LifeCycle For Neuroblastoma

LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma Brand

Welcome to LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma, the home of the LifeCycle challenge in aid of Solving Kids Cancer.

I’m Steve Taylor, aka Von Schiehallion, the LifeCycle man.

Solving Kids Cancer helps families affected by the childhood cancer, neuroblastoma. In most cases neuroblastoma is only diagnosed when it has already progressed to a late ‘high risk’ stage.  Even when children are tested clear of neuroblastoma after initial hospital treatment, a high percentage of children with high risk neuroblastoma will relapse and some children will not respond to therapy.

LifeCycle is an extraordinarily difficult challenge meeting an extraordinarily difficult disease head on.

Here’s the deal: The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,902 miles. The LifeCycle target was 25,000 miles of commuting to and from work in 4 years. That’s the same as cycling from London to Manchester every week: but there’s also a thousand feet of climbing in each direction. That’s equivalent to climbing Ben Nevis twice a week on a bike. The route passes by Europe’s biggest onshore windfarm at Whitelee. There’s a windfarm on the Eaglesham Moor for a very good reason… And as if all that wasn’t enough, I was 60 when I started, and just over four years from retirement. The only way to complete this challenge was to never give up. I didn’t: I completed it in six weeks short of three years, then just kept going. Think “Forest Gump on two wheels“.

This is LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma.

The full ongoing story is here in the blog. You can become a supporter and get involved, at either

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma

or

http://www.justgiving.com/SteveTaylor-60

If you’re on Facebook, then please have a look at the LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma group. It’s full of the latest news, photos and various bits and pieces from the LifeCycle Twitter feed.

Here are the LifeCycle miles

And here’s the story so far…

NOVEMBER 2016

Wum Story

Frozen Puddles

Got My Mojo Workin’

The Italian Job

Flagless And Fancy Free

OCTOBER 2016

United In Adversity

Baby Dennis

How Long’s A Piece Of String?

Quad Bike

SEPTEMBER 2016

The Hardest Words

Living Puddlian

Beautiful, Beautiful Eileidh

113 and a miss

Goldfinger

AUGUST 2016

Frazzled

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

On The Road Again

Out And About In Puddleshire

JULY 2016

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

The Oven Bucket Challenge

Timeout

JUNE 2016

About A Girl

My Way

Reflections

Freewheelin’

To Puddles With Love

MAY 2016

Around The World In (500 and) 80 Days

24 Carat Gold Cake

Oscar 2 Eileidh

APRIL 2016

Relentless

The Fightback

To Infinity And Beyond

The Land Of Make BELIEVE

The Times They Are A Changin’

MARCH 2016

When I’m Back On My Feet Again

Slange Var!

The 39 Steps

FEBRUARY 2016

1999

No Pain, No Gain

Buy One, Get One Free

Black Ice Ops

Hoo Ha Henry

JANUARY 2016

Gertrude, Sister Of Bawbag

Shirley Knott

Ice Station Yompa

Wee Kian Do It

DECEMBER 2015

The LCFN Awards 2015

The Very Best Of 2015

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

The Wheels On The Bus

It Never Rains But It Pours

NOVEMBER 2015

Something Inside, So Strong

When The Going Gets Tough…

The Princess And The Magic Garden

When You’re Going Through Hell, Just Keep Going…

OCTOBER 2015

LCFN Goes Platinum In October For Children With Neuroblastoma

The Hundred Days Of Hell

A Question Of Semantics

Because I Can

When September Ends

SEPTEMBER 2015

New Gold Dream

The Sky’s The Limit

Never Give Up

Going For Gold

AUGUST 2015

Awareness, Awareness, Awareness

Planting Seeds In Fallow Ground

Bad Things Come In Threes

Our Father

One Day At A Time

JULY 2015

Here We Go, Ten In A Row

I’m On A Train / London Calling

Double Puddles

Puddlemania Hits The States

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Kids In America

JUNE 2015

Fire Tiger

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Super In Love

Puddlemania

MAY 2015

How A Walk Became A Cancer Crusade

The Anniversary Waltz

Forres Gump

I’d Ride A Million Miles For One Of Your Smiles

Take It To The Limit

APRIL 2015

C’mon Eileidh

Ecstasy, Passion And Pain

Monday The 13th

The Spirit Of Walfrid

It’s All Downhill From Here

MARCH 2015

Halfway To Paradise

Sugar Sugar

Boom And Bust

Gimme Closure

FEBRUARY 2015

Patience Is A Virtue

Cause Or Just Impingement

Off The Cuff

A Retirement Home

JANUARY 2015

King Commute

Just Another Day

The English Patient

Rainspotting

On The Road Again

DECEMBER 2014

2014’s Greatest Hits

12,000 Miles – A Christmas Song

Riders On The Storm

Sometimes, Words Are Not Enough

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

NOVEMBER 2014

Live Every Day Like It’s Your Last

Everything In Perspective

Back From The Grail

The Holy Grail

OCTOBER 2014

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Whole Lotta Love

I Don’t Like Mondays (Except This One)

The Bucking Bronco

Frauday Morning

SEPTEMBER 2014

Give ‘Em Both Barrels

Back To The Future

My Body Is Revolting

Ma Wee Sair Knee

AUGUST 2014

Rest If You Must But…

The Third Man

The Bike Hospital

King Of The Mountains

The Carnival Is Over

JULY 2014

End Of Term Report

The Three Seasons

Advance To Glasgow – 200 Days Since Passing Go

The Lesser Spotted Pot-Bellied Lycra Man

JUNE 2014

And I Would Bike 500 More…

Getting Yer Angles Right

Playing Injury Time…The Wizard Of Oz

MAY 2014

Mega May

Vastus Medialis – Injurus Crampus

One Undred An Eighty…. Two

Keep Right On To The End Of The Road

It Might As Well Rain Until September

APRIL 2014

The Long And Winding Road

Magical Mystery Tour

A Case Of Pineau De Re

Permalactic Legs

MARCH 2014

Wanted – A Magician

Bonus Track – Hey Paula

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Chugger/Gone With The Wind

Under Pressure

Fuel For Sport

FEBRUARY 2014

The Ten Commandments Of LifeCycle

Ultrasound and Intervals

Hail Hail, the Spring Is Here!

A Lighter Shade Of Pale

JANUARY 2014

No Regrets

They Think It’s All Over – It Will Be In July 2017

The Impossible Dream

LifeCycling – The Movement

Into The Groove

DECEMBER 2013

Groundhog Day

The Battle Of Wounded Knee

That Darned Competitive Dawg

Paul McConville

NOVEMBER 2013

Fuel For Thought

Bonus Miles

Kick Off

Wum Story

Pick a date: 15th, 16th or 17th of May 2009. You can have any cos they all end up in the same place. Or maybe you prefer 5th September 2009, when the reputation of the Wum was cemented in history for evermore.

All of this week has been about the number 27, a number I hate with a passion: it reminds me of Wum.

I started out on Monday on 26,901 miles, knowing with some certainty that I’d be crashing through 27,000 at some point this week. The only issue up for grabs was when.

Now I’m a stubborn old sod, so when something annoys me, I will move heaven and earth to do the opposite: just because I can. My original thought on Monday morning was to leave myself on 26,973 on Friday so I could hit 27,000 bang on.

Then I had a better idea: why not Wum the week?

So I did. This is Thursday night and I’ve Wummed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I might Wum tomorrow too but there again I might not: just to be awkward.

Anyway, I digress. Let’s take this story back a few years, and ultimately to 2009…

When I reached 50, I started the Inverness Caley Thistle Highland March, a long distance walk featuring a bunch of random football fans who elected to walk from Caley’s penultimate game to the final league game of the season. Because Inverness is away up north, and most of the teams in Scotland are in the south, that means a long walk: the first one, 160 miles from Inverness to Falkirk, was meant to be a one-off for my birthday, but the guys got itchy feet the following season and suggested we do it again. And again. And again….

By 2009 we’d arrived at Highland March 7 and the challenge was to walk 190 miles from Kilmarnock, just five miles from LCFN HQ, back up the road to Inverness. The way the fixtures panned out, we had six and a half days to do it. And we chose a tough route, as near as dammit as the crow flies, just to keep the mileage down.

The first leg, leaving Rugby Park straight after the final whistle at 5pm on the Saturday afternoon, was a 53 mile overnighter to Aberfoyle. It was never going to be one for the faint hearted, especially when the days that followed were going to be predominantly off road and hilly.

The night before the off, Friday 15th May, the party was at our place, long before it became LCFN HQ. When I say party, that’s possibly a slight over exaggeration because the guys had Saturday night firmly in focus. However, on the Friday evening, there was an impromptu game of football out in the street. Our youngest two were out there in the thick of the action, and they’d have been about 10 and 12 at the time. Both had walked various bits of different HM’s down the years so they kind of knew the score. One of them asked this guy who was doing his first HM, how he thought he’d make out…

It’s only a walk” came the response.

Yeah, like LCFN’s only a bike ride. I gerrit….

This same bloke had signed up to do the international version of the Highland March three months further down the road. One of the legends of the HM, Chumba, is a Tartan Army foot soldier, which for the uninformed means he goes all over the place watching Scotland get gubbed at football. Chumba had been on the HM since 2006 and this was his 4th HM. He was already a bit of a legend because he completed the first one only two weeks after breaking his arm playing five a side, but in the middle of the walk, tripped and fell, landing heavily on the same arm. The poor lad was in agony but after a check up and a night of lost sleep, got up the next morning and banged in another 25 miles. That’s what we do. Pain is only a four letter word to a Marcher.

