About saigonsays

Hello This blog began as a journal of my family's time living in Saigon, Vietnam, but is now more of a repository of thoughts about work, family, and the incredible and often hilarious moments confronting ex-pats living in this weird and wonderful city. I am originally from London (for anyone from London, I'm actually from Amersham, but this tends to mean not a lot to the vast majority of people I work with and meet in Asia). In January 2013 I started a new writing project, following some changes in my life - www.definitelymaybe.me - and I welcome you to join in the discussion over there, too. I am probably drinking a coffee as you are reading this. 'Cheers' for stopping by (I am lifting my cup as we speak) and enjoy today.

Taking on Pu Luong

 

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Home from home. Annie, Lucca, Matt, Colm, Ivan, Issy, Jess, Phoebe, me and our terrific hosts, after completing the 2019 Vietnam Jungle Marathon https://vietnamtrailseries.com/jungle-marathon/ (photo by Sally!)

I woke before the shrill of my alarm clock. 12:50am. The wooden floorboards creaked as the weight of my body eased itself into a standing position, the fan above tickling my face. I excitedly purveyed the heap of running kit laid out on the floor next to my mattress.

Time waits for no man, and May 25th 2019 was here. It had been far off on the horizon when we’d signed up to run the 2019 Vietnam Jungle Marathon in Pu Luong. But, now, as I consciously took my first few breathes of the day and begun to get changed, that horizon was gone and this was starting to feel real.

I’d run one ultra marathon race before – https://definitelymaybe.me/2017/09/22/thoughts-on-motivation/ – and the memories of numerous painful moments during those 13 hours had gradually dimmed and vanished from my mind. This race was a 55km-er (so, 15km shorter than the one up in Sapa) but with plenty of steep elevation to conquer.

Although struggling with a heel problem since the end of 2017, I’d somewhat stubbornly set out and run 10kms a day on average since the beginning of January this year, and was determined to immerse myself once more in the comprehensive and full sensory experience that these events offer up.

Knowing that today was ultimately going to test my appetite for pain, I was committed, in those precious pre-race minutes before our 4am start, to enjoy myself as much as possible.

Back in Sapa, in the build up to that last race, I’d awoken even earlier, around midnight, and (likely due to nerves and too much dinner) had spent two hours in the bathroom with the type of extractive symptoms that would normally have rendered me incapable of doing anything for the day, other than nursing my stomach and watching TV. Instead, I took medication and went on to complete 70kms of trail running.

So, imagine my delight as, kitted up for this next challenge, and feeling 100% normal, I finished getting ready and then skipped down the path over to the breakfast area. This time my first nutrition of the day wouldn’t be Imodium and electrolytes, but actual food and caffeine.

The home comfort of bringing my own coffee was well worth the effort and, immediately upon sitting down at a long metal table, I was in chirpy conversation with some random strangers.

Sat together with these new comrades – each of us adorned in dry-wick lycra tops and shorts, compression socks pulled up to the knees, Camel Packs loosely in place, and an assortment of bandanas, buffs and wristbands on display – I quite forgot we were all about to embark on a day’s marathoning.

Talk always turns to the same line of enquiry – “where do you live? how far are you running? what’s your strategy?” – and before too long I was sharing out my coffee and sampling some muesli off a French 55km runner. Part of me would have happily spent the rest of the morning carrying on in this vein.

The gratifying sense that I had kicked off the long day well, stayed with me as we were then bused over to the start line. A 90 minute ride in total – time for the muscles to warm and the focus to set in.

Headtorches flicked about on the sports field as we tumbled out and made a bee-line for the toilets. 20 minutes to go and then we’d be on our way – key moments for any long distance runner who has yet to satisfactorily “have a sit down”.

Porta-loos are never anyone’s favourite past-time, however the organisers had decided against sourcing any at all. Fair enough, we were in the middle of nowhere. Instead, we were ‘gifted’ a tent, inside which was a chair with the seat cut out, and a washing-up bowl perched underneath. Excellent.

