Monday, 27 May 2013

London to Brighton - now that’s a nice walk... Help for Heroes

“Are you mad?” was my first reaction when my daughter, Rosie, told me that she was going to walk from London to Brighton. The London to Brighton 100km London 2 Brighton Walk  which is 62.13 miles in old money. She had just started her first job at  xceed group London and a few of her co workers thought it would be a challenge and they could raise money for charity.

Rosie chose Help for Heroes, which isn’t surprising as her brother, Ash, is in the Army and served out in Afghanistan on Operation Herrick 14 , and his girlfriend Sheryl is a Gunner, having served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan where she suffered life changing injuries and has been put back to together by the amazing people at Headley Court , helped in no small way by the funds raised by Help for Heroes.

And it seemed fitting that Rosie would walk, walking for those who couldn’t walk anymore.
The girls: Rosie Sunny Grace and Lucy got into training. The walk would take over 24 hours to complete, covering all terrains as well as walking through the night. I kept hearing The Proclaimers singing ‘I would walk 500 miles’ but after seeing the people at the finish in Brighton I have to say I bet they wouldn’t...

I went to the 25km point to cheer them on - they were in good spirits, a definite party atmosphere and all seemed well. Rosie’s brothers Gary and Ash, along with their girlfriends Hannah and Sheryl went to the 56km mark to offer encouragement and support. It was getting dark by then and I think the full horror of what they had taken on was just starting to sink in. 50km was the most they had walked in training and the remainder of the walk was unknown territory, in the dark, with no sleep and a long way from home.

At 10am the next day, 26 hours after they started I spoke to Rosie, she was in high spirits, “It’s adrenalin that is keeping us going Mum. We’ve done 87.5km. This is so very hard...but we are nearly there...We just want it over now..”

28 hours after they started I stood on Brighton Racecourse watching the girls walk the final furlong. I have to say that I have never been more proud of her and her team. What an example of all that is good and kind and compassionate in the world. In light of the atrocities of Woolwich in the week it was heart warming to see people, all people, all ages, shapes and sizes, colours and religions, come together to make a difference for charity, for other people, regardless of personal pain.

Watching those people hobble over the finish line was uplifting, humbling and downright brilliant! We clapped and cheered, whooped and hollered. A fantastic event.

As Rosie crossed the line she smiled as she received her medal, but I could tell that she was in a whole world of pain. She slept all the way home. It wasn’t until she got home did I see her poor feet, swollen, blistered and red raw. She cried in pain, and I cried with her. But she personally has raised over £2,000 for Help for Heroes, which is no mean feat.
(sorry about the pun!)

I just wish we could bottle whatever it is that brings out the very best in people, the kindness, the compassion, the simply being a better person because you can, and for no self gain.
This amazing walk showed that we are awash with it in this country.
Long may it continue!

“Rosie, I’m just about to take the dogs for a walk, would you like to....Ouch!” as a well aimed trainer catches me on the side of the head...
“I take that as a No then?”

As I walk out the door I start to hum....”If I could walk 500 miles...”
Check out Rosie Charity page  rosie wiles Walk

Cathy x

Monday, 25 March 2013

#Fed up with the weather - it’s official ! The winter that won’t END

Okay, Okay I give in...It’s  not that I mind a bit of rain or snow, I am English so part of my DNA is to constantly ask about the weather, check the forecasts, have a moan, but enough is enough. I just want it to STOP!

I’m going to have a ritual jumper burning event when the sun does eventually show its face. I am sick to the back teeth of layers, jumpers, scarves and coats. There is now nothing in my wardrobe that I like; I actually hate my boots, which is sad because I’ve always been a bit of a boot person. I am fed up with cleaning them every time I come back to the house.
I now choose my clothes every day with the “How cold will it get” attitude, resigning myself to the knowledge that it is unlikely I will be warm or dry for long rather than the “ooh I’m having a pink day together with sunny disposition I seem to recall I once had. I used to check to make sure I had my make-up bag and travel card but now forgetting my umbrella and/or gloves sends me into a stress as I know it will end in tears..

