Today saw James join me for a day of volunteering at the Blair Drummond Safari Park. He was invited to come and join me in order to have an opportunity to feed the Lemurs. He, like Heather has been struggling a little as he tussled to find himself as a young 12 year old in amongst the worry about Dad. I hoped that the Lemurs would help him to find himself. That the wonderful passion and enthusiasm of the keepers at the Safari Park coupled with the tender gentleness and dependence on James’ every move for food from the Lemurs might help him find himself and with it a passion, a drive and a thirst for life. Everything just seemed to be too much like hard work at the moment. The simplest of tasks were all done at a snail’s pace and there seemed to be a reluctance or even an inability to engage with life beyond the bounds of the television or a computer game. There were no tears, just tantrums, stubbornness and a prickliness. A gradual withdrawing from the world for a young man who was so usually deeply inquisitive and keen to do things. While I know that this is quite normal for a young man of his young 12 years there were of course the additional pressures of his fears for my health so my hope was that for James to come and cycle to Blair Drummond with me through the wonderful estate and see Dad fully engaged with members of the public and the animals and the importance of conservation for our very future would allow James to truly believe that I will be around for some time yet. To believe that I truly can Beat the Beast and then not only that that it might inspire him to work hard towards developing any passions he might discover on his way and perhaps develop into a career choice. So young, and I would happily agree, too young to be considering such options but as he has to make subject choices in the not too distant future, having some idea, no matter how loose, as to where his skills and passions lie and therefore where he might want to go and work in the future, can only help to inform sensible subject choices when the time comes. So I just hope that he can find himself again and engage with life. I so miss that happy go lucky young boy that I knew who dived head first with such a joie de vivre into every opportunity and certainly I see little sparks of him still there but without any guidance it can become nothing but a disruptive distraction to him and all around him. I just felt that he would benefit, like Heather, from a different perspective on life and another positive influence.

James' foot and a tiny tortoise!
James’ foot and a tiny tortoise

It didn’t start well. He was asked to arrive, ready to go for 9am. I had his packed lunch made. He just had to arrive at the flat for 9 so we could say hello pack the lunches, jump on the bikes and get to the Safari Park for 10. At 9:15 when, he still hadn’t arrived I called home. He answered, gave me a catalogue of excuses and then took forever to arrive. So we ended up leaving late. He did well on the 3.34 mile cycle in to Blair Drummond so I hoped for a good start but no matter how hard I or the team of keepers tried to inform him and encourage him to engage with the general public at the touch table by the Red Ruff Lemurs this young boy, who was an inspiration on the stage at Primary School could not have appeared more disinterested in the leopard skin with gunshot wounds to the head to be hung on a wall, the turtle shell with spine and rib visible inside engraved to be hung on a wall, the giraffe’s tail to be used as a fly swat, the baby crocodile gutted and stuffed to sit on a mantelpiece, the leather wallet made from elephant hide all sending a very powerful message that brought even a mother to tears. That all this senseless slaughter of animals that are under increasing pressure in the wild due to the pressures of poaching was purely to provide something to sit on a mantlepiece, hang from a wall or be sold as a bogus medical treatment. I gave the talk many many times imploring those listening whether on holiday or in the UK not to buy such items that they might find for sale as to purchase them only encourages further slaughter. Yet each time I tried to introduce James into the talk with his plaster cast footprint of the Safari Park’s tiger Bella and the Lion’s skull or the aphrodisiac and pain killer made from a Copper headed Cobra and a Scorpion clearly visible in a gruesome display in a jug and all of which generate such interest he just mumbled, his eyes dull and disinterested. He was struggling. I was struggling and starting to wonder what else I could do. Perhaps I brought him too young.

But then Katie came and grabbed us both and rushed us over a fence and into a narrow fenced corridor to a small area under a large stand but right next to a fence. We had just been given the best seats in the house for the Tiger talk as the tigers came out to play with the food placed out for them in such a way as to demonstrate their size, strength and dexterity. The talk given by Chris was excellent and informative and then the Tigers were released. It was a wonderful display as we stood there with the Tiger keeper explaining all there was to know about these most impressive big cats. For a moment, just a moment, I had forgotten about James’ woes and become instead entranced by these beautifull and powerful animals.

