#OneBodyTwoCompetitors

Out in Malaga, Spain, in the last week of June 2017, something quite extraordinary took place. At least it would have seemed extraordinary, if not impossible, when I was a youngster in the early sixties. A global athletic event was organised for some 1350 men and women and yet 2700 people took part. For this was The World Transplant Games (#WTGMalaga2017) where every athlete could celebrate their athleticism along with their greatest benefactor, their donor  – perhaps living but more likely deceased – who had provided the organ and the opportunity for these athletes to live, thrive, throw, run, jump, swim – compete!

WTG on the rostrum

To put a personal perspective on this, my wife Karen – now 62 – was 55 when she received another person’s liver. She had suffered with a rare condition called Auto-Immune Hepatitis for a decade. This had, perhaps consequentially perhaps not, developed into a tumour in the liver. Whilst chemotherapy arrested that development, medical history suggested there could be a later return of the cancer. Time was of the essence and her esteemed consultants at Kings College Hospital, London, put her on the transplant register. No guarantees were offered and the average waiting time was 18 months to 2 years. She might of course have died whilst on the list. Many do!

That which may well have saved her was the decision to put her on the shorter list of non-heart-beating liver donors – livers from someone who, tragically, had died suddenly but whose organs had not yet deteriorated. This of course is full of unknowns. Unknown patients with unknown medical histories and unknown liver quality in each case. So it was that Karen and I raced in an ambulance car on eight different aborted occasions from Glastonbury, Somerset, to Kings only to find that the liver quality wasn’t quite good enough. Wonderfully, the ninth was! It was from a 45 year old man who had died suddenly and to whom, alongside his family, Karen will be forever grateful. There is, on the one hand, a frustration that we don’t know more about the donor. We wrote a letter of gratitude to his family using the hospital as an intermediary in line with protocol but, perhaps understandably, the donor family didn’t respond – feeling that anonymity was preferred. Whilst that is all understood, on the other hand wouldn’t it have been great to have let them know that Karen won 4 gold swimming medals and 1 silver within her age-group at these World Championships and that his excellent liver had played a crucial part in allowing her to be a World Transplant Games Record Holder in the 50 metres freestyle (60-69 age-group)? And Karen was not alone of course: throughout the week of The Games, one found that every athlete has their story: often tragic or altruistic for the donor, usually uplifting and inspiring by the recipient.

K swimming

The games, more generally, offer an almost old-style approach to sport with genuine and well-trained commitment to winning, linked with a celebration of everyone’s ability to participate. Certainly no ageism here and for many outside the medals, the Olympic ideal of ‘its not the winning but the taking part’ applied. After all, every competitor knew that without an organ donor they wouldn’t be competing, they would in all probability be dead. But not only that, they knew that in their one body there were two competitors: both contributing to the success achieved whether by winning medals or by being the highly-cheered final finisher in the 5000 metres race. As it happened, the biggest cheers of the week, both moving and heart-felt, were for the team of living donors and donor families. To have them there was the icing on an already wonderful cake.

This 21st World Transplant Games in Malaga was a well-organised and well-supported event. Facilities were stunning for the competitors from 52 different countries taking part in 17 different sports. Tennis / badminton / squash rackets, golf clubs, cycles, ten-pin bowling balls, darts (presumably in the plane’s hold), were all among the specialist equipment flown across. As is so often the case, Great Britain had started this idea back in 1978 with home games in Portsmouth and, on this occasion in Malaga, they still dominated with 152 golds, 80 silver and 100 bronze, beating USA into 2nd place in the medals table of 52 countries.

2019 will see a return to Great Britain when Gateshead / Newcastle host The Games. Malaga will be a hard act to follow but note-taking Geordie representatives out in Malaga headed home confident in their ability to keep the games developing as they have for nearly 40 years. At one point in the crowd, a British fan was heard to say, “Unlike other countries, we haven’t got a song to sing.” I suggest they start practising ‘The Blaydon Races’ now!

A final thought? September sees EDQM – European Organ Donation Day. Isn’t it about time that all parts of the United Kingdom got in line with those enlightened places where there is an opt-out process rather than an opt-in (which, of course, would mean that everyone is opted-in to organ donation unless they choose to opt-out)? Simple!#PoweredbytheGiftofLife

Gold

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Sexagenarians Cycle Coast to Coast – Shock Horror!

