Urban Worrier, By Nick Thorpe

An angsty adventurer hits home
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The Independent Culture

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.