King And Queen

There are days that you dread, and there are days that you dread…

Today was a day I’ve been dreading all week. But let me roll the clock back a week because this one’s been a slow burner.

Those of you who follow this journey week in and week out will know that I work in healthcare research. I write software that screens for disease and I write software that audits disease. That’s my life when I’m not on the bike. I have two laptops: one is my business one and that’s where I do all of my development work. The other one is provided to me by my client in Liverpool in order that I can work remotely and securely in support of their business.  A week ago yesterday, after a Windows update, that laptop fell sick. For the techies amongst you, the Microsoft .Net Framework walked off the pitch with the ball and said it wasnae playing anymore. That was a big deal (for me) because that’s precisely the kind of issue that IT support cannae fix over the VPN link. I had to go to Liverpool and get the machine hard wired onto the network. Cue Monday…

A 4:30am breakfast, a 5:30am train from Stewarton and a 6:30am train from Glasgow. In the surgery in Liverpool for the back of ten. I got there, hooked up the sick laptop and phoned IT support. While I was doing that, another Windows update kicked in. “Hold on a minute” says I, to the dude on the other end, “you won’t be able to remote in just now because it’s doing another Windows update…”

That update finished and the machine rebooted. Support dude takes over, logs in and you’ve guessed it, Windows update 2 had fixed the corruption of Windows update 1. And I’m sat there, with egg all over my face, thinking “WTF, did that just happen?” I knew how tired I was gonna be, because the Liverpool gigs always leave me that way: it’s like jet lag without the jet. But at least I was up and running: and I was on the right side of the border where everyone would be jumping about like maddies when Harry Kane nodded that last minute winner against VAR.

So roll the clock forward 24 hours…

I was indeed seriously knackered when I fell off the rattler in Stewarton at 6pm: and I had a bike ride to do. And it was raining. The forecast was for heavy overnight rain so this slate grey sky wasn’t for clearing off anytime soon. But these days, even though it makes me a bit of a wimp I guess, I have a plan B: the gold bike’s sitting on the turbo in the shed. On days like Tuesday, or should I say on nights like Tuesday, there’s always the salvation of the man cave in the shed: cans on, whack on the #Ride2Cure mix and thrash that tired body for two hours. It was just short of nine of clock when I finished the session. The fact that I was a good 2mph down on normal told it’s own story, not that I needed any hard evidence: I was living it.

Wednesday was a repeat performance. It’s always like that, and to top if off I was feeling the pressure and the stress of having to pile in another 200 mile to keep the run going. This will be week 27, which if you’ve been with me for a while you will know is the week of the Wum. There is no chance, not even 0.1% of a chance, that I can fail to log a 200 mile week either this week or next. I cannae fail on the 27th, and even worse, I cannae fail on 27. It’s a Highland March superstition of failure: you never, ever stop on 27. Ever.

So with both Tuesday and Wednesday way below par, I had a job on my hands: for today was looming and I had plans: something that despite all the tiredness, despite all the nothingness that I felt, there was something that I had to do.

Today was Vanessa’s funeral.

I do stuff from left field and I make no apology for it. If I do stuff that people least expect, then just put it down to that’s the way I am.

LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma happened because of kids like Vanessa.

Despite all of the pain, I think she would have appreciated that. In the service today, there was a rolling collage of images of Vanessa going back down the years: and one of those images, that seemed to stay up there for an eternity, was Vanessa’s signature on the LCFN flag. I wasn’t expecting it, and it floored me: the tears were rolling down my face. It was as beautiful as she was herself. Just V’s signature on the pristine banner, as it once was. And now it sits there proudly amongst hundreds of others. But V’s is still the most beautifully crafted.

But before I move on the emotional rollercoaster of the day proper, can I take you back to 5:30am this morning. Still, still, still drained after the start of the week, and the fact that I couldn’t quite help myself yesterday and took the Aussie bike out on the road and bagged six King Of The Pensioners and a King Of the Mountains, my heart was set on the hill out of Loans by Troon that looks down on Vanessa’s house. I wanted two things: I wanted the King Of The Pensioners crown in Vanessa’s memory on the so-called Dundonald Hill Front Side segment on Strava (it’s a beast of a one mile climb) and I wanted to post a separate segment in Vanessa’s memory. So my five thirty route took me by way of Kilwinning then Irvine to get the legs warmed up (on a cold crisp morning) before I hung a loop through Troon that delivered me past Marr College, Vanessa’s school. There are a set of traffic lights at the bridge by the entrance road. That was where I clogged it. But the mile from there to the start of the climb is fertile ground for “how hard dare I push this, knowing full well what’s coming after the mini roundabout”: a four hundred foot, category four climb…

Do your best work on the flat and the climb will spit you out. Take it too easy on the flat and you’ll leave yourself far too much to do when the fun starts. The celebration of Vanessa’s young life in Troon Concert Hall laid bare her wicked sense of humour: I think she would thoroughly approve of the LifeCycle Man laying a challenge in her name that not only celebrates her life, but does so by virtue of pain. Chris and Connie are both able cyclists, far more competent and speedy than I will ever be. But it’s there: 2.00 miles, from Marr College to the top of the Dundonald Hill, and it’s called Vanessa. All I ask is that you take it upon yourselves to become King and Queen of the Mountains in your daughter’s name.

But there was other stuff about today that just got to me. Vanessa arrived at the crematorium with a police escort front and back, complete with flashing lights. It was done as a mark of respect by Police Scotland to an inspirational young person.

Then five of Vanessa’s best friends from Marr College spoke at her celebration. How I could have hugged every one of them: how can you possibly get through the story about how you’d been with your bestest best friend through toddlers, primary, secondary then into sixth year without breaking down? It came close but every one of them was a star. They used to be six, and I say this to you girls: “you are still six, because having known Vanessa through your formative years, she will be with you, in spirit, forever. You will be the best that you could ever be in life, because you were her friend.”

But there’s one final irony I want to add about today. I thought I knew no one but the immediate family. So when I arrived at the Gailes for the reception, I sat on an empty table, on my own. It was one of those big round jobs that seats about twelve people. Then people started sitting down and I enquired of the guy on my right what connection he had to the family: more egg on my face, for it was Stephen Richards, Chief Executive of Solving Kids Cancer. And sat next to Stephen was Vicky Inglis. Vicky and I go back a long, long way in cyberspace but we’d never actually met, until today. And sat with them were the parents of another child who is currently on the journey that starts with a diagnosis that maybe, in another world, could have been picked up earlier. It was just one of the many things we talked about.

And on my other side, much to my surprise, was a chap that I’d clocked at the celebration of Vanessa’s life at Troon Concert Hall. I was only 99.9% sure it was him, but as his wife was sat next to me on the table and we got talking, I can confirm that Kyle Lafferty is nothing like the bad guy that everyone hates at the football. Kyle was there with his Vanessa, best friends with V’s cousin, and a friend of the family.

But before I finish this week, and going completely off at a tangent, I have a vinyl album somewhere in my collection featuring Otis Redding and Carla Thomas: “King and Queen”.  So to Chris and Connie, I dearly want to see you guys as King and Queen of Vanessa’s segment up that hill.

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