Eva’s 100 miles for Mommy

Some things are very difficult to understand. I’m OK with basic chemistry, atoms and electrons but I start to lose it when it comes to black holes, quarks and as for Higgs boson, well I don’t like to think about it because it makes my head hurt. But all of these things pale in their complexity when compared to trying to understand happiness.

I’ve been pondering the whole subject of happy over the last couple of days prompted by an incredible event that I was lucky enough to be a small part of. It was an event that spurned huge amounts of happiness but also a fair amount of sadness too and it put them together in a blender and produced something that was very difficult to pin down and explain but I’m going to try anyway.

A whole lot of happiness

A whole lot of happiness

The event that I am referring to was a multi-day sponsored bike ride around the Fylde which in itself is nothing remarkable until you consider that the leader of the ride was just seven years old and the distance covered over the five days was a shade over one hundred miles! As is so often in these cases the background to this amazing achievement is a tragic one which is where all the sadness I referred to came from. Eva, our ride leader, lost her Mommy to cancer last year and she told her Dad that she wanted to do something really special in memory of her. Her Dad Gareth and his daughter are both keen cyclists so a bike ride of some kind was probably inevitable but nobody expected Eva to opt for such an ambitious challenge. After five days of riding the journey ended in a celebration at the local cricket club but it was a celebration tinged with pain and sadness for many. Eva seemed to take the whole thing in her stride and while many of the adult riders bemoaned their aching muscles and tender backsides at the end of the final day Eva celebrated with a game of football with her chums.

Pround Dad

Proud Dad

I met Gareth, Eva’s Dad, through our shared interests of cycling and writing and as I said goodbye to him yesterday he mentioned that he would like his next blog to be a happier one than some of those in the past and that is what got me really thinking about how we get happy and stay happy. Gareth lost his wife in the most awful circumstances to an extremely aggressive form of cancer and he appears to be doing a truly amazing job of bringing up his two small daughters, Eva and Isla, in what must, at times, feel like a whole sea of despair. You have to wonder what chance happiness has of surviving in such a situation but survive it surely does.

For me, happiness is something that comes in moments rather than continuously or permanently because it is something that requires a whole host of elements to be present at the same time. Contentment, security, friends, love, humour, comfort and many more components all have to be present to make us feel truly happy and when you take any one of them away the danger is that the happy bubble bursts. Take one away and replace it with grief and happiness is always going to struggle. Well that is what I thought until my experience over the last two days watching Eva’s ever smiling face as she pedalled furiously up the steepest of hills and never once complained. There was so much fun and laughter and pure joy during those rides it was as if somebody was building the most magnificent cathedral on what had been a derelict bomb site.

Happiness really is such a slippery thing to get to grips with. I sometimes think that it is something that we can share. Being with happy people is infectious like laughter or smiling so that presumes that only really happy people can share it out. Maybe we have to share it out to enjoy it. It’s all very well having a whole birthday cake to yourself but at some point it will make you sick if you don’t share it with others. So here is the real dilemma for me; Gareth and his lovely little girls have every reason to be a bit low on the happiness stakes and yet they seem to have been able to share enormous quantities of it and make dozens, if not hundreds of people very happy. Of course their terrible loss forces us look at ourselves and realise how fortunate we are to have the friends and loved ones that we do but it also gives us hope. It shows us that even the most desperate, desolate bomb site can one day become the foundation for a new and beautiful garden of flowers.

The inspirational Eva

The inspirational Eva

There has been a deluge of heart felt messages on social media today congratulating Gareth and Eva for what they have achieved. Most of them refer to the huge amount of money that has been raised, and the incredible achievement of a seven year old riding a hundred miles in five days. I will second all of those thoughts but I also want to add a great big thank you to Gareth and Eva for the sheer volume of happiness that they have managed to create in the world. That happiness will spread outwards just like ripples in a pond and those ripples will eventually bounce back to them. That’s when I hope Gareth will be able to write his happy blog and I for one will look forward to reading it.

You can read more about Eva’s ride on Facebook by clicking this link. Or, just go here to donate.