Isn’t it true that the ‘exception proves the rule?’ Okay, so one of our nine cyclists was 59 years old, but the other eight were well into their sixties so we’re happy that an aggregated age of 570 meets the group criteria for ‘sexagenarians.’ Five men, four women – all of whom displayed their own particular strengths throughout the five days.

C2C

Our task? To dip our back tyres into the Irish Sea at Whitehaven on a Tuesday afternoon and to dip our front tyres into the North Sea at Tynemouth the following Saturday morning. This entails, of course, a tough 140 miles cycle over The Pennines with hard-to-resist real ale quaffing stations,  in hotels of varying quality, in between. To be fair, there was commendable restraint on the quaffing front at least until the Friday night in Gateshead. The fact is that this was a demanding event for each and every one of us and though an average of 35 miles might seem quite easy, climbs to the top of the Whinlatter Pass, to Hartside Height (and its oasis of a cafe) and to the highest point in the National Cycle Network at Black Hill stay as reminders to us, as participants, of some of the challenges we faced.

Rather than a mile by mile description, here’s a brief flavour of what our C2C expedition involved:

Training (or lack of it): it is difficult to underestimate the discomfort of undertaking a cycle like this without some training. Sadly, for some of us, amongst whom I include myself, a few weeks of flat cycle training on social rides on a Tuesday evening was a bit inadequate. Those within the group who had put in the hard miles, mainly on the most challenging hills and undulations which Surrey could offer, saw those hours spent as ‘money in the bank’ when the biggest C2C climbs emerged.

Travel: a support van is certainly really helpful if not essential. Taking bikes on trains is not easy, whatever diehards may say, and taking nine bikes is just about impossible. As someone who previously undertook a recce of this cycle solitarily and with a rucksack on my back, let me also say that not carrying your own luggage is certainly desirable. So, big thanks to Dick and his assistant Jules. The train journeys from London and Northampton,  undertaken on this occasion, were perfectly good and enabled a punctual 3:30 pm start on Tuesday afternoon. Joanne even pointed out the iconic Flying Scotsman in Carlisle station as an added bonus! Journeys home on the Saturday were equally reliable and, after 30 hours in the saddle, seemed extremely comfortable.

Accommodation: it’s important to know where you need to get each day both as a motivation and as a challenge when the going gets tough. We all adapted: Hazel ate her rare steak without a drop of blood on show, Belinda ate all her own meals, Karen found gluten-free food in the most unlikely places, while Sarah got close to maintaining her healthy diet. Our best stop was the iconic Allenheads Inn – a friendly, quirky, 18th century inn which would win no prizes for modern H & S standards but wins our prize for the most memorable stay. So, the advice is ‘make it memorable.’

Costs: not inconsiderable for sure. The van needs hiring and needs negotiating in a way which leaves you with a low insurance excess. As Dick, our driver, will tell you, low walls are incredibly difficult to see in the wing mirrors and even small dents exceed an insurance excess of £350. Accommodation should be possible averaging @c.£50 per head for bed and breakfast. Train fares, meals, snacks and of course the odd beer or seven all add up. Don’t expect much change from £500.

C2C2

Cycling: Tuesday afternoon saw a reasonable 21 miles first leg to Low Lorton with just enough of a climb to prepare for the climbs to come! Wednesday’s cycle was challenging certainly and by the time we made the final run-in to Edenhall we were all grateful for the shelter and showers which lay ahead. Thursday and Friday both provided us with tough climbs and exhilarating downhills. It wasn’t long though before we learned to distrust downhills, knowing there would always be ‘payback.’ Friday’s initial climb – described by a local as ‘a complete baaastard’ – made our midday coffee and cake break much deserved. Thereafter that day, the extended cycle track into Gateshead was level…and therefore sheer heaven… other than for one of our cyclists, Pete, who was given the nickname that night of ‘Pete Two Punctures’ – nuff said! Saturday morning should have been a level, lovely run-in to Tynemouth. So it was, to a point, until Chris went flat three miles out from our North Sea destination – or at least his back tyre did. Chris’ decision to scoot or walk his bike those last three miles rather than to call up the van was typical of the spirit this trip engendered. By midday, we were there, together, just as we had started, dipping our tyres into the unwelcoming yet seductive North Sea.

