Tuesday 2-for-1!

Hey strangers!

While things have been quiet on the blog front - I assure you that my journey to 100 cups has been at the forefront of my mind! The last month has been quite a run around, but I have now emerged with some new cups of tea to tell you about, and some upcoming plans that, frankly, are pretty darn exciting!

I'll throw two stories at you today - my final Australian meeting with Alexander Downs from earlier this year, and my first UK cup of 2011 with Matt Whitby. I hope you enjoy them!

In addition to cups 17 & 18, I also want to take a moment to announce that from today forward, Tuesdays and Fridays will be of particular importance for you and I! My intention is to share my thoughts with you two times a week as they relate to my journey to 100 cups, and all the subsequent ideas that might come to me as a result. The further I venture into all of this, the more I feel it taking hold of me. It's changing me, one cup - one stranger at a time. Bit by bit, this is all making me a better person. I want to share those changes with you, and hope that you might find some inspiration for yourselves amongst all of this.

So make yourself a cup of tea and sample what Tuesday has to offer! Coming this Friday - the story of my cup of tea with Sam Murray in South Woodford, as well as a pretty cool announcement about a cup of tea I will be having early next week upon my return to London!
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Cup # 17 - Alexander Downs - Brisbane, Australia

It's almost fitting that I should finally get around to telling you all about my cup of tea with Alexander Downs on board this Malaysia Airlines flight back to the very city in which we met - Brisbane, Australia. My last visit was a bit of a whirlwind - and if you read any of the previous stories, you'd already know about my meetings with Jeremy Staples and Warren & Amanda Greaves, as well as the cup of tea on 4ZZZ radio.
I was halfway through my chat on 4ZZZ radio with Quentin Ellison when the studio phone rang...

'It's for you' said Quentin, as he reached across the desk passing me the handset.

I was caught slightly off guard, if I am honest. The excitement of sitting in a radio studio talking about my journey to 100 cups was enough, I thought - and now, to know that someone was actually listening - the game had just changed completely! I mean, I know people listen to the radio - I was confident that people would hear me and the story that I hope the share with the world - but most people, they don't really listen. They enjoy the background noise - the often comical DJ banter - and then they turn off the radio and get back to real life. To know that someone was really listening, so inspired that they would pick up the phone and call the radio station to speak with me - that really meant something.
Alex and I planned to meet at the Three Monkeys cafe. While he was the first to get in touch with me in the interest of meeting for a cuppa - he would be the last person I met during my time in Brisbane. I sat out front of the cafe with Lou, awaiting his arrival, unsure (as I always am) of what to expect.
An awkward looking fellow approached from behind me - Lou saw him coming.

'I think that's him!' she whispered with excitement.

It's funny how you can spot them. They walk carefully - a mixture of fear and excitement in their eyes. If you happened to see them arriving, they usually pause at the entrance - take a look around, glance at their phone to see if they have missed a text from me, look back in the direction from which they came - probably thinking 'if I turn and walk away now, I can pretend like this never happened'. But they don't walk away. They pull themselves together, and walk inside - hoping, just the way that I do, that the conversation will not be awkward, and that they might just take something valuable away from it. I froze a little as I watched Alex - for the first time, I had watched someone go through what I go through each and every time - the second thoughts, the doubts, the worry - and when you overcome all of that, you're already better off than you were before, aren't you? How awkward could a cup of tea be anyway?

As I pondered this, though - Lou kindly drew my attention to the fact that I had just let the guy walk inside without acknowledging him. Feeling like a bit of an ass now, I followed him inside. Through the long corridor lined with tables and chairs he walked. I didn't want to run up behind him or call out, so I just followed - not close enough that I could tap him on the shoulder, and far enough away that calling out would draw far too much attention to two men meeting for a cup of tea and some ordinary conversation. I hurried my pace, trying to catch him before the awkwardness of the situation I had created could escalate further - but as Alex entered the garden at the back of the cafe, it became all too evident that I was too late. Sitting at the first table in the garden was a lone gentleman on a laptop. Brown hair, collard shirt, dark jeans - the very description I had given Alexander so that he could spot me. I knew what was about to happen, and I think you do too...

As I stood and watched - Alexander approached this man, making the fair assumption that it was me.