Chumba, as in Chumbawumba… “I get knocked down, but I get up again, yer never gonna keep me down…”

Are you starting to see where this is headed?

The dude who claimed that this HM malarkey “is only a walk” was Chumba’s mate, so he got the handle Wumba.

Chumba and Wumba: kinda fits, if you see what I mean.

So: Friday night, Wumba set his stall out that this was gonna be a proverbial piece of piss: a practice walk ahead of the 440 mile walk from Oslo to Glasgow (via Bergen and Aberdeen) between two of Scotland’s World Cup qualifiers in August and September. The Tartan March was Chumba’s brainchild and it was the catalyst that kickstarted the Kilt Walk, which is now part of the Tartan Army furniture up and down the land. Anyway, back to the HM…

I’m trying to remember how many of us there were walking up the old A77 from Kilmarnock to Glasgow on the Saturday night: I think about nine or ten. By the time we crossed under the Clyde (Tunnel) it was just after midnight and on the north side of the river, we had about seven or eight more miles to walk before we went offroad onto the West Highland Way around dawn.

Wumba never got that far.

The Clyde Tunnel was around the 25 mile point and shortly after that, a couple of miles further up the road, he announced that he’d had enough. It was about 1:30am. In the van at the halfway point on day one.

It’s only a walk”.

Now the HM crew are all experienced enough to know that shit happens and we all get days like that. What you do is take a rest, maybe even take the next day off, then you go back out on the road. At the end of the day, it’s all about the miles, and about challenging yourself to do something that’s eternally difficult.

Wumba didn’t do that. By lunchtime on the Sunday, he was away home.

Wumba became Wum.

And 27 became synonymous with failure. Highland Marchers don’t do failure. It’s not in our blood.

It may not have made it onto the shortlist for the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year for 2009, but it sure as hell has been commonplace in HM vocabulary these last seven years. Try this for size…

Wum (noun). A spineless individual. A person of no physical or moral fibre. A giver upper. A loser.

Get the picture?

It gets worse…

Four of the team from HM7 set out from Oslo on 12th August after a crushing 4-0 defeat in a World Cup qualifier. The four included Wum. The route they’d chosen, over the mountains to Bergen, was challenging navigationally, physically and mentally.

Guess what?

Once the going got tough, Wum was in the support motor. But yer cannae go home fae the middle of nowhere: this time he had to stay onboard.

For my part, I’d booked a week’s holiday to be the support guy on the final 150 miles from Aberdeen to Glasgow. The schedule was relentless. The guys were already tired, with blisters aplenty, and whilst Wum kept wanting to get in the motor, I told him to walk: because that’s what you signed up to do. My job was simple: the guys were all skint, so apart from brewing tea and making sandwiches at the side of the road, my daily task was to find a shop, stock up on stuff, then shoot on ahead and find a place where we could wild camp for nothing. It’s what we did for seven days, except for driving the guys over to Inverness so we could watch Caley on the Saturday, then hoofing it back to Stonehaven to start again on the Sunday morning. What’s an extra 250 miles driving between friends?

Well, let’s roll this story forward now, to the following Saturday, 5th September, match day at Hampden Park. By this time Sky Sports had picked up on the Tartan March story and I was there outside The Iron Horse on West Nile Street when Wum casually told the world, live, that he and his mates had walked every step of the way from Oslo to Glasgow (except for the aeroplane bit).

But he hadn’t.

Then we got to Hampden Park…

Wum was in charge of the match tickets, which were complimentary courtesy of the SFA in the light of the guys’ herculean effort.

Right back down the history of the Highland March, the arrangement had always been that the guy who does the support job, the dirty job, gets paid for all the way down the road by the others. Support is logistically a thankless task, except in this case, because we’d only paid for a tent pitch once in seven days, it was a freebie anyway: we’re sorted.

We’d to meet up in Lesser Hampden an hour before kick off. It’s next to the big park, except smaller.

Four walkers and a support driver: four tickets.

Once a Wum, always a Wum.

Gobsmacked and furious doesn’t do it justice: doesn’t even come close. You never, ever treat people like that when they’ve given up their time for you. Except if you’re Wum.

And that’s why, my friends, I will forever associate the number 27 with failure; with giving up; with deceiving yourself, and everyone around you.

I cannot wait to get to 28,000 miles: I need Wum finally out of my system….

Frozen Puddles

From the LCFN blog, two years ago this week…

“Every Monday morning at 5am, I roll out of bed and like a scene from the Wrong Trousers, climb into gear that’s already laid out downstairs. Two layers of everything and protective gear where it’s needed most. Think about it: four hours a day, every day, on a bike. By twenty past I’m at work: I have two jobs: one I get paid for as a professional software developer, the other one I do because I love it: I ride my bike.

That Monday  rollout is like starting afresh. Last week doesn’t matter anymore, it’s done, it’s history, it’s just a bunch of stats. Now it’s about this moment, this day, this week and this month. But it took the untimely passing of Philip Hughes to make me realise how every journey of LIfeCycleForNeuroblastoma is like a batsman trying to compile an innings: a score worthy of both the effort and the occasion. Nothing comes easy and everything comes at a price.

Philip Hughes was an opening batsman. He led from the front. He led from the front not just because he was first out the hutch, he led from the front because of the way he went about his business. He played hard but fair. He remains the youngest player to compile a century in each innings of a Test match, and he did it in only his second Test. He had a strike rate of 53 runs per hundred balls in Test cricket. That’s rapid. The current England captain, Alastair Cook, with over a hundred Tests to his name, can only muster 46. Philip Hughes was a gunner, a batsman who went after the ball to set things up for the guys coming in further down the order”.

That prose is hugely relevant. It’s relevant to me as a cricket lover, it’s relevant to me as a cyclist, but above all, it’s relevant to everyone in the context of LCFN.

Philip Hughes was an Aussie legend. Now LCFN is full of Aussie legends. But it’s more than that: Philip Hughes put himself out there, at number one, leading from the front, doing something he loved: something he believed in. When he died, a little bit of cricket died with him.

Look, I’ll cut to the quick: I took on the challenge of LCFN not because it was easy but because it was hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

I don’t need to ask Gail how it is with kid’s cancer: all I need to do is read her incredible Facebook blog and I get the picture. Except I don’t because I’m not the person there suffering. I’m not the mummy there who hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in days, maybe weeks. Who said months?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen, maybe twenty times. The thing that joins LCFN to neuroblastoma is how feckin’ difficult it is to overcome. It’s physical, it’s mental, it’s 24×7 preying on your mind, and it gnaws away at every fibre of your being. There is no escape. LCFN is all consuming.

Now does it sound like kids’ cancer?

If you’re (still) thinking no, stop, take a timeout, and go get a beer from the fridge, or perhaps a glass of wine. No, on second thoughts, go and fetch the bottle because this video is 80 minutes long. Watch it all the way through:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcYHZlgYPFg&t=3850s

Think of it like this: if your concentration deviates for one split second, you will crash. You might even die. This video was shot at 6am on Wednesday morning on my traditional LCFN route out of Stewarton. It features the first ten miles of my (former) twenty mile journey into work: but it’s got the business end, the dangerous end, the challenging end, the fun end. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve crashed on this road: it’s the official cycle route from Stewarton to Glasgow yet it’s never gritted in winter. I guess that’s because there ain’t many people about who care about promoting awareness of neuroblastoma like I do. Leona (Knox) once told me to never give up so I haven’t.

It was 6am. I used to ride it at five..

It was -6.5C. I’ve ridden that same road at -9.2C

It’s unlit. It’s riddles with potholes and patches. Isn’t wee Puddles riddled with patches (and I mean that in the nicest but reality sense)?

For three years I’ve highlighted the hundred days of hell: it starts in October when the light disappears and it continues until the end of February: eternal darkness in extreme cold, with wild weather: because cancer is a bitch.

The video is a snapshot of three years of my life. Yeah, I’m proud that I managed it, but having gone back to those early starts this week, I’m even more thankful that I survived it. There’s a crash on the video, but you have to watch it to find it and experience it. Black ice is a killer. Even when you know it’s going to be there, it can trip you up. It did for me, even though I thought I was ready for it. It was a soft landing: I broke the ice on a large puddle and ended up with a wet arse: it could have been worse: in February, a mile down the road from that same spot, it certainly was. Even today, nine months later, I have problems with that thumb. Now I’m scared: didn’t used to be like that.

November was not meant to be like this: this is January weather. But hell, you live with it and you deal with it..

Like cancer. It took my dad when I was 19.

Now, let’s take the story back to last weekend. JJ’s over from Australia and I headed down to Nottingham to meet up. But it wasn’t just me: the Gringos hopped on the train from Coventry Nil and we teamed up at Derby. The arrangement with JJ was to meet up in The Navigation but due to a navigation error on my part, we ended up in the wrong one. Fancy having two pubs in the same town with the same name!!! Not to worry, ours had proper ale so the Gringos et moi were happy ahead of the game. Just a bit of a rapid stroll once we realised the error of our ways.

