A BEAUTIFUL BAG, A WRITING PAD AND A SIGN THAT SAYS ‘LIVE LAUGH LOVE’ – ANGELA, MILLY AND JO. STOCKPORT, WIGAN AND MANCHESTER, 1996 TO PRESENT DAY
It feels quite odd to be coming to the end of this series of stories. It’s given me the most fantastic boot up the bum to commit these memories to paper and to start writing again. I’ve really enjoyed doing it and it’s allowed me to indulge in some fabulous reminiscing. When you find yourself in the situation that I did last year, when you don’t know whether you even have a future to look forward to, so all you can do is look back, you ask yourself the questions ‘How did I do with my life?’ ‘Have I made a difference?’ And you look back at photos of yourself as a child and think ‘Have I done her proud or have I let you down?’
I might not have climbed to the top of the corporate ladder, be on a six figure salary or drive a flash car, but what I do know is that when the chips are down none of that really matters. When all you can do for weeks on end is lie in bed and try and find the strength from somewhere to hang on, all that really counts are your family, your friends and your memories. Shitty as getting cancer is, I do feel lucky in one way because I know what it feels like to be truly loved.
When I was ill, our post man must have had back ache from all the cards and presents from people who were willing me better from a distance. I had friends all over the world on Facebook clenching their buttocks for me when I went for critical appointments. People visited me at home, made us casseroles, came with me to out-patients appointments, sat with me during my treatment, visited me when I was in hospital (even though I can’t remember them being there) and dragged me out of the house to cafe’s. Anything people could do for me – they did. I am all too aware that the reason I’m sat here today is down to a huge team effort and a bloody big dose of luck. It must have been a very difficult thing to watch me go through.
I started organising our wedding this time last year. At the time it seemed like a massive project to undertake. But it gave me a focus and I will never forget what a fabulous day it was. I wanted to put on a really big party for everyone and while the central core was about me and Tris, I also wanted it to be a celebration to say thank you. To show you all that your hard work and care and faith in me hadn’t been wasted and that I’d fulfilled my part of the bargain. I think it’s fair to say that I looked pretty radiant.
There were a lot of blue butterflies at our wedding. I don’t know why, I just liked them. They fluttered on our invitations, the orders of service, our bridesmaids dresses and even my beautiful wedding dress by pure co-incidence was called Papillon. Maybe subconsciously I wanted people to see me emerge from my ugly cancerous cocoon where my hair fell out and my skin flaked off, my veins collapsed and I had scars left on my chest from where they’d forced in the central lines to give me high dose chemo directly into my jugular. My aim was to emerge from the most hideous version of myself where I quite literally already looked dead, to shake it off, and on my wedding day unfurl my wings and be beautiful and dazzling, finally released from cancer's evil clutches to fly up into the sky like a glowing healthy butterfly.
So the first present in this trio is a nod to this - a clutch bag with ‘beautiful’ embroidered on the front in candy coloured running stitch, finishing with a beautiful blue butterfly flourish. This was from Angela, and her words were simply ‘Beautiful on the outside and beautiful on the inside’. The same could be said of Angela, who I have worked with in my last two charities.
In our team, we used to joke about our alternative fundraising strategy, which included for me – big hair and low cut top and for Angela, it was her voice of chocolate. I’ve known her charm six figure sums out of men over the phone, melted quite literally by a river of deep silky tones.
We’ve organised many posh charity events together over the years for the great and the good, so she was the obvious choice to ask to help with my wedding planning. I have to say that many of the little touches that made the day so special and run so smoothly came from her. A thoroughly lovely warm person, who if her new venture into reflexology doesn’t work out, I sure there is a future for her in exclusive 0898 .... chat lines.
The second gift is a note book from Amanda (Milly), with instructions that I was to use it to start writing again. ‘When you were travelling, I read your travel blog every day and I really enjoyed it’ she said. Bloody start writing again young lady!’ By the time she’d finished she was waving her pointy finger at me and flashing her scary green eyes. As I said in one of my earlier blogs, I was too scared not to start writing again – Milly, this is all your fault!
I’ve always been a bit scared of Milly. She was Head of Communications at Keep Britain Tidy and one of the people who interviewed me for my first proper fundraising job back in 1996. She’s confident, she’s sharp, she’s direct and she has the most incredible green eyes I have ever seen. If people piss her off, she pins them to the wall with her steely stare until they get whirly Scooby Doo eyes and cave in. With techniques like that I’m surprised MI5 didn’t snaffle her up years ago – or did they? She’s been a freelance Marketing Consultant now for a number of years, none of us really know quite what she does!!!
