Intrinsic Adventure The Days of Adventure project has made damn sure I protect time for my priorities. It’s taken me outdoors when outdoors seemed a long way distant


Friday 9 September

I’d spent a pretty sleepless night trying to discourage the local dogs from chewing up our cyclists’ helmets that’d been left scattered around camp after a long day’s ride.

We were all still feeling pretty tender from our brush with some kind of Montenegrin lake-bourne vomiting bug.

Considering that, only two nights previously, I’d half-slept on a trolley in A&E, I felt incredible on yesterday’s ride.

Powering up the shady steep slopes of the Albanian Dajti and swooshing untrammelled down the other side, zipping through sixty kph mountain tunnels, out and over metalwork spans over thousand metre drop gorges.

I’d felt incredible, that is, until lunch.

Then things went rapidly downhill. Luckily, the last thirty kilometres of yesterday were indeed rapidly downhill.

So, although I woke up on Friday morning feeling okay, I was glad to be spending the day in Calypso, our twenty-year-old Ford Transit support vehicle*.

We waved the cyclists off, packed up camp and drove onward, over the Korab Mountains and into North Macedonia.

At the border, we discovered that we didn’t have valid vehicle insurance for countries outside the EU and would not be allowed to continue until we bought a 14-day insurance pass for €50.

Love that no border guards had cared about such legal niceties in Albania.

In 2019, as one of the conditions of their accession to NATO, the Republic of Macedonia agreed to adopt the geographical qualifier ‘North’, appeasing Greek political concerns.

As Calypso chugged into her ninth country of the tour, I noticed that someone had peeled away the cheap sticker that had announced the country’s new name, revealing the old beneath.

Together we flew over the border mountains to Lake Debar and followed the Black Drin all the way to Lake Ohrid, through pine forests and beside glittering water, marvelling at the beauty of the day’s ride from the hot cabin of Calypso.

We found camp on the shores of Lake Prespa and started to cook two tonne carbohydrates, with the moon rising over the distant blue of the Baba Mountain.

But we had no phone reception on the lakeside beach and, as time ticked on, somewhere out there in the gloaming, most of our dehydrated, delicate cyclists were climbing a mountain.

I climbed back into Calypso and drove the sharp zigzags to the top of Galičica, nerves rising with each switchback and no one in sight. Did they have lights? Had they run out of water, food? Or worse?

Then, somewhere near the summit, a dozen sweat-stained cyclists drifted like ghosts from the gloom before me, spirits high.

Sucking with relief, I refilled their waters and handed out lights and fleeces for the long descent.

Then I followed them down, headlights flickering against reflective cycle tape. The stars played on the lake below.

That day was my hundredth day of adventuring in 2022.

215 Days of Adventure (And Counting)

Last year, I wanted to spend more time outdoors and less time in front of the computer. To make sure that happened, I set a target to have 100 Days of Adventure.

This is my definition of a Day of Adventure, a simple yes or no: did I spend a significant chunk of the day outside on an adventure?

‘Significant chunk’ and ‘an adventure’ are both deliberately relative because I want DOA to be a binary measure that works for everyone. What’s significant and adventurous for you will feel different to everyone else: maybe dangerous, maybe dull.

After a slow lockdown start, I ended 2021 with 102 DOA, a healthy increase so far as I could tell from the years before.

The project was such a success that I decided to keep it rolling into 2022.

Today, we are 308 days deep into the year and I’m proud to say that I’ve spent over a third of that time outdoors, adventuring: 113 days.

A Big Year

I always knew this was going to be a big year: I was scheduled to spend 46 days on the road this summer with Thighs of Steel, cycling from Glasgow to Milan and then from Dubrovnik to Athens.

Days of Adventure are not necessarily biased towards these kind of exotic foreign epics: after all, I spent 35 days cycling around southern England in 2020.

But there’s no question that this big year owes much to the relaxation of pandemic lockdowns and border controls, allowing me to adventure abroad.

In fact, there was so much adventuring going on that I had no time to celebrate passing my 100 day target. So that’s what I’m doing today.


(Seriously, I mean that: yay 🥳)

Although my definition of adventure is flexible enough to encompass almost anyone doing almost anything, I know that it’d hard for most people to hand over a third of their year to adventuring.

(Besides the fact most people wouldn’t want to!)

100 days in a year is ambitious. 113 days (and counting) is straight-up ridiculous. When I stop for half a second to think about it, I feel very lucky.

For some reason, tracking my Days of Adventure is really working for me. This story is about why that’s the case and how something similar might work for you.

It’s a story that begins with a cautionary tale.

Goals Are Dangerous

My old philosophy tutor told us of a friend of his who had a long-time dream to collect a first edition of every record put out by a ridiculously niche record label.

(I think the label was some 1970s Americana psychedelic weirdness, but that’s not the cautionary part of the tale.)

This was back in the days before eBay and Amazon so tracking down the records meant trawling through secondhand junk markets across the world.

There were only about twenty records to find, but the search took him decades. Every LP that he finally found only raised the rarity of the next.

By the late-nineties, we were told, he had found all but one of the records. It’d been six years since he’d added to his priceless collection, but for as long as he hadn’t found that last LP, the game was still on.

Then he found it.

What a moment. What a feeling that must have been, after so many years of searching, to have finally completed the set, to have won the game.

To our tutor’s enduring incredulity, his friend never bought that last record.

He picked it up in the shop, flipped it over and read the sleeve notes. Then he slipped it back onto the shelf, went up to the desk and sold the lucky shopkeeper everything he’d worked to collect over the past twenty years: the entire back catalogue of this ridiculously niche 1970s Americana psychedelic weirdness label.

That’s the cautionary part of the tale: even an extremely difficult goal will, with dogged human persistence, be completed.

And then what? Emptiness.

Once he’d found the final piece, there was nothing more for our collector to do but scrap the lot, like breaking up a jigsaw puzzle.

That’s the danger of goal-setting — and that could be the danger inherent in a project like 100 Days Of Adventure.

But there’s something different with the design of that game, a difference best illustrated by another project of mine — now permanently shelved.

The Country Game

Back in the early 2000s, I had a friendly competition with pals to see who could travel to as many different countries as possible.

(Okay, it wasn’t always friendly — Monaco and the Vatican really got people’s backs up.)

The only rule was that the visit had to include at least one overnight stay and at least one activity of cultural interest. In other words: travelling across borders on the night train did not count.

It was a great game because I was usually winning (especially after making up a rule that added the Canary Islands and Gibraltar to the list of officially recognised countries due to something or other about non-contiguous borders and nautical miles).

And therein lies the problem with this game: the joy, for me, was in winning the game, not the experience of taking part.

Contrast this with the DOA project: I didn’t even notice that I had ‘won’ the game. I was too wrapped up with the experience until I sat down to write today.

It wasn’t that I took The Country Game particularly seriously, but the nature of the game mechanics generated serious discussions about how to reduce duplicates (each country could only count once) and how to maximise border-hopping with every trip.

To the spitting jealousy of the others, one competitor snared six countries in a single holiday to the Baltics. All within the rules.

Intrinsic Adventure

In contrast, there’s no way to ‘game’ the DOA project without lying to myself.

I can’t score if I haven’t been outdoors for a significant chunk of the day doing something vaguely adventurous.

That kind of point-scoring is all about experience: it’s a reward that is intrinsic to itself. It’s found within, not without.

The problem with The Country Game is that its rewards were extrinsic, with no reference to the quality of experience within the game.

Quite simply, the reward of visiting a new country was to score one point.

And after that?

Visit another country, score another point.

And after that?

Visit another country, score another point.

And after that?

Visit another country, score another point.

And so on until there is no more ‘And after that?’, only the emptiness of the completed record collector.

Protect and Prioritise

I know I’m lucky to work the jobs I do, but over the past two years, my DOA score has been more than a mere coincidental symptom of my work and lifestyle.

Even this year, even with those 46 days (technically hard at work) with Thighs of Steel, I still wouldn’t have reached 100 Days of Adventure without making an effort to clear my diary to create space.

The DOA project has made damn sure I protect time for my priorities.

It’s taken me outdoors when outdoors seemed a long way distant — particularly at the short end of last year, when I was scrambling for days, a time that generated some of my most cherished memories that winter.

And That’s The Point

Since the first day of this year, hiking the double stone row at Hurston Ridge on Dartmoor with two friends, I’ve written seventeen more stories of adventure this year: a wellspring of memories filled with community, wonder and connection.

That’s what the Days of Adventure have brought me since 2021, a constant reminder that ‘how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives’.

There are 57 days left in the year. I plan to spend at least 13 of them outside, adventuring.

Are you putting your time where your heart is? What’s stopping you from making damn sure?

BONUS CONTENT: 17 Stories of Adventure

Adventures make me think. And when I think I often write. Here are the other 17 stories that I’ve written while on adventure this year:


*It was Calypso’s fifth time supporting the ride all the way to Athens and back. She’s beginning to creak, so we’re looking for an upgrade for 2023.

Do you know anyone who might have a long wheelbase high top van they want to sell or give away to a small cycling community with a big heart?

Winter Wins And in one year’s time I’ll be opening the freakin Palladium! (Or maybe I’ll just have sustainable momentum in the direction I want to travel)

September 17, 30 degree heat, Akropolis in sight. The culmination of seven months’ hard preparation and two months’ hard riding.

It was a spectacular summer, filled to the brim with vivid experiences and vital friendships. But, as I reluctantly turned my handlebars back northwest, I felt pretty empty.

So, as our ferry chugged inexorably across the Channel, I started a list of things to get excited about this winter.

When your whole being has been consumed by one or two projects and both those projects come to an abrupt end at the same time, it takes a force of will to step outside once more and rediscover, or reaffirm, who you are or who you aspire to be.

If I were an athlete, this winter would be my ‘off-season’, an opportunity to focus again on the basics, the training and training ground routines, rather than the exhilaration and exhaustion of competitive matchplay.

What do I want to learn? Where do I want to stretch myself? Who do I want to become for next season?

I won’t jinx the entire list by sharing it here, but here are a few winter wins that give you an insight into three areas where I want to grow.

Leadership & Communication

The nine months I have spent this year helping to steer Thighs of Steel have taught me a lot about myself and particularly about how I respond under pressure and time stress.

The main thing I have learnt is how important it is to keep lines of communication open, be honest about my feelings and needs, and make sure that empathy is flowing in both directions, between myself and the rest of the team (and, well, anyone else too!).

As Ernest Hemingway once wrote to F Scott Fitzgerald: grace under pressure.

With that in mind, I have signed up to an introductory course in Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a technique developed in the 1960s by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg.

I’ve also resumed my counselling sessions and (excitingly) joined a Men’s Circle here in Bournemouth (thanks LH!).


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: winter is the finest time to explore outdoor adventures in the UK.

Shorter days mean we can not only catch both sunrise and sunset at a reasonable hour, but also spend long evenings with the stars.

Out of season hotspots, like Dartmoor, the Lakes, North Pennines, Wales or the Highlands, are empty. The views, like the shadows, are long and clear and the weather is either exactly as expected or surprisingly delightful – no possible disappointment.

So, in late November, I’m travelling up to Scotland to cycle another leg of my Round Britain ride.

Since 2020, I’ve cycled about 4,500km of the coastline and now I’m eyeing up the 650km from Edinburgh to Inverness.

This’ll be the first time I’ve done a serious cycle tour in the UK in winter. I’m curious. And foolhardy. And optimistic.

I’m also mushroom picking in the Brecon Beacons and, with my intrepid mum, going on an unexpected tea room of an adventure to Little Gidding, the fourth of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets.


Learning forces us to remember that we’re not dead yet.

It reminds us that our brains are plastic (the good kind of plastic) and that we are very much unfinished animals.

Whether teaching your old self a new trick or honing a dulled blade, learning shows us that, in spite of everything, we are making headway.

A great winter win to have in your back pocket.

This year, as well as the NVC course I mentioned, I’m learning how to make sourdough from the delicious bakers at Bakehouse 24, getting guitar lessons from a chap who works for Specsavers (thanks again LH!), and building a FREAKIN SAUNA with a carpenter friend of mine.

I’ve also enrolled in a four-month Zoe Personalised Nutrition programme that involves a continuous blood sugar sensor, gut health and blood fat tests… and loads of muffins. Can’t wait!

Winter Wins

I’m not usually one for bucket lists, but I really needed this.

I know that I can’t do everything on my list, but just knowing that I’m already doing some of the things, even if only the small things, will give me enough momentum to carry me through the dark days.

Cornell University professor Karl Weick introduced the concept of small wins in a 1984 paper about redefining the scale of social problems.

‘Once a small win has been accomplished,’ Weick wrote, ‘forces are set in motion that favour another small win.’

What one small, good thing can you do today that will set you up for another small, good thing tomorrow?

Yesterday, for example, I asked a friend whether she knew anyone who taught guitar. Today, she sent over the number of that guy from Specsavers who teaches guitar on the side. Tomorrow, when I’m back in the library, I’ll message him to set up a lesson.

And in one year’s time? I’ll be opening the London Palladium!

Or maybe I’ll just be a little better at making music. Either way, I’m happy: I have sustainable momentum in the direction I want to travel.

And if, at any point over the coming months, I feel myself drifting or dissatisfied, then I can come back to this list, remind myself of why I’m here, and do one small thing to regain that momentum.

Winter wins. What are yours?

The Most Wonderful, Or Manifesting The Abstract One week with no home internet connection...

I’ve now been without a home internet connection for a week and I’m still appreciating my untethered peace of mind.

But it’s not like I’ve gone total caveman here.

I’ve got into a rhythm of working for four or five hours in the library, from whenever I finish my morning diary (see below) until my stomach tells me to get stuffed.

In the early evening, I’ll check my messages again in the lobby of the hotel where I go for my saunas. And that’s it for internet.

I appreciate that, in the grand scheme of things, this is still a very long time to be tethered.

2.6 billion people around the world live without a mobile phone and 360 million more have no internet connection either.

But I live in the UK, where there are more mobile phone connections than citizens and the average person spends 6.4 hours a day hooked up to those sweet sweet mbps (which I like the think is the noise our brain makes when it gets a dopamine squirt from some click bait headline).

Temperature Check Please

Besides my data diet, I’ve been particularly enjoying having some distance from text messages, which have a nasty habit of crash landing in my brain like meteorites from outer space.

When we speak to someone on the phone or in person, we usually open with some variation of ‘Hello, how are you?’ — and, quite often, we listen to the answer.

We do a temperature check, we attune ourselves to each other, and only then, when it’s appropriate, do we announce our needs, whatever they are.

We can’t do this human temperature check via text message because they are, by nature, asynchronous.

We can never know the state of mind of the recipient in the instant that we communicate with them.

That’s an astonishingly optimistic way to go about a conversation, isn’t it? And, given how much we message (145 per day on average in 2018), isn’t it amazing that we’re not all nervous wrecks already?

So it’s been nice to be able to step away from text messages for all but a few hours a day. Nice to know that nothing can crash land — it’s like a temporary force field has been thrown up around Planet Dave, only disabled by libraries and hotel lobbies.

The Most Wonderful

But the most wonderful gift of this untethered time has been what feels like a reclamation, a reclamation of something that I had forgotten was mine: my early mornings and my evenings.

I usually wake up some time between half six and half seven. That gives me a couple of hours before the library to read, write and walk.

I don’t know what I did in the years when I had an internet connection, but I know that my mornings were nowhere near as grounded.

Until this week, I hadn’t written what Julia Cameron calls ‘morning pages’ for a long time.

It was once a habit to write my diary first thing, but at an unspecified time in the past few years this became last thing at night: still a healthy habit, but with very different results.

𓉔𓄿𓃀𓂻: Manifesting The Abstract

Writing a daily diary is the engine-room of what I do. As I’ve written before: it’s my process.

All my adventures, many of my stories and myriad other gifts of mental processing can be traced back to these pages.

It’s a quiet place to unload, unravel and understand. (Not so quiet today: Back In The USSR playing right now — written at the height of the Cold War, it still suprises me how radical Paul McCartney could be — and how good on the drums too.)

In Egyptian hieroglyphic script, each word ends with a determinative symbol that gives context to the preceding consonant-sounding signs.

For example, the determinative used at the end of the word relating to motion is a pair of legs walking — as in the word 𓉔𓄿𓃀𓂻 (shelter-vulture-foot-legs walking: h3b) meaning ‘send’.

But here’s the one thing that has stayed with me in the twenty years since I studied Egyptology: the determinative used to connote any abstract concept, such as ‘greatness’, ‘dignity’ or ‘truth’, was a scroll of papyrus: 𓏛


Because it’s only through writing — in this case, on a roll of papyrus — that we can manifest the abstract.


It’s like magic.

Once we have captured and written down our abstract thoughts, we can examine them at a distance, modify, modulate and manipulate them. Under the spell of our penwork or typecraft, we watch as our mind changes.

Writing a diary (journal, morning pages or whatever you call it) is a form of self-counselling.

My diary means I can arrive at face-to-face counselling sessions with the ingredients of my mind, my thoughts and emotions, at least half-baked.

I don’t just tip mental shopping bags, bursting with random ingredients, all over my counsellor’s kitchen floor. I’ve already prepped the meal.

So I’m grateful to my phone network for screwing up and bringing me back to my morning pages.

I now write twice a day: a thousand words on my untethered laptop, looking out over the slow winter dawn, and a thousand words on my Neo Alphasmart typewriter, tucked up in bed with the curtains drawn on the moon and stars.

Morning pages to write myself into a positive, productive mindset.

Evening pages to tie up any loose ends before sleeping, to reflect and regenerate.

Same Time, Different Tenor

Comparing this disconnected week with the very much connected week before, I was surprised to find that I spent the same amount of time on my devices — including the exact same time on messaging apps and email.

Not what I was expecting at all.

The difference was in the detail, however. I spent three hours more on my laptop and three hours fewer on my phone. Consequently, this led to an 8 percent increase in what RescueTime calls ‘Productivity’.

Given that I wasn’t trying to be more ‘productive’ and that the only apparent difference between the two weeks was my internet connection, this is a useful insight.

I don’t know what you use your mobile internet connection for, but I’ve also been happy to find that I haven’t missed any of its other features.

Mildly inconvenienced at times, perhaps, but not in any way that made me ungrateful for this opportunity for silence.

Social Gravity Pulling Us Back

But there’s only so long that our society will tolerate those without a tether.

Already I’ve run into problems dodging through two-factor security and accessing my bank account. There are also some websites that won’t work in the library.

No, not those ones! Honestly. Who do you think I am?

I mean totally legit ones – Substack, for example.

In the UK, the unseen forces of social gravity pull us strongly back in the direction of, not merely a mobile phone, but an internet-enabling smartphone.

Remember, though: this kind of social physics is not Newtonian. We can — and will — push back.

My phone actually started working again yesterday.

Between the hours of 9pm and 10am this morning, however, I kept the life-giving SIM card stashed away in a lock box outside the flat. Bliss.

With a little care and preparation, I believe that Pandora’s box might just work.

Don’t Rush To Press Writing, creating and flourishing - without a phone connection

The Boring Bit

Earlier this year, tediously, Virgin Mobile transferred all their customers (hi) from the EE network to Vodafone.

(Did you know that there are only four actual mobile phone networks in the UK? All the other providers are just piggybacking.)

For 99.99 percent of Virgin customers, this move made absolutely no difference. For me, however, the switch was terminal, as I happen to live in a Vodafone dead zone.

It’s a strange story because outside on the streets, on the beach or even in my garden, I have full bars and leopard leaping 30mbps 4G coverage. Inside the flat, however, that drops to a caterpillar crawling 2mbps on the dreaded H+.

Why? How? Why?!

The Vodafone antenna is on our roof. Glorious reception in all directions but down.

Unfortunately, unless the wind is blowing just right, this stuttering connection is nowhere near good enough for me to work from home.

So earlier this week, I changed network providers. All well and good, until they tried to port my old phone number to the new SIM card.

Then something broke.

Now my phone can’t connect to any network. I can’t make calls and I can’t connect to the internet.

In fact, because I don’t have wifi installed in the flat, I haven’t been connected to the internet while at home for all of 48 hours.

The Horror.

Work = Internet?

This is probably the longest I’ve been without internet in my own home since I lived on a smallholder farm in 2009 and my work consisted of digging vegetable plots, hunting for chicken eggs and throwing apples for the pigs.

Even that was only a brief hiatus in a connective link between the dial-up of 1998, via broadband ethernet, to the arrival of wifi and 3G.

Despite being a late-adopter of the smartphone, I’ve been more or less tethered to the internet at home since I was about sixteen years old and certainly for the whole of my working life.

Since I left university, to a greater or lesser extent, my work has also depended on a reliable connection to the internet.

From finding my first English students through an advert on Gumtree to writing and designing a website for people I never met in meat space, the internet has always been an essential business partner.

But even in 2022 it would be wrong to say that my work is entirely dependent on the internet.

In fact, now that I find myself without, I realise that my writing work is a long way off needing the reliable always-on connection of the sort that fills most homes – and filled mine until 13:07 on Wednesday afternoon.

Not that I’m counting the minutes or anything.

Minimum Viable Wifi

One of the stickiest ideas I’ve ever come up with is Minimum Viable Technology.

The guiding principle is that, when deciding what tool to use, start by defining the task and then choose the least complex tool that will do the job. No more, no less.

For example: I need to get some food later. The shops are 4km away, but I only have an hour to spare and I’ll have a lot to carry home. That’s the job.

The tools at my disposal are: my walking legs, my bicycle and my car. The least complex tool to solve the problem is my bicycle with a couple of pannier bags.

Choosing the bicycle, I’ll save money and petrol over the car, while keeping the head-clearing benefits of physical exercise at a speed considerably faster than walking.

But far too often we act with the principle of Minimum Viable Technology turned upside down.

Instead of first defining the task at hand, we’re dazzled by the tool and go searching for jobs it happens to be good at.

To someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

We have a spectacular tool at our fingertips – the internet – and so we bend almost every aspect of our entire existence into internet-shaped tasks.

In so doing, we accidentally generate a scrolling stream of work to grind through, in service of the tool.

Back in the 90s, who would have predicted that inbox overwhelm would become a daily battle for almost everyone with an internet connection, i.e. almost everyone?

In the creation of ubiquitous instant always-on asynchronous communication, the internet has turned human interaction into a stressful game of whack-a-mole.

But was ubiquitous instant always-on asynchronous communication ever defined as the job we needed done?

The tool has made civil servants and secretaries of us all.

The problem is not that the internet can’t be our Minimum Viable Technology for some (even many) tasks.

This newsletter wouldn’t be in front of your eyeballs right now if I hadn’t decided that the internet was the right tool for the job.

The problem with the internet is that, once chosen as the right tool for some tasks, it has a nasty habit of taking over everything else as well.

I’m sure someone clever has written a long treatise on how every business is now an internet business, but I’m more interested in what this takeover means for us as humans living our puny little lives.

More specifically: what it means for me. And, for me, the always-on internet means two things: spidering and defaulting.


Sometimes when I sit down at my computer to write a newsletter, that’s exactly what happens. My fingers, my brain and the internet work in a smooth and equal partnership.

Writing this way feels like a conversation with the rest of the world: pulling the data of other people’s experience into a synthesis with my own and putting that back out onto the network.

It’s a rare sensation. More often, I catch myself spidering.

Instead of looking inwards for authentic inspiration, I venture out onto the web.

I search this thing, that thing. Read this article, that article. Follow this link, that link. Type this, type that. Nothing sticks.

Before I know it, two hours have passed and I’ve got 43 tabs open and only 12 words on the page. That’s spidering.


Defaulting is what happens in the twelve hours of the day that I’m neither properly focussed on a task nor asleep.

The internet is always on. At home, my computer is always there. Until yesterday, that combination meant that the internet is not only always on, but always there.

As a freelancer (and increasingly for y’all nine-to-fivers), that means my work is always on and always there too.

I’ll drift over to my computer, handily stationed in the dominant middle of the room, and I’ll file email, cycle on rotation through the same default websites, tidy my spreadsheet calendar, check messaging apps, try to read something, buy something I don’t really need.

This is not productive work, this is ‘can’t switch off’ work. Footling around, tweaking, checking and triple checking. Busy work.

Classic defaulting.

But do you know what I really hate about defaulting? When I use it as a ‘reward’.

I’ll be in the flow of writing and suddenly realise that I’ve been working for 45 minutes straight and, as a ‘reward’, I’ll check the BBC Sport headlines.


Reward defaulting is the WORST – it’s not refreshing, it’s not rewarding, it’s just blind dopamine addiction.

Always On, Always There

Who is at fault here?

There will be readers who say that all my spidering and defaulting behaviour is simply ill-discipline. Fair enough.

But once I’ve acknowledged my ill-discipline, what then? Just try harder? Ha!

My problem is not with my internet connection as such; my problem is with my ‘always on, always there’ part. But separating the two is almost impossible.

So far as I know, I can’t buy a nine to five connection. I either have the internet or I don’t.

Yes, I know there are apps out there that will limit my internet connection. I know because I use two of them: Freedom and Unpluq.

It’s true that I haven’t used Freedom to permanently disconnect myself – but I have used it to limit my access to certain websites. And I have also discovered how easy the app is to circumvent.

The temptation to circumvent my own discipline is much too great: waiting for me behind that protective firewall is a delicious banquet, every last megabyte morsel of internet goodness.

This is the reason why the most effective positive constraints are black and white: I don’t use aeroplanes to travel. Not: I don’t use aeroplanes to travel except sometimes when I do.

So, assuming I ever get my phone to work again, how the hell can I design a positive constraint that will keep the always-on, always-there internet out of my house?

Well, first of all, let’s see how I managed to write today’s newsletter, wifi-free.

A New Old Way To Write

Before today, I’d written 330 editions of this newsletter and I’d say that about 312 of them were written in the same way: with a solid internet connection running in the background.

It’s no wonder that, at first, this new way of working felt a little uncomfortable. Unstable. Untethered.

Writing a newsletter is a complex task, made up of dozens of smaller individual tasks – but I’ve realised today that only a couple of those smaller jobs are best done while tethered to an internet connection.

The rest are best done without internet – not that they can’t be done while connected, but they’re best done without.

This is where it helps to define the three major areas of newsletter writing according to Minimum Viable Technology principles.

Problem 1: How to get this newsletter in front of your eyeballs

With limited budget to spend on postage stamps, my options are pretty limited here. The internet is the Minimum Viable Technology for the job. Thank you, Substack.

Problem 2: How to research this newsletter

The internet might be the fastest tool for grabbing a quick quote and it might even be the best tool for prospecting and sieving for content – but it is also a resource that is available to almost everyone.

If almost anyone can perform a web search, then, however tempting for the writer, that work has less value to the reader.

Do you know how many hours a day the average American spends online? Well, yes you do. As much as I do, anyway. The answer’s right there, a few taps away.

The seductive ease of the internet squeezes out slower, deeper, more valuable research that I can do from my own experience and my own library – particularly when so many of the stories I write here are inspired by the physical books (not online articles) that I read.

The Minimum Viable Technology is my own brain in the first instance – not out of arrogance, but rather trust that I already know roughly what it is that I want to say, what line of argument to take, or what emotion or reaction I’d like you to have in response.

When my brain inevitably runs dry, my home library of about 400 books is there for inspiration: a much deeper well than a surface-level web search.

You can trace the origins of this story, for example, to two books by Cal Newport: Digital Minimalism and A World Without Email, both of which I’ve written about before and both of which are sitting on the desk right next to me.

As writers, we are spoiled by the wealth of knowledge found on the internet, forgetting that our personal libraries are probably better provisioned than 99 percent of libraries that ever existed in the millennia before 1960.

It’s rare that I write something so entwined with online research that I can’t put anything down on the page, but for those more research-heavy stories I can imagine a process of going back and forth to an internet connection between drafts — not during.

Missing research can be skimmed over in the draft using a marker like TK (a rare letter combination in English, standing for ‘to come’) and the gaps filled through batching when an internet connection is restored.

Stupid example: I had no idea how many mobile phone networks there were in the UK, only that there weren’t very many. I only looked up the exact number just now, before hitting send.

Quick Note On Batching

This morning, I went to the library to use the internet. Before going, I made a long list of things to do while I had a connection.

Besides getting in touch with my mobile phone service provider, I wanted to message a few people, send a couple of emails, check some train times and the weather forecast for a mushroom picking adventure.

It was all done quickly and easily. That’s the joy of batching tasks – like doing all the washing up in one go. And when it was done, there was nothing to keep me in the library.

If I’d been at home, those same jobs would have cropped up here and there throughout the day and either interrupted my flow or taken much longer thanks to my old friends, spidering and defaulting.

At the library, I simply got to the end of my list and felt almost disappointed: is that it? Is that all the business I have with this lofty invention to whom I dedicate so many hours at home?

Problem 3: How to actually write this newsletter

Writing is a long process of drafting and redrafting and, because of twin threats of spidering and defaulting, I think almost all that work is best done without an internet connection.

One of the big advantages to writing this newsletter offline is that I couldn’t rush to print.

I spent two hours writing the first draft of this newsletter and the temptation was to hurry over to the library and get it up on Substack for editing.

But then I realised that I didn’t need to. I could do all my edits in LibreOffice at home, still with no internet connection.

This new writing process unfolded over eight stages, the first five of which were offline and occupied five of the six hours this story took to write:

  1. First draft in Q10, an offline text-only writer
  2. Second draft in LibreOffice, an offline word processing app
  3. Print out, read and edit with an actual pen
  4. Third draft edits in LibreOffice, offline
  5. Cycle to my friends’ house (thanks GC and BS)
  6. Copy over to Substack online
  7. TK gap-filling and typesetting online
  8. Publish online (yay!)

Those first two stages are the bulk of the work and took about four hours – probably about average for an epic story of this kind, but, with no distractions, I found the process more enjoyable, smoother.

Not only that, but with all the time in the world at my disposal, I could print out a copy of the text and take it to the sauna with me to do some relaxed line edits.

Why not try, just this once?

Quick Note On Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime

One of the things that I did in the library earlier was to download a bunch of podcasts that I could listen to offline at home.

Now I’m thinking that I shouldn’t have bothered.

There’s something wonderful in running out of things to do and getting bored. It might be making me more curious, for starters.

I’m not someone who switches on the television and I’m not so interested in radio since I adopted my current No News Is Good News media diet.

With the gravitational pull of my sweet, sweet internet connection gone, the only distractions or entertainment in the flat are reading and staring out of the window.

I can no longer ‘reward’ myself with distraction defaulting.

I live alone so no one can pull me away from what I’m doing. No one on Whatsapp, no one on Signal, no one on my emails, no one on the phone, no one.

The closest I am to this kind of distraction is at the library, a five minute walk away. That’s a long way to go for a quick dopamine ‘treat’.

Instead I reward myself with a change of music, a chilli oat biscuit with maple syrup, by staring out to sea or playing guitar.

Nothing creates the impression of limitless time as having nothing to do. Not because I’ve done nothing, but because I stopped when I’d done the important things.

The things that were not important were not done and that time regained opens up a clear horizon in the mind.

Interruptions don’t necessarily hold us back in terms of getting things done, but they do come at the cost of ‘more stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort’.

Stress has been shown to make us feel more pressed for time (no surprises there) and feeling more pressed for time is antithetical to our wellbeing and our willingness to help others.

And here is the challenge I promised at the top: I bet you still find it IMPOSSIBLE to cut your home internet connection.

83 Percent Offline

Clearly, this newsletter isn’t going analogue any time soon.

But I’ve learned that five out of six hours, 83 percent, of the work can be done offline and this slower, less distracted process has undoubtedly made for a more focussed story.

(A better story, though? You be the judge of that!)

Even if the internet is the Minimum Viable Technology for many jobs, that doesn’t mean that I need it piped into my home twenty-four hours a day.

The question returns: how the hell can I design a positive constraint that will keep the always-on, always-there internet out of my god-damned house?

Given the spidering and defaulting tendencies and temptations of the internet, I’m afraid that only a radical solution will work. Something stronger than Freedom, Unpluq or my own willpower.

Car Phone

Okay, so… I’m going to try leaving my phone in my car in the car park outside, eight flights of stairs away.

I’ll still be able to do all the internet things I need to do when I need to do them, but, as well as the mild discomfort, there’s no way of charging my computer down there so I’ll be limited to an hour of connected time anyway.

If I need longer: away to the library again.

All the other things that I need a phone for, like using maps or (umm) phoning people, are done (or better done) outside anyway. Let’s walk and talk.

Oh – and yes: I am aware of the crushing irony of this.

No internet in the flat was the reason that I changed mobile network provider – yet also precisely how I came to discover that what I really want is… no internet in the flat.

For now, though, even my car phone solution is a luxury. I still haven’t got signal. (Sorry friends!)