Quotes? Well, of course, they won’t mean that much if you weren’t there but…

  • Something you don’t often hear a woman say; Maggie on this occasion, “Ooh – nice tarmac!”
  • Paul: “Right hand down a bit, Dick; mind that…er… wall”
  • “What can we expect in this next section Clive?” (and, after the answer) “Liar!”
  • Clive: “Feel free to overtake; I’m finished.”
  • Local farmer: “Ee, you don’t wanna be going down that bloody rood.”
  • Jules, with sandwich, to female participant, “Wanna bite of my pork?”
  • All participants to Highways Agency van driver on phone who overtook the group as we were turning right, “F***ing arsehole!”

In summary, a fantastic effort by senior citizens who demonstrate how age is just a number and that fitness is available to all who, wherever possible, refuse to be restricted by ill health. Of the three travelling (and walking) supporters two have had cancer, whilst one cyclist has had liver cancer and a liver transplant, one skin cancer, two have had heart attacks, all have had their fair share of health’s ups and downs and one was suffering from shingles during the trip. None were daunted by this task – they were all quite fantastic.

Well done everyone! As I said on more than one occasion, “I am so impressed by your fitness and resilience.”

As the legendary sports commentator, David Coleman, might once have said, “Quite remarkable!”

C2C3

 

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J, K, L and M…what next for Ks?

Saturday 29th April, 2017, just about 57 years to the day after my first match watching Kingstonian play, I went to Kingsmeadow to watch their last game at the ground they’ve known as home for the last 28 years. Now, I don’t claim to have been a great supporter of Ks, just a long-standing one – and to be honest Kingsmeadow holds few memories for me. Being based now in Northampton, its an effort to go to games to be frank – and I was a Richmond Road boy at the time that I was a fanatic, between the ages of eight and thirteen.

Growing up in Norbiton, the journey to the Thorpe Road entrance could be a decent walk or a bus ride on the 282 or 283. As an aside, have you noticed how final destinations on a bus route can seem so glamorous until you actually go there? The 283, as I remember it, went to ‘The Bittoms.’ Wow – a leafy glade with a small pond, perhaps? No, just a characterless bit of Kingston alongside the Crown Court as it turns out.

I digress; Isthmian League matches in the 60s were largely on Saturdays and not always at 3pm. Before floodlights were installed in those early 60s, the games started earlier during the depths of winter. It mattered little because, at my most enthusiastic, I always arrived at least an hour before kick off to catch the players arriving so that autographs could go into the programme. Denis Montague always fascinated me as he often arrived looking as if he’d just finished a shift of hod-carrying. Dave Richards, what we now call a holding midfielder and no 4 (I think Nobby Stiles based his game on Dave’s), signed his autographs as he played,  with the smile of a baby-faced assassin; Johnny McCormack was cool – of course; Hugh Lindsay, straight from teaching Saturday morning’s lessons always looked appropriately cerebral but often late and harassed. Brian Wakefield, too, kept goal in the way that he walked in, somewhat unkempt but with a professorial air. Tony Slade’s rolling gate always made me think of him as an erstwhile member of the Royal Navy.

Thorpe Road always got me into the main stand area, a bit more expensive but well worth it for the proximity to players that a ten year old demands. Cups of tea and jam doughnuts accompanied the watching of the match and I remember then, as I noticed yesterday, that in amongst the usual banter there’s always someone with an uncouth turn of phrase who brings about an awkward silence from those around him. Always undaunted though!

Of course, the stalwart supporter for the Ks then, and for so many years after, was Jack Goodchild. I remember Jack being immaculately smart, with the charisma to draw a crowd around him, and at several appropriate times in the game to shout aloud with the slow delivery of a Spurs chant, “Come…on…you…Ks.” I failed to maintain my physical support for Ks after my mid-teens so I don’t know Jack’s story from the late 60s onwards but when a road’s named after you, as of course it is after Jack outside Kingsmeadow, you must have left your mark.

