This is the story of the last 3 days which has seen 10 miles walked, a couple of extraordinary meetings and a wonderful wedding.

The three of us, James, Heather and I
The three of us, James, Heather and I

The family was gathering. My sister and brother-in-law Isla and Robb with wee Archie, my Mum and Stepfather Gam, my brother Harry, my niece and nephew Sia and Alex, and my about to be brand new Niece and Nephew, Spence and Eve so Wednesday saw 2 blustery but fun walks along the beach with fish and chips for lunch in true British fashion stood outside sheltering from the rain. A quick ice cream as the sun burst through and building excitement as the family continued to gather and cousins cemented friendships and new cousins from Gemma’s family re-met and friendships built. Most exciting for Heather and James was meeting wee Archie who was now 10 weeks old. After a good feed, when Rob and I felt it safe to do so, before Archie woke demanding another feed; Gam, Rob and I went for the same walk as had been done with the children to give Isla a break and a chance to catch up with everyone. 

This was followed by tea in a pub with the family and friends, whos numbers, including the best Man Alex Conci, his brother Dino, my cousin Honor, Euan’s friend Mark, grew and grew. And as the crowd grew so did the noise. As the noise grew so my understanding of what was being said diminished and with only one working ear it can be very frustrating. But when surrounded by people who know, understand and care for you, such social occasions can very much remain a pleasure. The children were very happy with their new friends while catching up with Uncles and Aunts and I was being held deep in the bosom of love with family and friends. All too soon the meal was over and we were being taken back to the Premier Inn in Christchurch in which we were staying.

Heather doing cartweels
Heather doing cartwheels

A good nights sleep had by all I woke on the morning of the wedding at 0600hrs. I had a shower and a shave and snuck out of the room with the children still dozing to walk to Sainsbury’s to get some exercise and some sandwiches, vegetables and fruit for packed lunches for the children and I for the next couple of days making use of the staff fridge in the Premier Inn. I had taken my anti-seizure pills but still, as I climbed the steps to the overpass I felt a seizure bubbling through. The fizzing in the back of the nose was back. The bees were becoming agitated at the back of my neck and the honeycomb aftertaste started to seep up into my throat. I tried to focus on breathing, focus on staying on the overpass and prayed hard. Prayed that this seizure would pass by me and not bubble to the surface to take me, to drag me down, drag me backwards. I prayed that this bubbling seizure was a symptom of an instable brain as a result of an imbalance created by God’s healing power. Created by a shrinking tumour. I begged God that today, of all days, in which I was to do a reading at the wedding, was to be a stable one. I pleaded with God to heal me and let me feel normal again. I was now high above the dual carriageway but surrounded by high railings connected to the deck so safe, whatever happened with the seizure and as I started to descend the other side into Sainsburys, I started to feel much more stable. God had brought me back from the brink of a seizure and kept me safe. So having beaten the beast this morning and beaten the seizure back before it manifested I walked into Sainsburys with a smile on my face. I entered through the sliding doors into the wide entrance and behind me heard a woman calling, ‘Peter, Peter, Peter, PETER?? I glanced over my shoulder to see an older lady of about 80 striding out after me in a sort of shuffling run, reaching out to me with her hands as if to catch my arm, so I turned. I smiled and she strode up to me with a quizzical look in her eyes, stared right into my eyes as she stood close, rested her hands on my arm and asked, Peter? Peter? Then her quizzical look returned, perhaps with growing disappointment. ‘You’re not Peter of (I remember only vaguely having heard of the place she mentioned but sadly can’t recall the name of the place she used) she asked while looking hopefully into my eyes. I smiled. Held her hands in mine and replied, ‘No I am sorry, I am Archie from Doune. Just North of Stirling’ I confirmed. The lady looked slightly confused but saddened by my failure to be Peter. She apologised. I reassured her not to worry and with a smile I dropped her hands and we parted. The rest of the shop was spent slightly bewildered but with a building sense of warmth as I beamed my smile around the shop which was then met by equally welcoming smiles and helpful staff as I navigated around the shop. It was as if I had gone from not existing, being trapped in a spiral of invisibility as I was back on the 29th of March after my scan, to today in which having just dragged myself back from the brink of a seizure I had suddenly felt like I was walking around my village in which most recognised and knew me even though I had only ever once, briefly, a few years ago been anywhere near this area. It felt great. I felt great and confident about giving the reading at the wedding of Euan and Gemma. As I returned back to the hotel I reflected on my meeting with the elder lady who thought I might be Peter of somewhere or other. It was such a powerful and unusual moment and with the use of the name Peter I thought that it might be God sent but could not see or understand why. I hoped that it would become clear but to this moment, in which I write this post, the reason for such an encounter and it’s meaning remains a mystery.