Talking of friends: I was chatting about my predicament last night and someone pointed out how annoying it is for everyone else when one of you doesn’t have a phone.

Phone connection is part of the social contract now: if you can get in touch with me anytime, then I can get in touch with you anytime. That’s the deal.

So one friend suggested I leave my smartphone in the car, but keep a dumbphone in the house for calls. I’ve enjoyed the silence of the past couple of days, but I can’t deny that this is a fair and pragmatic suggestion. Thanks GC!

Anxiety Is An Energy Next time Sinjoro Maltrankvilo comes galloping along, maybe I can tip my hat, grit my teeth and welcome him with a stern handshake and a whiskey. My pardner’s back in town. What's the job?

Anxiety is a big reason that Thighs of Steel managed support 95 cyclists over 5,408km from Glasgow to Athens and raise over £110,000 for grassroots refugee projects.

All thanks to good old anxiety.

I don’t mean that metaphorically, mystically or even mythically. I mean that in a very concrete way.

One tiny example

Two weeks before the ride set off, I was up late, worrying. As you do.

With 50 cycling days across 9 arduous weeks, Thighs of Steel is built on a rigid schedule: there is scarcely any wiggle room for disasters that take time out of the day.

Restlessly I mind-scrolled through each of the weeks, trying to imagine how they would all go horribly wrong, in as much catastrophising detail as my stress-addled brain would allow.

Week 2 of the ride, from Bristol to Paris, involved 529km of beautiful cycling through the cathedral towns, rolling countryside and luscious woodlands of southern England, into croissant-nibbling, cheese-munching, chateau-spotting France.

We would cycle, we would camp, we would cycle, we would camp, we would cycle, we would camp, we would catch a ferry, we would cyc —

Shit — I haven’t booked the ferry!

Heart pounding, blood rising, I leapt out of bed and dashed to the computer, praying to the four goddesses of St Christopher’s lucky rabbit foot that the ferry we had to be on would have last-minute space for 17 cyclists and a massive van.

We could neither afford the re-route to another port a hundred kilometres away, nor the five hour delay to wait for a later ferry.

Of course, the four goddesses were smiling upon me that night. But the real reason that disaster was averted was thanks to — yep — good old anxiety.

Good Old Anxiety

Like I said, that’s just one tiny example.

The disaster-spotting and problem-solving energy of anxiety came to our rescue thousands of times before we ever left home and on a near minute-by-minute basis during the ride.

The towering success of the ride was founded on anxiety.

The problem is that, if you have my sort of interpretation of anxiety, then that last sentence sounds AWFUL.

Who wants to feel anxious the whole time? Anxiety is a horrible feeling! (says I).

But this is only one interpretation of anxiety.

There is another sort of interpretation, one that acknowledges the energy and power that anxiety gives us.

Imagine the opposite. Imagine we never felt anxious. Imagine we went around in a semi-tranquillised state all the time. Nothing would happen!

Sure, we’d be mellow as fuck, but there’d be no adventures, no laughter, no stories to tell our grand kids.

Heart Pounding, Blood Rising

Ultimately, anxiety is a physiological response to a situation: heart pounding in my chest, blood rising to my neck.

However, the fact that I have interpreted anxiety as ‘a horrible feeling’ is wholly psychological.

For some reason, ‘horrible’ has become my default interpretation of that physiological response — at least in some circumstances.

Heart pounding, blood rising is actually my physiological response to quite a few things, many of which I interpret as ‘right good fun’.

But when it comes to what I call ‘work’, I default to an interpretation that makes me feel shitty about the energy that I call ‘anxiety’.

Incidentally, this seems to be getting worse as I get older, and as more and more of my day-to-day activities are labelled as ‘work’ and therefore potentially labelled as anxiety-inducing.

And that’s not all…

Shitty Interpretation = Shitty Thoughts

My shitty interpretation of anxiety leads to a cascade of shitty thoughts.

Firstly, I feel shitty for feeling shitty. I beat myself up for feeling anxious instead of some other emotion that I’ve labelled as ‘non-shitty’.

Secondly, I’m more likely for my shittiness to take over and colour the rest of my world experience.

For example: if there are other people around, then I’m likely to try and pin the blame on them for some aspect of the situation.

Why didn’t anyone else book the ferry? Why did it have to be me up at night worrying? How crap am I going feel tomorrow after losing so much sleep?

Then, thirdly, I feel shitty about myself for being shitty about other people.

Not One, But TWO Vicious Cycles — Yay!

So that’s shitty thought cascade is vicious cycle number one:

Anxiety ➡️ Being Shitty About Others ➡️ Ugh, I’m Shitty ➡️ Anxiety Rebound

But until now my only management technique for anxiety has been to try to push the anxiety further away: I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I should be feeling tra-la-la, la-di-dee instead.

Unfortunately, something you probably know about human anatomy is that our feelings are held in place (with cartilage to the spleen, I’m told) by a very powerful spring: push them away and they come back twice as hard to smack you in the face.

And, boom, that’s vicious cycle number two:

Anxiety ➡️ Push Anxiety Away ➡️ Anxiety Rebound


So the alternative interpretation of anxiety cannot be the false YAY I’M SO HAPPY LOOK AT ME I’M HAPPY.

The alternative interpretation is (drum roll and pull quote please):

I’m anxious — GREAT. My body is priming me to get shit done. So let’s do it.

Don’t ignore the anxiety or push it away. Don’t pretend that anxiety is always a lovely buzzy feeling of excitement (but remember that sometimes it is).

Instead, acknowledge that anxiety gets shit done. Respect the energy it generates.

All those physiological changes in our bodies make us perform better. Anxiety is not hindering, but empowering us.

That shot of adrenalin, the pounding heart and the rising blood give us the physiological boost we need to spot and solve difficult problems and work through disasters without anyone dying (hopefully).

Anxiety is not enjoyable, but it is useful.

So this story is a shout out to anxiety. I want to remember all the millions of times in the past that this uncomfortable emotion has saved all our asses.

Then, next time Sinjoro Maltrankvilo (as they say in Esperanto) comes galloping along, maybe I can tip my hat, grit my teeth and welcome him with a stern handshake and a whiskey.

My pardner’s back in town. What’s the job?


Thanks to Ben from Align Mind Body for a good chat that clarified how I’d tackle this topic today. As a meditation teacher, Ben knows all about observing emotions and finding that space between observation and interpretation. And — oh look! — he’s running an Intensive Meditation Foundation Course, starting on 24 October.

What Bedtime Story Do You Tell Yourself? How to sleep, by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl

How rested you feel tomorrow will depend on the bedtime story you tell yourself.

If you complain about your sleep quality, then you’re simply making things worse for yourself: poor-sleeping complainers sleep worse and have worse health outcomes than poor-sleeping noncomplainers.

Personally, I use a passage in Viktor Frankl’s Auschwitz memoir, Man’s Search For Meaning, to train myself into the belief that I am indeed an excellent sleeper:

Somewhere it is said that man cannot exist without sleep for more than a stated number of hours. Quite wrong! I had been convinced that there were certain things I just could not do: I could not sleep without this or I could not live with that or the other.

The first night in Auschwitz we slept in beds which were constructed in tiers. On each tier (measuring about six-and-a-half to eight feet) slept nine men, directly on the boards. Two blankets were shared by each of the nine men. We could, of course, lie only on our sides, crowded and huddled against each other.

… And yet sleep came and brought oblivion and relief from pain for a few hours.

Catching Up On Good News

Greetings from, well, the United Kingdom.

It’s been exactly three months since I was last ‘home’ and two months since I left this island.

Anything big happen since I left?

Let’s see now…


  • Work on the world’s largest windfarm was completed off the coast of Yorkshire. It’s record will superseded by another being built off these shores next year.
  • Waltham Forest became the first council in the UK to divest fossil fuels from their pension fund.
  • A trial showed that Oxford University’s malaria vaccine is the cheapest and most effective yet, with protection up to 80 percent. Not bad for a disease that (speculatively) may have killed 50 billion humans to date.
  • The University of Manchester have developed the first diagnostic test for Parkinson’s.
  • Period products became free in Scotland.
  • Cycling is booming in the UK with weekday journeys up 47% since 2021.
  • Doctors will soon be able to prescribe free bikes.
  • 86 percent of British companies that took part in a 3,300 person trial of the 4-day working week say that they plan to keep the model.
  • A pine marten was spotted in London for the first time in a century.
  • The proportion of British people who think immigration is ‘bad for the economy’ halved from 42 per cent to 20 per cent. Despite all the frothy headlines over ‘culture wars’, social attitudes in the UK are becoming steadily more liberal.
  • Thomas & Friends got its first autistic train character, Bruno the Brake Car, and Peppa Pig got its first same-sex couple.

Amid the dread of returning to the UK, it’s good for me (and you too, perhaps) to remember that, at the same time as things going wrong, some things go right too.


I caught up on all that UK news by looking through the weekly Positive News ‘what went right’ archive, which you can also get as a newsletter.

Mycelial Contentment Fungi remind me that life is a simultaneous — and utterly entangled — act of personal exploration and collective creation

This is part of an accidental mini series on the psychological and ecological benefits of taking new perspectives on life, society, citizenship and the planet.

The first part of the mini series looked at what I see as the organisational purpose of Thighs of Steel and took a new perspective to help me understand why I do anything at all: connection.

This second part will look more closely at happiness and take a new perspective to help assuage or at least understand the economic, ecological and existential distress that so many of us are feeling right now.

I’ll be honest: I wish I could have spent another twelve years researching and writing this piece, hands buried in the soil.

Think of it as a work in progress and please be gentle!

The Three (Or Four) Species Of Happiness

All good things come in threes:

  • Jesus, Joseph and Mary
  • Earth, Wind And Fire
  • Wet Wet Wet

Human happiness is no different: there are exactly three different species. (Except when there’s four, but we can ignore that one later…)

The first species of happiness is the kind that you can only feel when you’re inside the experience right now.

You might feel a sort of experiential penumbra of good vibes for a short time afterwards, but basically the happiness is gone as soon as you leave the situation.

For example, the visceral happiness you get from playing on a swing:

The happy author, c. 2005

The question at the root of this first variety of happiness is: Am I having fun?

The second species of happiness is the sort you feel even when you’re no longer actually inside the experience.

This is one kind of time and space travel that humans can do: quite unbidden, a remembrance — oh, yes, I’m happy! — pops into our mind.

This sort of happiness is unlikely to stem from playing on the swings. Even this one:

(Watching that video, I think I screamed as much as they did. Worth the build up.)

This second species of happiness is more likely to crop up through a satisfying work life, successful relationships or a family of supportive friends.

The question at the heart of this second variety of happiness is: Does this feel right?

The third type of happiness goes deeper again: it’s an existential happiness, reaching out far beyond our selves and our immediate circle.

It comes from the sense that we exist as one small element of a community and society, a landscape and ecosystem that is thriving in unity together.

The question is: Are we all, people and planet, thriving?

This happiness is something I have felt in the past.

I’m not alone in struggling with it right now.

The Fourth Species

The fourth species of happiness that we can safely ignore is the kind that yogis and Russell Brand talk about:

Transcendence of all earthly happiness through direct connection with The Oneness of The Universe.

But you can forget all that for now — except one word: connection.

(Yes, I know — I’m obsessed with this idea.)

Because all three (or four) species of happiness depend on connection.

Back A Second: What Is Happiness?

Happiness is what happens when our sensory bodies come into contact with an experience and form a positive emotional bond.

When we play on the swings, that bond is easily broken by leaving the playground, and our happiness fades too.

When we form a close relationship with another human, such bonds are more complex, cropping up in more and more of our experiences and environments the longer and stronger that we share a emotional connection.

If that connection is predominantly positive: happiness ensues.

But even the strongest interpersonal relationship cannot sustain our happiness if the ecosystem around us is sick.

It is very hard to be happy when you discover that the earth is burning. Or that Liz Truss has become Prime Minister.

This is where the mushrooms might help. (Not like that! Although…)

The Great Entanglement

On the way back from Greece, I (finally) read Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life.


The subtitle is How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, And Shape Our Futures — and, yes, there is a lot of stuff in there about how fungi can forage for food, eat rocks and find the fastest route through IKEA.

But what struck me most forcefully was how, as a mycologist, the more Merlin learned about his subject, the more uncertain he became about what it means to be human.

The first living organisms on land were a collaboration between algae and fungi: lichens. The algae could photosynthesise to produce energy from the sun and the fungi could digest minerals from rock: the perfect partnership.

Likewise, plants are a collaboration between the above-ground photosynthesising organisms and the below-ground fungal mycelial networks that break down and transfer nutrients from organism to organism.

And the breaking down element is crucial: until fungi like the white rot fungus ‘learned’ how to digest plant matter, the earth was coated in a pile of dead plants, kilometres deep.

(This is how we got coal, by the way.)

By digesting dead vegetation, fungi guarantee the cycle of nutrients from one living organism to another. This is the thing we call soil. It wouldn’t exist without fungi.

Even humans are a collaboration between ‘humans’ and untold millions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that help, among many other basic living functions of body and mind, to break down the plants and animals that we eat as food.

It becomes increasingly difficult to determine where human ends and the rest of ecology begins.

Life is, indeed, entangled.

8,890,000,000,000,000,000 Megabytes

Back to that question of existential happiness: right now, do you feel like we are all, people and planet, thriving?

If you’re anything like me, that’s going to come across as a really stupid rhetorical question.

Apart from major scientific advances like the Vegan Sausage Roll, everything’s going to shit.

So what can we do about it?

Here’s one thought.

(It’s not a very clever or original thought, but hear me out because in a second I’m going to get you to imagine being a fungus and that’ll change everything.)

As a society, perhaps we have been putting too much effort into tending our digital networks.

(Told you it wasn’t very clever or original.)

I don’t just mean social media, I mean the creation of the whole World Wide Web.

Statista forecast that 97 zettabytes of data will be created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide in 2022.

That’s 8,890,000,000,000,000,000 megabytes.

It’s completely overwhelming to think of all the billions of hours that are put into tending our digital society every day.

By necessity, that time is being diverted away from our other projects and has perhaps contributed to the neglect of our society offline.

Finding Balance

That’s not to say that I think online networks can’t be extremely powerful — I doubt that social attitudes in the UK would be becoming so liberal, so quickly if it weren’t for the internet.

But I think we have to be careful that our online networks really are strengthening our ‘real’ offline lives in the direction of greater connectivity and solidarity with the people and planet that make up our ecosystem.

I think this hybrid online-offline model is why Thighs of Steel works so well: people discover the project online, meet each other online and communicate online.

But then we come together for two months in the summer to create a living, breathing community in the ‘real world’.

And it’s that in-person time that changes the wider world for the better, in all the ways that I discussed a couple of weeks ago.

The difficulty is how to imagine change when our problems are so complex and our individual capacity is so limited.

One answer is to change our imaginative model of what it means to be an individual.

(Okay, here’s where things get trippy!)

What if we imagined ourselves as a single exploratory growing tip of a fungus, tiny and courageous, but directly, intimately, unbreakably connected to, entangled with and backed by a mycelial network of unfathomable power and complexity?

Human As Hypha

The growing tips of a fungus are called hyphae, so imagine yourself as a single hyphae, one little growing tip of the human mycelial network that is exploring our society, the landscape, this universe.

It’s easy for you to feel like an individual.

Look too closely and hyphae totally behave as individuals, merrily wiggling around through the soil, looking for yummy dead things to munch.

But zoom out and we see that, despite their apparent behaviour, hyphae are not individuals.

It’s not like there’s a central brain or body that tells the individual hypha what to do, but each one is plugged into a complex and responsive network.

You see: fungal hyphae can somehow sense and communicate across the network.

(I’m not even going to try and butcher the young science: I beg you, please read Merlin’s book.)

If one hypha finds some delicious dead tree stump, very quickly (and mysteriously) the rest of the network will stop what they were doing and turn their attention to devouring it.

As a human hypha, you are exploring on behalf of every other actor in the network — all the other hyphae who can and will respond to every move you make, every touch and every discovery.

That gives you, the connected individual, power, agency — and responsibility.

The network decomposition of the dead tree stump is no mere act of destruction. The capturing and recycling of nutrients is a life-giving act of creation: what we call soil.

As a hypothetical human hyphae, recognise that your influence extends far beyond the human network.

You are also exploring and creating on behalf of the vegetation, the plants and the trees, that depend on the network for life support. No network, no soil.

Consequently, you’re also exploring and creating for the insects and animals that depend on vegetation, and so too for those predators that depend on the life and death of their prey.

See how you are connected — not hypothetically, but literally — to everything else in the ecosystem.

Mycelial Contentment

This is how mushrooms help me fill the pit of despair that has taken the place of my third, existential, species of happiness.

Fungi give me a lens through which to see my existence as both individual and plural.

If I fall into the trap of seeing myself as an individual alone, then it’s too easy to feel powerless about the existential problems we face as a species.

It’s too easy to bumble along, exploring life — experiencing the first two species of happiness, perhaps — but never seeing my intimate role as part of the network that is creating this ecosystem.

And without the sense of living within a healthy ecosystem, I have no hope of experiencing the foundational existential happiness.

Fungi remind me that life is about more than my own personal exploration.

It’s a simultaneous — and utterly entangled — act of personal exploration and collective creation as part of the network.

The metaphor of the human hyphae gives me license to explore and create, to follow my own path, but also to ensure I nurture a healthy network and, in so doing, healthy soil and, ultimately, a healthy ecosystem.

And, perhaps, existential happiness.

So let’s commit to the roles we were born to play: as entangled explorer-creators.


Thanks for reading — I hope some of it made sense at least. If not: get yourself a copy of Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake and take a look at this marvellous world from a myco-centric perspective.

Postscript: Entangled Happiness Networks

The Happiness Network. (In a parallel universe, I spend my life going around taking photos of fungi)

People’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.

I can’t believe I forgot to include the most obvious piece of research in last week’s newsletter about how our happiness is entangled with our networks.

Clusters of happy and unhappy people are visible in the network, and the relationship between people’s happiness extends up to three degrees of separation (for example, to the friends of one’s friends’ friends). … This provides further justification for seeing happiness, like health, as a collective phenomenon.

Read more:

Lies And The What What Now Now While livers and kidneys and stem cells do their surreptitious work, the rest of the world, friends, family and lovers from back home look on and ask of us the what what now now

Last week I told you no lies. But perhaps I was sparing with the truth.

I said that Thighs of Steel left Glasgow on 16 July and arrived in Athens on 17 September.


I also said that 95 cyclists rode a cumulative 71,337km over the course of 49 days.

Also truth.

But there’s a gap between the truth and the whole truth, right? You know what I mean.

In those 49 days, we didn’t quite cycle all the way from Glasgow to Athens — even after you excuse us the cross-Channel ferry.

We missed a bit.

Let me take you back to Dubrovnik and the beginning of Week 7.

Probably A Hill / Gravel / Borek

Covering the 800km between Dubrovnik, Croatia and Thessaloniki, Greece inside one week was always going to be a big ask.

And not just because of the distance.

The mountains of Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia barred our way to the cotton and pomegranate plains of northern Greece.

Oh, and all this on a route we’d never done before, on roads that could run out at any moment.

Albania. Go. Now.

Naturally, it was hands-down the most popular week of the trip, selling out on day one on this hapless promise of unknowable adventure:

This is the week for people who LOVE not knowing what’s around the corner (clue: probably a hill / gravel / borek).

We’ve never been to North Macedonia before (have you?) so we’ve no idea what to expect, but the internet tells us it’s freakin’ gorgeous (if a bit hilly). We’re looking forward to the endless views and the bottomless mountain lakes.

As ever, we don’t know where we’re staying each night until that day, so we may be welcomed into homes, adopted by villages or wild camping beside a river. Expect to meet extremely friendly strangers and strangers who are extremely confused by us.

Before The Lake

After two days climbing through Montenegro, including the sixteen switchbacks of the Kotor Serpentine, we camped on the edge of Lake Shkodër, right on the border with Albania.

We arrived at camp in time to blow up the inflatable aubergine (yep), chuck a frisbee around in the shallows and then, because apparently we weren’t tired enough after a 97km ride, embark on a leisurely grueling swim out to a rocky island.

About halfway across, I was reminded that, over water, however distant your destination seems to appear, you should triple it.

The guilty Lake Shkodër (Montenegrin side)

The evening sun hurt our backs, the lake weeds caught our strokes, the vast current clubbed our legs.

We struggled back from the island, crawled ashore like wet things from the Pleistocene, and collapsed into a pot of dinner as mosquitoes danced.

Within 15 hours of that ill-advised swim, I was fixed to a drip in an Albanian hospital while my friend was being jabbed in the butt with a needle of drugs.

The Author, On His Death Trolley

After The Lake

We think we picked up the stomach bug from dirty water in the lake, but who knows.

What is certain is that, although almost everyone managed to cycle the 130km from Lake Shkodër to Tirana, by midnight all but five of the party were stricken.

There are no days off on Thighs of Steel, but there was no way we were going to cycle any further the next day.

Thighs of Steel, maybe, but bellies of jelly. Or worse.

A rest day was the only option.

Luckily, we had found a bucolic campsite up in the foothills of Mount Dajti, populated with ducks, chickens and a clutch of (now) horrified campervanners.

The proprieter was a jolly woman who, after seeing our condition, mocked us for not being able to handle our alcohol. When we revealed the true extent of our indisposition, she was appalled — until we explained that we’d picked up the bug in Montenegro.

‘Ah, Montenegro!’ she cackled. And restocked the toilet paper.

By the evening, most people were able to prop themselves up on an elbow and nibble a little plain pasta. A couple of us managed a game of Bananagrams. Some mad cats even cycled down to the city for a tour of the fleamarkets.

We called council and made the decision that anyone who could hold down the morning porridge could ride on the next day — with the proviso that Calypso, our beloved support van, would scoop up any strugglers.

But our recovery day meant we were travelling one day behind schedule.

In our fragile condition there was no way that we could make up the time, so, instead of reaching Thessaloniki on the seventh day, we ended the ride in Florina, a hot, flat ride over the border from Macedonia.

Then we caught a train.

In Thessaloniki, we snatched one last dinner together before saying our goodbyes.

The next day we welcomed the final week’s cyclists and rode six days to Athens.

5,304km from Glasgow, but somehow missing something…

Connecting The Dots

Why is it that we feel compelled to finish things?

Why, on Monday, did I feel compelled to take a train from Athens to Thessaloniki, meet fellow core teamer Fen, drive Calypso to Alexandreia, park her up in a quiet suburb and catch another train with our bikes to Florina — only to turn around after a night’s sleep and ride 124km (into a strong headwind) back to Alexandreia, thereby linking Week 7 to Week 8 and making an unbroken land route of 5,428km all the way from Glasgow to Athens?

I don’t know. But it felt really good. And not just because of roads like this:

It felt good to honour the ride that was a year in the making. It felt good to honour the other cyclists who couldn’t ride the full route during Week 7.

It felt good to take to the roads again and remember the purity of why we do this without the frantic circus that comes with riding in a large group.

It felt good to join the dots.

We have now raised £96,964 and if you want to help us join the dots to our £100,000 fundraising target for refugee solidarity charity MASS Action, you can donate here.

I know times are tough for pretty much everyone right now, but every donation makes a difference. Take these examples of what a donation could do for the Khora community spaces in Athens:

  • £10 buys 20kg of fresh fruit and veg to serve at the Khora community kitchen, free for anyone who needs a hot meal with friendly faces
  • £50 covers the costs of running the Khora Asylum Support Team for a day, providing vital, free legal support to asylum seekers in Athens
  • £100 pays the electricity, water and gas bills at the Khora kitchen for a fortnight
  • £250 covers food supplies needed at the Khora kitchen for a whole month

It does feel good to have connected the dots, to have finished a project. Like, really finished it.

But now, sitting improbably beneath a glacier, I’ve come to that other moment, where one project ends and I feel…

The What What Now Now

Well, the immediate what what now now is that I need to get to a secret location on the edge of the Morvan in central France. There, awaiting repair, is Calypso, fallen at the last, with oil spewing from her undercarriage.

But once the mechanics have been called, once the vehicle has been recovered, once she limps onto the ferry and makes her tired, troubled way back home, and I have, perhaps, showered and slept, then I will be faced with the what what now now.

Projects like Thighs of Steel take everything you’ve got, all thrown into a threshing machine, and scattered, in this case, across barren gravel tracks from the Clyde to the Acropolis.

During this grisly process, something powerful and enduring is created from the entrails of the various participants — no doubt about that — but it can take some time for everyone to regenerate.

In the meantime, while livers and kidneys and stem cells are doing their surreptitious work, the rest of the world, friends, family and lovers from back home look on and ask of us the what what now now.

The answer is I don’t know know now now.

But I do have some ideas, generated from a grid I made, which I’ll share because you might also find it useful if you’re having trouble figuring out your own what what now now.

To avoid jinxing all my nascent plans, here’s an empty one, drawn in the back of a notebook designed in Tehran, bought in Athens:

Get stuck in. Add or change the columns and rows until you have your own full-on personalised Zwicky Box of What What Now Now.


Thanks to everyone involved, to Fen and the tortoise, also to Tim Ten Yen, and of course The Much Much How How And I.

The Opposite Of Control Is not chaos

I’ve not been well for the past three weeks, with fluctuating symptoms of fatigue, sore throat, headaches, blocked sinuses and stomach upset.

It’s not Covid, it’s not long Covid, it’s not a cold, meningitis, Lyme disease or glandular fever. Blood count, folate, B12, liver function — all healthy.

The longer this little thing drags on, even after two courses of antibiotics, the more convinced I am that it’s a manifestation of stress.

Simple as that.

Simple Is Complex

I’ve never forgotten something my sister once noticed at a gig when we were at university:

The easier a musical instrument looks, the harder it is to play.

  • Synthesiser: looks complicated, plays easy
  • Trumpet: looks simple, plays hard

The metaphor extends to medicine.

For example, I have an underactive thyroid.

The thyroid is an endocrine gland that secretes three hormones that dictate the basal metabolic rate of almost all body tissues, manage our appetite and stimulate the breakdown of glucose and fatty acids, increase the rate of our heartbeat and mitochondrial activity, and play a key role in our sexual function, menstrual cycles, and sleep and thought patterns.

Looks pretty complex, no?

But when things go wrong, the thyroid plays pretty easy: one blood test to diagnose; one pill to restore normality.

Stress, on the other side, looks simple. But jumping jacks does it play hard.

We all clearly see the cause, but where is the cure?

Unpicking An Opinion

Stupid question: what is stress?

Let’s say it’s a troubling sense of anxiety that rides into town when external or internal demands on your performance exceed your capabilities.

But hold on.

Human beings are wonderful creatures. Our capabilities rise to the demands placed upon us.

This is why there is such a thing as eustress: motivational dollops of stress that actually improve our physical and mental performance.

Without the stress of a fierce opponent, neither of tomorrow’s Wimbledon finalists, Elena Rybakina and Ons Jabeur, could rise to the level demanded of tennis champions.

Even when demands on our performance do exceed our capabilities — why — that’s what we call learning! And there’s nothing bad about learning, is there?

So the negativity around anxiety must contain the seeds of something else.

We can see this physiologically, as well.

Anxiety is what’s known as an arousal state. It makes my heart race, shallowing my breath, making me sweat, butterflying my guts, tiring me out.

But these are the same symptoms as the arousal state of excitement. The only difference is the interpretation put on the two: one negative, coming from a place of fear, and one positive, coming from a place of joy.

If stress can be positive; if anxiety can be excitement; if falling short can be learning; then, anxiety as a response to stress is just, like, your opinion, man.

But it goes without saying that I not finding my current state of mind particularly joyful. I am not excited; I am fearful. I can’t even make space to see all the wonderful ways I am growing and learning.

Our radically varying responses to stress, then, must burrow deep, much deeper, into our core beliefs about ourselves as human beings.

Letting Go

The cure for stress, the one everyone will tell you, looks as simple as the diagnosis:

Relax, don’t worry, just let go

Thanks. Now what the fuck do you think I’m trying to do?

I can’t tell you how many hot baths, naps and slow walks I’ve had over the past three weeks. Sure: feels great. Now what?

Well, yesterday, my counsellor invited me to try the Sedona Method of letting go.

The Sedona Method, according to Rational Wiki, is a ‘roll-your-own New Age self-administered psychotherapy’. At this point, I’ll try anything.

If you can’t afford the $100 online course, here’s what I did with my counsellor:

  1. Focus on an issue you would like to feel better about
  2. Ask yourself: Is this feeling coming from a desire for control, a desire for approval, a desire for security or a desire for connection?
  3. Ask yourself one of the following questions: Could I let this feeling go? Could I allow this feeling to be here? Could I welcome these feelings?
  4. Ask yourself the question: Would I? Am I willing to let go?
  5. Ask yourself this question: When? Hint: the answer is always ‘now’ because the past is gone and the future never comes.
  6. Repeat half a dozen times, with slightly different inflections

During the session, I focused on my anxiety around the aforementioned and rapidly upcoming ride to Athens.

That’s where most of the stress in my life is right now and that’s how I suspect my sinus infection originally snuck in and, once, snucked, wouldn’t shift.

As I focused on that feeling, and as we made our way through the method, I realised three things.

1. My anxiety comes from a desire for control

I want to control every aspect of the ride — knowns and unknowns — to ensure that everything imaginable goes exactly as everyone involved could possibly dream.

That’s an awful lot to control. No wonder I get the sense that I’m operating a wee bit beyond my capabilities.

Looking back on those words, I realise too that my anxiety is coming from a good place: I desperately want people to have a good time and not die.

This is a good thing to want. Can I not be proud of my anxiety because it pushes me to do my best? Easier said than done.

2. But control is not an option

Unfortunately for my brain, control at this scale is simply not an option.

There are far too many moving parts to this operation:

  • 5,000km of cycling
  • 97 participants with all their own anxieties and excitements
  • 66 days and nights
  • 21 allergies or pre-existing medical conditions + Covid
  • 10 countries with 9 border crossings
  • 1 temperamental van 🙏

So, if control is not an option — what is its opposite?

3. The opposite to control is not chaos

The opposite of control is trust.

  • Trust in myself to do my best and rise to meet any challenge
  • Trust in the people around me to do the same
  • Trust in nature and the underpinning logic of the cosmos

Okay, so that last one is a little out there, but hopefully you know what I mean.

In the context of a dying star, our pettifogging anxieties seem a little insignificant, don’t they?

Whatever will be, will be and, don’t you see, it’s all perfect?

Anxiety arrives, with bugle horn and crack of whip, only when we lose our trust.


Of course, trust could (and perhaps one day should) be a whole post in itself — what is trust and how can we make more of it?

One thing I know for sure is that this bike ride generates exactly the right conditions for trust to thrive.

A bunch of people, each with unique strengths, surrendering to a unquantifiable, indefinable challenge far bigger than any individual, succeeding only together.

We’re ready.


I hope that this exploration of my stress has been a little helpful for you too.

If you’re seeing the connection between this post and my post about responsibility the other week, then ten points to you. Responsibility is an energy: distribute it wisely and you’ll power a whole network.

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of other good ways to manage stress, like going outside for exercise and eating a diet rich in prebiotic and probiotic foods.

Finally: if you’re crazy stressed, then please ask someone you (yep) trust for support.

Responsibility Is Not Heavy It's electromagnetic (metaphorically speaking)

We imagine responsibility as a weight.

This imagined foe finds expression in the metaphorical language we all use.

Responsibility is something we hold, bear, carry or shoulder. Responsibility is a heavy, weighty thing that can be handed over, dodged or ducked.

Sometimes responsibility even falls on us.

No wonder that, in our most solemn moments of responsibility, we speak — quite literally — of the ‘gravity’ of the situation.

This Is A Terrible Metaphor

Responsibility doesn’t behave like a weight.

A weight on your shoulders will always slow you down, drag you down, bring you down.

But responsibility doesn’t always feel like that, does it? Hell — I don’t think it even often feels like that.

If responsibility were a force (metaphorically speaking), then it wouldn’t be gravity.

Most of the time, responsibility is empowering: it gives us the energy and motivation we need to achieve cool things.

I’m sure you can think of many times in the past when someone handed over responsibility to you — and it made you feel lighter, stronger, faster, energised, electrified and empowered.

The Thing Got Done. Right?

Far from being a gravitational, weight-like thing, responsibility is much more like a vitalising force that we absorb, store, conduct or distribute.

Yep: a better energetic metaphor for responsibility is electricity.

One idiomatic hint that responsibility truly is more electrical than gravitational: we say that the person responsible for a task is the person ‘in charge’. I found this amusing.

Where a cumbrous weight will always slow us down, electricity, when it’s hooked up right, can grant us superhuman speed — like one of those mad scooters you get nowadays.

