10 Experiences: The Adventure is complete!

These 10 experiences now mean that the 40 ways year is complete! Amidst a very turbulent and saddening year politically and also personally at times, it’s been good to take the time as part of the 40 ways adventure to celebrate and have some great experiences. Here they all are in their glorious range and diversity. They have all been wonderful in their own way and I am very thankful for the gifts and generosity to make some of this happen.

Experience 1 :Who’s line is it anyway – Live – This was a great way to kick off the series of experiences. I was a massive fan of this show in the 90’s and Hazel’s gift was a real treat. Front row seats at the London Palladium and lots of the original cast, including the main man himself Mr Clive Anderson.

Experience 2: Wimbledon – My first ever visit to see Tennis at Wimbledon. This was on my sporting ‘bucket list’ and well worth getting up at 5am to queue. The sun shone, most of the time and me and my daughter had a fabulous day out.

Experience 3: Fullers Brewery – After driving past my local brewery on numerous occasions it was great to finally get to go and experience it. Good tour and a great time at the end sampling lots of great beer at the free bar!

Experience 4: Dinner at Jamie Oliver’s ‘Fifteen’ Restaurant – A real treat to dine here with Hazel, thanks to my parents for the birthday gift. It was a great night out and such great food.

Experience 5: Under the Sking – Poet in the city event at St Pauls Cathedral – A truly magical evening. 4 incredible poets reimagining the story and grandeur of St Paul’s Cathedral. Well worth listening to and engaging with the work.

Experience 6: Communion gig at Brixton Academy with Bears Den and Matthew and The Atlas – A great gig in a great venue. It was the first time I had seen either of the bands and first visit to Brixton Academy for quite a while. A beautiful night.

Experience 7: Cadbury World – Lots of Chocolate and lots of fun, a pretty good experience all in all, but I can’t say that I will be rushing back.

Experience 8: Brentford v Norwich – First Brentford league game, and great to be there to support our team Norwich. Unfortunately the game didn’t quite deliver and a 0-0 draw was not what we wanted, but a good atmosphere and it’s not everyday that you walk past Delia Smith in a West London suburb street.

Experience 9: Lisa Hannigan at The Roundhouse ‘in the round’ – An exhilarating gig. Her voice, her musicianship and band, all just magical. Utterly beautiful and captivating and in such a good venue.

Experience 10: Eddie Vedder and Glen Hansard at The Hammersmith Apollo – Originally it was supposed to be Bon Iver in February, but alas the gig was cancelled. I was sooooo looking forward to the gig and gutted it was called off. However, patience is a virtue and almost 4 months on from the cancellation I got to see my teenage hero from Pearl Jam playing a rare solo gig and great support from The Frames singer, Glen Hansard, also a solo artist in his own right like Vedder.

The Eddie Vedder gig was my 40th and final part of this adventurous year! It’s been awesome and epic and such an adventure and now its over. I’m thankful for all of the support and encouragement and ways that people have engaged with and shared in the adventure

Thank you

Over and Out

Matt

 

 

 

Experience 10: Eddie Vedder and Glen Hansard at The Hammersmith Apollo

Having had the pain of missing out on seeing Bon Iver back in February due to the gig being cancelled, seeing my mid-late teenage hero and inspiration, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam was a pretty good alternative / replacement to complete my experiences and indeed complete the 40 ways of celebrating being 40 as a whole. It’s my birthday this Sunday 11 June, so I completed the whole thing with just 5 days to spare, woo hoo and phew!

Anticipation was high and it felt like a beautiful thing after recent events in the UK to be part of a really beautiful shared experience.

Glen Hansard opened for Eddie, which was beautiful and powerful (and that was just the opening 2 songs, including Frames favourite ‘Revelate’ being played with huge gusto, force and passion. Glen was at his storytelling best, including him telling the tale of The Frames playing Hammersmith Apollo back in 1993 at the invitation of non other than Bob Dylan, who they amazingly met in a rehearsal space in Dublin. Dylan liked them and their sound that he called them the next lunch time from London and invited them to open a show that evening! It was a great and very beautiful set and set us up so well for the arrival of Eddie Vedder. It was wonderful that so many people were there for it and listened with such respect and delight.