It doesn’t help that I have two dogs for whom the word ‘Walkies!’ is such a joy that they will put up with any inclement weather issues. I have even tried opening the front door to show them that it is blizzard conditions, blowing a gale or pouring down, but they just look at me and wag their tails, for them it is an adventure, exciting something filled with promise. I wish I had their outlook on life, it is so simple; I seem to remember that I did once, but that was in another life, when it was sunny. For me the joy of walking my dogs in the woods has been replaced with the sure fire fact that it is yet another time I will have to negotiate bogs and rivers that used to be paths, slipping, sliding and inevitably falling and getting boots stuck in the quagmire.

My friend owns a sun bed shop and business is booming. I was in her shop the other day and a steady stream of people, men and women, young and not so young, were coming in for a dose of rays. They certainly were not what you would call TOWIE followers who just want to be orange. These were people who just wanted to feel some warm rays on their skin, even if it was only for a few minutes.I think we are a nation on the brink...

 I know I am a bit of a wuss where cold/wet weather comes in. I live in South East London, so I am sure that the weather we are experiencing is almost tropical compared with the rest of the country. I have read the articles of people freezing to death after a night out whilst walking home - how terrible is that. The other day it was 6.30pm and I was in my onesie with my bed socks on (warmed up on the radiator first of course), the door was locked the curtains were drawn. I had just been to Sainsburys (about 100 metres from my home) and decided that I couldn’t risk going out again...sad but true...

I actually stopped my car the other evening and got out and checked that my headlights were working, because the car was so dirty that I wasn’t sure. And before you all shout at me I have a soft top (you know one of those cars that everyone wishes they have -when it’s sunny...) but I can’t go through the car wash. So I ended up spitting on the headlights and cleaning them with my glove, just so I could see to get home.

But it was different this time last year - the end of March 2012 I had a barbeque in my garden...I did...and it was hot and sunny and we got sunburnt. I’m not imagining it, my brain hasn’t rotted under the weight of all the water and snow, honest. It was unusual, I’ll grant you that, I remember uttering the words, “ooh, if this is what global warming is doing that I can live with it” Shallow I know, but it just made us all feel so much better, people had smiles on their faces and everything in the world was fine and lovely and fluffy.

My friend is moving to sunnier climes next week. She and her husband and children are packing up and going. They have had enough of the weather and the state of the country and want to start afresh. Like she said, we will still be broke and have to work really hard, but at least it will be sunny...
Cathy x

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Where is St Christopher when you need him?

I was brought up being told that St Christopher was the patron saint of travellers. Infact when I was a child, everyone I knew had a necklace with a little medallion with him on it. I was a Catholic, but I am quite sure that you didn’t need to be in the ‘club’ for him to work his magic.

So where is he? I strongly suspect that he has been excommunicated due to his abysmal track record, especially where the 7.08 train from Beckenham Junction to Victoria is concerned.

Putting aside, for this blog anyway, my frustration with Southern and South Eastern Rail services, (I have the dubious pleasure of using both these companies for my commute into work), I want to rant about the Commuter.

Is it just me or perhaps my specific daily commute that makes me confront, on a daily basis, a mixture of people who, frankly, should either be on medication or seeking professional advice, but really should not be amongst us unaccompanied? I am also quite sure that many of these people hold down responsible jobs, captains of industry and the like. So what happens to them as they wait on the platform, because that’s where it starts. The jockeying for position as the train approaches, not allowing anyone off, just incase they lose their square foot of platform. The over enthusiastic use of shoulders to barge their way onto the train. Then there are the people on the train - no please don’t move to let us on, even though there is room. They stand there defending their spot, as if somebody’s life was at stake.

And if you are lucky enough to spot a seat, why do you have to stand there whilst (sorry ladies) handbags are slowly moved onto laps, and then comes the tut and ‘that’ look...for goodness sake you don’t pay for a seat for your handbag, so move the darn thing.

Don’t get me started about overweight people taking up half of the seat that I have managed to bag. I happen to be fairly slim, but I still pay for a WHOLE seat, and having to squeeze into a space that a contortionist would have a problem with, complete with my handbag, and to have to sit there for the entire journey with everything squished in stressful, although maybe good for my core muscles.

