Friday saw me travelling down to Sussex by train in order to join the family to celebrate My Aunt Janet’s 80th Birthday Party. However the story continues to unfold with the goodness of people being yet again at the forefront of almost every experience on this journey.

I arrived off of the No 59 bus at Stirling Station and on finding my platform the very first person I should bump in to is a dear old friend from the Regiment John Pullman. As I strode across the platform the grin broadening on my face step by step it slowly dawned on him who this random stranger striding out from the shadows arms outstretched was and his face became a picture of disbelief and welcome all in one. He was on his way to London to join lots of old Borderers in the march past the cenotaph. An event I would have liked to attend but wasn’t sure I would have the stamina for the parade without some crazy aura creating a scene, mid parade, live on the BBC. While such an event would have managed to raise awareness of the challenge rather effectively I didn’t feel it was quite the manner in which I wanted to conduct the act of remembrance or indeed be remembered myself!! Besdies it was my Aunt’s 80th and was opportunity to catch up with my extended family. The train arrived and realising our seats were on opposite ends of the train duly parted.

I found my seat,took it,and started work on some future activity plans for the challenge before I fell asleep. On arrival in Edinburgh a lady wanted to sit in the seat next to me so I switched off the computer and packed it all away ready for a long journey trying to read a book while nodding off every few minutes but never quite getting to sleep. The train took off and after a quick panic in which I realised that I was in the wrong seat I offered to move to let another lady and her son sit together. Because I had got it wrong at the start and the other passengers had moved around me to let me work I guess this was going to involve a four way move. One delightful young lady offered to just move from her allocated seat to the one I should have taken in front of me in order to solve the problem. What a great girl whose gesture I am extremely thankful for as it meant I could remain sat next to the lovely lady I had just met and about whom I had a sense was going to be fun talking too. At the next stop a stag party clambered on to our carriage and noisily scrambled for their seats and cans of beer. The initial shock of capture passed as I realised that the good spirits of this crowd were also good natured and they would eventually settle after a couple of hours. Now settled we introduced ourselves formally and found I was sat next to Christine Windmill, the wife of the British Consul to Norway and was on her way to London for a dinner hosted by the Norwegian government. It sounded fantastic especially as I have for a long time been fascinated by the culture and traditions of the Nordic states. However, as Christine talked and the cheery calls, banter and excited chatter washed through me ,very quickly, my sight and hearing started to blur in a way similar to the blurring of the multitude of loud conversations in an echoey room. The metallic tastes and smells came and a gentle aura started to envelope my very head, and it was just as I was trying to fight it off by staying focussed on Christine’s story that I noticed with huge relief that John had come up the train to find me. He immediately noticed that something was up. ‘Archie, you’re not well are you?’ I slowly shook my head, my head dropping but started to feel the aura pass and was determined that John could relax and know I was okay and Christine relax and know she was safe sat next to me. I was feeling better and confirmed as such to John. That all was okay but then on doing the same with Christine quickly realised that this was an opportunity to introduce the challenge. I cannot remember whether or not I suggested she started with a glass of wine or not but we did enter into a great conversation and before I knew it it was 10 minutes to 4 and we were arriving in London King’s Cross. My goodness that was the shortest train journey ever, taking both of us by surprise and with connecting trains to catch, had to move quickly so parted but not before I thanked Christine for her Company, hoped that she had a lovely evening and confirmed that with, two sponsors in Australia, two in Canada, two in Germany and one I think from Rumania there was plenty of room for some sponsors from Norway. As many as she could find!! I very much hope that you do come and find me and if you do enjoy the journey with me. Please spread the word and help me find some more sponsors. Thank you.

