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No spectacular place to go: So what does an international adventurer like Aldo Kane do in lockdown?

© Windfall Films/BBCAldo Kane locked in a nuclear bunker for 10 days in 2018 BBC documentary exploring the impact of isolation
Aldo Kane locked in a nuclear bunker for 10 days in 2018 BBC documentary exploring the impact of isolation

He has sought thrills around the world and found death-defying adventure in the farthest-flung regions on Earth. So how, exactly, is Aldo Kane coping with lockdown?

Well the rugged Scot, whose same-old, same-old often involved abseiling into active volcanoes or tracking down tiger traffickers, is finding his thrills in trips to Homebase.

The former Royal Marine-turned fellow of the Royal Geographic Society is settling into a new home in Bristol with wife Anna, and the farthest afield the explorer is getting is the hardware aisle in his local DIY store.

“I had managed to avoid B&Q up until now,” he said. “I couldn’t think of anything worse but, in light of absolutely no work happening, I’ve run out of excuses.

“I’m the same as everyone else. I’ve had a pretty tough year. I’ve had limited company and work has stopped. But it’s not insurmountable, it’s just the new norm. Flexibility is the key and we just have to find new ways of living.”

Aldo abseils into the Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018

Anna, a TV producer, is pregnant and the couple are looking forward to their first child. “Yeah, it’s the next big adventure!” said Aldo, who is from Kilwinning, Ayrshire. “We just have to find a way of spinning all the plates but I’m sure we will manage.”

While happy to throw himself off any handy cliff at the end of a rope, the bearded presenter is less relaxed about the entering the wilds of social media. While his Instagram page is full of action shots from around the globe, he is happy to leave the potentially head-spinning attention online to others.

“I don’t get involved with any of that!” said Aldo. “That sort of thing is dangerous. I haven’t been thrown into celebrity like that. I just keep ticking along doing what I’m doing and not getting into trouble. Spending huge amounts of time on Instagram and Twitter is not good for anyone, so I try to limit how much I’m on there.”

When I’m inside a volcano I can’t predict or control when that’s going to erupt. What I can do is mitigate all the other stupid risks: wear a helmet, put a harness on, take the right ropes, get proper training. Do all that and you have a semblance of control in your world. So, yes, I wear a mask

– Aldo Kane

Away from dodging attention on social media, Aldo has had, like many of us, plenty of time to think over the past year. Being cooped up at home with his own thoughts hasn’t been simple for someone who embraces hardship and peril around the globe with verve.

Surviving lockdown during a pandemic, he explained, is a bit like his experience of a BBC Horizon documentary from 2018, where he was locked in a bunker for 10 days without access to daylight for an experiment on the human body clock. “It was about giving myself that routine and tasks that got me through the day,” he said. “So that’s what I do during lockdown. I didn’t lie in every morning, I got up and I exercised.

“Exercise is massive. You cannot underestimate how good exercise is for your mental health. Walking, running, circuits round the garden – don’t underestimate it. But it’s also about staying mentally fit as well as physically fit.”

That’s just as well; most of us won’t be trying the fitness routine that regularly puts Kane on the cover of men’s fitness magazines any time soon.

When it comes to exercising his mind, he is just as rigorous as he is with his body.

With a hankering for classic philosophy, he is no himbo.

“I like to read things like Marcus Aurelius, I read his work Meditations again through lockdown,” he said. “Everyone should have a read of Meditations and take wisdom from it. I just try to live my life as best I can and not hurt anyone along the way and, yeah, the more I read of the Stoics and Stoicism, the more I realised I’m more like that than anything else.

“In the past 15 years I’ve been picking up books and reading and trying to understand life. You realise life is quite fragile. It makes you question life a bit more and you start searching for answers.”

Aldo with the scan of his baby due in March

Fragility of life was apparent when, in 2014, Aldo travelled to West Africa to film a documentary for CNN. Sierra Leone and Liberia were experiencing an ebola outbreak which was ripping through the population.

He witnessed the suffering it caused firsthand and, as safety adviser, was keenly aware of the dangers of spreading such a deadly disease.

“It was my first experience of viruses and how they spread. That film sort of predicted this emerging virus. Back then it was the same. Social distancing, washing your hands, wearing a mask. It’s good to remember the basics done well is what works.

“If Covid was as deadly as ebola, people would take it a lot more seriously, that’s for sure. Having seen ebola myself, that’s without doubt the truth.

“It was a serious, harrowing affair and left a permanent scar in my mind. I found it traumatic to see so many people losing huge, huge numbers of their family. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve been involved with and the people where we were filming were truly amazing in the way they dealt with it.”

Witnessing ebola spread left Kane frustrated when similar restrictions as employed in Africa didn’t appear to work in the UK.

Those pictures of celebrities or politicians at a party or not wearing a mask? Aldo’s unimpressed.

“The measures work, when I was over in Sierra Leone and Liberia, these drills that we’re doing now – two metres separation, washing your hands – they save people’s lives without doubt,” said the former commando.

“The difference here is that the virus isn’t openly killing as many people on the street like with ebola. I’m not in any way diminishing what’s happening with Covid, what I’m saying is it is more dangerous because people don’t see that risk as much.

“I know the restrictions work, hence why you’ll never see me flouting those rules.”

© Tina Norris
Aldo in Namibia a year ago

That isn’t to say even the adventurer – who was a sniper in the Royal Marines – didn’t experience anxiety at the restrictions.

He credits Zoom calls with friends, his gruelling exercise regime and an all-singing, all-dancing coffee machine with “saving” him over the past year.

“When I’m inside a volcano I can’t predict or control when that’s going to erupt, and if that happened it would kill me,” said Aldo. “What I can do is mitigate all the other stupid risks: wear a helmet, put a harness on, take the right ropes, get proper training. Do all that and you have a semblance of control in your world.

“When we’re looking at safety on set we talk about how to control the ‘controllables’.

“You can only control a certain amount of things in your world, and if you try to control the rest of them then you’re on a hiding to nothing.

“Understanding that, and being able to deal with a changing situation, is a better way of living than being reactive and getting blown around by the storm.”

Stoic response: Does ancient thinker hold the secret to coping with lockdown?

© Design Pics Inc/Shutterstock
Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius

Adventurer Aldo Kane is far from alone in seeking the calming wisdom of Marcus Aurelius during the pandemic.

Stoicism has enjoyed a resurgence thanks to books like How to Think Like A Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy Of Marcus Aurelius and The Daily Stoic. And Aurelius’ book, Meditations, penned two millennia ago, sold 100,000 copies last year.

Aurelius practised Stoicism and, despite living in a crumbling empire beset with unrest and disease, was famed for remaining tranquil, wise and committed to putting his people first.

“Stoics believed that turmoil of ordinary life could be made less troubling if you could control your emotional responses, by disciplining your body and your emotions, and by focusing on higher truths,” said Matthew Fox, professor of classics at Glasgow University.

The events of the past year have driven ordinary people towards Stoicism which, according to Professor Fox, values self-improvement, mental discipline and a non-religious spirituality.

It’s a philosophy that influenced Christianity, and itself was influenced by philosophies from the East. “There are plenty of people promulgating Stoicism on platforms like Reddit, I’m told,” he added.”

The world of Marcus Aurelius was remarkably similar to our own in some ways but, according to Professor Fox, it’s worth remembering Aurelius could afford to stroke his chin and remain dispassionate from the comfort of a marbled Roman palace.

Modern self-help techniques used by the NHS, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, share similarities with Stoicism.

“Still, these are unsettled times, and some people are clearly finding Stoicism works for them,” Professor Fox added.