Godfather Robin’s Funeral and the journey back has proved to be one made up entirely of inspiration and wonderful people.

I always knew that Godfather Robin was an energetic and inspirational person from the way in which he would find the time in a frantically busy schedule to travel to key events in my life just to say Well Done and offer support and from the way he wrote me long letters of advice and encouragement from his hospital bed, from which he was fighting leukaemia, when I was diagnosed with a Brain Tumour. In fact it was his encouragement to seize life from the abyss that set me on the path that led to the idea of coming up with the challenge. But I had no idea by how much he had seized life and done so much good until I heard the tributes made to him. I couldn’t possibly do justice to such a full and productive life in this short post but instead would like to give you the reading from his service, so beautifully read by his daughter Camilla, that so beautifully captures the very framework of aspirations he set for the life he led and the example he set to which I aspire to achieve. It was almost as if he daily asked himself these very questions as a benchmark for the brilliance he would try and deliver over such a broad spectrum of areas in which he worked.

Ask not how did he die?
But how did he live?
Not what did he gain?
But what did he give?
These are the units with which to measure the worth of a man as a man,
Regardless of Birth.

Not what was his church?
Nor What was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with word of good cheer
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?

Ask not what did the sketch in the newspaper say
But how many were sorry when he passed away?

Godfather Robin was much loved and admired by many. I just pray that I can do his memory and good faith in me as a young man justice.

It was lovely to catch up with old friends and family. To meet new and to be surrounded by the positive aura of love and friendship the memory of a man such as Robin creates. I left the funeral energised for the journey ahead and thankful for the guidance given to me by my Godfather.

I also had a great time catching up with my Mum, sister and brother-in-law but couldn’t stay as I had to get home in time for James’ birthday. He was playing the pipes in the village Christmas Fayre on this, the evening of his birthday and so wanted to get back to surprise him. So the race was on.

Yet again my journey home has been one permeated y wonderful people. The train journey from Evesham to Worcester Shrub Hill was easy and arrived on time. As we started to approach to the station however I suddenly found myself up and begging to be excused by the gregarious four women on the table across the aisle as I flung on my coat and asked them to pour a glass of wine and watch a video. I jumped off the train in good time so as the train pulled away I stopped and turned to be waved at vigorously by four mobile phones on my Facebook page held by four lovely ladies grinning excitedly. I waved back watching them go when suddenly I heard my next train being announced over the tannoy. I ran for it lugging my heavy red suitcase clipping my heels at every pace but then went the wrong way for the platform. Through my own idiocy I had missed the connection on to Birmingham Snow Hill for the walk to Birmingham New Street in order to catch the train in time for Edinburgh. The next train for Birmingham was in 2 hours time!! This was potentially a disaster. I didn’t want to be late for James. Last year I was actually in hospital for the Fayre after a seizure so felt it doubly important that James could see me there this year in good health. A station manager gave me advice. I had to get to another station in Worcester that has lots more trains to Birmingham. It was worth a shot. I jumped in to a taxi. On the way I was asked ‘What do you do then?’ It had to be done. It was a short journey so it was a short introduction to the challenge but this delightful taxi driver, as a Muslim, couldn’t pour a glass of wine to watch the video but instead was going to pour a cup of tea and read up on the challenge. Hands shaken and big smiles exchanged I ran in to the station.

A lovely gentle man saw that I had no idea where I was going as I stood there frantically searching for an information board and so asked me where I was going. Next I know he takes me to a café to grab a Mocha before taking me on to the lift and up to the bridge. Over the bridge. Down in the lift and saw me settled in to a bench seat to wait the 5 minutes for the train. As I sat a thought suddenly dawned on me. How did he know that I would want a coffee before going for the platform? I looked up to thank him for his kindness and ask him the question about the coffee but he had gone. Not just gone up the platform. He had disappeared completely. The train to Birmingham arrived.

Now my big red suitcase is nimble on wheels but a big cumbersome beast in a train carriage. As I lugged the hulking beast on to the luggage rack a lady looked up over her shoulder and caught my eye with a wonderfully warm, welcoming and knowing smile. I was originally going to sit behind and across the carriage from her but got instead a very strong urge to talk to her and the gentleman with her. I then realised that a single seat in a pair was vacant across the aisle from them both. Permission sought and granted from the man sat next to the spare seat I lifted the armrest, sat, twisted to face them directly across the aisle and made my apologies. In that long and hugely rewarding conversation I met Hazel and Geoff Keyte and learned of Hazel’s daughter’s battle with deteriorating sight and Geoff’s son’s fight back to health after a recent heart attack. They were sure that the challenge would offer so much encouragement to their children and their families and are going to let them know about it. I very much hope that they do find me and gain much encouragement from doing so and in the meantime I shall hold Sarah and Stuart in my prayers. Please message me and let me know how you get on. I would love to hear from you as I have already heard of your courage.

