Aussie Rules

In the UK spring of 2014, someone dumped a story on my Twitter feed about a lad in Australia who was walking around the coast of that vast country in support of Brainchild, a brain cancer charity based in Brisbane. That lad was Jimmy Harrington. Jimmy had a Saturday job in a local café in Adelaide, and a family came in regularly: their young daughter battled cancer three times before brain cancer took her life, aged eight. Jimmy was moved to do something, and his Walk For Cancer was born. His mum Debbie took a year out from her own job, they bought a motor home and Jimmy set off from Adelaide in May 2013 to walk 18,000km clockwise round the coast of Australia.

At first his story attracted little attention, and it was only when he came down the more populous eastern seaboard in late 2013, early 2014 that his walk got the adulation that it truly deserved. However to cut a long story short, Jimmy’s Walk For Cancer raised a phenomenal $220,000 for Brainchild, and Jimmy himself was nominated for the accolade of Young Australian of the Year in 2014. It was a remarkable achievement by an even more remarkable young man.

After four years of following each other, Jimmy and I finally met up at the end of the Ride2Cure tour in Adelaide in September 2018.

But as remarkable as Jimmy’s walk was, just as remarkable was the crossover between our supporters. Some of Jimmy’s people started following LCFN and some my followers homed in on the back end of Jimmy’s epic adventure. That interaction between the two sets of followers was instrumental in what happened next: indeed I think it’s fair to say that if Jimmy Harrington hadn’t gone walkabout round Australia, then Ride2Cure wouldn’t have happened either.

That’s the positive power of social media, right there!

It’s at this point that the story grows arms and legs, so please bear with me: the plot is about to thicken: a lot. People talk about degrees of separation: well try this one for size…

My longest standing and biggest supporter in Stewarton is Angela, and Angela has an adult son who lives in Roxby Downs, a six hour drive north of Adelaide. In December 2014, just after I’d celebrated 10,000 miles at Celtic Park with Vanessa, I asked Angela whether she’d take the LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma flag to Australia when she was over visiting Andrew. Upon arrival, she passed it Tara, who was Jimmy’s pal. I think that happened on a Tuesday.

On the Wednesday, Tara and her pal Michelle took the flag on a wee trip to the Velodrome in the northern suburbs of the city. There, she met up with Jimmy and Anna Meares for a wee photo shoot. In case you’re unaware, Anna is the most celebrated and most decorated women’s track cyclist of all time. She also happens to be an ambassador for the Little Heroes Foundation in Australia, which supports seriously ill kids with a range of diagnoses.

The fit could hardly have been better. I know that Tara was a bit overawed about being thrust into the spotlight, however that day and the years that followed have merely served to confirm that she’s basically Angela in Australia, a lady so down to earth and so rock solid, that she’ll do anything for you if you need it done. It’s people like Angela and Tara that have helped to make this journey what it is: two peas from the same pod.

So now you know Tara.

Tara has a pal Julian, who she knows through work, and Julian does community radio. At the time that Tara was going walkabout with the flag, Julian was working at PBA FM in Adelaide, and he had a Sunday night show called British Beat. For his sins, Julian’s actually a Brit, and he’s been in Oz for roughly the same length of time that I’ve been in Scotland. We’re both from the Midlands: he supports Notts County, the oldest football club in the world, whereas I support the Baggies. We bought Jeff Astle from Notts for twenty grand in 1964, the second most expensive signing at the time for the Albion.

Anyway, Julian, or JJ to give him his internet moniker, started plugging LCFN on his weekly show. And with the time difference between Australia and the UK, it became regular brunchtime listening in the UK. Coupled with that, our Finn, who was a budding singer/songwriter, and still at school at the time, had penned a couple of songs with his mates that JJ used to plug every week on his show. There was one week when he opened and closed his show with Closure’s rocking Tell You This, recorded in the studio at Stewarton Academy by a trio of sixteen year olds.

