My little sister is 40!

When I was 8, my mother called my brother and me into her bed one weekend morning. She asked us if there was anything in the world we wanted to have more than anything else. I was confident in my reply: a piano. My brother was equally so in his desire for a Liverpool football club strip. Our mother appeared dejected. She was having a baby! She, of course, was overjoyed. We, on the other hand, were shocked. We’d been trucking along quite nicely as a family of four and this news was quite a bombshell. This new addition had the potential to disrupt the status quo and comfort blanket of familiarity. 

It was not long though before I began to really look forward to the arrival of the new baby. The pregnancy was not so straightforward and our mother spent some time in hospital, during which there was more upheaval with our grandparents coming to stay and some real heavy snow which lasted for weeks. My father had bought a new car in anticipation of the baby coming but Ford had gone on strike and we were stuck with him using a work van. The period of time my mother was in hospital was deeply unsettling. I managed to fall over and injure my jaw and I just wanted to familiar comfort of my mother. The snow was relentless and children were only allowed to visit the antenatal ward at the weekend. We would look forward to the all too short hour we spent with our mother on Saturdays and Sundays and then miss her terribly all week. On the odd occasion when she was allowed home for the day, it just made it worse for everyone knowing that she would have to return to the hospital at the end of the day. 

Eventually it was decided that she would be induced and so it was, on the morning of Friday 16th February 1979, my brother and I were packed off to school by our grandfather, knowing that when we left school that day, if our father was at the school gates, the baby would have been born. Sure enough, there he was waiting for us. “It’s a girl”. I was ecstatic; my brother less so. I had wanted a sister and he a brother. It’s obvious really – we both had only one flavour of sibling until now and both wanted to experience the other. He was brave. “At least I won’t have to share my bedroom” was his reply. The visiting hours were not going to bend for the birth of a new sibling and so we did not get to meet her until the following day, a Saturday. Goodness knows if she had been born on a Monday we would not have met her for days. It seems so draconian now. 

Sharon Ann Evans was not the prettiest baby. She wasn’t very chubby, had no hair and protruding ears. But she was ours and we loved her from the first time we saw her. Soon she was home. I went into little mother mode, helping to change her clothes, folding her cloth nappies and hanging over her every coo and cry. Our brother was more interested in the whys and wherefores of this alien concept. Why does she poo so much? Why do babies cry? Why can’t she eat normal food? When she was a few weeks old, it was his birthday and he had a few select friends round for a party. “Look boys, she’s got this soft spot on her head and if you touch it, you can feel her brain underneath!” 

It seems as though baby Sharon grew up in the blink of an eye. She ended up tall and beautiful. How on earth did that happen? There were traumas along the way of course – she got a nasty dog bite on her nose and a bout of meningitis which was really scary and in my mind truly marked the time I realised just how much of a bonus she had been to our little family. She was a typical third child – inquisitive yet relaxed, bubbly, energetic, confident and competitive with her older siblings and certainly quite unlike me. It wasn’t long before she showed her personality. She loved animals. The family dog got no peace and eventually a second one was introduced as we all realised she would be bereft when the first one went. She was sporty, loving gymnastics and dance in particular. She was exceptionally sociable and by the time she was just a few years old, had more friends than I did at almost nine years her senior. She entertained us all with made up words and phrases and to this day, none of us knows what a “pancorn” is or was and we only vaguely understood her concept of a “junky jowl”. 

Even the bedroom sharing was not so bad. Dad had built an extension by now and so we were upgraded to a larger bedroom. I have always been able to sleep the sleep of the dead anyway so she was rarely a disruption, even as a baby. Christmas Eves were probably the most amusing, each of us tucked up in our beds with her being overly excited and not able to sleep and me willing her to do so before the inevitable footsteps of our mother carrying the stockings got ever closer to our door. “Father Christmas swore when he came with the stockings last night” she declared one Christmas morning. “He must have dropped something because he said ‘shit’”. Mam looked panicked. “But Helen made me go under the blankets so I didn’t see him’. Phew. One year there was the insistence that she had heard the reindeer on the roof. Another time she claimed to have seen a bright light as their sleigh came in to land. 

