Sunday, 12 July 2015

And the burning question is...

I used to read the Guardian on Saturday regularly and there's no reason why I'm not doing so today, just that habits change and I pick one up whenever I can, like this weekend. Fortunately for me this week's newspaper contained the Do Something supplement (with a cover image of comedian Bill Bailey standing on a paddleboard).

The Do Something supplement exists to make its readers feel guilty; guilty because they are bored enough to skim through it, looking for something to do because otherwise they would be sitting in front of the television twiddling their thumbs and wishing they'd made more of the beautiful weather on offer outside. While Serena Williams was busy winning yet another Wimbledon Ladies' Tennis Championship, the Do Something readers looked out on to unmown lawns and simply wondered. That's it, they just wondered: What the hell can we do to relieve the boredom?
Life's a beach – Joshua Sivarajah and Nero. Photo: Daily Mail
And to be fair to the Do Something supplement, it's full of bright ideas for its well-heeled, left-leaning readership, such as making their own toothpaste. Who, I wonder, is THAT bored? Who has that much time on their hands? "I know, I'll make my own toothpaste!" As the supplement points out, toothpaste is a 'doddle to make'... but the bad news is, it tastes appalling. There's even a three-step 'how to' guide on how to make appalling-tasting toothpaste. Why bother? Get a job!

But something that always catches me off guard and infuriates me no end is when somebody makes a life-changing decision and leaves everybody else with the cliffhanger question – doesn't he (or she) have a job to go to?

Joshua Sivarajah claims that the first 34 years of his life were 'fairly conformist' – university followed by a variety of jobs, including his own sales business, but when his mum suggested they move to Jakarta – or rather that she was moving to Jakarta and would he like to join her – he said yes, he'd come, but then he started to realise how he was going to miss good old Blighty and, in a nutshell, he decided, as a kind of parting gesture, to take his dog and cycle around the UK. He set off for what was going to be a seven-week jaunt, but then realised that there was no hurry. "I just needed to appreciate what was around me," he said, going on to explain that what started out as a seven-week adventure, turned into something much bigger. "I've seen and done much more than expected," he said, adding that the west coast of Scotland was particularly thrilling.

But what all these adventure-loving people forget to mention – and I'd imagine it's the burning question on most readers' lips as they sit at home wondering what's stopping them from simply jumping on a push bike and heading off around the UK with a pet – is how the hell can they afford to do it? Sivarajah talks of his outgoings being roughly £300 per month (for him and Nero, his dog).

What I want to know is this: how is he funding the journey? Alright, £300 per month so if he's away for a year, say, that's £3,600. What about his rent or his mortgage back home, what about his job, who's going to pay the bills in his absence? What about emergencies? But these questions are never addressed and the Do Something supplement's readers are left feeling a little inadequate as they know that simply dropping everything and buggering off around the world on a bike is completely out of the question for them – as it is for most people.

As for Sivarajah, he's now broadening his horizons: "We're cycling across Europe – we've visited France, Spain and Portugal so far. I never want to stop." But surely, Sivarajah, you've got to stop sometime, if only to earn some money to buy a new pair of pants?

A story in the Daily Mail quotes Sivarajah as saying, "All I have to my name is Nero, a tent, cooking stove, some clothes and some trainers," but fails to explain how he intends to fund the trip bar a cryptic mention of how he has somehow managed to secure sponsorship for his phone and gadgets so that he can post updates on a series of blogs. Eh? What does that involve? Who did he approach and what was their answer to his question, "Can you sponsor my phone?" And what about that blog? Is it making him money, from paid subscribers – or advertisers – or is it like my blog: just there, but certainly not earning any money.

One of the best books I've ever read is Mike Carter's One Man & His Bike. It's a brilliant, well-written account of Carter's two-wheeled excursion around the UK coastline. But there's one problem that always annoys me. On the back cover is the following sentence: "What would happen if you were cycling to the office and just kept on pedalling past?" Well, ultimately, you'd lose your job, be evicted from your rented accommodation or you might find your house being repossessed.

Carter's publisher wanted to convince the reader that Carter had done just that: he was cycling to work and then thought, 'sod it! I'll keep cycling'. The reality was something completely different and all I want from publishers and the media in general is honesty. Tell it how it is!

But no. Publishers simply ignore the vital questions that people really want to hear – basically, how the hell can they afford to do that?

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