Better late than …

24 December 2010

A blog from Barham (Back in OZ). Day 134 “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving…” Albert Einstein

I must have started trying to write this blog a thousand times. It is now very late even by my standards. However in this instance the delay is not due to having to write in the back of Martha as she hurtles along. I am now safely back in Blighty on a comfy sofa, tea in hand, laptop on my lap with a rapidly emptying biscuit barrel. It is because I still can’t quite comprehend what the hell just happened.

England saved the first test in Brisbane. I realise the third test is now underway but even so. To see the English cricket team bat with the mental strength of their Australian counterparts on foreign soil and smash numerous records has left me immensely proud but lost for words. Steve and I had the pleasure of witnessing this on Day 134 and my penultimate day on FTFE at the WACA in Brisbane and in its own right will go down as incredible experience. Singing with the Barmy Army to the glum faced but amused Aussies to the tune of Yellow Submarine, “Your next Queen is Camilla Parker Bowles” amongst many others as England dominated the day will live long in the memory of this proud Englishman.OK now I have the difficult part out the way I can solely concentrate on the easy part of giving you my thoughts on spending 80 days on the expedition from Beijing to Brisbane. If you regularly read the blogs you will know that it was a complete adventure from start to finish living and breathing the expedition in which no two days were the same and which tested my full range of emotions and feel extremely fortunate to have played some part in what was a trip of a lifetime.

I have ended up in places and situations that I never thought possible, seen things that have amazed me, done things that have challenged me and met some of the kindest people that surely exist on this planet. I think to make sense of it all and hopefully put a stop to the clichés I will attempt to bring some order and group my thoughts into Best points, Worst points, Major points and Final points although so much has happened it is impossible to remember everything.

My best points in no particular order are as follows. I had the opportunity to grow a beard and a moustache for the first time which was splendid if itchy and when I shaved them off I felt I was looking at a complete stranger. Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos which took a full week to recover from what was quite possibly concussion. Worth it though. The complete adulation we received all through China. I would join a boy band tomorrow. Steve having a sick day in Thailand, after being told constantly by him for the last 10 years that he doesn’t get sick. Sweet! Seeing Giant Pandas, Koalas and Kangaroos. Travelling and getting to know Sun Ji our Chinese guide. Visiting the Bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand, visiting Railay Island in Thailand and seeing fireflies and flying fish and finally the sights, sounds and the cities of all the countries I travelled through, in particular the Australian outback.

My worst points, again in no particular order. I hate to sound a bit of a philistine but the food in China north of Chengdu I found a bit dull and depressing but once we hit the Sichuan province it was great and had plenty of flavour. Crashing Martha on treacherous roads in Southern China which was a very tough time but was very grateful for the understanding and support of Steve, Ross and Sun Ji. The smog in central China. I have no idea how people can live and work in that environment. Becoming more dependent on caffeine than I ever thought possible. Getting destroyed by the Chengdu Chinese Fire brigade in games of Basketball, Table Tennis and Snooker. A dark day. Finally the rain that seemed to follow us south from Southern China all the way to Singapore and then even turned up in Perth.

My major points in no order. A massive thanks to the numerous people, who have been mentioned on these pages, who gave so much time and effort prior and following departure to make the expedition possible in order for me to be able to enjoy it. In addition the support en route was unbelievable and there are countless examples of completely selfless acts all the way from Beijing to Brisbane. The help and kindest of strangers who in the dark would jump on mopeds and guide us to our accommodation, come up to us asking for photos or even the odd autograph or simply thrust money into our hands to put into the collecting tin. Mechanics who helped fix Martha’s tyre after the crash. The Globalink network (Special mention to APP Global Logistics and Bluefreight) led by King Richard Dexter were immense which meant ever border I crossed was made to look ridiculously easy making it easy to forget the hours of work that had gone on behind the scenes. The Singapore Civil Defence Force who treated us like Royalty from start to finish in Singapore again making the border a breeze. The Laos border police who greeted our nervous arrival with smiles and by thrusting 3 cans of Laos beer into our hands. Luckhems fumigation service in Perth who gave us a Get out of Jail free card when it looked certain that Martha would be stuck in Quarantine for 3 weeks. The Fire and Rescue Service in Australia, most notably the Melbourne and Brisbane workshops but not forgetting the Perth Fire and Rescue Service in particular Chester and Bronson who were complete legends, looked after us and gave us the contacts all over Australia. Finally all those who I have shared the cab with, thank you. I could be here all night writing this list.

And finally my final point. Amy said on the Friday before Steve and FTFE left that everybody dreams of what they want to achieve but there are few that actually make their dreams a reality and step out of the comfort zone. Talk is cheap and many of us can go through life with stabilisers on forgetting that sometimes as you did as a child you have to fall off, get patched up and back on to learn to move forward and keep your balance in life. To get the expedition on the road he worked like a dog and on the road he works like a dog and at times has looked like a dog and maybe even smelled like a dog. There was no blueprint for this expedition, no library book and he has taken a dream to pay tribute to his father from scratch and made it into a reality and has already raised thousands. He has spent eighteen solid months scrutinising every aspect ensuring it is meticulously planned and every eventuality looked at and continues to do so on the road. On the road he works at 100 miles an hour for the charity whether it be updating the website/facebook, obtaining a service for Martha, talking to people clutching a collection tin, organising logistics, updating the website, talking to media, looking at the next stage or kicking my butt to finish my blog to name but a few.

His finest hour in my opinion in my 80 days and a great example of Steve at work was when we were told in Quarantine at Perth that there was going to be a three week delay to fumigate Martha (this was through no fault of his own as he had been meticulous on this). While I drove off to get us a sandwich, he somehow managed to negotiate what appeared to be a non-negotiable position to a 48 hour turnaround for free, saving thousands and save stage 5 from being stuck at Perth for 3 weeks. He also secured an invite to a lunchtime BBQ to watch the Melbourne cup which I can confirm was splendid and made my sandwich run pointless. A strong 5 minutes for us both….

He hasn’t only had to get himself around the world and has led by example a team of 25 magnificently during all the preparation and whilst on the road, that in turn, have also helped a great deal. None more so than Amy who has lived and breathed every second.

Great work Steve, thank you for giving me the opportunity and enjoy the rest of your driving holiday/cruise!!!

My tan is fading under layers of thermals but the memories will not. I’m off to ride my bike……


3 Responses to “Better late than …”

  1. Fantastic blog Paul. It was worth waiting for!

  2. Well said Paul! I do know Steve is very grateful to you for all the support you have given him and all the ftfe crew since the early stages of planning the trip. Glad you enjoyed the experience xx

  3. awesome stuff Paul. Ditto on all your efforts mate ..

    Enjoy home mate