And so, just on 9pm, The main man Eddie Vedder emerged onto the stage in a very understated way. From the get go however, the performance, stage set and energy was anything but understated. Electric Guitar in hand the set began in a powerful way and it was initially all about the songs and the music. However as well as being in fine playing and singing form it wasn’t that long before Eddie took the plunge and started talking and sharing stories.

The set list was epic in range and number of songs, including a beautiful Beatles cover with a string quartet from The Netherlands. The Ukulele Anthem was pure comedy and a beautiful moment where he gave away the instrument at the end of the song to a young girl who was with her Dad.

Porch was also a real highlight for sound and a massive sing along, similar to Betterman, and having hoped in my wish list for ‘Elderly Women’, He played it and it sure sounded and felt good.

The Encore, like the set as a whole, was epic and great in length, and reached a very powerful and emotional high with Vedder talking about the painful loss of his great friend and ‘brother’ Chris Cornell. It was a very profound moment, and the silence in the room, out of respect and resonance with what He was sharing was profound and beautiful.

I thought that had reached an emotional high for me, and then the string quartet re-emerged and along with Glen Hansard they all played the most stunning, powerful and utterly beautiful version of ‘Falling Slowly‘ from the soundtrack to Once, which Hansard of course originally played on.

The gig ended with a powerful 3 guitar sound fest with Hansard continuing and lots of vocals and sound with Rockin in the Free World and Hard Sun. A remarkable gig and a fabulous way to close out the whole adventure of celebrating being 40 in 40 ways!

10 Challenges: Completed

I’ve done it! 10 challenges complete (well 9 3/4 actually, more of which below in relation to challenge 5) and the year that began with a celebratory experience on 13 June watching ‘Who’s line is it anyway’ live off the back of a great birthday party weekend now just has one more experience to go and it will all be complete.

Across these 10 challenges I have sort to have fun, move out of my comfort zone, experience some new things and also fundraise for 2 great charities – Tearfund and Refugee Support Network, which has gone well and in total, including the gig I helped create/organise for RSN, with gift aid I have raised £2000! Thanks so much for all the support, generosity and encouragement. It means a lot.

Here’s the full list of 10 and linked to each one is a question of how can I take this idea forward into life in the future in a sustainable, life giving and good way?

Challenge 1: 40 Mile Cycle – It may not have proved to be the most strenuous of challenges, but it was a lovely way to kick off the series of 10. It lead to the question ‘How do I build the Rhythm of cycling and exercise into life more consistently?

Challenge 2: A screen free week – I was on holiday and it was after the Olympics last summer, but knowing how much I love my phone, screens and gadgets, this was a good challenge, and as well as being more fully present I also slept way better leading to the question How do I create more regular rhythms of being phone/tech free?

Challenge 3: Playing an open mic gig – At the fantastic Crabtree pub in Fulham as part of London Unplugged. I played a 4 song set with 2 of my own songs and REM and Radiohead covers. It was good to be daring leading to the question – How do I keep creating moments that take me out of my comfort zone and take some risks?

Challenge 4: Dressing up in 40 crazy items – Why wouldn’t you want to dress up as a Banana at work? Or even more daringly, causing a lot of laughter and some disturbance as Mr Tumnus! How do I create moments or opportunities to fundraise for charities or causes I believe in?

Challenge 5: Read all 7 Harry Potter books – OK – So this is where the (platform) 9 3/4 thing comes in! I’m only as far as ‘The order of the phoenix’ which is book 5 in the 7 book series, however having taken a simply ridiculous level of time to actually breakthrough and read the books, stalling and having to keep restarting the Philosophers Stone, and never getting beyond about chapter 10 of it, I’m counting this still as a massive win! How do I read more narrative and story on a consistent basis?

Challenge 6: Write an album in February: FAWM – I wrote and recorded 14 songs in the month of February. It was fun and a good challenge/discipline to undertake. I’m less sure about many of them now, but there are a few good one’s/keepers, I think?! How can I create space to be creative and to write music, words, lyrics, poetry etc?

