“With a pitch-perfect turn of phrase, and the ability to make you laugh out loud… Thorpe’s epiphany is profound and affecting, and it is the counterpoint of poignancy and comedy that makes this very personal search for peace so utterly life-affirming.”
“His is a spiritual journey as much as anything else… assisted by some bouncy writing, a sharp eye for detail and a slight earnestness you can’t help but warm to.”
The Daily Mail
“Urban Worrier, his “adventures in the lost art of letting go”, chronicles a breathtaking year… And the conclusion to his adoption saga brings a tear to the eye.”
“This is Yes Man for mindfulness converts. If you need to stop and take stock, this will show you how.” ShortList Magazine
“Urban Worrier is great fun to read, because as soon as you read it you realise you’re one yourself, of course.”
Sally Magnusson, BBC Radio Scotland
* * * *
URBAN WORRIER: Adventures in the Lost Art of Letting Go
Reviewed by Fiona Atherton
Nick Thorpe is a man at breaking point. Finding himself slumped at his desk one Monday morning, completely burned out, the freelance journalist decides that he must save himself. He must learn to relax and let go – partly for his own wellbeing, but also for the sake of Ali, his long-suffering psychotherapist wife.
It is not just Thorpe’s career that has led him to this cliff edge, stressful and necessarily deadline-driven as it is. He and Ali have recently embarked upon the journey to adopting a child, and part of our self- deprecating, self-doubting, and often self-loathing narrator’s anxiety is about becoming a father, and potentially failing at the biggest and most important commission he has ever undertaken.
Given that he has hit a metaphorical cliff edge, Thorpe decides that its physical embodiment is probably the most fitting place to start his quest. He heads to Cornwall, throws himself off said cliff, and then embarks upon a day of Coasteering, “a hybrid of rock-scrambling, swimming and bodysurfing”, all undertaken in what the Coastguard pointedly refers to as the “tidal impact zone”.
“I’d say it’s mainly a guy thing … this extreme sports malarkey,” Ali tells her adrenalin-fuelled husband, in her trademark call-a-spade-a-spade style. “Men find it harder to take the risk of intimacy, so they buddy up and leap off a cliff together instead… Women just go out for a coffee and achieve the same thing.”
Next on Thorpe’s list of self-imposed challenges is wing-walking, and so to the Cotswolds he heads to strap himself onto the fuselage of an aeroplane and be catapulted around the skies. In rather less dramatic – although just as eye-opening – tasks, Thorpe finds himself dressing up as a clown in his native Edinburgh, attending Sweden’s No Mind Festival with a bunch of New Age hippies, sharing a weekend of bonding with his brothers in the Swedish wilderness and Scuba diving off South Africa’s Maputaland coast – to name but a few.
All teach him useful lessons to add to his new-found bank of knowledge about himself: that it’s all right to make a fool of himself and let out the inner child; that sharing with strangers can be liberating and enlightening; that “intimacy and contentment” with those we know best is sometimes all it takes to “let go”; that immersion in the moment is often the key to relaxation and, ultimately, survival in today’s fast-moving world; that sometimes the notion of letting go is no more than another anxiety to add to the list, and something we should think less about and simply do more.
But if this is all sounding a little too new-age-preaching for your liking then there’s good news. Nick Thorpe is a naturally cynical, rather introverted, Scottish journalist, with a pitch-perfect turn of phrase, and the ability to make you laugh out loud.
One of the most entertaining undertakings comes when Nick and Ali head off to a naturist campsite in Cornwall. Neither of them has been publicly naked before, and neither has any overriding wish to amend that record. And yet still they find themselves being addressed, unabashed, by a woman wearing only “Velcro sandals and a necklace”, and learning that the “cardinal sin of naturism” is failing to sit on a towel. “Don’t put your bare bum on a chair”, they’re advised, matter-of-factly.
In another equally hilarious adventure, the intrepid Thorpe visits Summerhill, “Britain’s freest school”, out in the East Anglian countryside. Founded by radical Scottish educationalist AS Neill in 1921 on the belief in “the child as a good, not an evil, being”, Summerhill does not force its children into lessons; they are not taught to behave in a certain way, but to be themselves. Thorpe is met at the gate by a child “wielding a plastic M16 … behind him, a grubby-faced kid … waving a hockey stick.” “We’ve had a lot of visitors recently”, another child explains. “Last week there were tons of Germans – we decided we had to stop the invasion.”
But humour is not all that Thorpe has in his arsenal, and there are a lot of moving moments beautifully recounted here. He visits an ex-pat running a project in Durban for South Africa’s street children, and finds himself face-to-face on a silent retreat in the New Mexican desert with the man he could have been if fate had dealt him a rather crueller hand. He is forced to confront his eroding faith in God, his own insecurities and faults, and to ask the ultimate question of himself – whether he is ready to be a father.
Thorpe’s epiphany is profound and affecting, and it is the counterpoint of poignancy and comedy that makes this very personal search for peace so utterly life-affirming.
26 June 2011 – link to original article
An angsty adventurer hits home
Reviewed by Jonathan Sale
We’ve all been there. Some of us still are there. Nick Thorpe had been there more than most: never loosening up. As a child he was always sorting his Lego into colour-coded boxes. As a young adult, he thought his girlfriend called him “an urban warrior”, but she had in fact said “worrier”. She soon became an ex-girlfriend.
Later, a happily married freelance journalist, he suddenly screeched to a halt in front of his computer: “I realised that the struggle to control my life had become a war against myself. I decided to spend a year learning to loosen up.”
