Over these last seven months since COVID-19 seized the nation, I too have been seized and locked down in Newhaven with Allie as I have tried to write my book. With no possibility to golf or act, I was determined that I was going to use this time wisely, to find a way to make my brain work as it used to, to find the cognitive and neurological stamina to be able to concentrate and write for enough productive sessions in a day, to write the book I had been poked in the chest by too many people and told to write. Despite a referral to the Acute Receiving Unit at the Western General and several other neurological wobbles in which Allie has had to pick up the pieces, literally, of me and pour me into bed for a nap to help my brain to try to piece me back together, I remain resolutely determined, despite the offer from two different ghost writers to write it for me, that I will write this book, that this book will be my words only. Besides, by so doing, my hope is that the writing of the book will help to strengthen my brain to such an extent that I would be able to sustain myself in some sort of employment in the future.

However, six months after starting writing, on trying to self-edit my first two chapters, I have come to realise how badly my brain has been performing in between my wobbles. A month on and I am only halfway through the self-edit of the second chapter, I have had to re-write pretty much most of what I had previously written. In desperation and frustration I took myself out for a run, returned to my piano/organ keyboard, and the golf course at Dalmahoy to discover with some horror, that despite taking an awful lot of short brisk walks to give my brain a break between 30 minute writing sessions, I had lost an awful lot of fitness. I had forgotten how to play the keyboard, tunes that had been learned since childhood were having to be relearnt. I had forgotten many of the monologues that I had learned for my auditions and was having to relearn them. I was struggling to actually connect with the ball in the driving range. As I limped home on my bicycle the 14.44 miles from the Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club (who sponsor my brain training golf practice) with sore legs and bum out of cycling condition I realised that, in my determination to write the book, I had forgotten my stated main effort of the Challenge, to challenge myself to take on activities designed to rebuild and strengthen the brain for future employment. To regain a productive life. I had forgotten that my brain, while malleable, had also been badly damaged by the tumour, the treatment, and each and every one of the more severe epileptic seizures, and I had been warned by my Neurologist that I was at the top of the risk spectrum for Alzheimer’s and must do all that I can to avoid becoming demented. I had been working my brain in a one-dimensional sphere and allowed many of the notable improvements I had worked hard for to slip away.

Smiling Is Infectious
Smiling Is Infectious by Jez Alborough (1991)

I realised that I needed to continue to write my book but that I also needed to continue to take on activities to keep rebuilding and strengthening my brain for future employment: music, golf and navigation over the hills or around the city of Edinburgh, litter picking for cognitive and motor coordination, and simple physical training. On the ride back from Dalmahoy along the canal path and the old disused railway lines, I noticed how gloomy nearly everyone seemed to be, and feeling a little glum myself as I limped along on the bike, I decided to try to cheer myself and others up with a very simple ‘Goooood afternoon’ delivered with a broad smile as I approached. The first attempt sounded too forced for my liking but it gave the couple I was passing cause to smile back, which gave me cause to actually giggle a little, and as I rode so I continued with my ‘goooooood afternoons’ and smiles and as surprised smiles and sometimes even laughter were returned I realised that I also needed to re-start collecting smiles, to do what I can to help cheer up the nation as we enter into the dead of winter, and the deadly grip of the virus. With the tightening of restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus, despite the fact that the restrictions will help to save the lives of those we love, and the knowledge that this will not last forever, that we will, through prayer and human ingenuity find a safe way out of the virus, these continuing restrictions, lack of direct contact with our wider friends and family, and the inevitable further financial stress, mean that life will feel increasingly difficult, for some unbearable, and by capturing smiles and sharing them with the nation I can hope to bring some light to those being overwhelmed with darkness.

Therefore, I will continue to write my book but with no target for completion. To write it well, with my damaged brain, will take considerably longer than I had hoped, years longer, but it will be written. While trying to write my book I will allocate a lot of time to brain rebuilding and strengthening, while at the same time capturing as many smiles as I can to bring light to those dwelling in darkness in the hope that you may continue to sponsor me, and if you do not yet sponsor me, in the hope that you will give 10 minutes of your time to fill out a standing order to challenge me to keep fighting. Every penny raised goes to the Disasters Emergency Committee to bring light to those whose entire lives have been destroyed by the double whammy of COVID-19 and disaster.

There are 64 million active current accounts in the UK. If I can convince just 1% of those account holders to sponsor me with just £1 per month, then I can raise £640,000 per month to save and rebuild lives through the Disasters Emergency Committee. With only 50 sponsors so far I have only 0.0007% of my 1% target. Please sponsor me.

Please help me to spread a little light by sending me a photo of your smile with your name and town, that I can publish, with the other 72 smiles so far collected, on the smileometer on my website, and via the Challenge social media channels of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Emailing it to me would be best on archie@beatthebeastchallenge.co.uk or message it to me on Facebook Messenger or Instagram. To get things moving again I give you a small selection of some of my favourite smiles so far captured.

Message from Mirren
Card from Mirren

Finally I leave you with photographs of the wonderful message sent to me by my dear friend Mirren that, with Mirren’s uncanny timing, was waiting for me in its envelope when I returned from Dalmahoy.

The wonderful message in the card from Mirren
The wonderful message in the card from Mirren

Keep safe.

Keep doing the right thing to keep us all safe.

Keep smiling

Yours aye,