It’s been a while since my last update. Too long and much going on. Visits to Indonesia and the completion of writing my first novel, called The Shadows That Sang. Based in Java, Indonesia, a story of two brothers whose world is thrown into chaos when a volcanic eruption destroys their village.
Which is how the world feels at the moment. While my wife, daughter and I were in Indonesia for a month in February this year, the coronavirus crisis was becoming more of a concern. China was dealing with an unprecedented health crisis and a few countries around the world were recording sporadic cases. As we flew home, it was evident the fear and concern of people, many wearing masks on the flight and in the airports. However, there was still a sense of the world carrying on as normal. And no indication of the rapid spread of the disease and the impact it has had on so many people throughout the world, most notably in Italy, Iran and more recently throughout central Europe.
In a matter of a couple of weeks since arriving home, Italy and Spain are under lockdown, airlines are on the brink of collapse, the UK is requiring everyone to practice social distancing and to avoid non essential travel and contact with other people. There is a palpable feeling of anxiety and fear. The news media is covering the crisis 24/7 – endlessly relaying the latest advice, interviewing the public and experts. It feels a vastly different world to the one we left when we travelled to Indonesia at the beginning of February.
How do we ‘keep calm and carry on’ when there is so much uncertainty and genuine concern? It is one thing to advise people to work from home and practice social distancing, self isolate for 14 days, avoid travel, stay at home. But occupying your time productively is something we can all do. Maintaining a fit and active mind as well as body is extremely important.
I have reached out to many of my contacts and former students, many of whom live in Spain and Italy. I am in a fortunate position to be able to work from home and offer online English lessons. I believe an hour of face to face (online of course) conversation can be both educational and therapeutic. A chance to talk to someone about anything, to take their mind off the situation or to discuss what is happening. An outlet to discuss what is on their mind – and receive some useful English language practice and tuition at the same time.
I hope people will find a way to manage their time in this difficult situation. If we dwell on the fear, the worry, the uncertainty, it will only compound our feelings and affect our mental health detrimentally. We all need to take a break from the information overload we expose ourselves to on social media and via our TVs, radios and newspapers. While we need to be kind to others, to assist those who are vulnerable and at risk, we also need to be kind to ourselves.
Stay safe, keep washing your hands, listen to and follow the government and medical authority’s advice. But look after yourself as much as you look after your loved ones. We all need to be strong together and together we will get through this crisis.
If anyone would like to have online English language lessons, please contact me. Contact details, lesson information, payment and other details are available on this website.
The mind is both your strongest ally and your worst enemy.
Day 1 of my 3 day solo charity cycle ride from the West Coast of Wales to the East Coast of England was a true test. Of both body and mind.
After a night in Aberystwyth, I was up at 5am to prepare to cycle around 100 miles back to my home in Worcester.
I had already mentally prepared for the first part of the day. Hills. Mountains. Climbs. Sharp and steep, long and seemingly endless. But while you can visualise the climbs and anticipate how you may feel, it is nothing to the real experience.
As soon as I left the seafront at Aberystwyth I was climbing. The road rose steeply out of the town and continued a long climb towards Devil’s Bridge. The top of the climb coincided with sunrise, a gorgeous fiery orange streak sandwich between distant mountain tops and a layer of morning cloud.
From Devil’s Bridge the climb up towards Cwmystwyth started with a long drag pitching up to 15%. It softened to a manageable, but draining 8 or 9%. And went on. And on.
By the top at the Jubilee Arch, my legs were jelly. But the views were incredible. Stretching in front the Elan Valley awaited. A rapid descent through Cwmystwyth and I found myself on deserted valley roads, rolling with steep kicks and short descents. The valley was silent, save for the occasional baa-ing of the hundreds of sheep that lined the road watching as I slowly trundled past.
By the time I had sped down into Rayader after almost 30 miles, I had gone from sea level to 1,500ft and climbed 4 huge climbs and numerous others.
Rayader to Leominster was a relentless drag of continual hills. I pulled over at the side of the road before another long climb. My mind was giving in, partner in crime with my protesting legs. Neither wishes to carry on. I had never climbed so much and for so long. I am not a climber, too heavy and I was struggling.
But a quick check of messages gave me renewed impetus and I resolved to carry on. This hill proved the last major hill before a long, enjoyable descent towards Leominster where after 70 miles I rested up and refilled with lunch.