Business done and, without making direct eye contact with anyone as I thankfully exited the tent, it almost felt like some of the worst of the day was already behind me.

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Off down the mines?

We were now at the start line. Someone was making a speech over a crackly PA system. One of our friends and family group, Matt from Brunei, obliges with the first selfie of the day.

I try to start my watch up, but can’t get the GPS working. And then all the watch functions seem to freeze. Not a seismic issue but I laugh to myself at how excited I’d been for 3 months, having spent $500 on this new device, imagining how useful it will be on race day, and what a great investment I’d made.

Oh well, it still told the time. Who is interested in real-time tracking of all the kms anyway? Heart rate read outs, who needs them? Listening to my specially crafted playlist (oh, yes, this watch plays tunes) during the harder moments, to spur me on, to keep me sane? I’ll be fine, I told myself.

And I was. For about 6 hours. For about 6 hours it was all do-able. We had an early steep climb at the 5km mark (which took around an hour to get up 2 kms) but with fresh legs, and still under the cover of moonlight, this was not too much of a problem.

I’d only really fitted in one mountain training session, 10 days before the race, and was worried I’d woefully under-prepared. However, as dawn broke and I started to climb back down the other side of this first summit, I felt great.

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Worth it just for this dawn vista.

The heat was always going to be a factor. 40 degrees was the expected high, and there doesn’t tend to be many corners of Vietnam not sweltering in humidity. However, from 4am through to 9am, I remember the cloud cover keeping things reasonably cool and I was buoyed at the prospect of my legs feeling strong for these first 5 hours, and for the temperatures to be less insufferable than I’d expected.

More inclines, more drop downs. More paddy-fields. We pushed on.

In parts, the terrain was quite technical and slippery (we’re also in rainy season now) but I tried to keep looking up and around and, when I did, was bowled over on more than one occasion by the surrounding vistas. Tiered plantations, a smattering of conical bowed hats bent low, hand weeding out the rice grass or tending to their own meagre livestock, as we weaved around the backs of wooden dwellings, and through open walled store houses, the cattle and buffalo peeking out of their pens, and the children grinning and waving at us.

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Happy face (this was early on).

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Not too shabby.

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Vietnamese ‘Outback’.

I was soaking up the serenity of each corner turn and then, 37kms in, I reached The Spike.

Having spoken to fellow runners in our group about the route, in the lead up to race day, I’d definitely activated my selective hearing mode when they explained to me about The Spike.

Two of our group were participating in the 42km route, and had told me that their rationale for choosing that distance, over doing 55km, was largely because of The Spike. This ominous sounding description should have triggered the sirens for me in advance. But I blocked it out.

The Spike is around 1.5kms up, approximately 37 degrees gradient, and took me over an hour and a half to complete. I’d watched Free Solo recently and I swear some of the climbing I did during that 90 mins reminded me of that movie!

The combination, by this time of the day (around 10:30am) of a full and unclouded sun, along with my rising heart rate and jelly legs, made for the perfect storm. It felt like an endless stretch of the route. Each time you’d shuffle round a corner a forlorn sadness overwhelmed you as the path just spiraled upwards like some fairy-tale staircase in the forest, up, up and out of sight.

Fortunately, most of the 42km and 25km runners were ahead of me, and so the traffic was minimal. That said, my attention was not on those around me, but firmly and inwardly projected.

I could feel (I obviously couldn’t tell accurately because MY BLOODY WATCH had broken) my heart rate bursting, almost from the moment I started the ascent. In the end, I took about 5 or 6 stops, each of them around 4-5 mins. I’d find a rock, or a small mound of mud, and sit or lie and just look up into the sky.

I wanted to stop, I wanted the whole thing to be over. I contemplated walking down and throwing in the towel.

