Friday, 30 May 2008

The State of the Nation

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Last night I went to a lecture about night photography. I hoped I may learn a bit of geeky technical information to help me improve my own pictures. Instead I came away with such a powerful image of the state of my country for so many young people here. How I wish I could get each one of the young people in these pictures and haul them to the top of Ben Nevis for a sunrise or get them jogging round the park at sunrise, getting fit for a 10k race. How I would love to be able to show them a way to get away from the cities and into the hills, out of their frustrated, unfulfilled comfort zones and show them how alive you feel when you are scared but in control, tired but focussed, hungry but heading back to the campfire and food...
Stunning pictures, stunning message.
Knife crime in Glasgow:

Binge drinking in Cardiff:

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Thursday, 29 May 2008

Who am I? What do I want?

My publisher has asked me, prior to the official launch of Thunder and Sunshine in mid-June, to write a little bit about myself that will show journalists exactly who I am.
I have been cringing about this and procrastinating for ages. But he pinned me down today, so here goes:

"My route to making a career from arduous physical challenges began when I was small and weak and could not get into any sports teams at school. I found my niche in the outdoor clubs, sailing, fell-running and completing the National 3 Peaks in 24 hours when I was 13. At 18 I taught in Africa for a year. This opened my eyes to the beauty of the world, that the world is crazier and there's more of it than we think. I tasted adventure, camped beneath southern stars and I wanted more.
Throughout university I read books of epic journeys*, dreamed of being a writer and an adventurer and I set about taking the steps to make it happen. I saved up for summer exploits and the more I saw the greedier I became. Back home I ran in the hills and realised that simply refusing to stop is a good way to ensure you reach the end. My self confidence rose and, with it, my ambition.
Freed at last from the shackles of formal education I headed for the world to start learning. My journey round the world by bike was intended as a journey not a structured expedition. I would wander where the fancy took me, I would travel slow, and cheap, and with wide open, curious eyes. If I could also help to promote 'Hope and Homes for Children' by succeeding that would be a further boon. There was focus to it all as well: I wanted to make it right round the world to come home with sufficient material to begin learning to be a writer. I enjoy writing and I would love to make my life as a writer.
Home at last I tried hard to bury my wanderlust. I have had normal jobs and I have written two books. But it has not succeeded, and I'm now preparing for the next adventure. I have been at my most excited when hunched over a map and dreaming of more, or when eulogising to children at my talks about the thrill of freedom, the privilege of opportunity, the satisfaction of self-reliance and my gratitude that, for whatever reason, I snatched at my dream and I acted upon it. If my journeys can convince children (or anyone) to out-stare the fear of failure and insecurity and to take a risk upon their ambition then I shall be well-pleased. If I can also share my new appreciation of how good the people of the world actually are, as well as my experiences of the great imbalance and injustice in our world, and my corresponding scorn of the apathy and "affluenza" in our own society then so much the better.
My next big journey is different. It has nothing to do with the fun and excitement of foreign cultures. It is a complicated, high-budget, technologically challenging expedition. But I am still thrilled by it because it is different, it is difficult and because it will take me to more new places. New places physically, certainly, but new places in my mind and spirit as well. I will learn more about how hard I can push myself, about how much I can endure. It will hammer home how important the important things are in life, and how trivial most of our concerns are. If the expedition also convinces some children of the potential in their lives I will be proud. If the expedition produces a book and helps me to eke a career from doing what I love I will be grateful.
The lifelong memories will be sweet. But most of all the adventure itself will be glorious: forcing my heart and nerve and sinew to keep going through some of the most desolate, unvisited, majestic landscapes on Earth, the opportunity to explore what I am capable of, to make the most of my too-fleet three score years and ten, to share it all with a good friend, to try to achieve a goal many believe to impossibl. And all this away from the rushing madness of the world. To seek, to strive, to find, and not to yield: that's what I want."

*Ranulph Fiennes, Laurie Lee, Fitzroy Maclean, Eric Newby, Patrick Fermor, Simon Murray, Cherry Garrard et al.

I feel that this video conveys how I feel:


Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Where have all the leaders gone?


Last night I attended a lecture by
. If I tell you he was in the
(a plan of mine until I got married!), ran the Marathon des Sables and trekked to the South Pole (as well as becoming a millionaire businessman) you will appreciate why I was eager to listen to him. His lecture addressed the issues of "where have all the leaders gone?" He was pretty despairing of modern society, and reflected on the heroes he grew up with -books on Nelson, Churchill, Scott- with the heroes of today -Pete Docherty, Amy Winehouse, Big Brother et al. I was interested in the characteristics he saw as being essential in leaders:
  • Intellectual Honesty. It is critical that you remain true to yourself.
  • Charisma, an inspirational spark.
  • Self-sacrifice: the willingness to give of yourself.
  • Tolerance
  • Fairness
  • Sense of Humour
  • Optimism
  • Courage, such as that shown by Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • A "Don't give a damn" edge. He quoted this slogan from the side of a plane in the Battle of Britain where the death rate was as high as 10%:
    "When my flying days are over, And from this world I pass, I hope they bury me upside down, So the world can kiss my ass."