The football was rubbish. I say that loosely because JJ’s team lost and he wasn’t best pleased. But, Genaro played well and he’s an LCFN’er. See, you didn’t know we have a pro footballer from Notts County on LCFN, did you? Tessa, Genaro’s wife, is with us too. They have a wee one, and like every couple I see with a young child, the first thought that comes into my head is “what if…”. I mean no ill, Genaro and Tess, but the reason I do this is to raise awareness amongst friends like yourselves that life isn’t always kind.

Now, I’m a firm believer in the notion that things happen for a reason. It’s not for me to explain, but when I was rushing down the steps having come over the bridge from platform 1 to platform 11 on my return journey last Sunday, who was waiting to board the train but Mouldy. Knock me over with a feather if you will. “Big Man, WTF are you doing on Crewe station at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning”? Needless to say, we grabbed an adjacent bench on the journey north, even though the train was rammed, and it wasn’t until Wigan that he got punted by a dude with a reservation in his seat. I remember the girl that was sitting next to me got off there and I gave her a wristband. I just told her that I had the wristbands because Mouldy is a legend. She smiled, slightly confused, and went on her merry way. I thought she might even Google LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma and get converted. Stranger things have happened, y’know.

And so to the miles: I’ve said very little about the global LCFN challenge on Strava these last few weeks, but don’t worry, it’s still rumbling along. We’re now at 45 cyclists across 15 or so countries and together we’ve racked up just short of 50,000 miles. It might have seemed like a bonkers idea when we started but hey, so was 25,000 miles round the world from Stewarton to Glasgow and look what happened there.

Personally, I’m finally resigned to appreciating how incredibly challenging the Fenwick Muir is in winter. By the time I finally call a halt to this journey, there will be three defining videos:

Wild, wet and windy: which I haven’t got yet.

Snow go: ditto.

And this one… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcYHZlgYPFg&t=3850s

Eileidh’s been battling this gig for 31 months: I’m pretty much in the same ballpark but this was a week when I turned the clock back and went in search of Puddles… Frozen.

Got My Mojo Workin’

I know it might seem like I’m indestructible at times, but that absolutely isn’t the case. For what does seem like the first time in a long, long while, I’ve spent much of this week realising just how fragile I am, and how getting this far was as much down to perseverance as it was to do with strength.

The bottom line is that after eight weeks (out), I’m still injured. But because Jane is now a qualified masseur (Swedish but now studying Sports), I’m able to get expert help on stuff, and for free. Free is good. What I should have done, and it’s my own silly fault for not doing so, was started ultrasound as soon as I knew I had a problem. I’ve had a mobile ultrasound kit for the best part of twenty years. My problem was… I couldn’t find it. I looked in all the regular places where I hide stuff and it wasn’t there, so I adopted that laid back approach where it’ll turn up when I least expect so long as I stopped looking. So I did. But I still couldnae find it.

But on Tuesday night, while Jane was working her magic, I was kinda getting ready to go through the roof every time she got close to the middle of my quad, and it was clear that the hunt was now back on. Urgent.

I found it. I checked all the normal places again, just to be certain that I hadn’t gone mad, and indeed I hadn’t. It was tucked behind the bed settee in the study that doubles up as my office. Fortunately, the gel was there too but as I hadn’t found any more bottles while I was searching, more supplies are now on the way.

Seven weeks out at the start of this week, I was mentally in a low place. Fraud springs immediately to mind. When you’ve been smashing your body for an average of 210 miles a week for three years straight, 150 smacks you right between the eyes as not giving your best. But this has not been an easy year and in some respects just getting out the door has been a minor victory. In hindsight, I think getting injured just piled misery on being made redundant earlier in the year. At the very time that I had the golden maximum opportunity to pile the hours into my new role designing software to hunt down disease, I could hack the extra hours. It was like I was filling in the non-bike hours with wasted time.

In all truth, I hated it.

I needed something to kick me in the arse, something to make appreciate what I can still do to keep this show on the road. I’m proud of LCFN but somehow, it feels like it’s in transition, waiting for the next big thing to kick off.

Maybe tomorrow will provide the inspiration…

I’m writing this blog on a southbound train, the so-called Stella Express. Destination tonight is a bed at my brother’s gaff in Cheshire, but the real gig is tomorrow in Nottingham, at Meadow Lane to be precise (and a few pubs leading up to that).

JJ is a big deal for me. JJ is one of THE best things that ever happened after I got on my bike in 2013. There have been some big players outside of the family, and JJ is right up there. Wullie’s another at TCN. JJ hosts a radio show in Adelaide that plays British music of the past fifty years: the self styled British Beat. For the past two years, ever since another of my stalwarts, Angela, took the Vanessa flag out to Australia, JJ has been plugging the LCFN story. It’s basically because of JJ that LCFN has about a hundred followers down under. And it was most certainly because of JJ that Amelie and Ben recorded Puddles for wee Eileidh.

I owe him so much. This journey would have looked so different without Julian Jarrett on it. Chapeau, sir.

So: injured. Still. Jane’s been doing a 6am boot camp for the past few weeks and my dream kickback into live action is to head out at the same time, just like in the old days. Yeah, I know lunchtime’s warmer and you can see stuff, but LCFN has never been about doing what’s easy. If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing cos it’s so feckin’ difficult. 6am in the winter is difficult. But 6am can’t happen this side of full fitness: it’s a breakdown waiting to happen.

On Monday, I went out: 22 miles and helluva steady.

Tuesday: another 22, albeit on a different route. Cue a rule of the modern era: yer cannae do the same route two days running. It’s like that to keep things fresh, so you can have favourites and have things to look forward to. And to play the weather game when it’s shit.

Wednesday was 23, and the first day after ultrasound. Not bad. Surprisingly pleasing in fact. But sore after: more ultra.

Thursday (yesterday) was an ‘as flat as I can make it’ 26. Almost like the old days in fact, except for the nagging ache up the front of my thigh. Ultra.

Today was an early kick off in recognition of being on this train. An early start all round in fact: working at 6am. I headed out the door at 11am and thought “wow, this is cold”. I reprogrammed the Garmin to show the temperature and at midday it was below zero: and my favoured country roads were all iced up. November and it’s sub zero at lunchtime. Where the hell did that come from? The crash I had on black ice back in February has left its mark, not only on my thumb (not yet fully recovered) but on my confidence in those conditions: I ditched plan A and made up a plan B on the hoof. Seven miles were essential because I wanted to end Friday in three figures, and I added an extra week loop before securing the relative safety of a main road (gritted). Job done: result: 107. That used to be the bus number of the Midland Red from Sutton Parade to New Oscott when I was a kid.

So what now?

Well there’s something brewing in Italy with the flag (the other one, the one that’s not Vanessa). Word filtered back yesterday that developments are at the creative stage. I have high hopes of this, for no other reason than the person holding the fort at the other end is a genius, albeit a young one. I’m giving nothing away, except to say “watch this space”. Creativity is a wonderful thing. The flag went to Italy for a reason.

I can’t finish this week without going back to the Glasgow NE foodbank that Joe n I have been helping out at. You get so used to be at the mercy of the corporate culture that it’s just fantastic to turn up off the street and give a couple of hours back to society. Last Saturday we were helping to sort the stuff that had been donated the previous week at Celtic Park. Taking bags of random stuff from the container, the immediate task was to split each bag three ways: meat/beans/pasta in one box, toiletries in another, everything else in a third. Then once that was complete, with boxes n boxes full of stuff, the tins need to be sorted in date order in different boxes. You would not believe how long it takes to seek out the end date on every single tin: then file them in the right box. The team did gud. About ten of us managed to shift over half a ton of stuff and there’s real hope now that we might get the whole lot sorted by Christmas. Last year it took till February. I was thinking of asking Jane if she’s take Joe along for tomorrow’s session but there’s a funeral on in the church at 10am. That’ll be a no go then, and everything moves back a week.

There is nothing to beat giving something back to society. Last Saturday night, some of my Celtic minded mates did a sleepout at Celtic Park to raise money for the Celtic Foundation, which in turn supports The Invisibles, the charity that supports the homeless. Together, those fifty or so cold souls raised sixty five grand, money that will likely make the difference between life and death this winter.

Life and death. It’s like we’ve come full circle.

I ain’t for giving up anytime soon…

Yeah, I may still be struggling, but I’ve got my Mojo back!

 

 

The Italian Job

I’m proud of those 25,000 miles.

They defined who I am, and how I’m not prepared to let go when something really matters. But now I’m proud for a completely different reason: I’m proud because LCFN/Eileidh’s Journey wristbands are popping up all over the place. Some of you may have seen a photo that came in from Italy earlier this week: five wrists, interlinked like a piece of fine art, all sporting bands. Love it, love it, love it. I love the fact that people right across the world are prepared to wear a symbol of hope and support for Eileidh.

The bands that went to Italy were courtesy of my friend Theresa. Picture the scene:

“Did you pack your bag yourself, madam”. “Yes”.

“And are you carrying anything for anyone”. “Yes”.

“And what might that be”. “A flag and a wee bag of wristbands”.

“Can I see that, madam”….

“Oooh, nice flag”!

I have to say that I just made that story up. I’m sure TT had no such misfortune at airport security, but I’m very grateful for her generosity in leaving a warm woolly jumper out of her luggage just so she could take the flag. Theresa’s pal Jennifer (aka Juniper), who stays over there, seems to have taken over as PM of the Italian Job and I’m awaiting a request that stocks are running low and she needs more. Jen’s doing the same great job in Italy that Amelie’s doing in Australia. Y’see there’s something super cute with wearing a piece of jewellery that has a special meaning: And Eileidh’s Journey has that very special meaning: and it’s etched into a lot of souls right round the world.

