What is it about the innocence of a child looking at you, clearly thinking about something you've said, and then asking that killer question; "Why"?
It happened to me today (Easter Sunday) just after starting another 4-mile tyre drag, as I get myself ready for my November 2014 challenge but, before we delve into that, let me rewind a few weeks and talk to you about a real eye-opener for me, as I was involved in a 3-day film shoot which will be leading to a first-ever ..... well we'll come to that later too.
I've known Rob Barker from Barksy Media for a wee while (through LinkedIn) and I approached him back in late 2013 about an idea I'd had, and we got the chance to meet in late November, over in the 'Hudd'.
After about 30 minutes chatting over a coffee, Rob said he liked the concept and it had sparked something in his mind about grit, determination and pursuing a purpose against all odds. He's a busy chap but he promised to get back to me some time in 2014.
When he got back to me in late February 2014, Rob had an extraordinary idea to discuss, but not only did we discuss it, he had the whole thing done as a storyboard!! Talk about feeling stunned and this was just the start of a complete eye-opener for me, with his team (including the ever resourceful Lauren) finding a 1935 deep sea diving suit we could borrow for free.
|I felt like I was in Toy Story or something, with all 30 pages professionally drafted|
|My first ever production meeting|
We agreed the story, the dates and the minor investment we both agreed to, and that was it; the team were gathered together and everything was organised, with me picking up the diving suit from a gentleman called John Smillie (from the Historical Diving Society). There I was, after a busy day in the office, driving for an hour out to the west of Lancashire, to sit in his kitchen and have over 40kg of equipment strapped, shoved, squeezed and wrapped onto me.
And so we were ready for the unknown; a day in Leeds in the city centre and at a local school, followed by a trip to the coast and then to Otley Chevin. I'm not going to spoil the surprise of the short film (as it really is Rob's brilliant masterpiece) and I do intend to sell tickets to the premiere (all proceeds going to a charity), but here are a few photos from the 3 days, followed by some reflection on its impact on me.
|Stood in Leeds City Square, next to the apparently diminutive film producer, Lauren|
|In Leeds Fish Market - lots and LOTS of amused passers-by|
|Sat pensively, awaiting the shout from the Director to get my kit on.|
|Full kit on, approaching the sea.|
|After day 1 of filming my lower shins were skinned by the boots rubbing. Thanks goodness for Lauren's boyfriend's shin pads for the next two days!|
|Again in the Leeds Fish Market, perhaps wondering how I could quickly get out of the suit if I needed a wee|
|I only went into the sea up to my knees, but it gave me a huge insight into how powerless we truly are against the force that is 'Mother Nature'|
As I stood in front of the sea, ready to wade in, I became very aware of the sound of my own breathing. I suddenly felt very alone and the sea was, quite simply, enormous and all consuming. Even with Paul, one of the cameramen, wading in with me, a feeling of loneliness, nervousness and helplessness swept through me, as if I really was about to wade into the cold foreboding water and submerge myself.
The words from my polar blog have never rung so true; "Alone, like never before. Silence, sheer silence."
The feeling passed quickly as soon as Paul started to walk backwards into the water, holding a specialist tiny GoPro camera, and reality came flooding (no pun intended) back into my vision and into my head, but that's not why I mention it now. No, the reason I mention it now is because I got that same sense of solitude when reading the article by Camilla Cavendish on page 27 of today's Sunday Times newspaper.
The story refers to Sir Chris Woodhead; former chief inspector of schools who is now crippled with motor neurone disease. A man who used to love hill-walking and who now is "..... imprisoned in his own body. About the only things he can do without help are breathe, swallow and speak" - copyright The Sunday Times - which brings us back full circle to a moment in Rothwell Park today.
Abigail (or Abbey as she prefers to be called Mummy!) is almost 7 (not 6 Mummy!) and a pretty cute kid with a twee button nose and a pony tail that flicks enthusiastically when she moves her head.
