Day 183 has seen 11.15 miles walked ascending 491.7 feet, 36 press-ups, 96 sit-ups, 5kgs moved over 144 metres or 720 kgs moved over 1 metre, 2.41 miles run, 6 primary school girls entranced and a seizure.

Me, playing the bagpipes!
Me, playing the bagpipes!

Yesterday was an exciting day as I was due to give my first ever formal briefing for the challenge. It was a very simple brief, to talk about my career to a group of Primary School aged children and I was so very much looking forward to it as it gave me a chance to share my life story and inspire young children over a 30 minute period. Children are, even at an early age, starting to realise that they are each so very different from the other, and starting to struggle to see where perhaps they fit in amongst their peers, yet they have such brilliant minds, ripe and ready for a little inspiration. As I sat down to compose the presentation a few days ago I realised that three things were needed. Firstly pictures: lots and lots of pictures to hold the attention of young minds not yet disciplined in the art of concentration. Secondly, I needed to compose the presentation in such a way that it would connect in some way with each and every young mind. So I wrote it, set it to pictures and rehearsed it and then resourced it. I couldn’t keep the young minds static on chairs so the third thing I needed was some games that would reinforce the message I was trying to give.

I was really pleased with the results and so was very much looking forward to delivering the presentation.

The day started with a brisk 1.65 mile walk around Newhaven Place climbing 79.72 feet before heading back to the flat to collect Allie and walk a further 1.36 miles ascending 35.43 feet to Porto & Fi, a delightful little café in Newhaven. We were celebrating the wonderful news from my last oncology clinic appointment last week (see post for month 19).
This was to be a rare treat and a celebration so we made the most of it. I certainly did! Eggs Benedict on smoked salmon with a sausage on the side followed by a pain au chocolat, followed by a decaf, almond milk mocha. Then it was time for me to head for the bus, the train, and the bus for Doune. I collected all I needed and set off. Once in Stirling I realised that I had 30 minutes to wait for the bus with an errand to do in the centre of Stirling so, as has now become my custom, I decided to play Beat the Bus and started walking on the bus route, got the errand done in quick time, then continued walking to see how far I could get before having to stop to catch the bus. The heavens opened, the wind picked up and visibility dropped considerably, but I kept walking safe on the pavements and resolved to stop when the bus timetable gave 5 minutes or less to the next bus. I walked and walked through driving rain and wind but was well prepared with a set of waterproof trousers and a heavy, warm and waterproof tweed coat. So on I pressed, the rain being blown on to and along my face in rivulets by the wind. I felt so alive so I couldn’t help but smile as I grimaced through the rain shower as I passed by bus stop after bus stop as the bus slowly but surely closed the gap. I still managed to walk 1.66 miles ascending 88.91 feet before jumping on the bus.

Me again, sailing the world!
Me again, sailing the world

While on the bus I did a quick time estimate and realised that if I stayed on the bus to Callander then I would have just enough time to do a quick upper body strength training circuit in the McLaren Leisure Centre. I had been hoping that I might be able to fit some physical training in to the day so had my kit with me. So I stayed on the bus, walked the half mile ascending 20 feet up to the Leisure Centre, booked in and changed quickly. ½ a mile on the bike and just 200 metres rowed as a quick warm up before then completing my upper body circuit that saw 12 press-ups in which I was able to actually do press-ups using my left hand for the very first time since I came off the bike on the 18th of Feb. I also did 96 sit-ups and moved 5 kgs over 144 metres or 720 kgs over 1 metre. No time for stretching so a quick shower and a quick change before heading out into sunshine now for the ½ mile back to Callander. I was really looking forward to lunch and a hug from Julie and Debbie in the Deli Ecosse but sadly as I arrived at the bus stop I realised that I had to jump on the bus just arriving. If I didn’t I would have to wait 2 hours for the next bus which would have got me back to Doune too late to be able to collect my stuff from the flat and set up in the Rural Hall in good time for the presentation.

I missed seeing Julie and Debbie in the Deli Ecosse but I was glad that I caught this bus. It gave me time to get to the flat, drop off my kit and go to get a very late lunch before going to set up. It was a great plan except that the Buttercup Café was closed to get some work done. The team inside ushered me in and very kindly said that I would be welcome to make an order but I was after lunch which I guessed, as I looked around me, would be the last thing that they would want to do. So I thanked them and made my way across the road to Willow’s Dell. Closed too. Thank goodness Doune was well served by places to eat so I headed down the hill to the Woodside Hotel. It was now 3pm and was going to be a very late lunch but a great lunch it was. It came quickly, vegetable soup followed by a smoked haddock fishcake with a lovely rainbow salad and I couldn’t resist it: a side order of chips!!

