Kick Off

ffsfsfI’ve been meaning to start a blog about this project for a while: I just never got round to it or convinced myself that I’d do it some other time. It’s so easy to put off till tomorrow what you know you could do today, so maybe my phone getting gubbed and having to go away to the phone doctor just gave me the breathing space to do what I should have done at the outset.

There are some good people out there and this story, indeed this whole project, is dedicated to them.

Right up there is Jas Cameron, aka Wullie Broon. Never met the bloke and all I know is that Jas wears his heart on his Celtic sleeve. Through Jas and a bunch of his Bampot mates, I have learned that there are people out there, who follow football just like me, for whom the game, the team and the season are just part of a wider life experience. For these guys, social justice is as big a part of the deal as following the team itself. I respect these guys, and I especially respect Big Jas.

I’ve been doing this project now for just shy of three months: it’s a four and a half year gig so these are still very early days. Indeed this is my winter numero uno and to be frank it scares the shit out of me that I’ve got to go through this another four times. But just over a week ago, I got a DM from Jas asking me if I’d write a wee article on what I was doing. I knew exactly what he was going to do with it, and I kind of suspected what the reaction was going to be. It was Celtic bound, for Celtic is a football club whose existence has always been the embodiment of charity. A lot of my mates just don’t get the fact that I can still support Inverness while teaming up with people of another footballing persuasion on something like LifeCycle but for me it’s a no-brainer: they get it while the rest don’t. Or to put it another way, I get what their heritage is about, even if I don’t support their team. That’s called mutual respect.

So I wrote my piece, Life Cycle (Pennies From Heaven), emailed it off, and it duly got published on The Celtic Network on 12th November 2013. In case you haven’t read it, here’s the story that Jas ran on TCN:

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To Vanessa, Oscar and Mackenzie, this one’s for you.

But you are not alone, cos this one’s also for the Bampots. Without every one of you, this story would not have happened, but you made it so. And to whoever shall suffer next, then I hope the next four and a half years will make life that little bit more bearable.

This is the true story of my Life Cycle For Neuroblastoma

But first, some preamble. In the summer of ’71, when I was 19, I went back to my old school and asked if I could borrow the grass athletics track for a few hours: when I explained why, they said yes. I took an entourage of one, a first aider, who was there just to make sure I didn’t keel over. I wanted to run a marathon for Oxfam long before blokes decided it was fashionable to run ‘a marathon’. I’d walked 25 miles for Oxfam the previous year and wanted to do more. My dad had just died and I felt a real urge to do something different that he would have approved of. And so a life of extremeism began.

Various similar escapades followed, from running/hobbling 100 miles in a day in ’83, to cycling from Manchester to Glasgow in a day in ’94, to kickstarting the Highland March in ’03. Most of these challenges either originated in, or were conceived in years around my decades: 20, 30, 40 and 50 and so on. I’d been wanting to do something for my 60th and of course it had to top everything that had gone before: I just didn’t know until one day in August 2013 what it would be. I’d had a wee false alarm back in June when I decided to ride the entire Whitelee Windfarm in a day, visiting all 215 turbines. That’s 100 miles offroad with more climbing than Ben Nevis. And it’s not a wind farm for nothing. That was meant to be it: done the ride, got the T shirt and drunk the celebratory beer. But those pesky Bampots had other ideas…

Let me admit something straight up: I’m not a Celtic supporter. I follow Inverness, the team that ultimately brought Celtic the blessed Martin, the 6-2 game, Seville and everything that has happened since. But the fact that I’m in love with another yet this story is being told on TCN completes a journey that began back in the summer of 2011 when a good friend, a Celtic minded friend, first mentioned RTC and the work that was going on behind the scenes to expose the financial skulduggery down Edmiston Drive (and far beyond). The rest is history. The likes of Jas Cameron, Phil Mac, Polish Turnstile, The Black Knight, Auldheid, Old Pesky, Corsica, Oisin, Sir Bartin and The Tribute Act opened my eyes to a way of being that was hereto virtually unknown in my time as a football supporter. It mattered not a jot that as Inverness supporters, we’d been doing the Highland March for ten years; we’d stopped doing it for charity because we’d reached saturation point where (the same) people were sick of us asking for money every year. So we carried on just doing it for fun, for the love of the football club: and we’ll probably do it forever, I mean why stop now, after 11 years; crikey the club’s only 19 years old (which is 18 more than Sevco).