Family holidays were another source of fun. We would pack the family car until it could hold no more, add some suitcases to the roof and trek off to France on a driving holiday. The first few times we stayed in a caravan but later we graduated to villas. One time we stayed with the local mayor, Monsieur Pau and his family. They lived upstairs and we had the downstairs. Outside in the garden were mounds of dried vines for us to use on the barbecue along with a cage of pigeons. Sharon took a shine to this beautiful white bird and would stand by the cage looking longingly at it. One day we returned from a trip only to find the white bird missing. Tales of it having been promoted to a larger coop on Monsieur Pau’s balcony were quickly dispensed but she wasn’t daft and had this mournful look on her face every time she looked at the cage afterwards. Then there was a beautiful stone cottage at the top of a hill near Narbonne where we stayed another time. It was only accessible via a long private road over what looked like a moor. The place was teeming with cicadas, for some reason known in our family as May bugs. We were speeding along the moor one day, when one of these May bugs flew in through the car window. There was an almighty scream from little sister and dad drew the car to an abrupt halt but not before she had pushed our brother out of the way, flung open the door and jumped out. No May bug was going to get her. To say she is bug phobic would be an understatement. I have completed roach patrol every time she wanted to use the bathroom at a hotel in Egypt following the appearance of one small cockroach in the bath. I once used a whole can of fly spray trying to floor a hornet while she cowered outside on another trip to France. Even recently in Australia, bro was charged with capturing a massive bug in an Indian takeaway container before she would let him back in the house. 

Holidays are the main source of Sharon-related anecdotes. When we were all older (our brother by now married), the three of us and our sister-in-law took a driving holiday down through France and Switzerland to Italy. A consistent feature of this trip was smelly feet. Both Sharon and our brother had felt it necessary to only bring one main pair of footwear. Both of these pairs were relegated to outside and never allowed in to the cottage we had hired. However, our brother’s pair was at least robust. Sharon’s were these flimsy white sandals, the style of which is known as a slider. They were not really up to the shiny stone streets of Italy and any hint of moisture on the ground and they lived up to their name in make her literally slide around. On one particular trip to Sienna, she and I managed to climb the many hundreds of steps up the campanile but getting her from one end of the piazza to the other was impossible and involved sister-in-law and myself holding her up by one arm each. Some years later, we took a driving holiday to Spain. By this point, a young nephew had joined our midst and we rented one of those strange looking Fiats with three seats in the front. Our sister-in-law and nephew could then have the whole of the back seat while the rest of us sat in the front. We were driving along on the first day, bro becoming used to the car and driving on the wrong side of the road, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted them. The white sliders. They were back. After all these years. And they smelled no better. On the last day of the holiday, we drove out of the gates of the cottage for the last time and stopped by the bins as we always did as there were always nappies to be dispensed with. It was just a sudden decision but the right one – I grappled the sliders off Sharon’s feet and ceremoniously threw them into the bins with the rest of the rubbish. At least then we could enjoy our long drive back without the pervasive odour of centuries old shoes. On this same holiday, the owners of the cottage had recently taken in a stray dog. He looked awful – thin and bony with matted fur. Boofy was his name and Miriam the owner was very taken with him, calling out for him frequently to check on him. Sharon and I took a weekend trip to Barcelona leaving the others behind. When we returned, our brother announced that Boofy was nowhere to be seen. Even though she was now much older, my heart was lurching at the thought of having to attempt another cover up in the style of Monsieur Pau’s pigeon. Thankfully it turned out to be a very bad, older-brother-picking-on-younger-sister joke.

Fourteen years ago, I emigrated to New Zealand. For me this was very exciting and the family seemed to agree, with much talk of the opportunities for holidays and rugby-related trips. En route to Heathrow, with most of the family in tow except our mother who had recently had a knee replacement, I began to think that bringing Sharon along was a bad idea. You see, she doesn’t do well with goodbyes and by virtue of their nature, airports usually mean a separation involving some length of time. And so it was that when we kissed and hugged just prior to my going through security, she declared “just go” and shooed me off. “Go, just go. Go now. Go.” She became ever more pleading. All this so she wouldn’t be made a fool of when the inevitable blubbing began. I obliged and sashayed my way down the security carpet. I turned back to wave to the family, only to see this reddened tear-strewn face, a father and brother on each side, holding up the owner with one arm each, while she literally wailed. My father has waved me off at many an airport and it is tradition that I turn round to wave several times, until I can see him no more. So each time I turned, Sharon’s face was redder and she had sunk further to the ground, the job of her hold-er-upperers becoming ever more taxing. 

On her first visit to New Zealand a few months later, she didn’t think it necessary to check the dates with me and so she arrived while I was actually in the US at a conference. On landing back in Auckland, I hurried as much as I could through the airport and into a taxi to get home to see her. Only she wasn’t there. She’d come to the airport to meet me, but I had landed early and missed her. Not long after this, Sharon moved to Australia for a few years. That was great of course, giving us more chance to meet up. She came over for my 40th birthday, a Mexican fiesta which, thanks to her, went swimmingly well as she did all the cooking and decorating while I was out giving a lecture. The margarita slushy machines were very popular and it was not long before Sharon was sporting some fondant icing from my birthday cake as a “moustache”, except it was strewn across her nose. As with most parties and social events, she was everyone’s friend. The following day she was not looking so flash. At the airport for her trip back to Australia, I filled out her landing card with her occupation as “clown”, only for her to text me just after security: “very funny”. I suppose it could have been worse.