Lunch eaten I walked 0.89 of a mile ascending 41.99 feet back to the flat via Jon’s house to borrow a rope and climbing harness for the brief. I did a final rehearsal and at 5pm set off to walk the short distance in the pouring rain to the Rural Hall. Sheltering from the rain I checked my next movements via traveline Scotland on the mobile. I had to catch the 7:04pm No.59 bus or I would miss the last train to Edinburgh. So I had to leave by 6:45pm at the latest. Morag arrived and in we went. I pulled down the projector screen, set up a table and Morag handed over the powerpoint projector. Immediately the first problem became apparent. The projector and my laptop were from two different generations and the lead that came with the projector was never going to fit onto my tiny laptop given to me so that I could carry it with me on my adventures. I had brought a reversionary mode of notes for me and still had the games but I was sad not to be able to show them the pictures. Then I heard sad news. The group of children had shrunk to 6 girls due to some orchestral practice for an upcoming concert. I was sad at first but realised that this would play to my advantage with this particular presentation to such a young audience. I put out 7 chairs and pulled them in close to the table and my chair. Using the laptop as the picture board I was going to turn this presentation into a very intimate story time with a difference. With only 6 girls brought close it was an opportunity to really engage their brains, fire their imagination and give them a message that I hoped would carry with them for life.

The girls arrived and soon were sat around me expectantly. So with Morag’s blessing I started. ‘Hi girls, I am Archie Douglas and I have been asked today to tell you about my career and most importantly, what I have learned from it.’

The girls sat attentively and as I continued,

‘I went to a boarding school a long way away from my parents in Somerset so I had to try and forge my own way. At school:

I wasn’t the sportiest
I wasn’t the coolest
I wasn’t the fastest
I wasn’t the brainiest
I wasn’t the most musical
I wasn’t the most artistic
I wasn’t the wealthiest
I just didn’t seem to fit into any box.’

Just as I got to the end of that slide one of the girls piped up, ‘I completely get that. That is just like me.’ I smiled and knew that I had pitched this at the right level. I high-fived this young girl who smiled back and continued:

‘But that wasn’t all bad because
I did have:
A love of people
A love of farming
A love of wildlife
A love of the environment
And a love of life.

So instead of dripping around the house feeling sorry for myself:

Sea Kayaking
Sea Kayaking

I started to try and find myself so, I got my first job as a pig farmer on Sundays before and after church. It was hard physical work. And very, very stinky.
But it was the first time ever that I had earned my own money. £50 a month and it felt great!

Then I wanted to learn to ride:

But we couldn’t afford it as a family but I didn’t give up. So for my second job I worked at a farm for free in return for riding lessons. And once I had learned to ride, I got a job full time at a stables. I loved working with such beautiful animals.
It was hard work: 7 days a week, dawn til dusk but I earned £50 a week. Four times more than I earned at the pig farm!
With that money earned and saved I travelled to Australia. I busked on bagpipes for a bit. I also volunteered for weeks as crew on the Tall Ship the Bounty. It took a long time but eventually they offered me a job. I was now full time crew on the Bounty and the Solway Lass. I got paid $600 Australian a week. I managed to get on an episode of Home and Away. I managed to serve the rock star Prince a glass of coca cola. And I served a real Prince, HRH Prince Philip, as crew of his ship when he came to sail on the Bounty.
I had a wonderful time on beautiful ships on beautiful seas meeting lots of wonderful people.

But my calling was to the Army.

Quad bikes!
Quad biking!

So then I asked the question, ‘what does the Army do?’

I got all the answers I was hoping for and that are the usual answers coming from children: it fights people. ‘It kills people’ another piped up. ‘It fights to protect us came another reply.’ Perfect. I had their attention still so I went on with the intent of encouraging them to think differently about the Army.
‘It fights, yes. It fights for: our freedoms and those freedoms of people all around the world.
It has you doing things that you never thought that you would do:

Horse Riding, Quad Biking, Hill Walking, Sea Kayaking, Boxing, playing Rugby against high level teams and even had me training full time with 3 other soldiers to become part of the British Olympic Team, competing in the Modern Pentathlon for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.’ Sadly we never quite made the grade but got very close and had the opportunity to train alongside Steph Cook and Kate Allenby who won Gold and Silver at the Olympics, and all this for a man who was, as a boy, the least sporty of his year. In fact I was so slow on the cross country race at school that they had started packing away the course before I had even finished!!
The girls giggled and as I showed them the trophy I was awarded for coming 3rd in the Army Modern Pentathlon Championships. I started to introduce the idea that a little hard work and determination can help you to achieve wonderful and incredible things.

But then it was time for a Geography lesson and the girls were surprisingly brilliant at it. As I went through the list of countries I was lucky enough to visit in my time in the Army, the girls took it in turns to use the laser pen to show the country on the map helped by the others.

