I woke up in intensive care in Stockport Hospital to learn that the 17-year old kid in the next bed had not made it through the night.
The night before, a nurse could not tell me that I was going to be OK. She had tears in her eyes. I was terrified, but fell to an exhausted sleep, not knowing if I was going to see September 11th 2001.
48 hours earlier, my surgeon friend had told me on a beach in Tarragona, Spain, that I had had a “cardiac event” and needed to go to hospital right away.
I had been caught swimming in the sea with a tide that was far stronger than me. Making it back to the beach was a miracle and took every nerve and sinew I had in me.
It was our friend’s wedding that same day, so in my usual gung-ho fashion, I said “Well, I’m not missing the wedding and if I’m gonna go, I’m going with champagne in one hand and a cigar in the other”
Since I had to turn my Dad’s life support machine off at the age of 17 I had lived a little recklessly. At this point, I was 32.
I thought I’d had a pretty amazing life so far, having been an RAF pilot, a journalist at The Daily Telegraph, a stand-up comedian, a published poet, a theatre company owner and, back then, the owner of a marketing company that was paying me more money every month than most of my family could earn in a year.
I didn’t know then that I would go on to get married, have 5 amazing kids, move continents, and generate over £50 million from one idea.
After I had woken up, I had a visit from the heart specialist who broke the news that they had measured the wrong enzymes. It was my muscles that were pumping them out through over-exertion, not my heart.
Then my girlfriend walked through the door. I said “What’s been happening?”. She said “Two planes have just flown into the Twin Towers in New York”
I was like “Yeah, right”.
The nurses moved me to the ward and I was told I’d have to stay for at least 3 days for observations.
I found the TV room and watched the horrors unfold, along with the rest of the planet. I didn’t know right then, but one of my old school friends was in WTC for a meeting that morning. He didn’t survive.
“Fuck this, I’m off”
I got dressed and walked out of the Hospital. When I got home I had a nurse screaming down the phone at me “If you die, it’s your own fault!” she said.
This was not the first or last time I would come to blows with the medical profession.
I lost something that day.
Fear of death, fear of failure, fear of success.
And I gained so much more.
What I have not told you is that this was the third time I had looked my own death in the face. Every time I had, I lost a little more of that council-house kid with limited horizons. I lost a little more of my originally unswerving faith in the system. And I gained a little more belief in the true me, my higher self, and faith in the Universe, God, Source, Allah – or whatever you want to call it.
We are all here for a purpose and finding that purpose is the whole point of being here.
Moving to Morocco in 2014 was also a big jump for me that took me into uncharted territory. I couldn’t speak the languages, it was bloody hot, the internet didn’t work…but, I felt the fear and did it anyway.
It’s the only way we grow.
You don’t need to face death to expand yourself spiritually like this, but it helps.
Whenever you jump over the chasm, there will be casualties. People once regarded as friends will peel away, business associates may fall out with you, people will betray you. But that’s OK. You’re expanding and they don’t want to be left behind. That’s their journey, not yours. Thank them and forgive them, then move on.
As Eric Pepin of the Higher Balance Institute is wont to say, this is just The Dough, the self-correcting code of this virtual reality Universe.
Stay firm, stay resolute, have faith and keep moving.
So, this school-building lark is taking shape, slowly but surely. Our kids, along with the kids from 3 other families, have been getting daily lessons from our wonderful teacher, Dorotta.
Dorotta shares our view that children should be encouraged to learn the things they like to learn, and not forced into a timetable. The British syllabus has not yet arrived, but should be here in about a week. Until then, the kids have a project to build a den in the olive grove next to the house which we are currently calling “The School”. They are swimming in the pool daily, we have the local Tae Kwondo teacher coming three times a week to teach them martial arts (which they are loving) in the garden. Joe has a Russian tennis coach. We are currently finding Arabic and French teachers to come and give lots of language lessons.
In England, our kids were being taught nonsense about things like nutrition and history, so that will be addressed here. They will also take part in the development of the school, helping make decisions about how it should be run, etc. to develop a sense of personal responsibility and independence. It is also important that they keep a foot in the “real” world by using an accredited UK syllabus, but the way that syllabus will be delivered is down to us which will be far more holistic and fun than in the sausage factory back home.
