Journal
Kindness and Christmas

Added: 21-12-2006

Just thought I’d post an update on the kindess of strangers…after my encounter with the bloke in the pub in the UK from whom I solicited an unexpected lift the other sunday (See previous entry), now I am happy to report on the kindness of Swedish people. I was up in Sweden last week giving a lecture and on the way home to Copenhagen all hell broke loose on the trains and the normally efficient (and spotlessly clean) rail service went off the rails (haha). all sorts of buses were brought into play (heavy rains you see, a fair excuse seeing as I everywhere I looked there were serious puddles, a much more believable excuse than the ones we get here in the UK, such as ‘there’s leaves on the line’ or ‘we are experiencing the wrong kind of snow’) and we were shunted from one station to the next in search of a functioning route south to Copenhagen. During a particularly long wait at some station somewhere I struck up a conversation with a doctor from Lund named Peter who very kindly bought me a sandwich as part of an effort, as he put it, to improve Anglo-Swedish relations. A very nice sandwich it was too, and I very much appreciated the generosity.

I mention this because I am still amazed at all the hospitality we received during our first leg in the US. So many nice gestures, really quite unbelievable. Kinda got me thinking about whether or not the same kindnesses would be shown to walkers going across the UK, for example, or any other European country for that matter. I’ve done some solo walks in France, Switzerland and Italy and have always been happy to discover that human kindess is alive and well there (nb. as long as you speak French in France!), but I’ve often wondered about England. In this spirit I intend to find out – not by walking (not in this weather) but by talking to an old friend from school who recently walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise money for ambulances. Should be a nice compare and contrast session but there’s one problem – Justin I don’t have your number! Get in touch mate…

Apart from those two paragraphs I guess all else I have to say is a big Happy Christmas to one and all! May your days be merry and bright, and your dings dong merrily on high. Many thanks to everyone who helped us this year, hope you have a good yule and receive all the company, food and presents that you wish for. Me, I’m off for a sherry…

Stuart                         Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

From Sweden...

Added: 15-12-2006

This one’s from a hotel in Gothenburg, Sweden. I have resumed the life of a travelling librarian and yesterday was lecturing to students in the town of Boras, about an hour’s drive away. today it’s Christmas shopping amongst Swedes, so everything should be civilised and queuing orderly. Hopefully.

not so much walk-related to report on, hence the lack of journal entries. being back in the UK (for two weeks now) is still a bit of a novelty, and I’ve spent most of my time sitting down and catching up, sometimes even at the same moment. all surgery is healing nicely, walking is no longer a pain and in fact I’m feeling completely normal.

I did try one small walk-related experiment however. after walking down a local pub in my village to catch the Chelsea-Arsenal game last week I discovered the pub wasn’t showing it and therefore settled down for a pint of Guiness before beginning the 25 minute walk to another pub up the road. After two sips of my pint another bloke came in enquiring about the football and was directed to the pub where they were showing it. without thinking, and still in US-everyone-is-friendly-and-I-am-exotic-and-you-will-let-me-sleep-in-your-garden mode I asked the fella if he could give me a lift…interesting reaction followed, it’s obvious that this sort of thing doesn’t happen too often round my way…the guy was like “Yes, but you’ll have to hurry” and then literally bolted out the pub door as if to escape me, leaving me to shuffle after him in a post-surgical way. I caught up and managed to jump in the back of this guy’s sister’s car just as it was pulling off…quite amusing to see the look on her face when I was saying “Hello, I’m Stuart. You don’t know me but you will be giving me a lift to the pub where I will watch the football.” Still, it all worked out well in the end, the fella turned out to be a nice bloke who had lived in Saudi Arabia and had some blood-curdling stories about the popularity of local hangings – and he bought me a couple of pints. Bravo.

so there you go. the excitement of it all. I’m going to try to keep the journal focused on walk things, despite Phil’s Guestbook plea to turn this into a cancer diary (there’s not so much to write about – I feel fine, haven’t even felt ill during any of this, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass but there you go, got a telephone consultation coming up with a US expert next week and then an appointment with a local oncologist, have many questions, perhaps will get some answers etc. etc.) or Jon Rudolf’s suggestion that I get into adult entertainment and become the next Jon Wayne Bobbit (Jon, this is a family journal, any discussion of freak anatomy should be conducted elsewhere!). regarding the walk, Dave and I are on a mission to a) write something down before Christmas, and b) find the video camera charger (Dave, if you’re reading this, I suspect that I have it somewhere – it wouldn’t fit in your supersized bag, remember?). it’s all go.

therefore, in the interests of furthering everyone’s education about the world, I leave you with this link, about the world’s tallest man saving a dolphin. you really wouldn’t credit it…(more pics here)

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Blighty

Added: 6-12-2006

Back in the UK. Dave and I departed the land of Uncle Sam late last Thursday night after a desperate afternoon rush to secure permission to travel from my doctor. The good people at the insurance company quite rightly wanted a note saying I was fit to get on a plane and when, for some reason, they refused to accept a scanned handwritten note from the emminent Dr. David Toolan, it was a mad effort to get in touch with my surgery in DC to get authorisation to fly.

Anyway, once that was done (with five minutes to spare before the arrival of the airport taxi) the journey home was pretty smooth – the tickets were fine, backage (very heavy, lots of new books and vinyl being transported home) was carried manfully by Sherpa David Toolan and I was wheeled around the airport in a wheelchair by an uncommunicative porter. We enjoyed the hospitality of the British Airways lounge, where we could eat sandwiches with the crusts cut off and drink Pinot Grigio with our pre-prepared meal, and we were able to get on the 747 via a special queue. Many conversations were had about the quality of Club Class, and whether or not the giving up of a body part was an appropriate action in order to secure a seat that turns into a bed. No firm conclusions were drawn on that matter, but it sure was a comfortable ride home.