Ahh, the Keep Britain Tidy Years (1996 – 2001). It’s funny how time makes you look back on things fondly. Sweet memories of litter picks in Wigan, dressing up as a Womble / giant oven chip / massive woolly ‘Tidy Man’ and cleanliness surveys in Bolton where tramps would wee in bottles, have stayed with me over the years. On the business side, the memory of finding out that I’d managed to secure a £500,000 lottery grant to bring Britain in Bloom to urban and inner city communities is particularly sweet.
However when we get together, the one thing that we always reminisce about is ‘The Dash Against Trash’. It was my boss’ bright idea. I was actually sitting next to her in a meeting with McDonalds at their Head Office when she pulled the idea from a small crazy place at the back of her brain. The idea was for generating sustained media interest during National Spring Clean Month, so she pitched a Lands End to John O’Groats litter relay. We would have a litter baton which would travel by a range of sustainable forms of transport across the country. The baton would be handed onto the next ‘runner’ at a McDonald’s restaurant for a photo call with the local restaurant manager, someone form the local authority (sometimes the Mayor) and a Womble. I can remember sitting next to her thinking ‘Oh shit’ because I knew who was going to have to go away and work those few sentences up into a fully costed and workable proposal – me! But McDonalds loved it and we walked out of their office with a promise of £250,000.
My memory of April 1998 and ‘The Dash Against Trash’ is of hurtling between hand over points in a white van, trying to keep up with the baton, which travelled by canoe, bike, train, horse and cart and roller skates. Arriving 10 minutes before the baton was due and hunting frantically for a car park (I nearly took to the top off it in Cheltenham during an aborted attempt to park in a multi-storey), legging it to the appointed McDonalds meeting point with ‘Dash Against Trash, supported by McDonalds’ banners, flinging on a Womble costume, shaking hands with the Mayor, having my photo taken by the local press, shedding the Womble costume before throwing the complementary Big Mac Meal down my neck. Then I’d be off to the next hand over point to do it all over again. In addition to McDonalds we also got sponsorship from Travelodge, so that’s where we’d sleep. Travelling the country and sleeping in rooms that all looked the same and could have been anywhere.
Orinoco Womble (me) actually had a funny turn one day in McDonalds in Barnet. Now when you are a Womble, there are rules. No one is supposed to see you putting the Womble costume on and you’re not allowed to speak, apparently it spoils the magic. So I had to mime ‘Get me out here quick before I faint’ by tugging at the Mayor, passing a weary Womble hand across my forehead and pointing to the door. Ever the professional!
Milly was on one of the other routes (in the end, to cover the country, we had Lands End to John O’Groats and Dover to Portrush in Northern Ireland), but she will remember exactly the same things and how stressful as it was at the time. It’s taken a little while but now when we are reminiscing we can see the funny side and always have a good laugh about it.
And so to the last of the presents from the very special pass the parcel at my hen weekend. It’s from my friend Jo and it’s a wooden sign which simply says ‘LIVE LAUGH LOVE’.
Jo is another friend I have made through Dragons Running Club and is someone who has been there, just around the corner quietly keeping an eye on me. She is one of the people who dragged me out for coffee and lunch and made me get my backside out of the house. She used the same no-nonsense determination that she applies to herself. Only Jo could be cross with herself for only doing a 23 mins 5K run, six months after giving birth to her little boy. For Jo, the fact that she couldn’t do a PB (personal best) the day after the delivery would have been considered a failure. She’ll tell me off for that last bit and say that I’m exaggerating, which I am, but I’m not far off the truth.
My LIVE LAUGH LOVE sign is currently in my office to remind me about what is important and how I should try and live my wonderful life. So far it’s going well and to prove it, I’ll leave you with one last story that brings us right up to date.
Last weekend a group of us went to Llandudno on the north Wales coast for the Llandudno sea triathlon. Some of the group (Tris included) had entered the full Olympic distance race, others were part of teams doing either the swim, cycle or run elements. I was holding the coats.
Jo was due to do the run, however the rain which was both torrential and horizontal was causing havoc with her hair dye. Bright red rivers from her funky red fringe ran down her face, pooling in her eyes which then stopped working. She tried to wash the dye from her face with soap, but as the rain came down harder all she succeeded in doing was creating a red soapy afro. Most of us would have given up and gone home, but not Jo, ever resourceful she shoved her hair into a red swimming cap and completed her leg of the race red eyed and squinting. Still, she wasn’t too upset about looking silly, as she said ‘at least the cap matched me trainers’!
Jo wasn't the only one who was a bit red in the face last Sunday. As Tris finished his race, I ran with him along the sea front. Not very far but for someone who last year couldn't even make it to the toilet without help, it was a huge step forward.
So thank you ladies for letting me share our stories (not that I gave you much choice). It’s been like writing a love letter to you all where I’ve been able to write some of the things I’ve not necessarily been able to say. I hope I’ve not let our memories or our friendships down xx.