As much as Sharon loved Australia, she missed her friends and family after a few years and made her way home to Wales. She took the opportunity to go back with our parents after they made a lengthy trip to New Zealand for the rugby world cup. They packed and re-packed their belongings several times on the day they were departing on a night flight and she chanted over and over “I am not going to cry. I am pleased to be going home. I am not going to make a fool of myself. I will not cry”. Auckland airport had undergone a facelift for the rugby visitors and so the departure area sported a red carpet. We said our goodbyes and off they went, Sharon confidently strutting her stuff down this cat walk. Then she noticed it: a new sign. “That’s it folks, time for your final goodbyes”. A spontaneous wail was let out along with the protestation “oh that’s awful”, followed by at the familiar crumpling at the knees. Rather than the parentals joining in with this drama, they were proudly strong, each of them reaching down and picking her up and, yet again, she was held up between two people and dragged along to her destination. 

Life changed for Sharon after she returned to the UK. She soon met Mike and the rest, as they say, is history. A couple of years later we had the lovely news that they were expecting a baby. I was delighted to be asked to be there for the baby’s birth. This was a lengthy affair, involving 32 hours of my sitting on a Swiss ball, all the while her burying her head in my chest with every contraction and declaring “these pillows are very comforting”. Eventually Sharon and Mike were parents to a beautiful boy and a couple of years later he was followed by a brother. Motherhood and partnership have inevitably brought new experiences for Sharon and she has blossomed. Her children are a credit to her and Mike and I am proud of them. But, adulting has not changed her. She is not “just” partner to Mike or mother to the boys. She is just the same bubbly, excitable, personality-driven little sister she has always been. She is also one of the hardest working, kindest, most supportive people I know. I used to envy her for being taller than me. Now I envy her for being younger and nicer than me! 

So, that’s it. In a blink of an eye, my baby sister is forty years old. They have been fun-packed, hilarious, memorable years and although I can still remember the years before we had a sister, it seems strange to think of life before Sharon. Growing up and separation have only brought us closer and I am grateful every day. Aren’t I the lucky one?

Happy Birthday beautiful Sharon. I hope you have everything you deserve on your special day. I love you with all my heart and more. 

Your big sister xxxx

PS I never did get a piano.

Let’s all be smartasses…

I’m a gastroenterologist. I’m not shy about bottoms. I care about my bottom, I care about yours and so should you! It’s the only one you’ll get… I know that you will already be sniggering at the screen and thinking “oh here so goes again”.

So, firstly, if you’re over 50, make sure you get your bowel cancer screening. It’s there for a very good reason. Of course, if you develop symptoms you’re worried about, you don’t have to wait until you’re 50. That would be crazy because early detection is the key to survival in bowel cancer. The rest is simple. It’s just poo, faeces, stool, crap, shit, doo-doo, whatever you personally prefer to call it, although I draw the line at effluent which would surely feature on a list of the top 10 most horrible words. Why be embarrassed? We all produce it whether we like it or not and ultimately, it’s just food, bile and secretions. Get friendly with it, embrace it and be proud of it. I’ll fess up that I quite like mine. Why wouldn’t I? It’s all my own work after all.

Otherwise, the most important thing you can do for your rear end is to use good toilet paper and make sure you protect yourself from any “insults”. One such threat is cycling 400-plus kilometres. But, not for me. Oh no! The much talked about chafing of which everyone was so very keen to forewarn me, remains an alien concept which I had yet to experience. Why? Because my mate Anne equipped me with a little pot of magic slipped discreetly into my handbag at work just before departure on the cycling trip of a lifetime. So grateful would I eventually turn out to be to Anne, that I even forgave her for not fulfilling her promise to double her sponsorship if I could get all Sri Lankan cyclists, including our resident celebrity, to don one of Jean’s infamous face masks and record a video. That was a face mask per person by the way, not one shared between us as that would be really weird… Anyway, this fairy dust cream is ironically (or maybe not) named Assos. You scoop a generous handful and literally slather it all over your crown jewels. Leave not even a square millimetre of your precious skin untouched by this gorgeousness. And don’t wear knickers. That’s right, no knickers, just your padded cycle shorts. Apply some cream to the padding too. Then, you’ll be set for a whole day in the saddle without a care in the world. Except that is for cows in the road, crazy speeding buses, torrential rain, extreme humidity and heat, hills, punctures and your fingers becoming numb from gripping on to the handlebars for dear life throughout these horrors. But, at least your ass will be fine which is really important if you enjoy sitting on it or walking when you’re not on your bike.

By the way, I’ll know if my sister reads this because she’ll be along very shortly to tell me not to be so crude. But it’s my bottom, why not look after it like I would my hair or my nails or my teeth? I wouldn’t cycle all that way without water or suncream after all as that would also be foolish.