Challenge 7: The Minimalism Game – 28 days, starting with giving away 1 item on day 1, 2 on day 2 and so on, right up to day 28! I did it, a total of 406 items! Check out The Minimalists site, watch their documentary and give it a go – Less is  More! How can I create a rhythm of contentment? How do I consume less and consume well?

Challenge 8: The Mean Bean Challenge – This was tough, but thanks for all the support, generosity and encouragement during this 5 day challenge in March. How do I eat well, with gratitude, healthily and not indulgently or wastefully?

Challenge 9: 40 parks in a day – A slightly random/hair brained idea if I’m honest, but nice fit with the 40 theme and great to visit some parks that I would never otherwise think to visit or even know they existed. How do I create more opportunities to get out and into green spaces?

Challenge 10: 40 hours of Silence – It was so good to slow down and take this time out and so great to discover and experience a new place in St Cuthmans. How do I regularly create a rhythm of prayer, reflection, retreats and silence?

It feels great to have completed the series and also good that I have raised a question in relation to each one as I move away from this 40 ways year into something more sustainable for the future.

Challenge 10: 40 hours of silence

“Silence precedes, undergirds and grounds everything else. Unless we learn how to live there, and abide in this different phenomenon, everything – words, events, relationships, identities – become rather superficial, without depth or context.” Richard Rohr

“We can be still and know that God is God or stay very busy and wonder if we are” Nicole Johnson

“The ego gets what it wants with words. The Soul finds what it needs in silence” Max Picard, (The World of Silence)

After several postponements I finally embraced the challenge of being silent for 40 hours (albeit orientated much more as an experience and something to cherish)

I began my series of 10 challenges with a 40 mile cycle and have played on the 40 theme for some of the others. It was good to complete the series of 10 with another themed 40 challenge.

I am by nature an external processor, who has in more recent years developed my more introverted and reflective side, to the point of shifting from being an extrovert to an ‘ambivert‘. I have long desired to create some genuine space to be silent for a sustained period, but in finding it hard to carve out the time I realise that despite deep down desiring to create more space and opportunity for silence and reflection, I am not at all good at it.

Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher and mystic, said centuries ago, “All human evil comes from this: our inability to sit still in a chair for half an hour.”(If you think this is an exaggeration, a recent study at the University of Virginia said that 67% of men and 25% of women would sooner endure an unpleasant electric shock rather than be alone in silence for even 15 minutes!)

Technology and the noise of social media have made me aware that I do find it difficult to create space to be disconnected and more still. When I took up my 2nd challenge of the year last August to go screen free for a week I was left with the question, How do I create more regular rhythms of being phone/tech free? Linked to that is the question of how do I seek to learn the unforced rhythms of grace and create consistent space and intention to be still, to pray and to be more present to rest and to silence?

I know that when I have engaged and embraced opportunities, inspired by the the work of Brian Draper and Richard Rohr, in exploring ‘Soulfulness‘  and in creating space to retreat on a poetry walk back in April, that I have tasted and seen that this is so good. So good in fact that I want to live more soulfully and not compartmentalise the spiritual with the ordinary, for all of life is soulful (spiritual)

I decided to frame my silence around a short series of reflections on the theme of silence by Richard Rohr from his devotional book ‘The Spring Within Us’. This series within the book was 6 short reflections on silence. The opening reflection was titled ‘Silence as the foundation of reality’ in which he writes “Silence is at the very foundation of all reality. It is that out of which all being comes and to which all things return. (f the word “silence” does not grab you, you can interchange it with nothingness, emptiness, vastness, formlessness, open space, or any undefined reality.) If you can first rest in the nothing, you will then be prepared for the something. When nothing creates something, we call that grace!”

I began at 5pm on Thursday 1 June and had 7 hours of wakeful silence until Midnight. I was very grateful that earlier that day a colleague had led us in a 30 minute Lectio Divina reflection based on John 4. I was conscious that it took most of those 30 minutes to still my chattering, buzzing, overactive mind, but it did enable and set a much better tone and perspective for the day. I was nonetheless daunted as well as expectant, and the news of Donald Trump making the call to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement made shouting and wailing a very tempting option, but silent I remained.