Urban Worrier, his “adventures in the lost art of letting go”, chronicles a breathtaking year of: consulting a life coach; “tombstone jumping” into the Cornish sea; sitting on the wing of a biplane at 150mph; red-nosed clowning in the streets of Edinburgh; and entering the Garden of Eden, or rather the Eden Project, in the company of busloads of fellow-nudists. It is also a year in which his mother has breast cancer and he and his wife apply to adopt a child. These very adult themes make a counterpoint to his attempts to chill out.
He gazes into the eyes of New Agers. He takes off in a balloon over the New Mexico desert. He floats downriver on a raft in Sweden and scuba-dives, panicking, in the clear waters of the Indian Ocean. In Durban, he meets a saintly surfer who works with street kids in an area where the tourist authority advises: “Don’t stop at a body… drive on.”
He attends the No Mind (as opposed to mindless) Festival, where he sees a man swinging upside down from a rope like “an incompetent fruit bat”. Although Thorpe does not join this particular fruit battiness, he is an agreeable cove and does his bit in New Age activities. Yet his freshest prose is sparked off by an age-old practice, a silent retreat in a monastery during which he takes the silence so seriously that he objects to a resident monk starting up a conversation. (Incidentally, many of the galumphing conversations could have done with some heavy urban editing.)
Eventually, a moderate chilled-out factor is achieved. On a good day he now brings a truce to his mental civil war. Failing that, he “lets go of letting go”. And the conclusion to his adoption saga brings a tear to the eye of any parent – certainly this inner parent.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 – Link to original page
Chill out, strip off…and all your worries will fly away
By Marcus Berkmann
As Descartes nearly said: I think, therefore I am anxious. Nick Thorpe is like most of us, only worse. A freelance writer in his late 30s, he sits at home fretting at his computer, working ridiculous hours and worrying that he should be working more.
It’s no sort of life, and one day he finds his arms simply won’t move. His fingers won’t glide over the keyboard. He has worried himself to a full stop. It’s time for a change.
Being a writer, though, and a travel writer to boot, he can’t just resolve to loosen up and enjoy life more. No, he has to go on a long quest learning how to loosen up and then write a book about it.
First up, he goes to Cornwall and tries the latest in adrenalin-buzz dangerous sports, jumping off a cliff into the sea. Next he gets himself strapped to the top of a biplane flying across the Cotswolds. ‘By the time we left the ground, I was finding it hard to open my mouth without the sense that my lips were going to peel back over my scalp.’
But is random thrill-seeking really any sort of solution to the manifold problems of life? Even Thorpe concludes it isn’t. So next he tries a clowning workshop. Angela, his teacher, has been ‘exploring fool and clown archetypes since 1985’.
‘What we’re doing here is called “pure clown”,’ she says. He enjoys himself. ‘An outrageous truth presented itself: that this grinning loon was just as much a part of me as the furrowed, responsible adult.’
Gradually he calms down and we find out what the book is really about. Thorpe and his wife Ali want a child and can’t have one: they contemplate IVF, decide against it and decide on adoption instead.
Also creeping through the cracks in the narrative is a loss of religious faith. Thorpe was an ardent Christian in his teens, but no longer believes, and doesn’t seem to have found anything to fill the gap left.
We realise, probably before he does, that his is a spiritual journey as much as anything else, a search for meaning in an apparently random and meaningless world.
But would you search for meaning on a naturist campsite? ‘While women gained statuesque beauty when naked, it seemed to me that men exposed a kind of dangling absurdity, like the bit left over on an evolutionary assembly line.’
The naturists he meets are very friendly, although he notices that they do stand ‘farther apart than one might normally.’ He ends up relishing the freedom of communal nudity, while never quite working out what to do with his hands.
It’s all good fun, but it’s also distraction. Forget the clown workshops and the scuba diving. What Thorpe really needs is a few days’ enforced silence in an isolated religious community in New Mexico.
Even then he cannot resist going on an early morning balloon ride over the desert. ‘Sit still!’ you want to shout at him. ‘Shut up! Think beautiful thoughts!’ As if to confuse matters further, a Buddhist called Ray tells him that just ‘letting go’ won’t be enough. ‘Let go of letting go,’ he advises, mysteriously.
Urban Worrier is subtitled Adventures In The Lost Art Of Letting Go, which itself suggests a cake-and-eat-it approach to the problem. He wants to write a funny, light travel book while at the same time finding inner peace: quite a challenge.
But it just about works, assisted by some bouncy writing, a sharp eye for detail and a slight earnestness you can’t help but warm to.
In the end Thorpe notices ‘a marked drop in my defensiveness and brain chatter’ and discovers that he is not the ‘self-contained artist’ he always thought he was, but ‘a lonely man, pining for people who understood me’.
Let’s hope his book gets good reviews and sells well, for the sake of his mental health if nothing else.
20th May 2011 Link to original page
By Alastair Mabbott
Edinburgh-based Nick Thorpe isn’t alone in feeling he has to change his life. His workaholic attempts to exert control over his life are merely endangering his health and his relationships with his family. His planned solution is to spend a year “learning to let go”, shedding his inhibitions, his fears and his need for control in the hope that breaking down his repressed Western mindset will set him on the road to a happier life. Beginning by descending a Cornish cliff, he goes on to stand atop a bi-plane in flight, attend a naturist weekend and meet street kids in Durban. As time goes on, he develops a greater understanding of what letting go means, especially when it becomes apparent his great experiment is also the preparation for adopting a child. The only unsatisfying part is the realisation we are experiencing all this vicariously rather than facing such challenges ourselves.
2nd July 2011
Ever wondered what would happen if you shut your laptop, scrunched the to-do list into an angry ball and just let go? When workaholic Nick Thorpe decided to leave it all behind, his journey took him off a Cornish cliff, through Swedish white waters, to a serene spot with his dog as his guru. This is Yes Man for mindfulness converts. If you need to stop and take stock, this will show you how.
28th Feb 2013