The Italian Job

I’m proud of those 25,000 miles.

They defined who I am, and how I’m not prepared to let go when something really matters. But now I’m proud for a completely different reason: I’m proud because LCFN/Eileidh’s Journey wristbands are popping up all over the place. Some of you may have seen a photo that came in from Italy earlier this week: five wrists, interlinked like a piece of fine art, all sporting bands. Love it, love it, love it. I love the fact that people right across the world are prepared to wear a symbol of hope and support for Eileidh.

The bands that went to Italy were courtesy of my friend Theresa. Picture the scene:

“Did you pack your bag yourself, madam”. “Yes”.

“And are you carrying anything for anyone”. “Yes”.

“And what might that be”. “A flag and a wee bag of wristbands”.

“Can I see that, madam”….

“Oooh, nice flag”!

I have to say that I just made that story up. I’m sure TT had no such misfortune at airport security, but I’m very grateful for her generosity in leaving a warm woolly jumper out of her luggage just so she could take the flag. Theresa’s pal Jennifer (aka Juniper), who stays over there, seems to have taken over as PM of the Italian Job and I’m awaiting a request that stocks are running low and she needs more. Jen’s doing the same great job in Italy that Amelie’s doing in Australia. Y’see there’s something super cute with wearing a piece of jewellery that has a special meaning: And Eileidh’s Journey has that very special meaning: and it’s etched into a lot of souls right round the world.

So apart from the flag being on holiday, and bands popping up in the land of the high heeled boot (hint: check the map), there’s another rather special someone sporting a band, and she’s the only person in London that has one. For that reason alone, she’s a rare species. I first became aware of Zuzanna when she signed up for Mouldy’s Road To Lisbon bike ride next May. But beyond that, she then set her stall out to break the world record for the most miles ever ridden by a woman in twelve months. The record attempt, which kicked off in the summer, lasted less than two weeks before Zuzanna was wiped out by a motor. Significant injuries and a written off bike sadly signalled the end of that road.

But this week, I was in London for 24 hours to attend a seminar on digitisation of the public sector, and with my train arriving in Euston in the early evening, I took the chance that Zuzie might still be in the centre of town. At first it was a no brainer and the arrangement was made, but then she got held up at work and it looked like the rendezvous was not going to happen. Cue a half six instant message, ten minutes before the train got in. “Head for Boots near Platform 11 then look for Accessorize. I’ll be waiting there”.

You should see her bike! Wow. It’s the kind of kit that blokes like me can only ever dream of. Ultra light, fancy wheels, gadgets galore and… wait for it… not a speck of dirt on it anywhere. I remember thinking to myself “you need to get that on the A77 bike lane, hen”. Anyway, Zuzie, it was lovely to meet you, it was nice of you to hang around after work instead of heading for your spin class, but most of all, it’s fantastic that you have become the first person in London to officially recognise Eileidh’s Journey 24×7. Thank you, not just from me but from Team Eileidh too.

The whole London thing was hectic in the extreme. I thought I’d got used to life on the trains but for some reason, this one seemed more arduous than most. Thirteen trains in three days, a few of them late, thereby enforcing hairy connections on unfamiliar station platforms, made this one almost trip too far. Then next week, I’m off on my travels again, because JJ is over from Australia, and we are meeting up next Saturday to watch the mighty Notts County take on Newport County. Notts, as he calls them, is JJ’s team.

JJ has been like a brother to LCFN. He has a radio show in Adelaide and ever since he became aware of my journey a couple of years ago, he’s been plugging it week in and week out on his show to raise awareness of the disease, and latterly of Eileidh’s dogged fight for survival. Julian didn’t need to any of that, but through his efforts, LCFN met Amelie and the rest, as they say, is history… Cue #Puddles

For a long time now, certainly pushing three years, I’ve had a lot of Celtic supporters backing LCFN. It came about because LCFN picked up, albeit rather late in the day, where they’d already been for the previous twelve months: wee Oscar. The friendships that I’ve made over that period are something that I treasure, because football can be such a tribal thing. Me? I’ll talk to anyone: a friend is a friend at the end of the day.

One such pal, and I think I’ve known her now for about two years, is Tara. In her own words (which I’m borrowing off her Facebook timeline as recently as last weekend), she’s gone from homeless to owning her own home, and from being a volunteer at a foodbank to running six. Believe me, Tara is one of the really, really special people in this world. Been there, seen the dark side, lived through it, seen a wee light at the other end of the tunnel and absolutely gone for it. Now look at her. If awards were handed out to people who really make a difference, then Tara would have a carrier bag full of them.

I mention Tara because last Saturday, she was co-ordinating the annual foodbank collection at Celtic: they were playing my team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle (the name alone makes them the biggest team in Scotland). I spent my match ticket money on a bag of messages (Glaswegian for a load of groceries) then took it along to Tara’s foodbank in the east end of Glasgow a couple of days before the game. While I was there, knowing full well how busy it was likely to be on the Saturday when the supporters started turning up with bags upon bags of stuff, I thought to myself “y’know I think me n Joe should come to help out on Saturday”. So I messaged him and he said yes. He’s 16 and doing his Highers so helping to stock a foodbank for the winter kinda fits well with the Modern Studies agenda. I don’t think he could quite comprehend the scale of how it eventually turned out.

I took the rear seats out of the motor so it was really like a small van wi’ windas. We got there early and sussed out the rat run route from the Parish Church, where the stuff for Glasgow NE was being stored, to the ground at Celtic Park. It’s only a hop, skip and a jump. All of the foodbanks around Glasgow were there, and each had its own collection point. At first I thought we’d be helping out Glasgow SW but that made little sense because the run from Celtic Park to Crookston where they’re based, would have made little impact in just a car, albeit one packed to the roof with stuff. So we went with Glasgow NE, simply because we could do a fast load and unload and head back for more while the vans were still loading. In all we did three runs and Joe n I reckon we shifted over a hundred bags of stuff.

Back at the Church, the senior kids from Bannerman High School had formed a human chain to empty the vehicles as they arrived, one after the other. It was sight to make you proud. You hear so much bad stuff about the young people of today, but here were twenty or thirty young people giving up their time and doing heavy duty work to help combat poverty in the east end of the city.

Tomorrow, Joe and I going back to lend a hand with sorting all that stuff. It’s all well and good having it donated: job done you might think. Well no actually: you’ve then got to empty all of the bags and get the contents stacked onto shelves ready to go out again. If you haven’t seen the film “I, Daniel Blake”, then you should. You’ll better understand the issues facing people at the dirty end of the government stick, and how they need our support now more than ever before.

This has been a week of giving: I’ve been out on the bike a couple of times, which is fine as I’m coming back from injury, but the forty miles that I’ve added to the LCFN total pale into insignificance compared to the other stuff that’s been going on. It’s been a wee bitty hectic, and I’m tired because of all the rushing around, but I will remember this week because of Tara’s foodbank collection, and the Italian Job.

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