Back at the Hotel I collected the children who were up and changed and ready for breakfast. After breakfast the children got changed into their wedding clothes and while they did so I made up veggie pick and mix bags for the children and I of……..yep, you’ve guessed it, tenderstem broccoli, red grapes and cherry tomatoes. The carrots were pre-prepared with a humous dip, James’ favourite, and the sandwiches? a round of egg and cress with an oat based cereal bar instead of a flapjack. The wedding was at 2pm and the breakfast following would be late so I thought a light meal would keep them sustained and full of energy for the wedding. All done and with me changed a quick photo of my handsome son and beautiful daughter before Gam arrived to take us up to the wedding venue. The Christchurch Harbour Hotel and Spa. On the way up the children laughed with Gam about how they had heard me practicing my reading on the loo this morning. I smiled, confident that all would be well. I was feeling great.

The Wedding day
The Wedding day

At the hotel all were gathering and was yet another chance to meet up with and catch up with family and friends while stealing the opportunity to get to know Terry and Jennifer, Gemma’s parents and her wider family and friends better. The children were all on great form and making the most of the sunshine out by the swing and exploring the water’s edge looking for crabs. Amazingly they stayed clean and tidy. James didn’t even manage to tear a hole in the knee of his new suit!! A quick lunch with the children in the hotel lounge and it was time to go into the room for the wedding ceremony, find our seats and await the bride. The sun shone gloriously through the large bay windows behind the wedding table and glistened off of the sea as the seagulls called their wonderful call bringing forward wonderful childhood memories of holidays by the sea with the family, with Euan. I had a final read through of the card made for me with the reading on. It was the same reading I had been practicing and the sentences were well spaced making it less likely that my eyes were going to track upwards rather than downwards through the text which is frustratingly a difficulty and a habit I have developed since treatment finished. I can start playing a tune from Music on the piano or organ, get halfway through and find myself back at the start as I read the music up through the staves rather than down. I would be concentrating so hard on playing the music as I read it that I wouldn’t even notice the tune being all muddled up. It was sometimes also the same with reading in that I could get to the end of a passage and find that I had had to read it 3 or 4 times to correct my understanding of the passage as I muddled up its flow by reading the lines of text upwards until I caught myself doing it, often on reaching the top with no more lines of text to read. I had decided on being asked to do the reading that I would do my best to memorise it and practice and rehearse to make sure it went well.

Euan and Alex were just in front looking calm and relaxed. We waited, I checked my watch, we waited, I heard the word traffic from behind me, checked my watch and waited. Euan was still calm and collected and I read through the reading again. We were asked to stand and in came Gemma looking quite stunning as she was escorted up the aisle with her father Terry. The ceremony started, then the first reading by Gemma’s brother. Read well. Then the vows and Euan and Gemma’s personal promises to each other. Then it was my turn to read. I stood and turned, taking my time to gather myself, to gather the silence into which I could deliver for impact, the first words of this beautiful reading selected by Gemma. I had practiced hard, I was confident, and then I looked at Gemma. One of the fingers of my Brain Tumour sits on my emotional cortex and has for a long time accentuated significantly any feelings of emotion. The children have for a long time insisted that I sat facing the back when taking the bus with me in case our conversation caused me happiness or sadness. I could burst into a fit of laughter, which has caused much hilarity when trying to read bed time stories or I could start crying, quietly, but with my eyes welling up, my bottom lip quivering, my nostrels flaring, much to James’ delight, and my voice quavering I was definitely crying. It had been getting significantly better and I hadn’t even considered that it would become a problem. But Gemma’s eyes glistening with her tears of happiness as I looked at her in this expectant silence suddenly overwhelmed me. My hand was shaking considerably and in my peripheral vision I could see the card waving dramatically by my side. My eyes welled up, my nostrils flared, my chin quivered and as I prepared to speak, trying to steel myself for this reading. Trying to settle myself. I knew that my voice was going to waver.