We are also spending some cash to build out a new school house, instead of borrowing the house of one of the parents, Alain. This new school house will be able to accommodate at least another 10 children should any other parents want to join us on this journey in the next 10 months. Here’s Joe giving us a little peek…
As a reminder of what inspired us to do this, here’s another chance to watch the wonderful work of Ken Robinson:
I would like to tell you a story about my life, if you’ll give me a minute or two?
I grew up in a council house in a small village in Northamptonshire, England, in the 1970s. I had a very happy childhood that was mainly spent building tree-houses, damns in the local brooke and trying to kiss girls (I’m still doing at least one of those activities).
My school was a few hundred yards over a field at the end of our road. I walked there and back every day and I was constantly red-faced due to always running around having fun.
My parents got married because my Mum was pregnant with me at the age of 17. They worked really hard to bring me and my little brother up. Dad worked in a factory, Mum worked as the village postwoman and as a cleaner to the local “Lady of the Manor”, Mrs Heygate.
I was extremely happy, but I made a decision very early on that I was going to escape and see the world – something no-one in my extended family had ever done, or apparently wanted to do.
One day, in a Maths class with Miss Denny – a dusty old woman from the 1800s who liked to throw blackboard rubbers at 7 years old heads – I saw a Harrier jump jet roar passed the window.
It struck my imagination like a firestorm and would not let go. I was going to be an RAF pilot, see the world and save everyone.
Flying became my passion. I watched every Battle of Britain film there was, I read every aeroplane book I could get my hands on, I joined the local Air Cadets because I heard they gave free flying to kids (in fact I tried to join at the age of 11, but they wouldn’t let me in until I was 13).
I shared my ambition to derision…
“You can’t be a pilot. You live in a council house!”
Even my careers teacher could barely contain his laughter when I told him I was going to be a pilot, before pointing me to all the great employment opportunities at the local factories.
Except one person: my Mum. She said, like she always said, “You can do anything Mark”
And like a doting son I believed her.
It was whilst pursuing this dream that I experienced my first “stepping into the void” moment.
As a kid, I had screamed the place down when we went on a rollercoaster in Blackpool. It was the Big Dipper and it scared the shit out of me. But, here I was , at the age of 13, sat in the back of a 1940s de Havilland Chipmunk about 5000 feet above the Cambridgeshire countryside about to answer the old pilot’s question through my headset:
“Do you fancy doing a loop the loop on the way down through those clouds, Mark?”
I was so short, I could hardly see out of the window. My stomach was churning like crazy and my mind was racing as fast as my pulse.
I don’t know how long it took me to answer him, but I closed my eyes, gripped hard on the cockpit until my knuckles were white and said:
“Yes please, sir”
By the time I got down on the ground I was as high as a kite. As one of my old Mancunian mates would say, it put ten inches on my knob.
I had stepped into the void.
And I’ve been doing it ever since.
To me, stepping into the void is another way of saying, feel the fear and do it anyway.
But there’s a bit more to it than that.
I achieved my dream. I got into the RAF as a trainee pilot and I was one of a handful accepted on their University Cadet Scheme (no-one in my family had ever been to University) out of tens of thousands of applications.
How did I do this seemingly impossible task?
Well, I believe it’s down to the Universal Law of Attraction (more on that in another blog), but also it’s because I took MASSIVE action.
I looked at what it would take to become a pilot. There was a short, but important, list:
1. Good hand eye coordination
2. Great physical fitness
3. At least five “O” Levels (they’re a bit like GCSEs for the younger viewers, but much, much harder) including Maths, Physics and English
So, I reversed engineered what I needed to do. I needed to get fitter than school was allowing me, so I went running at 6am to the next village every day and started a daily regime of press-ups, sit ups and other stuff I got from the Canadian Air Force fitness book.
I hated Maths, but I forced myself to do extra hours homework until I got moved from the CSE bottom class to the second class and ended up doing an O Level, and AS Level and an A Level.
I loved Physics and English, so that was easy.
To give myself an even better chance of getting in, I took night classes at the local flying school at Sywell and did ‘O’ Levels in Air Navigation and Meteorology on the side.