I made it across to St Pancras international and managed to find my connecting train. Once on I was dozing quietly in the corner to be woken occasionally by the comedy tweet and whistle of the gentleman’s phone at a table seat in the aisle opposite. Looking back, as night fell with the flashing of the lights from houses and cars whizzing past the window, the movement of the train gently rocking the passengers from side to side, the quiet hush of tired commuters broken only by the rustle of a newspaper or the cupid giggles from the gentlemen and his girlfriend sat at the table opposite snuggling up together, the whole scene started to feel like the setting of a new scene in the play about the lesson I seemed to be getting throughout the challenge, about the diversity and power of human kindness to lift the spirits, bring people together and even make one smile. The slider on the clapper board slapped shut,’Action’ came the call. Or so I thought as I wakened from my dozy state. ‘Does anyone know who was sat at this table?’ We had reached a new station. A new passanger was now sat where the snuggling couple had been. I replied rather feebly, not realising the point of the question, ‘no but I think that they may have got off why?’. The man grunted a word of dispair. ‘I have his passport, wallet and air tickets here!’ and before I had even registered what was happening another passenger rushed forward, grabbed the passport, wallet and ticket, saying ‘I’ll catch him’ as he ran for the door off of the train but too late because the doors closed and the train pulled off. We were leaving Gatwick. ‘The next stop is three bridges’ came the tannoy. I had no idea where we were or what I could do at this point as the man searched through this wallet for the gentleman’s phone number. ‘Nothing’ he exclaimed and he packed the stuff in to his jacket pocket and stood up. ‘I’m going to Gatwick – I don’t want to see this guy’s entire life messed up.’ I couldn’t believe it and as he prepared to jump off at three bridges to catch the next train back to Gatwick another passenger called up Gatwick and started to ask whoever answered to get a message to ‘What was his name’ she called to the gentleman at the door, ‘and what was his flight’. The details gained she passed these on to Gatwick asking them to get a message to the gentleman concerned that not to worry another passenger was on his way back to Gatwick station. Meet him at the station and he can return his stuff. ‘Can you meet at the Easy Jet help desk?’ shouted the lady on the phone ‘Yep no problem’ came the reply as the train came to a halt, the doors opened and the man jumped off and set off at a brisk pace for the exit. It was just too perfect an example of unplanned impulsive responses to an initial identification of a problem, somebody else’s problem, leading to significant inconvenience to the passenger’s involved in order to make this stranger’s day better. The train pulled away again and I waited for the slap of the clapper board ‘Cut – right well done everybody, perfect,that’s a take’, and then for the flashing scenery to stop whizzing by the windows, the doors open and the ‘extra’s’ to step off and get their well earned coffee. But it wasn’t a play, I wasn’t on a film set, this was real life but real life at it’s very best as if performed for me to reinforce in me a belief in the power, wonder and capacity of people to do good; a trait of which I am finding, on this journey, abounds so generously in this great country.

A pleasant evening followed in which I met and started to get to know better my extended family of 2nd cousins a generation removed. The following day the remainder of the family came together and lunch was joined. I loved learning of the diverse range of experiences and careers led. Who was related to who through whom while also catching up with cousins not seen for too long. Like the weaving of a tweed the family and it’s various fibrous strengths and colours came together to form a tight, waterproof and almost impenetrable cloth that seemed, as the day wore on, to embrace you in it’s protective warmth. The conversation was fierce in it’s intensity but thoroughly enjoyable. Deep in conversation with more new found relations I started to notice my left arm going numb. Just like the previous aura involving the ivy growing along my arm I was starting to loose all feeling in my arm. This was different though. There were no visions, tastes, smells or other sensations to give me a clue as to what was happening. Like a silent killer it was creeping along my arm. I tried to take a sip of red wine to offer a distraction and try and help me relax back in to conversation at the table and away from the creeping constriction. I struggled to swallow and as I tried to talk I started slurring. I started to feel drunk after 3 sips of red wine. I fought to stay engaged in the conversation, to push away this aura but couldn’t see, smel or hear where it was or what it was. I was looking for a mental anchor I could push against but could see, smell, hear or taste nothing. This was a silent killer coasting through my body at will. I elt it’s icy grip around my throat and my neck started to pulsate. Nobody else could see this beast so couldn’t help me fight it not knowing I was starting to panic about my chances of seeing this one through. I called across for my brother Harry. I was loosing this fight at the very time in which I was floating on the very bossom of the love, care andcompassion of family. It just didn’t seem possible. It just didn’t seem fair and still this silent hand of fate tightened it’s grip around my neck. I mumbled my excuses through fattened tongue and choking back the tears fled the room. Harry knew immediately, grabbed my room key and followed me out. I was struggling and disorientated. I couldn’t remember the way to the room. Harry guided me to the room where I rested trying all I could to flush out the beast. After a doze Harry and sister Sarah came over to say goodbye and check I was okay. Feeling more steady I walked back over to join the party and searched out Cathy and Stephen to whom I had been talking as the seizure took hold. I wanted to apologise for running out as he was telling me something. We found the time for more conversation during which I discovered that Stephen himself had been battling a brain tumour for 8 years. He had been in remission only to recently discover that it was back again. The fight was back on for Stephen but he was being so positive and told me that his secret was to hang on to hope. He like the concept of the challenge and is going to look it up; but for me I gained further inspiration to continue on the challenge through the visible courage of a gentleman who had won and still managed to smile in the face of adversity when it returned but also in the visible courage and love of Cathy who so stoically is standing by her husband to support him through the harsh regime of treatment, yet again, on his return journey. Thank you both for your inspiration and courage and I pray for your safe passage on this journey of healing that will lead to a happy and healthy life with your friends and family in the future.