Those Celtic Bampots touched a nerve in me: I’ve had septicaemia and survived; I’ve had gangrene and survived, and I feel, 100% feel, that it’s my privilege and my duty to engage with my extremeism one more time before it’s too late.

It all came to a head one day in the middle of August after Oscar had relapsed. I remember it well because it was just after the celebration of the Cliftonville game and ‘that’ picture that kept appearing on my timeline as he ran across the turf into the arms of Hoopy. From afar in football terms, I’d followed the stories of Vanessa, Oscar and Mackenzie through the Twitter feeds of the Bampots and despite having contributed financially, I knew the time had come to do more.

I was riding the 17 miles home from work over the Fenwick Muir into the teeth of a gale when, from nowhere, the notion suddenly fixated in my brain that I could be doing this for money: not my money: Oscar’s money, Vanessa’s money, Mackenzie’s money, whoever’s next’s money. And so Life Cycle For Neuroblastoma was born. Except it wasn’t quite because I didn’t have a name for it straightaway: that was brought on later by man’s best friend: beer.

We moved to Stewarton in ’97, the week before Killie won the cup. A high mileage leisure cyclist throughout the 90’s, I thought the commute from Ayrshire to Glasgow would be a doddle: I was wrong. The hills did for me, and over the course of a few months, I’d traded two wheels for four. It remained that way pretty much until a couple of years ago when I started dumping the bike in the back of the motor, parking up by ‘The Red Hoose’ and cycling the rest of the way down the old A77 into work.

So, 44 and I couldn’t hack it, but 60 and going to ride where no (old) man has ever ridden before: how on earth is this going to succeed? Omega 3, that’s why. Omega 3 is the difference. Omega 3 is the fuel of life that makes everything possible, and I mean everything. Life Cycle For Neuroblastoma is possible because I count Dr Tom Gilhooly in my circle of very good friends. And Dr Tom’s been going to Celtic longer than I’ve been in Scotland, and that’s 36 years. Brother Wilfrid would have been proud of what you guys have achieved in reaching out beyond the confines of Celtic Park.

Anyway I digress. Bike, miles, challenge, Vanessa, Oscar, Mackenzie, Neuroblastoma, life. It was a perfect fit. I reckoned that if I could hold down my job and stay injury free, I could probably manage 200 weeks tops before I retire. So then I did the sums as I was riding backwards and forwards over the Muir. First I thought “£10K, bet I could make £10k. Nah, too easy. £100K, this is a job for the Twittersphere”. I remember twittering on to @AngelaHaggerty that this idea would fly, and I still believe it will fly. I just need people to engage…

Here are the sums: I have 200 weeks to complete PFH and I need 500 people who have sufficient faith in the project to give up the equivalent of a can of juice and a packet of crisps every week until we’re done. This is a project in Social Bampottery and I just happen to be the foot soldier. I want people to believe that we are going to do this, just like we all believed that we were going to save Vanessa, Oscar and Mackenzie.

Why 500 people? Simple: 500 people, 200 weeks, 100 pennies a week… £100K

I stay in Stewarton and work in Glasgow. It’s 15 miles to work the short (but more dangerous) way and 17 the long (but safer) way. Both ways are hilly. The preferred route, undoubtably, is the longer 17 mile hike up the side of the old A77. I love that road. My wife, and indeed the rest of my family hate it: too boring. I beg to differ. Like any long journey, you break it down into wee stages and take each on its merits. It’s windy here, it’s hilly there, it’s wet somewhere else. I love the freedom of being me, on my cycle lane, while 50 yards away to my right are guys with eyes on stalks, peering into the spray and the number plate of the car five yards ahead at 80mph on the M77. I know where I would rather be, even in the rain. It takes up to 90 minutes each way, weather depending, and there’s no point in getting down about it. Enjoy the experience and come back stronger tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. It’s the only way I know.

The day starts at 5:20am with the Life Cycle alarm. Every day. Like a scene from The Wrong Trousers, all the kit’s laid out from the night before and I just fall into multiple layers, one after the other. In the winter, that’s at least a ten minute job. Fuss the cats and make sure they’ve food for the day, then it’s out the door at 20 to 6. At this point I’d like to pick a bone with Christopher Blanchett. Why is it that it’s never, I repeat never, as windy first thing in the morning as it is at teatime? The prevailing south westerly, or lack of it, hardly ever seems to blow me into work, yet it’s always there like a nagging old wifie, to make my life a misery on the way home. Gimme a howling Aberdonian tailwind any day of the week.

