There are times when I feel trapped in a life of domesticity. With countless ties pulling me away from the freedom to just disappear, go, think, walk or travel. I'm a middle aged man, husband and father so with these roles, naturally, come responsibility and compromise. It's easy to dwell on what I don't have anymore. It's easy to let these thoughts simmer and grow to the point where I feel resentment.
Oddly enough I found I'm not alone in this. For my latest holiday read, I decided to pack a copy of Alastair Humphreys' - My Midsummer Morning, which follows his attempt to recreate the journey of Laurie Lee's - As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.
Laurie Lee's book was my holiday read a while back and it remains one of my all time favourite books still, so seeing Alastair's take on it looked like a good bet. I've enjoyed some of his previous books, Micro Adventures being top of the list, and following along on some of his adventures.
So how did it go?
In 1934, Laurie Lee left his home in Slad to go for a walk. First to London and then across Spain. He took a violin with him in order to earn money and later wrote about his adventures. He was an accomplished musician.
Modern time adventurer Alastair Humphreys addressed some gnawing dissatisfactions and what could potentially be a midlife crisis by recreating a similar walk across Spain with just a violin as a means of busking to earn a crust. He was not an accomplished musician, he was (in his own words) so bad that when he finally started his journey, set up the instrument and took stock of his lack of skills, he made the realisation that "I was going to fucking starve in Spain." This quote made me laugh so much, it is almost reason enough to buy the book.
Luckily he didn't starve. He wrote about his adventure, but more importantly the demons he looked to slay in attempting it. Part travel tale, part treatise on middle age, life choices, growing up, parenthood and the realisation of time passing and fragility - this is a worthy homage to Laurie Lee and a book I was glad to get swept away by.
There were a number of interesting points I took away from this book, to apply to my own interest in living a good life.
Read Laurie Lee's book first
Whilst Alastair's book stands on it's own as a great read, to fully understand some of the narrative you should read Laurie Lee's book beforehand. It will all make so much more sense. And it will be a book that you cherish having experienced.
On being brave
“As adults, we rarely learn fresh skills or dare ourselves to change direction. We urge our children to be bold risk-takers, to show grit and open themselves up to new experiences. We encourage them to try things like learning musical instruments. But as grown-ups? We hide behind the way we’ve always done things. We become so boring!”
As a dad, I am often encouraging my son to try new things, to be brave, to ride his bike without stabilisers. I find this easy, yet I have not been doing this to myself. How often as an adult have you stopped taking risks, played it safe, chosen comfort?
Yes, I have become boring. My list of things to do 'someday' is growing, but although I think about them (easy) I don't actually do them (hard).
How Alastair and I both want to raise our children
"...to be wild, bold and curious.”
One Euro and taking the first step
When faced with the enormity of his challenge he thought,
"If I can get just one euro, somehow I can buy a bag of rice. With a bag of rice, I can walk for a week. Walk for a week and after that anything becomes possible. Just one euro. That’s all I need. One euro, Somehow…”
And later on in the book,
“I have listened to the confessions and excuses of so many people afraid of taking the first step towards where they want to be. It comes down, in the end, to little more than summoning the guts to begin. Concentrate on getting started, then afterwards you can think about everything else. It is a simple solution. Simple but not easy. The best, most straightforward, scariest advice that I share comes from adventurer Audrey Sutherland: 'go simple, go solo, go now'.”
You need to just start. Not to worry about all of the future and plan it all out too much. TAKE THE FIRST STEP. Just get the first euro. Just write the first page of your book. Do one press up. Walk one mile.
On growing up, becoming domesticated and losing yourself
“As I folded myself into this new life, I turned into a person I no longer liked. I became mean, impatient and sullen. Unkind to those I loved most, I was present but emotionally distant. Over the years, it ate away at my soul, leaving a void filled with bitterness and despair. I worried whether I would ever rid myself of it.”
Children and domesticity brought great things to Alastair, but he felt he was losing himself somewhere and not sure where. This was one of those moments where I wanted to shout at the page "This is me too!"
The answer is not to leave, do something stupid, buy a Harley, get divorced, or even to simmer in a feeling of how life is disappointing. Through appreciation, self reflection and making creative choices (such as to walk across Spain or enjoy a micro adventure or jump in a freezing cold paddling pool with your child on a work day) you can address and dispel this melancholy, because...
You and I chose where we are now
“All of my life was my choice. I chose to get married and become a father. I can never go back on that. Nor would I want to. I chose not to walk away. I was, I realised belatedly living the life of my choice. It was up to me what I chose to make of it now.”
THIS IS IMPORTANT, I learned from this book to fully understand that I chose to get to where I am now. I can choose where to go next. And not choosing and being passive is also a choice, so I can’t blame others if I feel that my life is being run by them.
You and I can choose where life goes next. I can choose adventure and fun, whilst choosing to be the best husband and dad as well. What could you choose to do differently?
Phones, Distraction and Social Media
“Nobody looking at their phone” describes one of the groups who he quickly realised would never give him money when he was busking.
I annotated a note in the margin to say ‘your phone makes you miss out on life.’ I wonder if any of the phone lookers might have been followers of Alastair on social media and if not looking down at screens, might have recognised him actually performing in front of them in real life and had an amazing experience instead of distracted and numbed in digital land?
“Aloneness is a rare commodity these days. Even the small act of turning off your phone is inconceivable for most working people. We are never disconnected.”
It is important to be alone sometimes. What damage are we causing by not switching off and having quiet uninterrupted time to ourselves and our own thoughts?
Further on in the book, Alastair writes again about aloneness, social media and distraction.
"But it was late. I was exhausted. I was sulking about missing the fiesta and not in the mood to chat. And I resented this intrusion into my peaceful anonymity. I had uploaded a short video from my phone most days, but never looked at any of the comments that followed. I wanted to share my story, but without being connected or beholden to the internet. It was a compromise I had thought hard about. Transmitting snippets of film but not receiving any messages from the outside world felt acceptable to me. I knew that people along my route would probably be offering beds and assistance. On other trips this had been a welcome part of the experience. But this time I did not want help. if nothing else, it was an unfair advantage over Laurie. A month without email or social media was one of my favourite parts of the whole experience. I had become tired of the blurring between my real and online worlds”.
This reminded me why I so enjoy turning off my phone on holiday. Where are we when coming off email and social media feels so good for a month, yet we can’t do this daily?
This was a cracking read. Easy to enjoy and told in Alastair Humphreys' likeable style. More about a man coming to terms with life changing in front of him and finding peace with that fact, than technical details of rip roaring adventures. A love letter to Spain, to freedom, to Laurie Lee, to family, to children and ultimately to oneself.
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