Sorted Issue 67
In the our latest Issue 66, read about turning from a life of crime to a life living for God, 007 and walking 1,000 miles. We also have many more brilliant articles from our great team of columnists. Don’t miss this limited edition magazine.
And Gadgets, Entertainment, Motoring, Movies, Technology
Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
The Rise of the Nice Guy Leader - by Andy Cope
The three Rs of leadership
As 9-5 morphs into 24/7, it brings mounting pressures and new rules. Your life is full-on, relentless and exhausting and worse still, it’s zipping by in a blur. It’s easy to end up careering from one crisis to another, buzzed up on sugar and coffee, existing from one holiday to the next.
The quickening pace applies to all aspects of life, but nowhere more so than the workplace. Too many emails, customers and back-to-back meetings.
The leader’s job is to squeeze more from less. You can’t work any harder. And if we tell you to work smarter, you’ll want to knee us in the groin. You’ve thought inside the box. Outside the box. You’ve even removed the box. So, where next?
You deserve a break. We believe leaders need to be challenged in an entertaining and humane way so enter, centre stage, Leadership: The Multiplier Effect, a rip-roaring tour through the essentials of leadership as it needs to be RIGHT NOW.
We’ve always been a bit jealous of education and its three Rs, so in a mind-blowing explosion of simplicity, we’ve supplanted the Rs to leadership – relationships, relationships and relationships.
The more crises that come our way, the more we can be excused for throwing ourselves headlong at the problem(s). I mean, after all, when everyone around you is sinking, the right thing to do is roll up your sleeves and muck in, right?
Maybe? It’s certainly easy to get sucked into helping out at the coalface. Jumping in, superhero-like, is sometimes absolutely the right thing to do.
However, step back and consider that not all superheroes wear capes. Some might wear a headset, a hard hat, tabard, overalls or a tool belt. Transport-wise, while a Batmobile might be ultra-cool, it’s more likely your superheroes will drive a van, a lorry or turn up at work in an ordinary car. Incredibly, some superheroes actually cycle to work. And while the movies might have you believe in a lasso of truth or invisibility cloak, your real-life superheroes might wield a mop and bucket, a spanner, keyboard, spreadsheet or ordinary-looking briefcase.
So superhero lesson #1: just because your team members look normal, doesn’t mean there’s not a superhero inside, itching to get out.
Secondly, spotting them is the easy part. Getting your Diana Princes and Peter Parkers to reveal themselves to the world is not always as easy as it seems. Remember, they might not actually know. Or they simply forgot they were amazing. Recall the first Harry Potter movie. Our speccy hero was living in cramped conditions underneath the stairs. He had no idea that he was a wizard. Indeed, it took a while for him to start believing in himself.
Thirdly, if points 1 and 2 are about reminding you that leadership isn’t about being a superhero, it’s about creating them, there must be a more subtle leadership point underpinning everything we’re saying, and it’s probably this; superhero lesson #3: however much you like the feeling of cape, tight lycra and pants on the outside, continuing to haul your team out of the mire won’t help in the long run.
So, what’s the real answer? If you’re being an inspirational leader, the best version of you, what should you be focusing on? Should you be making a passionate authentic speech from the balcony? Should you be explaining the intricacies of your magnificent vision, telling the stories that help them make meaning of it? Should you be leading the charge with your sabre in the air?
Ordinary on the outside
In the summer we saw the rise of a new breed of leadership superhero, a waistcoated one, the rise of the ‘nice guy leader’ – step forward England gaffer Gareth Southgate.
In time, Southgate will write an autobiography (I’m guessing Sartorial Leadership) and we’ll find out what really happened behind the scenes.
Our great leader seems to have pulled off the near-remarkable feat of getting to the semi-final without upsetting a single soul. No burning effigies. No turnip-headed headlines. We love him. The press loves him. His players love him. Even the ones who didn’t get a game love him.
How the heck did he manage that? The answer lies in chickens, science and the All-Blacks.
Free range leadership
First up, chickens. Even when times are hard I can’t possibly ever buy eggs from battery farms. I once watched a TV documentary where they went undercover in a chicken farm. They filmed awful conditions and it was all very inhumane. The hens were worked around the clock with minimal appreciation and zero love. The girls were, literally, worked to death. Oh, and the eggs are rubbish.