I pushed hard as an Air Cadet, flew up the ranks, got a massive list of badges, won Best Cadet twice, became captain of the regional football team, wrote for the national magazine, got offered the prestigious role as Lord Lieutenant’s Cadet but had to turn it down (which was a dodged bullet, but that story is not for here) because, by that time, I had got in.
I’d already won a Sixth Form Scholarship where the RAF paid me money to do my ‘A’ Levels and had given me 30 hours flying training at Denham in North London.
Me with my Slingsby Firefly in 1986
In fact, I could fly before I could drive.
I know, it sounds like I was a proper swot, and I was. I was also completely brainwashed. There’s one moment I remember when based in Cyprus when a beautiful young Swedish woman was crying on the Nissi beach because I was leaving her.
“I’m sorry darling, I’m married to the RAF”
And off I went. Cold as ice.
Me in the RAF in 1988
As it turned out, I ended up resigning from the RAF. Once I discovered the truly brutal nature of death and war and my potential role in it, I woke up and got the hell out of dodge, which is another story entirely.
But I continued stepping into the void. I was addicted. It seemed like there was so much life to live, I should just go and live it.
So, I became a journalist and edited the student magazine in Manchester. I got head-hunted by the Daily Telegraph and went and worked in Canary Wharf for a while.
That put me off journalism for life. I was writing a lot of poetry but could not find an outlet for it, so I set up the Live Poets Society, telling others to come out of the closet and share their work. That led to a published collection, thanks to Henry Normal (now an award winning TV and film producer).
This also led to me performing stand up comedy with the likes of Frank Skinner, Alan Davies, Peter Kay, and many others. I did not have a clue what I was doing, but managed to scrape a living out of it somehow. That led to two TV pilots that were broadcast on ITV and Paramount, the offer of a TV series (that didn’t happen) and a part in Phoenix Nights.
It also led to me producing and directing a Doctor Who stand up show written by my friend Toby Hadoke which went on to tour for 7 years, played in the West End and got turned into a BBC radio play that got nominated for a Sony Award.
I also set up a publishing company to produce a magazine for the courier industry (don’t ask me why) and set up the UK’s first National Courier Industry Exhibition at the NEC at the age of 23.
I sold that magazine and went to Florida to stay with the only millionaire I knew to see if he could help me raise money for a film about a serial tattooist. Turned out, he’d lost all his money and needed to borrow money from me to keep his restaurant in Sarasota open over Christmas.
I had a theatre company that sold out lots of theatres across the UK, but never made any money. It did lead to me reviving the play Rita, Sue and Bob Too, which involved me playing a man who seduced his two 15 year old babysitters in Bradford. It was a serious slice of social drama from Thatcher’s Britain, but also meant 10,000 people paid to see my arse humping up and down 5 nights a week to uproarious laughter.
Then, at the age of 30 I decided to stop being poor and set up a marketing agency in a tiny office in Stockport with little more than a tin pot of coppers. Literally.
My first order for £20k from The Derbyshire Building Society involved me closing my eyes like I did in that cockpit years ago and splurt out:
“And our terms are that 60% is paid with order, and 40% on delivery”
If they hadn’t agreed, I’d have been out of business very quickly indeed.
I’d already had a crack at the internet with a website called Whoopydo.com, which got lost in the mayhem of the dotcom bubble. My business partner said the internet was dead, so I proceeded to ignore him and set up the world’s first online skip hire service from scratch, which involved making videos like this on a Saturday morning with a hangover:
That went on to turn over £40 million (and counting) and employed over 300 people. If you want to know how I did it, get my free video training here.
The biggest leap into the void was getting married. We went on to produce 5 children, all of which are now living with us in Morocco, a place where they speak French and Arabic, two languages I have yet to come to grips with.
Now, we’re trying to build a school here that is eco-friendly, encourages creativity and individuality. I’m truly stepping into the void with that project. You can keep up with our progress here.
I’ve made many mistakes along the way, and my journey is far from finished.
What I do know is this: success is relative and life is short. Living in fear of success or fear of failure is still living in fear and it will get you nowhere.
It doesn’t matter if you fail – it’s just a notch on the bed post that will serve you the next time you step into the void, and step into the void you must if you are to experience the magnificence of your own existence on the incredible place we call Earth.