It was the end of the demonstration and time to go and get lunch. James and I sat together and started to munch on our egg mayonnaise sandwiches with spinach, rocket and watercress followed by a flapjack and a veggie pick and mix bag. And as we did a small tortoise, released by a keeper for a leg stretch came running over to bite James’ boot and as James laughed about this potentially frisky tortoise becoming a little too amorous with his footwear he also started to talk about his thoughts for the future and things that he was really interested in. He hadn’t even fed the Lemurs yet but a close up demonstration by the tigers seemed to ignite his passion for life. I sat entranced by his intelligent and well thought through ideas for activities to do in his time off and the sorts of jobs that he would like to consider doing. Farming, being a scientist or perhaps a pilot in the RAF. I had to work hard not to show a welling of moisture in the eyes as I started to rediscover my son. A boy excited about the future and wanting to grab life by the horns. Then as we were walked back up to Lemurland to go and help with the insect handling James started to ask Katie how old he would have to be in order to come and volunteer at the safari park. I was thrilled to hear such inquisitiveness about the options and also the sadness in his voice when he discovered that he would have to be 16 but then the hopefulness as he was told that he could come and volunteer with me though. He was confident and articulate. He was my boy.

We arrived at the insect handling table and I was quickly reintroduced to Heather the Thorny Giant African Stick Insect while James was given an introduction to the rather large Madagascan Hissing Cockroach which he thoroughly enjoyed encouraging the younger children to handle when not showing them the Giant African Land Snail. As I disentangled a young girl from a stick insect James came and whispered in my ear. Dad, I’m off to feed the Lemurs. The excitement in his voice was palpable. Fiona was taking James away to help her. I was so sad to be tied up with a stick insect but Fiona took my camera for some pictures. I wanted to be there to witness his quiet realisation but it was probably better that I wasn’t. He was in wonderful hands and would benefit from having his own space. He came back with not the huge smile I was so expecting but instead with a quiet confidence in reflection that I hadn’t seen before. He picked up the cockroach and engaged with the public. I smiled and turned to this young boy who was tugging on my shirt sleeve. He wanted to see the stick insect that I had completely forgotten that I was holding on my hand.

It had been a good day for the Safari Park. A busy day with lots of money raised for Feedback Madagascar’s TreeMad Project which addresses the short and the long term threats to the people, plants and animals of Madagascar. It tackles killers like malnutrition, death in childbirth and disease while at the same time building a sustainable future through education, irrigation, cottage industries and conservation.

All too soon however the day was over. We cycled back and I dropped off James at home hoping that he would want to come and see me at the flat for tea. He did and as I cooked tea he browsed through some old photos on my phone. And as he did so it was wonderful to hear him quietly chuckling as he remembered some of the special moments we had shared together like the fireworks at Bridge of Allan. Then he wondered if he might watch the television while he waited. My heart sank. ‘Please don’t be back to the old James already’ I thought. I had to reinforce the message from today. Don’t be idle, seize every opportunity. James had a wonderful gift for music and there sat in the sitting room waiting to be played was my keyboard. I really hoped that he would make music instead so I answered No. This was met with a moments silence and an audible huff. I chose to ignore it then just a few minutes later I started to hear some wonderful music, original music, piano tunes that James was composing drifting into the kitchen. I cooked and smiled.

I had adapted a Jamie Oliver recipe for Beef Carpaccio. Not being a fan of raw beef I decided to cook it but used Jamie’s recipe for inspiration. I sliced the one steak in half to make two, much thinner stakes and seasoned them with salt, pepper and olive oil. Put a griddle pan on a high heat and started to cook the steaks while I whisked together some English mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Apple Cider Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil as a dressing for a radish, spinach, rocket and watercress, apple and cheddar cheese salad. Served with the beef we ate off of our laps in the sitting room and talked while being complimented on the quality of my steaks by James!.

James feeding the Lemurs
James feeding the Lemurs

Today was a hit. Well done James and a huge thank you to Katie, Fiona, Emma and the entire team of the Blair Drummond Safari Park for two days that have made a significant difference.