And there are the ones who talk loudly on their mobiles. I have no desire to know the intimate details of your love life, (although occasionally I listen up in case I may be missing out on a trick or two). I also do not need to be a party to your arguments. Let’s face it at 7.08 in the morning my brain is barely functioning, and whilst I admire the fact that you can string pretty plausible arguments together, I have no desire to witness it.

On the subject of phones - if it rings ANSWER IT- the entire carriage has heard it ring 5 times, we all know it’s yours, (commuters develop their own pin point accurate radar system), so how come you do not know? And then do not add insult to injury by allowing it to continue to ring whilst you look at the screen to check out the number - just ANSWER IT!

I know it annoys some people when women apply make-up on the train, but personally I find it quite useful to see the before and after as well as pick up tips on what to use and how to apply, or not as the case may be. Sometimes this is fairly scary, especially when you get the ‘what are you looking at’ scowl. It’s free entertainment as far as I am concerned - get over yourself.

I like music, all music really, but I don’t want to listen to the tinny sound of  noise coming from your ear phones -invest in better ones, turn the volume down (you will be deaf by the time you are 30), or sit ANYWHERE but near me.

Buy tissues! I have personally handed tissues to commuters who have sniffed, sneezed and coughed their way through the journey. I don’t want it, whatever you have, keep it to yourself! Did your mother never tell you not to sniff - same rule applies on the train - you have not slipped into a parallel universe for the journey where sniffing and the like are acceptable. And why is it that no matter how hard I glare at you, you still sit there sniffing, reading the Metro or playing with your phone, oblivious to my laser stare boring into your skull?

Okay we know when it rains we need an umbrella, and on the train the umbrella is closed, ladies we have this totally under control, but men - it is an umbrella, it has a pointy end. It is not a jousting stick. Keep the pointy end down. Avoid placing it under your arm like a newspaper where the pointy end sticks out. I have seen many people almost lose eyes, stabbed in the chest and other areas, and one lady had her handbag hooked. If you can’t use it responsibly don’t use one and get wet instead, saving untold injuries to your fellow travellers.

And when the train gets into the station, us poor people who have stood the entire way are entitled to get off the train first, unless we let you off. So sit down and WAIT. Being smug that you have a seat is fine but don’t then expect us not to stamp our rights when we can, and don’t tut and sigh heavily, just don’t...

Finally, Oyster Cards/Tickets - do not wait until you get to the barrier to fish around in every pocket/handbag/briefcase that you possess looking for it. It is annoying and causes us seasoned half awake commuters to slam into the back of you as we are on robot mode, it is very early and we are conditioned, and if you are a man with an umbrella you could kill somebody...

I could go on and on. I haven’t covered people who bring bikes onto crowded trains, people eating, beggars on train, reading over my shoulder, the announcements, people with poor personal hygiene...

Perhaps I could do with some divine intervention, St Christopher’s clearly MIA, so I googled it...and came up with Ekahau a Mayan God of travellers and merchants, and so I have specifically appointed him to rule over the 7.08 Beckenham Junction to Victoria.

May the force be with you..  Everything is OK on the Happy Carriage

Saturday, 1 December 2012

David Haye - not just a nice bum...

Well I have to admit it - ‘I’m a Celebrity’ is my guilty pleasure. I’ve always liked it but this year was the best one ever.  It was great fun, we had nice contestants, the bush tucker trials were horrible, Ant and Dec were on top form and there was THAT shower scene. Everyone has gone on about Mylene Klass and the white bikini but David Haye, naked under the waterfall, ladies....well....all I can say is...pwooor! (Gentlemen...please go to the gym...go directly to the gym and do not pass go!)

I actually know another side of David Haye. Yes I know, what with Ross Kemp the other week and now this, I am positively almost an A lister myself! He bought a house in my neck of the woods, (David not Ross!); him and his gorgeous wife and baby son, and I once dropped an invite to a party through his letterbox.

It’s not as mad as you might think, well maybe it is, but I was a little short on the ground of Big Names to invite, (well actually his was the only address I knew), but there was a connection. The surprise party was for Ash coming back from Afghanistan and Ash and his brother are both great Haye fans, having driven to Manchester to watch him win his world title. So I thought it fitting.