So, I spend a few pence more and get ‘free range’ because these chooks have been allowed some leeway to stretch their legs, take in some fresh air and feel appreciated.
The farmer loves them. Oh, and the eggs are great.
We think there’s a leadership message in there somewhere?
Happiness is your competitive advantage
Secondly, the science of connection. I’ve spent 15 years researching employee engagement. I’ve interviewed happy staff and, guess what, I’ve found out a whole load of stuff that falls into the category of ‘common sense’. Just like the hens, employees are more productive when they feel happy. And in workplaces where they feel respected, listened to, consulted and involved, they are more likely to work harder, and less likely to take a sickie. Happy staff are good for business.
No way. Really?
So why is it that so many staff are unhappy? You can take your pick of the studies. A survey of 32,000 employees found that 43 per cent were detached or actively disengaged, with 22 per cent feeling unsupported. In short, they’d really rather not be there. Another suggests that a paltry 19 per cent of employees are actually engaged in their work.
Southgate is a clever chap. He knows that ‘connection’ is massively important. A couple of decades ago, England was blessed with a ‘golden generation’ of world beaters who failed to get out of their World Cup group.
There’s a classic Muhammad Ali YouTube clip in which the champ is addressing the Harvard graduates of 1975. Ali was known for coming up with clever poems, so an audience member asked him to recite one and at a length of exactly two words, what followed may very well be the shortest poem in recorded history.
Ali said: ‘Me, We.’
It’s a pithy reminder of the importance of connection and empathy, the ability to tune into yourself and to get on someone else’s wavelength. Introspection only gets you so far. We need some ‘outrospection’ to really live good lives.
And finally, a point often missed in other leadership books, the workplace secret sauce is camaraderie with your work colleagues. High-quality connections are important sources of happiness and energy for employees, with research reporting that individuals who have a bestie at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job.
Hence Southgate adopted the All-Blacks recruitment tactic of ‘no d****heads’. Some world-class Kiwis have never worn the black jersey because they weren’t the right fit. Southgate chose 22 players who he knew would gel as a unit.
Famously, the All-Blacks have a policy of ‘sweeping the sheds’, meaning that they clean their own dressing room. They take mops, buckets and brushes on tour and leave their dressing room in pristine condition. I don’t think Gareth and the lads went that far but we, the viewers, got a sense of humility. For the first time in living memory, the players seemed to enjoy each other’s company and wore their shirts with honour and pride.
As did Southgate, with his waistcoat.
Put together the chickens, science and All-Blacks and what have you got? We think it boils down to this: It’s about creating the right culture. In high-performance teams, the players feel loved. They’re there because they want to be there. They aren’t just committed to the success of the team, they are also committed to the success of each other.
Separated by Violence, Reunited by Faith - by Simon Pinchbeck
The story of Renton Baker and Simon Pinchbeck
“When the lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them.” (Proverbs 16:7, NIV)
Its 2 May 1982 at Arsenal’s Highbury football stadium. More than 20,000 fans crowd into the North Bank terrace for the Arsenal vs West Ham United game. On one side is Renton Baker, aka ‘Chopper’, an infamous Arsenal football hooligan, on the other Simon Pinchbeck, aka ‘The Walrus’, a renowned Metropolitan Police officer.
The West Ham hooligans, known throughout the UK as the ICF, or Inter City Firm, had surrounded the Arsenal boys, known as The Herd. They had let off a huge red smoke bomb, and vicious fighting ensued across the terraces of the North Bank. The game was stopped as the crowd spilled onto the pitch. In the middle of the smoke, Renton was fighting against the ICF thugs, and Simon was fighting hard to separate both sets of fans, and bring order so that the game could take place. Outside the ground, a young Arsenal fan lost his life after he was stabbed to death.
Renton and Simon were sworn enemies – Renton and his hardcore hooligan mates trying to outfox the police, and causing havoc at every Arsenal home game, and Simon and the Metropolitan Police attempting to catch them in the act. There were no CCTV or camera phones in those days, so the battles often took place inside the grounds, with the police stuck in the middle.