So apart from the flag being on holiday, and bands popping up in the land of the high heeled boot (hint: check the map), there’s another rather special someone sporting a band, and she’s the only person in London that has one. For that reason alone, she’s a rare species. I first became aware of Zuzanna when she signed up for Mouldy’s Road To Lisbon bike ride next May. But beyond that, she then set her stall out to break the world record for the most miles ever ridden by a woman in twelve months. The record attempt, which kicked off in the summer, lasted less than two weeks before Zuzanna was wiped out by a motor. Significant injuries and a written off bike sadly signalled the end of that road.

But this week, I was in London for 24 hours to attend a seminar on digitisation of the public sector, and with my train arriving in Euston in the early evening, I took the chance that Zuzie might still be in the centre of town. At first it was a no brainer and the arrangement was made, but then she got held up at work and it looked like the rendezvous was not going to happen. Cue a half six instant message, ten minutes before the train got in. “Head for Boots near Platform 11 then look for Accessorize. I’ll be waiting there”.

You should see her bike! Wow. It’s the kind of kit that blokes like me can only ever dream of. Ultra light, fancy wheels, gadgets galore and… wait for it… not a speck of dirt on it anywhere. I remember thinking to myself “you need to get that on the A77 bike lane, hen”. Anyway, Zuzie, it was lovely to meet you, it was nice of you to hang around after work instead of heading for your spin class, but most of all, it’s fantastic that you have become the first person in London to officially recognise Eileidh’s Journey 24×7. Thank you, not just from me but from Team Eileidh too.

The whole London thing was hectic in the extreme. I thought I’d got used to life on the trains but for some reason, this one seemed more arduous than most. Thirteen trains in three days, a few of them late, thereby enforcing hairy connections on unfamiliar station platforms, made this one almost trip too far. Then next week, I’m off on my travels again, because JJ is over from Australia, and we are meeting up next Saturday to watch the mighty Notts County take on Newport County. Notts, as he calls them, is JJ’s team.

JJ has been like a brother to LCFN. He has a radio show in Adelaide and ever since he became aware of my journey a couple of years ago, he’s been plugging it week in and week out on his show to raise awareness of the disease, and latterly of Eileidh’s dogged fight for survival. Julian didn’t need to any of that, but through his efforts, LCFN met Amelie and the rest, as they say, is history… Cue #Puddles

For a long time now, certainly pushing three years, I’ve had a lot of Celtic supporters backing LCFN. It came about because LCFN picked up, albeit rather late in the day, where they’d already been for the previous twelve months: wee Oscar. The friendships that I’ve made over that period are something that I treasure, because football can be such a tribal thing. Me? I’ll talk to anyone: a friend is a friend at the end of the day.

One such pal, and I think I’ve known her now for about two years, is Tara. In her own words (which I’m borrowing off her Facebook timeline as recently as last weekend), she’s gone from homeless to owning her own home, and from being a volunteer at a foodbank to running six. Believe me, Tara is one of the really, really special people in this world. Been there, seen the dark side, lived through it, seen a wee light at the other end of the tunnel and absolutely gone for it. Now look at her. If awards were handed out to people who really make a difference, then Tara would have a carrier bag full of them.

I mention Tara because last Saturday, she was co-ordinating the annual foodbank collection at Celtic: they were playing my team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle (the name alone makes them the biggest team in Scotland). I spent my match ticket money on a bag of messages (Glaswegian for a load of groceries) then took it along to Tara’s foodbank in the east end of Glasgow a couple of days before the game. While I was there, knowing full well how busy it was likely to be on the Saturday when the supporters started turning up with bags upon bags of stuff, I thought to myself “y’know I think me n Joe should come to help out on Saturday”. So I messaged him and he said yes. He’s 16 and doing his Highers so helping to stock a foodbank for the winter kinda fits well with the Modern Studies agenda. I don’t think he could quite comprehend the scale of how it eventually turned out.

I took the rear seats out of the motor so it was really like a small van wi’ windas. We got there early and sussed out the rat run route from the Parish Church, where the stuff for Glasgow NE was being stored, to the ground at Celtic Park. It’s only a hop, skip and a jump. All of the foodbanks around Glasgow were there, and each had its own collection point. At first I thought we’d be helping out Glasgow SW but that made little sense because the run from Celtic Park to Crookston where they’re based, would have made little impact in just a car, albeit one packed to the roof with stuff. So we went with Glasgow NE, simply because we could do a fast load and unload and head back for more while the vans were still loading. In all we did three runs and Joe n I reckon we shifted over a hundred bags of stuff.

Back at the Church, the senior kids from Bannerman High School had formed a human chain to empty the vehicles as they arrived, one after the other. It was sight to make you proud. You hear so much bad stuff about the young people of today, but here were twenty or thirty young people giving up their time and doing heavy duty work to help combat poverty in the east end of the city.

Tomorrow, Joe and I going back to lend a hand with sorting all that stuff. It’s all well and good having it donated: job done you might think. Well no actually: you’ve then got to empty all of the bags and get the contents stacked onto shelves ready to go out again. If you haven’t seen the film “I, Daniel Blake”, then you should. You’ll better understand the issues facing people at the dirty end of the government stick, and how they need our support now more than ever before.

This has been a week of giving: I’ve been out on the bike a couple of times, which is fine as I’m coming back from injury, but the forty miles that I’ve added to the LCFN total pale into insignificance compared to the other stuff that’s been going on. It’s been a wee bitty hectic, and I’m tired because of all the rushing around, but I will remember this week because of Tara’s foodbank collection, and the Italian Job.

Flagless And Fancy Free

I get to this time of the year and I think instinctively of Vanessa. On the first Saturday of November in 2014, Inverness Caley Thistle played at Celtic Park and there was a foodbank collection outside the ground before the game. That was the game where Vanessa and I got to walk out at half time with the LCFN flag. That’s why I still call it the Vanessa flag to this day. That flag’s now in Australia (for the second time), doing its bit to raise awareness of this horrible disease.

Roll the clock forward two years: this Saturday Inverness are once again playing Celtic at Parkhead and there’s another foodbank collection outside the ground before the game. It’s become a way of life in 21st century Tory Britain. They don’t do it before every game I should add: it’s just coincidence that these two instances happened to fall on games against my team.

The link between them is my wee pal Tara who masterminds the Glasgow North East operation that operates out of Calton Parish Church. Tara’s the driving force behind getting the stuff in, getting it stored (safely) and getting it back out to the punters who need it. It’s a sad reflection on modern day Britain that society desperately needs more Taras.

Now the Tara foodbank story feeds perfectly into my next bit (see what I did there) because another of my friends, Theresa (bless her), is doing LCFN a huge favour. Theresa works on the wireless (she’ll love me for saying that) where she has the most stylish and informative voice: old school, definitely old school: delivery spot on, nae hint of a rising inflection (don’t even start me on that…) and well, she’s just so soothing and reassuring on air. Off air: frantically random but happy. TT wasn’t the winner of the Random Poster gong in my 2015 Social Media Awards for nothing y’know.

Anyway, to bring these two stories together: Tara’s team is Celtic and they were away to Aberdeen last weekend. There’s a law in Scotland that says ye cannae drink on the buses and trains on the way to the football and some of the Celtic supporters buses got raided by the polis (big club, lots of buses, easy target etc). So the next thing you know, the Angus police twitter account has posted a photo of a stash of drink, also featuring a couple of its finest. The Celtic support ripped the offending twitter account a stream of hilarious retorts. Whilst the banter may have been well intentioned on both sides, I really don’t fancy the chances of those same supporters getting up that road wi’ a carry oot the next time.

So to this Saturday: having been a regular at the football for over twenty years, I haven’t been to a game in Scotland in over twelve months because I personally believe that the governing body are incompetent in their running of the game. But because Inverness are once again at Celtic Park, and because Tara’s team are doing another foodbank run, I decided to invest what would have been my match ticket money in support of Glasgow NE. I waded into Laldi’s at eight o’clock last night, when there were but two or three punters total in the shop, and armed with my wee list and a calculator, set about buying as much stuff as I could for my twenty five quid. I got some stash…

When I got home, I laid it all out on the kitchen table, in much the same fashion as the Angus polis had laid out their booze, stuck an Inverness shirt on either side of it, and grabbed the obligatory photo.

Then I tweeted it to Angus police, and the world, with the caption “Not going to the game at Celtic Park on Sat so I’ve turned my match ticket money into a wee stash for the foodbank collection”.

It’s the kind of stunt that might appeal to the dry sense of humour, as opposed to the rather more regimental “you’re nicked son” mentality. There is such a programme, of pure satire and much hilarity I might add, on Radio Scotland by the name of Off The Ball. It features two oddball characters in Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan. Cosgrove is a man of many degrees, doctorates and professorships. A big cheese in Arts and Entertainment at Channel Four, he is an avid Scottish football fan, and a champion of the ordinary supporter. He’s both hugely knowledgeable of the game, and extremely funny at the same time. His sidekick, Tam Cowan is more of a West of Scotland stand up comedian, and not averse to poking fun at himself and his wee team (which is Motherwell by the way). Anyway, I digress…

I was at the BBC in Glasgow today because Theresa has kindly offered to take the LCFN flag to Italy this weekend. She’s also armed with wristbands (sic) and my excursion to Pacific Quay on the south side of the river was all about catching up and handing over the booty.

