are better than twenty-four.

I mean, for starters, it’s the smallest number with eight factors — eight!

Read ‘em and weep:

  1. One
  2. Two
  3. Three
  4. Four
  5. Six
  6. Eight
  7. Twelve
  8. Twenty-four

This is why we divide rotations of our Mothership Earth into twenty-four hours: we can comfortably divide the day into halves of twelve hours each, thirds of eight hours each, quarters of six, and so on.


Twenty-four (24) is divisible, not only by both its independent digits (2 and 4), but also by the sum of those digits (6). This is what’s called a Harshad number.

And, just to show off, it can even be divided by the multiple of its digits (8).

The name ‘harshad’ took its etymology from Sanskrit: it means ‘joy-giver’.

Twenty-four also happens to be my birth date, which also happens to be later this month.

And that’s a lot of joy for one number to give.

2. Two Shelves Of Books

For the past three years, I’ve been indulging in the pleasure of buying books.

It began during lockdown, when the libraries were closed and I couldn’t spend any money on anything else (I hadn’t yet discovered bread baking).

Since then, I’ve bought more books per year than I’ve read and this has created an anxiety-inducing surplus.

Which brings us nicely onto…

3. My Inevitable Mortality

There comes a point in every reader’s life when they realise (like a dull blow to the back of the head) that the number of books on one’s shelf (never mind on one’s reading wishlist) vastly outnumbers the number of allotted hours for reading that remain on their own mortal shelf-life.

This is compounded by the accusatory glare of books bought in the first flush of lockdown and still with spines unbent, all hope crushed by the page-limiting design of my summer on the bicycle.

I accept now that I will never do justice to all of the books that sit on my shelf.

I could — there are only about fifty or sixty there in total, which is only about sixteen month’s worth (or g months if we’re counting in base twenty-four) if I plough through them.

But I won’t. I just won’t.

As a writer myself, this pains me further: think of all the years — not to mention all the bankruptcies, migraines, mortgage defaults, psychological breakdowns and RSIs — that went into creating these books, sucking out the heart and soul of every author, hoping for a connection that I will never give them.

Even though I could.

So today’s story is a silly game: herewith, please find twenty-four passages from page twenty-four of twenty-four of my unread books.

It’s my way of paying tribute to the extraordinary love and bloody-minded exertion that we all put into our earthly contribution; a contribution that will leave no trace on the overwhelming majority of humankind.

And, who knows, maybe some of these passages will intrigue me enough to make me pluck them off the dusty shelf…

Twenty-Four Passages From Twenty-Four Unread Books

Hey, let’s make this a proper game, shall we?

Shall we actually, though?


Every one of these passages is from a real book by a real author, published sometime between 1888 and 2020.

See if you can guess the title, writer and, for a very special harshad point, the year of publication.

Answers at the bottom.


Oh, go on then!

After all, what kind of a game would it be with no prizes?

(Well, actually, Dave, it’d be the kind of game that values intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards, but let’s be honest: intrinsic rewards are for squares.)

How to enter the prize draw:

  1. Go to my MASS Action x Thighs of Steel fundraising page
  2. Make any kind of a donation
  3. In your donation message, have a stab at the title or author of any of these snippets
  4. If you’re right (or if I think it’s a great guess), then I’ll send you a free book from my unread shelf of doom and pop it in the post to you (if you live in the UK).

No cheating?

Nah, fill your boots — cheat away!

David Perry (1994) postulates that the surface area — hence its absorption capability — of mycorrhizal fungi may be 10 to 100 times greater than the surfacde area of leaves in a forest. As a result, the growth of plant partners is accelerated.

‘No, not close, but let’s see how far. One elephant, two elephants, three elephants … fifteen elephants … twenty-five elephants … It’s still a long way off, more than five miles away.’

It is Friday and I have sweated out one page and a half. If I did not know this process so well, I would consider it a week of waste. But I know better than that now and I am content.

Rule: Pronounce ‘g’ as in ‘get’.

‘g’ in Welsh never sounds like ‘j’, as in ‘gentle’.

cragen — shell — kraggenn

You can follow these fence lines and walls all across the country on your Rights of Way, you can keep to your codes of conduct and never question this status quo. Or you can cross these lines, look inside this system and find out who put them there, and how. Because someone cast the net; something cast the spell.

Yet accomplished writers usually seem to have something else in mind when deciding how to put sentences together: the better the writers, of fiction and nonfiction alike, the more they tend to vary their sentence lengths. And they do it as dramatically as possible.

She said it took her over an hour, because she was arthritic by then, but when she finally found her clitoris, she said, she cried.

If Ecuador is to leave oil unburned, then Ecuador alone must shoulder the cost of lost oppportunity. Those who have so far put most of the fossil carbon into the atmosphere, the citizens of deep-pocketed industrialised nations, were not willing to take on part of the financial burden of restraint.

To Freud, though living surrounded by women and otherwise seeing so much and so well, women’s relationships seemed increasingly mysterious, difficult to discern, and hard to describe.