Monday, 26 May 2008

A reminder

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A reminder from Bruce Chatwin that "man's real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot."

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15 points docked but still made it to the Play-offs. 2-0 down after 90 minutes against Carlisle but still made it to Wembley. Rubbish on the day and still in League 1.
I really, really felt that we needed to get straight back up if we are to remain a temporarily exiled giant, rather than a fallen one. Aaagh...


Friday, 23 May 2008

A foot in the door?

The hunt for a sponsor continues, the challenge of finding a bold risk taker willing to take a punt on our project with the potential of great returns to offset the risk.
This evening was an enormous step in the right direction. It was the first chance for me to meet some of Ben's supporters, men and women who believe in him and yet also have brains and influence!
Ben gave a slideshow about his exploits which was fantastic. I did a brief talk to introduce myself and, after that, it was gratifying to see people enthused and taking me seriously as well. The evening went as well as was possible. I am aware of the current economic climates so it's not an ideal time to be trying to persuade people to support our camping trip. But I rather worry that, if these enthusiastic and far-seeing people are not able to back us then nobody will.
At the end of Ben's talk he was wrapping up with some heroic-sounding stuff about achieving potential, working as a team etc etc. It was all very emotional and inspiring. Just then a posh woman out in the street yelled "Coo-ee darling!" at her little chihuahua and completely broke the moment! Hey ho!

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Thursday, 22 May 2008

Reportage Photography

These powerful pictures from Romania strike a chord for all supporters of
There's plenty of great reportage photography from all over the world on


The next big Challenge - Video

to watch the next big adventure:

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Marathon des Sables on TV

This year's
was filmed by ITV. They showed their programme this week. It was great to see the desert again as the memories rushed back. But I did not like the programme much. They did not show the vast majority of runners who were out there to actually run the race rather than
a) stroll it for a laugh
b) suffer through lack of preparation
c) suffer because it was very hard for them and they verge on being out of their depth
I applaud the 'c' group, have no opinion on group 'a' and no sympathy for 'b'.
All of Tent 91, and hundreds of other guys, ran the race as fast as they possibly could. You don't see that in this programme. I personally think that, with the popularity of the race increasing dramatically, they should chop the cut-off times dramatically. It should be hard to finish each day [a big caveat though to not make the race only for elite runners: I want it to be only for people who are pretty fit and willing to try hard], and it should not be an option to be able to lie down and sleep for a few hours mid-stage. Whilst I'm at it, surely the rest day mid-race should be axed too?
Anyway - here's the show. My claim to fame is that I'm in it for a split-second asking a vomiting girl if she is OK before just cracking on full speed ahead! (Sorry!!) The reason I am only on for a split-second is because I saw the camera running over to film the vomiting girl and I shouted out, "here come the vultures for their shot of the day!" They cut that bit out. Oh yes, I'm on the far right of the screen in this screenshot too: a bit embarrassing to be behind the joker in the Union Jack outfit!

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Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Quote of the week

"If you're willing to take a leap of faith -get off your butt- who knows how many great things are waiting in the world out there?" -


Speaking at the RGS

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Be careful what you wish for...
Years ago, when I first attended a talk at the
, I was mesmerised by the history of the place.
The history of the Society enshrines such famous names as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott, Shackleton, Hunt and Hillary.
The Geographical Society of London was founded in 1830 as an institution to promote the advancement of geographical science. Like many learned societies, it started as a dining club in London, where select members held informal dinner debates on current scientific issues and ideas. Under the patronage of King William IV, it later became known as The Royal Geographical Society and was granted its Royal Charter under Queen Victoria in 1859. In 1912, the Society moved to its current location, Lowther Lodge.
In 1933, some fellows of the Society broke away to form an organisation called the Institute of British Geographers. The RGS and IBG co-existed for 60 years until 1994 when a merger was discussed. In January 1995, the new Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) was formed.
Around the austere, enormous lecture theatre I read the gold leaf names of RGS medal winners that include David Livingstone, Alfred Russel Wallace, Captain Scott, Neil Armstrong and more recently, Sir David Attenborough, Professor Edward O Wilson, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Michael Palin.
As I sat there, the idea of trying to cycle round the world germinating in my brain, I set myself a challenge. "One day I too will give a lecture here."
And so last week I found myself, heart thumping, rabbit in the headlights, hopping on my crutches up onto the stage to face a darkened, overflowing auditorium. The point of no return had truly arrived. I have done countless lectures, I am confident in my ability, I know my subject and yet, faced with the weight of history and perhaps the most knowledgeable audience on Earth, I was pretty scared!
All went well, thankfully. It was a 'line in the sand', the end of
, and the beginning of
. And I'm chuffed to have done it. I hope it won't be the last time.