‘Happiness’ I wavered before pausing to grab my card with both hands to hold it still, ‘in marriage, is not something that just, happens.

A good marriage must be, created’. I had gathered myself but the emotion in my voice was still evident. As I looked up and scanned the room, I discovered that my eyes were not the only ones to be glistening. I had set off the room! I continued as rehearsed all the time my voice wavering, my hands quivering, but my delivery slow, deliberate and with passion. Looking over at Euan and Gemma as I delivered to them the advice she had asked me to deliver to them when given the reading all those weeks ago.

‘In the art of marriage it is the little things that are the big things.
It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say’ (I sighed a deep sigh and covered my heart with my hand while looking at Gemma and Euan), ‘I love you, at least once a day.
It is never going to sleep angry’ I growled.
‘It is at no time taking the other one for granted.
The courtship should not end with the honeymoon, (I heard a muted giggle from somewhere in the room and smiled)
It should continue through all the years.
It is a mutual sense of values and common objectives.
It is standing together facing the world.
It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family.
It is doing things for each other, but not in the attitude of duty.
Or Sacrifice. But in the spirit of Joy.
It is speaking words of appreciation
And demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is not looking for perfection in each other.
It is cultivating flexibility, patience, understanding, (As I said these three words excitement built in my voice before launching into a huge Jazz hands manoeuvre as I delivered…..)
And a sense of humour. (The room burst into light hearted laughter and suddenly the mood was lifted strengthening me to deliver the final few, and perhaps most emotionally charged lines after my very recent experiences)
It is having the capacity to forgive and (I stressed) forget.
It is giving each other an atmosphere into which each can grow.
It is a common search for the good and the beautiful.
It is establishing a relationship in which the independence is equal,
Dependence is mutual and the obligation is reciprocal.
It is not only marrying the right partner, it is being the right partner.
It is discovering what marriage can be, at its very best.’

I had finished. I had made it through and managed every word. I even managed to say reciprocal rather than recipriccccccccccal which had come instead out too often in rehearsals! I looked back across at Euan and Gemma whose love, to all in that room, was so hugely evident and said simply, ‘well done’. The room erupted into applause and I returned, head bowed to my seat, shaking slightly but pleased with the reading. I had beaten it and made it through. As I reached my seat, Heather who was sat behind me, caught my eyes with her own glistening eyes and gave me a smile and nod of approval. James didn’t look at all embarrassed by my emotion. He just smiled at me. These two gestures were perhaps the most important of any I was to receive. I turned, sat and smiled as the applause faded.

The ceremony finished shortly afterwards with huge cheers for the happy couple and we retired to congratulate Euan and Gemma while the room was set for the breakfast. As we waited, so many couples came to me, eyes still glistening to congratulate me on the reading. I apologized for the unexpected emotion and every couple confirmed that it made the reading so much the better for it. I was so very thankful for these kind words and even had a dear old friend come and suggest that I should pursue a career I acting. I think that was probably being a little generous. But if he knows of anybody looking for someone like me I could always give it a go!!