What responsibility really looks like (metaphorically).

Okay, cool. So we’re agreed that responsibility isn’t a weight, but an electricomagnetic energy. Where does that lead us?

The Party Balloon Of Expectation

We can imagine now that the responsibility for any given task is generated energetically from the expectations and obligations involved, like the build-up of static between a woolly jumper (obligations) and a party balloon (expectations).

The more friction between obligation and expectation, the bigger the metaphorical electrostatic charge and the bigger the energetic potential of responsibility.

Energy = exciting!

Yes, but a word of warning too.

Once generated, that high charge of responsibility can suddenly seem scarily high voltage.

Oh shit. A hundred people at the party and no balloons.

Even more worryingly: all the energy we’ve generated between obligations and expectations has a worrying propensity to be discharged through the nearest conductive surface.


This is exactly like — you see where I’m going — electricity.

Yesterday, for example, a 25,000 volt overhead cable fell onto a Birmingham railway line, causing ‘a spectacular fire with sparks, flames and smoke’.

That’s a lot of electrons spurting very quickly out of a literal fire hose.

Anyway. Don’t be scared. This is the wont of electrical charges, the world over, from time immemorial. This is the natural order of things.

And such is responsibility.

If you find yourself as the only conductive surface for an enormous electrostatic fire hose of responsibility, then god help you.

In plainer English: if you try to conduct all that responsibility through yourself, all alone, then you’re going to fry.

Like a tree caught in a flash of lightning, you’re going to burn out.

Stretching The Metaphor

Watching that touch-it-and-you-die 25,000 volt cable thrash around Birmingham of a summer’s day, it can seem a bit wild to remember that humans willingly generate electricity.

Oodles and oodles of the stuff.

Just today, just in the UK, humans have generated 608.3 gigawatt-hours.

For scale, imagine the UK is a building site and imagine that everyone on that building site has been working hard for eight hours.

In order to get through 608.3 gigawatt-hours of energy, that building site would need as many builders as India has people.

I’m not sure that scale model helped, but the point is that we generate a huge amount of power in this country and yet, somehow, we share it around, more or less safely (Birmingham railway notwithstanding) and then use it to do loads of really cool stuff like typing emails to strangers on the Internet when really we should be stuffing our faces with birthday banana bread.

Given how destructive electricity can be, isn’t that marvellous?

Responsibility is the same.

We generate oodles and oodles of the stuff, every day of our lives, because it’s a powerful motivating force that helps us do loads of really cool stuff.

Yes, it can turn us into charred steak quicker than you could say ‘medium-rare’ — but only if we try to absorb it alone or conduct too much all at once.

Big responsibility conducted through one person (ouch).

If instead, like the national grid, we find a way to distribute that energy — share it with friends, colleagues, sauna buddies — then together we can power all manner of wondrous things.

Big responsibiity distributed among equals (ahhhh).

End of metaphor.

Responsibility is a powerful force: share it around or you’ll get fried.

Or, to wilfully paraphrase Spider-Man:

With great responsibility comes great responsibility.

Thank you.


Etymological Side Note: What’s response got to do with responsibility?

According to the OED, a response was, originally, the answer given to a question asked of an oracle. A response is a reply: an answer.

If you are responsible, then you are the one answerable for that duty: you’re accountable.


Photos: Okai Vehicles, Felix Mittermeier and Johannes Plenio

Squatting The One Stretch To Rule Them All

For the first time in my life, I can sit cross-legged on the floor. Seriously: first time. At primary school, aged six, I remember pretending I’d stapled myself in the thumb so that I could have the ‘special’ (AKA ‘only’) chair at storytime.

This transformation in my flexibility is down to the cumulative power of doing a couple of minutes of yoga every evening. And it has genuinely improved my life: I can now have a picnic with friends without making them gather around a bench.

My latest small-but-mighty obsession is the flat-footed squat.

I’ve long known that the squat (what a word!) is the best position for defecation and that millions of people all over the world sit comfortably in this position every day. But it’s caught my attention this week because Simon Jackson, Head of Bike Fit at Cadence, chose a 45-second squat as his desert island conditioning exercise.

This is the One Stretch To Rule Them All.

And wow. I love it. I love it so much that I want to fill every forgotten corner of time with a squat. Waiting for the kettle to boil, on the phone, at the beach. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to work at a squat desk…

Dream Architecture

Yesterday I finished reading The Men’s Group Manual by Clyde Henry. I’m not a member of a men’s group and I can’t really imagine joining, much less starting one right now, except perhaps in some kind of Temporary Autonomous Zone.

Nevertheless, I got a lot out of reading the book because it explains, as if to idiots, the principles of non-violent communication and gives clear instructions on how to build constructive conversations, designed to bond human beings as equals.

One of the suggested meeting topics in the book was for each man to draw the floor plan of a boyhood home. It’s a powerful exercise (for all genders, I’m sure) that can unearth long-buried memories.

I can get with that.

Sometimes, on the threshold of sleep, I imagine myself an invisible, weightless spirit-bird, flying over and around old homes, swooping between floors to explore each before rising starward again. Beats Netflix for me.

Anyway, at the end of the floor plan exercise instructions, Clyde Henry suggests a variation where everyone draws their ‘perfect dwelling’.

Henry doesn’t offer any interpretation of this idea, but it seems to me that, rather than throwing us back on our childhood, this variation could help us visualise, with pen and paper, a dreamy future.

As someone who dwells all too often in the abstract, the pen-and-paper practicality struck me as an important part of an important tool that might help me do something I’ve never done before…

Future Visualisation

How do you see your life in five years?

At first pass, this doesn’t seem like a tricky question. It’s the sort of question your careers advisor at school would ask and you’d roll your eyes and be like ‘Ugh, I’m gonna be dead by then. SO OLD.’

But when AW3T asked me this exact question a week ago, I realised that, aside from the increasingly teenagery ‘dead by then’ answer, I hadn’t a clue. Not a Scooby.

It turns out that, while some people can’t keep their mind’s eye off their Five/Ten/Fifty Year Plan, some people can scarcely imagine breakfast tomorrow, let alone the second middle name of their third grandchild-to-be.

(Side note: Is this a symptom of Man Sloth Mode? I suspect it may be.)

If you’ve got It All Planned Out, you can probably skip today’s story.

But if you’re stuck with me in the Breakfast Club — and, to be fair, that’s probably at least a quarter of you — then let’s crack on and find our futures.

From The American Future Gap (Institute For The Future, 2017)

(Crumpets are a good shout tomorrow, btw.)

In A Minute: Clyde Henry’s Floor Plan Task

But first, let’s be clear: humans are bad at imagining the future.

When we’re asked to imagine the future, we usually look around at what life we’re currently living, tweak it so it’s not raining quite so heavily, and that’s us.

And we’re particularly bad at imagining our own futures.

Jane McGonigal, lead author on the afore-pictured American Future Gap survey, explained it thusly in a 2017 article for Slate:

Typically, when you think about yourself, a region of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex, or MPFC, powers up. When you think about other people, it powers down. And if you feel like you don’t have anything in common with the people you’re thinking about? The MPFC activates even less.

The further out in time you try to imagine your own life, the less activation you show in the MPFC. In other words, your brain acts as if your future self is someone you don’t know very well and, frankly, someone you don’t care about.

Furthermore, and as if that wasn’t enough, as we imagine increasingly distant futures, our imaginings become commensurately vague.

(This is called Construal Theory. There’s no need for you to know that, but I spent ages reading about it for this story so now it’s your problem.)

This explains why, sure, I can plan complex things like cycling from Glasgow to Athens with 100 other humans, but my time horizon is six months tops.

So, while I have a very clear idea of what I’ll be doing between now and October, I couldn’t begin to describe what my life might look like in a year, much less five or ten years.

Imagining May 2023 is, for me, like trying to cloud-watch on a foggy day. Through steamed-up glasses.

Finally: Clyde Henry’s Floor Plan Task

And here is where we come back around to Clyde Henry’s floor plan task because marks made in ink on paper are both imaginative and practical.

That’s exactly why architects use both pen and paper to make detailed plans that bring into being actual houses with plumbing and cavity insulation. They don’t just vaguely tell builders to sort of, you know, build, like, a house with, er, walls and stuff, I guess?

And we in the Breakfast Club can use the same physical properties of pen and paper to force ourselves out of a purely hypothetical fantasy realm and into the realm of reality.

So I took half an hour and sketched.

Looking down at my floor plan sketch, I can see the light breaking over the woods and falling onto my lap as I lie drowsy in the bay window.

Standing up and pushing open the French windows, I can smell the resin of the wood and hear the far-off songs of swallow and stream.

I can feel the cool grass against my bare feet, and the heat of split logs, as I mooch over to the fire pit, just in time to take a s’more, flame grilled à point, from the outstretched hand of a friend.


I have succeeded. I have visualised a future for myself that goes far beyond the here and now, beyond the six-month horizon. For this dream dwelling is surely situated, at bare minimum, five years from today.

But, dear Breakfast Clubbers, visualisation is only the start because now it’s time for the easy part…

Ice Cream Execution

Why do I call this the easy part? Because we’re Breakfast Clubbers.

We don’t have any problem with executing a plan in the here and now. We just never had a plan — until now.

Now we have our floor plan.

Okay, okay. There’s probably a bit more to it than that.

We might have to practise our floor planning over and over again before our futures take on the kind of single-minded clarity that we need to feel confidence in our vision.

But let’s give ourselves a pat on the back today. Until this morning, we’d never even had the confidence to picture our futures, let alone create them. Now at least we know how it’s done.

It takes courage to first imagine and then bring into being a life significantly different to the one you’re currently heavily invested in.

Courage, that is, or — favourite word claxon — audacity.

If audacity is a muscle you need to build, see also: The Best Things In Life Are Audacious and Audacity Is Our Only Option. I think I’m due a re-read as well.

More Ideas For Future Visualisation

  • Write down your task-by-task schedule from a dream day in 2027, complete with meal plans (don’t forget to brush your teeth).
  • Flip through a prospectus from a university, adult education college or anywhere else that sells future selves. Stop when something jumps out at you. Read the description carefully. What makes you connect to this future?
  • Make a scissors-and-glue collage of stuff that whispers big dreams to you. Whatever you do, don’t use a computer — print if you find something online.
  • Take a psychedelic and make notes.
  • Finally: use FutureMe to send your visualisations to yourself in a year’s time.


Thanks to A3WT for the gentle prod that resulted in the foregoing and, perhaps, the going forth.

What do your pronouns mean?

No, I’m not wading into The Pronoun Wars. (Scrap ‘em all. More than half of the world’s langauges don’t have gender markers anyway.) This is something else…

Next time you’re having a conversation, notice what pronouns you’re using and think about what that might mean about your state of mind.

Here are some suggestions:

Saying ‘I’ a lot

Is this really all about you? Are you self-obsessed or self-reflective? Maybe stop in a second and ask the other person, ‘How about you? What do you think?’

Saying ‘You’ a lot

Are you arguing or accusing? Can you flip this around? ‘I feel such-and-such when whatever-happens.’

Saying ‘He/She/They’ a lot

Are you bitching about someone? Would you say this to their face? How would they respond if you did? Speak for them and add their defence to the conversation.

Saying ‘They’ a lot

Are you blaming an ill-defined other? ‘Experts’, ‘Tories’, ‘Gardeners With Fucking Leafblowers’. Can you be more specific? Can you take responsibility instead?

Using personal names a lot

Are you using personal names to respect or censure? Does it feel intimate or impersonal?

27 Things I Used To Believe And Now Completely Don’t

I hold strong opinions. Dangerously strong opinions.

The way that the human brain works, strong opinions like mine can lead to political breakdown, financial collapse and even death 💀

I used to believe in the infallibility of these friendly guys

Most human beings hold at least a few strong opinions thanks to something called the confirmation bias. Duh, duh, DUH.

Because of, I dunno, evolution or something, our mystical skull goo (or ‘brain’) automagically seeks and celebrates evidence that supports our entrenched beliefs and rubbishes and discards evidence that contradicts them.

For example:

(PSA: In the first half of 2021, Covid-19 was the cause of death in 37.4 percent of all unvaccinated people in the UK. Among those who chose to get two shots of a vaccine, the Covid-19 death rate was 0.8 percent. But, then again, this data is from the government-funded Office of National Statistics so you can magically confirmation bias that away too!)

Just Plain Dumb

But even worse than political breakdown, financial collapse and death is succumbing to the Dunning-Kruger effect:

Dumb people think they’re smart.

Or, as David Dunning and Justin Kruger wrote in their original 1999 paper:

Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.

Smackdown. You do not want to get on the wrong side of Messrs Dunning and Kruger.

Follow up research on the Dunning-Kruger effect has since expanded the phenomenon to take in its flipside too:

Smart people think they’re dumb.

The more one learns, the more one realises how much more one has to learn, which leads high achievers to underestimate their level in comparison to the rest of us dumb-asses.

You see this a lot. Smart or skilful people tend to come with a healthy dose of humility. As ancient philosophy MVP Socrates apparently said:

What I do not know, I do not think I know either.

Or, as twenty-first century tennis MVP Rafael Nadal put it:

Humility is the recognition of your limitations. I always work with a goal, and the goal is to improve as a player and as a person.

This is the same Rafael Nadal who has won an all-time high 21 Grand Slam tournaments, the crowning achievement in tennis. What improvement? What limitations?

So whenever you notice yourself holding the sharp end of a strong opinion, take a minute.

Is the strength of your opinion really justified? Like, really justified.

Or are you just plain dumb?

Now: Be Like The Tree

But strong opinions don’t have to mean inflexible opinions.

If I can use a shitty metaphor that’ll break down in five minutes: imagine a hurricane ripping through your town. Sorry.

A skyscraper has a strong, inflexible opinion. It’s going dowwwwn. But a tree has a strong, but flexible opinion. It’s going to survive the storm by bending with the wind.

So be like the tree.

Strong opinions are fine — good, even — I will strenuously defend my strong opinion about the right of all beings to free movement across the planet. Go on: I dare you!

But strong opinions shouldn’t be like a badly constructed skyscraper in a hurricane. They should be re-examined in the light of new information, contrary viewpoints and changing circumstances. Like a tree.

(Told you it’d break down in five minutes.)

Always Right In An Infinite Universe

One of the wisest books I’ve read recently is Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey.

(Tl;dr: Poverty Safari is an attempt to describe how brains, humans, families and communities operate under conditions of financial scarcity.

It’s the anthropological-autobiographical partner to the more academic Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by psychologist Eldar Shafir and economist Sendhil Mullainathan, and you can read an updated summary of the research here.)

In the latter pages of Poverty Safari, McGarvey addresses the apparent inability for political parties to work together to solve really important systemic problems like poverty.

McGarvey points the finger squarely at the confirmation bias and our desperate need to be right, no matter what the dire social consequences:

In a global civilisation dogged by political and religious tribalism, occasionally asking ourselves where we may be mistaken becomes a radical political act.

Isn’t it a bit convenient that we, the ‘good guys’, always find ourselves not only on the right side of history but also on the right side of every argument on the right side of history?

In an infinite universe, on a planet that has existed for billions of years, the chances of us being right about everything are slim, surely?

[…] There’s arguably more virtue in admitting you’re mistaken and correcting your course, than there is in stubbornly believing you haven’t been wrong since you were a teenager.


So (finally) here’s a list of:

  • 9 things I once strongly believed and now completely don’t.
  • 9 things I strongly believe today, but suspect I might not in the future.
  • 9 things I strongly believe today, but am actively canvassing for contradiction — help me out, won’t you?

I suspect that sharing these beliefs should come with some sort of a trigger warning so please don’t take them too much to heart.

My point here is more to recognise where I now strongly disagree with my past self. And you can ask yourself the same question.

9 Things I Once Strongly Believed And Now Completely DON’T

  1. Drugs are bad and will lead to addiction, destitution, imprisonment and an early grave. Drug users are, therefore, Bad People to be greatly feared. (Remember: these are opinions that I now strongly disagree with!)
  2. Nation states are a sensible way of organising the different human communities of the world and borders must be protected against illegal intrusion.
  3. The police service is unimpeachable. Police officers know the law and will always enforce it fairly. (Also applies to law courts and politicians.)
  4. Morally and ethically, there is such a thing as Right and Wrong.
  5. There is only one type of intelligence — the one that I’m good at.
  6. When people let me down, turn me down or do me down, it’s probably because I’m in some way an awful person.
  7. Being well-travelled is about how many countries you’ve visited.
  8. Meat and dairy are an essential part of a healthy diet, or at least of a healthy diet for me.
  9. I sleep badly 99.9 percent of the time. (It’s actually 100 percent — nah, only kidding. Compared to some horror stories I hear, I sleep really well. Sorry.)

9 Things I Strongly Believe Today, But Suspect I Might Not In The Future

  1. Robots and A.I. — ughhhh. Let me talk to a human! While we’re here: I strongly believe that we’re not living in a computer simulation. I’m probably wrong.
  2. Everything is relative. Morality, ethics, opinions, abilities, knowledge, whatever — it’s all relative. So back off.
  3. I’m a handsome clever clogs.
  4. I’m in great health and will probably live forever.
  5. I’m crap at music.
  6. I despise potato crisps or any crisp-like appetiser, such as poppadoms or Chinese crackers.
  7. Everything is amazing and no one is happy.’ I hope I always believe the first half of that quote and I really hope that, magically, everyone in the whole wide world contradicts me on the second half.
  8. For most people, looking at the weather forecast is a total waste of time. We’re in the UK, you’re going to need a raincoat.
  9. I don’t deserve enduring happiness in my relationships. Because that would be too easy.

9 Things I Strongly Believe Today, But Am Actively Canvassing For Contradiction

  1. Please can everyone stop voting Tory for a second? Thanks.
  2. Authentic connection is the single most important thing we can do for each other and for the planet that we live on. That could mean going for a muddy walk in nature or sharing a ribald laugh with a stranger.
  3. Every second I spend in front of a screen instead of outside in nature is killing me a little bit.
  4. Reading a physical book, however, is probably the best way of building our empathy muscles to help us with #2. Also: books we can read outside.
  5. Fuck borders.
  6. Going on adventures is a wonderful thing to do and another way to build authentic connection with people and place.
  7. The mind is a body and needs stimulation, touch and movement.
  8. All property should be cooperatively owned. End landlords.
  9. Saunas.

Now, over to you — how wrong am I? And how wrong have you been?!


Thanks to AT for the motivation to turn this nagging thought into a story.

Hot Stones, Keystone Habits

I thought I knew why I sauna.

There is a legend that I tell around the hot stones about how, five years ago, I got injured while training for a half marathon.

So it was that, six weeks out from competition, I found myself frantically casting around the Internet for scientifically-backed endurance training techniques that involved, well, zero training.

Then I came across this 2007 study on club runners where three saunas a week for only three weeks led to an astonishing 32 percent increase in time to exhaustion on a treadmill.

Okay, so the saunas were taken immediately after training and the sample size was only six runners — but still.

If I could simply maintain my endurance fitness until the race, then I’d be golden. And so I signed up to the local leisure centre and started sauna-ing.

Lo and behold, six weeks later, I recorded my best ever time at the Gosport Half.

Okay, so the only other time I’d run there it’d been blowing a gale — but still.

I was sold on saunas and have been telling the story of why I sauna to anyone who would listen ever since.

But it’s not true.

Keystone Habits

A single low-powered running study might have been what first got me through the glass sauna door, but it’s not the reason I keep going back.

And the reason I keep going back has nothing to do with the evidence that saunas reduce blood pressure and inflammation, reduce chances of Alzheimer’s and depression, and 40 percent less likely to, ya know, die young.

No, none of them.

The reason I keep going back is that taking a sauna is, for me, a keystone habit.

A keystone habit is one habit that leads to a cascade of others. A keystone habit can be positive, like how exercising first thing in the morning gives you energy for the whole day.

But it can also be negative, like how checking your phone first thing in the morning sends you into a spiral of doom scrolling that leaves you tired and hopeless for hours.

And that last negative example is the clue to why visiting the sauna is a particularly powerful keystone habit for me: 90 degree heat does terrible things to technology.

Yes, saunas are wonderful for my health, an excellent place to meet interesting strangers, and the perfect environment for quiet reflection.

But, above all, I most value how visiting the sauna gives me the precious opportunity for two hours of completely screen-free time in the middle of the day.

That sentence deserves its italics.

Busy Is A Decision

Now, before you switch off in disgust, I know that most people can’t take two hours to f-off to the sauna on a Tuesday.

I’m very lucky to work for myself and set my own hours and workload. The downside, of course, is that I set my own hours and workload.

When you work for yourself, there is no clock to punch and your work is never done.

Last year, on average, I spent more than 46 hours per week looking at screens. That’s six and a half hours per day, which is already a lot and doesn’t even account for holidays or weekends when I’m not at my desk.

On heavy weeks, that went up to over nine hours of screentime a day.

Two hours to read, reflect and recharge in the middle of the day is an investment that pays back more, beyond measure, in creativity and energy, than it takes in time.

This keystone habit creates a significant break in the day, triggering a cascade of other positive habits, both at the sauna — reading, rest, reflection as well as talking to strangers — and afterwards, in the way I approach the remains of the day — with calm, perspective and creativity.

But it takes a counter-intuitive psychological switch to fully embrace that ‘busy is a decision’ and that sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing at all.

So I leave my sauna kit by the front door, ready to go.

A Note On Accessibility

Sadly, in the UK, not everyone will have an affordable nearby sauna. My only advice is: move to Finland.

Actually, my only advice is to take a second look. Most council-run leisure centres have a sauna these days.

That’s where I used to go until I realised that the sauna was too important a habit to neglect and that the 15-minute bike ride was too high a cost. I am now a short-term member of a local hotel spa.

Other people join the gym; I go for the sauna.

Despite everything that the sauna gives me, it still sounds incredibly indulgent to me. I dread to think how you see it. 😂

Here’s how I rationalise it: if I keep up my habit of going three times a week, then the average cost per visit will be £3.15 — much cheaper than the leisure centre and not much more than a cup of coffee.

My point is: if you find a keystone habit that works for you, do whatever you can to make it happen. It’s worth the investment.

It’s been a week of water and heat Sauna Diaries, Surfing and Warmshowers

Yesterday I went for a sauna, a serendipitous, super-heated rendezvous with an Italian shamanic healer and, Paulo, a New York-born Italian-Irish dad who takes daily saunas so that he’s ‘mentally and physically ready’ to fight.

Paulo grew up tough. His own grandma would slap him if he chewed his food more than three times — I guess because not gobbling a scarce meal must be ingratitude.

Tough, ya know?

While myself and the shamanic healer sweated on the top deck pine, Paulo paced the tiles below, arms wheeling, trying to figure out how he could have been raised with such hardship and his own children with smartphones.

Winding back the clock, on Monday, I surfed my first proper waves — a 3.5ft primary swell, if that means anything to you.

I say ‘surf’… Apparently, the Bournemouth surf has a notoriously short interval between waves. As the first of a set broke over my board, the second was on top of me, smashing said board into the back of my head.

There’s a good reason why surf schools teach you to protect your head and neck when you come off. Takes practice though!

That night, as I did my yoga, half a cup of seawater flushed out of my nose.

Before all that, last weekend, I hosted my first ever Warmshowers cycle tourers, a pair of wonderful Dutch women doing a loop of southern England, before one cycles on alone to Portugal.

Pam and Laura were full of that energy you can only get from riding a really long way.

I’ve stayed with some incredible Warmshowers hosts all over the UK and Europe and, finally, I now understand the vicarious gratitude that my hosts must have felt.

There is a boundless joy in being able to open my door and offer so easily the solution to every need. A hearty stew on the stove, a couple of dry towels, a capful of washing detergent. A chair, a bed. Peace.

Pam and Laura’s Saturday night out in Bournemouth sounded like a blast: their pragmatic fleeces and practical shoes sharing bar space with a tirade of stag and hen fancy dressers.

Two species eyeing one another over cocktails and cider.

If you’re a cycle tourer not yet part of the Warmshowers network, please correct that immediately.

Unlocking Your Anxiety Archive Learn the transformative mental health protocol pioneered by rap star Jay-Z

One of the most powerful tools in a Stoic’s mental toolbox is something I call the anxiety archive.

Building your own anxiety archive is a semi-structured, reasonably objective process — a HAZMAT suit and a pair of forceps — that helps you safely hold your fears, raise them to the light, examine them from every angle and see them for what they truly are: allies.

Lurking in the shadows, the nameless monster is most feared.

(Side swerve: it feels like the worst media outlets know and deliberately play on this, right?)

But, if we’re respectful, we can take that nameless monster on a journey of understanding and finish up with a fear that is, not only acknowledged, but accepted and even welcomed as a stir to action.

The journey goes something like this:

  1. Notice anxiety: ‘I feel anxious…’ This is often the hardest part. Practice noticing.
  2. Define anxiety: ‘…about filling up the Dolomites week on Thighs of Steel.’
  3. Interrogate anxiety by questioning its supporting emotion or rationale: ‘Why am I anxious about this? Is there good reason to be anxious? Is a deadline approaching? What emotions do I feel besides anxiety? Where do I feel resistance? What do others expect of me?’
  4. Understand anxiety: ‘This isn’t about the Dolomites, this is anxiety about my procrastination. This is the social anxiety of reaching out to cyclists and cycling groups with whom we don’t already have a relationship.’
  5. Empathise with anxiety: ‘I hear you, anxiety. I hear your persistent alarm signal and acknowledge that I should be doing something.’
  6. Act in concert with your anxiety: ‘I’m going to set a timer for ten minutes, find one cyclist or cycling group and tell them about this amazing ride we’re doing in the Dolomites.’

I don’t take my fears on this journey nearly enough, but I want to share two occasions in the past ten years when I have — and what I’ve learned from looking back.

Building My Anxiety Archive

In January 2012, I was inspired by hip-hop superstar Jay-Z to write up my own ‘99 Problems’.

Mine were less about systemic police brutality and racial profiling and more about ‘only having a single bed’ and ‘the mysteries of bicycle brakes’.

And I only got as far as 23 before I dried up.

Isn’t that amazing?

For all the worries that I had in my life at the time — from the laughably ridiculous (‘A lot of my clothes have holes in them’) to the genuinely worrysome (a bully for a housemate, relationships with ‘no flow’ and ‘No regular income’) — in sum of all of this anxiety, I still couldn’t come up with enough problems to pen a half-assed sonnet, let alone an era-defining rap.

(But, yes, if you’re wondering, thanks to my ongoing battle with eczema, the itch was one.)

Six years later, in February 2018, I wrote down another list of everything that was bothering me at the time.

I did little better: 28 anxieties.

Magic #1: Problems Get Boring Fast

Of course, if I really put my mind to it, I could easily bust out a list of 99 — or even 999 problems.

I mean, just for starters, there’s world hunger, the climate crisis and the baggage retrieval system they’ve got at Heathrow.

But part of the anxiety archive exercise is to realise that, for me at least, I get bored of worrying long, long before I hit Jay-Z’s 99 problems.

(And I’m not alone: I can only actually count 9 distinct problems in Jay-Z’s famous song.)

As they start to pile up under my pen, a wave of exhaustion overtakes me. Writing down any more starts to feel silly.

Instead, helpful solutions spring to mind, as well as gratitude for the many, many things in my life that aren’t problems.

Looking down at the abstracted, objectified feelings that fill my spreadsheet (natch) gives me a different perspective on my anxiety.

They either look silly (buy some new clothes, Dave) or they become puzzles to figure out (talk to my neighbour or move house).

My mind becomes active rather than reactive. I can put away the archive and get on with my day, lighter.

But the anxiety archive isn’t only of use in the moment. I recommend storing your archives on a computer for posterity so that you can enjoy…

Magic #2: This Too Shall Pass

Browsing through my 2018 anxiety archives from the vantage point of today, I am amazed to find only two remain in full force.

Another eleven are notably quieter for the passage of years, still something I think about from time to time, but now scarcely worth a mention.

That means that more than half of the anxieties on that four-year-old list leave me with nothing more than a wry smile at the memory.

That’s huge.

It’s immensely reassuring to recognise that I am, for example, no longer anxious about the state of my arteries or whether or not I’m ‘good enough’ to write entertaining, interesting, useful stuff.

Of course, I could fill this email with a dozen more juicy anxieties that have crept up on me since 2018, but — and here is where the magic is — the strength of building an anxiety archive is that it gives me incontrovertible evidence that ‘this too shall pass’.

From my anxiety archive, I know that there’s a solid chance today’s most pressing anxiety will, given time, become tomorrow’s wry smile.

Unlocking My Anxiety Archive

With the distance of time between us, I can see from both my 2012 and 2018 anxiety archives that the worst rarely happens and, when it does, it is rarely the catastrophe that I foretold.

Indeed — and here is where I invite you to give me a hearty slap in the face — these difficult moments were hidden opportunities for growth.

What we once considered weaknesses, with practice and patience, become strengths.

For example, the breadth of work that I do, meandering across industries and skillsets, was once a great source of anxiety.

For years, I believed that I had no focus, no commitment and no purpose.

The exact same breadth has, since 2018, become a source of strength.

  • I am a writer: I write this newsletter, as well as comedy with Beth Granville and environmental science journalism.
  • I’m an outdoor instructor, working weekends with kids as they plan, organise and execute their first overnight expeditions.
  • I’m also a director and cyclist-at-large at Thighs of Steel (please sign up to the Dolomites week in August — it’s so beautiful!)

This plurality of interests is, well, interesting. My diverse portfolio is, by its nature, more robust to shocks. Much is work that I can do from anywhere, setting my own boundaries.

Most importantly, however, I truly value this work and my enthusiasm carries over into a more positive relationship with myself and the rest of planet.

It took a lot of energy to get here — and anxiety was an integral part of the process.

Anxieties Are Allies

Anxiety doesn’t have to feel like a darkened, locked room; we can choose to feel this emotional force as a powerful motivating ally.

But before we simply let our anxieties pull us along, willy-nilly, we must first harness the energy by noticing, naming, interrogating, understanding and empathising.

As a regular part of our self-driving engine of inspiration, we can also then go back through our anxiety archive to identify and celebrate how we found the strength to grow in years gone by.

You see: buried in our own personal anxiety archive we will find the proof that we already possess everything within ourselves that we need to in order to rise and meet today’s challenges — not in spite of our fears, but thanks to them.

NOTE 1: Anxiety can be devastating. The anxiety archive is intended as a mental health check-up, not an emergency intervention. Don’t hesitate to see a professional counsellor if you think you might need one.

NOTE 2: Tim Ferriss does a more structured version of this Stoic-inspired examination of anxieties, which he calls ‘fear-setting’. You can read about Tim’s process on his blog.

The Man Sloth Mode Diaries Do you enforce and enact traditional sexual scripts of male sexual control to get your rocks off? Okaaay…

Today I’m going to build on everything that I wrote last week, encorporating as many of your wonderful contributions as I can.

In fact, last Saturday, I got so excited by your responses that I had to make a load of changes to the original article, so please go and read that if you haven’t already.

Then come back for more diaries.

What’s In A Name: Man Sloth Mode? Secondary Carer Sloth Mode? Drive Care / Take Care?

One of the things that surprised me about the comments on last week’s email was how many women said that they had noticed themselves slipping into man sloth mode — to the point where a friend asked if they could drop the ‘man’ bit altogether.

Of course you can — it’s yours!

Before delving into the terminology, it’s worth saying that I don’t necessarily believe these women when they say they go into what I called man sloth mode.

I’m well aware that women habitually underestimate their performance compared to men.

Despite identical performance, the average male rates his own performance 15 points higher than the average female.

So, while I accept that women (being human) can and do go into some sort of sloth mode, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as common and nowhere near as acute as the male strand that I discussed last week.

Aaaaanyway, that aside, what was particularly interesting was under what circumstances people told me they go into sloth mode.

Just as men tend to sloth mode when a woman is there to take care of all the life admin, so it seems that adults of all genders can easily slip into sloth mode when they go back to their parents’ for the weekend.

Sound familiar?

Having just spent a week with family, I can relate. But I’m getting better at noticing man sloth mode and acting before it impacts too badly on other people. (And I still think you’re overpraising when I fill the dishwasher, mum 😂)

Fascinatingly, I also got an email from a friend who is part of a two-mum family. They described how one person, who they call the primary carer, often carries the ‘emotional and functional weight’ for everyone in the family unit.

‘Traditionally,’ my friend wrote, ‘it’s the Dad that slips into Man Sloth Mode, but take out those genders and you’re left with secondary carer sloth mode.’

My friend also made a brilliant distinction between what she called ‘drive care’ and ‘take care’ modes — and how she and her partner have bounced back and forth between the two as they’ve matured.