Richard Rohr brilliantly observes that silence can hold impossibilities together – It stays with mystery, holds tensions, absorbs contradictions and smiles at paradoxes. Poets, musicians, artists are perhaps more naturally willing to embrace these aspects, but how can we seek to embrace more of this across a wider sphere of society and professional and public life as well as in our more private and creative spheres?

My second period of wakeful silence on Friday 2 June was 6am through to Midnight. I was mostly at home taking time to slow down and intentionally be still. I found some exercises, reading and a short mediation using the idea of ‘Be’ ‘Be Still’ ‘Be still and know’ ‘Be still and know that I am God’ from Psalm 46 to be very helpful. I initially felt the temptation to ‘do things’ and ‘check things’ in the mode of silence, but I was glad that I decided to have a tech free day and simply be fully present and not get distracted whilst being in silence. It was also good to walk and be outside in the beauty of nature. I’m very thankful that I have the green space of Osterley park within close walking distance from home and it was beautiful to spend some time there in the afternoon and early evening. Not a bad view to take some time to reflect, pray and be silent in! 

One of the things that really struck me through the day was the idea of embracing the reality of paradox and tension. Much of life is mundane, absurd, full of questions, lament, bewilderment even, and yet I was equally struck my just how much I have to be thankful for and how much I simply and so often take for granted in terms of freedom, joy, access to resources, health, family, a home, friendships, meaningful work, inspiring and caring colleagues and so much more.

This year has been fraught with turmoil politically and in society with the death of Jo Cox, The Brexit Vote, Trump’s election and just this week his intent to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s also been a very challenging one for us as a family and life in that sense has taken quite a significant hit in terms of pain, discovery and reimagining and embracing a very new chapter and season. In the midst of all of this I am very thankful for so much and for the opportunity to have taken this 40 ways adventure.

My Third and final session of silence was a retreat day on Saturday 3 June at St Cuthman’s near Horsham.  It was a beautiful sunny day and the venue and surrounding were absolutely stunning. There was an organised retreat taking place over the weekend and I joined in with the first session soon after I arrived, which was helpful and insightful as it focused on contemplation, meditation and centering prayer, but for the rest of the day I decided to roam free in the grounds. I wrote quite a lot during the day, including 2 reflective meditations in response with what was emerging. I spent some time praying, some time just simply still and silent, some of it walking and engaging with the beauty of the nature all around me. It was a very restful, refreshing and restorative day.

It’s an absolutely beautiful space and a day’s non residential retreat is exceptional value at £25 per person which includes morning coffee, a 2 course lunch (which was delicious) and afternoon tea along with access to the house and grounds. I would highly recommend it as a place to have a retreat.

As well as desiring to cultivate a way of life that addresses the two questions I raised, I am keen to dig deeper into Soulfulness, into ways and practices that embrace silence and as well as creating that rhythm I am keen to take the time to have 1 or 2 ‘retreats’ a year. It was good to embrace a period of sustained silence and a great way to to end this series of ‘challenges’.

During the day at St Cuthman’s I experienced a very deep and profound sense of just how much I am loved. There is nothing I can do that will make God love me any more, and nothing I can do that will make God love me any less.

Creation 10: Toast Ale

Ok, so I haven’t gone as far as brewing my own beer, but having taken the step to invest in the Toast Ale crowdfunder, the beer has arrived and I also got to go to the re-launch/toast heroes celebration party last week with my friend and fellow lover of all things ale Mr Tom Baker. It was a really cracking night out as the pictures and words will hopefully convey, and great to be able to sample the new beers as well as enjoy the tried and tested and loved pale ale.

The toast heroes party took place in the yard of Five Points Brewing Co where Toast have an office and a place from which to have a base. It was a beautiful summery evening and a great atmosphere. Very generously each guest had a bar tab of up to 6 bottles of Toast (we had 4 each as it was a Thursday night, and we also had a cheeky pre party beer in a nearby pub) and a delicious sub and fries meal to chomp on and help us sustain our drinking and sense of being at least only semi under the influence/drunk!

All 3 beers were very good, we began with the craft lager, which whilst good felt like it was a little on the sweet side. However you could tell it was a great beer and since sampling more I am even more of a fan of it now. Next up I went back to the tried and tested old faithful of the original pale ale and then saved the best to last by sampling the new session IPA.

