For the past two or three days, I’ve had this blog written in my head while I’ve been out on the road, knowing full well that it would be much, much harder to deliver when faced with a keyboard. And so it has proved. Intros one, two, three and four all met the delete key.
The hardest blogs to write are the ones that deal with raw emotion. I can think of only two or three in the near hundred stories that I’ve written that have caused me real grief but this is one of them.
We’ve lived in Stewarton for eighteen years. We moved in the week before Kilmarnock won the Scottish Cup which tells you how long ago it was. And for at least seventeen of those years, we’ve known Auntie Pat, George and their family. Auntie Pat’s not a real Auntie, just like Dobbin, who I pass on my bike a mile out of Stewarton every day, probably isn’t really called Dobbin. But our kids have always known Auntie Pat as Auntie Pat simply because she’s the best childminder in the whole of Stewarton, definitely Ayrshire and possibly all of Scotland. Auntie Pat was the sole reason that Jane felt able to go back to work after Finn was born and Joe just followed on in the production line of immaculate, well rounded childcare. Katie was still wee herself back then, and may possibly have still been at Primary School, I cannae remember. How times change. George was George: always the adventurous one. George loved the great outdoors and thought nothing of being dropped off at the end of a track out in the wilderness, sometimes on foot, sometimes with his beloved bike, to be reunited on the other side, maybe thirty miles away. George was always thinking of his next adventure and showed a keen interest in whatever escapade I was thinking up next.
On Tuesday, Auntie Pat lost George to cancer. He was the same age as me, give or take a year, and even now, four days on, neither Jane nor I can quite come to terms with it. George was always the quiet considered thinking man behind Auntie Pat’s team. Even though our boys have not been in Pat’s care for a couple of years, the bond remains and they still go up to see her from time to time. How cool a habit is that for teenage boys?
Katie has featured in the blog before, from the time when I was advising her on long distance running: in the wild of course, for that was George’s way. Her loss mirrors my own 43 years ago when I lost my own dad to cancer when he was just 48 and I was 19. Looking back, if there is one thing that comes out of the grief, it is that you go on to do things with your own life that would have made your dad proud. Katie, I know that you will do just that.
Those of you who’ve been with the blog from the start will remember the front light that I called Oscar during the winter of 2013/14. Oscar took me on many a wild goose chase on unlit back roads as I sought to explore new routes and push bigger miles.
For Oscar, now read George. But George isn’t a light, George is a bike, my road bike. In exactly the same way that Oscar made split second decisions that added miles to my originally intended route, George did exactly that today. He hung a left at the top of the Mearns road and said “tell ya what, let’s go over the Eaglesham Moor Road”. I’ve been doing this gig for almost two years and I’ve only ever done the Eaglesham Moor Road once, and that was in the other direction with the wind. The excursion near doubled the ascent for a normal run home and returned thirty miles that delivered another milestone in this long and arduous journey.
Two thirds distance. Or, if you prefer, 16,666 miles. We won’t quibble about the spare mile.
This benchmark matters in this week because next Tuesday completes two years on the road and it was psychologically important for me to crack two thirds of the job in significantly less than half the time. Must be an OCD thing. LFN has been going like a runaway train for these past eighteen months and today completes a remarkable turnaround from the early days. I’ve spent 404 days on the road and the stats tell quite a story. The first hundred days came at a daily average of 33 miles: easy peasy. The second hundred came at 42 miles a day: That was because I abandoned the Old Glasgow Road in January 2014 and went up the Clunch Road instead: two miles further each way. The third hundred delivered 46 miles a day and the fourth hundred 45 miles a day courtesy of adding on loops around Newton Mearns and Pollok Park on my way into work, plus the odd 40 miler on my way home on a half day Friday. And every one of those days, with the exception of the two Highland Bikes and an indoor fifty supporting Mark Beaumont, has had a full day at work on top, and 2,000 feet of climbing. To have been able to maintain that level of performance has surprised me and satisfied me in equal measures. And the awareness raising has just grown alongside it.
Last Sunday, normally a non LFN day, two key things happened. First of all, I woke to a message from Anita in South Australia, asking me whether I was available for a Skype chat in the Working From Home group that she admins on Facebook. A cup of coffee later, I was all set up and a bunch of us got sharing ideas on stuff. One of the group, Theonie, came up with a simple but brilliant suggestion for getting the LFN group to a wider audience on Facebook. I set it up as a closed group initially to avoid spammers and now that it’s got more than 250 members, it cannot revert from Closed to Public. That’s a Facebook rule (start small, grow big… illogical?) and despite trying to contact them to have it changed by them, they’ve just blanked my request. Theonie’s idea was to set up a new group, this time a public one, give it a shop window look and feel, just like the real thing, and point it to the Closed group via a link. How elegant and simple is that? That’s “Life Cycle For Neuroblastoma”. The page is up and running and hopefully it will catch the passing trade and help the cause some more. It’s all about the message folks!
I needed the laptop set up facing the LFN flag in any case, because JJ welcomed the immortal Jimmy Harrington (imagine being immortal at 21?) back into the British Beat Studio at PBA-FM and the LifeCycle Man was pencilled in to Skype live into the show. It was a gas. Jimmy was in fantastic form, re-living tales about his epic walkabout (“Gor blimey, look at that monsta”) then when we did the live link, the listeners were treated to the wacky wonders of modern technology. The delay on the line was about seven or eight seconds so JJ was instant messaging me telling me when to speak, then holding the same message up to the webcam on his phone just to make sure I got it. It was epic. Jimmy would be part way through his bit when this far off voice trampled all over the top of him and everyone fell about. For viewers watching in black and white, this was classic radio.
Before the sad news came through on Tuesday, I had planned to call this chapter The Topic Of Cancer because next weekend, Jane and I are taking part in the Moscow to Houston bike ride for Cancer Support Scotland. This will be the first time I’ve done a mass participation event as The LifeCycle Man and I can’t think of a better opportunity to further the cause of neuroblastoma awareness and support than through a national support group. I have a sense already, from the emails that have been flying back and forth all week, that these guys are every bit as warm and welcoming as the guys n gals at the NCCA, or should I now say Solving Kids Cancer.
I can’t finish this week without paying tribute to the spirit, the devotion, and just the sheer desire to help seek a cure of Leona Knox. Leona has been working long hours in New York this past week, helping to cement the new working relationship between Solving Kids Cancer (USA) and Solving Kids Cancer (Europe). Stephen and Izzie flew out to join her and you might think “nice wee holiday” etc etc: most certainly for S & I but most certainly not for Leona. I’ve never come across a woman so driven by compassion, so prepared to go not just one extra mile, but however many miles it takes to seek fulfilment. I’ve spoken before about Leona in the LFN blog but that was before she swapped her career in software for one in compassioncare. See when the establishment are handing out gongs: forget the troughers down in Westminster, it’s people like Leona Knox who deserve everything that’s going. Leona, you are a credit to yourself and to your family. And Stephen, she is that woman because you’ve made her so. Chapeau!
This whole journey has been brought about by sadness in the hope that somewhere down there road, there will be light. To Katie, and indeed to Auntie Pat and her whole family, I say