Hazel and Geoff Keyte
Hazel and Geoff Keyte

My big red suitcase was then the inspiration for another conversation and rally of support as I struggled on to the Edinburgh train. As soon as I got to the luggage wrack a delightful young lady jumped straight up and started moving around the jigsaw puzzle of suitcases in order to create some space large enough for my beast. She then insisted that I had the seat next to her. I couldn’t believe her kindness but while her Mum, sat opposite, cuddled her small boy Jensen I seized the opportunity to introduce Megan to the challenge. As I did so I stated how amazing the journey had been so far mainly because of all the kindnesses of people that I met every day and how it had renewed my faith in the wonderful innate humanity of people. I then learned of their rather unfortunate rough handling by a certain male on the train throwing his weight around to achieve his own ends at the start of the journey. At first I thought that I had lost Megan in my point but then it struck me that despite such a poor show of humanity towards Megan, her son and Mum by this particular individual Megan had herself immediately jumped up to help me, whom she had never met before and even offered me a seat and her ear. That to me was a perfect demonstration of what I was talking about. Where there are undoubtedly one or two bad eggs within a group there are so many more wonderfully generous people like Megan that they drown out the bad eggs over time. Thank you Megan for hearing my story. It was lovely to meet you all and I very much hope you do come and join my journey.

Megan moved across to the other side to be with her Mum and look after Jensen. Just in time for Dean Smith to come and sit next to me at the next stop. While we were entertained by the nursery rhymes being sung by at times almost the entire carriage as Mum and Megan sang them to Jensen, Dean started to talk to me and showed an interest in me. I told him about the challenge and he grasped it immediately. Surrounded by lovely people Dean then started to advise a couple behind us about where to stay and what to do in Edinburgh. I started to feel the emotion of the last 3 days catching up with me. The carriage seemed to be closing in on me somewhat so I took myself in to the corridor, opened one of the door windows and breathed in some cool air. We were almost in Edinburgh and the train had been delayed on route so I was going to have to be fast thinking to catch a train from Edinburgh to get to Stirling on time to get the bus back home in time as the originally planned train will have gone by the time we arrived. The conductor must have heard my thoughts because he immediately came on the tannoy. I shut the window so I could hear him and he told us all that if we were going to Stirling we could get off at Haymarket and step on to another Virgin Train bound for Inverness and whose next stop was Stirling. That was the fast train option I was needing. I nipped in to the carriage to grab my suitcase as I was getting off shortly and Megan was right there helping me with the new bags jigsaw puzzle. I said farewell to Dean, Megan and her Mum and Jensen and stepped off the train thankful that I had met them and very much hopeful that they come to join me on my journey.

James Piping At The Christmas Fayre
James Piping At The Christmas Fayre

There was time for a Mocha and a flapjack before catching the bus home. Then I waited and waited as the wind howled around about me and the rain lashed against the windows of the shelter at the bus stop. I waited some more, then some more and some more. The bus was 15 minutes late. There was no-one else waiting in the bus stop. Oh no. Was I in the wrong stop? Did I have the time wrong? Has the bus been cancelled all together because of the weather. I frantically checked and triple checked until I managed to find a banksman for the bus station. He was soaking, frozen but still smiling and reassured me not to worry. Everything was delayed because of the weather. The bus would be here soon and as he said it the glorious No59 sailed behind him out of the darkness like the Mary Celeste out of the fog and into Bay 7. I had caught my bus and was on my way to see James. I was later now than I wanted to be and the rain had pushed the fayre into the Rural Hall but the pipe band had played and had started their tour of the village. They were in the Red Lion. My favourite pub!! As I pushed open the door I was greeted by the warmth of the pub wafting out of the door but greeted more so by the warmth of the village and the pipe band who were preparing for their first tune. They held off on their first tune so I could go and say Happy Birthday to James and give him a huge hug. For a second, and in my excitement on seeing him, I forgot that my now twelve year old boy was stood with his band, in his kilt, in the middle of a pub and that it was not therefore cool to receive a bear hug and a kiss from your Dad in front of everyone. ‘Dad let me go’ ‘They’re waiting to play Dad.’ As he nodded towards Stuart who was leading the band this evening. I looked over at Stuart who smiled at me and nodded. He was also a Dad and understood entirely but it was time to play a tune. I stepped back, ruffled James’ hair and took the seat offered to me with Cameron, Tom and Mark, sipped on my red wine and listened to the wonderful noise this young band were making. It was great to be home.

Later on that evening I was invited to join Cameron, Tom and Mark to walk the Long Distance Footpath the John Muir Way next year. That was of course a huge yes please and I really look forward to it. I walked James home stopping off to collect his pipe bag from the hall and also get a hot Nuttela chocolate each from the new Deli opened up in the village. As we walked back James chatted away about the fun day he had had as we spilt hot chocolate down our fronts it not being easy to walk, talk and drink in strong winds all at the same time. We made a plan to go and pick a Christmas tree together as the forecast was that bad I wasn’t planning any large scale adventurous challenge activity tomorrow. Another chance to make memories together.

It had been a great journey down, a great funeral in memory of the man who sowed the seed of my current journey on the challenge and a great journey back sealed with the making of more memories to brighten our lives in the future.

Have a great weekend.

Yours aye