James at the beach huts
James at the beach huts

The breakfast was had and the speeches delivered beautifully. Opportunity was stolen to introduce some couples to the challenge and then as the dancing started I found myself being requested for meetings to give more details on the challenge. I had had enough forethought to fold some flyers away in my suit pocket and soon I was through the 5 of them and I hope they come and join me but then my attention was turned elsewhere. Heather and James were having a great time but then I had lost sight of Heather. I found her sat on the floor with Granny and Honor but she didn’t look good. I sat next to her and she snuggled into me. Her forehead was burning hot and she said she felt so unwell. I cursed my illness for rendering me unable to drive. I was sober as a judge having stretched a glass of red wine through the entire afternoon and into the evening to avoid triggering a seizure and ruining Euan and Gemma’s day. But I couldn’t drive. She needed to get back to the hotel but the night was still very young, James was having a great time dancing with his cousins and some older girls, Gam was dancing and Mum was deep in conversation so I didn’t want to drag them away so early to take all 3 of us back to the hotel. I cuddled Heather, then fetched her some water, then some pizza brought out to sustain the revelers and we sat in the shadow of the flashing disco lights giggling occasionally at the antics of James, Gam’s dancing and our friends and family, old and new and their antics. Heather got cold, so wore my jacket, then she got hot, then cold but we cuddled and then it was time to go home. We grabbed James then found Euan and Gemma and Terry and Jennifer to say farewell before handshaking and hugging our way out through the party to Gam’s waiting car. Back at the hotel at 11pm James was almost asleep on his bed before finishing getting his shoes off. I helped him out of his suit and hung it as the kettle boiled for a lemsip for Heather. With James in his pyjamas with his teeth brushed and Heather in bed sipping on her lemsip I got changed, hung my suit, washed, cleaned my teeth and got into bed. Heather had switched on the television to provide a distraction, with American Sitcoms, from how awful she felt. I decided that I would stay awake to keep a check on her so set about replying to a text from a friend. Then I woke up. My glasses all skewy on my head. My mobile propped up alongside my nose and the lights and television blaring. I shook the sleep out of my head with a slightly annoyed but amused smile and checked on Heather. Sound asleep. I crept around the room, switched everything off and crept back to bed looking forward to another day with the family.

Friday morning saw a change of plan. Waking at 6am and with the children still fast asleep I snuck out for a good walk after popping yet more anti seizure pills. It was another beautiful morning and bode well for a fun filled day with the family. However on return it became clear that Heather was not at all well. We were both desperately sad not to be able to go and join in the fun but she was not well enough. James was collected and had great fun down on the beach with the family. Heather slept and slept. At lunchtime I took her for some fresh air with a short walk in the sunshine over to Sainsburys followed by lunch of a sandwich in the café. Back at the hotel I made another veggie pick and mix bag to try and get some vitamins and minerals into her and ploughed through some emails as Heather convalesced with more American Sitcoms. Isla and Rob with wee Archie, Mum and Gam all came to see her and say farewell and slowly but surely Heather started to recover. James back with us too I took another walk before taking the children to the Beefeater for tea followed by an early night. Tomorrow was going to involve a rude start to the morning but as I told the children of the plan they were surprisingly relaxed about it. Pack on return from tea while I make the packed lunch. Early night. Reveille at 6am, Breakfast at 7am, taxi booked for 0745am to catch the train to Waterloo for the underground through London to King’s Cross for the Inverness train at 1130am to arrive in Stirling at 5:20pm to catch the 5:57pm No.59 bus to Doune. Home by 6:30pm. 12 hours door to door.

The children were amazing Friday evening and as I gently woke them on Saturday morning equally amazing. The timings worked like a dream. I hadn’t got one timing confused and managed to remember the route on the underground by reversing the poem I had made to remember it on the way down.

‘Take the Picadilly to Picadilly,
Then Bake a Loo to Water A Loo!’