40 miles to go. Or so I thought. A mile or so out of Leominster a road sign announced Worcester 23. I felt a surge of adrenaline and pushed on, but 23 miles when you are already exhausted is a long way. The hills were less severe, but still plentiful.
By the time I reached Worcester I felt empty, despite eating energy bars and gels and bananas and a baked potato.
The legs still hurt, the mind still played games…A voice saying ‘Another hill. Why don’t you just stop? Give up?’
But another voice countering ‘It is not too far. Remember why you are doing this. Remember Milla.’
And after exactly 100 miles, 6,772 feet climbed, 3,500 calories burned and 7 and a half hours in the saddle, I reached home. And a lovely welcome from my wife Rini and daughter Louisa.
The messages kept me focussed and lots of donations to the fundraising page, some from people I don’t know, saw the total hit £840. Incredible.
So on to tomorrow.
120 miles to Peterborough. And a few less hills. My mind and legs will be happy.
The hill stretches out in front of me. The gradient not too unkind, for now. Yet it is continuous, unrelenting. The hill a struggle, as all hills seem to be.
When you have reached the age of 50 and your legs have thousands of miles of cycling in them, the mind is fond of reminding you that what you are doing is silly.
Cycling hundreds of miles.
In all weathers.
Up hills and mountains.
In full knowledge that hills hurt and you labour up them, looking for that extra gear or two you don’t have, looking for the crest, the summit that is often invisible, hiding, mocking. Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow….within reach, but shifting constantly.
You reach the top. But it was false hope. A brief respite and the road kicks up again. Steepening and ever upwards.
The pain redoubled. Your efforts renewed, but your legs screaming at you to stop. Your inner voice laughing at you. Telling you to stop. The wind mercilessly pushing and nagging at you. Telling you to stop.
But you don’t.
I’ve done it before. I’ve cycled 100 mile days many times. I’ve done over 150 miles in a day. I’ve cycled alone. I’ve climbed hills and mountains. I’ve reached the top. And savoured the all too short respite of a fast, exhilarating descent.
Why do it again? What are you proving and to whom? Yourself, the doubters or the encouragers?
The answer is simple. But it is what drives me on and provides all the motivation I need.
It is never a case of proving you can and are able. It is a case of doing something you enjoy and take immense pleasure and pride in. But doing so for those who can never have such opportunities. Those who can not and will never cycle a metre, let alone hundreds of miles. Those who can not and will never take a single step, let alone climb mountains. Those who through disability or illness can not and will never experience the freedom of exhilaration, the rush of adrenaline, the delight of achievement in completing a challenge such as cycling from one end of the country to the other or standing on a mountain summit and viewing the world below.
This Friday I will begin my latest charity fundraising challenge for Make A Wish and in memory of my daughter Milla.
Cycling 340 miles / 550km from Aberystwyth to Lowestoft, the West Coast of Wales to the East Coast of England in 3 days.
Alone. Just me, my bike, the Welsh mountains, the hills of England, the wind and possibly rain.
Every hill will send my stomach turning, an apprehension of pain and a desire for it to be over. The hills will probably turn my legs to jelly at some point.
But the one thing this cycle challenge will be is not pointless.
Because of the money raised already, Make A Wish will continue to give seriously ill and disabled children experiences and memories and happiness. Each wish granted will help in so many ways. And every child will feel as if they are standing at the top of a huge mountain, after a long climb. The world at their feet and a heart full of joy.
To support me and Make A Wish you can donate to my justgiving page;
It has been 11 years since I first started fundraising and taking part in some amazing physical challenges. Challenges that have led me to climbing to the summit of Kilimanjaro, standing opposite Mount Everest, cycling the length of Britain in 10 days and running the London marathon. Since 2007, I have raised over £32,000 / $40,000 for four UK based charities, Make A Wish, Scope, Bliss and Acorns Children’s Hospice. I have also written a successful charity cookbook, which is still available to buy, Milla’s Inspiration
Each charity supported my daughter Milla, who was severely disabled after an extreme pemature birth. Milla had cerebral palsy and was unable to speak or walk and required 24 hour a day care. Sadly Milla passed away in December 2016 aged 10. She was my motivation to fundraise and to do these tough endurance challenges, and she remains my motivation. As does her twin sister Louisa.
