Pit-stopping on the way back to Saigon – Starbucks, Kuala Lumpur airport, no less – I’ve the usual frisson of excitement about walking back through our garden at home a few hour’s from now, picking up the girls (Issy is in Germany this week, checking out fashion trade shows) and flopping on the sofa.
After five days in Sri Lanka, to work with our Chrysalisteam there (musings on which from earlier can be found over here) I don’t, in some ways, feel like I was away from ‘home’ much at all this week.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Sri Lanka about ten times since 2009. I’ve written about it quite a lot, and that, no doubt, underscores why it’s one of my favourite places to spend time.
Aside from the professional experiences gained from engaging with our team there, and the organisations and people I’ve met along the way, it’s the day-to-day flow of contact and the momentary interludes that weave through these trips, which I think bind each together in a way that feels so familiar and reaffirming.
Moreover, it’s the simple easiness curated by the people you meet which imbues such a comfortable backdrop.
Dropping down to Galle on a quick pre-wedding whistle stop reconnaissance earlier today, to check on bookings and inhale the ocean breeze, I learnt about the reality of the recent Easter Sunday attacks, in terms of their impact on the tourism industry.
Not unsurprisingly, many tourists canceled their trips in May and June as a result of the bombings, and some hotels had to close completely. July and August are typically low season months too, and so a few hoteliers I met spoke of the “double whammy” of the events happening when they did.
Bookings are picking up again now. And whilst there is heightened security evident, things seem to have settled down. The country just this week was elevated to “middle-income” status by the World Bank, and the high ranking top spot given by The Lonely Planet earlier in the year to Sri Lanka, appears to have been reallocated back to the country, even though most of Sri Lanka remains in a state of deep shock over the events of April 21st.
With such charming scenery, culture and opportunity for the visitor, let’s hope that a positive trajectory of tourist bookings returns.
As my taxi driver, Mahinda, took a short detour this evening, on our way to the airport, to stop and offer me tea and bananas at his house, and the opportunity to meet his wife and daughter who was awaiting her ‘A’ level results, I was touched by the sentiment and the care he took to make me feel welcome.
I found the same hospitality and warmth earlier in the week when invited over to my Air BnB host’s living room, to share dinner with him and his wife.
Listening to Mahinda’s daughter talk about her plans for university, and for finding work somehow with her degree (biology) I couldn’t help hope that, in the future, not only will my daughters have the self-esteem and spark to be excited about a feeling of “doing my best” in the world, as this young woman did, but also that they – and beyond them, that I too – hold close that very core humanitarian embodiment of connection and understanding that I felt, sat with a cup of tea in my hand, listening to and being a small part of, this family’s time together.
The overwhelming feeling of being truly welcomed into their home, for a few precious moments, will stay with me forever.
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. Continue reading →
Be still, my loves,
Let sweetly dreams of fancy unfurl you
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.
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,
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
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.
1) There’s been a lot of handwringing in the media pundit corps and centrist politicians these days about the loss of comity, post-Kavanaugh. And then Donald Trump made them all look absurd with his remarks at his rally last night. Thread follows. pic.twitter.com/P0e81j7im4
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 →
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.
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.”
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.
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 that “one 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.