So while we were having a coffee in the wee cafeteria in the foyer, who should walk in but Stuart Cosgrove. “Look who’s just sat down” said I all starry eyed. “I think he’s having a meeting” came the knowing reply from my right. And she was right. But a word was had in the ear and after Theresa had disappeared back upstairs to attend to the day job, a friendly wave from across the floor confirmed that said meeting had now concluded. We got the ceremonials done, and a picture of Stuart and TT ensued with the flag, before I launched into the stash n stash tale. I knew that Stuart would know the Angus polis version of events, just as I was 99.9% certain that he wouldn’t know of the Celtic Park foodbank collection this coming Saturday. “Nothing wrong with a wee heads up”, thought I. The outcome is that Off The ball now have the corollary to the Angus stash and I for one will be dialled in on Saturday to see if wee Tara’s team can get a leg up the ladder on Scotland’s national wireless.

So, to backtrack in case you’re unaware, there are two LCFN flags. The Vanessa flag’s in Brisbane and I’ve had a hold of the other one ever since Eileidh brought it back from the States (question to self: was that before or after Anna n Krys took it on an adventure to Poland last Christmas? Cannae remember: let’s just say it’s well travelled). Well now it’s off to Italy and it may be there a while. I’m not at liberty to say why it might be there a while, but if the project that’s been mooted comes to fruition, then this correspondent for one will be very, very proud. And, I suspect, so will Theresa. She knows why it’s going: in fact I think only three people in the whole world know what might be about to happen. But I’m not going to spill the beans in case it doesn’t. Life can be like that. If it comes off, you’ll all find out in due course…

And so to the bike.

October was hellish. I knew right back at the start of the month that it was going to be a long one: not the month, just the layoff. But on Tuesday, another gorgeously lovely crisp autumnal day, I ventured out the door. You cannot even start to imagine how tiptoey nervous I was. I know full well that one mistake now, one hill pushed too hard, one sprint too fast, one ride unwarmed up, and that will be curtains for this year. The injury has been severe not because of what it is but where it is: the big driving quad muscle right in the middle of the front of my thigh. Jane calls it Rectus Femoris because that’s its proper name.

So on Tuesday I ventured out the door, was down on power and down on speed. Necessarily as this was my first time out properly in six weeks, I was also down on distance. A couple of minor twinges were enough to have me easing off, and not just on that ride: on the two days that followed, the bike didn’t even make it out of the shed. But the good news is that twelve miles for one day is already double what I managed in the whole of last month, and I lived to fight another day, which might just be tomorrow. Yes I know I have to take this in baby steps. Yes I know that I’ve become a wee tubby thing and that’s only gonna make it harder to get back, but I didn’t undertake this journey thinking that it would be easy. It’s not.

Now before I finish this week, I want to give a big shout out to the Australian Government. They’ve just donated $20m to help fund research into childhood cancer through the Zero Childhood Cancer Program. While our government sees fit to plough that money and more into bombing other people’s countries into oblivion, it’s fantastic that Australia is able to better use its financial clout in such a crucial way. And thank you to Jackie Rehn Barreau for once again bringing the story to LCFN.

But at the end of a strangely remarkable week, one that I didn’t see coming at all, it’s good to report that I’m once again Flagless and fancy free (to head off out again).

United In Adversity

The good news is that wee Dennis is almost back to his fighting best after last week’s scare, and has the scars to prove it. He’s only a welterwight, that boy, and he insists on taking on middleweights. We never get to see the damage he’s inflicted on his opponent, just the lumps and bits missing from his head. But we still love him.

I wish I could say the same.

October’s total mileage is utterly pitiful: six.

It’s by far the lowest monthly mileage since I started. Even after my hernia op in the winter of 14/15, I managed more than that, both in the month that I went under the knife and the month after. This latest injury has been both persistent and frustrating. What I’ve knackered is Rectus Femoris: I know that because Jane has gone straight from qualifying in Swedish massage to studying sports massage and she knows. When you ride a bike, it’s the number one muscle that does all the work. And as the name suggests, Rectus Femoris has its origin somewhere up near yer arse.

But today I lost patience. I’ve been doing the quad stretch every day while I’ve been off the bike and today, another lovely autumn day, I thought I’d go out for a wee wander on two wheels. That’s what the cryptic lunchtime Facebook post was all about. It was only ever going to be four or five miles, just to see if the injury was still sore. But in reality, I discovered that I had a problem after only two hundred yards.

And it wasn’t my broken body. It was the bike.

While I’ve been laid up, so (obviously) has been the bike. I’ve never ridden a fixed wheel bike in my puff but I sure as hell found out what it was like today, and I didn’t like it one bit. The freehub was seized, which basically meant that if I stopped pedalling, the chain came off. There is currently no freewheel function in the back wheel, and on a bike with thirty odd gears, that’s not good, the derailleur shoots forwards and the chain starts dragging in the spokes. It’s got over the handlebars written all over it. So I cut the exercise short at a whopping two miles. Still, it was good to get off 26,623 at long last. As soon as I can get hold of bicycle repair man, that problem will get sorted then I’ll try again. I’m fed up with sitting on my broadening arse.

If only that was my only problem…

For years I’ve suffered with lower back problems. That all started when Finn was wee, so that probably makes it early 2000’s, and I was lifting the kitchen floor because we were getting a new one put down. The old floor was so well attached that it needed a crowbar to prise it apart from the base: I overdid it and fecked the sacro-illiac joint on one side of my lower back. It’s bothered me ever since, so now, every two or three months, it pops out and I’m left hobbling about like an old man. Hint: I am an old man.

I know the things that kick it off and top of the list is sitting about doing nothing. Second on the list is driving and getting out of the car after a long journey. So cue last weekend… Joe and I went to watch West Brom at Liverpool. Four and a half hours there and four and a half hours back. Stiff as a board when we got home, I thought I’d just sit up with a glass of wine for a couple of hours to unwind from motorway driving in the dark: woke up on Sunday morning like a crooked man. That’s what happens. I can barely get out of a chair, and walking short distances about the house is a sore as a sore thing.

That’s what getting old does to you.

It’s also why I need to be out on the bike because I know from 26,000 miles of experience that cycling does actually help, and eventually alleviates the problem. Except right now, I cannae, hence the wee excursion today to see if we’re there yet.

Anyway, enough of my troubles: let’s whizz over to Australia…

Amelie has received the wristbands. I’m soooooo excited. She’s taken fifty and there are pictures appearing all over Facebook of proud Aussies wearing Eileidh’s Journey/LCFN wristbands. #Goosebumps

I cannae get my feelings into words. When the Gabbas took some back to Brisbane and mailed a few off to JJ in Adelaide, I thought that might be it. But when Amelie said a couple of weeks ago that she’d take FIFTY, I honestly couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. I still remember being in the post office, waving them off. The thought that there are people walking around Adelaide supporting Eileidh with a band on their wrist is way, way out there in the extremes of proudness. What I have to do now is get hold of TT, who’s heading out to Italy in a couple of weeks, and send her skywards with a bag full of bands. Let’s go continental before tariffs are imposed!

I’ve been reading this week, with huge admiration, the plaudits that have been coming Iain McGovern’s way following his epic walk from Merthyr Tydfil to Celtic Park with Sian, Jonathan Thomas’s widow of one day married. I read Iain’s fantastic eulogy of the walk that he posted on Facebook, and I hope he won’t mind, but I’d like to reproduce just some of it here. This was a compassionate idea of epic proportions.

“These are the musings of a tired and emotional man, written on the journey back to Newcastle yesterday. Been a wee bit busy so sorry this is only getting posted now.

It’s the morning after the 16 days before and I have that empty feeling in the pit of my stomach as has been the case after each of our challenges. They have all had that “best week of my life” feeling but this one is different, not just because of the fact it was two weeks but there’s something, or rather, someone, who sets it apart. More on that someone later.

6 months ago we sat in a quayside bar in North Shields and had a conversation that would change my life forever and allow memories and friendships to fill a hundred lifetimes to be made. Siân O’Mahony Thomas and I walked back to our house after that Sunday afternoon chat and within minutes had a road atlas out with Jack sat alongside on her laptop checking out accommodation. A Walk For Jonathan, From The Valleys to Paradise was born. The following months seemed to drag although a flurry of emails, texts, to-do lists and, of course, the legendary spreadsheet, kept us occupied. The planning was fun but we couldn’t wait until the October day dawned when we were all together in Jonathan’s beloved Merthyr. We faced it with bucket-loads of excitement and anticipation and a hefty dose of trepidation. This was to be by far the longest walk we had embarked on. 360 miles through the hills and valleys of Wales, the North West of England and the South West of Scotland before we reached Hamilton on Siân and Jonathan’s Wedding Anniversary. The next day, the first anniversary of Jonathan’s passing, would see us arrive at his, and our, beloved Paradise”.

That’s how great things start. I never got to meet Sian because of wee Dennis’s dice with danger but here’s her take on the lead up to the walk:

“In October, to mark the first anniversary of Jonathan’s passing we are going to embark on a walk in his memory linking his two favourite places, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales and Celtic Park, Glasgow.