So, J, K, L and M… J is for Janus the two-headed Roman God who looked back and looked forward. Ks will always have that great capacity to look back with pride at their history: back to 1933, winning the FA Amateur Cup, 1960 FA Amateur Cup runners-up (my first game), 1999 and 2000 as FA Trophy winners – a history that few clubs can match. AFC Wimbledon has shown how, with determination and dedication, and some financial help, even the worst situations can be overcome. So, we must look forward with all of those attributes and with the hope of the sort of financial help that’s needed.

K stands for the Ks of course, and for what lies ahead? Next season sees a ground-share with L for Leatherhead – an understandable fall-back position but hardly the long-term way forward for the Royal Borough’s prime football team. In my fanatical youth I dreamed of my rich adult self taking Ks forward to a life in the old First Division. Sadly, as an adult I lack the financial clout to even offer to buy the match ball for a game – and yet I think to myself, the Royal Borough of Kingston must have its Elton John equivalent – someone who can do for Ks what Elton did for Watford. But, for now, its M for Mystery!

Certainly my recent visits to the games against Leatherhead, Merstham and Havant & Waterlooville give me the feeling that a great spirit is abroad. A new character has emerged in the shape of Craig Edwards. He has the look of someone who can conjure up the magic which may be needed – and perhaps Kingstonian can be the new AFC Wimbledon (I know, whisper it though, as I can remember just how deadly that Isthmian League rivalry between the two clubs used to be).

Almost in the immortal words of ‘Delia Smith,’ erstwhile national cooking guide and Norwich football guru, “Let’s be ‘aving you. Ks need your support and they need it now.”

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Only In Vegas… And Only Once (for me)!

Well, they say you should experience everything once. So, I’ve experienced Las Vegas and, if you have the chance, I’d say take any opportunity, go and then decide, perhaps like me, that you never need to go again or decide, like my wife’s cousin Kimberley (who admittedly lives only a car drive away in LA), that you’d love to go back most months of the year.

Now I could be pretty prudish about Las Vegas and complain that it’s a sin city where all life hangs out – and I mean hangs out! And certainly, no-one can go to Las Vegas oblivious to its deserved reputation. It does what it says on the tin. You’re bombarded with offers of ‘girls, girls, girls’ and you can have your photo taken in the street with the naughtiest nuns you’ve ever seen or with female police officers whose handcuffs look ready for 50 shades of grey rather than law enforcement activities. And do they offer ‘extras?’ Yes I think so! Fun to observe, for sure, but when you look into the eyes of those doing the offering, they don’t look wholly happy with their lot.

Similarly, I went with no interest in slot machines or any other type of gambling. More fool me, I hear you say, as going for 4 days to Las Vegas without an interest in gambling is like going to Stamford Bridge for 4 Premier League matches without an interest in football. Slot machines meet you in the airport terminal and in every hotel lounge. Games of ‘craps’ or ‘blackjack’ can make your fortune or, much more likely in the long-term, leave you like the sad, homeless hombres on most street corners.

This is all making it sound like I didn’t enjoy my trip. But I did! I loved the spectacle of looking out from the top of a half-size Eiffel Tower, or walking through an indoor shopping mall at dusk (c/o artificial sky) which so-much resembled Venice that it had real canals, gondolas and gondoliers singing to their customers. I loved walking ‘the strip’ with choreographed fountain displays and watching a volcano erupt across the street from Denny’s restaurant. I even laughed at the name given to one restaurant, ‘Heart Attack Grill’ with customers in surgical smocks and waitresses all scantily clad in their nurses’ uniforms.

Heart Attack Grill

Las Vegas takes you to a series of fantasy worlds. Las Vegas doesn’t care about your colour, class or gender (or transgender for that matter); only your money. And, for me, 4 days was great but, also, it was enough – enough for one lifetime I think!

P.S. I couldn’t resist this view from a bridge in Las Vegas – ‘Trump, The Mirage (if only…)’

Trump The Mirage

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Saving Kingstonian – A Manifesto (of sorts)

Its absolutely fantastic to find, now follow and re-blog here such passionate support for the Ks. I can’t pretend I’ve done much for the club but I have followed them from a  distance for most of my 65 years. I’m excited by what’s been written not because I know it to be true but because I can tell how much passion for the club is there. Come on, let’s have the debate, let’s save the Ks.