So, today I have taken care of my arse, ass, butt, bottom, posterior or whichever you prefer by purchasing a bulk load of this wonderful stuff in anticipation of the 2500 kms of cycling I have promised to do. Something tells me I will still need more. I’ve also taken the opportunity to indulge myself in some other bottom-related loveliness but I’ll leave that to the video which says it all, except to add that if you’re Australian, your equivalent is called I Don’t Give a Sh*t. You’ll thank me one day for caring so much for you.

You’re welcome xx

 

https://getactiveforkiwikids.everydayhero.com/nz/helen-s-50before50-cycling-challenge

 

A very public PDA, kombucha and more cycling

It’s been a long time, basically because I’ve been crazy busy. This, coupled with the fact that WordPress seems to have made uploading a video a bigger deal than my annual tax return, means that I’ve been really quiet. Some would say that’s a good thing… Others fear I’ve fallen into a hole and have yet to emerge. Some would say that’s a good thing too…

The good news is that progress on the 50Before50 challenges has been steady and I’m on track. I know this because I have channelled my inner nerd into some impressive spreadsheets and graphs with which I won’t bore you as I do value my friendships and I’d like to think that people don’t consider me completely dull. It’s a big tick for the wines and cheeses which are DONE! I’ve published my list of top 10 whites and top 10 reds on Instagram but am still considering the top 10 wines overall. Ironically the reds scored lower overall with only reds scoring 10 out of 10 but being a bigger fan of whites, I’m not sure I’m that happy with too many reds topping out my list. Maybe I should have gone for 50 sparkling wines after all. Meanwhile, while I procrastinate, I’m doing well on films, random acts of kindness, nail painting and tree art.

IMG_4625
My tree art is now taller than me
fullsizeoutput_2ab3
Yes, believe it or not, I had never seen the Sound of Music before!

I mentioned before that I have reconsidered some of my goals as I really wanted to give a nod to cycling and try and get fitter, all of which will help one of my biggest challenges which is to get to 50-something kgs. Obviously I need to get things done in the right order as ideally I want to be 50-something kgs before I embark on having my body painted and walking down the street naked. Otherwise it might cost me a fortune in paint and I might get mistaken for a walking jelly. So, on to the list came 50 consecutive days of exercise which have been hard work but I am now nearing the end.

Walk
My mate Cate and I celebrate at the top of a hill after an impromptu tramp for exercise day #32

Next up comes cycling the equivalent of 50 rides of 50 kms ie 2500 altogether. Hopefully these things will lead people to take notice and sponsor me because the ultimate goal is to raise money to buy another 50 bikes for Variety’s Bikes for Kids programme. I met with Carly and Jess from Variety last week and I will launch this new cycling challenge after Labour Day. I have made some sacrifices of my own to kickstart the fundraising. I’ve made a donation for 1 bike so now there are only 49 to go and I have given up my second coffee of the day to donate the cash to the fund. I will plan some more fundraising events with which hopefully people will join in and have fun. These might include baking events as I also need to make 48 more new recipes, my latest attempt of a flourless coconut and chocolate cake being consumed enthusiastically by my mates recently.

Cake
Belinda’s flourless coconut and chocolate cake from Ottolenghi’s Sweet. Recipe #2

I will also sell clothes, shoes and things I no longer need on Trademe and donate the profits so if anyone wants to contribute some old stuff they no longer want but can’t be bothered to sell themselves, then that would be a great (and easy) way to help. All other ideas will be gratefully accepted. I’m open to most things, as you all know by now.

Anyway, here are some videos I made, most of which are amusing in some way:

  1. An update on my progress, including a sneak preview of the tree art:

2. Black Fridays 2018 might be starting early:

3. Please don’t ever make me try kombucha

4. My latest sunrise was also a surprise

So, until next time xx

https://getactiveforkiwikids.everydayhero.com/nz/helen-s-50before50-cycling-challenge

 

F*** Off i’m Grounded again or maybe Friends Of Generosity? Fog, fog and fog

FOG, FOG and more FOG. The bloody stuff has scuppered my movements all week. Fog in Christchurch, fog in Auckland. Fog that’s spoiled travel plans, sunrises, visits to friends… Still, it can’t be helped. As sure as the sun comes up and down, we will get fog.

