Sorrel4Andy

Mountsorrel Butter Market with Andy’s flat behind

Andy and I grew up in the village of Mountsorrel halfway between Loughborough and Leicester.  Although I didn’t appreciate it growing up, the village has a lot going for it with the Butter Market, Soar Valley Leisure Centre, canal, farm, quarry and newly opened heritage railway.

It also has a great church.  We didn’t go to church much when we were growing up but when Andy moved back to Mountsorrel he decided to do an Alpha course at Christ Church.  The friendly folk he met, especially Christine and Mick Butcher, had a massive impact on him and he made the decision to go back to church.  Here he is talking to Bishop Tim back in 2009 at the Cromwell Road Coffee House (he appears with his mouth full about 7 minutes into the video!).

For Andy, friendship was always important (as well as food!).  Through the human contact he experienced as part of the church family at Christ Church, he had a profound and life-changing experience of the love of God.  In fact, he told his friends there that he thanked God for his VHL because without it he wouldn’t have met Jesus.

And just as his new-found friends had an impact on him, he had a lasting impact on them too.  He is still fondly remembered, and I am so thankful that the church in Mountsorrel are holding two events to support my walk and raise money for VHL.

The first is a Quiz4Andy on Friday 5th May at 7pm, probably with lots of questions about cars that I wouldn’t be able to answer!

The second event is a Coffee/LunchDay4Andy on Saturday 13th May 10am-2pm.  There will be lots of Andy’s favourite food including bacon sarnies and chocolate cake.  I’m planning to join them on the Saturday, walking from Evington to Mountsorrel (about 10 miles) to be there in time for lunch.

St Paul talked about the church family being like a body where if one part hurts the whole body suffers.  I love the fact that I still have brothers and sisters in Mountsorrel who feel what I feel, will pray with me when I’m finding things tough and who want to do their bit to help.  Thank you to all of you!

Andy’s Cars

If there’s one thing everyone knew about Andy it was that he loved cars.

Andy fulfilling a life-long dream at Prestwold Hall

Back when we were small he would line up his Matchbox cars alongside my Britain’s animals … then run them all over!  I will never forget the time he took me out in his first car, a little white Nova.  It might have been small but Andy really knew how to make it go!  I do wonder if he was deliberately trying to scare the pants off me as we flew round the bends on the country roads between Mountsorrel and Quorn – it worked, because it took a long time before I was willing to go in the car with him again!

It was a passion I could never understand and still don’t to be honest, despite living in a neighbourhood where every other car is a BMW or Mercedes.  For me a car is just a means to get from A to B and the less I have to think about it the better!

One of Andy’s cars surrounded by painted pottery and other Hilary’s nicknacks!

There were lots of things that made me and Andy very different.  As children that meant we hardly ever saw eye to eye.  But, to quote this week’s episode of The Durrells, difference is not the same as divergence, and as adults Andy and I both found a faith that drew us together, that crossed the boundaries of interests and taste and life choices.  What mattered was that we truly were brothers now, in flesh and in spirit.  For that I will always be grateful, and his toy cars which his nieces now own are a reminder that we don’t all have to like the same things to be as one.

Walk with a bear hunt …

Managed to get the whole family to join me for a 6 mile walk on Saturday.  We went from Great Glen out to Burton Overy and the sun shone for at least part of the time.

It was reassuring to find that it didn’t feel too onerous although there were some complaints …

Not least when our way ahead was blocked by a tree, maybe one that came down in storm Doris several weeks ago now.  ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’ was a favourite book to share with the girls when they were small and so what immediately came to mind were these words:

We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it,

Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!

Well, the girls tried to climb right through the middle of the fallen tree and just made it out with one or two scratches.  Wendy and I found an alternative route with a bit of ducking and weaving.  Rolo couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and trotted underneath!

I thought about Andy and the many barriers that blocked him from doing what he really wanted to do.  He was mad about cars and would have loved to be a mechanic but his health problems got in the way.  He trained as an electrician at college and would have been a brilliant one but was told that it wouldn’t be good for his head to be twisting and looking up all the time.  He lost his driving licence and his ability to work.  But he kept smiling.

I was inspired by his courage and his confidence that there would be a way through all that got in his way.  Certainly in later life his rediscovered faith made a difference to how he approached these things.  The way through may not be obvious and it may involve a few scratches and bruises but he wouldn’t let that stop him.  When he died I swore my life would be different because he lived not because he died.  So when it comes to the obstacles on my own path,  I won’t give up hope either.

#headstogether

Last night I had the privilege of talking about mental health with a fantastic group of young people from my local air cadet squadron.

As their padre I wanted to encourage the cadets to think about St George and his dragon alongside the courage needed to fight our own dragons whatever form they may take.  I have a number of friends and colleagues who have inspired me over the past few years with the courage they have shown in talking openly about their own battles with the dragons of mental illness.

We looked at how we can improve our mental health and that of those around us, be honest about it when we are unwell and how we can support friends who are struggling.  This video got a powerful response. https://youtu.be/SE5Ip60_HJk.

There has been a lot of publicity recently around the Princes’ #headstogether campaign, tackling the stigma often attached to mental health (not least in churches I have to say where it can be especially hard to admit that things are not ok).

I was able to talk with the cadets about signs to look for and possible triggers for a deterioration in mental health, including exam pressure, bullying, moving to a new place and of course losing someone we love.

I know when Andy died in 2013, just three months after my dad, I fell to pieces.  I was angry with a God who would let this happen to those I loved when I selfishly thought that I had given up so much for him.  I didn’t want to go out or see people in the parish because I felt they would expect me to be able to deal with it.  I had to take time off work and was offered a course of counselling which helped me begin to put the pieces back together again.  I was especially thankful for very supportive and sympathetic bosses (my bishops!).

