Carole Cadwalladr: How quaint and yet somehow uplifting of Mark Boyle, the self-styled 'peace pilgrim', to simply give up

How quaint and yet somehow uplifting of Mark Boyle, the self-styled 'peace pilgrim', to simply give up. His plan, you may remember, was to walk from Bristol to India relying solely on the kindness of strangers - right up until the moment he arrived in Calais, discovered no one spoke English, and caught the next ferry home.

A round of applause, then, for Mr Boyle. For giving up in the face of adversity, for not soldiering on, for not maintaining a stiff upper lip, and for not struggling through despite the insurmountable odds. How refreshing to find a quitter in an age when, if you're told you have a life-threatening illness, it's almost obligatory to make plans to conquer Everest without supplemental oxygen or cycle across the States on your one remaining leg.

You can barely open a newspaper without finding a courageous, inspirational tale undertaken by a courageous, inspirational individual, but still, sometimes it might be nice to hear about the people with life-threatening illnesses and one leg who decide to stay at home and sit on the sofa.

Folk like Mark Boyle. Who issued press releases, set up a website, left his job, said goodbye to family and friends - the kinds of actions that are usually perceived as irreversible as a toasted teacake passing down a digestive tract. Although he noted in his blog that he didn't 'receive half the attention when I set off or when everything was going amazingly well... but then, once you stumble they pounce like vultures who smell blood!'

Well, yes and no. We did, as a nation, stop for a bit of a gloat. But only because his behaviour expressed a universal aspect of our humanity. Two months into a new year, our resolutions having fallen away like so many bad debts, and most of us, despite our lack of life-threatening illnesses and possession of two legs, are not climbing Everest or cycling across the States. We're just getting by, when we're not messing things up completely, although when I say 'we' here, perhaps I mean 'me'.

I don't like to boast, but failure has its own charms. The First World War would have been over by Christmas. Everest would be an inspiring symbol of nature's majesty rather than a testing ground for men in the throes of a mid-life crisis, and after the first week of statue cheering and statue toppling, George Bush would have decided occupation looked like a bit of an uphill struggle and brought the boys back home.

Because persevering against all odds is sometimes just another word for egomania. And this can be a useful trait - thank you, Alexander Fleming! - but who watched Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman moaning about biking across Africa without wishing that they'd just shut up and go home? Ranulph Fiennes would still have his fingers if he'd decided that the Antarctic was a bit chilly, Mrs Fossett wouldn't be facing life as a widow, and Jane McDonald would have accepted the obvious, given up the singing, and got a job at Tesco.

These days life resembles a Barbara Taylor Bradford novel, with every one of us expected to go from rags to riches with or without getting knocked up with the squire's illegitimate bastard and sustaining a bout

of scarlet fever along the way. Our expectations of what life has to offer have succumbed to the narrative demands of prime-time entertainment, in which, from The X Factor to Masterchef, you must be prepared to sacrifice everything - career, self-respect, dignity - in order to pursue success.

Which is strange. Life's winners generally being life's unutterably smug bastards. Whose Christmas parties you never feel like going to; whose £2m houses you'd rather not hear about. Failing is what makes us feel human. Princess Diana the bulimic divorcee with disastrous taste in men was so much more compelling than Shy Di the Virgin Bride, and the sooner Prince Harry wakes up from his gap year in Afghanistan and realises what we want is pictures of him falling off his tank and shooting himself in the foot, the better. Lose and the world loses with you, Harry. Just ask Mark Boyle.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.