  • Cyprus
  • Northern Ireland
  • USA
  • Bosnia
  • Canada
  • Jordan
  • Falkland Islands
  • Afghanistan

‘So now you know the opportunities it gives you and how the Army trains you, how do you think that it fights? What does the Army use to fight? Again the usual answers came forward about guns and tanks and planes and helicopters but not the one I hoped for, so I gave it to them:

Our Brains! It is a bit like a game of chess. We try and out manoeuvre the enemy until he thinks that he cannot possibly win against such overwhelming odds so he capitulates. Do you know what capitulates means? ‘One of the girls got it: ‘gives up? Yes, surrenders.

But How?

Is It Me? No...
Is It Me? No…

Here I gave a very short example of a tour of Afghanistan I did with the United States Marine Corps. First I had the girls giggling as I stood and did my impression of a Marine on parade and running with their guidon and singing songs. They knew who the US Marines were so I told them how we won back huge areas of ground over which we had fought with the Taliban for many years by just talking and listening to the local culture. The girls were shocked to hear that most Afghans were illiterate so there were few newspapers and there was little power so there were few radios and few televisions. So the only way that we could get the local population to understand why we were there and what we could do for them if they worked with us was how? Again they got it. ‘By talking to them’ they replied. They were bang on so I told a couple of short funny stories about some of the conversations we had before asking the question?
‘But what is it that makes missions the British Army undertakes so successful?’

Over a succession of photos I revved the girls up and asked simply ‘Is it me?’ NO!! came the reply again and again getting louder and louder. Or is it the team? YES!! Came the reply again and again getting louder and louder as they grew in confidence.

So what is a team? I asked.

Again there were some great answers from the girls and I confirmed that a team is a collection of diverse people brought together with different strengths and weaknesses, that when brought together with a common goal and led well the team becomes unbeatable.’

It was time to play a game. I handed out A4 sheets in which they could identify themselves as the sportiest, coolest, fastest, brainiest, most musical, most artistic. I sent each to a spot on the four walls and put on the climbing harness attaching a rope to me on a carabiner. I made sure each of the girls had gloves and then asked the sportiest girl to pick up the rope and pull me from my spot to her side of the hall. She couldn’t, so we added the most artistic, they couldn’t, so we added the most musical, they couldn’t, so we added the coolest, they couldn’t, so we added the brainiest, they couldn’t so I added the fastest. Still they couldn’t. They pulled and pulled giggling and laughing their faces going red with the strain and then eureka! One of the girls piped up and called one, two, three, PULL! They all pulled together and actually managed to move me a little way. They all clicked on so again and again, in unison, they all pulled together and won the contest. With the girls sitting now catching their breath while the juice and biscuits were passed around, I removed the harness and rope and continued into the most important part of the evening.

Is It the Team? YES
Is It the Team? Yes

Girls, as individuals you all singularly failed to pull me across the room but as soon as you all started to work together you actually managed to pull me across the room.

So What I asked?
‘The team is everything I continued. Not everybody can or should be the leader. You all have your own strengths: use them for the good of the team. Give of yourself to the benefit of others. Make this your goal in life and you have the keys to a happy, healthy and successful life whatever path you choose to follow.

But there is another thing that I have learned during my career: that life will throw at you many challenges of many different shapes and sizes. You ARE all more than capable of scaling those hurdles which will spring up in your path but only IF’… Now I launched into one of my favourite poems which as a young man spoke volumes to me. I knew that a lot of the language was going to be a little above them, but also knew that by delivering it slowly and with feeling, and perhaps a little ham acting, that much of it would sink in and besides I had a translation to follow. The girls sat and listened intently in our little huddle around the computer.

The team.  A collection of diverse people brought together with different strengths and weaknesses to work towards a common goal
The team. A collection of diverse people brought together with different strengths and weaknesses to work towards a common goal

‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you
If you can trust yourself when everyone doubts you but make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good
Nor talk too wise:
If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch
If neither foes not loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Then yours is the earth and everything that’s in it,
And what is more
You’ll be a huge success my child.’

I looked each and every child in the eyes as I delivered this poem and the following translations as if I was talking directly to them individually, which of course I was and continued:

‘In other words
If you do not lose your temper or panic when all others are
If you can let harsh words and lies flow off you like water off of a duck’s back and not deal in harsh words or lies
If you can have a dream and desire to achieve it but not at the expense of all others
If you can embrace all who come to you no matter how different they might be
If you can make every second of this wonderful life that you have been blessed with count
Then you will achieve health, happiness and success.
‘In other words’ I continued:
‘Take time to think, it is the source of power.
Take time to play, it is the source of perpetual youth.
Take time to read, it is the fountain of wisdom.
Take time to pray, it is the greatest power on earth.
Take time to love and be loved, it is a God-given privilege.
Take time to be friendly, it is the road to happiness.
Take time to laugh, it is the music of the soul.
Take time to give, it is too short a day to be selfish.
Take time to work it is the price of success.
Take time to do charity it is the key to heaven.’

