Chapter 17: Lands End to John O'Groats
One of the highlights of the ride, Northern England
You're a red, not even a city fan, he smiled, and I thought yes and now I'll even stand outside Maine Road with a blue if it gets some press coverage to help dolphins
In 2002 I decided to try and highlight the problem of by-catch by cycling from Lands End to John O'Groats. Mary and Alan Stuart from the European Cetacean Bycatch Campaign agreed to act as co-ordinators for my ride by acting as press officers. I set off on April 23rd, which was the start of Fish Free Week, which was an initiative of Alan and Mary. I hadn't done much cycle-camping in the previous few years and although I was still capable of riding 40 or 50 miles around the quiet country lanes of Shaftesbury, when I left Lands End I was wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew.
The problem was, could my weak left leg stand up to successive days of riding? I was lucky with the weather and after eighteen days riding, I reached O'Groats on May 12, averaging 56 miles a day. The riding had gone better than I had dared hope for and I felt really elated when I sat at Duncansby Head, the most north-easterly point in Britain, on the evening of May 12th . However the media response to my ride could have better. I figured doing a ride for dolphins which everyone loves, don't they, combined with the illness of Multiple Sclerosis, of which there are around 80,000 sufferers in the UK, would be a winning formula of media coverage. However in all I did only about a dozen paper and radio interviews, a small number but hopefully I made a few people think and set a few seeds growing in their minds, and also in their shopping habits.
I hadn't thought I would enjoy the end to end, so as a sort of reward I had decided to cycle Ireland from end to end from Malin Head to Mitzen Head. I had always loved cycling in Eire, my favourite areas were Connemara and County Claire. Although The Irish end to end is only around 300 - 350 miles but, I did twice that zig-zaging around. After that I was buzzing and was tempted to go over to Scandinavia and do Finland or Norway end to end. But I didn't, and that remains a regret because although I wasn't to know it, my MS progressed to the point that I had to stop cycling in 2005, when I realised I was becoming a danger not just to my self but other road users. The year before, I cycled up Gold Hill the steep cobbled hill made famous by television for the Hovis advertisement! In a three hour challenge to raise money for Naomi House, a children's hospice. I managed it thirty-seven times and raised around a thousand pounds.
Another passion in my life ended in 2005, I had to stop doing educational street information stalls on the threats to whales and dolphins. I had started them in 1993 in Manchester and the surrounding towns with the launch of the Faroe Isles pilot whale campaign and continued them in Dorset and Wiltshire after moving down south in 1998. I probably did around 1500 in those twelve years and usually enjoyed the task of trying to open peoples eyes to what humans were doing to cetaceans by whaling, fishing net entanglement and dolphinaria and how individuals could make a difference by boycotts of the produce of whaling nations or by boycotting captive shows and by giving up fish and becoming vegetarian or vegan.
Public information via street stalls were mostly rewarding days for me and sometimes funny, occasionally strange, days. In Manchester in the 90s, a man and woman were walking past the stall when suddenly he grabbed her arm and said to her, "sign the petition, be radical", I started to laugh and then realised he was deadly serious, I thought what is happening to some people when they think signing a petition is being radical!. I wanted to tell him about some of my ALF activities or the raid on Unilever. Again in my home town, I had a drug user seek sanctuary under my table for about an hour while intent on securing every last drop of liquid through a straw out of a paper carton.
I was, I think, also a matchmaker. In Salisbury in the early 2000s, a chap called Graham stopped to tell me he had become a vegetarian after reading one of the stall's leaflets, I was chuffed and then some months later he stopped again, this time with a woman. I asked her if she was a vegetarian and she said she had been one for years. I wondered if they had met because of one of my leaflets!
One time I will never forget is a truly poignant account told to me in Weymouth in the early 2000s, by a navy soldier who had served in the war and was in his eighties when he stopped to sign my petition. He recounted how he had been sunk twice by U boats in twenty-six hours in the Mediterranean and was in the sea for some time before being rescued. He said there had been sharks circling and I think he may have said some sailors had been attacked; he had been saved he said by a protective ring of dolphins, he truly had more reason than most to like dolphins, he believed he owed his life to them. A similar account was told to me on another occasion in Bournemouth. I had tears in my eyes on both occasions, and so did they.
Occasionally you had the wind up merchants with comments like, nothing wrong with whaling, humans have been doing it for centuries. My reply was humans have been killing each other for even longer, should we continue? In Salisbury a middle aged man who you would hope would know better wanted to know where he could sign up for the whale-hunt, with a straight face I said, try the tourist information office and he walked off deflated as he hadn't got the angry response he was after. It was always better not to let them think with their minscule intelligence, they had won!
One time in Huddersfield outside a Marks and Spencer store, it must have been a slow crime day as seven police officers were sent to deal with one man and his paste board table!
In Shaftesbury, my adopted town, the police wanted to take my details. When I refused to give my date of birth, the officer said "makes me suspicious when someone will not give that". I had read that it makes it more difficult to trace a person on their system without a birth date and this seemed to be confirmed because it was only after I relented and gave it to him that he found me to be clean!
It was usually the street trading people rather than the police I had occasional run-ins with. In Dorchester and Salisbury, it was did I have a license to display a collecting tin or sell dolphin necklaces? They seemed to be questioning the authenticity of me, yet beggars as far as I could see were not hassled!
In Weymouth it was the people who patrolled the front with vigour that wouldn't allow me set up on the sea-front, but I did until evicted and then moved into the town centre!
There was always a way round hassles because I had always believed that this was an alleged free country and a democracy.
In Lyme Regis, where dolphins are sometimes spotted in the bay, I had a run in with a councillor who called the police and I had a subsequent letter from the council threatening prosecution for my breach in apathy to the slaughter of whales and dolphins. A few weeks later I was camped up on the cliff edge and late at night really loud music was booming up from a town event which probably exceeded legal limits but no one seemed to care about that, as money was coming into the place.
Sometimes an evangelist would spot me and decide I could be a convert but would only rarely show the slightest interest in my work and saving his god's creatures. One day in Exeter, I said to one, this is my pulpit (the paste board) and pointing to passing people on the pavement, they are my congregation and I need to concentrate on them!
In 2009 I decided to retire Cetacea Defence and myself from campaigning. This was because of my worsening condition and my frustration in regard to the limits of the Internet in finding genuine people who were reliable and wanted to help whales and dolphins. It wasn't easy to kill off ones own baby but I didn't want Cetacea Defence to exist in name alone as I thought that would detract from past achievements.
It wasn't all sad decisions. In 2009 I was listening to an item on Iraq and how impoverished people still were six years after the immoral and often quoted "illegal" invasion of the country. I have always believed in the power of 1 and thought to contact Action Aid to try and sponsor an Iraqi child. It wasn't possible so as an option took out sponsorship of a child in Afghanistan. It has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made and started me off on another trail of passion. In the last four years I have become a sponsor to five children, two Afghan girls, one Burmese girl, one Zimbabwean girl and this year a Tibetan girl refugee living in India. I have never believed in doing things by half and have therefore also funded the building of four bore hole wells in Balkh District. Two are at Rabat School and Rabat village where Tawhida lives and attends the school and one is in Heserak village where Madina lives. I have also half funded the building of a new classroom at Rabat school, and funded fifty five desks and chairs for the classroom. I know that people have access to clean water and so the satisfaction I have got is immeasurable, probably more so than what I believe the dolphin campaigns achieved because those dolphinariums may have closed anyway despite my involvement and efforts. Actually being involved with child sponsorship and the projects has probably saved my life too.