This is bonkers

Three things have come together today that have made me have a change of heart about my blog post. I felt that a light hearted, hopefully amusing post was due after yesterday’s reflections on death but I’m sorry it will have to wait.

The first of the three items was the announcement from Oxfam this morning that it won’t be long before 1% of the world’s population will own more than 50% of all the wealth. That is such a sad indictment on how the world is developing and it seems that it is an ongoing trend, which is even more depressing.

Secondly, my cycling and blogging friend James uploaded a monster post today all about the terrible state that we seem to have got ourselves into and the difficulty of trying to turn back the tide of self-destruction that threatens to overwhelm us.

James’ blog was all about global causes and effects but my own experience today, the third thing, involved what goes on right in our own back yard and it brought home to me what a terribly mixed up world we live in. As I drove home I was trying to think of an eloquent way to describe what I saw today but in the end I decided ‘bonkers’ did the job better than anything.

I spent the day at a re-cycling charity where they reclaim and refurbish all manner of household goods to save them from landfill and give them a second life with somebody who might otherwise not be able to afford such luxuries. I say luxuries but really, by today’s western standards, they are really considered to be necessities. I’m talking about furniture, white goods and Personal Computers all of which have been dumped because they have reached the end of their useful life in their owner’s eyes. A better, faster, smaller model has been released which they simply must have.

Image from Trasch.co.uk

Image from Trasch.co.uk

I have no doubt that in the case of the computers they probably aren’t even broken but just considered too slow and not worth spending money on. After all, three years is considered to be the maximum life of a computer these days even though it may actually go on working for ten or more.

As I mentioned the organisation I was working with is a charity and they rely heavily on volunteers to do their refurbishment work. Most of the volunteers I saw weren’t retired people doing something useful with their spare time, they were all younger than forty and I therefor concluded, in most cases, probably out of work. The irony of this wasn’t lost on me. People with no jobs, picking through the cast off goods of those who are wealthy enough to just throw the stuff away because it’s a bit tired and out of date so that it can be sold at a fraction of its true worth to people that are just marginally higher up the wealth ladder than the volunteers that repaired it. As I said, it’s bonkers.

I came away with so many questions buzzing around my head. Why does so much valuable stuff simply get thrown away and how have we reached a state where people think it is acceptable? Why does it take a charity and an army of volunteers to fix the problem when thousands upon thousands of people don’t have a job? Why can’t we legislate to make it financially detrimental for companies to build in obsolescence into their products? Why don’t we value longevity in things anymore?

The answer to most of these questions of course is inevitably about money. Which is where we came in I believe. The seemingly irreversible process of more and more wealth being accumulated by fewer and fewer people leads to a world which, to me, seems to be increasingly bonkers. There is no other word for it.

Listening to oddballs

I, like most people, like to think I am a reasonably good judge of character. My current job, working as a charity fundraiser, is casting some doubt on that assumption. Before I reveal what I mean I should probably explain the mechanics of the job:

Setting out my stall.

Setting out my stall.

I am usually located close to a canal or other waterway with a banner announcing the charity and it’s purpose and a table full of leaflets and paraphernalia. My job is to engage with the general public which turns out to be much more involved than you might expect. It starts with a smile to make the initial eye contact followed by a greeting and a question. The question is usually  something along the lines of “have you come across the Canal and River Trust before?” or it may relate to the weather if I deem that to be appropriate. In a surprising percentage of cases irrespective of the question, the response I get is: “No thank you”. So far I have resisted the temptation to ask if they would like twenty grand in used ten pound notes to see if I get the same answer but I’m not sure what I would do if somebody said yes please. Occasionally people pause long enough for me to engage them with a big dollop of charm and some attention grabbing statistic about the charity and we are off. I love this moment, it’s like the opening curtain of a performance or the bell going off for round one of the big fight. Well, maybe not a big fight, that’s probably not the best analogy. But it is definitely a performance. It’s all about establishing early on whether or not my punter has any sympathy with the work of the charity and making a judgement accordingly whether to pursue the conversation or politely let them go and refix the smile ready for the next one. Most of the time it’s pretty straightforward. Most of the time.