So back I am. England. Herne Bay mostly, but now I am in London. The weather is as I remember it (grey, windy) and the people seem pretty similar too. In the spirit of all things rest I immediately embarked on a weekend long catchup session with friends and family, all of whom I was almost ecstatic to see – like a dog pleased to see his master return or something. There were many hugs. I’m still sore from the surgery I had almost two weeks ago, but there is something about being back which is bringing out all the right healing moves – I feel better.

Without wanting to turn this journal into a cancer diary I figure I should follow up on my previous post. First, huge thank yous to everyone who got in touch. Can’t express my gratitude enough, great to have everyone on my side. Second, yes, I am now a more lightweight hiker. Third, my pathology results came through yesterday and I am now officially stage 1b, which means that if I was in the US I’d be up for that rather large operation mentioned in my previous post (the RPLND). However, as I am in the UK and we’re not so into big surgery over here (er, we only have a few people sufficiently skilled to do it, so I understand) it looks like a surveillance program for me, one that involves regular checkups and scans and blood tests. This will be for the foreseeable future and is emminently liveable with (apart from existential worries and all that). However: I haven’t consulted the local consultant oncologist yet, so he might have other ideas and I might be one of the lucky few Englishmen who get to have the RPLND. We’ll see. Either way it looks like chemo is out for now, so my short hair gets no shorter.

But until I know more I simply have to get better. And it’s working – I’m in London at a friend’s place and today have had something denied to me for months and months now: solitude. Ah, the sweet feeling of no one around, of being totally responsible for oneself (for the daytime anyway) and just being able to totally relax. It’s been heaven. Of course, it’s kinda weird not to have Dave around to question on such pressing topics as what we have done with the washing, what we are having for dinner or who is the President of China, but then I figure the break will make us all the more stronger as a team. Besides, he’s emailed me four times already today so I think I have a pretty good idea of what he’s up to…

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Balham - Coulsdon

Added: 11-5-2006

After Balham I continued the long walk out of London on the A23. Highlights included Streatham High Road, which was a very long walk filled with nail salons, greasy spoons and Internet cafes (the last Internet cafes for a long time). At the end of the high road I moved into advanced hiking mode – the wearing of shorts, facilitated by some hidden zips on my new hiking trousers and some unseemly fumbling with my boots. The weather was fantastic, even if the fumes from the traffic were an unwelcome counterpoint.

After Streatham  the next town I noted was Croydon, a place I hope I never have to walk around again. Wonderful scenery – industrial estates, car showrooms, giant supermarkets and chav-infested bus stops. My appearance in this area (sweating bloke in shades, carrying large rucksack) caused the same degree of consternation to the locals as Martian fighting machines erupting out of the ground, and I swiftly moved on, although not before a car of lads had pulled up besides me and asked me if I was looking for work. Quite what work they had in mind for an obvious hiker I did not know, although I fantasised from their shiftiness that they wanted me for a getaway driver or something, an inkling backed up five minutes later when I saw their car squeal away at top speed out of a Sainsburys car park.

At this point my feet started to tire of the pavements. Luckily for me, just past the industrial-sized TGI Fridays and the equally impresive Airport House (20th May, Blues Brothers Night!) on the edge of Croydon there was a large swathe of green playing fields,  (short-lived) relief for my feet after miles of concrete.

I kept on, past newsagents keen to advertise the first sighting of Theo Walcott’s bird, and eventually I descended a long hill into Purley, a place which looked nicer than I imagined. I wanted to stop for a pub lunch, but not yet, so I kept going, pausing only to apply plasters to a blister on my right little toe. I went past Stoats Nest Road and asked a bloke whether there was a pub ahead in the next village. He practically collapsed into laughter, although not before he had revealed the existence of a wine bar in Coulsdon.

And indeed it was in Pistols Wine Bar that I had my lunch – a ham roll from the extensive bar menu of ham, cheese or salad rolls. I asked the barman how long it was to Redhill, the next town along, and he said it was way too far to walk. I pressed him, and he eventually revealed it was 5 miles. The papers yesterday revealed that we walk far less than we used to – since the mid-1970s the average number of miles per person travelled on foot each year has dropped by around a quarter. No wonder five miles seems far too far to walk for some people.

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Pimlico-Balham

Added: 10-5-2006

In an effort to see if it is possible for me to walk more than an hour without collapsing I am on the road. London to Brighton, about 50 miles or so along traffic infested streets. it’s a really beautiful route – not.

I set off this morning from central London and as of 10.00am I have reached a bacon butty-selling cafe in Balham. all is good. I have on my new trekking clothes which have led me very quickly to the conclusion that I shall never look cool at any point during the next 18 months, and I am carrying my new rucksack, the complexity of which is rather daunting (I seem to be trailing about 300 straps). I have no map, which is an idea I quite like because I get to put to the test an inclination that I am always able to navigate by some sort of internal compass (something that I think Dave is missing, as yesterday he managed to get lost in Covent Garden). on the other hand, getting out of London without a map isn’t the hardest job in the world – these street signs are really quite handy.

so anyway, I’m gonna try to use the wonders of the UK’s Internet infrastructure to keep this part of the journal updated over the next couple of days. I don’t know how long it will take to get to Brighton, I don’t really care and the feeling of being able to just walk again is really rather good. all I know is that I have to be in town by Friday afternoon to meet my sister for a drink and then to attend our huge and impressive benefit gig on Friday night (please come! all for a good cause! Dave’s band is playing travelling-themed cover versions, and apparently I get to wear dungarees. SMS or email me for more details).

finally, many thanks to all the shop assistants in Covent Garden yesterday who helped us spend shedloads of money (yes Paul, that’s you). new hiking equipment doth make a man excited…

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