Next month I will be embarking on another charity challenge. To cycle from Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales to Lowestoft on the east coast of England in 3 days. A distance of 330 miles or 531 kilometres. A challenge not only in the distances to be cycled each day, but with the added challenge the topography and climate Britain presents every time you venture out on a bicycle.
We have been blessed with months of heatwave, continuous temperatures in the high 20’s to mid 30’s. Weeks and weeks of unbroken sunshine and beautiful clear blue skies and gentle breezes. But of course, all good things come to an end and the weather has changed noticeably. The first rains have returned and temperatures have cooled. Wet and windy weather is on the horizon and you sense autumn is round the corner.
Cycling from one side of the country to the other will involve not only the possibility of rain and wind (and no matter where you cycle, the wind always seems to be against you; it is a curious law of British physics), but a constant up and down over the hills of mid Wales and Central England. While the third and final day of the ride will be through the flattest part of the country in the Fenland of East Anglia (also known as Little Holland), the legs will have endured sufficient punishment. The final day will be no picnic and gentle ride to the beach side finish line.
On previous cycle challenges, I have been fortunate to have my oldest and best friend, Simon Whitton, in support. While I slogged the miles on the bike, he drove the car, loaded with spare bike gear, clothes, food, maps and anything else required. My job was unencumbered, just turn the pedals and keep going. Simon would set off a couple of hours after me, catch up and then leap ahead to rendezvous en route, whilst taking the chance to visit charity bookshops in the small towns we passed through, before greeting me with words of encouragement, a reviving pastry and a cup of tea from a cafe.
But not this time. Simon is otherwise engaged sadly. And I will be unsupported. Though that is not entirely true. While I will be carrying all my gear, ‘bikepacking’ as it is known, I will be joined for the ride by another wonderful friend, Guy Stapleford – or as he is known to many ‘Miles For Wishes‘. Guy has been actively fundraising for Make A Wish by undertaking some amazing physical endurance challenges, from climbing and cycling between the highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales, to running marathons and also cycling from John O’Groats to Lands End. but unlike me, he did it unsupported and in 9 days, not 10. An amazing inspiration and someone who has motivated me to continue to fundraise for Make A Wish.
We will fight our way by train (two bikes, saddle bags, commuters…could be fun) to Aberystwyth on the Welsh Coast carrying as little as possible, before setting off the following morning on a 110 mile route through the lumpy Cambrian mountain range and the Shropshire Hills.
Make A Wish UK
This challenge is in memory of Milla and raising money for Make A Wish UK. In 2012 Make A Wish granted Milla a wish and our family travelled to Disney World in Florida to spend a magical week at the Give Kids The World Village; a purpose built holiday village for children with life limiting conditions. Each child and their families were given VIP passes to all the Disney parks and the week was one that created memories that endure today. And that is the point. And the reason why, at age 50, I will continue to raise money for Make A Wish by doing these challenges.
Make A Wish help children to achieve a dream. A wish is more than a dream. It is an affirmation of who they are. They are wonderful children with amazing personalities and a right to experience happiness. A right to be treated as children and to have fun, to be happy, to make their own memories. Not just to be a number on a hospital appointment card, or to have their fun and a chance to play replaced by constant doctors visits, hospital admissions, operations, treatments, medicines. Childhood is a place where memories should be made. And Make A Wish ensure those memories are positive, happy and enduring. Not only for the children. They deserve all the happiness. But also their families, who get so much joy from seeing their child, their brother or sister relaxed, not thinking about their pain or discomfort. The smiles and laughter each memory, each wish brings, are the moments that stay with you. And believe me, it is Milla’s beautiful smile and her wonderful warmth and laughter, despite all her difficulties, that I remember every day. And Make A Wish giving us the chance to be a family, on a holiday together, created so many wonderful memories that the pain of losing Milla is lessened a little when I think of that time.
I am setting out to cycle across the UK, from West to East and as an experienced cyclist, I know what I am about to face. Each day around 7 hours in the saddle, maybe more. It will hurt. I am not built for hills. Not going up anyway. Saddle sores will be a problem, my back and my neck will ache. I will experience tiredness and at times it will be a struggle. But this is nothing compared to the pain and struggle these children go through every day. Nor the unending cycle of broken sleep and exhaustion their parents face. I have experienced weeks on end where Milla was awake all night. My suffering, my pain will be present, yet temporary. In a few days following the challenge, the memories of the discomfort will be pushed to the back of my mind. What will remain are images of stunning scenery, companionship and friendship on the bike with Guy and a sense, I hope, of achievement upon completing the challenge.