This book is nervous like coffee or malaria — it sets up a network of cut-outs & safe drops between itself & its readers — but it’s so baldfaced & literal-minded it practically encodes itself — it smokes itself into a stupor.

Reacting to the anxious climate of family life, they blunted their curiosity, narrowed their perception, and followed the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy that ruled the family. Children know at a deep, automatic level what they are not supposed to say or tell or even remember.

After visiting the orange-belt and the opera-house, we went to bathe. Suddenly out of the crowd on the seafront, stepped Mr Aaronson of the Italia. ‘Hello, hello — you here too? Jerusalem’s so dead at this time of year, isn’t it? But I may look in tomorrow. Goodbye.’

The chemicals to which life is asked to make its adjustment are no longer merely the calcium and silica and copper and all the rest of the minerals washed out of the rocks and carried in rivers to the sea; they are the synthetic creations of man’s inventive mind, brewed in his laboratories, and having no counterparts in nature.

We are the poem, his poem says, that emerges from the unity of the body and the mind. That fragile unity — this brief parenthesis of being — is all we have. Celebrate it.

Suddenly and simultaneously they discover me, prone on my belly a few feet away. The dance stops. After a moment’s pause the two snakes come straight toward me, still in flawleess unison, straight toward my face, the forked tongues flickering, their intense wild yellow eyes staring directly into my eyes.

After crossing Bear River I find myself on a somewhat superior road leading through the Mormon settlements to Ogden.

Shadi claims to have been in the Foreign Legion, and he seems nuts enough for this to be true.

After twenty-three days of complete fast, Kundan died. The Jain community was happy to hear this news. I was sad. The monks said he had conquered the fear of death.

The broom is a palm leaf twice his size. He might have been sweeping all his life. Had this been Disneyland one might have thought he was put there to represent a worker from the past. But the hunchback is real, and his task is to keep the desert sand away from the historical copies. The man and the palm leaf seem to be the only genuine articles in all of Babylon.

Undaunted by the reality of being a single parent with a three-year-old son, she took inspiration from a film she’d seen about a woman who’d travelled across the Siberian tundra on her own in the 1920s. ‘I thought, “If she can do that, no equipment, just a big coat, I can walk to London, because I’ll just get myself a good litttle pram and da-da-da.”’

JUNE 10. Very warm. We get water for the camp from a rock basin at the foot of a picturesque cascading reach of the river where it is well stirred and made lively without being beaten into dusty foam.

When Scott Martin wrote a favourable article on Critical Mass in Bicycling magazine’s January 1994 issue, several reader retorts ensued; including ‘I’m disappointed to see Martin supporting this perverted brand of Street Justice,’ and ‘Your glorification of juvenile delinquents blocking traffic and assaulting motorists upsets me.’

Even if your performance is not affected directly, perfectionism may still reduce your ability to enjoy your work or may influence the ways in which you treat others at work.

One might cite Antony, in Antony and Cleopatra, as he tries to answer the question about what kind of thing is the crocodile: ‘It is shaped, sir, like itself, just so high as it is, and moves with its organs. It lives by that which nourisheth it, and the elements once out of it, it transmigrates.’ And, Antony might have added, it progresses through its days and nights very much at its own pace.

With The Greatest Of Thanks And Respect To…

  1. Mycelium Running, Paul Stamets (2005)
  2. Wild Signs And Star Paths, Tristan Gooley (2018)
  3. Journal Of A Novel, John Steinbeck (1970)
  4. Pronouncing Welsh Place Names, Tony Leaver (1998)
  5. The Book Of Trespass, Nick Hayes (2020)
  6. Artful Sentences, Virginia Tufte (2006)
  7. The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler (2001)
  8. The Songs Of Trees, David George Haskell (2017)
  9. In A Different Voice, Carol Gilligan (1982)
  10. T.A.Z., Hakim Bey (1985)
  11. The Dance Of Connection, Harriet Lerner (2001)
  12. The Road To Oxiana, Robert Byron (1937)
  13. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson (1962)
  14. Proust Was A Neuroscientist, Jonah Lehrer (2007)
  15. Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey (1968)
  16. Around The World On A Penny-Farthing, Thomas Stevens (1888)
  17. Baghdad Bulletin, David Enders (2006)
  18. No Destination, Satish Kumar (1992)
  19. A Hundred And One Days, Asne Seierstad (2003)
  20. All Together Now? Mike Carter (2019)
  21. My First Summer In The Sierra, John Muir (1911)
  22. Critical Mass, edited by Chris Carlsson (2002)
  23. When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough, Martin M Antony and Richard P Swinson (2009)
  24. Time, Eva Hoffman (2009)

UPDATE: After writing this piece, intrigued, I started reading Proust Was A Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer and didn’t stop until I’d finished. It’s a wondrous book, full of inspiration for both writers and readers.

10 Years Of No Borders I’ve been writing about the crisis of borders for ten years. My first story on the topic, written after staying in an abandoned chemical factory in Calais, rings as true today as it did then: Do We Need Borders?

