I spent an interesting evening in the pub tonight with a couple who'd recently returned from Thailand. My dad and I walked into The Greyhound, our 500 year old local, and he was greeted by Mel who'd been the original organiser of the Hassocks farmers' market before she and her husband Matt left several years ago.
We hit it off instantly, all three of us having recently returned to the UK after an extended period away. We chatted at length about expat life, differing attitudes to health and safety in Asia as demonstrated by motorbikes that served as either heavy goods vehicles (a live pig strapped to each side) or transport for the whole family (the maximum they'd seen was seven on one bike - can anyone beat that?). If you wear a safety belt, it means you don't trust the driver and so long as you visit the temple before you set off, you won't need a helmet.
We talked of the culture of fear that exists in the west post 9/11, all the while with an unidentified bag sitting on our table teasing us with the notion that it might be... a bomb! Eventually it was taken away and destroyed by the bomb disposal squad.
As the beers flowed, conversation got more philosophical. Inevitably, the story of how I'd cycled from Stoke on Trent to Singapore before ending up in Taiwan came out as did the suggestion that there was an inspirational story to be told and I should write a book about it.
Mel had recently written a book about pre-natal yoga that is set to be published in the next few months. Anyone who's tried to be published will know that it's not easy. Having discussed my situation - unemployed, unsure of which direction to take and having a number of irons in the fire - Mel suggested that we ex-expat writers had met for a reason and if I hadn't got a job yet it was because I was meant to tell my story. I don't believe that any more than I believe that name of the guest ale, Rosey Nosey, was of significance.
If I were a betting man, I'd bet the only reason things happen is cause and effect, without any deeper meaning. From the first moment of creation, we were destined to meet and that has no significance. But that is not to say we cannot give meaning to events. The fact that we, along with the rest of the universe obey the laws of physics, does not belittle our thoughts and feelings or the meaning we give them. Rosey Nosey just happened to be there, but I liked seeing my wife's name on the bar. Science can explain why we fall in love and the chemistry that is going on in our brains when we do, but it will never explain what it feels like.
I came away refreshed in the belief that the story of how four strangers cycled from England to Singapore is one that interests and inspires people and that I am capable of telling it. The first step has been taken..As with the journey itself, the most important thing is to believe it is possible.
The first chapter: http://theplacesbetween-toby.blogspot.com/