Summing up this week’s fog-related travel disasters would amount to a novel so here’s a very potted summary:

Monday

  • Unable to land in Christchurch due to fog
  • Circle Nelson for ages
  • Land in Wellington
  • Hang round on plane
  • Eventually end up in Auckland
  • Car can’t be be located
  • Offered and declined the offer of a red ute instead

Tuesday

  • Normal day at work – if there is such a thing

Wednesday

  • Fly to Sydney to attend half of a 2-day meeting on Thursday
  • Haven’t done the prep work for the meeting

Thursday

  • Got up early to do prep work for meeting
  • Meeting surprisingly good (isn’t it amazing how working to a deadline really focuses the mind?)
  • Flight home delayed
  • Text saying the following morning’s flight at 6.30am is “highly likely to be cancelled”
  • Move flight to 8.20am
  • Arrive at airport hotel at 1am
  • Bathroom light keeps flashing
  • Lose the will to live so rig up a temporary structure in the bathroom to block it out

Friday

  • Flagged breakfast to get an extra 1/2 hour in bed
  • Walk to domestic terminal
  • New flight cancelled
  • 2nd new flight cancelled
  • 3rd new flight cancelled
  • Offered the option to fly at 7pm or, maybe a 6 hour bus trip?
  • Decide to rebook for Saturday
  • Have another debacle getting car out of valet parking
  • Happened to notice that my original flight had departed on time at 6.30 am
  • Realise I could have gone to the Variety fundraiser ball this evening after all

Saturday

  • Get up early for a disastrous foggy sunrise en route to the airport
  • Flight cancelled x 2 again
  • Offered a flight in the evening again but no point going now
  • Came home via a cafe & a better view of at least a bit of sun
  • Spot a photo online taken of the wonderful Auckland sunrise this morning
Foggy sunrise
The most beautiful sunrise photo taken this morning by Jana Luo
  • Get another text – been rebooked on a flight at 11am! Great! Back to car to get to airport
  • Notice the app has me going to Christchurch…
  • Decide I’m never flying again
  • Come home
  • Lie down
  • Soak in bath
  • Open wine
  • Make a video

AND IT’S BEEN THE MOST FANTASTIC SPRING DAY EVER SINCE… See? It’s not just me is it? I really do live in a parallel universe sometimes.

In better news, the wonderful Laura sent me the most amazing crocheted delights for my tree art and my mate Amy took me out to finish the cheese. That’s right, cheese – done. 50 cheeses consumed. I feel a spreadsheet coming on…

Crochet
A beautiful parcel

There is no travel next week.

ENJOY YOUR WEEKENDS EVERYONE xx

 

 

Gems, eccentrics and a common household item which could kill you…

Every so often you have one of those days where you think to yourself “did my life really come to this?”

And so it was that I came to be on the phone for a very long time in the middle of a busy work day discussing the fact that my heated towel rails were not hot. My colleague was looking on, entertained by this interaction while I willed the caller to hurry a little in his explanations as my just heated lunch was rapidly going as cold as said towel rails. But, the more this went on, the funnier it became and the word “blog-worthy” crept into my mind.

Now, excuse me for sounding a little dim but I assumed that the use of the word heated in the name of said bathroom accessories implied that they would be hotter than just slightly warm. But no, they are meant to be like this. I could launch into an explanation here and now as to why this might be, but I won’t because I explain all in the videos which, even I think, are amusing.

Every so often you meet people who are gems and eccentrics. But while I might appear somewhat bemused by the explanations of David, the heated (or not so much) towel rail expert, I love people like him who really brighten my days with their being so passionate about what they do. In fact, I’ll confess to secretly wanting to be a gem and an eccentric. Maybe I already am one. And that would be absolutely fine.

Enjoy and please don’t forget that as you lie in your beds every night, I might have actively saved you from dying due to the perils of the heated towel rail… You can thank me later x

I haven’t done my dash with cycling yet

Last week saw the culmination of my fundraising efforts earlier in the year as I presented three lots of bikes to disadvantaged primary school children across Auckland. Never had I imagined that I would end up having so many bikes to donate that I would have to split them across schools and that it would take me one and a half days. I also never imagined I would end up meeting celebrities and being interviewed for Maori TV. 

http://www.maoritelevision.com/news/regional/new-bikes-kids-cycling-doctor

I can still remember clearly the moment I acquiesced to Tonya’s bribery, some might say demands, to sign up for the Sri Lanka cycle trek. It was a Saturday afternoon and we were in a cafe just along the road from her house as she was finally able to get out and about a little following her surgery. Three days prior I had escorted her to an oncology appointment where she was told she was dying. At some point I will write more about that day and the whirlwind of emotions that whipped up into a frenzy the moment Those Words fell from the doctor’s lips and which, to a large degree, still surround me. Needless to say, the impact of Those Words will be with me forever. 

o8davpP7Sq+%QZdGEnxd5A

On the day in the cafe, the look on Tonya’s face when she asked me to do the cycle trek was the familiar one she adopted for serious requests – head on the side, a wry smile on her lips and a subtle wink which I now remember usually resulted in her closing both eyes. But behind those eyes, there was a much more compelling appeal which silently said “you must do this because I need you to do it”. I think I said “oh go on then” as I reached for my phone and pressed the link to sign up right there and then while Tonya ordered a gin fizz. She had not had an alcoholic drink in two months and I was momentarily more scared about carrying her home than cycling 460 kms in the Sri Lankan heat with a bunch of strangers and a celebrity. When I got home I was filled with instant regret and dread in equal measure. But, hey, compared to chemotherapy, it would be easy, right? 