Here’s a thing: I’ve been writing about the crisis of borders for ten years.

What’s mad is that my first story on the topic, written after staying in an abandoned chemical factory in Calais, rings as true today as it did then: Do We Need Borders?

The question is, of course, rhetorical.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a nation state is: ‘An independent political state formed from a people who share a common national identity (historically, culturally, or ethnically).’

I’m sure you can already see the problems we might run into if, by any chance, those unlucky administrators happened to draw borders in inauspicious places (i.e. almost anywhere).

That 2014 story was written for an audience of your common-or-garden sceptics: the bulk of citizenry who, until now, have never questioned the very fact of our borders and who naturally assume, for amorphous reasons that they’ve never quite pinned down, that controls are necessary.

People like me, in other words.

It’s what I learned in Calais — talking to everyone, teaching some English, skipping fresh food out of supermarket bins, staying up all night on the rooftop watching for police raids — that shoved me into a new belief system, one that has no room for borders of any kind.

In all those ten years of listening, watching and writing, I’ve not come across a better argument to change people’s minds than the simple fact of being there.

William James, the founder of modern psychology, said that we become what we do. […] One trip to Calais, one cup of hot sugary tea with a Sudanese or Eritrean, is worth a full year of media stories, with their distortions, omissions, angles, exaggerations and outright lies.

If I can’t convince you to engage kinaesthetically, then the most disarming argument I’ve found, especially for all those sensible right-thinking folk, is the economic argument: free movement and open borders is ‘the efficient, egalitarian, libertarian, utilitarian way to double world GDP’.

These are not my words, but the general consensus of multiple economic studies conducted over the course of decades.

‘Impossible,’ all those sensible right-thinking folk say.

Not impossible, I say, only improbable. And everything, in this unlikely universe, is improbable so that’s not saying much.

‘Everything is improbable. Nothing is impossible.’ Graffiti on the walls of the abandoned chemical factory where I stayed in Calais, 2014

Well, come on then, Mr 10 Years — what’s changed?

I was thinking about my long involvement with the free movement, er, movement because I’m currently reading Daniel Trilling’s excellent book Lights In The Distance: Exile And Refuge At The Borders Of Europe.

I met Daniel on my first 2014 trip to Calais, while he was researching this very book.

He wanted to visit the abandoned tioxide chemical factory where I was staying with half a dozen No Borders activists and several hundred other people, many from Sudan, but with representatives from all over — Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Albania, Vietnam.

We had a strict no journalists policy, but, for some reason, Daniel was allowed in — if only briefly. I dunno. Maybe because he seemed sound.

I still think he seems sound — and I agree with what he has to say about ‘change’:

Often, journalists like to think that what they’re doing is going to provoke a change. […] The myth we believe is that exposing something we consider unjust is enough to fix it. But it’s usually not. […]

Instead, if there’s anything useful in our work, it’s more like fitting the pieces of a shattered mirror back together […] As writers, we have the luxury of distance. We can step back from a situation, try to untangle the web of cause and effect that surrounds it, and retell it in a way that makes sense.

Not only that: I would add that we also introduce people to new ideas, voices and perspectives. It’s nowhere near as good as being there, but stories are a small beginning and that counts for something.

Oh, and plenty has changed in the past ten years.

Me, for starters.

Bikes x Borders

Since 2018, I’ve been part of Thighs of Steel, a community of cyclists who gather together every summer to ride an incredibly long way and raise funds for grassroots activist and migrant-led projects that either advocate for change or offer dignified ways for people on the move to elevate themselves.

As much as possible, these are sustainable projects that return a little power, independence and autonomy to people who have often been stripped of all three.

These are projects like Khora, a community kitchen and legal advice centre in Athens, Hakoura, a refugee-run eco-farm in Greece, the Bikes For Refugees cycle space in Scotland, and Calais Migrant Solidarity, the No Borders activist centre I first made contact with way back in 2014.

Images courtesy our charity partner @massactionuk on Instagram

Since 2016, Thighs of Steel have cycled from the UK to Athens five times and raised over £650,000 in cash to help keep community spaces like these open to all.

This year, we’re riding again. Another 5,400km from Glasgow to Athens.

449 donors have aready helped our cyclists raise over £13,000 via our partner charity Mass Action.

⚠️ YES! You too can donate by going along here.

Cycling my share of the 5,400km and raising the £500 I’ve committed as part of our £80,000 target — both strike me as totally impossible improbable from where I am now.

But if there’s one thing that being a part of Thighs of Steel has shown me over the years it’s that all this is possible — when we act together.

In fact, with our collective momentum, it’s not only possible, it’s highly likely.

And what’s true of cycling from Glasgow to Athens, what’s true of raising £500 or even £80,000 for solidarity projects, is also true of our ultimate goal: free movement and no borders for all, not only for the privileged few.

As I wrote back in 2017:

If the last thousand years are any guide, slow but dramatic change is not only possible but highly likely.