How do we live in these impeded upended thwarted times?

Sunday column

The unhappy truth about the world of business is you probably won’t hit it off with everybody. The late Dave Walden made a large name for himself in advertising and had many fans but I was not one of them, and he thought even less of me.

But we had to get along because his ad agency and the PR firm I worked for both provided our services to British Airways.

If it had been up to him I would not have been trusted to hand out the mints.

We were gathered one morning at the Saatchi offices to hear about a most exciting, HUGE,  new BA promotion.

Dave got to his feet and got the anticipation building by turning to me and asking David, if you could go anywhere in the world where would you want to go?

I told him, well as it happened there was  this dream trip we’d been talking about for ages, and I described our plans to take a motorbike all the way up through Southeast Asia into China and on to Vladivostok and crossing over into Alaska and coming down the California Coast, through Mexico and into South America and we would be taking that bike all the way to Tierra del Fuego baby.

There was an  annoyed pause and a look on his face that said Swear to god, you're impossible.

And he paused another beat, then proceeded to describe this amazing contest where you would get to fly to some place in the world you've always wanted to see, and British Airways would take you there. Terms and conditions apply, not open to BA employees, their ad agency or their God-give-me-strength PR clown.

In other words the answer he'd been wanting from me was “Rio, Dave” or “Frankfurt, Dave” or “Montreal, Dave”, not the fucking Motorcycle Diaries.

Well excuse me for imagining the most amazing promotion ever might be something more original than tell us the name of a city and we’ll fly you there.

Is this any time to be talking about holidays and adventures, with our borders so cruelly barred?

No, and yes. I don’t mean to be at all Pollyanna about this but I propose that adventure can appear in the most unlikely of places at the most unlikely times and it’s as much a state of mind as a state of travel. 

A man called Jim Fogle who is in his late 70s and  is about to begin a 16-year sentence for robbing a pharmacy wrote the book that became the movie Drugstore Cowboy.

When they say write what you know, boy did Jim Fogle do that. His is a tale of 57 years of arrests and prison and it's not especially inspiring but there really is something about the way he tells it.  

For example, in Utah in 1957 two teenage girls busted him and another guy out of jail. The U.S. government was doing nuclear testing not far away

I was running across the desert with a posse of cops chasing me and boom! It changed from blue light to a mushroom. I got busted about two hours after that.

I don’t offer this to praise lawlessness, although there’s something very infectious about his verve. It's more that sometimes life may bring the adventure right up to you, if you’re living with enough spirit. 

I have this memory from the beginning of the ‘80s, heading north with my mate Peter and a couple of mates in his boss’s fancy luxury car with electric windows and electric sunroof.

Out of Mangaweka the hill opens up wide straight and steep climbing towards Waiouru. Rolling down it towards us that morning was a huge army convoy: truck after truck after truck, soldier after soldier.

Richard, an old Feilding mate, a bit tightly-wound but hard case no worries, was in the back seat. He clocked the convoy, leaned towards Peter in the driver's seat and said: sunroof

It glided open. Richard stood himself up through the roof and assumed the position of a Latin American dictator reviewing his troops with his arm raised high as we passed them all. I’m not all that sure how it sounds today with fascists actually back in vogue but it was pretty funny that morning. 

All I'm getting at is: adventure doesn’t have to be six time-zones away. Look around, and over your shoulder, maybe, for your excitement. If you can’t be in the place you love, love the place you’re in.

This goes wider. What we’re living right now is a combination of the usual and normal, and anything-but. There are no bombs falling, there is no actual bloody deadly war, but the reach of the upheaval and the inevitability of disruption is comparable. It’s just less visible, and maybe that’s why it seems to be missing from some people’s calculations when they object to the disruption and dislocation and the strandings. 

A realistic calculation would entail recognising just how much has happened, how much is happening, and how much is coming; and adapting.

Life has a cruel constancy about this, about delivering misfortune and leaving you no choice but to adjust and adapt and change and remake your life: people who have had to adapt to losing their livelihood, losing their sight, losing a child, losing everything; all the harsh and unyielding ways life can upend you.  

I’ve had some small share. A heart attack derailed the career I thought I had, I went out on my own, and when that business got lean I looked sideways and found myself a new life as a speechwriter, and that in turn pitched me onwards to an online business that roared until one day Google changed its AdWords algorithm and the profits evaporated, and the whole thing has become a familiar pattern. The rules change once more and I remake myself again. I'm almost surprised if the sailing stays smooth.

Certainty would be nice, security would be good but it’s best not to ever be expecting or relying on it too much. 

My friend John Egenes wrote a marvellous account of his solo horse ride from one side of America to the other, setting out with only what he could carry and a hundred dollars, and working it out as they went along. Such an adventure it all is. 

In a cafe in a little town in Missouri a customer a few seats away gets up and goes to the window to get a better look at the horse, and then starts in on the questions about John and Gizmo’s audacious trip, and what it took to get started, and then he says,

You know what I’ve always wanted to do?

I always wanted to go to Alaska.

I been stuck here my whole life. I always wanted to go out where it’s wild… you know, live in the wild country. I don't think I wanna spend the rest of my days working at a farm or at the gin.

They talk a little about this. John tells him,

If you set your mind to something you figure out a way to do it. It ain't easy but you gotta start putting energy toward something. It'll give things back to you. Sometimes they’re not what you thought they’d be but still …it’s guaranteed you’re gonna get something in return.

The guy's name is Martin. He says he liked the name Marty but that Martin just sort of stuck to him when he was younger and now everybody just called him that.

He pulls out a much handled picture from his wallet, Mount Whitney, Alaska.

John tells him

Look at it this way, if a guy like me can do what I'm doing, I don't see why someone like you couldn't get himself up to Alaska. Whatcha got to lose?

The guy says he might just do that, is glad he had run into him.  John adds,

Hey think about it this way, if you make it up to Alaska nobody there is gonna know you. You can start having them call you Marty.

Some years down the track, long after the ride was over, a postcard arrived bearing a picture of mountains, lake, elk and bear and the words Alaska - America’s last Frontier

Just a few words on the back:

I made it thanks to you. 

Signed,

Marty

How do we live in the world in these impeded upended thwarted times? 

Perhaps consider the possibility that what's coming next is not at all what you planned or expected or were hoping for, but that nonetheless there is something else, something different open to you, some new way forward, something good.

An adventure, even.

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