My grandfather used to walk something in the region of a thousand miles to work each morning. He would wake at midnight and trudge knowingly through the howling wind to work, at nine years old, before having to set off home again almost immediately. All mild exaggeration aside, he was a great fan of the outdoors and well into his eighties would swim in the British channel during the summer months. It was on our days together that I first began to appreciate the benefit of exercising in the open air.
Last weekend my shower gel had a wonderful name. It was called ‘Happy Feeling’, which cheered me up almost immediately. I rather like the idea of the marketing brainstorm which ended up ditching Cherry Breeze and Peach Awakening before going for the ultimate in consumer promises; A Happy Feeling. Luckily for the manufacturer, I emerged from the experience on excellent form, laughing and whistling into the steamy bathroom. Perhaps just by seeing the name, the gel had worked its spell on me.
I should count my blessings that the water was warm. Only recently, I met the staggeringly energetic explorer Alastair Humphreys, who likes nothing better than cycling around the world whilst plotting his next expedition to the North Pole. Even when at home in London, he does press-ups whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. His challenge to me was to try taking a cold shower each morning to see the effect that it had on me. The greater gauntlet thrown down was to see if I could jump in a freezing river, something he thinks everyone should do once in a while. Whatever, Al. From the warmth of a roaring fire in deepest Wales, I knew that this activity could wait for another day.
They say that there’s no smoke without fire. This is not true, as I discovered this month whilst crouched in a wood near Cardigan. My Fred Flintstone antics took place during one of several workshops at the Do Lectures, a tipi-dwelling retreat created by clothing brand Howies. In fact, I hear there is a hundred degree difference between smoke and fire, which roughly translates to an awful lot of huffing and puffing and a rather nasty friction burn. Very briefly, what happens is this; you take small, pencil-like piece of wood called a spindle and spin it incredibly fast on a flat piece of wood called a hearth. This technique is achieved using a bow, made from a bendy piece of wood and some string, which you just happen to have in a corner of your cave. At the point at which the wood changes colour (and your face is shade of darkened beetroot), it is time to carve what is known as a ‘bird’s mouth’. This cleverly timed incision into the hearth allows the air to get in, which in turn increases the chances of embers emerging. You are too smart, dear reader, for me to need explain the intricate marketing nuances of this Neanderthal metaphor.
The next day’s activity involves volunteering for a run in the countryside. All dreams of a leisurely jog evaporate when I notice that amongst the group is none other than Al Humphrys, he of the Espress-Ups. We set off at a sprint, and sped up. After climbing mountain paths for almost an hour, we finally begin our treacherous descent. Reader, you’ll never believe what lay at the bottom of that hilly path. Yes, you’ve guessed it; it was a rushing river. Before you know it, all ten of us were gasping for breath in what can only be described as a moment of madness. It felt amazing.
The average Brit sleeps for between eight and nine hours a night. They are, if they are male, five foot nine and will live until seventy seven. They are shortest at the end of the day, because during the day, and presumably in water, they shrink. This is why you should never be measured for a suit, bed or coffin at night, because you could be almost an inch out. My big theory is that the reason most Brits are not as happy as they could be is that they are not sleeping or exercising enough. As I wander around, everyone looks exhausted, don’t they? What is happening to us? What we probably need is a good hour extra in Slumberland, and another hour of working out. Either that or we need to change our shower gel. I will leave you to decide.