Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Reality of Dreams and Packaging Accomplishment

I was browsing the net looking at a long distance rowers’ website recently. They are currently embarked on the final stage of a 3 part journey across the pacific. Over the 3 stages the stated public aim of the journey seems to have shifted, from raising awareness of environmental issues to encouraging others to achieve their personal potential.

I’m always hugely cynical of projects which excuse themselves by “raising awareness of climate change”. Especially ones that require massive CO2 emissions to carry out this awareness raising. It’s a pretty rare corner of the world where people aren’t “aware”. However the media love this simplistic purpose and if you want the sponsors you have to play to the media’s tune.

My journeys have changed their stated purpose too over time. The chocolate powered lorry expedition was “the first ever carbon neutral expedition”. I’ve since come to hate the term carbon neutral with a passion. Short of sitting in a cold dark room holding your breath it’s pretty hard to do anything that’s carbon neutral. Every activity has some energy and CO2 or other Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission associated with it in some way. Don't get me started on the smoke and mirrors, and ethical subterfuge which goes by the name of offsetting. The planets systems can cope with some GHG’s so the aim is not to be carbon neutral, it’s to emit only as much as the planet can cope with. As it turns out that isn’t much but it is more than zero or neutrality.

Carping on about carbon neutrality is really unhelpful, because it’s an unachievable and unnecessary goal, like a five year old wanting to count to infinity. Count to a million, that’s enough.

A journalist friend of mine shared his theory on why the British respect these endurance athletes that perform these essentially unnecessary challenges in the name of saving the planet/inspiring others/any other equally pious reason. According to him, it’s down to the private school system which developed during the empire to create administrators that could go to the far reaches of Britannia, and endure the hardship. Getting a ruddy good hiding, wearing shorts through winter, single sex segregation, makes one into a jolly good chap. And these values have remained important to the British, and are at the heart of why rowers, polar explorers, mountaineers, jungle craft experts, the WWF Ambassador that just swam through lake Everest this week (to raise awareness for Climate change – Really, is it changing?) e.t.c. are so revered.

Playing up to this persona also lands you the cushy corporate speaking gigs, of which I’ve done a few myself, and let me tell you it’s the easiest money I’ve ever made. You talk for 20-40 minutes about what you’ve done and package it in a way that makes it relevant to your audience. I enjoy researching the crowd, and finding a way to make it relevant, but apart from that, the hardest part of the job is finding the venues with the appalling directions they invariably give you. (“Well you are an explorer, I’m sure you can find it”, Yes but I’m not a mind reader.) I really enjoy it, and I’m pretty good at it. I’ve had standing ovations, and I’ve had sober, intelligent adults ask me for my autograph!

High profile explorers charge “Ellen McArthur Money” as I once heard it described. £10-15,000 for an inspirational talk, but even those on “Andy Pag money” can get £1000 for 30minutes work. So there is an interest in managing your media profile to fit in with Britannia clichĂ© of the explorer because it gets you on to the books with the agents. Maybe the Andy Pag money will go up now that I’ve been in prison. People love to hear about that. Unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to package that experience into a few pithy anecdotes just yet. It’s still way too raw. There’s a process of sanitation, and post rationalisation that needs to happen between the adventure and the inspiring tale.

With this in mind I tuned into the rower’s YouTube promo video for their corporate speaking, ready to cynically pick them apart, but instead I was really inspired, and got a better understanding of why I want to be here on this journey, based on their retrospective musings and what they’d learnt.

A few things they said really hit home; firstly forgiving themselves for mistakes early in the challenge, because the person that made those mistakes didn’t know any better, and that person didn’t exist anymore, having grown into the new better person as a result of those mistakes. Also when things went wrong they came to think of it as a success, because they’d set out to leave their comfort zone and things going wrong meant they’d achieved that.

I can really relate to that. Part of my survivalist Britannia mentality is to see exactly how deep of a shitpile I can climb out of and still smell of roses, because being able to do that gives me the confidence to deal with any life choice I make, and therefore the freedom to choose any life I want.

Meanwhile I’m hanging out with the tandem pilots at Frontiers Paragliding, and the more I speak with them the more I realise these guys are literally among the best pilots in the world. They include the altitude record holder, an ace aerial photographer and the team that attempted the trans-Himalayan Odyssey. It’s the most exciting and adventurous end of the sport. These guys are the Top Gun of paragliding. They live the sort of free life, travelling to fly and work, that would inspire so many that don’t have the courage to break from the familiar.

But the most inspiring part of their life for me, is seeing that their day to day reality is just as full of shit as anyone else’s. They get all pissy about the working conditions, and the people they have to work with. They are continuously skint, spending as fast as they earn, they bitch that they haven’t had a break in months and are sick of eating this foreign food. But deep down they know they are living a charmed life. Importantly it’s a charmed life which no one has handed them on a plate, it’s a life they’ve chosen to take for themselves, putting up with all the discomforts along the way. Those discomforts may by now have been transformed into pithy anecdotes, but at the time they were thankless moments of hardship.

Their inspirational life stories are available for the price of a beer, and a plane ticket to Pokhara.


  1. Andy - I can give you a ruddy good hiding, make you wear shorts through winter, and enforce single-sex segretation if it would help you make more out of your speaking gigs. ;-)

  2. :) You're a classic case Mike. Eton educated, and your bosses (the new managers of the Empire) are sending you to places the FO advises against travel.

    But is your suggestion in my interests or is there some closet desire to see me in shorts surrounded by men with cold erect nipples?


What do you think?