Chief Toaster Rob Wilson said a few words at the party to thank us for investing and why they are so passionate about making good beer and tackling the challenge of food waste. His brilliant Tedx Exeter talk is well worth 7 mins of your time IMHO

After resampling our favourite ale and voting for the new IPA as our favoured beer of the 3 we decided to call it a night, very happy with all the beers and food we got to try. However, the story does not end there for me, as this Toast Ale investment is the gift/creation/investment that keeps on giving. I was in Norfolk for the weekend after the party and shared some Toast with my Dad, Both my Brother’s in Law and my Sister and Sister in Law.

Then a few days later I had some friends round and shared more of the Toast love. I’m also taking at least 15 bottles to an annual gathering with 4 friends so that they can sample at least 1 of each of the range.

I’m glad I raised a Toast, money very well spent and such a great night out, and so great that I can share the beers with friends and family.

This (ad) venture is almost at the end

I’m now just 3 short weeks away from celebrating my 41st birthday and therefore being at the end of this venture of celebrating being 40 years old in 40 ways. The world feels like it has changed hugely over the course of this past year. The Brexit Vote, Trump being elected, a UK General election called and much more besides. Personally it’s also felt like a big shift with my daughter nearing the end of her primary school years and so much else also seemingly changing.

The ingredients of experience (aka celebration), challenge, creating and taking journeys, for me still feel like an excellent and fitting way to mark this significant year, and even in the midst of great turmoil and turbulence politically and in society, a really good way to stay rooted, connected and able to embrace something of the fullness of this life. Life in all it’s fullness is challenging but also rich with the opportunity to collaborate, understand and celebrate together. I’m thankful that in the midst of this year I have been able to experience such a range of things.

I’ve completed all of my 10 journeys and all of my 10 things I made/created. I’ve now embarked upon 9 out of my 10 challenges, with just 40 hours of silence that remains in this series, ok that and 3 more Harry Potter books to read, that I will clearly fail to achieve.

I’ve also had 9 out of my 10 experiences and having had to cancel experience number 10 (A Bon Iver gig, sob sob) I am pleased that I have found a fitting replacement (at the same London venue no less) in the form of seeing Eddie Vedder and Glen Hansard, which will be a real treat and a delightful way to end this epic year.

Challenge 9: 40 parks in 1 day

Picking up the ’40’ theme this challenge was about visiting 40 different parks in London in the same day. I took on this challenge in 2 parts with a ‘break’ in the middle where I still managed to visit 2 parks!

The Morning – 21 parks

 

Ealing is thought to be one of the more ‘green’ London borough’s in terms of trees and green open spaces. Here is the route I took in the morning to take in quite a few of the parks in the borough. It was good to visit a few parks that I had never heard of or been to before.
Route 1 Leg 1 – 10 Parks – Starting at Southall Park, ending at Ravenor Park –  10.1 Miles 

 
Route 1 Leg 2 – 11 Parks – Perevale Park to Osterley Park – 10.8 Miles 
 

The middle of the day break – 2 parks

It was great to take a break after the first route and head into London. My Daughter was bound for Wembley for the Women’s FA Cup Final, but before that we managed to visit Kensington Gardens and Portabello Road, and then a cheeky trip to Dean Gardens on the way back to Wembley drop off and then for me the house to get back on the bike for the afternoon route!

The Afternoon – 17 parks

Route 2 Leg 1 – 8 Parks – Wolf Fields to Kneller Gardens – 9.5 Miles 
 
Route 2 Leg 2 – 9 Parks – Strawberry Woods to Syon Park – 14.4 Miles 
Here I am at the end of the journey at Syon Park, in celebration mode! It was a brilliant experience and a really good challenge to take on. I love the freedom of cycling through parks and visiting lots of places that I maybe wouldn’t have done otherwise and finding some hidden gems, especially in the afternoon finding Strawberry Woods, Crane Park and Radanor Park as well as enjoying the delights of Bushy, Richmond, Syon and Osterley Parks and their expansive beauty. 9 challenges down (well 8 1/2 actually as I’m still reading Harry Potter) and just 1 more to go!