Not wanting to miss Remembrance Sunday while travelling North on a train I decided to stay over night and participte in the act of remembrance at the Wivelsfield Parish church near Aunt Janet’s flat. I had had a better night’s sleep but my lips weren’t tingling. They were on fire with the heavy smoke from the furnace in my mouth wafting it’s uncomfortable way up the back of the nose. It felt as if my gums were receding rapidly, retreating from the heat of the furnace and that my teeth were going to start falling out at any moment. I wasn’t comfortable but didn’t want to admit it and most definitely wanted to go and remember my fallen friends and Great Uncle Harry and other members of the family I never sadly had the privilege of meeting as they fell in the world wars. Some of whom I learnt more about at yesterday’s gathering. Initialy I thought I might go under cover. No medals or head dress because I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through and didn’t want to let the side down if I had to make my excuses; but after a short walk realised that I must wear my medals and Regimental head dress out of respect to these fine men and women I was remembering and was just going to have to get on with it and find a way to keep the Beast at bay.I am so glad we went. Mum drove us there and the bells were ringing so I sat and listened to the glorious peeling of the bells which is sadly a form of music not often heard in Scotland. The church and congregation of the Parish Church of St Peter and St John the Baptist were very welcoming and easy to talk to. I arrived missing my children and friends knowing that James was doing a reading at the remembrance service in the village at home but was soon to feel grounded as the organ struck up and the choir and minister entered. It was a pretty church packed to the gunnels with an enthusiastic congregation and lots of children whose restlessness served as a useful distraction at times when the emotions were running high. A good service followed with the chance to have a personal reflection in a side chapel after communion. I was almost overcome with emotion but my lips started to cool. It was almost as if this small and very private outpouring of sadness and thanks for the lives I had managed to share with them calmed my very soul and brought calmness to a busy mind.

Once up at the War Memorial a short period of remembrance followed and respects paid it was time to say thank you to all those who had made us feel so welcome. The inevitable questions about my service followed and proved to be the perfect vehicle from which to introduce the challenge. A number of recommendations to enjoy a glass of wine were made while at the same time I was rather worried that this furnace that had been burning so fiercely in my mouth was releasing clouds of pungent fumes each time I opened my mouth! Nobody seemed to run but it was time for lunch, to relax and try and put out the still smouldering lips.

The act of remembrance was well observed today and I felt that I had done my duty in remembering all those great men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in past and present conflicts in order to secure the peace and freedoms of men and women throughout the world. But if their sacrifice was to have lasting meaning beyond the act of remembrance I must act on those lessons from the past and pray that I can follow their extraordinary example to do whatever I can to help our fellow man whoever and wherever they may be.

So I pray Lord to:

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.

Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul.

Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there’s sadness, ever joy.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
In giving to all men that we receive
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.