Category Archives: Back Story

Sustaining that hobo lifestyle

I’m a firm believer in planned spontaneity, so while the destinations beyond Toronto are a little hazy, I’ll be taking my work on the road, writing, reviewing and filming. Some of it for pleasure, some of it for pleasure + financial reward. Despite the practicalities of travelling with a case full of cables and chargers and technological gadgets, and despite the fact autonomous, self-funded jaunts make you look suspicious in the eyes of those PRs who expect you to rewrite a press release or move in a pack, stick to the schedule and demand upgrades, being a travel journalist is easier when you get off your backside and travel.

I set up Joy Soup a while back to look at ways stories could be told through a mix of media, created independently and funded through sponsorship, advertising and product placement. Where there’s a fit, I’ll be working with brands – brands that respect a bit of creative creative freedom. There’s more information about that over on the Joy Soup site. The rest of the time I’ll be filing stories to the usual suspects, and tracking down people and places for a couple of film projects.

Mainly though, I’m just going to be taking a look around.

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Releasing the brakes

Everything’s sort of packed up. There may or not be a lorry sorted for the day we move out, and the boxes may or not fit in their designated self-storage unit. I have left out two suitcases – one with hot country clothes, one with cold country clothes. It’s time to release the brakes.

The brakes I would like to release are the Peugeot’s, at the top of a cliff after renewing the insurance. However, that’s just a little fantasy, and illegal. The brakes I’m referring to are metaphorical as described in The Principles of Success. I didn’t read the chapter, so I’m not sure what it said, but I get the gist. Get moving. The shortlist of places I would like to go to includes China, Big Sur, Dripping Springs in Tennessee, Rome in Ohio, Siberia, Assos in Kefalonia, the Osa in Costa Rica, Havana, Miami, Vancouver, Albania and the Congo. Flicking through an atlas this seems infeasible.

Freedom can be very stressful for the institutionalised. Logically though, looking at my scattergun chart, it makes sense to head for the Americas. That’s what Christopher Colombus did 500 years ago when Europe was looking for a fresh source of income. If it’s good enough for Europe, it’s good enough for me. On a practical level it’s a plan that also ties in neatly with a couple of ongoing research projects for a book and two possible documentaries, so I’ll have purpose. I’ll take a look around the US of A, then over-winter further south.

Of course the first stop on the Somewheresville journey has to be Toronto. Not only is it a top city except in February and March when it’s a slippery, frozen city, but it’s home to my boy George, studying music at Humber.

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Breaking eggs

If it was my book, I’d have added ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’ in one of the later chapters of The Success Principles. Because just days after finishing the last in my big pile of self-help books I am empowered and motivated. I don’t quite know where I am going yet, but I am going to Somewheresville, and I am going now. Or at least soon.

Hence I’ve emptied the kitchen cupboards, packed up my Cabinet of Precious Things, emptied the bookshelves and cupboards and am now in a permanent state of confusion with gaffer tape stuck to my socks. It’s a bit bloody difficult packing when you don’t know where you’re going or for how long, but Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog says ‘avoid failure to execute’ which sounds manly and unpleasant, but adds: “Successful, effective people are those who launch directly into their major tasks and then discipline themselves to work steadily and single-mindedly until those tasks are complete.”

I have launched directly into the major task of emptying the flat. My partner – who lives in it – is surprised.

Had I continued through ‘the twenty-one most powerful principles on personal effectiveness’ Tracy had ever discovered, I’d have seen 5-12 basically say focus and prioritise, but I’m taking a different approach. With all the clothes on the floor, boxes everywhere and nothing to cook with, plus the Virgin team on standby to snip the internet connection and notice handed to the landlord, staying here is no longer an option.

This is a good method, but not for the faint hearted. On the other hand if I’d drawn up a list of everything that needs doing to extricate yourself from a place, I’d have said f**k that for a game of soldiers and resigned myself to a life of underpaid employment interspersed with Word Poker sessions. A bit like eating sausages: you want them; if you knew what went into them, you wouldn’t. OK, some sausages.

So far, I might have baulked at several points, specifically: estimating storage space (do I have 100 cubic feet of possessions? I’ve never really thought of them that way); discussing global roaming charges and options; backing up my work on external hard drives (why have I been locked out of my own Rugged? Why does the external drive set up on the Mac refuse to acknowledge the hard drive on the PC?); password storage (unless I have them tattooed in mirror-writing in rows across my backside); meter reading; weeks of goodbye drinks hangovers; Responsible Disposal of Household Items; the failure to sell my car – even back to the garage I bought it from a year ago for half the price (it’s a Peugeot GTI, parked in London, make me an offer).

But I haven’t, because I can’t.


Self-help books. I think these are great. They make the people who write them a lot of money, and they are usually pretty funny. It’s a winning concept: give people with problems they’ve put off tackling a good reason to sit around and put them off a bit longer: a book (sometimes with exercises – written, obviously, not circuit training, although . . .). I’ve had the fortune to be sent a fair few of these eat-frog-move-cheese-power-of-intention-chicken-soup manuals and they’ve inspired me. Yes, I’m going to write a self-help book, though not right now. At some point. Probably. I can see that this would be very self-helpful indeed.