Out of control
As the years passed, violence was still a way of life for Renton, who had built up a vicious reputation in his hometown of Luton. Twice he had planned to take someone’s life, the second time stepping over his injured son, who was lying on the floor bleeding, so that he could take revenge on the guy that had assaulted him. Renton was married, with three boys. This was his way of protecting his family because it was all about him and his reputation. He was an incredibly selfish man.
As for Simon, he was still serving in the police; he too was married, with two boys, but also very selfish. In fact, so selfish that he left his wife and children at a time when his wife’s mother was terminally ill with cancer.
One time, Simon had a fight in a nightclub with an off-duty police officer, knocking his teeth out, and ended up on a serious assault charge. Some 18 months later he received a not guilty verdict at Woolwich Crown Court; his violent actions were attributed to the PTSD he suffered at the football match mentioned above. He then left the police and embarked on a career of a very different kind – as a criminal.
Meanwhile, Renton Baker’s violence was in danger of spiralling out of control. He was having to become increasingly more vicious just to keep up his reputation. He would fill a lemon squeezy bottle with ammonia and spray it in people’s faces before attacking them.
It was at this time that his wife became a Christian. Her grandfather was a great man of faith, and at his funeral, Renton was challenged by the minister to accept Jesus. He felt like a finger was pointing right at him. He rejected this offer very rudely, but a few days later went to see this guy, confessing all he had done, and accepted Jesus into his life.
On a roll…?
Renton’s old enemy, Simon, had left the police, and had started training with a group of villains in a local gym. He had been searching all his life to feel complete, and he thought that money and material things were the way. He started out doing some low-level debt collecting, then he and his new colleagues would smash into places and take lumps of cash. He could now buy big SUV cars, have expensive holidays and designer clothes, but he found out that this did not satisfy him. He wanted more and more money. In the end, his greed saw him ripped off for a large amount of cash he had put into a ‘get rich quick’ scheme initiated by his new mates. He went over to Spain to get it back, but it had gone. He couldn’t argue with these guys, as they would come after him and his loved ones. So he was left feeling that he was caught between the police, who were following him, and the villains who did not trust him. In fact, Simon believed he was going to end up in a shallow grave or doing a very heavy prison sentence.
Renton, however, was on a roll with his new Christian faith, leading Christianity Explored courses. He also went to Tanzania building houses, and would tell everyone on the building sites where he worked about Jesus. Then one night, one of his boys was in serious trouble in a local pub with a guy that owed him money. Renton rushed to help, but as he did so the old Renton returned. Entering the pub armed with a large kitchen knife, he set eyes on his intended victim, who was being escorted by two men dressed in black. Renton attacked the guy in the middle, only to find out that the other two were plain clothes police officers. He was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a police officer.
Simon was, by now, an angry man, plotting and planning how he was going totake revenge on the people who had taken his money. But God was about to throw him a lifeline.
As he stormed out of a gym one Saturday afternoon, he saw a guy on a running machine; this man had been very violent, a feared man in his day, but he had turned his life around through his faith in Jesus Christ. There was a peace in this man, and Simon realised that he needed to know more about that.
They went for a few breakfasts, and Simon discovered that this guy was also an Arsenal football thug in the 1980s – and he remembered Simon as The Walrus.This man took Simon to his church, Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), where Simon said a prayer with vicar Nicky Gumbel, and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.
Simon’s faith was greatly helped by the Alpha course at HTB. He got back with his wife, and learned about forgiveness and a relationship with God through Jesus. Simon then joined a group of guys called Tough Talk; men who lifted weights and told people their life stories.
Renton was bailed to appear at court to answer the attempted murder charge. He was looking at three to five years in prison. Then, while on bail, he was invited to a men’s curry night at a local church, where he met one of his Arsenal mates, who in turn invited him to a Christian men’s breakfast where Tough Talk were speaking. There, his Arsenal tattoo became a talking point with Simon. Hearing Simon’s testimony, Renton realised he was The Walrus, and there was an immediate bond between the two former enemies through their shared faith.
Renton received a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, and people started to ask Simon and Renton to share their amazing stories, so they started to go into prisons.