'You must be Greg!' Alex said excitedly.

'Pardon me?' said the well dressed man.

'Greg?' Alex said, with much less confidence than the first attempt.


And then a long pause, as the two men stared at each other...

The man who made the mistake of dressing like me was clearly confused. Alex was confused, and probably a little embarrassed. And I was just standing there, watching. Alex turned away from the man who was dressed much the same as I was, looking desperately for another match. Knowing that I could not let him walk into that again, as casually as I could, I tapped him on the shoulder.

'You must be Alex!'

Indeed, he was. I knew this already. He looked relieved, happy to see me even - and I felt fairly confident that he did not realize I had just watched his slightly awkward attempt to greet the man he incorrectly assumed to be me.

To his credit, our conversation contained almost none of the awkwardness that I had just witnessed. We spoke of academics - our interest in learning, and not just the kind of learning that takes place in a classroom, but the learning that take place each and every day - in regular, ordinary, everyday life. Alex is studying social work, and wants to focus his career on empowering communities to create positive change for themselves. The idea that if you can convince people that they have the means, they will band together, and manage their own affairs, creating a bottom up model for community development. This model for community development, in a way, has a lot to do with having tea with strangers. The idea that ordinary people with seemingly no influence on society or culture, can get together for a conversation, share their ideas and stories, and by doing so, form a collective of people who want to create something positive. I want to create a world where people want to connect with one another - I want that to be acceptable again. Now I had Alex on my side.

After several cups of tea, and a lot of banter about the social state of the world and our shared belief that great change can come out of a seemingly insignificant occurrence - Alex suggested we head across the street to the pub for a beer. I am not much of a drinker - but it seemed like a good idea - and I felt like, at the very least, I owed the man a pint for the minor embarrassment I had already caused him. We hopped across the road to the pub and I bought the man a beer - I was more relaxed now of course, and Alex and I continued our conversation. He was a good bloke, and he had a lot of great ideas. I could see in him something similar to that which I believe to be inside of me - a desire to create something good for others. The desire to share the things he knows, with hope that he might inspire some good in the world. I don't know if he realized it then - but Alex had already inspired me, even before we met for a cup of tea. It was something he wrote to me during our initial exchange - something quite profound - and something that I think is best shared with all of you just as Alex wrote it.

"I hope to bring people closer to recognizing that living a fulfilling enjoyable life does not stem from segmented moments of bliss, but rather comes from developing a sustained momentum of continual awareness about the rareness of our existence."

If nothing else, I hope that in meeting strangers for tea, I might be able to convince people of these words, just as Alex has phrased them. To reveal to the world the beauty that can be found in the incredibly ordinary happenings of an incredibly ordinary day. The recognition of our unique ability as human beings to communicate with one another. To be open to hearing what people have to say, and to appreciate that everyone has the ability to create meaning in your life. Alex had taught me a lot already, and introduced me to some new great thinkers who's work I was keen to learn more about. And I guess, Alex reminded me that being awkward is okay too. It's not easy to meet a stranger for a cup of tea, and it certainly cannot be easy to approach the wrong stranger only to be shot down in a flurry of momentary confusion. But, the confusion and embarrassment passes, and if you are lucky - you come out of the whole thing with a new friend and a slightly new perspective.

I snapped our photo, as I do, and Alex and I parted ways. Meeting Lou just around the corner - I told her of the slightly embarrassing start, but more importantly, I told her about all the great things that Alex and I had shared with each other. After a short stroll around Brisbane's West End- we began to head back towards the car as I continued to reflect on the conversation I had just had. Waiting for our signal to cross the street, I noticed Lou looking intently at something on the other side of the road.

'Isn't that him there?'

Alex stood opposite us, waiting, just as we were, to cross the intersection. The signal turned, and we began to walk towards one another. I looked forward, my hand poised to launch into a wave, or perhaps a handshake if the upcoming exchange should call for it. This was no longer a meeting of strangers. It was a reunion of two friends. Lou was ready too, interested to meet the gentleman I had just spent the last couple hours getting to know. As the moment approached, Lou and I both looked to him - Lou's hand was ready as well - as we both know the exchange in the middle of the road would have to be a brief one.

'Hey Alex!' we both said it in unison - looking eagerly to him for a reply.