If I’ve understood correctly:

  • Drive care = someone who sees and actively straightens out the chaos of life: a person who cares
  • Take care = someone who would rather passively adapt themselves to the chaos of life: a person who receives or benefits from care

I love how this distinction acknowledges that we can find ourselves more or less in one or the other mode at different times and in different contexts in our lives.

As children, naturally, we are take carers. As parents, naturally, we are drive carers.

Within the parental bubble, it is common for one or other of the partners to take the more active primary care role. And I think the same is true for relationships without children: a primary carer emerges. Which sucks.

So: what do you think about dropping the man from man sloth mode? What about my friend’s secondary carer sloth mode and the drive and take care distinction?

Oooh — talking of inspired new terminology. How about this, from the irrepressible M.C.:

Man sloth dodging (noun, verb): Man sloth dodging is when the female partner of one man makes direct contact with the female partner of another man in order to guarantee the successful and timely arrangement of social plans. 🤣

So good. More please!

Utimately, the point here is to develop language that facilitates conversations. Have we done that? Maybe. Can we go further? Definitely.

Psychological Fragility And The Male Response

The response to last week’s newsletter was genuinely wonderful. I loved getting screenshots of when you shared it with friends. 😍

But I couldn’t help noticing that the strongest responses were from women. Largely in the form of: YES, THANK YOU FOR NOTICING.

I feel a bit of fraud, given that ninety percent of the ideas behind man sloth mode were smuggled away from conversations I’ve had with women.

Nonetheless, it’s gratifying to hear that I nailed one of the purposes of the article: to really hear and validate what other people are saying.

Ultimately, however, I wrote this whole thing for men — to help myself and other males take responsibility for the direction of our lives and our relationships — so it’s their reaction and response that I’m most worried about.

The tricky thing here is that men tend to be, in the words of one friend I spoke to last week, ‘psychologically fragile’. After all, that’s why primary carers feel they have to overpraise their male partners and colleagues for the slightest cooperative behaviour.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like we men don’t tend to deal well with our flaws being pointed out, nor with other people providing us with a solution that we haven’t come up with by ourselves (and subsequently been overpraised for our cleverness).

I have essentially dodged this problem by coming up with a solution (man sloth mode) for which I have been acknowledged and praised (again: thank you). This assuages my ego and paves the way for me to be a bit better.

But I want to find an accessible way for everyone to talk about these problems.

A female friend of mine told me that she’d love to send my article to a bunch of the men in her life, but was a little nervous about how it might be received, as a ‘personal slight’ or even ‘man-hating’.

So how do we reach men?

Do you know, I think the answer might be…

The Sweaty Stranger In The Sweaty Sauna

Bear with me.

Last weekend, I shared a sauna with a lovely chap called Ren.

We chatted about this and that: how awkward a sweaty silence can be in a sauna, how nice it is to chat to strangers, even if they’re sweaty, stories of past sweaty sauna escapades, and so on.

Then, because we were two sweaty men sitting on a sweaty bench in eighty degree heat, I decided to broach the topic of last week’s newsletter.

This was the first time I’d chatted to a total stranger about these ideas and I was unsure what to expect from a half-naked sweaty man in his mid-fifties.

Reader, Ren practically slipped off his bench with enthusiasm.

Ren’s father had died when he was very young, so was brought up by his mother. His mother, as it happened, was a feminist and determined to make sure that her son did his share of the housework.

Ren cleaned the toilets, did the dishes and the mopping, as well as the cooking. By the time he was an adult, Ren could actually function as, well, as an adult.

He only realised this was weird when he went to university and all his peers were, to put it bluntly, slobs.

Now happily married with two kids, Ren boasts that he does seventy percent of the housework at home, simply because, having started at such a young age, he’s better at it than his wife.

Ren is living, breathing, sweating proof that boys can learn this stuff, if only we teach them.

‘Kids,’ Ren tells me, ‘pick up on your actions, not your words.’

‘You think you’re doing your kid a favour by not making them do the washing up, but you’re not,’ Ren says, mopping his brow. ‘You’re only saving up problems for them later in life.’


Boys need adult householding skills not only for the bloody obvious reasons like hygeine and diet, but also for the sake of their adult relationships.

Ren was taken aback when he got to university and realised that all the other young men were slobs, but he was delighted to find that his domestic talents were valuable, attractive — sexy even.

Man Sloth Mode ≠ Sexy

Guys: science tells us that men who do the dishes have more sex.

Actually, there’s nuance here and the nuance starts badly.

‘Traditional’ gender conventions have actually been found to increase the amount of sex had by heterosexual couples.


The explanation for this is that traditional ‘sexual scripts’ of ‘male sexual control’ privilege male sexual desire and men, basically, want to have loads of sex. So that’s what happens.

But, as the adults among you have probably noticed by now, there’s a lot more to our ‘sexual scripts’ than this.

The interlinked variables that go into good sex were unpicked in a 2019 study by Daniel L. Carlson of the University of Utah and Brian Soller at the University of New Mexico.

Here’s a fun picture of what they found:

This is the good sex model proposed by Carlson and Soller (2019). The black shapes are variables observed in women. The grey shapes are the same variables in men. The black lines are the statistically significant correlations.

So, yes: more egalitarian attitudes to domestic and paid labour leads to a reduction in sexual frequency, through the mechanism of male sexual control.

As I said: boooooo.

But, if you study the model closely, you can see that male sexual control comes at a cost in communication. Weird. The more the male is in command of the sexual situation, the less likely they are to communicate with their partner.

Communication was measured, quite simply, using the following question:

When you have had a particularly difficult or bad day at work or in your daily activities, what is the percent chance that you will tell [PARTNER] about what is going on?

The more egalitarian each partner’s attitude towards work, the more likely they were to report a high percentage and actually discuss their problems, together. Honey, how was your day?

That sounds like a nice thing to have in a relationship. But it’s got nothing to do with sex — or has it? Yes.

Carlson and Soller found that, with higher scores for communication, came higher scores of ‘sexual self-efficacy’ — for both male and female. The more men and women talk to each other, the more sexually self-efficacious they become.

Sexual self-efficacy is sexual empowerment. You can play along at home by (strongly) agreeing or (strongly) disagreeing with these statements:

If my sexual activity is not satisfying, there is little I can do to improve the situation.

I feel that it is difficult to get my [PARTNER] to do what makes me feel good during sex.

If our birth control choice is not satisfactory, there is little I can do to improve the situation.

Gross, huh?

Now here’s the clever part: as female sexual self-efficacy rises, so does sexual frequency for everyone.

Et voilá!

➡️ Egalitarian attitudes towards domestic and paid labour
➡️ Better partner communication between male and female
➡️ Higher women’s sexual self-efficacy
➡️ Higher sexual frequency 🔛

But wait — there’s more!

In a 2015 study of first-time parents (a role that is heavy on household labour), researchers found that more equal division of labour (presumably excluding the actual birth labour) led to greater sexual satisfaction for mothers and greater sense of romance for fathers. Aww…

Frankly, nothing I’ve said here should come as a surprise. Tired, overworked, annoyed women are unlikely to find a sloth man sexually attractive or, for that matter, have the energy or even the free time (which is, incidentally, gendered) for sex.

And yet, at the risk of slapping you in the face with stating-the-bleeding-obvious research one too many times…

In 2017 Swedish researchers found evidence that relationships where there is an unequal division of domestic labour, combined with a general sense of entitlement among men, are — BREAKING NEWS — liable to end in a breakup.

Right. That’s enough now.

Are you a man? Do you enforce and enact traditional sexual scripts of male sexual control to get your rocks off? Okaaay… And how’s that working out for you?

End On A Positive

So what now?

Well, besides a little idea I have for setting up a sweaty sauna men’s group, now I go for a quick walk and then I go to bed.

But before I disappear, one of the most thoughtful responses I got to last week’s email included a ‘not yet fully-formed thought’ about the role of positive self talk in man sloth mode.

My email last week might have made it sound like there was a lot of work to do. And there is. But it’s important to focus on the positive and acknowledge when we are doing our best.

The good news is that every moment we live between now and our death is another moment to do our best. So let’s not beat ourselves up when we slip-slide; let’s just keep on noticing when we do.

I will finish now by repeating my four point, work-in-progress strategy to draw ourselves out of whatever we call this sloth mode of being:

  1. Notice yourself slipping into man sloth mode. If you’re not sure when this happens, look closely at the symptoms listed at the top of my original article — and remember that there are two strains of the disease (social and work)
  2. Call yourself out publicly and explain what’s going on (without being boring or attention seeking). At first, acknowledging man sloth mode out loud will really help, but the ultimate goal is to effortlessly skip from stage one directly to stage three. (Who knows: stage one might one day miraculously vanish altogether…)
  3. Seize the initiative. Take positive action to drive yourself out of man sloth mode. If you genuinely can’t think of anything to do, simply ask how you can help and listen to the answer. WARNING: If you find the other person instinctively micro-managing your contribution, don’t get annoyed. Remember that they might well be used to dealing with man sloths as if they were children. Politely request that they step back: you’ve got this.
  4. If you discovered in stage three a pretty basic life skill that you couldn’t do without a lot of help, go onto the internet and learn how it’s done properly. Do not waste other people’s time: they are not your personal life trainer. If you regularly find yourself unable to think of helpful things to do, then spend more time observing the things that other people do to be helpful. Copy them.


Huge, huge thanks to everyone who responded to last week’s article and all the conversations that have contributed to this one. Please share your experiences and let’s keep thinking and acting on this!

Man Sloth Mode From November 2016 until October 2017, I was in what I have learned to call man sloth mode.

For about a year, I did nothing.

From November 2016 until October 2017, I was in what I have learned to call man sloth mode.

Honestly, apart from writing the first radio series of Foiled (which I never would have done without the impetus of Beth Granville), I can’t remember a single thing I did in that entire year.

Two things in particular that I didn’t do all year were:

  1. See my friends much
  2. Travel

As someone who travels a lot and feels a bit glum when isolated from friends, this was WEIRD.

To be fair to me, I knew something was WEIRD. That’s why, the summer of 2017, I started to track my wellbeing using a well-respected psychological instrument, the Satisfaction With Life Scale.

Oh, and, for literal good measure, I also regularly tested myself on the Scale of Positive and Negative Experience, Flourishing Scale, Inventory of Thriving, General Self-Efficacy Scale and Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale.

I’m nothing if not thorough in my weirdness.

But none of these scales or inventories helped me understand what was happening.

Stuck In The Mud

On paper, things were going well. I’d just co-written and co-produced a successful Edinburgh show, now commissioned for BBC radio. I’d also been hired to work for The Bike Project, helping them give bikes to refugees in London.

In March, I moved into a lovely houseshare near Burgess Park with my partner. We had a garage for our bikes, tomatoes in the garden and only shared a bathroom with one other couple.

Perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt like an adult — I even managed to buy us a super king mattress for £10 off a millionaire in Kensington.

Life was totally going my way, but I seemed to be stuck in the mud, somehow unable or unwilling to let it flow.

This feeling of mudiness not only affected my mental wellbeing, but also — not surprisingly — affected my relationship.

Then, as now, I worked from home and found myself, most days, pretty much waiting around for my partner to get back from work. Then, somehow, I thought, my life could begin.

Except, increasingly and understandably, I wasn’t the sort of person she wanted to spend time with. Who wants to hang around that guy?

Like I said: I didn’t do anything. For a year!

The Spreadsheet Counsellor

Actually, that’s a lie. One other important thing that I did in 2017 was a 10-week introduction to counselling course at CityLit.

(Side note: An introductory counselling course should be on the national curriculum in its entirety, but if you only take one counselling technique into your life, take these 12 Blocks To Active Listening.)

This course taught me a lot that I didn’t know about the simplest things. One of those things was the importance of simple observation of your own mental landscape.

That summer, with the help of those psychological instruments, I observed that I didn’t always feel ‘dissatisfied with life’ and that, most often, the balance of my life was toward ‘positive experience’.

It wasn’t difficult, then, to pay closer attention to the moments when I felt most positive.

I’ll give you a second to roll your eyes.

Yep: it was those horribly rare occasions when I got out of the house to spend time with friends.

On 28 October 2017, I spent half an hour building a spreadsheet to keep an eye on how often I was seeing my friends. Then I phoned my parents and met up with an old primary school friend for a stroll along the beach and a Harvester.

I originally set up the spreadsheet as a 30-day experiment in order to, in the words of my diary at the time, ‘see what my social support is like and how we can build and expand and whatnot’.

Over four years later, I still update my (now legendary) friends spreadsheet every single day.

Why? This newsletter is the answer to that question.


I don’t intend for this to be the final word on masculinity, but more of a provocation. Only by talking about this stuff can we hope to live in a more harmonious, creative and joyful future.

I would LOVE to hear your side of the story: your experiences, observations and coping mechanisms. Thank you.

What Is Man Sloth Mode?

Essentially, man sloth mode is a temporary depressed state of being to which men are particularly susceptible.

I don’t mean depressed in the diagnostic sense — although it can lead to that — I mean low energy, low initiative, low activity, low affect, low arousal.

And it’s worth reiterating that this is a temporary state, usually triggered by specific environmental factors.

It is perfectly possible for a man to miraculously exit man sloth mode when faced with a stimulating environment, such as a table tennis table, a lively speakeasy, or a room that really needs its skirting boards deep cleaned (real life example).

There is one enormous environmental elephant in the room here, which I’ll get onto in a second.

First, however, let’s look more closely at the symptoms of man sloth mode so that we all know what we’re talking about.

Man Sloth Mode: The Symptoms

Man sloth mode has a diverse range of symptoms, covering life at home, work and play.

In fact, it’s actually useful to split them into two strands. Let’s call them social man sloth mode and work man sloth mode.

These are not mutually exclusive, but you might find that you slip more easily into one or the other.

What’s interesting is that, while almost everyone has stories of work man sloth mode, social man sloth mode seems to go under the radar. Which is a big shame because social man sloth mode is quite literally a killer. But more on that later.

First: the symptoms.

1. Social Man Sloth Mode

As we’ve seen, when I was balls deep in man sloth mode, I inexplicably stopped doing the things that make me happy.

In so doing, I effectively outsourced the majority of my social support network to my partner. Not cool.

Here are some more symptoms of social man sloth mode that you might recognise, in yourself or loved ones:

  • Not seeing your own close friends
  • Not doing the things that make you happy, or other inexplicable radical change in past-you and now-you
  • Spending a disproportionate amount of your free time on passive past-times like watching television or scrolling through the internet
  • Losing your ambition or get-up-and-go in both social and work settings
  • Piggy-backing on the social plans and activities of other people
  • Increased dependence on one other person for social support
  • Never hosting social events
  • Saying things like, ‘I don’t mind, you decide’ when asked what you want to do
  • Not introducing other people to your close friends

By the way, I’m not talking here about feeling bored or apathetic when faced with niche social pursuits. I can understand why some people might be less enthusiastic than I am about spreadsheets, word etymologies and bike pannier bags.

This is about switching off from social contact and activities or shifting into auto-pilot when you used to take the initiative.

2. Work Man Sloth Mode

This is the one that a lot of people get proper angry about — and for good reason.

While social man sloth mode tends to be a slow boiler, work man sloth mode has an immediate and disruptive impact on the lives of others.

This is all about the essential admin that goes into basic human functions like eating food, inhabiting a home, wearing clothes, and caring for other humans.

The symptoms of work man sloth mode include, but are not remotely limited to, the following:

  • Sitting back and letting others do the cognitive and emotional labour of shared tasks
  • Doing shared tasks badly so you’re never asked again
  • Only doing the fun or exciting bits of shared tasks
  • Only doing joint activities on your terms: your way, your timeframe, your strengths, your activities
  • Waiting until instructed on tasks, rather than taking the initiative; requiring micro-management in those tasks
  • Offering to help someone else in a task and then not moving from the sofa
  • Neglect of basic self-care: cleaning, cooking, washing, exercise
  • Tolerating or simply ‘not seeing’ deteriorating living conditions until someone else fixes the problem
  • Failure to anticipate future problems, especially when they concern other people (and responding to criticism by saying that you’re ‘living in the moment’)
  • Failure to anticipate the needs of others
  • Procrastination
  • Limited expressions of gratitude, including compliments, gift giving and appropriate apologies, creating a sense of entitlement, taking advantage or simply not seeing the work others do to keep the world spinning around
  • Always having an excuse or shifting the blame: ‘but you enjoy doing X’, ‘you know I’m no good at Y’, ‘I physically can’t see the problem’, ‘I’m just more laid back than you’, ‘you make me feel like a failure’, ‘I can’t multitask’, ‘I’m too tired after work’, ‘yeah, you being so busy has been hard for me too’, ‘you’re not being fair — I do the bins!’

Do you know what I’m talking about? Recognise yourself or any of the men in your life? Can you think of any other symptoms? Please let me know!

The Enormous Environmental Elephant

Yep: the biggest environmental predictor of man sloth mode is the convenient presence in that man’s life of a woman.

Someone to pick up the slack, someone to keep our lives ticking along.

Stop A Second, Dave: Why Do You Hate Men?

I don’t. I write this because I am a man and I love men. I think they’re pretty cool. At least some of the time.

I write this because, when we unwittingly slip into man sloth mode, we’re shooting ourselves in the face.

As a friend said to me only last night: it’s as if the world has moved on and men haven’t noticed.

In the past seventy years, at least in wealthy liberal societies, gender roles and opportunities have changed. Today, all around me, I see inspiring, active women and men struggling to get up to speed.

Real life example: I moved to Bournemouth a couple of years ago and I’ve found it much, much easier to make female friends.

Is this because too many men are stunted by social man sloth mode?

Admittedly there has been a pandemic on, but consider this:

  • The surfing class that I recently joined is female led and majority female
  • The off-road cycling club I’ll be riding with tomorrow is female and non-binary led and majority female (tbf, their motto is ‘shred the patriarchy’)
  • Plus I’m the only man in the room when I train at my local bare-knuckle bloodsports wrestle club


Obviously I’m NOT saying that women have overtaken or can even match men in mega-important stuff like how much they actually get paid for the work that they do.

But personally I see far more women than men putting themselves out there, doing epic shit and making the most of life: at home, at work and at play.

What about you? When you think about successful adults in your life, the ones who are totally smashing it out of the park, who comes to mind?

We Don’t Know What We’re Doing

Sometimes, when my female friends talk about what I’m calling man sloth mode, they see an evil, almost Macchiavellian intent behind the behaviour.

Maybe they’re right, but I genuinely think that, most of the time, the lethargy of man sloth mode is unwitting.

We don’t know what we’re doing.

That isn’t an excuse — I just mean that most of us lack the emotional self-awareness to properly understand what we’re doing to ourselves.

If we seriously confronted what we do to ourselves by choosing inaction, then we would see that man sloth mode makes us miserable.

That’s exactly what happened to me. Unconsciously, I was letting a woman do the cognitive and emotional labour of, well, pretty much my entire life.

(Just to be completely clear: man sloth mode was NOT something that my partner did to me. I accidentally choose it for myself, like pulling clothes out of the wardrobe at random and only realising at an important job interview that I was wearing Mickey Mouse pyjamas.)

The Truth Of What We’re Doing To Ourselves

In 2016-17, I was what we can call a functional man sloth.

I still did the basics of cleaning, washing, shopping and whatnot, but I stopped doing anything interesting outside the home and just kind of hung around waiting for my partner to make my life exciting.

Classic social man sloth mode.

It’s not surprising, then, that man sloths are statistically more likely to be socially isolated than women — because who wants to spend time with that guy?

(Or, in the words of one friend, man sloth mode is the opposite of sexy.)

It’s also a sorry statistic that social isolation is positively correlated with depression, illness, all-cause mortality, including, most tragically, suicide.

(Note 1: The studies referenced above almost universally report these statistically significant effects for social isolation, not necessarily for feelings of loneliness. You may know some people who are perfectly happy when they are alone. Happy, but, statistically speaking, probably not healthy.)

(Note 2: This study of social isolation and gender neatly summarises the differences between the social support networks of men and women: ‘men generally get their emotional needs met by their spouses/partners while women often get their emotional needs met by their female friends’. Boom. That was me: social man sloth.)

Why We Need (The Concept Of) Man Sloth Mode

Despite the shadowy threat of depression, illness, death and suicide, rather than trying to change our behaviour, we men find it easier to deploy a long litany of excuses and finger-pointing to re-write the narrative of what we’re doing so that it sits more comfortably with our sense of self-esteem.

The man sloth imagines a world where other people genuinely enjoy scrubbing the toilet bowl, where other people just need to chill out more and where only we’ve had a hard day at work.

‘Besides,’ the indignant man sloth cries, ‘we do the bins once a fortnight!’

I believe that this inability to accept responsibility is at least partially because we don’t have the language to understand our own predicament.

This makes it very difficult for us to talk about the problem as adults, to address our behaviour without resorting to insults or shame, and to change ourselves for a more just society.

Hence our need for a new concept: man sloth mode.

(Almost inevitably, the term ‘man sloth’ was created by a woman. Thanks G!)

Hang On: What’s Wrong With ‘Selfish Lazy Man Child’?

‘But Dave,’ I hear you cry, ‘we already have the words to describe such a man: we call him a selfish lazy man child.’

It’s a good question. Why (apart from lucrative opportunities for merch) do we need an entirely new term for such age-old behaviour?

Firstly — and I flagged this up earlier, if you remember — man sloth mode is a mode, a temporary state of being, not a fixed character trait.

(By the way, I have thought about removing the ‘man’ and calling it ‘default sloth mode’. Maybe that would not only make it more palatable to our male ego, but also recognise that this is a collection of behaviours that men seem to revert to almost by default when someone else is there to take care of us.)

The problem with terms like ‘selfish’ and ‘lazy’ is that, even when objective rather than accusatory, they come across as fixed character traits. If you’re lazy, then you’re lazy — and always will be.

Terms like these, although often thrown around in bitterness, can actually turn into excuses to protect the status quo: ‘He’ll never change, he’s just lazy’ or ‘You know me, love, I’m a lazy bum’ (said with a forgive-me-twinkle in his eye).

But adult males are more than capable of stepping up into very active roles (in fact, sometimes we all wish they wouldn’t, but that’s another story…)

‘Man child’ is a little better. It at least acknowledges that this is largely a problem with men, rather than ungendered character traits like selfishness.

Man sloth behaviour is also very child-like and friends even tell me that they have to speak to their male partners as if they were children just to get them to function.

This ‘mothering’ seems to happen in at least four ways:

  • Straight-up scolding
  • Making deals to the effect of ‘you can watch TV if you do the dishes’
  • Silently spinning plates and tidying up after them
  • And the most pernicious: over-praising the accomplishment of basic tasks, like successfully chopping two carrots (real life example)

But we are not children.

Treating us like children is not only degrading for the ‘mother’, a role that friends tell me makes them feel guilty and ‘naggy’, but it also re-enforces infantile behaviour.

It needs to stop.

Real Life Example Of Over-Praising: The Man’s Barbecue

The Man’s Barbecue begins several days before, when The Man’s Partner makes a list, does the shopping and invites guests.

The night before, The Man’s Partner spends a couple of hours preparing salads and marinading the meat.

On the day of The Man’s Barbecue, The Man’s Partner tidies the garden, sets out the table and welcomes the guests.

Meanwhile, The Man cracks open a beer and drags out the barbecue and coals from last summer. With great theatre, the guests gather round to watch The Man light The Man’s Barbecue. He can’t find the matches.

The Man’s Partner finds the matches.

The Man’s Barbecue is officially lit. The Man sits down beside The Man’s Barbecue with a poker and another beer. Two hours later, the meat is still raw. The Man’s Partner finishes it off in the oven.

While The Man’s Partner cleans up in the kitchen, the guests pick through the last of the salads and applaud: ‘Wow, Man, you sure do a great barbecue!’

I Understand Why You Do This, But Please Stop

Treating an adult male as a man child inadvertently enables the status quo.

The tougher reality is that we can do all the adult stuff and, if there’s some stuff we still need to learn, then it’s not the responsibility of anyone but ourselves to act as our trainer.

There is no excuse: the internet is stuffed with detailed instructions on how to do every single adult task required for modern living.

Of course, we shouldn’t expect men to become mind-readers, but they must become able to hear the needs of other people and to teach themselves the necessary skills to respond effectively.

No one likes to think of themselves as selfish, lazy or a man child. When we are told those things, either in words or through actions, we don’t hear needs being expressed. Instead, we re-write the narrative to maintain the coherence of our self-image.

That’s why ‘selfish lazy man child’ doesn’t work and that’s why we need a new term: something that men will actually hear and respond to.

3 Reasons Man Sloth Mode Might Just Work

  1. It acknowledges that there is a problem: sloth behaviour isn’t desirable
  2. It applies to all men: it’s not a personal attack
  3. It’s a temporary state of being, like boredom or anger, that we can shift out of

(While we’re here, a word on #2: A lot of women, when I describe man sloth mode to them, say: ‘But it’s not all men’. Fellas, let’s be honest here: yes it is. We might be susceptible in different ways at different times and perhaps to different degrees, but this is surely universal among men.

I genuinely believe that I’m one of the ‘good guys’, but the whole reason I’m writing this article is because I still need to find reliable ways of levering myself out of man sloth mode.)

Hopefully I’ve done at least a half-assed job at explaining what I’m talking about and convinced you that we men need new language so that we can talk about what’s happening to us when we’re being crap.

Hopefully, too, I haven’t offended too many people: please remember that this is very much a first draft and I still need your help to understand what’s going on.

Phew. Okay, now it’s time to go deeper.

What Causes Man Sloth Mode?

I think this is an important question because the answers can help us, as men, understand what we can do to change.

But first, a warning: we don’t want to be trapped on either side of the explanation canyon:

I don’t want to come out of this section shrugging my shoulders and saying, ‘Love them or hate them, men are just like that!’ Nor do I want to point the merciless finger of shame at the individual man.

The path on one side of the canyon won’t change anything, while the other path might (and only might) change a single person alone.

I want to come out of this section with answers that will open up a path right down the middle.

I want to believe that the problem of man sloth mode is both tractable and bigger than any one man. In fact, I want to believe that it’s excitingly gigantic (more on that in a bit).

So here we go.

First up is the depressing answer that things are the way they are because things are the way they always have been.


Social Conditioning

Average hours of unpaid work done per week in each category for women (orange bars) and men (green bars), 2015 (Source: Gender Equality Monitor)

In the UK, according to the government’s Gender Equality Monitor, women do 25.5 hours of unpaid work per week, while men manage only 16 hours — and more than 7 of those are spent on transport, probably commuting to work.

In high income countries, which are globally the most equal, women do an average of two hours more unpaid care work per day than men. Overall, when unpaid is added to paid work, men find themselves with an extra half hour per day to put their feet up.

This social conditioning starts young. In Denmark, 75 percent of girls participate in household chores, compared to 66 percent of boys. Meanwhile, in the United States, girls’ participation in household chores is already significantly greater than boys’ by age eight.

The social conditioning explanation for man sloth mode is given weight by the ‘glacial’ rate of change in men’s share of unpaid care work over recent decades.

According to this fascinating International Labour Organisation report, between 1997 and 2012, the gender gap in time spent in unpaid care work declined by precisely seven (7) minutes.

At this pace, it will take 210 years before we have eliminated man sloth mode. I’ll be dead by then. Too slow.

But if a couple of centuries is too long, then how about millions of years? That brings us nicely to my second answer to Where Does Man Sloth Mode Come From?

My Spurious Evolutionary Explanation™️

Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist, evolutionary or otherwise. But this is a story that might help some men move past any feeling of being under personal attack, paving the way for positive action.

Bear with me on this one because it might sound for a while like I’m making intractable excuses for man sloth mode. I’m not.

Massively Generalised Proposition: Men evolved for explosive life-and-death activities.

Men seem to have an evolutionary advantage when it comes to stuff like fighting (to the death), sprinting (to kill things) and lifting heavy rocks (to crush things).

This massively generalised proposition has two aspects:

  1. Men perform better when they and their loved ones are under threat or facing an epic struggle, rather than when faced with the non-threatening day-to-day life admin
  2. This life-and-death stuff tends to be explosive: it requires a huge outlay of energy in a short space of time

The consequence of all this is that, when not under threat or facing an epic struggle, men will conserve energy for when they really need it.

There you go: a neat little evolutionary explanation for man sloth mode. We’re not being lazy or selfish, we’re saving our energy so we can throw rocks at bears.

The problem is that, most of the time, for men like me, a life-and-death threat or epic struggle never materialises and we can slide unwittingly into a semi-permanent state of man sloth.

(There is one notable exception to this dearth of life-and-death in our modern man lives. Included in my list of life-and-death activities is mating. Yes: we can be pretty good at seduction.

So now you also have a neat little evolutionary explanation for that infuriating tendency for men to be incredibly attentive right up until the moment you decide to sleep with them.

As a good friend said to one of her girlfriends who was being messed around: ‘Hun, he wasn’t leaving it six days to reply when he wanted to fuck you.’ Amen to that.)

Evolutionary Addendum

After reading the first draft of this article, a very smart friend cast doubt over the suggestion that evolutionary pressure could possibly exert much of an influence over our lives today.

She also described her scepticism about gender essentialism, the idea that evolution has somehow prepared ‘men’ as a biological category to do things differently than it has prepared ‘not-men’.

But, she added, ‘Maybe the concept of evolution and the concept of the biological category has!’

So the challenge for us men is how to use this popular, if scientifically unlikely, evolutionary story to support men’s growth rather than to fossilise it.

Where Does That Leave Us?

The point is that my Spurious Evolutionary Explanation™️ pins the ‘blame’ for the existence of man sloth mode on powerful forces outside of our control.

That doesn’t mean we shrug our shoulders and give up: it means that we now have two ways to understand our predicament and two approaches to change.

On the one hand, the social conditioning explanation shows us that change is possible: if slimy girls can learn how to anticipate the needs of others and change the sheets more than once a year, then so can we adult males.

On the other hand, my Spurious Evolutionary Explanation™️ helps us shift the weight of individual shame or guilt (which isn’t helping anyone) and understand what might motivate us to elevate ourselves out of this temporary depressed state of being.

In a word or six, we men need something that’s…

Excitingly Gigantic (But Also Totally Achievable)

This is where we get back to my legendary friends spreadsheet.

Every evening, I take a second to note down the number of meaningful interactions that I had with friends that day, either in person or on the phone.

Then, every Monday, in my personal finance and business accounting spreadsheet, I write down the total number of meaningful interactions for that week.

Over the past year, my average weekly total was 16 friend interactions, with a record high of 36 and a low of just 3 (shocking and only partially explained by the November lockdown).

I have data like this going back more than four years: that silo of numbers is (to me) excitingly gigantic, making me feel like my social life is some kind of epic data-based struggle.

At the same time, the individual actions that I take every day are almost pathetically achievable, pandering to my default laziness even on my most man sloth mode days.

The spreadsheet plays to my strengths as a man, but its purpose is to hold me to account.

Am I feeling a little blue today? Well, maybe it’s because I have only spoken to three people all week.

Finally, this is the answer to the question posed at the start of this newsletter

Drum roll please because coming right up is my answer to why, over four years later, I still update my (now legendary) friends spreadsheet every single day:

Rather than outsourcing the management of my social support network to a woman, I have outsourced it to a spreadsheet.

My friends spreadsheet was the first of my excitingly gigantic but also totally achievable strategies to protect myself against the type of chronic man sloth mode that I fell into back in the winter of 2016.

I have plenty of others, like my two daily journals that help me watch my mental health or my 100 Days of Adventure challenge that pushes me to get outside regularly.

But these strategies only tackle personal pickles like my year-long social man sloth mode.

They don’t cover (except obliquely) the more immediate man sloth mode behaviours that result in other people picking up the majority of society’s practical care work as well as the bulk of its cognitive and emotional labour.

We need a strategy that will help us in the very moment that work man sloth mode strikes.

What About Strategies To Defeat Work Man Sloth Mode?

Confession: I don’t really know. This is all new so I’m still experimenting. I would love to hear from you on this one.

What I do know is that the creation of the term ‘man sloth mode’ has already helped me overcome its seductive allure.

Last night, I went over to a friend’s house for dinner. She was in the middle of cooking us a curry and, when I arrived, I noticed that I could quite comfortably slip into man sloth mode.

I felt a strong urge to do nothing but drink tea and chatter inanely while she worked at the stove, making the dinner that I would later scoff contentedly.

But instead of succumbing to man sloth mode, I called myself out.

I explained what I was feeling using the language of man sloth mode (it helped that I’d spent the whole day writing this article). Then, instead of sitting down and watching her work, I made rotis for us to eat with the curry.

This might not sound like much (and it really isn’t), but it is, I hope you’ll agree, a step in the right direction.