As most of you will know, Jonathan was a keen charity fundraiser, organising and taking part in a series of charity challenges with the Tyneside No1 Celtic Supporters club starting from an idea to walk from Newcastle to Celtic Park to watch a game. After he passed away we wanted to organise another challenge to keep the tradition going and this little 350+ mile route was the obvious choice.

Thinking it through sensibly we decided it probably needed to be done over three weeks and in two legs, but following a quiet Sunday drink Iain convinced me that walking it all at once and over two weeks was the only option!! I can’t even blame it on the cranberry juice!

Iain McGovern is an amazing man. But he’s only part of an amazing double act because you know what they say: behind every great man lies a great woman…

I give you Jack O’Kane. Together, Iain and Jack are an unstoppable charitable force. I’m sad that I missed out last week but I’m so proud to know these guys and the charitable work that they do: and keep on doing. I’ve said may times that it doesn’t matter what team you support, your soul shines through, and I will choose to align myself with Iain and his crew for as long as I can either put one foot in front of the other, or keep turning those pedals.

The meeting of Caley Thistle and Celtic through events of enduring difficulty are what joins us together.

United in adversity.

Baby Dennis

I’m not sure whether it’s a saying that crosses continents, but we have a saying over here that you should never try working with small children or animals. The reason is simple: when they can’t handle it, nor can you. Your life switches from min to max on the trauma scale in an instant. Now I absolutely must go out of my way at this point to say that our experience this week bears no resemblance whatsoever to that of a family living with childhood cancer: but what Jane and I did get was the tiniest wee snapshot of the pain and the trauma. Believe me, it was truly awful.

This is the unfolding story of baby Dennis.

The schedule for the week was pretty much well set. Still off the bike at the start of the week, I planned to get out for a wee fitness test of ten miles or so on Wednesday ahead of setting off down to Abington pre-dawn on Thursday morning so I could jump on the wheels and get down to Johnstonesbridge, 25 miles way, before Team Sian set off for the last but two leg on their epic walk from Merthyr Tydfil to Celtic Park in memory of her late husband Jonathan. It had been in my plans for weeks that Thursday was going to be the day that I was going to push the bike for 25 miles, cos I could, unless one of the walkers fancied resting their blisters of course.

It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen for quite traumatic reasons. Sometimes Google can be your worst enemy.

So, Monday and Tuesday, no miles as planned, trying to get as many recovery days into the mix as possible. I said four weeks ago when I took the timeout that I expected to have to take October out but Thursday was non negotiable in the sense that it was going to happen one way or another. I’m not so daft that I was going to just jump on the bike and ride 25 miles at (cold) dawn like I’d never been away. That’s what Wednesday was all about. Wednesday was about bagging a few miles to see if Thursday was even possible.

Wednesday didn’t happen either.

I guess everyone who reads the blog knows that I work from home. My daily routine is one of being sufficiently driven to fall out of bed somewhere between half six (am) and eight then pile in research query work for disease. For years I used to dream about having a cat in the office: for the last six months I’ve had two. When you’re me, there is nothing better than working away on the keyboard for hours on end, with a cat purring a couple of feet away. Bliss.

Wednesday started off perfectly normally. Fluffcake and Dennis camped out in the office before Fluffy headed off up to Joe’s room and Dennis went out to play. But when you’re a parent of small children or animals, you have a sixth sense for what’s going on. Many a time I’ve said to Jane “haven’t see Fluffy for hours: that’s not right, need to look for her”. Y’see Fluffy is a creature of habit. She likes dining chairs, settee chairs, the stairs (yes!), and beds. The stairs only happen in winter when she’ll lie for hours in the dark, waiting to get trodden on, don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s the heat from downstairs wafting past her furry coat: I don’t know.

Dennis is altogether different. What you see with Dennis is what you get. He’s shouty, he’s naughty, but he’s totally loving: the complete package in one wee ball of fur. Oh, and he’s addicted to fighting, demonstrated by the many wounds he always has around his face and neck. We keep telling him that he needs to give up this silly fighting game but he never listens. I think it’s in his jeans (see what I did there?)

So… back to Wednesday morning: Fluffcake went to bed and Dennis went out to play. I reckoned on working till about one then heading out on the bike for an hour to see how the war wound was shaping up. If it was still sore, then plan B was to head down to Abington pre-dawn without wheels then hitch a lift down to the start point. Forty years ago, before the world got paranoid, I hitched everywhere. And I would still pick up a hitch hiker today, except that no one does it anymore. Shame on socialist commuting….

Lunchtime: and Dirty Dick (one of Dennis’s nicknames) was crouched behind the low wall in the back garden. The patio doors by my desk offer an uninterrupted view of said spot so I was able to see him nae bother. I called to him and waved: no reaction. Unusual. Know your cat. He was still there half an hour later when a washing finished that I’d to hang out, not a yard from his spot. He never moved. Dennis never does that. He’s second in the queue behind her ladyship when someone’s in the garden. Not this time.

Cue instinct.

Something’s no’ right. My first thought was that he’s been fighting again and taken a sore one although I did cop him sitting by number 7 when I went up to the shops at half ten. Seemed alright then: bolt upright and very attentive.

Strange as it may seem, I didn’t wanna touch him. I knew something was wrong. So I went back inside and got some tuna: both cats’ favourite. I wafted it under his wee nose… no reaction.

Okay, this is not good.

Instinct: know your kids: know your pets.

I picked him up and he yowled. I mean really yowled. When I put him down, he was hissing and growling with every desperately slow step that he took. Once inside, I called the vet, got an emergency appointment then phoned Jane. By the time I planned to on the bike, Dennis and I were in the vet’s surgery.

I’m not sure how oh feah you are with vet’s bills, but Dennis doesn’t have a season ticket. Oh how we wish he did. Without the help of X-rays (remember moggies dinnae talk), all the vet could do was feel this, stretch that, and wait for a reaction. Then repeat. What was repeatable was Dennis’s yowl when his front left leg was wheeked about. Diagnosis: strained shoulder, possibly caused by jumping from a great height and landing awkwardly. Who am I to disagree? Injection on the spot, visits to see Auntie Inflammatory prescribed and off we went.

He was quiet for the rest of the afternoon and Jane and I headed into Glasgow to see Lisa Hannigan in concert in the evening. Lisa is the inspiration behind Amelie Bottrill and you don’t need me to tell you that Puddles is the inspiration behind Amelie’s latest album. But we found ourselves texting home about Dennis…

When we got back (late), Dennis was crouched quietly by my desk. As we went to bed, he made a valiant effort to climb the stairs but couldn’t make it onto the bed. Jane freaked. The wee man couldn’t even manage to climb two feet onto the bed.

Worried?

You bet we were.

The next hour we’ll never forget. He camped out at the foot of the bed, but every five minutes without fail, let out an almighty wail of pure agony.

Five past midnight: phoned the vet. They work 24×7 so all I was doing was taking out someone’s beauty sleep. We discussed symptoms, cause and effect and agreed that wee Dennis would be back in at nine o’clock.

Assuming he made it through the night that is. Google’s great most of the time but once you realise that cats and antifreeze don’t mix (nor do cats and lilies, you kind of fear the worst: or at least I do). Poisoning was right there at the forefront of my mind.

No sooner was I off the phone than he staggered off the bed and left a trail of blood stained pee as he headed off into our slightly open wardrobe door. The screaming continued for another half an hour before he left our room and headed off for Finn’s bed. Finn wasn’t back from work yet as he was on a late shift so I sat up with Dennis till 2am. By then the wee man had conked so we made up the guest bed downstairs so Finn could sleep on that. I think I managed about three hours poor quality kip masel’. Jane got up and he’d pee’d the bed. Dennis doesn’t do that. He never does that. But when yer wean isnae well, you just make exceptions for material things and try to make their life as comfortable as possible.

We made it through till 9am then we were back at vet HQ. But by a sheer stroke of luck, he peed in his basket en route, and some of it was parked up in the corner of his basket, having not soaked into the blanket: enough for a syringe and a diagnostic strip. Blood in urine: check. Sky high white blood count: check. The boy’s fighting infection.

So now, not only is the wee man visiting Auntie Inflammatory, he’s two timing Auntie Biotics.

I tell you not, Jane and I are emotionally exhausted. And all we had was a wee trauma with a cat. We simply don’t know how the parents of children with cancer get through each day.

We’ve struggled with our day in the life of baby Dennis.

 

How Long’s A Piece Of String

Anyone who has ever been an athlete knows the score. How long do you wait before you come back after an injury? How long is long enough? Or more importantly, if you attempt a comeback too soon and you break down, then do you go down a dirty great big snake from 73 back to 27 and start the rehab all over again. I’m somewhere in the middle of that lot.

Having a wife who’s qualified in massage doesn’t half help however, because not only can she help with accelerating the repair, but when she’s working away, the reaction of my damaged quad tells its own story of where the repair job is at. Earlier this week, I would say it really wasn’t very far on, judging by the way I jumped when she hit the sore bit.

This is all a bit of an issue because next week, Thursday to be exact, I want to be out on my bike again. It’s a special one-off gig. My mate Iain McGovern, who doubles up occasionally as the nicest bloke on the planet, is currently part way through a 352 mile walk from Merthyr Tydfil to Glasgow: or to be more precise, Celtic Park in Glasgow. Two years ago, when Iain was walking in the other direction, I managed to catch up with him for a few miles on the road between Abington and Johnstonebridge on the old A74. Next Thursday his tribe are walking that very same stretch of road, but northbound. I intend to be there.