Every now and again that thrill of the opening performance is replaced about sixty seconds into the exchange with a cold, slightly disturbing sensation as I realise I have found another lonely oddball who is, in turn, delighted to have found somebody that is prepared to listen to them. What is it about me that attracts them? I seem to get at least one of them every shift. Then, just as they get into their stride explaining to me how the country was doomed from the moment the steam engine was replaced with the internal combustion one, or that one day, and it’s always one day, they are going to buy a an old wreck of a boat, renovate it single handed and get the BBC to make a documentary about it, something really annoying happens. While I nod and smile politely a whole host of people who may as well be wearing sandwich boards bearing the message “I want to become a friend of the Canal and River Trust, where do I sign?” start to pass behind my new found friend. Yesterday it was a chain-saw sculptor who wanted to know what the minimum height restriction was on the entire 2000 mile network. (I didn’t know). He needed to know this because of the trees he would need to keep on top of his boat and, of course, the bee hives. I kid you not. I try not to resort to being rude but try as I might I just don’t seem to be able to shake these characters off. Then there are the drunks.

Roll up, roll up

Roll up, roll up

Last week one of them kindly offered to go and get me a pint from the pub at half past eleven in the morning. I declined of course because I was working but I was already in danger of becoming half cut simply by being engulfed by the alcoholic fug that surrounded him. He was harmless enough but it is so frustrating. I hadn’t seen a soul for the ten minutes before he appeared but now there was a steady stream of towpath walking enthusiasts passing quickly by and trying to avoid me and my drunken accomplice. Yesterday’s drunk was another with a plan to buy a boat. Having explained approximately what was involved in terms of licensing and water safety I gave him a map of the waterways hoping he might want to get home immediately to start planning his odyssey. Not a chance. He spread out the map to explain to me that he was going to sail down to Slough to surprise his daughter and stay with her for a while. I’m sure she can’t wait. The conversation was made a bit tricky by the fact that every now and again he would lose his balance and stagger away from me. Mostly he went toward the pub but there were a couple of dodgy moments when it looked like he might end up in the canal. Eventually he decided it was time to go home and sleep things off but not before assuring me that I was now his everlasting pal and as soon as he got his boat I would be the second man aboard. I think not.

I sometimes wonder when I am trying my opening conversational gambits whether or not I have been understood and I often don’t catch the response I get. In one particular case though two gentlemen decided to stop to talk and we were a couple of minutes into the exchange before we realised we had no common language. They were newly arrived from Czechoslovakia (I think they may have been in denial as to recent history) and their English was limited to say the least. My Czech is pretty rusty and I was struggling to explain what I was doing standing by the canal. The word canal seemed to be understood and I got the distinct impression that they were asking me a question which involved money. I decided that they must be asking what it cost to maintain the waterways and I launched into my eye popping statistic reveal. £250,000 a day I announced with a little dramatic effect. It always gets a reaction but in this case they seemed genuinely shocked. Even horrified. I didn’t want to mislead them so with perseverance and a bit of mime I eventually established that I had just told them it would cost a quarter of a million pounds to hire a narrowboat for a day. They decided not to bother.

I might just go and make a small amendment to my C.V. Experienced charity fundraiser and all round oddball magnet. Good listener.

… just one more thing

The final arrangements are now in place for our return tomorrow and the completion of our very irregular circle. We plan to get back to the starting point in Freckleton between 3:30 and 4:00pm accompanied by a few cycling friends who are coming out to Southport to meet us. We will be departing Southport just after 1pm and passing through Preston on the Guild Wheel route about 3pm if anybody else wants to join us. It would be lovely to see some familiar faces if you have nothing better to do and the sun is shining. Drinks may be consumed in Ponkies on our return but we’re not promising to foot the bill this time, sorry.

Speaking of money; we have tried not to go on and on about our chosen charities for this trip because the fund raising was never the prime motivator for doing it. However, now that it looks pretty certain that we will complete the job tomorrow I think it’s time to stop being polite. If you have enjoyed reading about our experience and you think that what we have done is at least something of an achievement then please could you consider clicking on these links and making a donation, however small. We would really appreciate it and so would the charities.

Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital

Trinity Hospice

Thank you

A couple of pics from the penultimate day:

 

Driftwood boat

Driftwood boat

Sea still on my left

Sea still on my left

Never saw one in Scotland. This is a scouser red squirrel

Never saw one in Scotland. This is a scouser red squirrel

Final bit of off roading near Formby

Final bit of off roading near Formby

Oh and just one more thing, please could you consider sharing this post on your favourite social media sites to get it to the widest possible audience. Thanks again, G&T

Inspiration

I follow quite a few travellers and adventurers on blogs, Facebook and Twitter but this week two guys have really stood out. They have been all over social media and have even made the TV and radio but sadly these things never seem to be big news. Personally, I think both their stories would make great headlines for the tabloids and bring some welcome relief from all the doom and gloom that we are fed.

JamesKetchellLast Friday James Ketchell arrived back in London after cycling 18,000 miles around the world in seven months. Pretty impressive eh? But that was only the third part of his ultra triathlon. You see, he first rowed across the atlantic single handed and then climbed Everest before embarking on the bike ride. I have listened to some of his media interviews and he seems like a very humble character who makes light of what he has done and the money he has raised for charity. Throughout his travels he has endeavoured to engage with school children via his web site and through talks and I am sure he has sparked some real ambition and excitement in them.

 

JamieMcDonaldThe second source of inspiration is Jamie McDonald who today completed a 5,000 mile run across Canada, in winter, unsupported and mostly in a superhero Flash costume. Absolutely bonkers and a real life hero. He has raised enormous amounts of money for children’s hospital charities, a direct response to the time he spent in them himself in the first part of his life. He too is humble and very likeable. He seems to have captured the imagination of thousands of supporters both in Canada and back here in the UK and no doubt he will inspire other to great things.

I took the trouble to look up a few mainstream newspaper headlines from the days that these chaps finished their adventures and I found the usual shock horror stuff about the floods, rape and exploding cancer levels. This post is my feeble attempt to tip the feel good balance the other way. (I suspect the circulation of this blog may be against me in my efforts.)

So if you, like me, are fed up with negative news take at look at the web sites of James and Jamie for some truly exceptional inspiration.

Huge congratulations to both of them for; the money they have raised, for what they have achieved and for making the world a nicer place.

It’s not a charity ride. Well maybe a little bit.

There really is no going back now. After initially stating that we weren’t going to do this ride for charity we have had a change of heart, albeit it limited, and we are now committed to raising funds for two very worthy causes. I know it probably sounds incredibly selfish to even consider not raising money for charity but to be blunt, this was always intended to be a selfish, personal journey that Gill and I wanted to experience. It was, first and foremost a learning opportunity, a journey of discovery in every sense. Yes we will, no doubt, discover interesting people and places, maybe the odd exceptional pub or cafe, but most of all we hope to discover more about ourselves and each other. Initially I was of the opinion this meant that we couldn’t involve fund raising and keep the purpose of the trip pure, but as time went on I changed my mind. I can’t speak for Gill of course, but I began to feel that maybe there was a middle ground. Perhaps we could raise a bit of dosh as a kind of side line, a low level sub plot if you like. So that is what we intend to do.

I got in touch with our chosen charities and after a couple of e-mails they seemed to ‘get it’ and were very positive despite the fact that we declined the T shirts and badges on offer. All we wanted from them was their blessing to use their logos and we got it. Thank you. So now we have some level of obligation to cycle around Britain, probably. We’ve opened up the facility to donate now, not because we necessarily expect people to start giving before we even set off but it’s just one more thing done, another tick on the list.

We still intend to keep the fund raising side of things in the background, so don’t expect to see us flying charity balloons from the bikes and there definitely won’t be any giant cheques involved at the end. This is still very much our personal journey, if people want to donate because they are enjoying following us and reading our blog then that will be an excellent bonus.

More details of the charities we have chosen and why can be found on the Fund raising page.

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