‘In other words’ I continued:

Completing a modern Pentathlon
Completing a modern Pentathlon

‘Like me,
You might not be the sportiest.
You might not be the coolest.
You might not be the brainiest.
You might not be the most musical.
You might not be the most artistic.
You might not have much money.
But you are you.
You are unique and have such a lot to offer as part of the team in which you will find yourself so:
Embrace with open arms those who come to you no matter how different they be.
Think and speak no ill of people.
Work hard.
And never ever, ever, ever give up!!!!!!!!
You CAN and WILL do it I stressed.’

Then I was coming to the close and as I said, ‘let us pray’, the girls closed their eyes and some even gently pressed their hands together so I continued:

‘Dear God,
Please untie the knots that are in my mind, my heart and my life.
Remove the have nots, the can nots and the do nots, that I have in my mind.
Erase the will nots, the may nots, the might nots that may find a home in my heart.
Release me from the could nots, would nots and should nots that obstruct my life,
And most of all, dear God, I ask that you remove from my mind, my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots’ that I have allowed to hold me back, especially the thought that I am not good enough, because now I know that I am good enough, I can, and I will.

Feeling on top of the world
Feeling on top of the world

I had finished and the girls sat in quiet contemplation as I handed out some strawberry flavour laces that I was going to use for a game but decided against. Some questions came and then Morag handed me a thank you box of Celebrations which of course I popped open and gave one to each of the girls. The girls very sweetly thanked me for coming to talk to them and I thanked them for being such a great audience and then I realised that I only had 20 minutes to catch the bus. I hurriedly switched off and packed my computer, the climbing rope and harness and spare gloves I had brought. Said my farewells and shot out the door. ½ a mile to Jon’s house to drop off the rope and harness with a huge thank you then ½ a mile back to get to the flat to collect my gym bag then a short final leg to the bus stop. I made it with 4 minutes to spare. I caught the bus and caught the train and as I relaxed tucked into my packed tea. Tuna Mayonnaise sandwich with a spinach, rocket and watercress salad followed by my usual veggie pick and mix bag of 100g of carrots, 50g of tenderstem broccoli, 12 red grapes, 4 cherry tomatoes and 2 x brazil nuts followed finally by a flapjack. I was due to catch another bus but had 27 minutes to wait for the next one so, refuelled by my packed tea, I started walking. As I walked through the lively city past homeless and drunk, past children who perhaps should have been tucked up in bed at home, my thoughts turned back to the girls of the Top Ten club in Doune to whom I had spoken. I thought of the wonderful way in which they sat so engaged and listening. I hoped and prayed that they would find their way in life, find their way over the hurdles that will challenge them in the future and remain on the path towards a healthy, happy and successful life. I hoped and prayed that I had in some small way given them something that they could hang onto for inspiration for their future. Before I knew it I had walked 2.3 miles ascending 37.66 feet and had to wait only 3 minutes for the next bus. It was windy and cold but I was happy for another day with which I had been blessed to have been used in what I hope to be a positive way.

Sadly, shortly after arriving in Edinburgh I suffered a small seizure which kept me awake all night. So as I started writing this post this morning I did so through a thick fog of tiredness as the wind howled past the windows. I was really struggling so went to lie down for a 30 minute nap to recharge the batteries. I slept soundly for 30 minutes then woke feeling groggy and with my own advice to the girls ringing in my ears. The last thing that I wanted to do was to go for a run but experience in this battle with the tumour told me that it was exactly what I needed to see me through the day. I had told the girls that with a little hard work they could achieve anything. So now it was time to lead by example. I got changed and ventured out into the wind for a run. It was hard going in 21 knots of wind. All the time the wind was tugging at my right lower leg as if trying to tap tackle me. Several times I stumbled as the right leg clipped the back of the left leg, but I carried on and as I turned the corner I must have looked like a parachutist in freefall with the wind blowing my mouth open and puffing out my cheeks sending what felt like occasional waves of skin across the face. But then as I turned to close the loop the wind was behind me and suddenly I was running like an Olympic champion. I completed the 2.41 miles of the Park Road loop into 20 knot winds with an ascent of 107.61 feet in 21 minutes setting a pace of 8 minutes and 42 seconds a mile. I was really pleased with that and felt a million dollars. As I finish this post it is now time for my evening walk so I am setting off to walk the 2.29 mile Stanley Road Loop Long with an ascent of 146 feet. God willing I will sleep well tonight.

Yours aye