So I wish to complete the challenge and to raise £500 or more for Make A Wish. So that they can continue to let children have the happiness they deserve, some pleasure and a time away from pain and discomfort, to focus on them as people and children in their own right, not as patients. To give the families a chance to relax and to see the happiness a wish gives their child and to feel happy too. And to create memories that last a lifetime. Although as I know with Milla, that lifetime may not be very long. But the memories help you through the darkest days and sustain you always.
If you can help by donating to my fundraising page , I would be very grateful. The total currently stands at over £200. Any donation is welcome and every pound makes a huge difference.
2018 is a month in. February has arrived and what does this year hold in store?
A year that began with hope and optimism, and to a large extent has carried that optimism still.
My New Year resolution was made with the best of intentions. And unlike so many broken resolutions of previous years, I have stuck this one out.
My intention is to ensure that by the time I reach my 50th birthday in July, I will be ‘Fit and Fifty’..not fat and fifty. So far so good. A vegan diet, a reduction in sugar and quitting snacking, together with cycling regularly has already resulted in losing 5kg or 11lbs.
Long may it continue and I plan to keep it up.
But how to approach the year. Do I plough into the job market and look to immerse myself in full time employment? I am currently trying to make an online teaching business a viable proposition. Which means a lot of time at home, a lot of time on the computer and the opportunity to explore other interests during what I am calling my
‘Year of Living Creatively’.
In summary I am persuing various artistic objectives and interests. The year may not see me rich in financial terms, but instead emotionally, creatively and mentally rewarded by fulfilling long held ambitions.
In no particular order my creative challenges are:
1. Have a poem published in a literary magazine or journal. My poetry portfolio has grown to around 250 poems and feature on instagram @ajfrobisherpoetry or my website http://www.frobipoetry.com
2. Research, plan and write a novel. I have already begun my book and am enjoying playing with the written word, crafting prose and dialogue, developing characters and storylines.
3. Attend an opera. I have long enjoyed the operatic genre, yet have never had the opportunity to do so. There is nothing more powerful and affecting than stirring, emotive music played and sung live. Which opera? I love Italian opera, particularly Verdi and Puccini. La Traviata, Aida, Turandot or Tosca…we will see.
4. Develop my online blog. Having been a vegetarian for 4 years and recently adopted a vegan diet, I am intrigued by how veganism has gone mainstream – Veganuary was embraced by 160,000 new vegans this year and a host of celebrities. I will combine my love of cooking with my love of cycling. I will be cycling to local cafes and restaurants to sample their vegetarian/vegan dishes. And to write up interviews and reviews. Plus a range of delicious home cooked vegan recipes to inspire and get you cooking.
5. Continue to raise money for charities close to my family’s hearts. Make A Wish and Acorns Children’s Hospice. One or two challenges possibly involving walking and maybe cycling.
6. Increase my breadth of knowledge through a wider reading selection. Read at least one book a month on a range of different subjects.
7. Learn another language. As a language teacher, I know the joy of learning a new language. And how hard it can be. Which language? There are three vying for my attention. Arabic, Italian or Spanish.
8. Develop my Spanish / Flamenco guitar skills. I have played guitar for around almost 40 years. I am competent, but limited in my playing. Flamenco is the most beautiful guitar style – a wide repertoire of styles, techniques, rhythms and sounds. To be adept in some more advanced techniques would be wonderful
9. To explore my voice. My voice is clear with a neutral English accent, correct diction and it would be interesting to see whether it could be employed in audio book readings or other platforms that require a good speaker.
10. Finally, to explore my singing voice. I am no Pavarotti, but for my 50th year I would love to see what a singing teacher makes of my own tenor singing voice…from the shower to Covent Garden? Maybe not, but it would be great to see how I sound and whether my voice had potential.
So, a year of living creatively. An opportunity to explore different artistic areas. Let’s see how far I can progress with each ambition.
But of course alongside these 10 dreams, the reality of making a living.
Back to the blog. Back to teaching English and hopefully enabling others to achieve their goals in improving their own English language skills.