So today

‘we were going to Baka A Loo to Pickle a dilly
Then take the Pickled dilly to see the King’s Cross’

I became easily confused in busy surroundings so to keep things calm and ordered and therefore easier for me to manage in frantically busy London I asked the children to form a line like a family of elephants holding on to each other’s tail behind me. Trust me and just follow me in a line. James you are the link man and have to shout if we loose Heather. Heather you are bringing up the rear and know the route. If we loose you or I loose both of you I will meet you at the next stop. The trains are only 10 minutes apart so not long to wait. Equally as I count you on to the underground trains the doors can shut quite suddenly and if they do and we get separated get off at the next planned stop and wait for me there. We went through the poem of the route again as we approached Waterloo station and went for it.

We were all three surprised at how quickly the underground became busy on a Saturday morning but using the technique of going straight to the wall opposite and waiting as we came off escalators and dismounted off of trains we kept together and made it without incident. We did witness a man tumble backwards down an up escalator alongside ours and as another example of how wonderful this country was the couple some distance behind him, rather than jump out the way, caught him, at some risk to themselves as he tumbled legs and arms flailing. Somebody else stopped the escalator and it was quickly clear that there was nothing for me to do as we passed. He was shaken but being well cared for.

The Marie family whom we met on the journey home
The Marie family whom we met on the journey home

As we waited for the train at King’s Cross I reflected on the orders and actions on I had given the children on the train as we headed towards Waterloo. They were, perhaps on reflection, less for the children and more to affirm in my own mind where we were going and what to do if things happened while also coming up with a solid drill that simplified our movement as a small group and kept us all together without me having to worry about it as our space became busier and busier and therefore significantly increasing the risk that I would become disorientated and confused. By giving the children such detailed instructions, almost like a set of military orders, I was in effect passing a good share of the responsibility for our safe passage through a complex and frantic transport system over to them. We had to function as a team to succeed and they rose to the challenge admirably. Each time I looked behind me the team were hanging on to each other’s tails. Each time we got off a train or an escalator I went to the wall and waited. Head count. 1 to 3. Right we are going to Bake a loo to Pickle a dilly. Follow me. It worked a treat. The team functioned brilliantly and got through the busy underground with smiles on our faces and not a cross word. I was functioning brilliantly when not long before such a journey could have lost me completely, floating with the flotsam on a sea of disorientation. I recommend adopting these drills for any family or small group travelling through the underground!!

We only stood for 5 mins and then it was time to board the train and we did so to discover that of all the days in all the years, of all the trains travelling this day, of all the carriages in which one could travel, of all the cities and places in which one could be travelling, of all the multitude of variables in such a scenario that could be had, some friends of Heather and James’ from McLaren High School in Callander got on the train on the table just behind us in King’s Cross Station London. I had to hand over a flier and say hello to Mum inviting her to relax after her long journey with a glass of wine while watching a video and maybe even enjoying a second glass of wine while reading some posts. I waited for confirmation, through the journey, as to why we were sat together like I had been with so many wonderful and courageous people before. But perhaps, this time, it was just a wonderful coincidence. Time will tell I am sure.

And it did!! I had just finished writing this post and thought I would ask Mum if I could take their photo and get their names to be able to say how wonderful it was to meet them and in so doing help ground the post as true for those doubting or seeking hope, inspiration or encouragement from my journey. Mum consented and then told me that she had read my flier and had every intention of coming to join me on the journey and raising awareness as best as she could starting with sharing my facebook page because a friend of the family’s, at only 21 years of age, is locked in combat with a Brain Tumour. He is in remission but in no doubt how serious his situation is. I hope and pray that this young man not only comes to find me but also finds hope, inspiration and encouragement to Beat his own Beast of a tumour from the story of my journey. Thank you very much to Marie, Olivia, Emily and Sophie for coming to join Heather, James and I on this physical journey from London to Stirling. Thank you God for telling me to speak to them. Now I know why and I thank you for the chance to help another from the story of my journey guided by you. And for Euan and Gemma I pray:

‘May the road rise up to meet them.
May the wind be always at their backs.
May the sun shine warm upon their faces;
the rains fall soft upon their marriage and for the entirety of their lives,
may you oh God, hold them together, in the palm of your hand.