Born to be Mild by Rob Temple – Review
By Nigel Armitage
Followers of Rob Temple’s Very British Problems Twitter blog (@SoVeryBritish) will be familiar with the charming blend of pleasure and solace afforded by his tweets of all things British and awkward(er). Started in 2012, the blog now boasts (not a Rob Temple word at all) a following of almost four million subscribers.
Then there’s the Very British Problems Daily Telegraph column, the four book volumes and counting, the board game, cups, greetings cards, and not forgetting the TV programme. A social media empire that Rob runs – horizontally – all from the comfort of his sofa. Rob Temple winning at life? Yes, but if only everything was that straightforward for him, as he explains in this book’s introduction:
“I’d somehow wangled it so that my job was mostly tweeting, which meant no colleagues, no bosses, no office, no alarm clock, no deadlines… just me, my phone and my social media feeds. Doesn’t sound too healthy, does it? It wasn’t. Everything went bad.”
He describes how he felt increasingly fearful of leaving his house, of a disconnection between himself and the outside world. He was ‘an intern in my own existence.’ Aware of the damaging impact of such a situation on his mental health, he resolved to force himself to re-connect with the world by seeking out new experiences and adventures, and Born to be Mild is his honest, at times moving, and always entertaining account of how he got on.
As the book’s title tells it, what we’re talking about here are not traditional notions of daring-do and high-octane action. Rob doesn’t go skydiving or cast himself off in a barrel upstream from a terrifying waterfall. (Maybe he’s leaving those things for the sequel?) ‘Mild’ means Rob going away on holiday on his own, taking a beekeeping course, trying to learn a new language, and stretching out at a yoga class.
So far, so mild. But whilst these and his many other endeavours might not be everyone’s idea of ‘adventures’, Rob’s intrepidness lies in his reaching out to others in new social situations, in overcoming his harmful inclination to ‘retract into myself’. More so than any death-defying leap, it is a sort of bravery that we all might recognise and seek to emulate.
Although the book is laden throughout with Rob’s characteristic humour and, erm, funniness, he’s also candid about his own problems. He’s living with his parents in Godmanchester after the ending of his marriage. He has some health issues, exacerbated at times by a worrying and wholly unfunny misuse of alcohol. Seeking connections with others is therefore not just some idle conceit or project:
“Again I become trapped by myself and this time, completely unchaperoned, I can’t resist the urge to drink.”
It is Rob’s huge fortune that he has his mum and dad in his life, and it is they who are the break-out stars of this book. Funny, wise, but most importantly always there for him, his parents provide the physical and emotional lift-raft that his situation and outlook so perilously needed. Rob’s book dedication to his mum and dad is therefore more than authorial convention. Noted as well is that home with them also means excellent fish pie.
There is no suggestion by the book’s end that Rob’s numerous new experiences have led him to some kind of blinding moment of self-enlightenment. The struggle is real and takes place on a daily basis. The point is to keep trying, to keep mixing things up, to trust, at least partly and sometimes, in the goodness and generosity of others.
Born to be Mild‘s success lies in Rob’s ability to bring the reader with him on his journey into the milder side of life. It is impossible not to care for him and hope that he is ok, whilst also chuckling at his various (often ‘mis’) adventures. But, more than that, the book is a welcome fillip (definitely not a clarion call) to those who understand exactly what Rob means when he says that the world may be ‘a stage’ but that he feels ‘frozen in the wings’. Where Rob leads, however, the reader of this book will take undoubted confidence in following, and there’s nothing ‘mild’ or unadventurous about the value of that.
‘Born to be Mild: Adventures for the Anxious’ by Rob Temple is published by Sphere, £14.99 hardback