At one point I recorded a message to Issy. A miserable, self-pitying video begging her to never let me do this again. I cursed. Then desperately eye-rolled and shrugged at fellow runners, themselves battling with their own demons. More cursing. I drank my sugary water, bit off loathsome mouthfuls of a protein bar. And plodded on.

Of course, in the end, I reached the top. Elated, but utterly spent. My legs had nothing. And I had around 16kms left to complete.

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Nice, flat pathway but legs have given up the ghost by now.

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Just leave me here in this field. I’ll be ‘right.

From then on it was a proper mission. Each check-point I reached was a milestone. Each downward hill deliciously welcome, as my heart rate would temporarily abate and calm.

I called my kids and spoke to Florence. “You can do it, Dadda!” A brief lift, and for a few kms, around the 48kms mark I broke back into a run, and laughed out loud as the sun briefly went behind a cloud, and the breeze picked up.

Suddenly, the familiar features of one of our group staying in the house with us, Lucca from Brazil, loomed into sight. I caught him up. His toe was battered. Each step he took with his poles (note to self, next time, poles seem like a VERY sensible item to bring) made him audibly wince and then maniacally chuckle to himself. Lucca had run over 30 ultras but this one “was a beast”. But we dug in and committed to cross the line together. Mumbled words of encouragement eeked out as we stumbled on. Some more wincing.

And then, that sensation of everything, quite suddenly but immensely pleasingly, drawing to a close was upon us.

We were about 3kms from the finish and I’d been trying to call Issy – herself breezing earlier around the 25km course with Phoebe and Sally – but she wasn’t answering. I had selfishly wanted to alert her to our arrival, fixed on the delight of a finish line beer. I called again, nothing.

And then, there she stood in front of us. She’d jogged 2kms down to meet us, her presence and chirpy disposition cutting through all the pain and prior melancholy. What a relief!

The clock tipped the 11 hour mark, the path turned to concrete for the last 600 metres, as we wound back up through the friendly and now familiar back streets.

Like some kind of returning missionaries (although we’d only arrived in the village 24 hours earlier) in equal measures of different deliriousness, and at long last, we were home.

Never again. Until the next time.

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Bia Hanoi. You sly dog, you.

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Lucca. Finished.

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Ice old brown paddling pool, plus beers. Heaven.

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Go us.

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The Team.

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Just one more selfie and we’re outta here!

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What a piece of work is man

This often quoted line from Shakespeare’s infamous lead character, Hamlet, strikes a chord for me at the moment.

I remember Hamlet’s lasting messages, about 30 years ago at school, when we read the script in class, and were fortunate enough to then watch Kenneth Branagh play the lead at a production at The Barbican.

Since I last wrote a blog – over on the sister site to this one https://definitelymaybe.me/2019/02/04/transformation-of-the-third-sector/ – countless global news events have made Hamlet’s tormented reflections about the state of the world only more resonant.

I was sat on the balcony of The Galleface hotel, in Colombo, back in February when I wrote that last piece. Issy and me had that morning come from breakfast at The Shangri-La, a short walk away, and one of the hotels in which a terrorist blew himself up on Easter Sunday earlier this month.

Out of such horrific acts can only come the positive inklings of resilience. All else is pervasive and lasting devastation.

I don’t feel qualified to write about terrorism, or about religion. Instead, I surf the web in search of experiences and ideas from others. However, too many options and opinions, in turns out, exist there to help offer up definitive statements.

Christopher Hitchens, eloquent and stubborn in his pursuit of tackling the negative impact of religion in the world, is one of my “go-to” voices in the crowd. Hitchens speaks power to truth in a way that throws me temporary morsels of salvation. Although I find they don’t last that long.

Alternatively, I’ve been listening to some of the many brilliant minds recently interviewed by Russell Brand (alongside various escapist, comedic worm-holes that also soak up the odd lost hour of my day) however it was two days ago, a week since the Colombo bombings, watching the London Marathon, that a more sustaining relief was offered up – in the form of Eliud Kipchoge.