Social media, or to be more precise, Facebook Messenger, meant that Julian and I were in constant communication during the show and we happened upon the idea of getting Tara and Jimmy into the studio in Adelaide, and doing a Skype link live on air. With the Aussie LCFN flag hanging behind the mike at one end, and the sibling flag hanging on the wall at my end, we managed to pull off this live interview, although the time lag meant that it became necessary for JJ to write down his questions and hold them up on a piece of A4 so I could answer them in the right order. Before we pulled the card trick, I occasionally found myself answering the question before last!

Studio guests were a regular feature on Julian’s show, and one such guest was Missy Fay. Missy was an erstwhile DJ with a fabulous taste in 80’s genre. Missy’s soulful style and mine were right in sync: we became friends on Facebook and it’s not stretching a point to say that she was my favourite social media poster of 2015. In early 2016, Missy posted a song on her Facebook wall by a local artiste called Frank Loved Joan. The song was Little Feet and I strongly recommend that you look it up on YouTube. I thought that the voice had a certain Irish twang but that was irrelevant: the voice was as haunting as it was unique…

Cue Amelie Bottrill.

I dug out some other stuff from Frank Loves Joan and pretty much loved the lot. This was all happening at around the time that I lost my job in a corporate restructuring in March 2016, and it was while I was on a southbound train heading to Liverpool a week or so later that I found myself playing message ping pong with Amelie over an idea that I’d had with regard to Princess Puddles.

This is where the Aussie connection starts to get serious: Amelie knew nothing of Eileidh at this point in time.

I knew that Eileidh was fast approaching the second anniversary of her diagnosis, two years on from the original Highland Bike. I asked Amelia whether she would write a special song to mark the anniversary.

She said yes.

But you can’t expect a song out of nothing, so Amelie asked for props, something she could use as a base to give the song some structure. Between the three of us over next few weeks, Gail, Amelie and I pieced some clues together and on our Saturday tea time (daft o’clock am, Adelaide time), forty eight hours before A-day, Amelie emailed me the rough cut version of Puddles.

She considered it rough, as it was recorded in her front room.

I thought it was beautiful.

She asked when the polished version was required and I replied “Monday”. She had just 36 hours to play with, including the time difference.

So, Amelie and her master producer Ben cleared the decks (no pun intended) for Monday morning, and headed into the studio to lay down the track. When it arrived from cyberspace, it was of such high quality that we had to do some jiggery pokery to reduce the file size so that I could forward it on to Gail, who was ready and waiting with the collage of images to make up the video.

The rest is history.

Puddles remains the all-time number one watched video on the Eileidh’s Journey Facebook page. The song Puddles featured on the second album from Frank Loves Joan and you get no prizes for guessing the subject when Amelie entitled the album About A Girl.

She followed that up with another song for Eileidh in June 2017, just fifteen months after the release of Puddles. But this was an altogether sadder affair. Eileidh’s cancer had returned, and with vigorous ferocity. Amelie wrote what I consider to be her finest work “Take My Hand” as a tribute to Eileidh and her best friend Harrison, although I suspect that there was more than a hint of Gail’s love for her terminally ill daughter in the lyrics.

Eileidh passed away two weeks after Take My Hand had its first public airing at a special ceremony in Aberdeen. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Amelie Bottrill, aka Frank Loves Joan, will forever be remembered as a treasure who lit up Eileidh’s Journey. I know what Eileidh meant to Amelie and her passing was a huge loss. Whilst it was almost like the closing of a book when Amelie performed both Puddles and Take My Hand live at the end of Ride2Cure, I know that the memories of Eileidh’s Journey will remain with Amelie forever, and Eileidh will continue to inspire her music well into the future.

But there was another ingredient from down under that was fundamentally important in making the Ride2Cure tour a reality. I touched upon this a few pages back, and by coincidence it came about because of the biggest name in Scottish football: Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Remember the story about Gabby in Diggers bar?

Are you Interthenet?” he asked.

You must be Gabby” I replied.

The joys of internet footy sites, eh?

We both married girls from Inverness, and therein lies the link. If Paul hadn’t married Janice, and I hadn’t married Jane, there would have been no Ride2Cure.

But he did, and I did, so there was.

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