5LQUQz1RQTuPmcksqYloaw

It wasn’t easy. Initially I couldn’t even wheel my rusty and dusty bike out of the garage as years of neglect meant the tyres were like pancakes. Even once my kindly neighbour had assisted by inflating them, I couldn’t remember how to get the wheel off to get it in the car to take it for servicing. The lovely Spanish man in the bike shop told me the only thing wrong with it was years of neglect, as he stared at the gizmo on the handlebars which told him I’d only ever ridden it for 29 kms. Later I would struggle to get the wheel on and off, fail to understand the gears and when to change them, worry about downhill cycling and braking and how to cycle in the rain. My paranoia kicked in and I fretted about my Sri Lankan cycling buddies. I persuaded myself I would be the oldest, youngest, fattest, slowest, least fit, most inexperienced, the only one to ride in the support vehicle and literally everything else in between. Yet, I really and truly enjoyed it, almost like nothing I’ve ever enjoyed before. Most people who know me will also know that I have struggled all my life to find a sport I enjoy. I quite like badminton but you need a partner. I love skiing but you can’t do that often. I loved kayaking for a while at University but the thought of doing an eskimo roll and the fear of drowning got the better of me. I really enjoyed training for the walk I did for ChildFund in Vietnam a few years ago but plantar fasciitis and hills got the better of me. But cycling was something else, a whole new level of sporting enjoyment which was so unexpected it literally punched me between the yes. The feeling of excitement as I learned to master the teeny tiny hill; the wonder of the first time I went along the Auckland waterfront with the beautiful blue waters hugging my side; even the thrill of my phone ringing while I was on call one Sunday afternoon and saying to the junior doctor “I’m just out on my bike” as though this sort of caper was now normal for me. 

Bikes4Kids_9865_web

And Tonya loved it. She truly, completely and utterly loved it. Every day there would be texts enquiring about my progress, demands for photos of the bike, on the bike and with the bike and she would excitedly tell anyone who would listen of how she had so masterfully talked me into heading saddleward. There were detractors – lots of them in fact. Your bottom will never be the same again, they said. They told me that 460 kms was a long way, as though I had not figured this out for myself. Ditto for how hard it would be, so hard in fact that I probably wouldn’t finish. Possibly my favourite of all was the doom-mongerer who announced that if the distance, exhaustion, heat and humidity didn’t get me that I would likely succumb to diarrhoea. But in Tonya’s mind, failure was never a possibility. It wasn’t even slightly on the cards. If I expressed any doubt that I would manage it or even the merest disappointment with my progress, I was met with her infamous put-down of “idiot”. She was right of course. There was no way I would not do my utmost to finish it for her. I knew that she knew this and she knew that I knew that she knew. 

Bikes4Kids_9864_web

I’d like to think that my capers on the bike during the last few months of Tonya’s life brought her some distraction from the awfulness of cancer and everything that entailed. When I was asked if I would fundraise as part of the venture, it was almost too much to think about along with training, working, studying, Christmas, helping Tonya in whatever way I could and all the other things going on in my life. But she was insistent. If I could raise $1000, that would be enough for 5 bikes for Variety’s Bike for Kids programme and she would be able to come with me to present them at a local school. She kicked me off with enough for a whole bike and then worked hard to promote me, telling all her friends about me, advertising my fundraising page on social media at every opportunity and even asking people to contribute in a memo to work colleagues with an update on her progress. Money started rolling in. People I didn’t even know contributed, and many of the messages that came via the donations page were intended for her rather than me. I knew that she’d be so excited while I was in Sri Lanka, eager for updates, regaling her fan club with tales of my inevitable mishaps. She started to order things to make pamper packs, just as she had for Vietnam and I secretly started to dread what little surprises she might have up her sleeve. I would go around to visit and she’d shoo me away after a few hours with a perfunctory “you’d best go out on the bike”. She bought me a cycling top for Christmas, replaced my favourite sunglasses when they got broken on a ride and put me in touch with a friend of hers who could help me understand the gears. I’m incredibly grateful for the latter as I read and re-read the advice and eventually the penny dropped and things clicked in to place.

Bikes4Kids_9867_web

When Tonya died much sooner than she or any of us had anticipated, it goes without saying that I was devastated. I was gutted that such a vibrant and fruitful life had been cut short at such a young age. I was sad that she had so much more to achieve in her career and that she never got to do the research that she was planning. I was sad for her family, especially her sister Leila who lives so far away and had to travel here in a hurry and then home again with Tonya’s ashes. The days and weeks afterwards were a confusing riot of things to be organised and tasks to be done. In some ways I am grateful as it kept my mind from the inevitable adjustment to loss. 