Even tip-toeing on the fringes of a discussion that includes any of the terrorist acts which have taken place just in this year alone, is complex. That the compelling footage of a Kenyan man running the streets of London should provide a worthy counter in the face of other events or happenings, of the kind that took place in Sri Lanka only 7 days prior, is not the purpose of this post.

In making any sense of our lives while we are conscious, for me, seeking to learn from the way in which Kipchoge lives his, I’ve found plenty to mull over.

Kipchoge is someone I’ve followed for just a few years. He won in London on Sunday – his fourth London victory (a world record in itself) with relative ease – or so it appeared – and claimed the second fastest time ever recorded. He was mesmerizing to watch for each of the 2 hours, 2 minutes and 37 seconds that it took him to do so.

His attempt to go under 2 hours, in the Nike documentary “Breaking2” provided a window into the possible in December 2016 and, in subsequent documentaries, such as “Eliud” we’ve had fuller access into Eliud Kipchoge’s day-to-day wellbeing.

He believes that “No human is limited” – he wears a wristband with this motif – and he exudes positivity in his interviews about the power of running and the potential of the mind to open up possibilities for each of us.

Kipchoge is the most successful marathon runner of all time. The money in his bank (several million dollars) invested not, refreshingly, in the materialistic trappings of celebrity life or of sporting stardom, that so epitomizes others in the public eye.

Instead, he spends 6 days a week training at a running camp away from his family home. His sacrifices, in terms of his pursuit for success, marked by a humility and an affection towards others that inspires me wholeheartedly.

In his own words, “the more you sacrifice, the more successful you can become.”

As an atheist, the only act of worship I imagine I’ll be able to commit to anytime soon may very well just be in heaping praise towards individuals such as Eliud Kipchoge, and being able to recall his ‘form’ as a source of motivation.

A shining light indeed.

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I have of late,—but wherefore I know not,—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; no, nor woman neither…

(Hamlet, William Shakespeare)

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Eliud Kipchoge. Photo credit: http://www.runnersworld.com

By Lake Tanganyika

Beneath darkening clouds,
A dew-soaked earthen
Scent, cicada shrill,
Bicycle wheels drift on,
Whilst wood-smoke plumes
Hide Blue Band livery –
Oh, dawning hour of dusk.

The anticipation of tomorrow.

Sun-kissed

There may be time enough, before too long,
To stop and gaze upon this rising orb,
Ask of it clues of paths to tread,
Journeys sought that best befit
The curiosities of an un-purposed self who,
In full and in plain speaking,
Often flounders earnestly and
In God’s name.

There may be time enough, before too long,
For joy and revelry
Ignoring each self-decreed and darkly
Fenced in yoke,
Each whimsical faint-hearted shrill,
Colossal epitaph in making
Shaped, infused by others’
Brighter sheen.

There may be time enough, before too long,
With mended bow, sharpened resolve –
That didst for story-tellers’ protagonists
Inspire and glorify man –
To coat this dream in glittered hue
And pierce the ego’s wretched
Vanity, for once and
In all manner of
Innocence.

While You Were Sleeping

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The finest hour I have seen, is the one that comes between, the edge of night, and the break of day, it’s when the darkness rolls away – Nanci Griffith.

While You Were Sleeping

Be still, my loves,
Let sweetly dreams of fancy unfurl you
Elsewhere, whilst
Outside
Clicked shut our iron gate and running free
Through Saigon hems,
Weaving versions of past night-time jaunts –
Familiar neon shop signs and
Fragrant food-cart smoke,
Snaking shadows beneath
Sprawling high-wire silhouettes –
Cocooned inside this secret urban labyrinth
– I glide –
The purr and putter of market produce scootering by.

Be still, my loves,
Soft respite gains on moonlit quilt,
As my strides quicken with the breaking dawn and
I reach the water’s edge.
Beyond horizon,
Past horizon further,
Others whisper fond farewells,
Their last small patch of glowing orb ablaze, setting,
To manifest and transfix now in front of me –
Yellow white sparkles dance like needle shards,
Bedazzling in the ferry’s wake.