Two visits stand out for Simon and Renton. One was at Lincoln Prison, where guys refused to take their tea break to hear what God had done between these two, with many making a decision for Jesus. Then, at Rye Hill Prison, three young Muslim men from the East End sat, arms Folded, as the guys started to speak. But at the end they could not believe the change in Simon and Renton, asking many questions on faith, one saying, “I am going to shake this copper’s hand – something I thought I would never do in my life.”
Working at an event with Christian Vision for Men in Plymouth, there were more than 20 responses to the call to accept Jesus, and a local church leader said, “That was the best outreach that I have been to in nearly 30 years of being a minister.”
At Luton Christian Fellowship, an ex-Arsenal hooligan came, expecting to see them make fools of themselves. He left in tears, giving his life to the Lord.
Life can still be a struggle for these two very changed men; they both still have pride and anger issues, and struggle with stuff around their families – but now they don’t struggle alone; they have each other to do life with. Most of all, they have Jesus.
Premium Bond - by Jake Taylor
While Daniel Craig’s recent turn as James Bond has ditched some of the more exuberant gadgetry in favour of stone-cold realism, the modern era of 007 arguably owes its success to Pierce Brosnan. Coming six years after Timothy Dalton’s regularly dismissed outings as the super-spy, Brosnan’s quadruplet of Bond films – starting with 1995’s GoldenEye and ending in 2004 with Die Another Day – kick-started the ‘new’ series of movies that continued throughout the turn of the millennium, as well the Drogheda-born actor’s career.
But while Bond fans can be thankful to Brosnan for handling the pressures of the role with aplomb, the star himself was even more grateful for the chance to establish himself at the forefront of the most famous franchise in film history. Four years prior to GoldenEye, he had lost his first wife, Cassandra, to ovarian cancer aged 43, and in the ensuing time Brosnan had been forced to juggle a career on-screen with his duty as a father to three: two stepchildren from his late wife’s previous relationship and their own son, Sean.
“I faced the prospect of having to sell our house or finding another regular series role,” Brosnan, now 65, explains. “Even though that would have been a disaster because my children needed me very badly after their mother died and working on a weekly series would have meant spending very little time with them.
“It was the most trying time of my life. You try to do your best and my greatest concern was trying to find enough film roles and not have to work on another TV series because that means you’re gone from morning to night five days a week, eight or nine months a year. I desperately wanted to avoid that for the sake of my children. Fortunately, Bond came along at a time when I really needed that kind of a gift in my life. I had no choice, that’s your duty as a father, so don’t give me too much credit – and when Bond came calling a second time, it turned my life around.”
Cassandra’s death, and Brosnan’s subsequent years spent as a single father, brought to mind his own childhood in County Louth, Ireland. His father had left the family when Brosnan was a young boy, and they would not meet properly until the star was 33 years old. Having been raised mostly by his grandparents, Brosnan saw first-hand the struggles that lone parents faced, especially in the strict community he was raised in.
“I was born in ’53, and I lived through that Catholic experience of growing up in a small town, chafing under [a] narrow-minded, gossipy, shaming atmosphere,” he nods. “And my mother refused to be shamed [at] the hands of the church, of the priest, because she was a single mother. You learn not to buckle under it.”
Such statements are indicative of Brosnan’s in many ways typically Irish relationship with his Catholic faith. On the one hand, his upbringing brought him into close contact with members of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, who Brosnan says “instilled a climate of shame and fear” among his peers. “I was beaten all the time as were most of the children,” he grimaces. “It’s terrible that so many of us had to endure that for no real point.”
Yet on the other hand, Brosnan remains a staunch believer of the positives Catholicism can bring – and the ways in which “religion and faith has helped” him through the many struggles he has faced. These include losing first Cassy, and his daughter Charlotte in 2013, to ovarian cancer, and nearly losing his son Sean to a terrible car accident in 2000 – when he was just 16 years old – when a driver under the influence ended up barrelling over a Malibu cliffside.
“Even if my whole world would fall apart tomorrow, I would still remain devoutly Catholic,” he says. “I’ve always tried to enjoy life and make the most of things, even during the lowest and most gut-wrenching moments where you feel very lost. But you need to find a way to pull yourself through, and your faith and your will are what’s going to drag you up out of the darkness. We all want to be happy, but it doesn’t come easily.”