If this is a strategy for overcoming acute daily man sloth mode (and I think it could be), then it has four stages:

  1. Notice yourself slipping into man sloth mode. If you’re not sure when this happens, look closely at the symptoms listed at the top of this article
  2. Call yourself out publicly and explain what’s going on (without being boring or attention seeking). At first, acknowledging man sloth mode out loud will really help, but the ultimate goal is to effortlessly skip from stage one directly to stage three. (Who knows: stage one might one day miraculously vanish altogether…)
  3. Seize the initiative. Take positive action to drive yourself out of man sloth mode. If you genuinely can’t think of anything to do, simply ask how you can help and listen to the answer. WARNING: If you find the other person instinctively micro-managing your contribution, don’t get annoyed. Remember that they might well be used to dealing with man sloths as if they were children. Politely request that they step back: you’ve got this.
  4. If you discovered in stage three a pretty basic life skill that you couldn’t do without a lot of help, go onto the internet and learn how it’s done properly. Do not waste other people’s time: they are not your personal life trainer. If you regularly find yourself unable to think of helpful things to do, then spend more time observing the things that other people do to be helpful. Copy them.

As the infamous man sloth Theodore Roosevelt once berated himself:

Get action; do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create; act; take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.

Life in man sloth mode is miserable. It is ending our relationships, fossilising our personal growth and slowing killing us. For our sake and for your own sake, get action.

Coda: Over To Us

This morning I was chatting to a friend on a bike ride. She’d just had a blazing row with her partner about his passivity and told me that the ideas around man sloth mode gave her hope for her relationship.

Guys: let’s not make that a false hope.

Over to us.

Now It’s My Turn To Ask The Questions

  • Have I gone too far? Not far enough?
  • What strategies do you have to protect yourself and others from man sloth mode? (Or whatever you call it)
  • Have I missed any symptoms, major or minor, of man sloth mode?
  • Is there an equivalent mode of being to which females are more susceptible?

Thank You

Thank you so much to everyone I’ve spoken to about this topic over the past million years and thank you to everyone who has responded so thoughtfully to this article.

You have all been incredibly generous with your experiences and helped me mis-understand things a little less.

Special thanks to BG for holding up a mirror to the man sloth over so many years, to GC for coming up with the term ‘man sloth’, and to LH — for dinner!

Surfing And The Blue Mind Surfing is exactly like snowboarding, except you’re being chased by an avalanche.

On Monday, I pulled on a wetsuit and jumped into the ocean with a surfboard. I’ve lived in Bournemouth now for about two years so it was about time.

After watching a few pro videos to see how it’s really done, I realised, with some trepidation, that surfing is exactly like snowboarding, except you’re being chased by an avalanche.

I am, in retrospect, glad that I waited for the mushy ripples of Bournemouth for my first surfing lesson, rather than taking on the crash and boom of the Atlantic.

Now, I’ve never gone snowboarding (quite apart from the expense and the injuries, the snow just isn’t there any more).

But I have, since last year, been a skateboardist. So I at least understand the principle of balancing on a small thing with no handlebars and riding in an approximately forwardsly direction.

Naturally, this experience was next to no help at all when plopped onto an unstable surface like the ocean.

Fascinating fact: it’s the unstable surface of the water that actually keeps surfers afloat. As amazingly buoyant as modern surfboards are, they couldn’t overcome the gravitational effect caused by the hefty addition of an adult human, the weight of which threatens to sink said human into a watery grave.

But the restless movement of the ocean against the underside of the board creates many additional hydrodynamic forces that combine with buoyancy to keep the surfer from sinking. Yes, it’s basically a miracle.

My first lesson (with the awesome humans of Resurface) was spent lying flat on my face, windmilling my arms in the seat and scootching around the white water, occasionally feeling the rush of a wave beneath me, but mainly just kind of bobbing around pleasantly.

The few times that I did attempt to crawl onto my knees, the carefully callibrated balance point of the board would mysteriously vanish and I’d go for a quick swim. Hence the wetsuit.

But for the most part, I lay atop the board, surprised by my buoyancy, enchanted by my ripple-eye view of the world. I’m not sure if that’s surfing, but I want more of it.

Blue Mind

I recently finished reading Blue Mind by marine biologist Wallace J Nichols.

I thought I was buying a popular science book on the cognitive and social benefits of being in or near the water, but what I actually got was a surprisingly disassociated collection of anecdotes, lightly supported by scientific footnotes.

In some ways, the book was a little like my experience of surfing: never quite knowing what would happen next or even from what direction ‘next’ would come, but more or less buoyed through the experience with only the occasional, perhaps refreshing, dunk.

Rather than having an array of science-y data at my fingertips, I’m left instead with a generalised sense that the ocean (river, lake, stream or shower) can be a force for good in our lives.

‘Blue mind’ is Nichols’ term for ‘a mildly meditative state characterised by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness’, by no means exclusive to the ocean, but promoted by safe experiences with water.

Many of the studies that Nichols cites have nothing to do with any kind of liquid, which makes his thesis based on limited but favourable scientific evidence and then buttressed by not-implausible extrapolation.

In ‘The Men Who Stare At Trees’ I explored the health benefits of being in nature and it’s true that some studies have found an enhanced positive effect when water features are involved.

In 2010, Matthew White and a team from the University of Plymouth found that something as simple as adding a water feature to entirely urban environments could make street scenes as restorative as images of wholly natural environments that don’t include water.

Matthew White was also one of the researchers involved in a 2019 study that found better general and mental health among people who lived less than 5km from the ocean, an effect particularly strong for the lowest-earning households.

This is why Nichols positions the oceanic ‘blue mind’ as an antidote to both the hyper-stressed state of what he calls ‘red mind’ and the apathetic, depressed state of ‘grey mind’.

It’s also why I found myself flat out on a surfboard, staring into the setting sun, mesmerised by the light and sound of the lapping ocean, nudging me gently to shore, in blue mind.

ee cummings said it best:

maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,

… and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea


Thanks to everyone at Resurface Bournemouth and to AT for getting me into the water. Six lessons, including wetsuit and board hire, cost me the unfathomably low sum of £95. The next session is Monday — can’t wait.

The Travel Triangle Heat, Fuel and Air. Oh no, wait - that's the fire triangle. So what's the travel triangle?

Welcome to the First Class carriage of the 9.10 from Barcelona to Paris.

I wouldn’t normally travel First Class, but these were the cheapest seats by far (€49) — a fact abundantly evident in the crowded aisles of the carriage.

There’s a family of five occupying the three seats ahead of me (fair play to them), beside an American husband and wife team with divergent approaches to crash-learning French in the six hours before we arrive.

The wife is patiently grinding her way through Duolingo, writing out convoluted sentences like ‘Voulez-vous aller en voiture au magasin?’ (‘Do you want to drive to the shop?’), while the husband taps ‘Hello, how are you?’ into Google Translate — whereupon the app promptly crashes. He’s now playing Candy Crush.

I’m three legs into my four-legged journey back to the UK from Portugal. I left Lisbon late on Wednesday evening and, after sliding through Madrid and Barcelona, I’m due back in Bournemouth tomorrow evening.

All the friends I was staying with in Lisbon will be making the same journey by plane, a fact that’s made me reflect on why I chose to travel overland instead.

It comes down to the three essential factors of any journey, which I shall pretentiously call the Travel Triangle:

  1. How long does it take?
  2. How much does it cost?
  3. How comfortable is the traveller before, during and after the journey?

Most people probably only think of the first two sides of the travel triangle when they’re planning their holidays and, thanks to government subsidies and low-cost airlines, planes are perceived as both faster (obviously) and cheaper (criminally).

That’s why I want to spend a little bit of time exploring how on earth I managed to end up with an overland itinerary that was not only justifiable according to the travel triangle, but actually preferable on all three sides compared to flying.

Plane versus train: speed test

Firstly, let’s look at what would happen if we tried to match up trains versus planes on the plane’s strongest side of the travel triangle: time.

Although my overland journey will take three nights and days, I’ve calculated that it is technically possible to leave Lisbon at 10.30am and arrive in Bournemouth the following afternoon:

  • 1030-0505 Coach from Lisbon to Bordeaux
  • 0558-0929 Train from Bordeaux to Paris
  • 1113-1230 Eurostar from Paris to London
  • 1315-1600 Train from London to Bournemouth

Unfortunately, this hectic itinerary would lose out to flying on all three sides of the travel triangle:

  1. At 30 hours, it would take three times as long as flying (including getting to the airport and going through security and immigration).
  2. One way and booked three weeks in advance, this journey would cost about £240, compared to about £140 by plane.
  3. On this schedule, the poor traveller would not only miss out on a night’s sleep, but also spend 25 out of those 30 hours on their backside. Not healthy.

Using the travel triangle, it’s easy to see that long distance overland travel cannot compete with planes on speed. If you need to get somewhere as soon as physically possible, it’ll probably be quicker, cheaper and more comfortable to fly. Sorry.

But there is good news!

If we tweak our itinerary to favour the strengths of overland travel rather than the strengths of flying, then it’s not hard to come up with journeys where overlanding is not only justifiable, but preferable — on all three sides of the travel triangle.

Train versus plane: rematch

The following sentence sums up the great strength of overland travel:

No one (but no one) wants their plane to stop mid-way.

(Once upon a time, while waiting for a delayed train in Brussels, I heard a fellow traveller lauding this particular benefit of air travel: ‘At least you either arrive or you don’t.’)

Assuming that most people don’t wish to disembark mid-way, my friends who fly get two stops: London and Lisbon.

In stark contrast, my terrestrial alternative needs freakin’ bullet points to encompass the delightful array of city breaks I’ll enjoy:

  • London (twice)
  • Paris (twice)
  • Bayonne
  • Madrid
  • Lisbon
  • Barcelona

This was my first trip abroad since 2019, during which time two friends had moved out of London to live in Paris and Bayonne respectively. So, when my co-writer Beth Granville suggested working together for a week in Lisbon, I immediately knew I could plan a trip that fully exploited the strengths of overlanding.

In Paris, Tim and I did some hiking in Rudenoise and Chantilly; in Bayonne I got to hang out with friends in Basque country, hiking in the foothills of the Pyrenées and visiting the pretty towns of Sare and Saint Jean-de-Luz; in Madrid I met up with a new friend who’ll be cycling with us on Thighs of Steel this summer; and in Barcelona I got to sleep off a cold I picked up in the Saharan dust storm that hit Lisbon on Tuesday.

As I write these words, our train is passing over a narrow spit of land that bisects a vast lagoon on the Mediterranean coast near Narbonne. It would have been easy to have added yet more adventures to my journey — the Algarve and Andalucía, Bilbao and San Sebastián, Montpellier and Nîmes.

The lesson is that, if we plan itineraries that take advantage of overlanding’s great strength, then the travel triangle magically starts to work in our favour.

Round 1: Cost

Yes, the face value of point-to-point train tickets are often more expensive than the plane equivalents, but this all changes when we start to add stops.

My overland journey from Bournemouth to Lisbon and back cost me £366.

(Incidentally, the London-Bournemouth leg is both the shortest and, horrifyingly, very nearly the most expensive of the entire journey.)

I booked only three weeks before I left and, while it’s reasonable to say that I didn’t get the best prices, it’s also true that I probably couldn’t do it very much cheaper. The Man In Seat 61 suggests around £300.

(Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to add the cost of overnight stays to the overall cost of overland travel because that’s all part of the holiday. For full disclosure, however: I stayed with friends in Paris and Bayonne and spent £60 on two nights in Madrid and Barcelona.)

Looking at flights, I can see that Bournemouth to Lisbon and back costs around £220-240. So flying direct would have saved me about £120 — but only if I’d been happy to miss out on seeing my friends.

(Note: If you book further in advance, and want to spend the night near Stansted Airport, you can get cheaper flight-based journeys at around £170-200 return from Bournemouth. But I want to compare apples with apples. Thanks to JCK for this research!)

If we only include my longer stopovers in Paris and Bayonne, then travelling by plane would have cost another £140. If I were to add Madrid and Barcelona as well, then flying would be sheer craziness.

Take home message: overlanding with stops is cheaper than flying with stops.

Trains 1 Planes 0

Round 2: Time

With cost out of the equation, the decisive factor in choosing between overlanding and flying will, for most people, be time.

I’m not talking about the time taken for each leg of the journey — the longest of my overland journeys was eight hours, which is less than I would have needed to get from Bournemouth to Lisbon by plane.

I’m talking about the total amount of time the traveller has for the whole trip — and how they want or need to spend that time.

If you have two weeks’ holiday and you want to visit friends in Paris and Bayonne or stop by Barcelona and Madrid on your way to Lisbon, then travelling overland is the best way for you to travel. End of.

If you only have a week’s holiday, then Lisbon is off the cards for overlanders unless you’re prepared for the hectic itinerary that opened this piece. Sorry.

The same is true if, for some reason, you need to be in Lisbon for as much of the whole two weeks as possible.

For example: flying to Lisbon would occupy about 6 percent of a two week stay. Even at its fastest, overlanding gobbles up 18 percent, with a more relaxed itinerary swallowing 22 percent of your total time away.

On this occasion, for me, the time allowed for the whole trip was flexible — a few days either side would have made no difference.

But overlanding did help me change the way I spent my holiday, not only by allowing those stopovers in Paris and Bayonne, but also in moments like this, where I have the time and comfort to do some writing.

(In fact, if you are lucky enough to be able to do actual work on the long train journeys, then you might even be able to earn back the cost of overlanding — good for you!)

Trains 2 Planes 0

Round 3: Comfort

This is where things become a little more personal, as we all define ‘comfort’ in different ways:

  • How anxious does this mode of transport make you feel — both before you leave and during the journey?
  • How many bags do you need to take?
  • How much space do you need?
  • How much information do you need to feel reassured?
  • How comfortable are you operating in foreign languages and in unfamiliar cities?
  • Militarised airport security, train ticket barriers or coach driver whimsy?
  • Drinks trolley, buffet car or service station?
  • How do you feel when you arrive?

For me, trains win on every count, every time. Coaches are a bit more problematic: less information, less space, less smooth — but I’d still choose them over the airport security and border checks that make me feel like a pre-criminal.

Trains 3 Planes 0

Think of the children!

Many people choose to go Flight Free because of the massive 95 percent reduction in carbon emissions when travelling overland compared to flying.

According to recent research by The Jump, individual citizens have primary influence over 25-27 percent of the total emissions savings needed to stop ecological breakdown. That’s pretty cool. It means that we can all take direct action today.

(Note: this 25-27 percent figure is an average and lower income groups are responsible for far fewer emissions. The more you earn, the greater your obligation to change.)

Of this 25-27 percent, reducing our use of aeroplanes to one short haul flight every three years would deliver a 2 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.

That’s a bloody good reason to stop flying. But it’s not my reason.

I have never chosen overlanding because of its lower impact on the environment and I’ve taken too many flights in my lifetime to waste my time preaching to anyone else.

I choose overlanding because, for me, it’s the most comfortable, most connected and most creative way to travel.

Now that’s what I call a travel triangle.

Not The Best Medicine You might meet today with ‘inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men’. Maybe they’re suffering from a twisted omohyoid.

Science might say that laughter releases endorphins that support your immune system, can provide a palliative to long term illness, moderate sensations of intense pain and reduce your risk heart disease by relaxing your arteries.

Journalists around the world have celebrated this vindication of the pernicious claim that ‘laughter is the best medicine’.

It’s all lies.

When you have an intercostal muscle injury, laughter is manifestly not the best medicine.

In this case, laughter is, almost literally, side-splitting.

If humans have personalities, so do muscles. Some are extroverts, showing off their range and power, like the hamstrings or the biceps, making their presence felt with almost every movement of your body.

But some are introverts, happiest when unnoticed and, like the muscles of the eyeball or the omohyoid, scarcely ever consciously felt — until something goes wrong. Then: beware the quiet ones.

The intercostal muscles of the rib cage are introverts.

Intercostal muscles highlighted in dark red. Wikipedia

Their job is to help you breathe by expanding and contracting the rib cage so that the lungs beneath can fill and empty of air.

In the same way that a hamstring injury doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop walking, so too an intercostal injury means that you don’t necessarily have to stop breathing.

What it does mean (in both cases) is that you should avoid explosive exercise.

In the case of a hamstring injury, now is not the right time to go sprinting.

In the case of an intercostal injury, now is not the right time for the six bodily functions that make life worth living:

  1. Yawning before sleep
  2. Hiccups after drinking
  3. Burps after eating
  4. Laughter with joy
  5. Sighing in peace and contentment
  6. Sneezing

Is there a more important muscle group than the one that helps suck in the air, not only of survival, but of life?

It started with a hiccup

It all started with a hiccup. Not a particularly large or loud one, just a normal hiccup on a hilltop near (appropriately enough) Rudenoise in France.

I felt a twinge in my side, but nothing more. The next day the twinge grew a little worse, but nothing insurmountable. I’d also pulled a muscle in my calf on the same walk. No big deal. I can walk it off.

The problems really started on Friday night, when Tim and I started trawling through our back catalogue of Abandoned Rugs songs.

There are many types of laughter. Some laughter is a social lubricant, either totally or partially under conscious control. This kind of laughter is fine.

But there is a laughter that is orders of magnitude more violent, more explosive and almost completely involuntary. More like a sneeze, in other words. This is what the songs we made with Abandoned Rugs do to me.

Now, these songs won’t necessarily make you laugh quite as much as they make me laugh. But imagine being six years old again. Go back to your most childish, playful self.

Now give your inner child unfettered access to an array of musical instruments, recording equipment and one very talented musician.

If I were to die and the only artefact to survive the centuries, from all my decades of creative work, was ‘Walking In The Area’ by Abandoned Rugs, I would die contented.

The magic of Christmas reduced to the banality of boredom and the sheer absurdity of trusting me (of all people) with the parody of a famous choral soprano leaves me helpless.

I’m standing on the grass,
I’m standing near the garden shed…

Professionally, I’m sure I’ve done better work, but nothing so reliably reduces me, personally, to paroxysms of laughter.

Unfortunately, such laughter rips into my intercostal muscles with uncontrollable and terrible force.

Laughing myself to death

The next day I catch the train down to Basque country. On Saturday night, I sleep fitfully and wake up almost in tears, unable to even roll over to get out of bed.

Luckily, I’m staying with a GP and, with the help of some serious Spanish painkillers, bought to ease my friend through the Camino, I feel much better on Monday and Tuesday — as long as I don’t go much further than a polite chuckle.

On Wednesday, however, I arrive in Lisbon. For some reason I decide not to take any painkillers. Despite the fact that I am here to spend a week with my comedy writing partner Beth Granville and our friends, writing funny jokes that make people laugh uncontrollably.

It’s a disaster. I manage to hold it together enough to survive the first course at dinner. Then I share a story about an ex, a bath and a game of chess…

Doubled over in the restaurant, struggling to breathe, not because I’m overcome by laughter, but because my lungs are unable to expand enough to draw oxygen into my blood cells through the pain.

It’s at this point that I wonder whether laughing oneself to death is a thing.

The Internet isn’t reassuring on this point. Aside from kuru, a devastatingly sad ‘laughing sickness’ caused by the consumption of diseased human brains, there are multiple cases of cardiac arrest caused by excessive fits of laughing:

Asphyxiation caused by laughter leads the body to shut down from the lack of oxygen.

I must remember to keep taking painkillers.

Personality is physicality

I sincerely hope that you never have to spend time with an injured intercostal muscle, but there is a broader lesson here, one that I hope everyone can sit with today.

The lesson is: personality is physicality.

I know this only too well from my experiences with my thyroid. An underactive thyroid makes you cold, tired and unable to focus. Not the best conversationalist. Physicality is personality.

In the same way, with an injured intercostal, I can feel myself consciously measuring my responses to other people. It’s simply too painful to let go and laugh with my friends. I can do a half-hearted chuckle — but who wants that?

I notice that I’m holding back from saying things that I know the other people will find funny because I can’t risk the laughter tripping my muscles. It’s a whole new way of being in the world (and a bit of a shit one). Personality is physicality.

In the same way that mountains, valleys and the ocean play a decisive role in our experience of clouds or sunshine, so too does the morphology of our bodies influence our own psychological weather.

There’s no point ignoring the basic principles of our existence, our facticity.

If you’re feeling irritable, maybe you need to be kinder to yourself. Stop pushing so hard. Ease off for a minute. Your body needs a break and your mind is responding with antisocial behaviour, in the hope that you’ll isolate and rest.

And vice-versa. You might, as Marcus Aurelius wrote, meet today with ‘inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men’. Maybe they’re suffering from a twisted omohyoid. Try empathy before anger.

Thought For Food #4: Chocolate Ginger Thighs Flapjack

This vegan flapjack almost caused a riot on the last Thighs of Steel London ‘club’ ride. Dense, nutritious, spicy and with a strong chocolate bite. What more could you want after a beasty climb?

The base flapjack recipe is inspired by Andrew Hardwick.


  • 125g porridge oats
  • 125g jumbo oats
  • 150g vegan block
  • 100g crystallised ginger (finely chopped)
  • An ill-defined scoop of ground ginger
  • 2 bananas (smooshed) or a dozen chopped dates (or a combo of both)
  • Optional: a load of mixed nuts and dried fruit
  • For the chocolate coating: at least 200g (yep) 90% (yep) dark chocolate and a smattering of chilli flakes (thanks for that suggestion, CH)


  1. On a low heat, melt down the vegan block, bananas, dates and ginger until you’ve got a thick paste
  2. Stir in the oats and nuts (if you’re using them)
  3. Line a small baking tray (19x23x3cm — smaller than you expect) with greaseproof paper or use a bit of vegan block to grease it up real nice
  4. Smoosh the flapjack mixture firmly into the tray
  5. Smoosh it down some more using a heavy weight
  6. Bake at 175C for 25-odd minutes
  7. When you take it out of the oven, the flapjack should be visibly soft and beginning to brown

While the flapjack is baking, prepare the chocolate.

This process is called tempering and makes sure that the chocolate doesn’t change molecular structure and go all sticky on your fingers:

  1. Boil some water in a pan
  2. Put HALF the chocolate into a glass bowl or measuring jug (one that fits into the pan)
  3. Turn off the heat on the water (or leave it on really low)
  4. Put the chocolate jug into the pan
  5. Wait for the chocolate to melt gently, then add the remaining solid chocolate
  6. When the chocolate’s all melted (this will take some time), stir in the chilli flakes
  7. Pour the chocolate over the flapjack and spread thickly

Finishing off:

  1. While the flapjack is still soft, cut the flapjack into whatever size slices you want
  2. Once the tray is cool enough for the fridge, whack it in there

Now share with friends after a badass hill climb.

Respect The Hormones ‘I want to see what is going on,’ he said. ‘So many great events are happening, and I’m not there to see them. I’m learning nothing here that will do me any good.’

As you may have noticed this week, The News.

One of the things that people say they appreciate about his newsletter is that I don’t tend to respond to current affairs. So I won’t do that today either.

(Except in this one bolded, italicised sentence, where I hope you will join me in a primal effort to extirpate all our collective rage: uggghaaaaaaaaghhhhhhgghghghghhguuuugaahhgahhhhhhhhguhggggggggghghgahhghhuuauauhghghghguuauuhghghghhghgghhgfuckssakefuckssakeghghgughghaagughhghhhhgagg.)

While I won’t respond to The News directly today, I will do something very much in keeping with the mission of this newsletter: I’ll show you a graph.

And then we can play a little game called: ‘What’s the time Mr News?’ or ‘What time of day should I partake in news gathering and sharing?’

But first a quick note about a hormone called cortisol.

Meet Cortisol

Cortisol is an awesome hormone. It’s quite literally what gets us out of bed in the morning. Cortisol’s superpower is that it gives us energy, fast. Quite handy.

One little problem with cortisol, however, is that, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, it can be pretty darned stressful. In fact, cortisol is often called ‘the stress hormone’ (an unfair nickname, given the number of other useful jobs it does).

You see, one of the things that cortisol can do is make you better at noticing crappy things and then make you feel crappier about those crappy things.

This is what sciencey people call elevated negative affect and arousal. It’s what the rest of us call stress and, at its worst, chronic stress, anxiety and depression.

(To be fair to cortisol, this combination of crap-ray-vision and fast energy does make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. There wouldn’t be much point in us having a hormone that responds with high energy when primed by the sight of white fluffy clouds or a field of kittens.)

In summary: although we are very lucky to have cortisol, we don’t want to mess with it.

Okay. Now here’s the graph:

And all together now…

‘What’s the time Mr News?’

If The News were a neutral report of the comings and goings of the tides, the pattern of the clouds on the water, the first catkins on the hazel and the first daffodils on the verge, amid the nest-building busyness of spring, then all would be well.

But, sadly, it’s not.

The News, as digested by most humans, is a voluntary poison that will reduce grown adults to anxious, sad, catatrophising worriers in less than a quarter of an hour.

This catastrophising worry is likely driven by our friend cortisol, although that does depend on other situational factors. The effect seems to be particularly pernicious in women, for whom reading The News appears to prime cortisol spikes in response to subsequent stressors.

This probably comes as news to no one, but the science suggests that digesting The News with your breakfast will set you up for a crappy day.

What time of day should I partake in news gathering and sharing? Not until at least 4 hours after waking up.

The News Is A Privilege

The thing that gets me is that, for most people, The News is a privilege.

For people directly affected by the events reported in The News, it rarely comes through newspapers, social media or the television. The News comes as a knock on the door, a cry from a neighbour, a storm cloud on the horizon.

The News that the rest of us experience is a repackaged biography of other people’s lowest points, their worst moments, their most cataclysmic life events decontextualised for sensationalist (dare I say) entertainment in homes on the other side of the planet.

Worse: this style of ‘hard’ News can be addictive, often designed to manipulate our hormones to maximise eyeball retention, to maximise profit.

News aggregators like Google News or Apple News, shares on social media and ‘breaking news’ phone notifications all contribute to greater and greater consumption of The News and that growing addiction is associated with despair for the future and low levels of trust in other people.

I am not saying that we should ignore social and political events.

As psychologists Boukes and Vliegenthart put it in 2017, The News ‘is generally understood to be crucial for democracy as it allows citizens to politically participate in an informed manner’.

And I’m all for sharing more information to empower democratically active citizens.

But Boukes and Vliegenthart then go on to demonstrate that, due to its focus on ‘negative and worrisome’ events, The News as we know it has a ‘negative effect on the development of mental well-being over time’.

I don’t think any of us are surprised by this finding. But it’s time that we all took the science seriously and acted with total respect for the awful power of The News.

Please Don’t Abuse The News

Respect your own hormones: give yourself at least a few hours after waking up before stepping into fire hose. Turn off your breaking news notifications, delete your news apps, watch awesome nature videos instead of The News.

Respect other people’s hormones: don’t share The News — at all, if you don’t have to — but at least not without considering how it might land. Be aware that other people simply aren’t prepared to hear The News from you. They probably opened their messages with eyes still half shut hoping for a love note… And now they’ve got This.

If you’re not sure about sharing something; don’t. Wait for the right context. I understand that The News is traumatic and humans seek to share that traumatising information to soften the impact, like a freefalling skydiver landing on a trampoline.

If you feel traumatised by The News, first seek out a genuine connection with a friend, set up the context, and only if it’s right then share your pain.

Remember that The News is mostly awful life shit that’s really happening to someone else. If you are lucky enough to have the choice, then please spend the morning beside a quiet stream, watch the buds on the branches, listen to the soft news shared by the chattering birds.

I’m serious. Respect the hormones.

My touchstone in this endeavour is the nineteenth century naturalist John Muir. Stuck on his California farm, doing the ‘penal’ work of cherry-picking, Samuel Hall Young reports how John Muir longed for the ‘glaciers and woods of Alaska’:

Passionately [John Muir] voiced his discontent:

‘I am losing the precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.’

Through all his raillery there ran a note of longing for the wilderness.

‘I want to see what is going on,’ he said. ‘So many great events are happening, and I’m not there to see them. I’m learning nothing here that will do me any good.’

Outside my window, I can hear the gulls. So many great events are happening.


A friend who reads this newsletter says that, most of the time, he gets to the end and doesn’t really know whether he’s understood the message.

The comment made me laugh, but it’s a really good point. What is my message?

Shut off your screen, right now, and take a fourteen minute news-check on nature.

Call Me Baby Are you emboldened to hit CALL instead of SEND? Do you more often swipe right to answer instead of left to reject? Have you learned to love again the sound of the human voice?

It’s been nice to spend a little time catching up with some of the new research supporting the thesis behind my (somewhat delayed) 2015 book You Are What You Don’t.

The thesis of the book is simple:

It’s pretty obvious that we are what we do. It’s less obvious, but no less formative, that we are also what we don’t.

Not only that, but what if what you don’t do is exactly what you should be doing?

Essentially, You Are What You Don’t sends me off on diverse adventures trying to not do the things that I normally do and trying to do the things that I unavoidably do in a manner completely opposite.

(It’s not a massive surprise that I so much enjoyed writing about paradoxes a couple of weeks ago.)

For example: it would, as we’ve all discovered in the years since, be crushingly dull to not leave the house every day — but there’s no reason that we have to walk.

So, for one day, back in 2015, I didn’t walk. I ran, I danced, I jumped, I skipped, I twisted my ankle, I crawled to A&E and I learned a lot. Particularly about crutches.

The point of the book is that we should learn to question our habits and at least try living without them: sometimes to discover an unexpected better life and sometimes just to return to normality, with gratitude.

One of the most instructive chapters of the book was called ‘No Mobile Phone’. This experiment was run in the halcyon days before I owned a smartphone, but I was no less addicted to those old school beeps and vibrations.

In the month before I ditched my Nokia — back in 2015, remember — I had sent 419 text messages. As I observed at the time:

that’s a ridiculous 13 per day, which makes me look like either a man in demand or a man desperate for attention. I have a horrible suspicion it’s not the former.

Fast forward seven years and I suspect I would be aghast at the number of messages I send on my smartphone in a month.

Actually, as a confirmed data-holic, I wouldn’t be aghast, I’d be fascinated. And then aghast.

Perhaps that’s why Android, Signal and Whatsapp make it either completely or virtually impossible to count the precise number of messages sent from your phone.

(Do you know how? Message me.)

Back in 2015, I wrote about the powerful effects of ‘social gravity’. I was concerned then with the pressure building on all citizens to buy a smartphone:

If we don’t go with the tilt, with the tendency for everyone to have smartphones, then we must be prepared to work ever harder against the steepening slant.

More than one of my freelancing friends finds that they need a smartphone in order to get emails on the go: if they don’t reply immediately to that job offer, then someone else will.

Today we can see the effects of social gravity in the way that we use our phones to communicate with each other.

In fact, to call this communicative tool a ‘phone’ is now almost a misnomer. ‘Phone’ is ancient Greek for ‘voice’ but today, compared to text messaging, we rarely use our ‘phones’ to transmit our voices.

According to a 2018 study, the average Whatsapp user sends or receives a total of 145 messages per day. That’s more than ten times my ‘ridiculous’ 13 text messages per day back in 2015.

In contrast, between 2012 and 2019, the total time that people in the UK spent on phone calls dropped by 15 percent, from about 10 minutes per person per day to 8 minutes (given that the population also increased slightly).*

As smartphone use has increased, so too has our use of ‘frictionless’ messaging apps like Whatsapp. The ensuing pressure of social gravity has squeezed out voice phone calls.

The question is: are we better off without voice communication or is this the worst thing ever?

It’ll come as no particular surprise that a 2020 study from the University of Texas at Austin found that voice communication, even without the visual cues of face-to-face contact or video, is integral to social bonding.

It follows that the researchers found that phone calls make us feel more bonded with others than text-based communication like email or messaging.

Voices make us feel good. Intuitively, we know this.

But that’s not why we make fewer phone calls today compared to 2012. We make fewer phone calls because phone conversations, even with friends, are faffy and awkward.

And that’s where the research gets more interesting.

Before the event, the 200 study participants expected that a phone call, whether with an old friend or a stranger, would make them feel more socially awkward than connecting by email or text.

But when asked how the call went afterwards, participants reported no extra awkwardness from the live, unscripted nature of the conversation.

In fact, the phone call was not only a more positive interaction than the text-based communication, but it was also no extra faff. The researchers found that a simple phone call took no longer than reading and responding to the same scenarios over email.

In conclusion: we overestimate how ‘convenient’ text communication is and we underestimate how good a proper voice call will make us feel.


* The kicker is that, after seven consecutive years of falling call minutes, 2020 saw a huge leap in our use of phones for voice communication. Lockdown helped us rediscover the dial tone.

Are you emboldened now to hit CALL instead of SEND? Do you find yourself more often swiping right to answer instead of left to reject? Have you learned to love again the sound of the human voice?