Be still, my loves, be still some more.
Beyond this turning point,
Homebound,
Backlit with today’s first sunbeam,
I fear only this –
As deep a contour and familiar now as the
Creased faces of street-vendor –
That time is lost.

With fingertip precision,
The keystrokes of our waking hours
Consume and safeguard
Daily beats, to which we all adhere,
And for which our spirit harkens.
Around that corner, over this bridge,
One’s salt-lipped search for answers
Makes for another’s
Truncated journey
To a higher stratosphere of meaning –
A life’s trajectory that comes in all forms,
Restless, stirring make-believe.

Be still, my loves.
In the end, there is only this.

Fighting Power

 

Like a wretched and merciless earthquake doling out continued aftershocks, that most unsavory and inappropriate of candidates, Brett Kavanaugh, was hastily confirmed over the weekend to join the highest legal office of the world’s “super power.” On these pages recently I could only write whimsically about a new order of political leader. Each time I’ve refreshed my news feed since then fills me with dread.

When will the next tremor strike? When will it all just stop?

That Kavanaugh’s appointment should come as any surprise is to belie the previous eighteen months of regular seismic shocks, and moments of social destruction, caused by Donald Trump and his self-serving administration of obnoxious dullards.

I am sure many people, like me, who take umbrage at Trump’s oxygen stealing existence on our planet, wake up each morning and feel that nervous anticipation of news of his demise as leader of the free world. But, here we are again, the Monday after another phase of utterly grim and depleting political subterfuge, with Trump at the helm, and we read and watch in despair.

Social media is lit up and, for all the brilliant satire that this administration has concurrently inspired, every news update, bar none, from the world according to Trump, casts an ever mushrooming, morose cloud of poisonous bigotry across our screens. Clogging fumes of festering carcinogenic elitism. And, like a cancerous foe in the system, Trump and his degenerate followers have so infected the world, in such a short space of time, that modern science stands even less a chance of making a diagnosis than if this were, indeed, some new super strain of cancer itself.     Continue reading

NOLA

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Fancy dress time. Labour Day weekend in New Orleans.

It feels like today – Friday 28th September 2018 – could go down as historic, as the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court of the United States will be voted on, after Christine Ford testified against him yesterday for his attempted rape of her 36 years ago.

1 in 3 women in their lifetimes will experience sexual or physical violence at the hands of men. That this statistic is not “industry specific” has been proven to be palpably clear time and again. Sports, politics, education, religion, and international development – choose your sector, the facts are clear cut.

However, although it feels this week (and, let’s face it, for a while now) that American political leaders sit at the top of the guilty pile, this post is not 100% dedicated to that. Instead, this post is about New Orleans. This post is about celebrating what can be curated when human beings channel their ‘decency genes’.

When I visited “NOLA” recently, it was Labour Day weekend and, for added spice, it was also the annual Southern Decadence celebrations and festivities – a 48 year old tradition now known as the world’s largest “Gay Mardi Gras”. This year attendance broke records with over 250,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender participants, and (according to the event’s website) an economic impact estimated to be in excess of $275 millon.

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Celebrating the city’s “Second Line” phenomenon.

The main event of the weekend took place on the Sunday, with a series of parades through the city’s French Quarter. There was no violence. In full tourist mode, with my colleagues nursing hangovers, I spent half of the day soaking up an atmosphere that could be described as the polar opposite to that which has been witnessed over the past days leading up to, and during, the Kavanaugh trial.

The continued hate-filled polarizing of the Democrat-Republican dynamic has reached fever pitch. The lying, the fakery, the anger, the seismic, self-centered vacuity of it all. An arena full of flawed power-holders, bigots, misogynists, and cold, calculating egos. A constant narrative of allowing wrong-doers a free passage, based on their rank and file. An inevitable and incensing circling-the-drain tempo of decision making, back-stabbing and profiteering.

