Yesterday was a struggle. I pulled up six miles short of my target for the day in Ombersley. What I love about long distant walking is that your success one day does not translate to success of the walk and, failure one day does not mean failure. Success or failure will be determined by performance across 45 days not just one.
Today was meant to be a rest day in Kidderminster but instead I decided to get back out there and try and correct the short-coming of yesterday. I did this. In fact with 11.5 miles on my rest day I managed to make up the deficit from yesterday and take 5.5 miles out of the challenge for tomorrow–to reach Wolverhampton.
One of the other great things about this walk is that Xuelin and I get to spend more time together. I enjoy her company and one of our frustrations of life in London is that because we both have busy jobs we don’t get time just to talk and discuss ideas.
Hogarths Hotel which is has the rare combination of being at the same time: the friendliest and most helpful hotel we have stayed in on the walk so far; the best hotel we have stayed in on the walk so far and the cheapest room we have stayed in so far. How do they do that? How does Xuelin manage to find it? I guess it is a busy conference and business hotel so perhaps August is a quiet month for them.
In the relaxed environment Xuelin and I enjoy some discussions. I mentioned a sign I had seen in the Italian Kitchen in Newent a couple of days ago which said ‘Spend more time doing the things that bring happiness’. I was attracted to the sign because it didn’t say ‘bring you happiness’ but more talked about bringing happiness which could be for others and for yourselves.
‘The pursuit of happiness’ was most famously enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence. The founding fathers placed it after life and liberty but to have ‘happiness’ enshrined as a political objective was in itself revolutionary. In fact it was such a bold statement that it was toned down to read ‘the pursuit of happiness’ the argument being that true happiness was illusive and unattainable and the best we could hope for was the right to ‘pursue it’ like chasing rainbows or trying to catch snowflakes.
In answer to the question ‘what brings happiness’ we both answered ‘work’. We are a disaster for holiday companies; we have only had one holiday since we were married and that was 10 days in Mauritius for Xuelin’s 50th Birthday. We were in a resort where the doors of our room opened onto palm trees, white sandy beaches and blue sea and yet we spent all the time in our room working on our computers. We were happy though, but to be frank we would have been just as happy working at home.
I think a love of hard work is what draws me to Chinese culture as much as anything. I confess that I struggle with poor people who could work but don’t, but that is as nothing compared to my utter incomprehension at the mind-set of the idle rich. I think work is a privilege and an honour. Our duty is to ‘fill each unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run’ as Rudyard Kipling put it in his classic poem ‘If’.
So work brings us happiness, but that wasn’t what the sign urged, it said, ‘spend more time doing things that bring happiness’. Xuelin asked me when I felt this type of happiness. It was a great question.
My mind went back to a cold dark rainy night on a remote part of Dusseldorf Airport in Germany in 2014. Xuelin and I had been invited to join the charity, Friednsdorf International we were fundraising for during a 1000 mile walk from London to Berlin. The charity provided emergency medical care to children caught up in conflict. The aeroplane bringing injured children from Gaza landed in the early hours, a fleet of ambulances were lined up beside the plane reading to take the children off to hospitals all over Germany relevant to their acute medical needs.
The door opened and thirty or more children who had been evacuated from Gaza and had had to travel to Egypt to board the specially chartered plane began to be brought carefully down the steps on stretchers. Seeing these young lives, victims of a conflict in which they had no part just overwhelmed me with emotion. They were mostly had blast and burn injuries.
The driving rain masked my tears as the rather sever director of the charity walked towards me and said ‘that is your plane’. We later visited the Friendensdorf Village and met some of the children recovering from the injuries of war. We found out then that the cost of this medical evacuation of the Gaza conflict had been around £30,000 and Xuelin had raised £40,000. I have been a politician for thirty years. I am a Minister for International Development. I cannot think of a moment we have been involved in that has brought greater ‘happiness’ in the truest sense of the word.
Thomas Merton was an American Catholic theologian and writer and he captured this feeling perfectly in his book ‘No Man is an island’ when he concluded: ‘ A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy.’
This is why we work. This is why we walk. Yet we would want to stress this is not ‘us’ bringing this happiness, but it is the people who generously support us who are doing these truly amazing things.
Today we just wand to say ‘Thank you’ and let you know ‘that was your plane’.