But Alex, head locked straight ahead, kept on walking - no smile, no nod... nothing at all. Our enthusiastic hello had been missed! Ignored! Maybe we should have been louder? More assertive? Now, though, it was too late...

As Lou and I walked onwards, confused and embarrassed - she lent close and whispered the words she knew we were both thinking at that very moment...

"Well... that was a bit awkward, wasn't it?"

[ I can't help but feel the need the need to throw this photo up as well. This was the first one we took - but we felt it looked a little too 'cuddly'. In hindsight - it might be more fitting that way! ]
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Cup # 18 - Matt Whitby - London, UK

Join Me.

Matt Whitby read the words again. It all seemed easy enough. Just send in your name and passport photo. Simple. But who was Matt joining? And what did joining even involve? Matt had no idea. But, if you want the truth of it, that didn't bother him too much...

For those of you familiar with the work of Danny Wallace, you'd know Matt as 'Joinee Whitby'. Yes, the 'Joinee Whitby'. The man who, in a way, would become the nemesis in a wonderful story about a collective of people dedicated to making old men happy - or, well, to making strangers in general happy through random acts of kindness. As nemesis, I don't mean to say that Matt Whitby was in any way opposed to making strangers (old men included) happy - in fact, Matt became so dedicated to the cause that Danny Wallace feared he was trying to usurp his power as the leader of the collective.

For Matt, that willingness to Join Danny Wallace all those years ago lead to many things. Perhaps most importantly, it lead him to join a movement of wonderful people, doing wonderful things for complete strangers. It lead to him having a roll in what would be come a best selling book in the United Kingdom. It even lead to an invite to attend the red carpet premiere of the film 'Yes Man' in Leicester Square. And as Matt stood just across the red carpet from Danny Wallace and Hollywood star Jim Carrey - he probably felt pretty good about saying yes to something that, at one time, seemed so strange.
I suppose Matt must have felt the same when a strange Canadian guy asked him if he was keen to meet for a cup of tea. Why not? No questions. No hesitation. Just a willingness to step back out on the ledge - to be part of something different.
I liked that about him. I suppose too, that the willingness to say yes is something that everyone who has joined me for tea so far has shared. We are a different bunch, aren't we?

Much like my cup of tea with Mark J. Winter, it was through Danny Wallace himself that I came into contact with Matt Whitby. Taking notice of a tweet sent by Matt in regards to an upcoming road trip from Los Angeles to New York - I felt the need to interject. Not necessarily with my quest to 100 cups in mind however - I suppose I figured that since I have done that drive before, I might be have been able to offer Matt some suggestions on what stops are worth making. The same willingness that lead to Matt getting tangled up in a strange and wonderful adventure took hold of me that day. I saw an opportunity to reach out to someone, to offer my thoughts in the hope that it may be of some use.

It was nearing 12:00 on Tuesday as I approached Chancery Lane Station. I would be meeting Matt Whitby for tea in just a few minutes. After a quick phone call, and an awkward wave from the opposite side of the road, Matt and I settled in at Cafe Nero, ready to let the conversation take us wherever it wished. Of course, I gave Matt my thoughts on his upcoming road trip and offered to do my best to get in touch with some friends who might lend him a couch or some floor space for a night or two along the way. It's funny how, when you take the time to talk to someone, you realize just how much you have to offer them. Whether preforming random acts of kindness for strangers, or offering them the possibility of a floor to sleep on in a foreign country - we all have the ability to affect each other lives. And it all begins with that willingness to say yes.

It seems to me that Matt lives each day of his life with that willingness in mind. Often times, it becomes easier to create our reality - to say no to opportunities in an effort to remain in control. But, I can't help but feel that it's those moments where we let go of control, that true growth happens. It's those experiences that you never thought you'd have that truly mould the person you are, and the person you will become. I know this to be true. I think Matt Whitby knows this to be true. And maybe, just maybe, by joining me for a cup of tea, 98 other people might come to believe in this notion as well.

1 comment:

  1. Good ol' Whitby - I should have known he'd be into this kind of thing! Hurrah for Joinees - get a few more of us onboard and you'll have waaaaay more than 100 in no time :)

    Gold Joinee Vixie