And we know all this. It is allowed to play out, thus, today and tomorrow, on and on.

It’s not that the content of the quarter of a million characters who visited New Orleans, and with whom I paraded on that Sunday, is perfect. I can’t, equally, claim that the remainder of the city’s citizens are flawless human beings (I would certainly hope that not to be the case, in fact).

What I can be assured of, however, was that a more enriching, uplifting and contented time would be hard to come by, than the one I experienced in New Orleans.

Of course, the life of the entitled political elites is no doubt stressful. There is no live jazz music soothing the ear-drums everywhere you go, no “second line” spontaneity, no special NOLA cocktails, or the puttering of boats along the Mississippi River.

It’s a one-sided battle of environments, no doubt. The exquisite recipe and blueprint for sharing in “good times” for which New Orleans is renowned, cannot be topped. And I’ve not even mentioned the cuisine.

However, and here is the thing, in addition to all of those ‘enablers’ that New Orleans has in its armoury, the people living there are just so decent minded, and so, human.

From the Lyft drivers whose rapport and genuineness made you feel like you were in a car with your closest of relatives, to the clarinet player who mesmerized us all in the street, reducing one man to tears with her solos, and who then told us with a smile not to worry about our tip money getting wet in the rain, because “we all of us going to get wet.”

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French balustrades and palm trees.

Over brunch one morning, we met an old college friend to one of my team, Matt “Slushy”, now a journalist for The Advocate, covering stories about inmates on Death Row. Matt explained to us, over pots of brewed coffee, about the challenges of the penal system in Louisiana. To be honest, it felt like being in a John Grisham novel and I was hooked on his every word.

His anecdotes set up what then unfolded as a quite life changing immersion the following week, in Alabama, which I wrote about here recently. And, without re-visiting some of the heavy issues which sit at the heart of why so many young black men continue to face injustices in America, I’ve reflected that part of the compelling nature of talking to Matt that weekend was not only down to his commitment to pursue justice, plying his trade as a writer, but in how he authentically and calmly went about understanding the different perspectives and forming his arguments in a way that, again, contrasts so radically to the way in which the country’s politicians appear to be going about their work.

Taken up as I was by the sensory overload that New Orleans simply is, I cannot recall feeling so at ease and in step anywhere else I’ve travelled to in America. Shaped over generations by a cultural DNA of sharing, of resilience – in the face of events such as Hurricane Katrina – and a genetically rich and spiritual love for music, it was (and I am sure it is not this simplistic, but I don’t care) it was a window into a form of social utopia.

Granted, there are other places in the world where these characteristics, this ‘state’, is no doubt mirrored. My whimsical memories will remain just that. What is so tragic to me is how many worlds apart from even just a diluted down slice of what I’m describing are so many other versions of the country’s society right now.

This post won’t help any of that. All I know is that if anyone is waiting for the evolutional arc of men to somehow take hold in a way that redefines, in a way that recognizes equity, power, compassion and humanity – if that is what we want to see, then the true changemakers amongst us are not anytime soon going to be the country’s political leaders.

No doubt that sweeping generalization does a dis-service to many in politics. Again, I don’t really care. And, I am absolutely sure that, as an alternative, placing hordes of Southern Decadence-parading men, dressed in tight-fitting shorts and draped in rainbow livery, into political positions of power, would also result in a fair share of issues and challenging times.

But I know who I’d vote for.

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Time for a drink? A NOLA special – a “White Negroni” with Suze and Lillet Blanc.

It’s hard to be brought down when you have a balloon

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Original drawing by Ernest H.Shepard

A.A. Milne’s timeless quote and story of a young boy’s escape into the fantasy world of One Hundred Acre Wood, re-launched its endearing characters back onto the world’s cinema screens recently. My daughters were hooked from the opening scenes when we went to watch the new Christopher Robin last Thursday night – as was I.