Unfortunately the date I picked was not only David Hayes birthday, (although we could have arranged a joint do?), but also the day he retired from boxing.  So I guess he could be forgiven for not attending the knees up at The Swan in West Wickham, although Mick & Lisa are the best landlords ever. He did however contact me through his PA expressing his regret that he could not attend and sent Ash a personally signed book with a notation to him on it. It was a lovely thing to do and I will be forever grateful for that small act of kindness that made Ash’s eyes light up.

Ash had been on Operation Herrick 14 and away for 7 of the longest months of my life. But he was back now, safe and sound, and we wanted to throw a party for him and put the past 7 months Out There behind us.

In my diary I wrote:
My covert mission to ensure that Ash’s party remains a total secret is going very well. The Swan is on high alert and Gary has been in to decorate the room with balloons and bunting. Mick and Lisa have arranged a disco and I have put numerous photos from Out There onto a memory stick to be projected onto the TV screen during the evening. Lisa’s mum has baked a cake and Mick and a guy from the British Legion have supplied flags. Rosie and Sammie have contacted everyone they know and we are hoping for a good turnout. The local press will be there and Lisa has arranged for the Crystal Palace Cheerleaders to come in and give him a cheer, complete with pom-poms!

My mission is to get him there without spoiling the surprise. I decide to tell him that my friend Chris is over with her sons from Italy and that they want to say hi and see his medals. I tell him that they will be in the local Pizza Express at eight o’clock and perhaps we could just pop in to see them. Luckily Ash has no other plans for the evening: he informs me that all his mates are being ‘right wusses’ and don’t want to go out tonight. I smile. I make a furtive call to Italy to tell Chris that she mustn’t telephone me later as she is supposed to be here in the UK. She laughs and is delighted that her family is part of the deception.

With military precision I text Gary at 7.56 to let him know that we are leaving the house. At 7.59 we get to Pizza Express, the designated place to meet Chris and the boys, only to find, surprisingly, that they are not there.

‘Oh, Ash, I wonder where they can be?’ We stand outside, looking through the window of the restaurant.

‘Let me call her.’ I reach for my phone and dial Gary’s number. ‘We’re outside Pizza Express.’

‘We are all ready here, Mum,’ Gary says. I pause for further effect. ‘Caught in traffic?’ I respond. I look at Ash and raise my eyebrows. ‘You’ll be about ten minutes?’

‘He hasn’t got a clue, has he, Mum?’ Gary says.

‘Just a minute, Chris. They’re caught in traffic, Ash, what shall we do?’

‘Go to The Swan, for a quick drink?’ he says.

‘Good idea, Ash,’ I answer.

‘Result!’ Gary says.

‘We’ll go into The Swan for a drink then, Chris. Call me when you get here.’

‘See you in a minute, Mum.’ As Gary’s voice trails off, I hear him shouting, ‘Right, everyone, he’s on his way. Into positions!’ Ash and I chat as we cross the road and I notice Mick standing outside the pub smoking a cigarette. He gives me the smallest of nods.

‘Ash, my boy!’ Mick says as he embraces Ash. ‘Nice to see you!’

We follow Mick into the bar and I hang back. I notice that the door to the conservatory is shut as Ash heads towards the bar. ‘Drink, Mum?’ he asks.

‘Oh, Ash, let’s go into the conservatory. I prefer it in there.’ I catch Mick’s eye; he’s panicking ever so slightly. ‘Really?’ he replies, and for a split second I think it’s all about to go horribly wrong. But then Ash puts his wallet back into his pocket, and turns away from the bar.

‘Go on then.’ I gesture towards the door. ‘Afghan heroes first.’

As he opens the door all that can be heard it a massive cheer and the sound of scores of party poppers exploding, the flashing of cameras and the opening bars of ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ (David Haye music as he enters the ring!) Ash looks around at me and as I see his face I worry that he might hit the deck, believing that he is back Out There and under sniper fire. But then he smiles and walks into the room. He is immediately lost in a sea of people, surrounded by his friends, who are all laughing and slapping him on the back. Everyone is happy for him, pleased to be part of this, and so very proud.