Bikes4Kids_9875_web

But not only had I lost my friend, I had this cycling trek still to do. It become bigger than Ben Hur. I wanted to do it and I needed to do it – for me and for Tonya. But I felt prostrate. I just didn’t know where the physical and mental energy would appear from nor how I could do it without her willing me on. But our lives are not one dimensional and people are incredible. I have many other friends and a wonderful family to nurture me. I asked for help and it miraculously appeared by the bucket load. My family and other friends rallied round. Tonya’s family and friends did the same. I felt engulfed by a massive fluffy comfort blanket of support. And I felt stronger. I would go to Sri Lanka with a renewed mental toughness and determination that I could and would finish the trek. 

Bikes4Kids_9878_web

In the end, it was both harder and easier than I imagined. There were times when the hills were killers. I cried on the second day when I didn’t think I would make it to the end but I kept on keeping on for Tonya. Then when it all got too much and I felt almost physically exhausted by the heat, humidity and exertion, I suddenly heard her little voice allowing me to say yes to the offer of that tuk-tuk for the final 3 kms. “You’ve done enough for today and you’ll get to the pool and the drinks more quickly.” For the most part I was willed on by knowing how thrilled she would have been to see me progressing and finishing day after day with more cycling skills than I’d owned at the outset. I knew she’d have been both amused and bemused and so was I.

Bikes4Kids_9879_web

So, excuse me for feeling emotional and bringing you on this self-indulgent trip down memory lane with me. Seeing the 69 children’s faces last week when they received their bikes was just heart warming. I work with children, as did Tonya and to do something so positive that promotes children’s health and wellbeing outside of work has been so rewarding. Both of us have witnessed the effects of social disadvantage, poverty and inequality in our work and anything we can do to lessen the impact of those to children in our area is well worth the effort. 

d%Jd%3QHRb+2HbFyY051jQ

I was going to take some of Tonya’s friends with me to the presentations. In the end, it wasn’t possible but it felt right that I was there completely surrounded by the children, their parents and teachers, the staff from Variety and the MCs at the events but feeling Tonya’s presence very much at centre stage. The interviewer from Maori TV asked me if she would have been proud. Yes, she would have been. She most definitely would have been. And so am I. When I think of all the things I have done in my life, especially in my career, I am more proud of the cycling than anything else. It still seems incredible to me that I was able to do it at a time in my life when I could just have caved in to sadness. To have been able to rise above that and put Tonya’s death in a more positive light makes me enormously proud. 

YZlAFrHMQaCDMtuC9ipcpw

I want to say two things. Firstly, thank you. To everyone who supported me by telling me I could do it when I really needed to hear it, thank you. To those who sponsored me, thank you. To those who provided practical support, thank you. To Anne for making sure that my bottom has in fact been saved the indignity of “never being the same again”, thank you. To Jean for outdoing Tonya on the pamper packs, thank you. To Jon for taking me to the airport when I was literally pooping myself inside, thank you. To Variety for giving me this opportunity, thank you. To Maori TV for showcasing me last week, thank you. To Sutton Park School, St Pius X School and Park Estate School for having me and hosting the presentations, thank you. To Simon Dallow and Antonia Prebble for MCing the events, thank you. To the children who received bikes, for being so adorable, ectastic and enthusiastic in your gratitude, thank you. To the Sri Lanka Seven, I never could have done it without you all. We have become friends for life. Every day in Sri Lanka was a total blast and I finished each day with more cycling skills and confidence than I could ever have imagined, all thanks to your advice, love and patience. Thank you all. And, of course, to Tonya, for making me do something I didn’t want to do, thank you. I signed up to it to help you but we could never have known then that it would help me so much too. I can’t get on my bike without thinking of you and your memory lives on in every two-wheeled journey I take. That is a fabulous thing. I mourn your passing and shed tears but I also smile and celebrate what you gave me. It is about more than the cycling of course. It is about remembering old friends, welcoming the new and it is about renewed energy in tackling the rest of life’s stuff without you.

Bikes4Kids_9915_web

Lastly, this is not the end of my cycling venture. It is winter but I have carried on cycling. The Sri Lanka Seven rose again a few weeks ago with a fabulous day cycling around Auckland, out to Villa Maria for lunch and back again. This was topped out with a riotous party with Sri Lankan food, wine aplenty and presents. I now have my shiny e-bike sat charging in the garage and not far away is my recently acquired road bike which my mate Chris helped me buy. It is sat on a wind trainer so I can do some virtual cycling on Zwift when it is too wet or late to go out. When I finished the Sri Lanka trek, I felt a bit empty, as I did last week after presenting the bikes. My 50 Before 50 challenge was conceived to give me renewed focus. I have been entertaining myself consuming cheese and wine, visiting Monopoly streets, eyeing up my trees wondering how I will ever attach the knitted jackets my friends have been helping me create and, on a less self-indulgent note I have been enjoying handing out random acts of kindness. But, last week I realised I haven’t done my dash with cycling nor with fundraising. I think the Variety Bikes for Kids programme is a fantastic venture as it gives children who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity, the luxury of a bike to become more physically active and independent. Cycling wasn’t really recognised on my list of challenges and so I have swapped a few things round. 

