As I think I may have already mentioned, the primary focus for the next part of my walk is raising money for Breast Cancer Research. In Australia, this is through the National Breast Cancer Foundation. The charity was my Mum's choice - after being diagnosed with the condition last year, whilst I was in the desert, and being treated in Melbourne, she feels strongly about the need to raise money for research into a condition that affects 1 in 9 women worldwide. After hearing about her ordeal via telephone last year, I feel strongly about it too, and I am really glad to be able to raise money for the NBCF. They have just put up a link to my walk on their site; the address is www.nbcf.org.au , and the section on my walk is under the fundraising activities bar.
The NBCF has been hugely supportive about the walk, which has meant a lot to me. I do need to make clear at this stage that ANY donations go directly to the charity, not to me - it is possible to donate to my walk via this diary page, but I would encourage people to donate to the NBCF instead. I will find a way to walk in September no matter what - whereas the charity needs all the help it can get.
I write a lot on this page about boring things like making phone calls, and sitting on the computer. What I don't say so much about is how I have managed to actually get by since I have been back, and here it is way past due to talk about some of the people that have made my existence possible.
When I first landed, it was Dan and Stefania who put me up - for weeks on end. Despite being flat out, and having limited space, they put up with me being crashed on their floor for several weeks; fed me amazing Italian food every night; and listened to endless stories about the desert. I simply could not have found myself in happier circumstances, and their hospitality was as generous as it was joyful.
At this stage, I was still waiting for my criminal check to come back so that I could at least do a few days a week supply teaching in order to keep the wolf from the door. Another friend of mine, Steve, offered me a room at his house for a while. Steve is a part of my lovely old "Walthamstow community" - this consists of three houses all in a stone's throw of each other, all the inhabitants of whom have at some stage shared each other's houses. I moved into Steve's and had, for the first time in many months, the luxury of a room and a bed - something I will never take for granted again. Steve also just happens to be an AMAZING cook (yes, we all know how I feel about my food), and not only listened to me and offered advice on all things to do with the walk, but kept me stocked up with gorgeous food and enormous gin and tonics. He also gave me the greatest gift - somewhere to quietly work in peace. His house is where I am currently writing this from.
In between, Stephanie, who is the owner of the last home we lived in before setting off on the walk (and is also part of the Walthamstow crew) offered me a room with her. I thought it was time to give Steve a break - poor lad is working all the hours God gave and coming home to a ranting lunatic most days - and so for the last few weeks I have been staying with Steph, which means I chat to Dave from upstairs, Maria from next door, and all the other various people who share the houses or drop in and out.
I say all of this because many times over the last couple of months I have had a down day or two, and wondered what on earth is coming next, and how I will ever find a way to keep on walking. And every time I have had any kind of shaky moment, one of these beautiful people has been there, to listen, open a bottle, make a cup of tea, or offer me a meal. Never in all my life have I been more aware of the absolute gift of good mates, and of the extraordinary kindness people show one another. I rave about it a lot on the site, especially when we were in Morocco; but coming back here has reminded me of the fact that kindness is not something that just happens overseas whilst travelling, but rather is everywhere, and never more so than amongst those people who have believed in this venture from the start, and who have been my mates all the way through it.
When I spoke to Steve about this, he waved his hand, and said: "the only thing that is important is to pay it forward when you have the chance." Everybody in this community seems to feel that way, and if I know one thing, it is that I just hope one day that I have the opportunity to do so. I can never accurately describe how unbelievably comforting and touching it has been to have such support.
My family, who very rarely get a mention in these pages, are the others that I need to thank; my sister Lisa, who has sat on the phone and listened to me rant, rave, cry and despair, and never told me to shut the hell up, though she must have longed to. My Mum, who despite having struggled with dreadful illness this year has been nothing but a rock of support, and endless source of ideas, inspiration, and encouragement. My brother Ashley, who despite being on a cray boat in the middle of Northern Queensland somewhere still finds time to send me lovely emails that make me laugh; and my Dad and his partner Ela, down in Cornwall, who put me up, fed me, and came up with an array of suggestions - not to mention finding an entire wordrobe of clothes, since mine had pretty much had it!
Expeditions like this don't just take the efforts of one person. Without the love and support of all my friends and family, I would never have come this far, nor have had the confidence to believe that I can go further. Knowing that you are all out there and believing in what I am doing means absolutely everything, and keeps me afloat when I am scared of crashing. The cups of tea, the meals late at night when I am fed up with the computer, the bottle of wine at the end of a crap day (okay, the three bottles); all of these things keep me smiling, keep me believing, and keep me determined to really succeed at this.
Thankyou all so much. After these last two years, I have a great deal to pay forward, and I shall never forget that debt.
That was all a bit serious, wasn't it? I might have to find a comedy moment for the next one....