Iain’s team are walking in honour and memory of his good friend Jonathan Thomas who died from cancer almost a year ago. The story is special because Iain suggested that he and some friends should walk from Jonathan’s home town in south Wales to the home of his beloved football team, in support of the various charities that Jonathan himself had supported throughout this life. Y’see Jonathan may have been born in Wales, but his heart lived in Glasgow. He got the whole charity thing: bigtime. But that’s not what makes this walk special. It’s special because of the timing. Walking every step of the way with Iain is Sian Thomas, Jonathan’s young widow. Sian and Jonathan had made plans to get married before he was diagnosed eighteen months ago, and as his condition deteriorated, so the wedding had to be brought forward. The last words that Jonathan spoke before he died were his wedding vows to Sian.

This is an epic gesture that Iain has organised, not that he needs any competition in that regard. A hero of many a Celtic themed cause for charity, from the Celtic Foundation to Simba, from the Oscar Knox Appeal to Eileidh’s Journey, Iain is one of those people that you just hope will get recognised one day for the amazing work that they do in the community. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he sleeps out overnight at Celtic Park shortly after the walk is complete because he took part in that last year. That’s a gig to raise awareness and funds for the homeless.

My plan next week is to dump the motor in Abington and ride south to meet Team Jonathan on the road. As they’re rattling 25 miles a day, I reckon that a couple of hours on the bike should find them. I wonder what the record is for pushing a bike home? However if the old war wound isn’t up to the job, and I’ll know that from Jane’s poking about in the middle of the week, then there’ll be no bike and I’ll walk out to meet them instead: and if that’s the case, then there’s definitely a need to pull a Highland March style ambush by hiding in a ditch or behind some trees and giving it “U-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r” as they go past. Schoolboy humour: it’s never goes out of fashion.

Wristbands have been prominent this week. I know that Gail’s got a batch up the road, that we bought with a small percentage of the proceeds of the first lot we bought. Then last week, with only teenage ones left in my supply, I ordered another three hundred so we are now, finally, able to do mail order every time someone wants to make a donation to Eileidh’s Journey via Paypal. Wearing Eileidh’s band, in her favourite colour, is as good as it gets in terms of everyday support. I’m especially proud of the fact that I wear Oscar’s band on one wrist and Eileidh’s on the other. They complement each other so well.

But that’s not the best bit of the wristband story. When the Gabby’s were over fae Brizzy a few weeks ago, they took the last of my remaining stock back over to Australia where they sold out in no time. So when I put it to Amelie, who’s LCFN admin at the Aussie end, that I now have a new supply, she asked for fifty. They’re in the air as I’m writing this. As I mentioned to her on Messenger, what I should have done was make a special batch for Adelaide because they came from a factory in China. Next time… Amelie never ceases to amaze me: getting shot of fifty wristbands is no mean feat, especially when the money is going to a wee tot on the other side of the world. But Ammie comes from good stock, many of whom will read this and feel duly proud. You’re all heroes, the lot of you: Missy, Ben, Pamela, Alan, Barbie, Davide, Lucilla, Anna and Laurati. I do hope I didn’t miss anyone.

Staying with the Amelie connection, she is quite likely to wake up next Thursday morning with a virtual ear to the airwaves ten thousand miles away in Glasgow. Y’see at about the time Straya will be doing breakfast, a few of us from LCFN will be at a Lisa Hannigan gig in the west end of Glasgow on Wednesday night. The time difference is currently nine and  half hours I think. Glasgow is the only Scottish date on Lisa’s world tour. I’ll hold my hand up and say that I’d never come across her work before Amelie wrote Puddles, and it was only when I enquired about her musical influences that I discovered that Lisa Hannigan is Amelie’s inspiration. They met briefly at a gig in Adelaide a few years back when Lisa spotted that Ammie was wearing a similar dress (I have the photo somewhere and I must dig it out before Wednesday) but the real highlight for me (and Amelie) will be when I get Lisa to autograph both of Amelie’s Frank Loves Joan CD’s. I know that will make our songstress very, very happy.

Oh, and the Flag’s going to the gig too. That was always a given.

The great unknown, and I’ve asked on about three separate occasions, all through social media, is whether Lisa will cover Puddles as a one-off tribute to both Eileidh and Amelie. If my messages got through and she does it, I guarantee that there won’t be a dry eye in the house. It would be the crowning moment, not just in Amelie’s songwriting career, but in the long adventure of this bike ride too.

I haven’t done an update on the whole LCFN global appeal for a while, and for the purposes of this story, I’m going to lump the Strava Million Mile Challenge in with the Facebook LCFN group to broaden the story. From humble beginnings in the wee town of Stewarton (in Ayrshire) in Scotland, LCFN is now being followed in the USA, Canada, Mexico, all of the the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Slovenia, Romania, Italy, Turkey, Palestine, Iran, Sri Lanka and Australia. In a world where awareness is so absolutely important in parents being able to recognise the symptoms of childhood cancer, the LCFN bike ride is still trying to get the message out there.

The good news on the Puddles front this week is that basically, there isn’t any. Eileidh is home, after months of gruelling treatment in hospital in Aberdeen, and the for the next wee while, she’ll be continuing with her treatment in the comfort of her own home, her own bed, and her own family. It’s not just Eileidh I feel happy for at this turn of events: it’s Gail too. And Cerys. And Callum. The three of them have had to deal with the shitty end of the stick while Eileidh’s been fighting for her life this time around, and it’s lovely that they’re finally back together in one place. Long may it last.

And that, basically, is it for this week. Another one with zero miles from me, another one when I’ve felt like a fraud while the autumnal weather has been fantastic. How long will this rehab take?

How long’s a piece of string?

Quad Bike

Four miles in two weeks. You could be forgiven for thinking that I’ve retired, but I haven’t. I’m taking an injury timeout. The four miles were courtesy of a two mile trip out of town on Monday afternoon (a lovely crisp autumn day for a bike ride, just as every day has been this week), before I had to turn round and head back home. I fear that this is gonna be a long haul.

I look back forty years through a catalogue of running and biking injuries that includes a chipped ankle (operation), a chipped elbow, multiple Achilles tendon injuries, too many calf strains to count, hamstring tendon strains (top and bottom), a destroyed cartilage, maybe a couple of dozen toenails, torn ligaments in hands, arms knees and ankles, groin muscles torn, hamstrings torn, shin splints… the list goes on and on. There was even one infamous night at the Cumbernauld sports injuries clinic in ’83 after my first Marathon Walk when I had three different physios working of separate injuries simultaneously.

But never a quadriceps tear. Until now.

The main muscle that does the hardest shift, the one that drives the engine, has given way. And in this glorious autumn weather, I can’t even start to describe how frustrating and annoying that is. Four measly miles in two gorgeous weeks and no end in sight to the misery. I did it chasing KOM’s on tired legs. Yes, I know, it serves me right.

I’ll try and describe it: Remember when you were wee and yer pal (at least, you thought he was yer pal) gave you a Chinese burn? Well that’s what this feels like, except it’s slap bang in the front of my thigh. As I’m sat here now, I can feel it, yet the only exercise I’ve done today is cut the grass. I need to set Jane loose on it now that she’s a qualified Swedish Masseur. She passed her exams last weekend. Chapeau!

What’s going to make this even more frustrating is that Jane’s signed up to do a 6am boot camp for the next four weeks and I would have jumped at the chance of heading out the door to bag 20 miles in the dark before breakfast. I used to love those early morning forays out into the wilderness when there was no other bugger about. But even if I somehow make a miraculous recovery, 6am is out of the question: nae warm up and surrounded by hills is just asking for trouble. So I’m gonna sit out the next few weeks, October for sure, and take each week after that as it comes. There’s zero point in trying it out again soon, only to break down, because that’ll put me back right back to the start and possibly beyond: scar tissue and all that. The LCFN record for lost time stands at 9 weeks after a hernia op in 2015: this may come close.

The first casualty of doing hee haw has been food. I like to trough loads of the stuff, which is never a problem when yer burning up 1500 calories a day. But when yer sat on yer backside, that’s a big meal or two that have to be parked for another day. And the beer, which is more than a trifle unfortunate.

Anyway, that’s enough of my expanding 32” waistline…

What about Puddles?

Last week, if you recall, was the worst week ever. Poor Gail could do little, save for reporting on one bad experience on top of another. Forgive me for thinking it, let alone putting it into print, but the adult strength treatment is often the straw that breaks the camel’s back and ends a young person’s life. Despite the fact that Eileidh has defied the odds time and again and bounced back stronger than before, last weekend was different. I’m not even going to start to pretend that I understand the toxicity of the chemo, but my understanding is that this round has been the hardest and most toxic of any that our Princess has had to endure. It was never like this in Corrie…

I think each of us reading the unfolding story were somehow secretly fearing the worst.

But Eileidh is Eileidh.

I love the way Gail manages to weave mischief into the blog, as though “up to no good” is a watch phrase for “she’s feeling much better and on the way back”. It’s what we all hope for, every day. You know that scene in “Brave”, the song mashup between Sara Bareilles and Cyndi Lauper, where all the kids fighting cancer sneak out of their rooms to go paint daubing down the corridor? That’s how I imagine Eileidh on a good day: out of bed, off down the ward (still attached to her kit, of course), and up to no good, but in a nice way.

