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

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Scaling new heights in Vietnam

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Running around the streets of Jodhpur before dawn

I’m not on Facebook however, as of this week, I am on Facebook, thanks to a small voluntary organisation in Cambridge – called Fight Against Blindness – for whom I’m attempting to raise some funds over the next month.

Here is our combined “pitch” (just scroll down in the link) to anyone on Facebook, and interested in donating: https://www.facebook.com/fightagainstblindnessRP/?fref=ts

And for any non-Facebook users, this is the direct link to the JustGiving site I’ve set up, should you wish to get involved: http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/saigonsays

Fight Against Blindness are a small voluntary organisation specialising in providing funds for Professional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for children at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Eye Clinic Cambridge, as well as other clinics in the South East of England.

I was first introduced to them via friends whose son uses their counseling services, and for whom this has had profoundly positive effects (the JustGiving page provides a small window into their experiences.)

I can’t recall if I’ve doused these pages with ramblings about the event I’m under-taking?

Some time back I used to run marathons, and then for whatever reason, and after a long stretch away from running, 10 months ago I signed up for a new challenge. This one is quite a departure from anything I’ve done before: 70kms, and mainly in ‘trekking’ conditions as opposed to road running. The event in total involves climbing 3,000 metres.

I’ll be doing this in Vietnam, in some of the country’s northern highlands. It’s a 4am start and I hope to finish around 5pm.

So, I wouldn’t say I’m ‘fit as a fiddle’ at this stage, but I’ve definitely upped my game because of the impending event…

Training in the sweat-box that is Saigon, with its pollution, humidity, crazy traffic, and ruptured pavements, is not always an uplifting experience, but all in all I’ve really enjoyed being back on the running scene again. Last month, in the UK, I embraced exploring old routes down the River Thames, and then indulged in the open outcrops of green down at my parent’s house in the New Forest, catching the deer off guard at dawn.

I’ve been running as much as I can these past months, and on as many of my travels as possible. I wasn’t allowed to run in Gaza back in May, but everywhere else I’ve been this year I’ve tended to use the opportunity to see some sights: from dodging Jakarta traffic, running along the ocean (whilst koala spotting) in Australia, skipping down Colombo’s beach front, meeting elephants in Rajasthan whilst searching for Forts and Palaces, all the way through to jogging through the Old City in Jerusalem, in awe at the American flags on display at the time (the day before Trump arrived there) – some spectacular sights, and some memorable moments, have been had, for sure.

I wouldn’t admit, on the other hand, that my recent commitment to “stay off the booze for 6 weeks” to get “really fit” has totally succeeded. I’m leveling most of the blame here on Bombay Sapphire, which I recently discovered uses Queen Victoria as its brand ambassador (the only Royal ever to promote any product) after she once noted that it was “every Englishman’s right to drink gin”. Enough said.

However, regardless of my terrible will power when it comes to an evening tipple, as of today I’ve run 2,140 kms since first pacing around Raymond Island on New Year’s Day (which was followed at the time by jumping in the adjacent lake to cure the hangover). This morning I also managed to climb up 200 flights of stairs, as part of my workout, and in a vain attempt to practice “hills”.

I’m nervous, and just ever so slightly thrilled by the prospect of what September 23rd’s race day will bring for me (will I make it round the course “ok” or will it be utterly horrendous?) The thought of lining up at the start alongside, no doubt, a herd of wiry framed Mo Farah lookalikes, head torches glaring and pulses up, will be something that keeps me awake for the next four weeks, although I am sure it will be quite a special experience at the same time.

Your support and your solidarity behind me will give me that extra boost of confidence, I have no doubt, and, most importantly I can assure you that the Fight Against Blindness team will be hugely grateful for any funds or awareness you can raise for them in the process. Thank you in advance for either.

Wish me luck!

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Light show in the New Forest