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Saturday, 17 May 2008

Into the Wild

Into the wild ciudad
Tonight I watched the film
. It touched me deeply. I miss those days. Parts of it reminded me of why I love to travel, and of the glories and rewards you reap from living simply. The film reminded me of the freedom of the open road - freedom of movement, freedom of choice, freedom of thought and ambition. It reminded me how beautiful the world is, how good many of the people are. It reminded me of the futility of chasing pay cheques and 'stuff'. It reminded me not to forget all that.


Thursday, 15 May 2008

Jorge Luis Borges - The Instants

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If I could I would live my life over.
This time I would try to make more mistakes.
I would try not to be so perfect,
I would laugh more.

I would be so much sillier than I have been 
that I would take few things seriously.

I would be less hygienic.

I would risk more, take more trips, contemplate more sunsets, 
climb more mountains, ford more streams.

I would go to more places I have never been.

I would eat more ice cream and fewer beans.

I would have more real problems and fewer imaginary ones.

I was one of those people who lived every minute of life sensibly and productively.

Of course I had moments of delight.

But if I were able to go back it would be for good moments only.

Because, if you don't know it, that's what life's made of: moments.

Do not waste even this one.

I was a guy who never went anywhere without
 a thermometer, a hot water bottle, an umbrella, and a poncho.

If I could live my life again I would travel more lightly.

If I could live again I would start going barefoot
 when spring comes and not stop till fall's long gone.

I would walk down more side streets, contemplate more dawns,
 and play with more children, if I had my life ahead of me again.

But, come now.
I am 85 years old.
I know I am dying.


Friday, 9 May 2008

Support the victims of the cyclone in Burma

Support the victims of the cyclone in Burma; their government is not.
Click here:

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Sports Photography

I have just been introduced to Bob Martin's stunning photography. Drool more
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Monday, 5 May 2008


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One of the great things of travelling is that you have time to read widely and expand your horizons.
One of the great things about not travelling is that you have time to watch films and expand your horizons.
I have always been hopeless about getting round to watching good films. But I have recently joined Lovefilm and that has changed. Online you choose a list of all the films you want to watch. Choose how many you want to receive in a month. Press Go. They send you a film from your list. Keep it as long as you want. As soon as you return it in their pre-payed envelope the next one will be sent to you. You can quit your membership at any time. It's such a good idea. Have a look
for a month's free trial.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

By Bike and Boat to the Middle East

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Whilst cycling through the Yukon I bumped into adventurer
and enjoyed cycling and chatting with him. He (and his wife) have now arrived in London on their next great expedition:

From the rugged highlands of Scotland husband-and-wife team Julie and Colin Angus will row 6,500 km to Aleppo, Syria in the heart of the Middle East.  Their course will follow ancient transportation corridors traditionally used for trade and migration. They will experience and learn about the rich cultural tapestry that comprises present Europe and the Middle East in a manner that continues to promote environmentally responsible travel as with their previous travels. 
A corresponding school program will tie in with this expedition to promote active living, environmental stewardship and a curiosity of foreign cultures and landscapes.  Educators and students worldwide are invited to participate in this program, which will involve relevant curriculum, interactive weekly interviews with students using online conferencing software, and student participation in the adventure.
Connecting Scotland and Syria with a human-powered voyage also has a personal significance for the team.  Colin’s mother and father both hail from northern Scotland and Julie’s father is from Syria.  The journey will allow the couple to explore their family history.  In an age where globalization and cultural integration is the norm, it will enable the duo to reflect on their origins and unravel the events that led to their union in western Canada.
Two amphibious rowboats have been constructed for the journey.  The vessels each carry a bicycle and trailer which will allow them to travel on roads and bicycle paths as well as water.
Read more about their adventure

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Saturday, 3 May 2008


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For 10 seconds to take a deep breath.
For 1 minute to take in the view.
For a couple of minutes to brew a cuppa.
For 10 minutes to clear your head.
For 20 minutes to call your mum.
For half an hour to excercise your body.
For a couple of hours to read a good book.
For a day to find some fun.
For a weekend under the the stars.
For a fortnight to recharge your batteries.
For a month to learn something new.
For a summer to be a kid again.
For a year to see the world.
For a lifetime to work out what it all means.
Or for five minutes to do absolutely nothing.


Thursday, 1 May 2008

Hope and Homes for Children - photo exhibition

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There is a great exhibition of photography depicting some of HHC's work. For details click

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Toughest Races on Earth?

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Someone's opinions on the
and the 10 Toughest Races on Earth. Click

looks very cool. I love the way there are so many low-key, tough, beautiful challenges here in Britain.