Please don’t bother answering by email — call me instead!

Progress Through Process And don't count on accountability.

Eager readers among you will remember that, in 2021, I vowed to accomplish and then did indeed accomplish 100 ‘Days of Adventure’.

The experiment, then, was a success: the stated objective, to have ‘a lot more’ adventures, was achieved.

But getting outside more isn’t what made the experiment a success. What made the experiment a success was the success of the experimental method.

(Last week, a friend and reader said that he was never quite sure whether he understood my emails: with sentences like the preceding, I concede his point.)

Let me explain.

In 1747, the ship’s doctor of HMS Salisbury, James Lind, decided to compare six different treatments of scurvy, the bloody scourge of sailors long at sea. Some were given cider, some were given sulfuric acid. Some were given oranges and lemons.

In the process, Lind learned how to cure scurvy (it wasn’t the cider, sad face). That was useful, sure, but not nearly as useful as simultaneously proving the efficacy of a well-conducted clinical trial.

I’m not saying that 100 Days of Adventure was a well-conducted clinical trial, but it was a trial with a positive outcome and, like James Lind’s scientific successors, I can work backwards to isolate the elements of the trial that supported its happy ending.

Based on my reading of immortal business management truisms, two contenders for contributing elements of success spring to mind:

  1. Public accountability thanks to this newsletter
  2. Working with a well-defined and measurable goal

On closer reading, I’ve learned that both might well have done more harm than good.

1. Go public — but not too public

I’d assumed that, by talking about my goal in this newsletter, I was being held to account by nearly 300 discerning humans. And I thought that this was a good thing that would help me reach my goal.

Turns out that I was probably wrong.

A 1998 management study found that, while conditions of ‘low accountability’ improve goal performance, conditions of ‘high accountability’ merely encourage people to massage their public image, with no improvement in performance.

In other words: with the eyes of the world upon you, you’re more likely to hide the failures and emphasise the positives.

But is this newsletter helpful low accountability or damaging high accountability? Well, it’s hard to say for sure because I don’t have access to the paywalled academic papers…

But perhaps what this newsletter was helping me with was not accountability at all, but commitment.

Thanks to this newsletter, every week last year, I sat down with my calendar and counted up how many Days of Adventure I’d had in the past seven days. On the equinox and solstices, with the changing of every season, I also delved a little deeper and wrote a little more, reflecting on my progress towards my goal through the year.

Perhaps it was this regular commitment to the process that was helping me, rather than the sense that you lot were standing over me, tapping your rulers on the desk, waiting to punish or reward me.

This is certainly what I’ve found in the opening months of 2022. There was no fanfare at the end of 2021: there were no fireworks to celebrate my achievement. All that happened was that I moved onto a new page on my spreadsheet and started again from zero (now on nine).

Goals come and go, but the process endures.

2. Not so SMART

Some of you business types will immediately jump up and tell me why my process was successful: it was because I created a SMART goal.

The 100 Days of Adventure project was:

  • Specific. 100. Days. Adventure.
  • Measurable. A day either is or is not adventurous and when I hit 100, I’d hit my target.
  • Achievable. Before starting, I counted that I’d done 67 the year before, so 100 didn’t seem like too much of a stretch (as long as Covid played along).
  • Relevant. 100 Days of Adventure was totally aligned with my personal and professional values and priorities.
  • Time-bound. I knew exactly when to begin (1 January 2021) and when to end (31 December 2021).

But what if 100 Days of Adventure succeeded despite the smartness of the SMART acronym? After all, how specific was my definition of a Day of Adventure?

Not very, as it turns out.

My original definition is that a Day of Adventure is a day when I could answer the following question in the affirmative: ‘Did I spend a significant chunk of the day outside on an adventure?’

I immediately followed up this definition with a weasly confession:

‘Outside’ is deliberately wide open because I’m a firm believer that adventure can be found anywhere. ‘Significant chunk’ and ‘an adventure’ are both deliberately relative because DOA is a simple binary measure that should work for everyone.

This definition did mature over the course of the year. At some point, I decided that three hours was unequivocally significant, but I still maintained that great adventures could be had in less and several, particularly as the end-of-year deadline drew closer, were more like two hours.

Compare this to the stringent requirements of the forty practice hikes that I have to log before I can take my professional Hill and Moorland Leader assessment. These require me to do at least four hours of walking time. No ambiguity there — particularly not when all my hikes are timed and logged automatically by GPS.

The lack of wiggle room in this qualification metric means that I missed the deadline for taking my assessment next week. I’ve been out on far more than forty hikes in the hills and moorlands of England, but, analysing the data, I fall six days short.

Although I’ve enjoyed every single practice hike that I’ve done, the reality is that, by the SMART goal measure, I have failed. And that failure makes me feel a bit crap.

But my deliberately, ostentatiously vague definition of a Day of Adventure meant that there was plenty of flexibility in my 2021 goal and — surprise, surprise — I completed the challenge and that made me feel bloody marvellous. What an accomplished human being I am, pat on the back for me!

Two outdoor challenges: one I can put down as a triump, the other I’m forced to consider a failure.

But here’s the thing: the two challenges were identical. By definition, any day that qualified as one of forty practice days for my Hill and Moorland Leader assessment was also one of my 100 Days of Adventure.

They were identical in every detail bar one: one of the goals wasn’t so SMART. And, confusingly, sometimes smart goals aren’t SMART goals.

Suppose I’d only managed 99 Days of Adventure in 2021. What would I have gained from that year of abject failure? Yes, that’s right — a whole heck of a lot!

Similarly, what have I gained so far from only completing 34 of 40 logged hikes for my Hill and Moorland assessment? Yes, that’s also right — a whole heck of a lot!

The flexibility of my definition of Days of Adventure encourages me to go outside and try something new.

The inflexibility of the professional definition of a Hill and Moorland qualifying hike means that I won’t go outside until I can guarantee at least four hours walking.

Last time I was on Dartmoor, I arrived extremely tired. I’d meant to do a four-hour hike that afternoon, but only managed a couple of hours before I quit.

The pressure of an inflexible goal kept me going longer than I should have and, when I got back to the bunkhouse, knowing that the deadline loomed, I went back over the past few years of hiking, desperately massaging the numbers, trying to convince myself that I was ready for assessment.

I was doing exactly what the literature told me I would do. Instead of improving my performance, this condition of high accountability was making me manipulate my public image — I was being lured into lying!

So I stopped scrolling through my hike logbook and went to bed instead.

A couple of quality hikes later, walking off Dartmoor, through the woods on the edge of Fernworthy reservoir, the sun jumping from leaf to leaf through the trees, the chill air plucking at the hair on my bare arms, I realised that I didn’t want this to end; I didn’t want to qualify; I didn’t want to finish my training.

SMART goals are time-bound. SMART goals end.

What more would I accomplish by rushing to accomplish this goal? Nothing. Nothing, no assessment, no qualification could top what the process consistently delivers: these moments of serenity in the woods and on the moors.

There will be no fanfare, no fireworks. All that must happen is to move onto a new page and start again from zero.

Goals come and go, but the process endures.

So, sitting in the car, the chewy scent of mud in my nostrils, I opened up my email and wrote to my assessor, telling him of my gleeful decision to cancel…

Japanese Puffer Fish Teaches Us The Wondrous Value Of Art

Watch this and wonder at the astonishing things we do to find love.

Perhaps you hope that, after the cameras stopped rolling, Mrs Right swam past, eyes popping with hearts, and found her Mr Japanese Puffer Fish.

Or perhaps you wish Mr Fish a lewd and lascivious future, swarmed by budding mates, destined for a stud’s death on his lustful seabed.

But what if Mr Fish goes hungry? What if no female swims past? What if symmetrical sand art is out of fashion with Japanese Puffer Fish?

Down be downhearted.

Wonder at the astonishing things we do to find love and wonder still further at the astonishing artworks that are inspired by love, independent of the sexual success of their creator.

Wonder too at the remarkable capability for intra-species aesthetic appreciation that has brought a loving dose of oxytocin to 475,253 humans — 475,254 including you.

It’s not every artist who can touch such an audience so deeply.

We see you, Japanese Puffer Fish.

Is the answer to this question ‘no’? Yes

Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is a novel famous for its paradoxes. It’s so iconic that the book’s title has become the technical term for a specific type of paradoxical situation in which we’re trapped by the circular logic of rules and regulations.

Catch-22 was inspired by the inexorable bureaucratic logic of war, where war itself is a paradox.

We don’t need long memories to remember preemptive or, even more absurdly, preventive war: wars fought to prevent wars. The US and UK justification of their invasion of Iraq in 2003 springs to mind.

But how can war prevent war?

The paradox deepens, of course. Less than three months into World War One, HG Wells published a book describing that conflict as The War That Will End War:

[It] is a grim satisfaction in our discomforts that we can at last look across the roar and torment of battlefields to the possibility of an organised peace. For this is now a war for peace.

Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war — it is the last war!

But how can a war end war? How can nations wage war for peace?

History tells that the peace won by Wells’ paradoxical war lasted barely twenty years. Among the ruins of the World War Two, another author stretched the paradox.

After George Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, wars are no longer fought for peace. Now, according to the doublethink doctrine, ‘war is peace’. Perpetual conflict abroad is the easiest way for a government disinterested in social progress to foster a distracted sense that all is well at home.

The paradoxical logic of the military-industrial complex

It’s no coincidence that both ‘catch-22’ and ‘doublethink’ have entered the modern lexicon.

We are, all of us, too familiar with the inexorable bureaucratic logic of the military-industrial complex that has become an invisible motor running in the background of our societies.

That motor may be invisible to many of us today, but in 1961 — the year Catch-22 was published — it was evident as a growing threat to liberty and democratic process.

Those are not my words, but the words of President Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War Two and one of the prime architects of D-Day:

[We] must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. … We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

War is peace. Security is liberty. Paradox is logic.

Living inside the paradox

For anyone who doubts the modern relevance of these military-industrial paradoxes, ponder for a moment which side of the paradox you’re living through.

The war or the peace? The security or the liberty? The paradox or the logic?

Are you the crazy Orr, blythly flying deadly missions when you could be grounded? Or are you the sane Yossarian, flying deadly missions in terror that ‘they’re trying to kill you’.

Maybe you can’t feel the edges of the paradox because your reality persists entirely on the side of the happy-go-lucky.

It’s probably easiest to illustrate with an example. You’ll have your favourites, but here’s one that’s often on my mind.

Consider the paradox of the asylum seeker.

Paradox I

On one side of the paradox, refugees arriving in the UK after fleeing conflict or persecution will, in the grandiose name of Great British justice, be granted asylum.

On the other side of the paradox, the new Nationality and Borders Bill will ensure no legal ways for would-be refugees to arrive in the UK. And those arriving under the new ‘illegal’ definition will be deported.

It’ll be the most efficient asylum system in the world: a perfectly empty paradoxical asylum system, where the whole category of ‘refugee’ is frozen out by the inexorable logic of Catch-22.

War is peace. Security is liberty. Paradox is logic.

Of course, no system can be perfectly perfect. But our paradoxical asylum system solves that problem with a second paradox.

Paradox II

On one side of this paradox, the UK extends a ‘warm welcome’ to refugees, especially highly qualified refugees from countries where our military action has created a national crisis.

Yet, on the other side of the paradox, any unemployed adult is a drain on our national resources and unemployed foreign nationals should be expelled. In the UK, asylum seekers are not allowed to work.

Asylum seekers should be welcomed and immediately expelled.

War is peace. Security is liberty. Paradox is logic.

We are the catch

Of course, the kicker is that, in Heller’s novel, Yossarian comes to realise that the regulatory trap of Catch-22 is a trap of our own imagination:

Yossarian strode away, cursing Catch-22 vehemently even though he knew there was no such thing. Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon, or burn up.

The paradoxes of seeking asylum are not entirely traps of imagination. Unlike Yossarian, we do have a text we must ridicule, refute, accuse, criticise, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon and / or burn up.

The Nationality and Borders Bill is still being debated by the Lords. If you are a Lord, please choose at least three of Yossarian’s verbs and apply them most vigorously to the infamous text before you.

But, even if you are not a Lord, we are all responsible for the collective imagery of the multiple Catch-22s that appear in stories like ‘some humans are illegal’, ‘the unemployed are a drain on our national resources’ and in any number of doublethink bureaucratic snares whose teeth are invisible to those of us lucky enough to exist entirely in the land of the happy-go-lucky.

I don’t have any big and clever ways out of the paradox. Except to remember that human affairs are perhaps best described by Shakespeare’s Romeo, using, of course, paradox:

Here’s much to do with hate but more with love.

Where you go from here is up to you. Are you crazy enough to be grounded? Are you sane enough to keep flying? Is the answer to this question ‘no’?

52 Things I Learned In 2021

And welcome to the final hours of 2021. Behind us lie 8,744 of those tidy little parcels, sixty minutes each. Sixteen more rush toward you on the railway tracks of time.

You’ll probably want to spend those sixteen hours in revelry or reflection, but if you find yourself with a few spare minutes, then here’s a fly-by of a year’s worth of creativity and curiosity.

AKA what I’ve learned thanks to this newsletter.

  1. I can do a thing, consistently, for a whole year. Yes: 100 Days Of Adventure is complete. Bring on DOA 2022.
  2. It takes about 55 hours to write my half of one episode of a radio sitcom. Creative writing is impossible to judge objectively. But knowing roughly how long a sitcom episode takes to write tells me that there is a reliable process behind the evanescent, ineffable clouds of creativity.
  3. How to make bread. Easily.
  4. My beloved Marin bike lasted about 18,000 miles and cost me about 18 pence per mile.
  5. We are an indoor species, spending 90-95 percent of our living hours in boxes, either static or mobile. There’s a statistic worth raging against!
  6. Drawing leaves is a lovely way to spend an hour. And might make my brain healthier too.
  7. Veganism hasn’t killed me. Or given me diabetes, gout or low testosterone.
  8. How to skateboard. Possibly the most rewarding thing I’ve learned this year. Never too old!
  9. You get paid more for doing ethically dubious jobs.
  10. Sending thank you emails to my favourite authors is surprisingly rewarding.
  11. Since I bought The Corollavirus back in March, I’ve driven 4883 miles. This has cost me about £777 in petrol, racking up a carbon debt of about 968kg CO2e compared to similar journeys on public transport. It’d take 44 mature trees a year to absorb these new emissions. That’s a whole copse worth.

    In monetary terms, I’ve worked out that the unembedded carbon cost of my 4883 driving miles is £480. More to come on this calculation in a future email — along with where I’m going to invest that money for maximal positive environmental impact.

  12. Right from the very beginning, the people who invented email knew that it was highly unproductive. Mind blown. Credit to Cal Newport’s A World Without Email.
  13. Bitcoin currently uses more electricity than the entire countries of Austria and Greece combined. Since the most recent surge in market price, which began in November 2020, the energy demands of the Bitcoin network have doubled…
  14. But cryptocurrencies could still be a force for good, by helping to change wealth distribution, reverse inequalities and counter ecological degradation.
  15. 92 percent of our countryside is ‘private property’. We need the law to change. Until then, we need to trespass.
  16. 90 percent of women have been victims of sexual harassment while travelling on public transport. That was according to a French survey, but nothing I’ve heard suggests the number is any lower in the UK. Credit Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.
  17. How to light a campfire using a flint and steel. Also: how to click ‘buy’ on a stormproof gas-powered lighter. There’s no prizes for going hungry.
  18. Heifers are terrifying in the springtime and tearooms are always unexpected.
  19. ‘Inoculating’ degraded soil with the ‘soil microbiome’ of a healthy landscape can accelerate recovery and increase carbon sequestration.
  20. Even a massive ‘wartime’ level of investment in carbon-removing technologies will not stop global heating at 2 degrees.

    Even if negative emission technologies are a huge success, we must still make far-reaching changes to our societies and our economies. And, of course, there is no guarantee that negative emissions technologies will be a huge success.

  21. There was a man called Buys Ballot. He taught me something or other about atmospheric pressure. Turns out that interpreting synoptic charts is hard to internalise.
  22. Every spring, thousands of ermine moths swaddle the poor bird cherry tree in a terrifying web of silk.
  23. George Orwell’s 1984 opens with a graphic description of a helicopter gunning down a raft of refugees floating somewhere out in the Mediterranean. The passage chimes loudly today.
  24. 108 ancient woods are being damaged or felled to make way for the HS2 railway line. There is no way to replace or replant a 400-year old oak.
  25. Over the past three decades, Bob Dylan has played 3,064 shows — about 100 per year. For comparison, between 2014 and 2019, modern chart-toppers Arctic Monkeys played about 50 shows a year. About half the work rate of an eighty-year-old.
  26. Aero bars are a PHENOMENAL bit of kit for the touring cyclist. I don’t know how I survived without them for so long. If you intend on cycling a long way next year, I can highly recommend getting a proper bike fitting.
  27. In practice, there are no legal routes for claiming asylum the UK.

    If it passes without amendment, our government’s new Nationality and Borders Bill will put UK law in direct opposition to the 1951 Geneva Convention by criminalising people who arrive on these shores without a visa — even when they have a legitimate claim for asylum under international law.

  28. Cycle touring is a storyful way to see the world, making sense of the scenes briefly illuminated in our lamplight as we pass.
  29. Liverpool is the world’s eleventh least stressful city.
  30. Breaking a world record is a LOT of admin.
  31. The Mayor of Glastonbury is an absolute baller.
  32. Wiltshire is the most generous county in southern England. FACT. (Probably…)
  33. Tiramisú is perhaps the least appropriate cycling snack for a vegan who likes to avoid sugar and doesn’t drink coffee. Works a charm, though.
  34. After a month talking politics with strangers, I learned that The Daily Mail and the Conservative Party do NOT represent the views of the people of Britain. Far from it.
  35. There are six ‘solidarity archetypes’: The Capitalist, The Idealist, The Gregarious, The Paranoid, The Wealthy, The Compassionate — which are you?
  36. Feeling your support van’s clutch snap is not a great start to a day on a world record breaking cycle tour. But sometimes Turkish Delight falls from the sky and sometimes miracles do happen.
  37. In Barcelona, you can swap your car for a free annual public transport pass. Tempting.
  38. Once you’ve got your eye in, psilocybe mushrooms are almost impossible to miss in the autumnal damp of the Welsh Valleys.
  39. An acute scarcity of time, money or love can mean a ten point penalty to your IQ. It’s not that you’re stupid, it’s that you’re stressed.
  40. Lamb from New Zealand has a quarter of the carbon footprint of Welsh lamb, despite travelling 17,840km around the world to our shop shelves. But you’re still better off eating coconuts.
  41. How to identify and presever the heather among the gorse.
  42. The proportion of citizens who say that having people from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds makes the UK a better place to live has increased since Brexit from 75 to 85 percent. Thank fuck.
  43. Sternutation is science-speak for a sneeze, a bodily reflex that I performed 127 times on a chilly day in November. That’s more than most people will ever do in a whole month. Proud.
  44. Blood On The Tracks is 88 percent perfect and my appreciation for the music of Bob Dylan can be quantified.

    Dylan’s finest albums by decade: Bringing It All Back Home (1965, 84% perfect), Blood On The Tracks (1975, 88%), Oh Mercy (1989, 63%), Time Out of Mind (1997, 56%), Modern Times (2006, 50%), Tempest (2012, 40%), Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020, 30%).

  45. Homemade vegan chocolate hobnobs are divine.
  46. Our right to wild camp on Dartmoor is being constrained: no hammocks, no family tents, no groups of more than six, plus an 8 percent reduction in the permitted camping area, including some of the most accessible land.
  47. Winter is the best time to go adventuring in Britain, for the wonders of solitude, star-gazing and silence.
  48. Twenty-four hours in the day is merely a convenient average; the actual time between solar noons fluctuates throughout the year. This is why the latest sunset of the year arrives ten days before the shortest day.
  49. Using nothing but the eyes that evolution gave you, you might see anywhere up to 4,548 stars in the night sky — although that number will depend greatly on the amount of light pollution in your vicinity.
  50. I’ve now read 46 books this year. Here are seven of the best.
  51. Writing a diary keeps me sane. I’ve written in excess of 223,000 words in my journal this year.

    I use the wonderful novel-writing software yWriter to store my diaries and, since 2010, I’ve amassed more than 2.7 million words for future historians to sift through in bewilderment.

  52. Above all, I’ve learned (again and again) that the discipline, creativity and curiosity of sharing this newsletter with you is not only good for my heart and soul, but that so many of you generous humans love it too!


Thank you for sharing some of those 8,744 hours with me. Thank you for hitting reply or posting a comment and telling me what moves you. Thank you for sharing these words with your friends and for helping this newsletter grow.

Most of all, thank you for helping everyone through a year of resilience and adventure.

I look forward to seeing what becomes of 2022 and I hope you’ll join me there.

Hungry for more?

Fire! Over the past few years, I’ve become a much more qualified arsonist.

Over the past few years, I’ve become a much more qualified arsonist.

Back in 2009, I remember footling around with a grate and some matches for about three hours, before a consummate fire-starter dragged a toothpick along an emery board for an instant conflagration.

Here are a few of the cheats I use today:

  • Cotton wool balls rubbed in Vaseline make for excellent lightweight, multi-purpose and fragrance-free starter fuel.
  • Stop using cigarette lighters and matches. Start using a torch. Not those kind of torches. These kind of torches, the ones with a steady, focussed blue flame that you might use to cremate a crème brulée. I’ve started fires with wet tinder using this. Definitely cheating.
  • Use an axe, penknife or saw to cut your fuel down to the right size for whatever stage of fire building you’re at. From bundles of finger-width twigs to hefts of wood block.
  • Make sure there is enough draft under your fuel. Oxygen is the forgotten force in the fire trinity of fuel, heat and air.
  • Don’t waste your breath on breathing life into your baby fire. Fan the flickers by using a piece of card, a scrap of bark, a book or even a t-shirt. You’ll get a much steadier draft and won’t pass out from smoke inhalation.

Thought for Food #3: Vegan Dark Chocolate Hobnobs

Hobnobs are vegan. Chocolate Hobnobs are not, thanks to the inclusion of something called ‘butter oil’ or ‘anhydrous milk fat’ in the chocolate coating.

This recipe began as your humble author melting a load of proper dark chocolate (naturally vegan) over a load of ordinary Hobnobs.

Delicious. Especially when sneezing one’s head off on Dartmoor.

However: as soon as one starts perusing lists of ingredients, one can’t help wondering whether one couldn’t do better one’s self.

Do those ordinary Hobnobs really need palm oil, sugar and partially inverted sugar syrup? I suspect not. Hence: this recipe.

Hob, nob, is his word; give’t or take’t
Shakespeare, Twelfth Night


Makes a baker’s dozen of large-ish vegan dark chocolate hobnobs.

  • 150g oats (small grade, not jumbo)
  • 75g flour (plain or wholemeal)
  • 80g rice syrup (about 4 tablespoons)
  • 75g vegan block
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g proper dark chocolate — I used 85%
  • Optional: pinch of ginger
  • Optional: tablespoon of coconut oil

The Biscuit Phase

Adapted from BBC Good Food

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan). Next time I’ll experiment with baking them for longer at a lower temperature — maybe even as low as 150°C.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with that brown parchment baking paper stuff.
  3. Beat the vegan block until it starts to behave. Add the rice syrup and mix well.
  4. Combine the flour, oats and bicarbonate of soda in a separate bowl.
  5. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture a bit at a time, ensuring you mix well to incorporate all the ingredients together.
  6. Next time, I’ll wrap this dough in cling film and put it into the fridge for as long as I can bear — this recipe promises crumblier results.
  7. Roll the mixture into 13 little balls.
  8. Smoosh each ball into round biscuit shapes onto the baking sheet. Repeat until mixture is all used up.
  9. Bake in the oven (middle shelf) for 13 minutes or until golden brown. They’ll still be a bit soft, so don’t be fooled — they’re done.
  10. Allow to cool completely. 40 minutes is more than enough (I forgot about them).

The Chocolate Phase

The key here is to avoid un-tempering the chocolate — tempering is how it stays solid at room temperature. It’s not a complete disaster if you mess this phase up, you’ll just have sticky fingers during the eating phase.

The following, rather delicate, method was adapted from eHow, of all places. You might prefer to melt your chocolate with a tablespoon of coconut oil in 30 second blasts in the microwave, as per this recipe — but be careful not to overheat the concoction.

  1. Put only two-thirds of the chocolate into a glass vessal (I use a measuring jug).
  2. Put that vessal into a saucepan of water and gently heat the whole kit and kaboodle.
  3. Allow the chocolate to melt gently, without stirring, until it is nearly melted.
  4. After a gentle stir, allow the chocolate to continue melting.
  5. When the chocolate is fully melted, carefully remove the glass vessal from the saucepan and slowly stir in the remaining chocolate a few pieces at a time, stirring with each addition, until it’s all completely melted.
  6. When all of the chocolate has been incorporated, dab a small amount of the chocolate onto the inside of your wrist. If the chocolate is slightly cooler than your body temperature, it is ready to use.
  7. Add a pinch of ginger if you’re feeling that way inclined
  8. Pour the chocolate over the top of the biscuits or dip the biscuits into the chocolate — whichever makes more sense to you.
  9. Leave the biscuits to cool. In theory, if you’ve tempered the chocolate correctly, the coating will become solid at room temperature. I whacked mine in the fridge because I was desperate.
  10. Whatever you do, make sure that you either leave the biscuits on the parchment paper or you wipe the melted chocolate away from the base of the biscuits, otherwise they’ll stick to the tray and break when you attempt to scoff them into your mouth.

The Eating Phase

Compared to normal Hobnobs, these taste quite savoury, but quite delicious.

In reality, I’m not sure how ‘savoury’ these biscuits really are.

They might have nearly 30% less sugar content than a McVities, but there’s still 3.2g of sugar per biscuit from the rice syrup and another 1g or so from the dark chocolate coating.

We’re down to slightly shy of one teaspoon of sugar per biscuit!

Actually, that’s still loads, isn’t it? Enjoy!

On Sneezing What can you do a hundred times a day at a thousand kilometres per hour?

There’s a folkloric myth that does the rounds at this time of year and I’m going to start this article by busting it.

Humans do not lose an inordinate amount of heat through our heads.

The amount of heat lost through your face and scalp is entirely proportionate to the size of your head.

The idea that we lose 40-45% of heat through the head is a myth, based on a dodgy military experiment in the 1950s.

Your face and head are more sensitive to changes in temperature than, say, your shins, but this doesn’t translate to more rapid cooling from an un-hatted bonce.

However: if the rest of your body is well-insulated with woolly jumpers and thermals, then — yes! — the absence of a similarly-insulated noggin will result in a surprisingly rapid drop in your core temperature. But, I repeat, this is only if the rest of you is wrapped up warm.

Rapid cooling through the head might happen for two reasons:

  1. A cold head alone doesn’t trigger the shiver reflex (which slows the rate of cooling). Strange, but true.
  2. There are a lot of blood vessels very close to the surface of your scalp and face. When exposed to cold air, the blood passing through your scalp cools quickly and this cold blood gets pumped around the rest of your body. Brr.

In fact, it seems that the primary role of networks of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin is for dumping heat (AKA thermoregulation). In humans, these ‘radiators’ are not just on our face, but also on our feet and, most prominently, our hands.

Conclusion: keep the hat, but don’t neglect the rest of your winter wardrobe — particularly not winter socks and mittens.

Strenuous sternutation

November is the official snuggle-up-warm time of year because a mere twenty minutes of cold exposure can more than double your chances of getting an actual cold.

Even when I don’t have a cold, I sneeze a lot. It seems to happen as a reflex response to getting a bit chilly, particularly my feet. And then, sometimes, the sneezing doesn’t stop.

As I spent the week on Dartmoor, I, and particularly my feet, got cold. During the course of a beautiful four and half hour walk on Thursday, I sneezed a grand total of eighty times.

There would appear to be two possible explanations for my heroic record of sternutation (you didn’t think that medicine would call a sneeze a sneeze, did you?):

  1. The trigeminal nerve in my nose is hyper-sensitive to stimulation (in this case, fluctuations in temperature).
  2. The sneezing centre in my brain’s lateral medulla has a low threshold for triggering explosive exhalations.

I could perhaps moderate the first using a steroid nasal spray. The second might have developed as a result of a work-shy allergy to dust and might be influenceable by some kind of Jedi mind trick?

Frankly, I’m speculating / making things up. Let’s get back to the science.

Counting one’s bless-you-ings

I’m a huge fan of The Boring Talks and, as a sneezer, the most memorable for me is #11: Sneezing.

It’s narrated by Peter Fletcher, a man who logged every single sneeze he ever snozed between July 2007 and June 2018.

To take my mind off my explosive sternutations, I decided to give Sneezing another listen.

I was shocked to discover that I sneezed more times on Thursday than sneeze-meister-general Peter Fletcher ever recorded in a month across eleven years of monitoring (95 in March 2008).

My twenty-four hour sneeze count topped out at 127.

You can see from this chart that peak sternutation occured while walking the windy wilds of Dartmoor, between about 10am and 3pm, before settling down in front of the cosy bunkhouse fire and stopping completely after I fell asleep.

Why sleep sneezing is impossible

A sternutation is a physical reflex to external stimuli. When we sleep, our body does two things to prevent this reflex from happening.

During non-REM sleep, our cerebral cortex and thalamus get together to massively raise the waking threshold for incoming stimuli. Without registering the irritating stimulus, there is no sneeze reflex.

During REM sleep, we also go into a state called REM atonia, during which our motor neurons are inactive. As sneezing is a physical reflex, this sleep paralysis prevents the coordination of muscles necessary for a jolly good wachoo.

If, while you were soundly sleeping, I were to tap your knee with one of those silly little hammers, you’d just lie there and take it. (Unless I give you a proper whack, that is.) No reflexes; no sneezes. Mercifully.

How often does the average person sneeze??

It turns out that my epic sneeze count means that I am in high demand. At least, I would be over on Sneeze Fetish Forum. Oh yes. There’s a forum for everything.

The photic sneeze reflex, caused by bright light, is pretty common. Less common are the snatiation reflex, caused by a full stomach (‘snatiation’ is a portmanteau of ‘sneeze’ and ‘satiation’), and, yes, sneezing at the point of orgasm.

To satiate your curiosity, here’s a selection of Sneeze Fetish Forum responses to the question, ‘How often does the average person sneeze??’:

  • Unfortunately, I seem to sneeze once a week at most.
  • People who sneeze seldom have the nicest wettest sneezes in my observations. My old girlfriend was one of those types.
  • For a long period of time I was inducing sneezes to create content regularly and during that time I would rarely naturally sneeze.

Things I’ve learnt from my undercover sneeze fetish research:

  1. Some people yearn for sneezes.
  2. Wetter sneezes are better sneezes.
  3. Sneezes are CONTENT.

Before I fire up the old webcam for an Only Fans, here is the scientific answer to the same question on sneeze frequency: 95% of eighty people in one experiment sneezed and blew their nose fewer than four times per day on average.

More than half of those people averaged less than one sneeze per day over the two weeks of the experiment. Now, that is boring.

What can you do a hundred times a day at a thousand kilometres per hour?

Maybe my whole life I’ve been thinking about my violent sneezes all wrong. Maybe I’m special.

Maybe my sneezes are some kind of super power — what can you do a hundred times a day at a thousand kilometres per hour?

Maybe, maybe my sneezes are divine omens from the gods.

This makes complete sense, as ancient Greek philosopher Aristo pointed out, because the sneeze is a direct message from the lungs, the most profound and holy part of the body.

After all, the great poet Homer once sang of the mighty sneeze of Telemachus, son of Odysseus, and of how patient Penelope interpreted this awesome sternutation as a divine omen that her depraved suitors would be vanquished by the mysterious stranger:

Telemachus sneezed so loudly that the whole house resounded with it. Penelope laughed when she heard this, and said to Eumaeus, ‘Go and call the stranger; did you not hear how my son sneezed just as I was speaking? This can only mean that all the suitors are going to be killed, and that not one of them shall escape.’

So next time you see me, tremble before my almighty sternutations and weep!

Reality and the Metaverse In a virtual universe designed by humans, humans know it all. The beauty of the real universe is that, the more we learn, the more we realise the vastness of our ignorance.

This segment is inspired by two superb newsletters that dropped earlier this week. So before I go any further, hats off to Mike Sowden of Everything Is Amazing and to Nikita Petrov of Psychopolitica.

Todays newsletter is about the stories we tell each other about current affairs — popularly known as ‘the news’.

First up: the Metaverse.