So the challenge in numbers as a total since the start of the challenge:

Days completed: 169
Total Miles Cycled: 953.11
Total Miles Walked: 937.31
Total Miles Run: 162.33
Total Miles Paddled: 7
Total Distance Cycled, Skied, Run and Rowed in the gym: 53.53 miles
Total Distance Swum: 4,580 metres
Total Miles covered under own steam.2,116.41
Total Height Gained under own steam: 88,428.15 feet
Mountains Climbed: 8
Hills Climbed: 32
Days of Voluntary Activity: 11.5
Organ tunes learnt and performed: 5
Salmon Caught: 0!
Bats Found:4!
Curling Matches played in: 8
Curling stones placed on the button (the centre of the target): 3
Weight Training Sessions: 14
Weight shifted: 10kgs lifted over 558metres or 11,160kgs moved over ½ a metre,
Aerobic Circuit Sessions: 9
Press Ups: 783
Pull Ups: 30
Sit Ups: 1248
People Met and Hands Shaken: 583
Pots of tea shared: 34
Prayers joined on the top of a hill: 3
Prayers joined in the street!: 4
Prayers joined in a Train Station: 1
Prayers joined in a Café: 2
Pills popped: 1076
Days until Driving Licence (lost to epilepsy) possibly Returned: 696
And most importantly – Money Raised as at Week 48 – £9,160

Considering I started this challenge 12 months ago very quietly with no target beyond a fiver, thanks to the brilliant advice from a friend of mine, I am absolutely thrilled and again thank you all. That is £54.52 for each and every day that I have managed to find the will and energy to take on an activity designed to help me Beat the Beast and my goodness it has been worth it for my peace of mind, for my healing and for the five wonderful charities you are supporting through your generosity. Long may it continue. May I also ask however that if you are not sponsoring me to please consider it for as much or as little as you can afford.

Thank you all for your incredible comments and support. Please continue to spread the word.
If you see me around do please give a cheery hello and shake my hand or give me a cheery wave to show your support and encourage me on.

Thank you
Yours aye

Naughty Tortoise!
Naughty Tortoise!

Thank you for joining me on my own personal journey and encouraging me to walk, cycle, climb, paddle, sport and do good deeds each day to ‘Beat the Beast’ while helping to improve the lives and life chances of so many more people through sponsorship. The Five Charities that I have selected to support are:

  1. Cancer Research UK – My Father Succumbed to Lung Cancer; a couple of friends are currently fighting cancer and I am fighting a brain tumour. Let’s Help to Beat Cancer Sooner.
  2. The Prince’s Trust – Inspiring and preparing disadvantaged Young Lives for success.
  3. British Red Cross – helping those in need around the UK and the world whoever and wherever they are.
  4. World Wide Fund for Nature – For a Living Planet and a Future Where People and Nature Thrive.
  5. Help for Heroes – Support for our Wounded and their Families. To learn more about my story that brought me to this point, how I plan to ‘Beat the Beast’, what activities I plan to do within the challenge and why, please see my welcome video on this page.

How to Sponsor Me

The Beat the Beast Challenge is self funding through my own contribution while keeping costs to a minimum with voluntary support and corporate sponsorship in kind. Therefore the entirety of every penny donated will go directly to the 5 charities listed above.

Please sponsor me by completing a standing order form either through your own personal internet banking or by completing a hard copy standing order form in your branch of your bank and then handing it in to the teller.

It is entirely up to you how much you would like to and are able to sponsor me for so do please give as much or as little as you can. Every penny will be very gratefully received.

While I hope you will encourage me to keep going by sponsoring me for every day I survive and am able to find the cognitive and physical capability to complete a day’s task designed to improve my chances of ‘Beating the Beast’ or improving the lives of others, 5 days a week, four weeks a month, for as long as ever I can. Any One off Cash contributions will be most gratefully received and distributed in exactly the same manner to the five charities as the sponsorship. Any one off donations can be made by BACS or cheque.

Thank you for having enough faith in me to sponsor me.

Yours aye