And so it came to pass that in the middle of this week, Gail greeted us with these words “Eileidh went back up to the medical ward just before lunchtime today. She has responded so well to TVD, they have decided not to give her the final block. They feel it would do more harm than good. The risk of severe and possibly fatal complications is too great to warrant it”.

Whisper it quietly, for that is all we can do just now, but Eileidh is doing okay. This is one small step, another tiny wee step along the road to a proper four year old’s life. Eileidh is a remarkable child, and it’s hugely sobering to me, to think that it’ll be two years since I first met her in a few weeks’ time. That’s almost half of her wee life that she’s been fighting this demon with a smile on her face.

Talking of fighting things, the Solving Kids Cancer team, featuring Leona Knox on behalf of the parents, and a battalion of medical/lawyery folk, took NICE to an appeal in Manchester last Friday. NICE inexplicably decided, a couple of months ago, that they would deny kids in the UK access to the drug that families hundreds of thousands of pounds for, so they can get access to treatment in the United States. A drug that was 30 years in research and development, and proven to make a difference, denied on grounds of cost. As if kids’ lives didn’t matter whereas it’s okay to waste thousands of times that money on waging war. It’s an immoral situation to be in, and one that does this country a great disservice. Leona, I sincerely hope that you and your team get the result the kids so richly deserve.

When it comes to deserving things, no one is more so this week than Steve Abraham, the king of our LCFN Million Mile Challenge on Strava. Steve has spent around 16 hours a day on two wheels in pursuit of the world record for the most miles cycled in 30 consecutive days. The big man came in at 7,104 miles (and a half) which works out at an astonishing average of 236 miles a day. Every day! Divide that by the time he spent on the bike and you’re up around 15mph average. I’m lucky if I can bring that average home after two hours, let along sixteen, and for thirty days in a row? Astonishing! The word machine was invented for Steve Abraham, world record holder elect.

The squad that’s been banging in those Million Miles, as mentioned a week ago, comes from countries all over the world. Well this week we welcomed another important member to LCFN, not on the bike but on the Facebook page. Afshin, who studied medicine at the Tehran University of Medical Science, has a beautiful daughter Hana who’s been diagnosed with neuroblastoma at stage one. As we are only too aware with the cases that we’ve encountered on LCFN, neuroblastoma is indiscriminate in who it selects for the fight. Afshin can draw strength from the fact that he has found us, because we will follow Hana’s journey, and offer what support we can, just as we would if the child was our own. Afshin, welcome to LCFN : our journey knows no bounds.

The final topic for this week comes from a programme I caught on TV last night on Diabetes. I know more than a wee bit about the disease through my current work in disease detection, but the stark reality of the sharp end of the disease, with people losing limbs and their vision, was a sharp, and at times unruly reminder of what we are doing to our bodies with our slothlike couch potato lifestyles. There will be people reading this who will think “but it won’t happen to me” and I will counter that with “oh yes it will. Your habits are yours to choose: or to change. Get on a bike and burn, baby, burn. If you didn’t see the programme, then I implore you to catch it on iPlayer. You will be shocked: possibly into action.

I’ve spent the last three years burning up calories, almost a million and a half of them on this gig, but last night’s show had me worrying that I need to get over this injury sooner rather than later. I need to be out there. I need to be powering a quad bike.

 

 

The Hardest Words

I suspect that the majority of people who read the blog also follow Eileidh’s Journey. So to those people I offer an apology upfront if you’ve read most of these sentiments already this week. This has been the hardest week in Eileidh’s short life. I don’t think I stand alone in almost not being able to read Gail’s daily blog of life on the ward: pain, unendurable pain; coupled with little or no sleep. Poor Gail must be exhausted, not just physically but emotionally too. Right now, she’s the strongest woman on the planet, bar none, and she has 772 members on LCFN on Facebook holding her up, along with 7,862 followers on Eileidh’s Journey.

How I wish that Gail’s searing blog of how Eileidh is currently fighting for her life would somehow find its way into the gaze of a deeply embarrassed producer of Coronation Street. This is reality.

I’m not sure which is harder: Gail finding the strength from somewhere to commit her experiences and thoughts to words, or our inability to take it all in because we simply cannot comprehend what poor Eileidh is currently going through. I simply cannot read it all in one go. I have to break it up into wee bits, read a couple of paragraphs then let my mind rest a moment, before returning minutes later for a quick recap and the next sentence, much like a Channel 4 reality show where they spend the first two minutes after the break telling you what you just watched in the five minutes before it. I simply don’t know how Gail does it. I certainly don’t know how Eileidh is getting through it. You think you’ve come through the worst, only for the next day to be worse again. Heartbreaking, every single episode.

And all this is unfolding 400 miles away while I’m down south exploring the opportunities that exist in predictive healthcare. Some of you know about my football spreadsheet: the one that tells you that 1-1 is going to be the most common scoreline in every division in England and Scotland this coming weekend. Predictive healthcare works in exactly the same way across a range of diseases, many of which are scheduled to bring the NHS to its proverbial knees if left unchecked. I’m working with a team of highly skilled clinicians, and together we are developing tools that will enable health professionals to become proactive instead of reactive: turning healthcare on its head. And although we still have to get our data model validated, we do have a prototype for childhood cancer. Only time and a lot more hard work by the team will verify whether it works. This is what happens when you get released from your employer after 40 years in the software industry, and you have a passion for making a difference. This is what happens when the ideas inside your head are nurtured and watered in a way that allows them to flourish instead of being strangled by control. I don’t know where this road will end: I’m eighteen months from retirement yet right now I feel like I have a contribution to make for the next ten years. And then some.

And then there’s the Australian connection…

I’ve been doing this now for just over three years and I’ve never felt so attached and so part of what’s happening Strayanside as I do currently. It reminds me a bit like I felt after I’d been in Scotland for about ten years. Scotland isn’t like England, not one bit. Scotland is full of people who live passionately for today, and for other souls. England is a country of emotional borders and barriers: this bit is mine and thou shalt not have. The folk on my Australian timeline are very much at the Scottish end of the scale: empathisers one and all. The constant musings and comments back and forth, despite the obvious time difference, across the spectrum of social media binds us all together.

An extension of the whole Aussieness of LCFN came about last weekend when at 11am UK time, 8:30pm in Adelaide, the doors opened and the punters poured in at Jade’s Club ahead of the concert to mark the official release of Frank Loves Joan’s second CD “About A Girl”. I’d been out on my bike in wild, wild conditions on the Saturday morning and got back home half an hour before the gig started. I was hoping that someone was going to do Facebook Live so I could just be part of the whole thing, but as it happened, video footage appeared soon after. In didn’t matter in any case because even though I was bodily in Scotland, my heart was in South Australia.

The bit where you could have knocked over with a feather came when a thread appeared on Facebook featuring a still image of Amelie performing Puddles, Eileidh’s own song, along with a wee story explaining that Amelie herself had just replayed Eileidh’s story to the audience. That single moment made 25,000 miles on a bike worthwhile. That moment made my very Facebook existence worthwhile. I feel truly blessed to have not just Amelie in my circle, but the people around her, including half of her extended family.  It is truly humbling to know that this young lady actually took the time to make every single person who was there that night, aware of neuroblastoma and how it has ravaged Eileidh’s life. I’ve since been told that you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium when she performed the song live, such was the emotional charge in the atmosphere. Awareness is one hell of a powerful ally when you have it on your side.

Changing the subject altogether, you could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow (or two) when I say that I’ve not been on the bike at all this week, and by choice. Sometimes even I can read the signs. For the best part of two weeks, I’ve been affected by a deep, dull, aching pain in the upper front/outside of my right quads. This particular injury is one I have never had in 35 years of sport, and hell, I’ve had a few (dozen). These muscles are the big drivers on the bike and I absolutely cannot allow myself to get to a stage where they are not working at 100%. Being sore at the start of a ride then masking the pain through lactic acid build up was never going to work long term. So when it got to the point where the pain was there when I was sat in a chair with my feet tucked back underneath, I knew that the time had come for respite. I will take as long as it takes, even if it is only a matter of days, or maybe a week or two: but rest I must right now.

The lead up to the injury is centred on the 69th 200 mile week of my own LCFN adventure, and the increasing daily mileage I needed to do to get there. 26, 27, 25 on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday merely gave me a chance, that’s all it was. Unless you go out all guns blazing early in the week, all you’re ever going to do is give yourself a platform. The problem with having a solid base in the middle of the week was that I knew that Saturday was coming and that it was going to bring with it 40mph winds and driving rain, and if I wanted a jackpot under those circumstances, then I was going to have to venture outside for two and a half hours and do it the hard way. No real choice there then. Out into the wind is always the way to go if you have a choice, and use whatever cover you can find, hedgerows, buildings whatever, to offer some kind of  protection. Then, once you’re as far away from home as you need to be, raise the proverbial mainsail and let loose on the home run. Under those circumstances, the journey can be amazingly exhilarating.  And it was. Home, soaked to the skin, but with a familiar sense of beaten it again. Oh how I wish I could bestow those same few words on Princess Puddles right now.

This may not have been the hardest week to be on a bike, nor the hardest week to write a blog: but it’s certainly been the hardest week to read one.

As ever, Eileidh and Gail, you dominate much of my waking day, for yours are the hardest words.