Did you see this? If not, I’ll let Mike Sowden do the dirty work of introducing you to what can only be credibly comprehended as the feverish gibberings of Mark Zuckerberg in the afterglow of a wet dream:

A few days ago, Facebook’s parent company (also called Facebook) changed its name to Meta, and Mark Zuckerberg released a video outlining his vision for what he calls the Metaverse: a seamless network of virtual experiences that’ll try to create the perpetual illusion you’re “inside” the Internet while you’re online.

The Metaverse is full of ideas like virtual businesses running on Zuckerberg-owned cryptocurrency, cartoon avatars slightly more handsome than you, virtual screens that float in front of your face and augmented reality glasses.

Zuckerberg reckons this Metaverse is about 10-15 years away.

You can take your pick, but, for me, the most chilling part of Zuckerberg’s 75-minute presentation video is where he tawddles about privacy:

Privacy and safety need to be built into the Metaverse from day one. You’ll get to decide when you want to be with other people, when you want to block someone from appearing in your space — or when you want to take a break and teleport to a private bubble to be alone.

Because god forbid that you’d want to ever actually leave the Metaverse. After all, inside your own private bubble, no one can hear you scream.

The beauty of ignorance

I don’t know how you learned about Zuckerberg’s Metaverse announcement (maybe it’s from me, right now — the honour!), but I’m glad I got the news from Mike Sowden because, for a newsletter with the title Everything Is Amazing, the Metaverse comes as an existential threat.

It’s not just that a Zuckerberg-designed virtual reality is a terrifyingly advertising-strewn prospect, it’s that it will be bounded by human limitation in a way that reality reality is not.

In a virtual universe designed by humans, by definition, humans know everything. The beauty of the real universe is that, the more we learn, the more we realise the vastness of our ignorance.

I’ll leave you with Mike’s beautiful conclusion:

Virtual worlds are most definitely designed by humans. This means they’re limited to what the human imagination is capable of cooking up, and the human-made computing hardware that can make it happen. In every way, a virtual world is anthropocentric. It’s by, & for, human beings.

The actual world, on the other hand, has a wonderful and occasionally disturbing tendency to ignore our wishes and surprise us in its unfathomable complexity, boundless novelty and awe-inspiring beauty. It is a mystery that we will never get to the bottom of, and most days, that’s kinda why life is worth living.

REALITY: The antidote

The antidote to the Metaverse, as Mike Sowden suggests, is reality. But perhaps not the REALITY of Nikita Petrov, author of the Psychopolitica newsletter.

Petrov’s REALITY is a work-in-progress YouTube show in which the most outrageous news stories of the day are read out in a dispassionate voice by an alien Bodhisattva journalist.

REALITY’s first story is about a German YouTuber, extremely popular with teenagers, who has inspired what psychiatrists are calling the world’s first ever mass sociogenic illness induced and spread by social media alone.

Jan Zimmermann, the YouTuber in question, launched their channel in February 2019. According to psychiatrists at Hanover Medical School, Zimmermann’s videos are peppered with ‘countless number of movements, vocalizations, words, phrases, and bizarre behaviours’ that he claims are tics caused by Tourette syndrome.

The only issue is that these tics are only stereotyped ‘mimics’ of symptoms that ‘lay people typically associate with Tourette syndrome’.

Yet Zimmermann’s atypical behaviour is being copied by teenagers in Germany, UK, US, Denmark, France, and Canada, making it an illness seemingly induced by the viewing of entertaining YouTube videos.

Flying sharks and stress relief

This is how the Hanover psychiatrists introduce the new illness:

Affected teenagers present with similar or identical functional “Tourette-like” behaviours, which can be clearly differentiated from tics in Tourette syndrome.

These teenagers basically start acting up when confronted with disfavoured tasks like schoolwork.

All patients presented with nearly identical movements and vocalizations that not only resemble Jan Zimmermann’s symptoms, but partly are exactly the same such as shouting the German words … “Du bist häßlich” (English: you are ugly), and “Fliegende Haie” (English: flying sharks) as well as bizarre and complex behaviours such as throwing pens at school and dishes at home, and crushing eggs in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, the Tourette-like behaviours mysteriously disappear when the teenagers are engaged in more pleasurable tasks. Like watching YouTube videos, maybe…

But why?

According to the Hanover psychiatrists, these behavioural tics are a response to societal stress:

They can be viewed as the 21th century expression of a culture-bound stress reaction of our post-modern society emphasizing the uniqueness of individuals and valuing their alleged exceptionality, thus promoting attention-seeking behaviours and aggravating the permanent identity crisis of modern man.

It’s weird. It’s REALITY.

You can read more about Petrov’s plans for Reality over on their Psychopolitica Substack.

These stories are all very interesting, but what’s the point?

Good question. This segment has two points. The first point is that I heard the news of both the Metaverse announcement and the new social media-induced functional Tourette syndrome contagion from non-traditional news sources.

This made me reflect on the stories we tell each other about current affairs (AKA ‘the news’).

I’ve chosen to trust these two writers with telling me their news stories and both arrived directly into my inbox. I’ve been subscribed to Psychopolitica for over a year now, whereas this was my first edition of Everything Is Amazing.

Mike Sowden’s story, about technology in the shadow of climate change, is a desperate appeal to fall in love with reality reality again — before it’s too late.

Broadly speaking, Nikita Petrov’s REALITY is a satire on newscasting, but the story he’s chosen to read is a dispassionate account of what can happen (functional Tourette syndrome) when we mistake artifice (the YouTube storytelling of Jan Zimmermann) for reality.

Stories — whether wittingly or unwittingly — teach us lessons and both of these are lessons worth learning and re-learning.

I’ve been following my no news diet for five years now and these are the questions I ask myself on the regular:

  • Who are you letting tell you the news? Are these active or passive choices? Signing up to the newsletter of a trusted writer: active. Listening to the 5-minute news segments that appear between songs on a radio station: passive.
  • What kind of stories are they telling? You can even pin down the genre: is this a horror story? A thriller? A rom-com? A tragedy? A farce?
  • What lessons are you learning? This might take some digging because, as Nikita Petrov shows us, the storytelling of journalism is often concealed behind a supposedly dispassionate delivery.
  • How do you feel afterwards? Do you feel empowered? Do you feel alienated?

That’s the first point of this segment. The second point is simply to say thank you for allowing me the privilege of telling you the news today.

Coconuts Versus The Climate Our government could make huge and rapid reductions to society’s environmental footprint that would dwarf the impact of whether you eat cow or oat milk.

As an eater of a primarily vegan diet, and with COP26 in the news, I thought it was time to address a challenge that is occasionally thrown down in my direction:

Does the impact of imported vegan alternatives outweigh the environmental benefits of not eating meat?

There many, many angles on this question and I’ll only consider a couple in any detail: food miles and water.

I’m more or less ignoring the significant effects of land use change (chopping down old growth forests to plant oil palm trees is really bad) as well as the use of pesticides and fertilisers (which does nasty things to ecosystems). But there we go. I can’t do everything.

Bear in mind, while reading this piece, the following comment from Joseph Poore, a researcher at the University of Oxford who studies the environmental impacts of food, speaking to the BBC in February:

Nothing really compares to beef, lamb, pork, and dairy – these products are in a league of their own in the level of damage they typically do to the environment, on almost every environmental issue we track.

Kiwis, lambs and apples

‘Coconuts!’ someone shouted at me last week. ‘Coconuts only grow in the tropics and have to be transported thousands of miles to get to your selfish vegan plate!’

I’m paraphrasing, but it does sound logical that exotic coconut oil (mmm) would have a higher carbon footprint than European alternatives like olive oil.

But it’s not necessarily true, as I’ll demonstrate with a story about lambs and apples.

A famous 2007 study found that lamb from New Zealand had a quarter of the carbon footprint of Welsh lamb, despite travelling 17,840km around the world to our shop shelves.

Obviously, lamb is of little interest to a vegan or even a vegetarian – but the study also found that British apples had carbon emissions almost 50 percent higher than their Kiwi counterparts.

This is so counter-intuitive that, to be honest, it hurts my brain.

An apple a day…

Digging deeper into the data, it turns out that the Kiwi advantage only holds if British eaters want apples all year round. (Which I suspect we do.)

The study authors report that the carbon cost of transporting apples around the world after harvest in the southern hemisphere is almost identical to the carbon cost of putting apples into cold storage for six months after the British harvest.

As well as seeing their local advantage wiped out, the British apples not only suffered from higher pesticide and fertiliser use, but a fuel efficiency per tonne that’s almost four times as profligate as apples from New Zealand.

This means that, even when British apples are in season, the difference in carbon footprint between apples from the two hemispheres is negligible. Astonishing.

Food miles might be an easy metric to measure a food’s environmental impact, but it’s not a very useful one. Local doesn’t necessarily mean better for the planet.

(It’s worth saying that the cited report is 14 years old and was published by a New Zealand university. You may also, of course, have considerations beyond environmental impact.)

But what if we’re talking about produce that doesn’t require storage in massive fridges for six months of the year? Surely then we’d be better off eating locally, wouldn’t we?

To answer that question, we’ll go back to our oily death match between the coconut and the olive.

Coconuts versus the climate

According to a 2014 study led by Peter Scarborough at Oxford University, the production of coconut oil creates less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of olive oil — and this data takes into account transportation from the tropics.

How can this be true?

Coconuts might come from far away, but – like lambs and apples – they’re transported here by sea, not by air.

That’s an important point because sea freight is so fuel efficient that the last hundred miles, by lorry from port to supermarket, can make up the largest contribution to a commodity’s transportation carbon emissions.

The good news is that almost all of our food is transported to Britain by sea. This is why, on average, transportation counts for only 11 percent of our food’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Great. That explains why coconut oil doesn’t come with a hefty carbon pricetag – but it doesn’t explain why olive oil is so bad.

What-a, wat-a, water surprise!

Olive groves, unlike coconut plantations, are incredibly thirsty places and all that water comes with a high carbon pricetag. Boom. That’s why olive oil is so bad compared to coconut oil.

But it’s not just the carbon cost of irrigation that’s makes a high water footprint bad for the environment.

Here in Britain, beef and milk are the main foodie contributors to our water footprint.

You might think that that’s not such a big deal – after all, we don’t seem to have much of a problem with our freshwater supply. I myself can bear soggy witness to another ample delivery only this morning.

But having healthy rainfall doesn’t mean that high beef and dairy consumption don’t cause problems with our water supply.

Pesticides, fertilisers, sewage, farmyard slurry and even waste products like dairy whey all easily find their way into our rivers, causing eutrophication – dangerously high levels of nutrients – that depletes the water of oxygen, suffocating fish and creating a dead zone inhospitable to life.

Fooled by paddy fields

On the other hand, some countries do have a real problem with their supply of freshwater and the effects of climate change are only going to make this worse, leading to desertification if we’re not careful.

This means we should be mindful about the water footprint of the food that we import. Vegans should watch out for olive oil, coffee and chocolate from arid countries.

Surprisingly, rice only sucks up about the same amount of water as wheat. Don’t be fooled by all those sloppy paddy fields.

Nuts typically use a lot of water, but they’re not all completely awful. Almonds and cashews should probably be avoided – especially from regions like California that are suffering from extreme drought.

Shelled nuts are a lot worse with water than unshelled nuts — but who buys unshelled nuts? Chestnuts are great.

Time for a little perspective: in terms of litres per kilocalorie, nuts aren’t much worse than chicken, better than lamb or goat meat and much better than beef.

No, you’re nuts

In fact, nuts often have a carbon negative impact on the atmosphere for the obvious-when-you-think-about-it reason that THEY’RE TREES.

Favour peanuts (AKA groundnuts) and hazelnuts over almonds and pistachios. ‘Pastes’ are more carbon intensive than their wholefood parents, but peanut ‘paste’ is still lighter on the carbon than raw almonds.

Peanuts are also lighter on the water supply. And higher in protein. If you want to slightly reduce your impression, then buy in bulk and make your own peanut butter.

It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that almonds are still a less water-intensive source of protein and calcium than olives, oats and rice.

Above: The carbon footprint of hazelnut, peanut, pistachio and almond products, including packaging, processing and transportation. Volpe et al (2015)

Or you could simply pick your own acorns. It’s a mast year, after all.

Yeah, but what does all this mean?

When it comes to considering carbon emissions caused by transportation, the only thing we need to worry about is whether our food is transported by air.

For someone living in the UK, a kilo of fresh asparagus from Peru has a higher carbon footprint than a kilo of chicken or pork. Yowzas.

Check your food labels, but a decent rule of thumb is to avoid fresh greens and soft fruit grown abroad.

If asparagus and raspberries are in season in Britain, then fill your boots. If they’re not: don’t eat them — or buy them in season and store them in your freezer.

In terms of your water footprint, vegans could dial down on the almond and cashews and maybe switch out the coffee and chocolate. Substitute with peanuts, tea and, er, locally foraged liberty cap psilocybe mushrooms?

I leave you by once again repeating the words of Joseph Poore, speaking to the BBC in February:

Nothing really compares to beef, lamb, pork, and dairy – these products are in a league of their own in the level of damage they typically do to the environment, on almost every environmental issue we track.

That whooshing noise All of the people feel scarcity some of the time, but some of the people feel scarcity all of the time. Understanding the psychology of scarcity enables a leap of empathy.

Deadlines are great. They’re the reason why I’ve sent this email every week for the past six years. They’re the reason why, at the halfway mark, I’d only bagged 28 of my 100 Days of Adventure — four months later, with time running out, I’m on 81.

Deadlines are the reason why Beth and I have written an Edinburgh show and four series of radio comedy — and the reason why the beginning of our writing process is so expansive and the final weeks so intense.

Deadlines are great because they generate a scarcity, in this case, of time. Humans respond to scarcity with hyperfocus. When you’re trying to complete a project, this hyperfocus is really useful.

(Unless you’re Douglas Adams: ‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’)

When good deadlines go bad

But hyperfocus comes at a heavy cost. Under conditions of scarcity, we enter a single-minded tunnel that excludes everything outside our immediate goal.

In the blinding heat of those final weeks before a deadline, we get the work done, we get the script finished — but when we come up for air and our tunnel vision fades away, we realise that we’ve neglected our diet, sleep, exercise, electricity bills, friends, family and houseplants.

Basically, everything that isn’t scriptwriting goes to shit.

And this isn’t just the experience of a hapless scriptwriter; this is a replicable scientific observation.

According to research collected in a clever book written by clever people, human brains work less well when they sense a lack of something, whether that’s time, money, food or friendship.

That clever book is called Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, written by two clever people: psychologist Eldar Shafir and economist Sendhil Mullainathan.

In an interview with the American Psychological Association, Shafir explains that the pair started out with the assumption that the money-poor were neither perfectly rational economists (none of us are) nor that they are uniquely afflicted by stupidity, loose morals and myopic planning (that’s all of us).

They believed there was something else going on…

Over time, we started getting more data and observing cases where the poor seemed to be making more extreme errors than those with greater means. That gradually led us to the idea that there’s a very particular psychology that emerges when we don’t have enough and that this psychology leads to very bad outcomes.

Very particular psychology

Just like busy people under deadline start to neglect their houseplants (I’m so sorry!), people who are money-poor become hyperfocussed on their economic situation and start to neglect the spheres of life that float outside their tunnelled vision.

The stark difference is that my deadline will come and go, but it’s much, much harder to get out of poverty.

This matters — a lot — because, according to the research, the cognitive penalty of living with a scarcity mindset is a temporary penalty of ten IQ points. Ouch.

All of the people feel scarcity some of the time, but some of the people feel scarcity all or most of the time. Understanding the particular psychology of scarcity is slightly terrifying, but it also enables a leap of empathy.

As Shafir says:

What’s most striking is that these findings make a very strong case for the idea that people who look very bad in conditions of scarcity are just as capable as the rest of us when scarcity does not impose itself on their minds.

So the next time someone says or does something stupid, maybe ask if they’re worried about paying a parking fine or meeting a deadline.

Cut them some slack.

Exploiting scarcity with my 100 Days of Adventure experiment





I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this year’s 100 Days of Adventure experiment: 81 days and counting.

I’m already well past the 67 Days of Adventure of last year and, thanks to the self-imposed scarcity of the deadline, I feel genuinely motivated to somehow wring another nineteen Days of Adventure from the dirty dishcloth of 2021.

Bearing in mind that I’d only managed to collect a quarter of the adventures by the end of June, I think I’m doing bloody well.

I could find excuses for the slow start — a lockdown, winter weather — but the same thing probably would have happened under any conditions. That’s how deadlines work: we fritter away our time during periods of abundance and only when time is running out do we knuckle down and commit to completing the project.

One solution to the last minute panic effect could be to make the deadlines come around quicker. Rather than giving myself a year-long deadline, I could work in seasons of three months each, perhaps aiming for 40 Days of X.

This is actually a much stiffer target (160 days over a year), but with more regular deadlines I will be held more closely accountable. There’ll still be last minute panic, but the panic will be less daunting. Maybe.

Whatever I end up doing, I’ll definitely be reporting my progress in this newsletter. Having a public forum of accountability is almost as good as having a deadline!


There are only seventy days left in 2021. Cast your mind back to January. What did you have planned for this year that you haven’t finished yet?

Time is running out.

Get on it.

In Cardiff with Camus It wouldn’t take too many mountain reps for Sisyphus to realise he is being pranked by the gods. Knowledge of his eternal fate matures into acceptance and becomes a source of joy. Maybe?

It’s been a busy first week here in Cardiff. Mushroom-picking, market-hopping, Greek-nighting, poker-dealing, date-walking, theatre-laughing, frisbee-throwing and, of course, play-writing. I might have ended up lying in bed with a pulled hamstring, but it’s been a well-worthwhile week of most living.

Camus would be proud.

In The Myth of Sisyphus (a shortish treatise that I’ve written about before), Albert Camus wrote:

what counts is not the best living but the most living

As an absurdist, Camus found it impossible to pin down a single ‘correct’ way to live. To summarise his philosophy:

  1. Humans like us are desperate to find meaning in our lives, to give us a clear direction, to tell us the right thing to do.
  2. Unfortunately, the Universe doesn’t give a shit. There is no ‘right thing’ to do with our lives. No right and no wrong. Else how could the supposedly ‘best lived’ lives of the ancient Greeks (think the honourable blood-feuds of Achilles) follow a code of living so starkly different to the code followed by the supposedly ‘best lived’ lives of today (think the rapacious avarice of Jeff Bezos)?
  3. Without rules, life, therefore, is absurd. So, rather than struggle with the wretched task of perfecting our ‘best lives’, the logical response to existence is to pack our brief conscious flowering with as much experience as possible. Ergo: choose most living over best living.

Camus uses the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus to illustrate the logic of absurdity.

According to legend, Sisyphus had a persistent habit of irritating the gods. After escaping the Underworld not once but twice, Sisyphus was eventually brought to justice and sentenced to spend eternity pushing a heavy boulder up a steep mountain.

Shortly before Sisyphus reaches the summit, however, the enchanted boulder slips from his grasp and rolls right back down to the bottom, where the whole charade resets and resumes. Forever and ever. If the myth is to be believed, Sisyphus is still out there today, shoulder to boulder.

In terms of frustratingly thankless tasks, Sisyphus’ punishment is right up there with discussing historiography with a Mormon elder, but Camus had a different take.

Camus argues that it wouldn’t take too many mountain reps for Sisyphus to realise he is being pranked by the gods. Knowledge of his eternal fate matures into acceptance and, far from being a source of despair, Sisyphus’ acceptance of the absurdity of his unique struggle becomes meaningful.

Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory.

Human life, for Camus, is as absurd as Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity. Once we accept that inherent absurdity, our struggles are no longer so desperate. They can become joyful.

The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

You might think that this is a bit extreme, but Camus’s theoretical musings are paralleled in the couldn’t-be-more-practical experience of Holocaust-surviving psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

In Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl writes:

If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. … The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails … gives him ample opportunity … to add a deeper meaning to his life.

Of course, acceptance of the struggle is only the beginning. Atop this foundation, both Camus and Frankl build the possibility for lives rich in more traditional human virtues, such as creativity, love and frisbee.

But such most living begins with the acceptance of the absurdity of best living, so let’s join Sisyphus at the bottom of the mountain, put shoulder to boulder, and laugh.

They need us more than we need them Cars are needy little creeps, aren’t they?

Cars are needy little creeps, aren’t they?

I was feeling pretty good that I hadn’t needed to use mine for a Vernian eighty days and got a wonderful cosy feeling when, on clunk-clicking the door on Wednesday morning, I found the interior covered in cobwebs.

But the Corollavirus didn’t feel the same. He wouldn’t start. So, for the second time since I took ownership six months ago, I had to call out the breakdown mechanics because I hadn’t been using up enough fossil fuels to keep the vehicle functioning.


Luckily, the mechanic sorted me out within half an hour and I managed to get to the Chilterns for the above-mentioned work.

But then I had the temerity to drive home. At night. With the headlights on. Ever since, the battery has given me not a flicker.

Somebody told me that I need a trickle charger. But I suspect a better solution would be to sell the car…

The Parisian adjunct mayor for transportation and public space seems pretty rad:

The redistribution of public space is a policy of social redistribution.

Fifty percent of public space is occupied by private cars, which are used mostly by the richest, and mostly by men, because it’s mostly men who drive, and so in total, the richest men are using half the public space.

So if we give the space to walking, biking, and public transit, you give back public space to the categories of people who today are deprived.


And, if I drove in Barcelona, maybe I could trade the Corollavirus in for a bus ticket.


PPF3: Grey-sky thinking PPF3 is an awful acronym that stands for Past, Present, Future and Far Future

While walking the Jurassic Coast last weekend, I had an idea for how to think about sharing our lives with others.

Introducing PPF3!

PPF3 is an awful acronym that stands for Past, Present, Future and Far Future. The idea is simply to exchange with your interlocutor one meaningful memory, moment, occurrence, coincidence, problem, hope, fear, ambition, dream, day-dream or impossible dream from each of these time periods.

In doing so, I think we’d learn a lot about what’s really important to each other. Maybe in ways that wouldn’t come out in normal conversation.

Here’s something I might share:

  • PAST: It’s amazing to remember that I once cycled over four thousand miles around the whole of Britain. It feels like I’ve seen everything—and nothing.
  • PRESENT: I’m really lucky that I get paid for hiking around the countryside with funny/interesting/weird young people. Facilitating those encounters between human and nature feels like worthwhile work. The problem is how to extend this to schools who can’t afford to hire the company I work for.
  • FUTURE: One day, I’d like to run free outdoor experiences (hiking? cycling? running? camping? firelighting?!) for people typically excluded from the outdoors. Given my background, refugees would be an obvious starting point.
  • FAR FUTURE: I’d like to be involved in a project that finally bans cars from town centres and plants forests over all the concrete car parks.

How about you?

Invisible Women // Caroline Criado Perez Exposing data bias in a world designed for men

Although Invisible Women supplies women with an enormous cache of ammunition to use to fight for justice at home and at work, the people who really need this book are men.

I say this after a conversation about the book with a female friend who said that she found the book rather repetitive: each chapter—excellent in isolation—drills home the same central idea over and over and over again: that there is a systematic gender data gap that not only inconveniences women, but actually kills them.

I observed that repetition into submission is exactly what men will need before they’ll get the message.

I imagine that a lot of women will find Perez’s barrage of statistics tremendously validating, but I don’t think many women will be surprised to learn that, globally, females do twice the unpaid childcare work and four times the unpaid housework compared to their male counterparts.

Nor will it comes as a surprise to women that this unpaid care work, irrefutably essential for the smooth running of society, is not accounted for when designing transport systems, workplaces and public services. Bus routes that don’t connect the places women need to go, insufficient and poorly paid care leave, a tax regime that penalises women’s economic activity.

None of this will come as a surprise to any human woman—and that’s kind of the point of the book.

The gender data gap is there because fifty percent of data isn’t collected and fifty percent of stories aren’t told. The pervasive ‘default male’ approach scientific research, product design, news media and the arts means that, most often, women simply aren’t consulted.

I could rant on, but I’ll leave you with one powerful contrast that nimbly demonstrates the yawning gap between women’s experience and the design of our societies.

‘Staring, touching, groping, ejaculation, exposing genitalia and full rape’: women get sexually harassed on public transport. A lot. A 2016 survey of 6,000 French women found that 90 percent had been victims of sexual harassment while travelling on public transport.

From conversations with female friends, I knew that men had a serious problem with sexual violence on public transport, but I had never truly grasped the extent of our problem. I’m beginning to now.

The powerful contrast that Perez draws is this: although I’m better informed about sexual violence against women on public transport, I still have no idea how to go about reporting this criminal behaviour. For a violation so serious and affecting so many people, I have never once seen any public information posters or heard any announcements telling victims and witnesses what to do.

This lack of clear information goes part way to explaining why, according to Transport for London’s estimates, ‘90% of unwanted sexual behaviour on London transport goes unreported’.

On the other hand, as Perez points out:

Most authorities seem to have managed to install clear signage about what to do in the event of spotting a suspicious package.

In the case of the UK’s ‘See it, say it, sort it’ anti-terrorism campaign, with its frequent loud announcements at every train station and on every train, it’s almost impossible to evade knowledge of what to do.

I would love to compare the number of victims of sexual violence with the number of victims of terrorist attacks on public transport over the past ten years. But I can’t because one of those statistics only affects women and thus isn’t properly collected.

Rather than terrifying the populace about the occasional abandoned backpack, our society would be much better served by public information campaigns that aim to eliminate the constant daily abuse suffered by half our population.

Tonight is World Book Night. Men: do yourself a favour and buy Invisible Women.


Thanks to G.C. and N.C. for the inspiration.

A World Without Email? It took only a week to lose the potential productivity gains of email

I took far too many books away with me this week, including three about the people and places of Dartmoor—but I only read one: Cal Newport’s A World Without Email.

Newport’s provocation was supported, not only by numerous case studies of organisations that have eliminated email, but also by psychology research and, most interestingly for me, history.

I was startled, for example, by the discovery that email overwhelm and inbox bankruptcy wasn’t merely latent in the system, but already evident from the very beginning, as this anecdote from the book shows.

When Adrian Stone implemented the new email network at IBM in the 1980s, he carefully estimated the number of emails that the server would need to handle, based on the number of telephone and paper messages that were passed between IBM employees on a typical working day.

Email was seen as a significant leap in efficiency for the company, removing the logistical complications of both synchronous communication (pinning someone down for a phone call or meeting) and asynchronous communication (delivering a pen and paper message).

Unfortunately, as the cost of communication dropped to zero, the number of messages the employees exchanged shot up and, within a few days, they’d blown the email server with the superfluous cc’ing of colleagues into endless back-and-forth email threads. Sound familiar?

As Stone puts it:

Thus—in a mere week or so—was gained and blown the potential productivity gain of email.

When IBM discovered this fundamental flaw with email, of course, they abandoned the experiment and everyone went back to communicating face-to-face, person-to-person in the old, slow, productive fashion. Oh, no, wait…

Luckily, in the second half of A World Without Email, Newport suggests alternative workflows that don’t provoke the misery-inducing ‘hyperactive hive mind’ of email and instant messaging.

I’m conscious of the irony of recommending this book in an email newsletter, so—before you unsubscribe—it’s worth saying that the title of Newport’s book is, by his own admission, more marketing hype than practical proposal.

Email still has a (drastically limited) role to play as a versatile, snappy, cheap tool for asynchronous communication. Inspired by the Reach Out Party, if I could declare one inviolable rule for every email interaction, it would be this:

Make your recipient’s inbox a better place to hang out.

Abnormalising, adulting and The Corollavirus Coming to terms with car ownership in an age of carbon crisis

The last three months have been.

And gone.

The last lockdown in England neatly followed the passing of the financial year, so I thought I would look back and share a little of what happened with Dave in the final quarter of 20/21.


In the last three months, I spent about 50 hours less on my mobile phone than I did the preceding quarter. I also managed to read more, meditate more, do more yoga and a lot more press ups—3,049 more, to be precise.

I spoke to almost exactly the same number of friends at a rate of 2.7 per day. But I also visited 4,000 more unique web pages and spent 90 more hours staring at my computer screen: a whole hour per day more. Urgh.

Looking back over my diary, since the turn of the year, I have played (and lost) ten games of online poker and learned how to skateboard (badly). I also started a new job with Thighs of Steel and said goodbye to Foiled on BBC Radio Wales.

I made three new friends, one I met hula-hooping in the woods, another is the youngest woman to have cycled around the world. I have reached out to twenty-one people and have received some amazing responses.

I volunteered for half a dozen marshalling sessions at my local vaccination centre and am now waiting for my second jab. I learned how to drive a golf buggy.

I’ve been really tired. I got a load of blood tests. A lot of people I speak to have been really tired too. Something’s going around; something I hope will lift with the lifting of restrictions. I feel more alert when I can see over the horizon.

I put up some bunk beds and bought a secondhand car. It’s a Toyota Corolla: see if you can guess its name…

The Corollavirus

I feel bad about the car, actually.

(Side note: I’m not saying that you should feel bad about the car just because I do. We all make deals to get through life. Your deal is your business.)

Until this year, the balance for me was always against owning a car.

They are expensive to buy and expensive to maintain. They pollute the air we breathe and cause direct harm to landscapes around the world. They are bulky possessions and are an eyesore on the driveway. They can, and frequently do, kill and maim.

It’s ironic, then, that the balance was tipped this year in favour of car ownership by—of all things—my new job as an outdoor instructor.

This job involves getting around fairly remote places and depends on ninety percent of instructors having vehicles to shuttle between campsite and trailhead, or pursue errant schoolkids across the countryside.

(Side note: Even somewhere as suburban as Bracknell Forest counts as ‘fairly remote’—the quickest route by public transport from where I live takes 3 hours 47 minutes and involves two buses and three trains—plus an overnight stay if I want to get there for an 8am start. For comparison, from flat to forest, the drive takes less than 90 minutes by car.)

Depressingly, in this particular job, promoting the unpolluted wonders of nature is only possible with possession of a polluting car.

‘Possession’, really, Dave? Yeah. I borrowed my parents’ car for the expeditions I led last year—saving me from the burden of ownership, but fruitlessly adding a couple of train journeys to the carbon footprint of my work.


As a secondhand petrol car owner, I want to be the best secondhand petrol car owner imaginable.

I don’t want to normalise my car ownership. I don’t want to forget that every time I use a car I am striking a deal: my personal convenience (including valuable things like time, opportunity and money) on one side and the environment we share on the other.

(Side note: You might think I’m being unnecessarily severe on myself. As someone who doesn’t fly and who eats little to no dairy or meat, my carbon footprint is lower than the average EU citizen’s. But I can’t dodge the fact that my carbon footprint is rising at a time when everyone else’s is falling. Not a good look.)

To that end, I’m recording each of my car journeys, noting details like mileage and carbon emissions, and reviewing them every week, in the same way that I monitor my finances, my conversations with friends and the number of press ups I complete. These numbers tell me, unequivocally, whether I am the person I like to think I am.

So far, over the course of seven car journeys and 763 miles, I have racked up a 165kg carbon debt compared to taking the same journeys by public transport. (Yes, I exclude from the public transport carbon estimate those journeys I would never have made had I not owned a car.)

But what the heck is 165kg of carbon? Let’s make this real: it’s the average annual carbon sequestration of six or seven mature trees. Six or seven trees. I can picture them. In fact, I have pictured them:

Seven mature trees, West Cliff

(Side note: I’ve been surprised that public transport isn’t as expensive as I’d always assumed. The petrol cost of driving has so far hovered around 75-85 percent of the train fares I could have bought. Of course: that is still scandalous, but it’s not as extreme as I thought.)


Perhaps one definition of adulthood is taking responsibility for tough decisions and living with the consequential reality.

As a lapsed historian, I’m well aware that, in my part of the world, my generation has had it easy with tough decisions up to now. Go back a generation or twelve and adults like us were expected to make properly tough decisions:

  • Hey honey, wanna try for another kiddo and risk killing you in childbirth?
  • I’m rather parched from a long day slopping out chamberpots for my lord and master, but I’m also not totally convinced that this Medieval water supply is safe.
  • In Napoleonic warfare, it’s very much blunderbuss or be blunderbussed and—I do declare!—this handsome young French soldier is raising his weapon…

(Side note: I feel like the pandemic has been an exercise in tough decisions: at what point is the risk of transmitting the disease to others outweighed by our personal desire for toilet roll? Many of us haven’t had much practice with such properly tough decisions and the heaviness of day-to-day life has taken its toll.)

But what excites me about adulthood is what comes immediately before we take our tough decision: our imagination. Every tough decision is an act of imagination. Right before we decide, we visualise based our past experience (and usually a huge dollop of misguided optimism). What might our future be like under Scenarios A, B and C?