On Sunday, we were invited for dinner at the home of Hafida, our cook. Hafida and Fatima Zahra have made our life in Morocco a dream. We are bringing up five little kids, running two businesses and trying to get our house, which is far from finished, in order. We have quickly become friends with these wonderful women, so it was a complete honour to be invited into Hafida’s home.
In a previous video, Katy was quite emotional because she was overwhelmed with the apparent poverty that many Moroccans live in. I expected to feel the same when we were driving to this place after spending the morning at the brilliant Oasiria – le premier parc aquatique au Maroc – but instead I felt overwhelmed with love and kindness and, although the house would shock most Western sensibilities with it’s unifnished walls, it’s outdoor hole-in-the-ground toilet, it’s bamboo roof, it’s rough mud floor…it struck me that this was not much different to where I grew up in a Northamptonshire council house. Although not quite as rough, we had a very simple life where we grew our own vegetables, hung out together, were always playing outside. We had no electronic devices (in fact, Hafida’s satellite TV was far better than the small black and white I had) and we had the same sense of living in the present that these people do. My parents worked hard in a factory and my Mum was a cleaner, a cook, a village post-woman. There was little money. It was very hand-to-mouth. There were lots of laughs and, I imagine, Hafida’s kids could hear their parents having sex the same way I did when I was a kid because there was nowhere to hide!
The welcome we got, full of smiles, hugs, kisses and the man of the house holding my hand as he proudly showed off his sheep that were being ready for the kill at Eid, which is coming up soon, was wonderful, spiritual and heart-warming.
On the way, Daisy said she didn’t want to go to Hafida’s house (mainly because she was enjoying Oasiria so much, which was her birthday treat), but she and the other children very quickly felt the love and were running around all afternoon having great fun in the dust without an Xbox or iPad in sight.
One of the reasons we moved here was to give the kids an authentic experience. A view of the world which is wider than they were getting in a Cheshire suburb.
George is not sure about this sheep…
We want them to travel the world and see how other people live so they can develop a sense of perspective, compassion and understanding of other cultures. I never left the UK until I was 14 and although I have traveled extensively since, it took a long time for the country bumpkin to leave me. If you ask Katy, she’ll probably say it’s still there.
The dinner itself was a feast of Moroccan chicken (jezsh), Moroccan salad and home-made bread. Although I have been off wheat for over two years (99%), it felt rude not to eat a little and also rude to turn down the coke and fanta they laid on (which is very expensive). When in Rome…stuff your principles occasionally.
Here’s Katy introducing Hafida:
Then Hafida made some Moroccan tea outside. I have to say that I am quite aggressively against sugar – it is a terrible poison in it’s processed form that is causing havoc with our hormones, immune systems and general health – but these people consume sugar in spades, especially in their minty green tea. Of course, the kids love it because it is so sweet, but to be polite, we all drank with smiles on our faces with teeth that may not be there much longer if we had to do this every day:
After dinner and tea, came the call of the Muezzin from the tannoy on the top of the mosque, which was only a few yards away. The first time I ever heard this noise was on a trip to Cairo ten years ago. I admit it was so alien to me that it freaked me out then, but I find the sound rather lovely now. It certainly makes a change to the church bells I grew up with.
It took us a while to investigate the strange little mud-hut in the courtyard. At first, I though it was a storage area, or a dog house. Turns out it was a beldi hamman ie. their bathroom. I have talked about hammans before on this blog, and have enjoyed many a spa-hamman. This was an entirely different, home-made proposition. Beldi means “rough”, “handmade” or “organic”, dependent on what you are referring to. In the west, we might refer to this as “Eco”.
It turned out that Hafida’s husband, Abdel, was currently out of work so, in typical style, we asked him if he could build a beldi hamman for us in our garden. He agreed to start work the very next day!
It’s a rollercoaster, but it is happening. We have a teacher, we have a manager, we have premises and we have the will of 5 sets of parents to get this English School in Marrakech off the ground. Ultimitely, we want to build a green school here with a UK curriculum and a big emphasis on creativity, healthy food, and letting the kids follow their passions, rather than some government dogma. It’s the first day of school, it’s exciting, it’s a humble beginning, but it is a beginning 🙂