‘The big education for me is that civilisation is fragile and can be destroyed in a heartbeat' - Jeremy Brade, former peacekeeper in Sarajevo.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Starting again

In December 1933, an 18-year-old decided to change his life. He'd been thrown out of school before taking his examinations, was pointed in the direction of the Army but didn't have the money to keep up the expected lifestyle, tried door to door selling half-heartedly, faced the prospect of an office job that would have withered his artistic and inquisitive nature, was getting into bouts of drink and depression, and was toyed with by bohemians and bored upper-class women at London parties.

He set himself a challenge: to walk across Europe to Istanbul.

On the Channel crossing, he couldn't sleep. "It was," says his biographer*, "as if he were sloughing off the skin of his old self."

His name was Patrick "Paddy" Leigh Fermor; but for the next sixteen months he called himself by his middle name, Michael. And now we have all heard of him.

So what had he done? He had changed his social environment, getting away from family and friends  who "knew" him; and he changed himself, breaking out of the accumulating crust of life experience and habits that gradually suffocate one's growth.

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*Artemis Cooper, "Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure", John Murray, 2012

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