THE KINGSTON ROAD END

Plenty has already been said and written about the referendum on community ownership, and it’s not my intention to add too much fuel to that particular fire. In my view, the referendum was ill-conceived, poorly timed and badly delivered; as such, both the exceptionally low turnout, and the one-sided result, were hardly surprising.

But something positive did come out of the referendum process: the opening of a (limited) dialogue between the board and fans, and the start of a debate amongst supporters with different views about the short and medium-term future of Kingstonian Football Club. This was much needed. There is clearly a variety of opinions about what needs to happen in the next few months, and the next few years, in order for the football club to survive and hopefully prosper in the future. These opinions need to be aired, and ideas shared, because at some point very soon…

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A Sixties Perspective : Kinks, Ks and Kingston Grammar

One of my 65th birthday treats last week was to go to Northampton’s Derngate Theatre to see the pop musical Sunny Afternoon. As a fan, and with a personal history which involved a few drinking sessions with The Kinks’ drummer Mick Avory (he drank in my dad’s pub in West Molesey, Surrey), I was excited to go – and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Of course, the birthday being the one that it was and The Kinks’ era being when it was, nostalgia kicked in big time. Sleeping that night took some time, as I constantly roamed the thoughts and memories of the early sixties which refused to take a back seat in my tired but over-active mind.

My earliest football memory immediately struck home: going with my Dad to Wembley, April 1960, to see one of the last of the examples of playing football for fun. Kingstonian was playing Hendon in the FA Amateur Cup Final with 40,000 ardent fans from South and North London respectively. The legendary Johnny Whing headed Ks into an obviously deserved lead (obvious in my memory anyway). Hendon fought back but all was well as Ks held on to the 1 goal advantage – even with 4 minutes to go – except that was when Laurie Topp and Terry Howard became Hendon’s heroes. Their two late goals stole the cup from my newly-found, and from that point onwards, much-loved local football club. Little did I think then that the Ks would still hold a place in my heart 57 years later. I was devastated then, as an 8 year old, when they lost in that fashion. I am similarly devastated, now, as I hear of the crisis facing this famous old club who lose possession of their rented ground at Kingsmeadow at the end of this season. I’ve just read an update from club directors and, given that fans gave, in effect, a vote of confidence to the board recently it’s surely up to every Ks fan to hold the directors to account, certainly, but also to get behind them. I won’t pretend that as a distant fan I know the political workings of the club but I do know that it’s too famous and long-standing to be allowed to whither without a real fight.

 

Back to the sixties and by 1963 football gained a rival, though somewhat reluctantly. While I was pleased that I was a beneficiary of the flawed 11+ system, the thought of going to a school which combined red and grey striped blazers, bright red caps and only the sport of hockey for two of the three terms each year, filled me with dread. As it turned out, I loved the hockey if not the sneaking around my neighbourhood with a hockey stick sticking out of my bag. In other respects, my French teacher’s 4th form annual report pithily and probably most accurately described my academic success at Kingston Grammar: ‘I tell him he’s lazy – he doesn’t agree.’

Certainly, the sixties stayed with me. Although my football allegiance moved along the A307 towards, initially, Fulham, then more fashionably to Chelsea, I never forgot the Ks and still watched them whenever I could. Johnny McCormack was the James Dean figure of Richmond Road in the sixties, sulkily lurking close to goal, and scoring loads (he also taught Maradona the illegitimate skill of holding your arm close in front of your head to score ‘hand of God’ goals, though John rarely got away with it in the games that I watched).

Hockey became my participatory sporting love, playing the game from the age of eleven until I was in my fifties; and The Kinks, alongside The Beatles, nurtured a love of popular music that epitomised the swinging sixties in England. Ah, happy memories!

 

 

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Ks in Crisis? Fans reject chance to take over Kingstonian as uncertainty over club’s future grows

Thought I’d re-blog this as I researched for my own blog. Save the Ks!

Fans voted on whether to become a community owned club over the autumn, but only 56 supporters moved to take control compared to 111 people against.

from This Is Local London | News

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