Back in October, I found myself gazing, wistfully, longingly, down the Arno, standing on the apex of the Ponte Vecchio, the division between the two sides of the city of Lilies; the Tuscan capital of Florence, a place of which many of you will be familiar with. A place of endless romance, the muse of Michelangelo and Brunelleschi, the birthplace of the Renaissance. As my senses enveloped me, I threw myself into the swirling mass of artistic and sensual malaise, overwhelmed and absorbed in the beauty of where I had found myself. In that very moment of enlightenment, a GoPro attached to the end of a Selfie Stick, orbiting its owner who himself was pirouetting gleefully as if he was at the Bolshoi, collided with the side of my defenceless, follicle-less skull with the force of a small asteroid. In an instant of Kung Fu catastrophe, my peace and a billion brain cells were shattered into oblivion. As my mild concussion subsided, and the horizon became apparent once again, my immediate thought was to ignite the flames of war between The West and China, by first using said GoPro and Selfie Stick to end said agitator, and then throw his body into the Arno. As I assessed my surroundings and saw that he was surrounded by a throng of his countrymen, I concluded that as I was bigger and stronger than them all, I could take on all thirty of them. It would be over in seconds. Very quickly, however, I surmised that the Italian Police might be somewhat suspicious of thirty bodies washing up downriver the next morning, and I was to be too busy at the Galleria Uffizi to be caught up in an international manhunt. My friend apologised to me, in his grovelling but endearing way, and I laughed off the incident, as all good Brits do, shook hands with my assailant, and continued on my merry way. Because stupid sh*t happens, people cock up, Chinese tourists f*ck people off, and the world continues to spin on its axis, as it always has. And I was travelling, as I always have. Because that makes me a happy little tw*t. And that was what mattered, and not the splintering of my skull.
As my nearest and dearest will know all too well, and much to their financial distress, I’m rather fond of travelling. From Fiji to Malawi, and Colombia to Japan, I’ve found myself in no shortage of hairy and entertaining situations around the globe; from cycling over a Black Mamba snake, to twenty-four hours as an illegal immigrant in Ethiopia, I’ve seen the world from both sides of the law, and of the coin. I’ve run from a knife-fight in Cartagena de Indias, and driven a scooter off a mountain in Bali; I’ve bungy-jumped and skydived in New Zealand, cliff-dived in Greece, and climbed to the highest point in Africa; I’ve seen Israelis & Palestinians arguing at the Temple Mount, and contractors protesting working conditions in Johannesburg. Every last experience, from the smallest to the biggest, to the most frightening to the most life-affirming, has impacted and moulded who I am this day, this hour, this minute. We are nothing if not a product of our experiences, and my travels have brought me the lion’s share of those throughout my wee life.
Travel is only one instance of where I find my passion, but surely the greatest. For me and my curiosity, travel allows me to engage in that inquisitiveness, that snoopiness, and rather than satiating it, only serves to expand and enlarge that desire and thirst to know and experience what is ‘out there’, for better or for worse. It comes as a product of my youth, and a long-standing struggle to know where I belong, and who I am. It may not answer that question, but as a wise old sage once said, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. How’s that for profound bollocks on a Wednesday evening. Mind. Blown.
With the boat (how’s that for a travel pun? Shit, I know. I don’t care. I’m tired and I’ve had a beer) that I find myself in now, with a time limit on how much travel I can feasibly fit in to the remainder of my existence, the challenge has been to get myself, by hook or by crook, to those places I’ve intended to go to, but never got round to, whilst also including those places that have got me going. First came Lisbon – custard tarts and sunburn. Then came Norway and Sweden – IKEA, Vikings, £10 for a beer. A Baltic trip to Finland, Russia and Estonia soon followed – Bears, immigration issues, Soviet memorabilia. A birthday trip to Morocco, in the height of summer, was the next stop-off – riads, no beers, more sunburn, the haggling master. Five weeks amongst old haunts in Italy saw in Autumn – wine, food, selfie stick violence, wine, food – before winter sun in the Bahamas and Egypt – alcohol then no alcohol, gambling then no gambling, pyramids, temples, sunburn – and a new years’ trip to New Zealand, and many more to come, as long as I don’t snuff it before the day’s done. You might imagine the puns and gags I have for security staff at airports, when my leg is (regularly) mistaken either for cocaine smuggling, or an IED.
The challenge often involves how I can fit these trips in between chemotherapy and the symptoms of my cancer, and reacting to them whenever and wherever they might be, and how they manifest themselves, making no trip plain-sailing. This is, however, nullified by not having to worry about the titanic battle between my sunburn and my original cancer, in their battle royale for domination, and their battle to my death. But this is, to a greater or lesser extent, a fairly light cross to bear in the grand scheme of things, when one puts into perspective the genuine luck I have in that I am able to continue to travel the world and indulge in my passions, when so many people, cancerous or not, aren’t able to leave their home, and not for want of trying, but for want of health, for want of capital, for want of love and affection. I truly am one of the luckiest men on Earth, of that I have no doubt.
Again, why do I travel? Replace ‘travel’ with your muse of choice, and voila, the following should hopefully be somewhat applicable. I’ve chosen, for most of my adult life, to embrace what adds intrinsic value to my life. Experiencing new cultures, taking part in new activities, challenging myself on levels which I never thought existed give me a sense of life and purpose I am unable to find in almost nothing else. The sense of independence and complete control over our actions and choices can’t really be found in many other strands of our lives. Surely, my little adventure with mutated cells has sped up this process of travel, and in some ways, I’m grateful for the urgency it applies to the need to focus on life’s treasures, rather than that which bogs us down and makes us lesser individuals.
But rather, the question really should be, more generally; why do we do anything in life that has meaning to us? Because it makes us happy. It stands the hairs on the back of our necks to attention; it allows us to feel, to love, to live our truest selves. You don’t need a ticking time bomb of cancer to tell you that.
Go out there, and get tw*tted by a GoPro on a Selfie Stick. Or your equivalent. You won’t regret it.
Photos of the aforementioned trips aqui, amigos - https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10156193766494539.1073741836.516464538&type=1&l=d49082addd
On a serious note, for a change, another enormous vote of thanks for everyone's donations so far, and for those that have done so much as of late in their own fundraising. We're up to £62,000 inc. gift aid now, so we're well on our way. As before, thirteen of us are doing the Paris Marathon in five weeks' time, then I've got the London Marathon the day after a round of chemotherapy, so that'll be an hilarious conundrum for St John's Ambulance...