For people who aren’t sufficiently motivated to read a book, or turn their heads slightly away from the screen, there are webinars (‘Learn how to overcome procrastination and start achieving with this free online training session and video’). It’s like shooting fish in a barrel – and it makes people happy.

Anyway, to offset the onset of atrophy and get on with something, I’m speed-reading a few of the classics. I’m looking for words that tell me to throw everything to the wind and set off on a hare-brained adventure because that’s what I want to do, but with the rain and the whole packing thing, can’t be bothered to do. For three months now, friends have been saying ‘yeah,yeah, do it’ each time I tell them I’m going to abandon job, flat and the majority of my clothes to travel the world and the seven seas with nothing but a hatbox and iPhone for years and years and years, but usually after a few pints in the smokers’ alley behind the Welsh Harp and I’m not entirely sure they’re taking me seriously.

I strike gold with The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, subtitle ‘How To Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be’. Ah yes. I’m sure Jack – I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Jack – won’t mind too much if I share a few of his quotes. To paraphrase: I fear the fear but I’ll do it anyway.

Jack says ‘Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself’ (which means turning off Radio 4) and find your ‘inner GPS’. Get a clear picture of what it is you actually want, and go for it. Just picturing your ideal life brings it nearer to you. Jack’s got back-up on that one from Albert Einstein: ‘Imagination is everything – it is the preview of life’s coming attractions’.  I wrote an entire novel that had a suspiciously similar quote by George Bernard Shaw at its core: ‘Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire,  you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.’ Ironically it was rejected by everyone.

After some other stuff about having a dream and fulfilment and visualising a pool, a wine cellar, big dog and pile of cash (actually, that was me), Jack cuts to the chase and says get going: ‘just lean into it’, ’embrace change’, ‘feel the fear’ etc. Again, he’s got back up, this time from Martin Luther King (‘take the first step in faith’) and some eastern philosopher saying you can’t cross the sea by staring at the water. That is true. I’d have a think about where I want to go and look on Skyscanner if it wasn’t time for the pub.

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Def: to defer action. Why you do it:

1. Because Newton says every action has an opposite action, so what’s the point?
2. Because you’re lazy.
3. Because action may result in new challenges you worry you may not be up to, and unforeseen risks.
4. It’s generally cheaper to do nothing. This doesn’t apply to procrastinating about tax returns, overdrafts, moving the car from a restricted parking zone.
5. You don’t know what to wear.
6.  You may regret not procrastinating. When you do nothing the troubles and tribulations of daily life are not your fault. When you make a plan it’s all your stupid idea.
7. Because Kylie said better the devil you know, and everybody danced.

That makes quite a case. But consider the risks: in an old Psychology Today (which, I guess makes it Psychology Yesterday) some doctors said that procrastinators drink more than they intend to, and procrastinating students “had more gastrointestinal problems”.

Personally, I think a more compelling reason for quitting procrastination is complete and utter boredom. So I’m going to sit here and do some research into how to stop sitting around.

The physics of ambition

Isaac Newton came up with laws governing motion,  and while physics is essentially for geeks, I can see where he was coming from. My recent state of boredom and inertia isn’t personal; it’s physics. According to Newton’s First Law: if the total force acting on an object is zero, its center of mass continues in the same state of motion. By which he means if there’s nothing pushing or pulling you, of course you are going to sit around all day, thinking. Law number two is basically ‘if you give something a good shove, it moves’,  which pretty much reflects my current state.

The shove isn’t from one person, but lots. Energetic people I’ve interviewed or met through work like Ranulph Fiennes, the ex-banker ocean-rower Roz Savage, the polar explorer Rosie Stancer, the late Jane Tomlinson who cycled across America, David Attenborough, and the many bright-eyed, admirable yet faintly wholesome types that get up early to chase theirdreams and end up with a book deal and a spot on Midweek with Libby Purvis. They make me feel, if not exactly inspired, guilty and jealous which is the most powerful motivator cocktail.

Then there’s the cumulative effect of reading. With the possible exception of Into Thin Air, reading gets you thinking in a fidgety way about the sort of things you could be doing instead of slobbing about; the sort of life you could be leading. When small, I devoured battered adventure classics like Osa Johnson’s I Married Adventure, The Shamba Raiders by Bruce Kinloch, Serengeti Shall Not Die (the Grzimeks), Ride a Rhino by Michaela Denis, a pile of National Geographics, Look and Learns, And and Bee, and Beryl The Peril annuals. Adventure swished about in my brain.  So, while I’d (quite) like to be an architect, or lawyer, it isn’t going to happen because a) I only retain facts by putting them on a hard drive, and b) I read the wrong stuff.

I’m not sure about Newton’s Third Law – for every action there is an equal and opposite action. That doesn’t sound very nice. Makes it seem it’s hardly worth bothering.

While I force-feed the inner explorer over a cup of tea and Digestives, I do ponder this Third Law. Reckon it’s why I’m a procrastinator. That, and the fact I don’t like the cold.

Cambridge University has opened a digital archive of Newton’s papers, including the Principia, in which the physicist developed his theories of action and procrastination – or rather, laws of motion and gravity.

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