Owning a car enables a future where I can work as an outdoor leader and help introduce others to the natural world I cherish. But it’s not the only future I can imagine. It’s just Scenario A. Imagining Scenarios B and C are the exciting part.

The onus is on me to imagine a carbon-free scenario for my outdoor work, to take responsibility for making that future a reality—and to acknowledge with grace the incongruous unease I feel during this intermediate transition.

This has been quite a serious article so I’d like to end with some optimistic news.

Between 2005 and 2019, the United Kingdom reduced its territorial emissions by 37 percent, while increasing its GDP by 21 percent.

From Absolute Decoupling of Economic Growth and Emissions in 32 Countries on

You can argue about whether this counts as ‘decoupling’—where are China and India on that chart?—but you can’t argue that it looks optimistic.

p.s.: If you enjoyed seeing the UK performing well on a chart for once, then you’ll also enjoy the latest Greenness of Stimulus Index.

Reach Out Party! Adventures in networking

Yesterday, at exactly 14:27, I sent an email to Alee Denham at CyclingAbout to say thank you for his articles about bicycle aerodynamics and touring weight. The internet is ram-packed with incredible writing that helps me make thousands of daily decisions and occasionally changes the course of my life. It felt good to say thank you.

For the past three weeks, at exactly 14:27 every work day, I have been privileged to be a part of the Reach Out Party, a Zoom room of people encouraging each other to send little gifts to friends, colleagues and total strangers. Total strangers like Alee Denham.

It might not sound particularly exciting, but there is real magic in knowing that almost everyone on planet earth—from your auntie Jean to your head of state—is only an email away.

  • What one question would you ask your first primary school teacher?
  • What is the greatest piece of advice football megastar Megan Rapinoe ever heard?
  • What is the one book that David Attenborough would bury in a time capsule for future generations?

Thanks to email (and social media, the telephone, postal service, etc.), we can—we really can—ask burning questions of the people we most admire. They might not reply, but that’s why the Reach Out Party is based primarily around the idea of giving gifts.

Our email inboxes are frequently little more than ‘a to do list that anyone can add to’, so Molly Beck and Carly Valancy, founders of the Reach Out Party, suggest we premise our reach outs on the following question:

How can I make so-and-so’s inbox a better place?

We have the power to make each other’s inboxes healthier, happier places: let’s use that power.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve sent emails to all kinds of people. As well as thanking Alee Denham, George Monbiot, Lisa Feldman Barrett and Andy Zaltzman, I’ve also emailed and messaged friends, particularly friends I haven’t heard from in a while.

My favourite response so far was actually my first ever reach out. I emailed Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, thanking her for the influence her book had on my career swerve towards outdoor work.

A few hours after sending the email, Florence replied—she replied!—saying that my email had made her day—had made her day!

Although most of these ‘cool reach outs’ to strangers haven’t had a reply (yet!), the past few weeks have shown me that a day with a reach out is better than a day without a reach out. It’s as simple as that.

Rather than typing words with my fingers, I made this video about my reach out experiences during week one of the Party. Enjoy!

You don’t get paid for sitting around all day, you get paid for doing dirty work

Or: Wages ~ immorality: Stating the obvious, part XVI

It’s hard to tell how much statistical cherry-picking has gone on here, but this is still probably the second greatest graph I have ever seen in my life:

The graph is taken from an economics paper published last year that found, predictably enough, that most people have to be paid more to do work that is perceived as being immoral. A finding that is simultaneously heartening (that they do) and depressing (that they still do the work).

In another victory for stating the obvious, the researchers also found that corporate sociopaths were more likely to work in sociopathic corporations. From the abstract:

We also measure individuals’ aversion to performing immoral acts and show that those who find immoral behaviour least aversive are more likely to be employed in immoral work.

If there is a take-home message for those of us more generally averse to immoral behaviour, perhaps it is this: frowning and tutting isn’t enough.


ps: Still the greatest graph I ever seen, take a bow, David Nutt. As referenced in my articles on The Science of Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience and Everything we know about psychedelics is wrong.

The Art of Skateboarding Mild cognitive impairment and the beginner’s mind

Last weekend, I did a marathon. Not all in one go—that would be such hard work—but I did cover 46 kilometers in the 48 hours I granted myself as time off. (Don’t ask me off what?)

There wasn’t any good reason for the Weekend Marathon, aside from a desperate need to spend some time outside the box, doing something active, something new that stands half a chance of standing out in the time swamp.

That’s the same reason why I’m going to cut my own hair later tonight: something needs to change around here and I’ve already reorganised my spice rack.

You see, yesterday marked a year since a remarkable night on Merseyside, when Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League by Athletico Madrid.

It was remarkable not because of the astonishing number of shots missed by the Reds (32), but because of the 52,267 people crammed into Anfield, including thousands from Madrid only two days before the Spanish government declared a national State of Alarm over this thing we rather quaintly called Wuhan Novel Coronavirus.

The UK government would fatally wait ten days longer to annouce our own lockdown, but I’m not concerned here with their incompetence. I’m concerned with the state of your brain. In the UK, for most of us, it’s a year since our brains were challenged with the everyday normality of negotiating the world.

A year of ‘mild cognitive impairment’

It’s easy to forget how much our brains need normality. It’s easy to forget how much our brains get out of navigating street traffic on the walk to work. It’s easy to forget how much exercise our brains get in awkward social situations. Heck—it’s straight-up easy to forget.

A year on, don’t you feel like you’re ‘walking around with mild cognitive impairment’?

I know I do.

That’s why we’ve spent lockdown frantically picking up new hobbies and hurling ourselves into pointless challenges like my weekend marathon, right? As neuroscientist Mike Yassa says:

Based on everything we know about the brain, two of the things that are really good for it are physical activity and novelty.

Everyone’s a runner now and everyone’s got their lockdown thing: knitting, veganism, family history, ukelele, cryptocurrency, kimchi, drawing, baby-making, gardening, podcasting, online poker, online yoga, online dating, online anything, please god, no more online anything.

Whatever you’ve got into over the past year, it’s given you a chance to tap into the beginner’s mind: that healthy headspace where you give yourself permission to fail hard and learn hasty.

And there is no hastier fail curve than slamming your body onto concrete and taking pratfalls in public. I’m talking, of course, about the art of skateboarding.

Skate at 38

You may say that 38 is too old to learn how to skateboard. You may say that my sense of equilibrium is shot, that my bones are too fragile and my courage too frail. And you would be right. But no one forgets a bruise: they are an excellent way of marking the time to unlockdown.

My skateboard came from the back of a cupboard in Dulwich, a relic of flatmates long-gone. When I took it to a skateshop in Boscombe last weekend, the shopkeeper nodded: whoever had owned the board knew how to skate. The nose, the tail beat up in memory of far-off skateparks, the trucks scarred from years of railing.

Time hadn’t been good to the bearings: the wheels barely turned. That wasn’t a bad thing for a beginner, who could never build up enough speed to fall too hard. But I got them replaced anyway, and bought some fatter wheels to give much-needed stability.

Since then, I’ve been skating most days, including a fair few kilometers of that weekend marathon. The slips and falls have become notably less frequent and I’ve started learning to ollie in my kitchen, as I wait for the kettle to boil. (Progress so far: I can almost balance with both feet and all four wheels on the floor.)

Learning in public

Skating is perhaps unique in its possibilities for public embarrassment. Thanks to its well-known California-inspired subculture, people expect skaters to look cool. The British, however, have a highly developed sense of hubris and I suspect most people secretly hope to see something spectacular and exceedingly uncool.

I am usually happy to oblige. It’s okay, I tell myself as I admire once again the sheer speed at which my board can disappear from beneath me, I am Learning In Public.

As well as publicly learning how to fall spectacularly (tip: buy wrist guards), I have also learned how to get the board moving, how to ‘carve’ around gentle corners and obvious obstacles, how to stop without always throwing myself into the undergrowth and how to annoy dogs (that one’s easy: skate). I am yet to learn how to stop crapping myself on even the gentlest of downhills.

Why am I telling you all this? Simply in the hope that it encourages you with the small idea that, even in these slumbrous hours of late-stage pandemic survival, the beginner’s mind can lift our spirits, make our days stand out on stalks, and help lockdown leave its mark in a good way. And also in a bruises way. Rad!

What me and my body learned from 324 days of isolation veganism—including blood tests

Does veganism make you anaemic? Boost your testosterone? Make you B12 deficient? Lower your cholesterol?

It’s been almost a year since I decided to give veganism a try, so last week I bought myself a late Christmas present: a battery of blood tests covering 58 different biomarkers. Not everyone’s idea of fun, but, as a self-confessed data freak, definitely one of mine.

If you’ve ever been curious about what veganism does to an otherwise healthy 38 year old male with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, then, boy, are you in for a treat!

Step One: Finding dietary deficiencies

For the two weeks leading up to my blood tests, I also tracked my diet using a web app called Cronometer. It’s got a huge database of different foodstuffs—yes, including maca powder and pea protein—and you can create your own recipes. As easy as it is to use, however, I really can’t be bothered to do it for more than two weeks.

This is what I learned about my current vegan diet.

Don’t be shy to add protein

Without the meat-eaters carnal reflex, vegans can get distracted by the delicious rainbow of vegetables and end up eating less protein than they need. This was something a perspicacious friend noticed after my diet swerved to consist of nothing but incredible curries from Meera Sodha’s Fresh India.

In response to the data, I’m now drinking the odd protein smoothie for breakfast, particularly on days when I do press ups and kettlebell swings. Depending on the exact recipe, that gives me at least 45g of protein before I’ve even started the day.

Tofu and tempeh, beans and lentils are other popular vegan sources of protein and easily added to any recipe that’s otherwise missing that particular macronutrient. Other easy tweaks include exchanging white rice for British quinoa and preparing a 100g bowl of nuts and seeds to graze on through the day.

It’s worth noting that these vegan sources of protein cost 2-5p per gram of protein, a similar range as meat proteins (beef mince costs 2p/g; chicken breast 3p/g; beef steak 5p/g). Tempeh can cost a little more—my source is 7p per gram—but it’s delicious so I’m happy with that.

I have also dabbled with textured vegetable protein (TVP) and even defatted peanut flour—both much tastier than they sound and both excellent value for money at only 1p per gram of protein.

Eat these superfoods every day

One very cool thing about Cronometer is that it gives you a breakdown of where you’re getting your various nutrients from. That means you can easily discover your own personal superfoods: those foods that you should eat every day to make sure you’re getting the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals without having to resort to supplements.

For me, tahina is a superfood. It’s high in Omega-6, iron, saturated fats, vitamin B1, calcium, selenium, manganese and zinc, as well as protein. Plus it’s easy to hide in a meal or spread on toast or tortillas.

Flax, chia and hemp seeds are also superfoods for me. They’re high in Omega-3, vitamin K, manganese, zinc, selenium, magnesium, iron, vitamin B1, as well as protein. I can mix 15-20g of each into my morning oats or into a protein smoothie. Seeds are also a big part of my Bread of Life recipe.

A colourful daily salad is also a superfood, made up of vitamin-rich yellow, red and green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, okra). However: a daily salad is also a bit of a faff. If it’s too much of a faff (and recently I confess it has been) then I can downgrade this to an emergency carrot, which makes sure I get enough vitamin A so that I can see in the dark.

Another red flag in my Cronometer data is calcium. On only one day in the past fortnight have I managed to hit 100 percent of my recommended daily allowance. That was Pancake Day because I used a fortified oat milk to fuel my flipping overdose. I really should be eating green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and okra every day. Or, when I’m thrill-seeking, dried figs.

Dr Greger’s savoury blend of ten different spices is also worth a mention in the superfoods column. One teaspoon offers a neat little dose of B vitamins, vitamin K and zinc—and will bring the zing to any lifeless snack.

Finally: nuts. A wee bowl of mixed nuts is fabulous for B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc and the full spread of amino acids. Brazil nuts deserve a special shout out for giving me all the selenium I could ever dream of, as well as a dose of that easily-overlooked calcium.

Vitamin supplements

As a vegan, the Cronometer data confirmed that I must supplement with Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. Simple as that. I also take a daily multivitamin, which covers all bases, just in case.

More interestingly, I have also been taking a creatine supplement of about 3-5g per day. Creatine is an amino acid found only in meat muscle and is great for intense exercise and building testosterone.

Step Two: What does the blood say?

Now comes the part you’ve all been waiting for: the results of those 58 blood tests.

Drum roll, please… Ta-dah!

No diabetes, no gout!

I don’t want to blind you with data, so here’s a very brief summary of what the blood told me:

  1. I’ve been ill recently: my immune system was stressed.
  2. I have a thyroid autoimmune disease. Nice to know that the NHS hasn’t been gaslighting me all these years.
  3. Otherwise: all good! That is to say: the remaining 56 biomarkers were all within the normal range.

It turns out that, after almost a year of veganism, I have a healthy liver and kidneys, healthy levels of inflammation, protein and vitamin D. My cholesterol profile is ‘excellent’ and I don’t have diabetes or gout. My homones, including testosterone, are also completely fine.

Side story: Normal testosterone reference levels are different between the UK and the US. Apparently, testosterone has been falling in men for decades and, rather than untangle the environmental factors that may be behind this—stress, noise, pollution, antibiotics—medical scientists have instead been revising down their definition of ‘normal’. This is called shifting baseline syndrome and is also the reason why, as generation cedes to generation, we have been gradually downgrading our expectation of the number of songbirds in our garden. For example.

However: the doctor who interpreted the tests for me did mention that my B12 levels were on the low side. He recommended that I take a further test to check for any underlying problems, such as pernicious anaemia, which is fairly common in patients with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Then, when I shared my results on a semi-reputable Hashimoto’s internet forum, someone stepped in to tell me that my iron levels were also pretty low for a man. Apparently, people with autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s can have trouble absorbing nutrients like B12 and iron. All the more reason to stuff down that kale.

Step Three: What about my day-to-day feels?

It’s all very well analysing dietary and blood data, but what about my day-to-day feels?

Obviously, the past year has been WEIRD. Pandemic isolation was one of the main logistical reasons why I was able to make the leap to veganism in the first place, but the accompanying onslaught of weirdness is also a confounding factor when trying to decide whether I’ve felt stronger in mind and body since changing my diet.

Bearing that in mind, in short, I don’t think I feel any different. I don’t feel awful, but nor do I feel superhuman. And I think I’m still just as much of a hypochondriac as I was before—you can imagine my delight when I saw that the blood tests supported my assertion that I’ve been feeling run down over the past few months.

One thing that has definitely been a huge improvement since going vegan is how much more fun I’m having in the kitchen. As I mentioned earlier, the gift of recipe book Fresh India pretty much changed my eating life. I’ve also really got into baking bread, including tortillas and naans. Veganism has helped me enjoy making an effort—even when that effort is waiting three weeks for kimchi that would last only a weekend.

However, I’m not the only person in the world who has, over the past year, been forced to familiarise themselves with the interior life of hearth and home. If it wasn’t for my whimsical experiment with isolation veganism, would I perhaps be writing to you today about the wonders of knitting? We will never know. But it’s lunchtime now and I’ve got a loaf in the oven—bon appétit!


I have decided to experiment with a dietary change even more radical than eating more kale. Yesterday, I bought and ate 90g of Dorset lamb liver. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: yuck. Also: that’s not vegan. Both excellent observations.

The problem is that there are no wholefood vegan sources of B12. All vegans can do is eat supplements, either in pill-form or in fortified processed food. Even then, I’d need to eat 31 teaspoons of B12-enriched yeast flakes or an entire jar of Marmite to match what I’d get from one serving of liver.

Lamb liver is extraordinarily high in B12 and iron. According to Cronometer, that one portion of lamb liver gave me 2,868 percent of my daily allowance of B12, as well as 93 percent of my iron. Take that, poor absorption!

B12 with a side of iron: lamb liver, kale and spinach with a lemon dressing—the vitamin C helps with iron absorption, apparently

After reading Spoon-Fed, epidemiologist Tim Spector’s most recent book, I am prepared to at least entertain the idea that eating meat might be better for my body than eating pills.

Side note: I’m pretty sure that eating meat will be worse for the environment, but I am slightly comforted by the thought that the lambs lived very locally and that no one else will eat the liver anyway. Maybe?

B12 is water-soluble and the body doesn’t store much in reserve, which means that I need to get enough B12 in my diet every single day. My liver-vegan experiment will run for the next two months and I intend to eat one portion of lamb liver every week, split over three meals, take high strength B vitamin supplements every day, and continue to add a teaspoon of B12-enriched yeast flakes to my food.

At the beginning of May, I’ll test my levels of B12 and iron again and see what, if anything, has changed.

Rumours circulating on the Hashimoto’s forums indicate that this all-guns-blazing intervention might raise my B12 and iron to the point where I can drop the liver and return to a normal vegan diet. We shall see.


If you’re curious, I got the Ultimate Performance blood test from Medichecks. It’s usually £200, but often discounted. I got mine for £180, including an appointment with a nurse to take the blood.

Word of the day: Waldumrauscht

The word of the day is Waldumrauscht, a rare German word found in the 1854 dictionary of the Brothers Grimm. Appropriately enough for lexicologists famous for their collection of fairy tales, Waldumrauscht means to be surrounded by a rustling forest.

I learned this word from Heimat by Nora Krug, a graphic memoir about a German family coming to terms with the shame of World War Two. I was surprised to read that the author, now living in New York, still encounters mistrust and prejudice and still feels a strong sense of personal shame.

Whenever I travelled abroad as a teenager, my guilt travelled with me. ‘Just say you’re from the Netherlands,’ my aunt Karin told me before each trip. I should have taken her advice. […] It doesn’t help that […] I am spat at while speaking German with a friend in a Russian neighbourhood in Brooklyn, or that an American fellow student at the school where I study refers to another as a ‘Jewish pig’ behind her back, hoping for my German sympathy.

I was surprised because, when I searched my soul, whatever vestiges of blood guilt that run through the decades have been washed away by more recent history: the compassion shown by German politicians towards refugees since 2015, the drive towards decarbonisation of the world’s fourth largest economy, and of course the overwhelming kindness that I have always received while travelling through the forests of Germany.

Recounting the history of the tragic past is important because it gives us the determination to write happier histories for now, for the future.

Win Google PageSpeed: Score 99% with your WordPress blog in under 15 minutes

On Tuesday, I took the mobile version of my WordPress blog from a Google PageSpeed score of 65% (super slow) to an almost perfect 99% (super fast).

My 99% Google PageSpeed score after converting my WordPress blog to AMP and removing Google Fonts

The only thing that Google has left to suggest is that I upgrade my server. Awesome. What’s even more awesome, is that this leap in speed took me barely fifteen minutes and, by following this short guide, you can do it even faster.

    1. Why go faster?
    2. How to convert your slow WordPress site to superfast AMP
    3. How to remove pointless Google Fonts
    4. How to find unexpected speed gains within WordPress
    5. Finally: choose luxuries to treat your readers!

Before I dive in to show you exactly what I did to improve my blog speed, I want to quickly explain why I wanted to up my PageSpeed score.

Why go faster?

Quite simply: Google uses PageSpeed to decide where to rank your site on its search pages. Annoying, but totally fair enough: their business depends on giving users the best possible search results.

Most of that comes down to the quality of your content, but the user experience on your page is also important. How many times do you click away from a site because it takes forever to load? If your site is one of those, you will slink, slip and slump down the rankings.

I’ll keep an eye on my stats to see if I start to creep up Google’s search rankings now I’ve got world-beating site speed. But even if I don’t, all my readers (and me) benefit from a much, much improved experience.

Okay, so now on with the how-to.

How to convert your slow WordPress site to superfast AMP

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: 🛠️ (Ridiculously easy)
  • Potential PageSpeed Boost: +15

AMP is an open-source HTML framework that makes webpages load faster. Much faster. Especially on mobile devices.

If you want to understand more about AMP, then I can recommend this very readable paper by Jun et al. (2019). But the tl;dr is that AMP should reduce the time it takes to display one of your pages by at least 60 percent.

Converting my site to AMP resulted in a huge boost (+15) to my Google PageSpeed mobile score. It made no difference to how my site looked to readers, only that the pages were loading almost instantly. Best of all, the conversion to AMP was incredibly simple.

  1. Download, install and activate the official AMP WordPress plugin.
  2. Run the plugin’s AMP Settings Wizard.
  3. Check your site looks great.
  4. Test your site’s Google PageSpeed again.
  5. Cry tears of joy.

NOTE: I initially went for the ‘Reader’ template mode, which generates both AMP and non-AMP pages for your site. This was because the AMP Settings Wizard told me that my theme (TwentyFifteen) was incompatible with AMP. This turned out to be untrue, so I switched the template mode to Standard. My site is now 100% AMP.

How to remove pointless Google Fonts

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: 🛠️ (Ridiculously easy)
  • Potential PageSpeed Boost: +10

Most WordPress themes include a few Google Fonts by default. In theory, all this does is make your site look 0.5% prettier. In practice, because these fonts need to load before your site displays properly, your readers have to wait around for an extra second or so.

Annoyingly, there is no way to remove Google Fonts without getting very technical (trust me, I learned this the hard way). Luckily, clever people on the internet have created plugins to do the work for you. I used one called OMGF.

  1. Download, install and activate the OMGF plugin.
  2. Open the OMGF plugin settings.
  3. Click on the Detection Settings tab.
  4. Switch Google Fonts Processing to Remove Only.
  5. At the bottom of the page, click Save Changes.
  6. Check your site looks great.
  7. Test your site’s Google PageSpeed again.
  8. Cry tears of joy.

How to find unexpected speed gains within WordPress

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: 🛠️🛠️ (A tiny bit harder)
  • Potential PageSpeed Boost: +5

Hopefully by now your WordPress site is enjoying some pretty sensational speeds. I found another few Google PageSpeed points by sniffing around the ‘Opportunities’ section of my PageSpeed results.

Depending on your site, this might require a little ingenuity and detective work on your part. But here are two very easy things that anyone can do to speed up their site:

  1. Turn off Gravatars in your comments section by going to your WordPress Discussion Settings. Scroll down to the bottom and untick the box that says Show Avatars.
  2. Deactivate any plugins that you don’t use or could do without. I deactivated Easy Custom Auto Excerpt (no idea what I was using that for), Print My Blog (excellent, but not currently required), Simple Yearly Archive (cool, but unnecessary) and Worth The Read (very cool, but also unnecessary).

Whenever you make changes to your site, check back with Google PageSpeed to make sure things are going in the right direction. It’s worth saying, however, that your ‘initial server response time’ can vary so take that into account when tracking changes to your PageSpeed score.

Finally: choose luxuries to treat your readers

Once your site scores over 90% on Google PageSpeed, you can shift your focus away from speed to other features that might improve the reader experience.

For example, re-activating the Worth The Read plugin, which gives readers a useful heads up on how long an article takes to read, knocks my PageSpeed score down from 97% to 95%.

I’m not great at maths and I know that 95% isn’t quite as much as 97%, but it’s still pretty darned high. Hopefully by now you too have got the wiggle room to include a few luxuries for your readers.

You’ll find one of my luxuries right below this sentence – a signup form for my awesome weekly newsletter!

Veganaury: Two flash-in-the-pan breads

The Bread for Life that I shared a while ago is still my daily loaf, but here are two very entertaining breads that can be made in a few minutes using your hob.

1. Proper corn tortillas (with thanks to L.H.)

For this recipe you will need:

  • Masa harina (maize flour)
  • Warm water
  • Cling film or greaseproof paper
  • Chopping board or similar flat, bigger-than-tortilla-sized, weighty object
  • Rolling pin or similar rolling object—I use a measuring beaker
  • Frying pan
  • Optional: salt or other spices


  1. Get your frying pan ready on your hob: you want it nice and hot.
  2. Mix the masa harina with warm water in proportions of 4:3—i.e two cups of flour to one and a half cups of warm water. This recipe is so quick that it hardly matters if you make too much or too little. Chuck in your salt or other spices if you’re going down that road.
  3. Use your hands to mush the mixture into a doughy ball. Split the big dough ball into mini balls.
  4. Tear off two sheets of cling film. Lay one down flat on the counter top and put your first mini dough ball in the middle. Lay the other sheet of cling film over the top. You can also use greaseproof paper, but it’s slightly more sticky so I find I have to be extra careful on stage 6.
  5. Flatten your mini dough ball into a circular disc shape using a chopping board and your body weight. You can also use a tortilla press, but who has one of those? To get the tortilla really thin you can gently roll it out using a rolling pin or similar—but be careful because the masa harina is really fragile.
  6. Carefully peel off the top layer of cling film. Flip the tortilla over and use gravity to gently unpeel the tortilla from the other layer of cling film. If you use greaseproof paper, you can actually cook the exposed side of the tortilla while the second piece of paper still attached—it’s easier to peel off after the tortilla is cooked a little.
  7. Lay the tortilla onto the hot frying pan. Cook for 30 seconds and then carefully flip to the other side for another 30 seconds. Keep on flipping until the tortilla is cooked through. It should be soft enough to roll without falling apart. You’ll get the hang of it.

2. Vegan naan bread

I stole this recipe from Loving It Vegan. Naan bread takes a bit longer than tortilla because the dough needs to rise. I leave it for an hour in an airing cupboard. For that authentic naan flavour, I also add nigella seeds while the bread is cooking on the hob.

Brutal! Look what happens to a bike after 18,000 miles On the importance of stuff

It is with some pride that I announce that Martin, my 2011 Marin San Anselmo touring bike, has finally met his match. At some point in the last few months, the chain stay of his frame cracked and snapped in two.

The fact that neither I nor a professional bike mechanic noticed anything wrong apart from a strange skipping in the chain is testament to how amazing bikes are. Martin was literally snapped in half and I was still more or less happily pootling around.

It’s impossible to say how far Martin and I have travelled together since I bought him in 2011, but a rough estimate using data from various bike computers suggests somewhere in the region of 18,200 miles—more than enough to qualify as a ride around the world.

The first picture I have of Martin, only a few hours old. Look how shiny!

Martin: A timeline of adventure

Note: if you’re not at all interested in bike touring or my holiday snaps, then feel free to skip ahead to the next subtitle…

Our first journey together, nine years ago, was around the coastline of Britain. Two months of putting one wheel in front of another, wild camping together in fields, under hedges, in forests and on canal towpaths.

A year later, we repeated the trick in Tunisia, cycling through olive and palm groves, between salt lakes, past Roman ruins, and through two different kinds of desert to the sand seas of the Sahara.

The largest salt pan in the Sahara: Chott el Djerid in south Tunisia. Martin took me there in 2012.

In the wet summer of 2016, Martin (now officially christened Martin) rode in duet with a vintage racer called Joy from London to Vienna. We matched tracks from the South Downs to the Bavarian Plateau, from the banks of the River Thames to the vineyard sprawl of the Danube. Our accommodation, still wild, upgraded to hilltop castles and monasteries.

Camping at Stift Melk, Austria. The abbey is famous for its 18th century frescos and the 11th century tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau, an Irish pilgrim mistaken for a spy, tortured and hanged. Martin took me there in 2016.

More recently, Martin found true companionship in the community of bikes that is Thighs of Steel. In 2018 and 2019, we covered over 2,000 miles together across Europe, discovering new countries, new friends and new talents. Martin got himself a chainring downgrade which helped us over the mountains. In Athens, he even got himself a blue tattoo, of which he is still very proud.

Climbing up into the mountains of Romania with Thighs of Steel in 2018. Martin carried me there.

Finally, in our swansong year, Martin learnt the healthy pleasures of daily rides during a catastrophic pandemic, playing his part in the incredible Around the World project that raised over £130,000 for refugees. And, of course, in the lockdown-lifted summer, Martin came full circle: imprinting the south coast with his tyre tracks exactly nine years after he last toured Britain.

Lands End 2020 (L) and 2011 (R). Martin carried me there—twice.

Consumerism gives stuff a bad rep

I don’t want to blow this out of proportion: we’re living through a pandemic. My old bike is broken. I’ll get another one. It’s no big deal. But I’ve never had nearly as much fun with any other object as I’ve had with Martin.

When I flipped him over and saw the thick black crack against his mud and sand-flecked white skin, I felt like I’d slipped into an alternate universe.

A broken frame was nothing more than we deserved: nine years of high-impact, heavyweight touring caught up with the partnership. It was bound to happen one day or another. I was lucky that it didn’t happen while I was out touring—although, on reflection, maybe it did.

Throwaway consumerism has, I think, dirtied the purity of possession. Many people, myself included, have hankered after ascetic minimalism: a glorious rejection of the waste and want that modern capitalism has brought us.

But it’s worth remembering why certain convivial objects are precious to their owners—and perhaps to hold all our purchases to a similar standard of value.

What did Martin ever do for us?

A bicycle extends our human frailties. We become bionic, able to move many times faster and further than we ever could on foot, and much more efficiently. I have done things with Martin that would have been unimaginable without him.

I’m thinking, of course, of the life-altering adventures I mentioned earlier, but I’m also thinking of our day-to-day. Martin made it possible for me to live an expansive twenty-first century lifestyle without ever needing a car or taking an aeroplane flight.

Every week, without complaint, Martin lugs my heavy shopping bags five kilometres across town. Together we’ve visiting sixteen different countries, excluding England, Scotland and Wales. Every day he teaches me something about perseverance, self-reliance and community.

Martin’s made me oodles of new friends and ridden me to work, school and social events—especially during my years in London, where the cost and patchy provision of transport makes travel in the city such an unequal battle. (Hence why The Bike Project gives free bikes to refugees.)

But at what cost?

You won’t be surprised to read that I’ve run the numbers… 🤓 The original Marin San Anselmo cost me £488.99—still the most I’ve ever spent on a single item. But I’ve spent many times more on maintenance and spare parts over the years. To be precise, over his entire lifetime, owning and maintaining Martin has cost me £3,323.

That’s a heck of a lot of money, but—get this—counting from the day I bought him to the day he broke down at the end of my cycle around southwest Britain comes to exactly 3,323 days. Martin cost me one pound for every day that I owned him. Or about 18 pence per mile.

That, to me, is incredible value. There aren’t many other possession that have given me so much. Certainly some of my books, my Alphasmart Neo2 typewriter, yoga mat, guitar, teapot, plants and running shoes. Not much else that I can think of.

What about you? What possessions bring outsized value into your life? I’d love to hear from you—especially if you hold all your purchases to this standard.

On the naming of things

It is only right that we celebrate our most highly prized possessions—and, yes, give them petnames. I never loved Martin so much as when he was baptized Martin and grew a personality. My girlfriend at the time misread the brand name ‘Marin’ and contrasted his blocky functionality with the sleek lines of her own vintage racer.

Giving names to inanimate objects might sound silly, but I think it helps combat throwaway consumerism. A name and a personality is the beginning of a story and, when we tell stories about our favourite possessions, we honour, not only their service, but also the ingenuity, engineering and natural resources that went into their construction.

And this ingenuity and engineering is what’s so beautiful about the design of a bicycle. When Martin’s chain stay snapped, what did I lose, exactly? Why didn’t I feel this way after the rear mech sheared off, or all those times my chain snapped or wore out?

Indeed: what is left of that 2011 Marin San Anselmo that I bought from the Cycle Surgery in Camden Town nine years ago? Nothing more than the handlebars, forks, frame and rack. Everything else has been replaced—even the name.

Stuff has a soul

This reminds me of the ancient philosophical conundrum known as the Ship of Theseus: if you replace, one by one, all the planks of a ship until there are none left of the original, is it still the same ship?

The same metaphysical question is asked of Abraham Lincoln’s axe, which needed its handle and then its blade replacing. It’s a question that could be asked of ourselves: we shed our skin every few weeks and every ten years we get a new skeleton.

But as well as posing an insoluble philosphical question about the persistence of identity over time, the Ship of Theseus prompts us to think about what happens at the end of our stuff’s life.

Aristotle decided that the fully-replaced ship was indeed still Theseus’s. And if a yes is good enough for one of the more practical ancient philosophers then it’s good enough for me.

A great ship is a great ship forever. A great axe is a great axe forever. A great bike is a great bike forever, even as the parts are replaced one by one. Because well-designed stuff has something about it that endures. We could call it a soul.

So I’ll keep what I have of Martin—the original handlebars, forks and rack, as well as all the other components I’ve bought more recently—and replace the broken frame as I have replaced bent wheels, snapped chains and worn brake blocks.

The bike is gone, long live the bike!

What now for Martin Jnr?

Thankfully, a friend has very generously leant me her spare bike to ride (thanks GC!) until I’ve found a new frame for Martin Jnr. One of the more alluring options is the idea of spending this lockdown building my own bamboo bike frame.

I first came across the Bamboo Bicycle Club ten years ago, when I had neither the money nor the cycling experience to justify investing £300 in a wooden bike. But now… Now they do ‘home build kits’—surely it’s meant to be!