What we concluded last night was that the people around us make a huge difference to how we deal with our mental health, whether they are supportive, take us seriously and will listen sympathetically, or whether they feel awkward and make jokes about it to defuse their own discomfort.

I’m with the Princes (and the Duchess) on this.  We really need to put our #headstogether to find more ways to improve the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health of everyone in our communities.

As for me, I’m hoping that walking Hadrian’s Wall will have a positive impact in all four areas!

Headway

Image result for headwayleicester

Headway are an amazing organisation that work to support people with all kinds of brain injuries.  Andy got involved with Headway Leicester in the last few years of his life and benefited greatly from their services.  Over the years he endured countless operations on his brain to deal with growing tumours, and while saving his life, the cumulative effect could be seen in his slower responses, slurred speech and increased physical disability.  It was an inoperable tumour on the brain stem which haemorrhaged the night he died.

264915_10150213408028867_3089400_n
Andy on a Headway holiday

Not only did the support workers at Headway help Andy go on holiday, get out to the cinema, go bowling and do the normal things that he desperately wanted to do as a young single man in his mid-thirties, but they also gave him opportunities to rediscover his practical and creative gifts.  I believe that there is something hugely important about our creativity, that it is an essential part of what makes us human and made in God’s image.  I still treasure some of the things Andy made with the help and support of Headway…

img_2748

2571_59531058866_6299662_n
Andy with some of his creations

I dropped in to the Headway centre in Evington this week to drop off some flyers and was delighted to have the chance to meet a lady with VHL who is now being supported there.  Headway typically helps people who have had brain injuries, perhaps through accidents, rather than those with degenerative conditions like VHL.  I remember one of the staff telling me it was unusual because they were used to people coming in seriously ill and slowly recovering, whereas for Andy and others with VHL it was the reverse.  Like Andy though, this lady struck me as a remarkably strong and positive person in spite of her illness and once again I was humbled by the resilience of the human spirit in the face of life’s challenges and reminded of why I am doing all this.

Tread softly

It has to be said that I am a bit heavy on my feet and wear out my shoes more quickly than I can afford!  I am trying to go a bit more gently on my fantastically comfortable and light Berghaus walking boots.


Being back at work this week means less time for practice walks.  But this is where I’m grateful for my faithful companion Rolo, without whom I would be even more of a couch potato and workaholic!

 

 

 

I am also thankful for the beautiful part of Leicester in which I am blessed to live with the stunning Shady Lane arboretum and Piggy’s Hollow on my doorstep.  On a bright clear morning like yesterday it is such a joy to see, the bluebells and other spring flowers beginning to sprout.

I’ve no idea what the weather will be like up on Hadrian’s Wall – probably a bit mixed I imagine.  But I do know that there will be equally stunning scenery to enjoy.

While I am getting some fresh air up on the Wall, I am delighted and touched by the support that will be here for me at St Denys in Evington.  My colleagues have organised a number of walks as well as lots of prayer.  In the arboretum there will be a Walk with Wonder and a Welly Walk for young families.  These are things we do regularly now as part of our move towards Eco Church status, inspired by the Gold Award holders at St Catherine’s Church, Burbage who came to speak to our Annual Meeting last night.

‘Tread softly, all the earth is holy ground’ wrote Christina Rossetti and I’m reminded of those words every time I go out for a walk at the moment.  They seem particularly apt in this Easter season:

Tread softly! all the earth is holy ground.
It may be, could we look with seeing eyes,
This spot we stand on is a Paradise
Where dead have come to life and lost been found.

Treading softly isn’t only good advice for those of us who are a bit heavy on our feet, it’s good advice for all of us as we reflect on our impact on the world around us.  I need to beware, lest I trample roughshod over those fragile new shoots with my size 8 Berghaus boots!

Walking with Diabetes

Prophetic sign? Seen in the diabetes clinic!

So, another complication in my planned walk is my diabetes.  In 2006, when I was 28, I was diagnosed with Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes, just like my dad was when he was around the same age. (That should have given me a clue, but I didn’t even spot the signs when I was drinking more and weeing more, eating non-stop without losing weight, and generally exhausted – I was a teacher at the time so that seemed pretty normal!)

Thanks to the support I had at Addenbrookes, I’ve been on an insulin pump for the last five years.  The pump drip feeds insulin into my body all the time and is permanently attached to my side through a tiny cannula.  Here it is, my life support machine…

When it comes to walking Hadrian’s Wall, as someone who isn’t particularly active or sporty, I have tried to be sensible, planning to walk no more than about 10 miles in one day.  I’ll take plenty of snacks and make sure I reduce my background insulin.  Having said that, I still managed to have a hypo on one of my practice walks last week!

In the past week I’ve been to see my specialist nurse and hospital consultant to talk with them about my anxieties.  They are a great team and I feel well supported.  My biggest worry is not so much my blood sugar levels as my feet!  They aren’t beautiful (as you can see!) and you should pity my poor colleague who had to wash them on Maundy Thursday, but as far as the walk goes they are pretty much essential.  Without them, I’m stuffed.

What has amazed me is that you can live with a body for very nearly 40 years, and still be discovering new things about it!  I’ve discovered this week that my right foot is more flat-footed than my left which explains why I was suffering a bit more with aches on that side after my practice walks.  (It also explains why I’ve never been a great dancer, although my eldest would say that’s just being a normal embarrassing dad!)

All in all, it’s really helpful to know about these potential weaknesses at an early stage so I can try to do something about it.  Good socks and boots will make a big difference but I’ll be looking for a bit of extra support for that middle part of my right foot!