I’m lucky because my work has showers, and at 7am, no one’s in there. With a big locker and secure rack space, it’s almost like a home from home: “and what outfit shall I wear today I wonder: I know, the same as yesterday, that’ll save me carrying more clothes tomorrow” Ironically, for someone who’s been on the go for two hours already, I’m usually first into the office: lights on, kettle boiled, let the Scoffathon begin. Calories are good, particularly when you can eat just about everything you want. I don’t stop eating all day. The (fasted) commute in burns up 900 calories and I usually reckon that the return trip gobbles up another thousand. That’s 2K of calories I’ve got for free, every day, to indulge myself, although in reality it’s just fuel: it goes, just like that. There is no worse feeling than heading back over the Fenwick Muir into a headwind on a dark Thursday night and you’ve run out of gas. You really don’t wanna be there. Food is fuel. Lots of it. Mrs Von Schiehallion’s a great cook and I am eternally grateful for that. For those of you who already follow me on Twitter (@VonSchiehallion) yer cannae beat a Cakeathon, not when it’s been made by my missus. Top stuff. Life Cycle rocket fuel.

So, Alfie, what’s it all about? Well it’s about a bloke aged 60 who’s pledged to spend the rest of his working days, around a thousand in all, commuting to and from work in Glasgow on a pushbike, hoping that enough people will cough up a penny for every mile that he can ride. That’s it, in a nutshell. That is Life Cycle (Pennies From Heaven). All the money raised goes to the Neuroblastoma Children’s Cancer Alliance and together, we (and I use that term proudly) are going to help save someone’s life: don’t know who, don’t know when: I just know that we’re going to do it.

There are some amazing people following Celtic Football Club and I am privileged, through the internet, to have drawn strength from some of them. Yet at the same time, there are people in my own circle of friends, who quite frankly “don’t get it”. They don’t understand what it is and what it takes to support a project such as this. I will support Inverness Caledonian Thistle for the rest of my days, and I will drink in the LRT before (our) games, because charity begins at Celtic Park.

You can follow my progress at http://www.justgiving.com/SteveTaylor-60

You can donate on the page or you can donate 100 pennies each week by texting THEA77 £1 to 70070

There endeth today’s sermon.

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The reaction was inspirational if you’re me and you have to get up at 5:15 to leave the house on two wheels in the dark in lashing rain. The following comment comes word for word from Parsonbhoy (he has a proper name but I love the way football fans hide behind their pseudonyms):

“Wow! I simply can not get the hairs on the back of my neck to sit down. Wow! again. What an objective; what a compliment to Celtic fans. I love football. I love Celtic. But more and more I love the way the fans reach out to people and touch their lives. That is more of a treble year on year than any trophies. To conquer an opponent on the field is always an achievement and a glorious feeling. To capture an opponent’s heart is Godsent”.

I’m also going to say upfront that I firmly believe that our place on this planet has somehow already been mapped out and that our role is just to play out our existence as it unfolds. Let me give you an example: Jas DM’d me on the Thursday, I knocked up a blog on the Friday and he published it on the following Tuesday. That much is pretty straightforward. But then two days later, it was revealed that Vanessa Riddle is cancer free. I mean, how does that work? I came to the Neuroblastoma party quite late in the day, in the Team Oscar days as it turns out, but the trio of Vanessa, Oscar and Mackenzie were the real inspiration behind the project. So how come, two days after Jas runs the story, Vanessa gets the all clear? I mean that’s gotta be some sort of a miracle. I claim absolutely no credit for any of it but what I would say is this: Celtic fans played a big part in saving Vanessa Riddle’s life and somewhere in the great megascript of life, the great God of Coincidence decided to run the two things side by side within a couple of days of each other. And one thing’s for sure: it makes my task a whole lot easier to have Vanessa Riddle alive and well as a shining example of what can be achieved.

So for Vanessa, Oscar and Mackenzie, this one’s for you. And for Jas and all the Celtic Bampots who got me off my backside to get this thing off the ground.

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