Bikes4Kids_9913_web

I plan to cycle the equivalent of 50 rides of 50 kms each, a total of 2500 kms. In doing this, I really hope to raise $10,000 to fund another 50 bikes. This has the added bonus of helping me achieve one of my other goals of getting to 50-something kgs which in turn enables me to walk down the street wearing only body paint. 

Bikes4Kids_9912_web

All ideas for fundraising are welcome. Offers to cycle with me will be gratefully accepted. I hope that those of you who have been with me on this venture so far will stay close by my side. I know that Tonya will be there too.

With love and thanks to you all again.

xx

Sunrises, double cauliflower and being in trouble with friends

Sometimes I surprise even myself. If anyone had told me I would get to enjoy the sunrises, I would have thought them literally deluded. But, I am actually really loving them. Why? Well, there is surely nothing more beautiful than a bright orange sunrise on a clear day. Not all of my sunrises have been on clear days and you can’t plan them of course. Even if the weather forecast promises a lack of rain and full sun during the day, there is always a chance that Aotearoa New Zealand will live up to its nickname and the long white cloud will be on display along the horizon. But, there is always a colour change in the sky, even if the gorgeous ball of the rising sun can’t be seen in its full orange roundness.

But the beauty of the sunrise is about far more than its appearance. There is this amazing calm and sense of serenity that is not apparent at any other time of the day. Even driving or cycling to my chosen viewpoint is lovely as the roads are quiet. Then, for me, there is also a wonderment that our world is just so incredible. It doesn’t matter whatever else is going on in the world, the sun always rises and sets. Just as the world rotates and the tides ebb and flow, the sun is guaranteed to repeat this pattern every single day for eternity. But, unlike the world turning and the tide coming and going, you don’t necessarily always appreciate the sun rising and falling. Rain and clouds hide it. Sleep and activities mean you may not notice it. And so it has been for me for most of my life. A sleep-in and my love of the snooze button has always won over any inkling of getting up early. But now, I travel out for these sunrises and I feel almost evangelical about them. Standing on a deserted beach or a windy coastal lookout, I have at times felt absolutely freezing cold as though my fingers will drop off or be left behind in my gloves, but I have inevitably felt at my happiest for that day.

So far I have seen only eight of these wonders, each in a different place but only two accompanied by other people. I’d like to think I can continue to find different places to see them, which was never the intention but is now becoming a challenge in itself as time goes on. Of course they are now getting earlier due to the days getting longer again, a sure sign that the seasons rotate and time moves on but at least maybe an indication that I don’t need to almost sacrifice my fingers to the elements to continue my enjoyment of the day’s beginning.

Will I continue with the sunrises after the #50Before50 challenge ends? I’m never likely to fall out of love with a lie-in but certainly a well-timed sunrise on a weekend work day may very well become a habit I find hard to kick.

In other news, I have spent a day in Christchurch where, to my shame I have not been for a few years. It is always quite dividing for me. I feel a sadness that a city which was so beautiful and vibrant was so destroyed and with such loss of life by the cruel earthquakes. I feel even sadder that large parts of the city and some notable buildings remain ruined or derelict. Yet, I feel so uplifted and inspired by the resilience of the people of Christchurch. Some of the new buildings which have risen from the ashes of the former city are just wonderful – funky, modern, eye-catching. My friend Carol showed me around and so much has changed since I was last there. There is street art everywhere. The trams are back in action. The cathedral may still be in ruins but it is now going to be rebuilt. I saw the Transitional (aka cardboard) Cathedral which is probably the newest church I have ever stepped foot inside. Its simplicity is perhaps what defines its beauty but it is light, airy, welcoming and with a true sense of community which I have never witnessed before in a western place of worship. This is a truly modern church. I even made a donation by credit card as I had no cash! Elsewhere in the city, the dining scene is especially buzzing and we had some truly memorable food. The hip and trendy Hello Sunday; the crowded fantastic 2018 version of a food court that is Little High and many more which await my next visit. Now, I know people think I’m bonkers most of the time but believe me when I say that the double cauliflower I ate for breakfast (yes, breakfast) at Ilex, a great new cafe in the botanical gardens was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in a very long time.

In the video, I mention some other things which I’ve been up to, including a great review of Coco’s Cantina, a favourite #50Before50 Metro restaurant and also I share my hopefully misplaced fears about an upcoming girls’ weekend where I may just have set us all up for a disaster…

Do enjoy!

XX