Winnie the Pooh, and his delirious gaggle of enchanting friends, have a rousing message for their viewers, in director Marc Forster’s languid adaptation, which is this: don’t take life too seriously.

Now. Throw-away statements like these are relatively passé. This is not a new phenomenon and no doubt wikipedia can help us with affirming who, in fact, was the world’s first free thinking philosopher, conjuring up similar Pooh-esque invocations.

Feel-good monikers are all around us. Emblazoned on the front of T-shirts, and the sides of coffee mugs, today’s life-affirming messages come in all forms of delivery: podcasts, seeping directly through the ears of the day-dreaming commuter; celebrity endorsed morsels of wisdom saturating social media feeds; hell, these days, you can believe in the power of five suitably inspiring words so much that, for twenty quid, you simply tattoo their message under your skin. The heady combination of a few letters being powerful enough, for some people, that they are prepared to literally embody the sentiment for life.

The podcasts and the public statements, the inky reminders, the free speech blog-festing – each medium echoes the other, when it comes to framing these small momentary slices of wisdom, attempting to impart – as they do – a large, lifetime worthy cake-sized portion of advice.

Some days, as consumers, we detest these saccharine nuggets, with their overwhelming and irritatingly smug placements, in the middle of our Wednesday mornings. We detest their presumption and elitist codification, their lineation, their naivety.

On other occasions, and in other moods, we’ll share the love. Retweet the hashtag, apply the shoulder shrugging GIF, as the closing salutation to an inane whatsapp exchange, instigated by a work colleague asking us “how our week was going?” or if we were “enjoying hump day” – “At least Monday is over” – “Don’t take life too seriously, it’s Friday!”

This sodden landscape of social media – with its squelching footprints of metaphor and philosophized jingle – conspires to cover us in what Monty from Withnail and I might have described as “beastly mud and oomska”: and it is relentless. And why? Because it’s impossible to always take life less seriously.

Even Winnie the Pooh has moments of despair.

Perhaps a despairing moment comes for us within 60 seconds of waking up in the morning? Just the thought of the day ahead. The chairing of a meeting. The reading of a news headline. A sky-less view out of a window. Burnt toast. Joint pain. Angst about the future. Guilt about the past.

The truth is that we rely on these constant reminders to punctuate our routine, and help us side-step the rabbit warren of contemplation. Temporarily, we press pause and we pivot our imagination.

The novelist Iris Murdock once said thatone of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats“. I like that a lot, because there is no denying it: everyone is guilty as charged when it comes to small treats.

Murdock also wrote that “A deep motive for making literature or art of any sort is the desire to defeat the formlessness of the world and cheer oneself up by constructing forms out of what might otherwise seem a mass of senseless rubble.” 

Isn’t that compelling, too?

Murdoch is one of many writers who have looked to make sense of an ever changing world in a way that, without ego, offers up, as she puts it, a ‘construction of forms’. An alternative pattern of ideas and ideals, a perspective that has authenticity and charm.

Much of her writing, and that which other writers and artists and story-tellers have laid down, reflect a similar fascination with this very subject. Questioning what we know about life and, time and again, unpacking what it means not only to feel weighed down by life, but also what it means to counter that.

Winnie the Pooh could be one embodiment of that ‘counter’ weighting that we all need and from which we can all learn. A fleeting throw back to a more innocent time of our lives – as children – when it was not a requirement to be seeking outlets to ‘pivot’.

As softly spoken and whimsical as Milne’s affectionate lead character appears, his is a frighteningly effective call to action: for playing pooh-sticks, for going on “adventures”, for curating the comradery of an impromptu tea-party. Flying that balloon.

Just as the adult Christopher Robin inevitably realizes, everyone needs these small treats, these heart-warming, guilt-free, post-it note reminders that reach down deep and remind us of what we all ostensibly know – which is that we will never truly “grow up” in the way we think we are supposed to.

We will try, but we will forever fall short. And that is the beauty of our story.