Sweating It Out With Strangers
Put all your money on humanity, the stewards of the land, community, the carers and growers, and society, the builders and changers. We might not have money, but we’ll certainly have each other
And greetings from the inside of a laptop stuck to my lap, stuck to this chair. I’ve been sitting here for hours: I need to get up and move.
For those of you new to these pages, hello 👋 My name is David and I’m a writer, outdoor instructor and cyclist-at-large with Thighs of Steel. I write stories that help you and me understand the world (and ourselves) a little better.
Welcome to edition 343 — palindrome alert!
I’ve actually been spending this laptop time writing, not this email, but something experimental that I’m calling I Don’t Know Africa.
It’s a sister publication to this newsletter that’ll take us on an imaginary bike ride around our nearest continent that isn’t Europe.
I’ll send out the first episode just as soon as I’ve written the second — because, frankly, I have no idea if it’ll work at all!
I’ve spent a lot of time messing around, pushing its edges to see what’s possible, so I’ll be very curious to see how it lands with you.
Until then, please sate your appetites on four stories — almost morality tales, if you take them that way — from my local sauna.
Sweating It Out With Strangers
The big reason I keep going back to sauna is stories.
Conversations with a revolving cast of regulars and passing trade always make me think or feel something.
Sometimes I think those conversations are worth writing down and sharing.
So here you go: four short stories from sweating it out with strangers.
#1: Put Your Money On Humanity
The other day I had a meeting with my investment managers —
Wow, what an opener. That’s sauna life for you.
— and I asked them, where can I put my money so it’s safe?
And they said nowhere.
Isn’t that remarkable? There is nowhere that the professionals can say will be 100 percent safe for your money right now.
Even gold, they said, even gold.
Sorry for the depressing conversation —
No, no, it’s fine —
This is me speaking now because I’m actually finding it a reassuring conversation.
This man is learning the truth that money can’t actually do anything for you. Only humans can.
And machines built by machines built by humans.
But mainly humans.
Maybe, instead of finding somewhere for his investments to live happily ever after, this man should put all his money on humanity, the stewards of the land, community, the carers and growers, and society, the builders, dreamers and changers.
In the future, we might not have money, but we’ll certainly have each other.
#2: Socialist Rather Than Progressive
I met a man in his fifties, I’d guess, who was anxious, scared and angry, all because of what he’d seen on TV.
What’s happening in Afghanistan, in Iran and in China, he told me. Terrible, terrible things.
When I pointed out that there wasn’t much he could do about that, he replied: You’re right. It’s no better here with the clowns we’ve got in charge.
You know, a few years ago I watched that Plantagenets programme — and nothing changes. It’s the same today, right? The rich get everything and the working classes get nothing — we’re serfs to them, that’s all. Serfs.
When I suggested that this world view might have been influenced by the same bad news he caught from TV and that some things might have changed a bit, he said: I’m with you, but I need more convincing.
The idea that things haven’t changed since the death of Richard III in 1485 strikes me as a little defeatist and surely more likely to result in things not changing, even if we would dearly love them to.
In the past 537 years, we have at least in the UK built a society where education and healthcare is free to all, without financial, ethnic, gender or class barrier.
If nothing changes, then why are so many people fighting so hard to keep it that way?
#3: You Only Live Once
You Only Live Once was his mantra. On his lips and, tattooed, on his shoulders.
He worked in fintech and talked about the price of gold and the US dollar. (Bearish.)
His plan, not this year, but next, was to fly to Cape Town and, from there, five or six hours by plane to Antarctica, with another two internal flights to tour the white continent.
It’s not cheap, but it’s a once in a lifetime trip, isn’t it? Four days with only fourteen other people on board.
He hates being around other people, you see.
He hated Prague. He had to get up at 6am to walk across the Charles Bridge because of The Masses.
He believes in working first and going away after. He only wants one or two weeks a month for Euro breaks. Then one longer trip at the end of the year, when he’d earned it, you know.
Before Christmas, he did the German Christmas markets. He flew Lufthansa on two legs of the trip, from Berlin to Munich and from Munich to Prague. (Which he hated.)
At this point, our investor from the first story asks, mildly: Do you ever consider trains for these short hops when you're in Europe?
He only lived once, you see.
#4: Changing Lanes
He introduced himself as an HGV driver from Ewelme.
His daughter stayed on the lower shelf. His wife stayed in the hot tub. His son stayed quiet.
He used to be a chippie — the woodworking sort not the fish frying sort — decades in the trade. Eventually, he quit. It was doing his head in.
He retrained as an HGV driver. A big gamble for a fifty-year-old with a young family. Big gamble.
But he didn’t take to the hours at the wheel, the days of asphalt-induced solitude. Too lonely. Misses shop talk.
Now he works a couple of days on the HGVs, but does a nice sideline as a skip driver and waste refuse operative.
They’re a proper team. He loves it.
And look at him now, five years later on New Year’s Day, staying with his young family in a spa hotel on the south coast.
If you’re unhappy, I suppose, you’re never too old to change lanes.
Days of Adventure 2023: 1
It has been a slow start to the year, but I’ve been reading to make up for it. In particular, Adventure Revolution by Belinda Kirk.
The following passage caught my mind, something that adventurer and self-proclaimed ‘world’s biggest failure’ Paula McGuire told her:
Protecting myself from fear for twenty years kept me in a box of my own making, living life to the emptiest and pretending I had everything I needed in there. Nowadays I welcome fear, encourage it even, egging myself on to the point at which nerves kick back in, then finding new ways to cope.
Three Small Things At The End
Read conservation success stories of 2022 from the Natural History Museum.
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