Audrey Burns Ross had an idea for a book. She would write to famous people and ask them three questions: How do you relax and unwind? What is your general philosophy of life? Do you have a poem, passage, or any words that have given you inspiration in your lifetime?

In the autumn of 1990, Audrey was visiting a friend, Jane Longmore, who was in the hospital. Audrey told her about the book idea, and Jane encouraged her to do it.

So Audrey began sending letters to notable people in Britain and Europe, but had little success in getting replies. When Jane died in May of 1991, Audrey had received only seven replies. Shortly before her death, Jane had said to Audrey, “If you can get seven, you can get a hundred and seven.”

And so Audrey persisted and eventually, just as Jane had predicted, garnered more than a hundred replies. They were compiled into a book entitled The Relaxation Letters, which was published in Great Britain in 1993.

You probably won’t read it because it’s hard to get hold of. (Think I am kidding? Try to find a copy online.) My copy was found in a thrift store. I’d never heard of it and bought it because I liked the title and the premise.

The book consists of 136 responses, mostly, as I said, from Brits and Europeans. Some chose to answer all three questions, and some chose one or two. Some filled a page or more, while others wrote only a few sentences. Among the shorter replies were these by two actors.


Michael Hordern wrote just three words, “I go fishing.”

And Roger Moore said, “I truly love a long, hot soak in the tub. It is my one chance to catch up on my reading without anyone interfering, and whoever gets the newspapers after me finds they are very soaked.”

That pleased me because I, too, enjoy reading while soaking in a hot tub. And it turned out that Moore and I were not the only ones. The folklorist, Iona Opie, called reading in the bath “one of the ultimate luxuries.”

Iona described some of her book choices. When feeling despondent, she liked to read Winnie the Pooh. When apprehensive, she preferred P.G. Wodehouse. Poetry helped when she needed to revive her faith in life. And when she had tedious work to do, Iona bribed herself with Charles Dickens—ten minutes of Dickens for each hour of work.

Many of the respondents listed gardening, walking, meditation, reading, watching sports, or cooking among the ways they had found to relax.

Because the book is hard to come by, I wish I could quote the entire thing here. That not being possible, let me at least share this by Antoinette Sibley, a prima ballerina, who wrote: ‘Nil Desperandum was my father’s motto. He wrote it down for me and I carry it around in my wallet.’

Nil Desperandum means ‘do not despair’.

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