As I mentioned, I was out for a second 4-mile tyre-drag in three days (for those of you unfamiliar with the term 'tyre-drag' it is as straight-forward as it sounds; you strap a car tyre (or, in this case, a van tyre) to yourself using a specially-designed harness, and drag it (see First ever tyre drag blog entry, from March 2011. for more of an insight)).
|The weather on Good Friday was perfect ... if I'd been wearing SPF 20+ on my forehead|
On Good Friday I'd been out and seen a few people who recognised the local idiot; the guy who used to regularly walk around the park with a tyre or two dragging behind him, but today's 'drag' was in a surprisingly quiet Rothwell Park.
|The slow drag up a gentle slope|
|This years' tyre - a Continental Vanco tyre (yep, means nothing to me either)|
|The top of #HamstringHill; I go up and down this 4 times at the 2.5 mile mark.|
|Me wondering why the ruddy sunshine was inconsiderately burning through when I'd dressed for rain.|
I'd only just started my tyre drag when a little girl started giggling at me, holding her Mum's hand but not in the least bit shy (not like the woman in the 4x4 Merc on Friday who had one of those 'I want to look but I don't want him to think I'm looking'-faces on, as her gaze wandered from the road almost as quickly as her car drifted towards the mature oak planted firmly in the grass by the kerb!
I smiled at her and her Mum and was about to plod on my way when Abbey looked quizzically and said "What are you doing?". Well the obvious answer was "Pulling a tyre" but that would just have been childish so, in a moment of unusual maturity, I told her.
"I'm training, to get stronger, so I can go up a mountain" I said.
She tilted her head, squinted slightly with one eye as she gave this statement some momentary but clearly serious consideration, before looking at me for a moment, tilting her head to the other side and asking that most dangerous question from a child; "Why?".
"Why what sweetie?" I asked
"Why are you pulling a tyre behind you so you can walk up a mountain? Will you be taking it with you?"
"No, it's just that ... well ... I'm quite old I suppose and I need to get stronger, so I don't have to stop part way up the mountain, and give up" I said, smiling like an idiot, in the vague hope that this would satiate her inquisitive nature. But it didn't.
"You're not as old as my Grandad".
"Well I'm sure if he was thinking of walking up a mountain, he would go for lots of walks too" I said (hopelessly) as her Mum just smiled at me. I actually couldn't tell if she was sympathetic to my plight, or just wishing she could call the local psychiatric ward and inform them she'd found an obviously escaped patient (or a newly found one).
"Right, come on Abbey, let's let this gentleman get on with his walk" her Mum said, and they promptly began strolling on their way. Abbey didn't look back and was clearly lost in her thoughts as she skipped along next to her Mum, and out of the park gateway.
I resumed my walk and my mind wandered elsewhere for about an hour (thinking about my Buy Yorkshire Conference stand to be honest), but as I did and as I imagined some of the conversations I might have with the attendees who popped by to see what the stand was all about, the question of "Why?" came back into my head. Why was I doing these adventures? What was is it that drove me to invest my money to do things that raised some money for charity, rather than just giving the money to charity and spend my days earning more money for a nice relaxing holiday with Lucia?
It was then that the Sunday Times article came back into my mind. I wasn't (just) being altruistic; I was staring to think I should do this .... while I can. I need to feel that same surge Ben Stiller portrayed in the 'Walter Mitty' movie; of achieving something that lets me see the world and takes me away from a client PC and desk.
I don't have the money to retire like some of my friends and contacts; nor do I truly expect to win the Lottery any time soon, so this was me doing what I could, while I could. And whilst I don't foresee myself succumbing to a crippling illness, nor do I know that I'll be able to do all this in another 20 years time.
And I bet Sir Chris Woodhead always imagined he'd be hill-walking, but who knows when vulnerability becomes a reality, not simply a fear.
And then I remembered my Dad and the day he rang me and we spent a few minutes on the phone with 'small talk', which was something my Dad never ever did. I knew that day that he had something potentially terrible to tell me, and so it came to light that he had cancer. And so one day, a man who seemed virtually indestructible suddenly had to be lifted up in bed; who was so self-sufficient now had to be cared for in almost every way.
I paused for a moment, to reflect, to remember, and then carried on my merry way, thinking about the design for the stand; the words I need to write for it and the exciting things I hope to be doing over the next decade or so (including potentially this chap making an appearance) ....
These words, beautifully written by the lovely Michelle Wise just after we got back from the Sahara trek summed it up perfectly for me ......
... which, for me, is a great example of someone embracing the principle that "Everyone dies, but not everyone lives". That's why my debut acting role has led me to accept a real (inland) dive in that deep sea diving suit - also due to be caught on high-quality digital film by those lovely people at Barksy Media.
Because one day we'll all be in no position to do some of the things we always wish we'd wanted to ... and that time is approaching faster for some of us than it is for others. Feel free to join me in my November adventure ......
...... or any other adventures afterwards. Yours vulnerably ......
P.S. The tickets for the premiere of the shortest film you've ever seen will be on sale in a few weeks time; you're more than welcome to come to watch #Undertow.