The room looks fantastic, the place has been transformed into a magical wonderland filled with light and happiness and love, and I beam from ear to ear as I watch the scene in front of me. I go up to him and give him a hug. ‘Surprise!’

He looks at me and then frowns. ‘What about Chris and the boys?’

‘Oh, Ash… It was just a ploy to get you here. You were conned!’ I laugh.

‘Mother, I will never believe a word you say to me ever again!’

And the Cheer Leaders danced and people ate and drank and smiled...and if David Haye had been there last thing he would have said is “I’m a Celebrity - Get me out of here!”

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Move over Grant Mitchell...I think the real Ross Kemp has just stood up...

Ross Kemp - not Grant - ed!

I went to lunch with Ross Kemp this week. Well I guess I should clarify that: me and fifty or so others went to lunch with RK. Check me out! Sarah, (who is my long suffering friend who does all the clever internet stuff, which I am totally incapable of doing), joined me and we met and listened to Ross wax lyrical about what he’s been up to, (see I am on first name terms now..)

I do have to say that I was a little terrified I would call him Grant, (Mitchell from East Enders fame), and so I started to repeat a Ross Ross Ross mantra in my head, hoping that the words would stick. Oh the shame if I called him Grant, or even worse Phil...

I don’t know what I expected. He is made out to be a bit of a hard man, perhaps he would lunge at us and shout “’Ave it, you scum!” whilst brandishing a sawn off shotgun, looking menacing with a fierce and slightly mad glint in his eye. Actually, dispelling all the myths, in reality, he is quite charming, shorter that I thought he would be, but dressed in the required dark suit shirt and tie combo. He appeared relaxed and conversed easily as he made his way around the tables.

On our table we had a young lady who had travelled all the way from Blackburn for this lunch, and then decided that she couldn’t eat anything as she was so star struck! She even had Ross Kemps’ initials tattooed on her arm. I have to say that I found this a bit disturbing, but felt her efforts should not go unnoticed and so as he reached our table I told him about her. After hearing this he whipped out his mobile phone and started to press buttons. I was a bit miffed and suggested that maybe this wasn’t the time to be texting or tweeting but he actually wanted to share a photo with me. It was a photo of a man’s leg with a tattoo of Ross Kemps face on it. I actually thought that it was quite a good likeness but in a creepy sort of way: 1. because who would have a tattoo of a total strangers face put on their body? & 2. Why has Ross Kemp kept it on his phone? and in that moment I realised that there was indeed, ‘Nowt as strange as folk!’

I frowned as I showed Sarah, “Ooh that’s a bit odd, don’t you think?”she said I nodded, I mean, come on - sorry Ross, because you seem a very nice man and all that, but, personally I wouldn’t want your face staring up at me from the back of my calf until the end of days, no offence of course...

I told him my about my Ash serving with the Army in Afghanistan last year, and he showed me a photo of his little boy, who is gorgeous. We were, in that moment, both extremely proud parents of boys, and it was nice and convivial. Ross Kemp was very... well... ordinary... normal, dare I say it...even soft...

After dinner he spoke about the horrors he has seen. He wasn’t dramatic, just very matter of fact, which I actually felt a little sad about...perhaps he has seen too much death, pain  destruction in Afghanistan, Chile, Pakistan, Mexico, Glasgow and all of the other places he had reported from; perhaps he is now desensitised? I recently watched his programme Invisible Wounds about troops with PTSD from the 1982 Falklands war and more recently Afghanistan - he clearly was moved, connected and concerned about the potential time bomb we have with this rarely talked about issue.  But it was when he talked about the devastation of the rain forests, about what he saw happening to the Amazon, the lungs of the world, he became animated, alive, his blue eyes shone. He claims that he is no environmentalist, but you know I think deep down he cares, really cares...

After the lunch was over I asked him if he would support our project called Herrick Wood. A project to create woodland, to support, protect and encourage the lungs of our country and in doing this support the troops returning from Afghanistan and their families who suffer the on- going and future psychological effects of war. And you know what? Ross Kemp gently put his hands on my shoulders and looked at me...

Move over Grant Mitchell...I think the real Ross Kemp has just stood up...