Fortunately for Brosnan, his unerring faith repaid dividends. Alongside the “gift” of the Bond films, which established him as a household name, Brosnan’s personal life – once battered and bruised – has, in time, healed as well. In 1994, the star met soon-to-be second wife Keely Shaye Smith, with whom he has fathered two more sons, Dylan and Paris.
“She’s a very strong woman who has been a truly loving and caring partner in life,” he says of Smith. “She’s made me a better father and man, and we’re so blessed to have been able to share our lives together. She allows me to be myself and we’ve been able to build our relationship over the years, and together with my children, that’s my greatest accomplishment in life.
“I think I’ve been blessed twice in my life by meeting very intelligent and resilient women. I never expected to fall in love again the way I did with Cassie, but then I met Keely and I knew I had found someone with whom I could share my life. With Keely, we’ve been able to solve our problems in a very comfortable way without ever letting things get out of hand. Every couple needs to find an accommodation that allows them to live happily and harmoniously together. But you have to work at it and be very attentive to keeping the spirit and passion alive.”
And unlike his martini-drinking womanising alter ego, Brosnan has held on to his principles in spite of the various temptations that life in the spotlight can invariably bring.
“I was never interested in one-night stands or having a lot of superficial relationships,” he muses. “I’ve also been married twice and have enjoyed raising two sets of children and all that takes up a lot of time. I’m a man who’s very comfortable with the idea of marriage. I lived for 17 years with my first wife, Cassie, and now I’ve spent 21 years with Keely. That speaks for itself. Keely and I live a very beautiful and calm life together, and she has never objected to the fact that I spend a lot of time away at work, and not even if I’m working with beautiful co-stars.”
Indeed, in a world seemingly full of fractious celebrity break-ups and make-ups, Brosnan’s overwhelming gratitude for having experienced the joy of marriage twice in his life is a refreshing departure. But that’s not to say he’s become complacent in his relationships – and he certainly knows better than most that the work you put in is worth it to enjoy what time you have together.
“It’s very difficult, but I believe the trick is to sustain the romance and passion, and that happens only through imagination, perseverance and respect for your partner,” he smiles. “You have to believe that the love which binds you is more important and more powerful than the stupid and petty arguments which can pop up. You’ve got to learn how to sweep those things aside and remember why you’re together and keep that thought in mind every waking day.”
It helps, too, that Brosnan’s personal life has finally settled down. His first foray to America was founded on blind faith: “It was my late wife, Cassandra, God bless her,” he says, “who said we should go to America, and somehow we took out a second mortgage, and we went to Los Angeles on a wing and a prayer.” These days, however, Brosnan is a naturalised American citizen, and he has carved out his own little slice of Eden on the island of Hawaii.
“It’s a form of paradise on earth,” he says of the Aloha State. “We have a very beautiful cottage by the sea, fairly isolated and very peaceful. I like to describe it as Ireland except the heating is turned on. I get up a six o’clock, I make myself a cup of coffee, sit on the terrace and watch the waves roll onto the beach. Then I’ll have breakfast with Keely and the boys and spend the rest of the morning painting. Then it’s lunchtime, maybe a few hours of surfing, reading, relaxing in the sun, and then before you know it, you go, ‘What’s for dinner?’
“It’s a very simple and peaceful life. There are very few things that can trouble you, not even my occasionally dour Irish soul.”
Few would begrudge Brosnan this lifestyle, considering the turbulence he has been through off-camera. Having freed himself from the constraints of a Bond contract – the negatives of which have been bluntly espoused of late by Brosnan’s successor, Daniel Craig – the star finds himself enjoying his current silver fox status. Between action romps and thrillers, there was even the intriguing sight (and sound) of the former 007 gallivanting alongside Meryl Streep and co in Scandi-singalong-sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again earlier this year. Despite him encroaching ever nearer to the supposed twilight of his career, Brosnan continues to be shaped by his upbringing, even if he has been forced to mature and adapt to the hardships of his personal life.
“I’m the same person I was when I started out,” he declares. “I’d like to think I’m much wiser and even more open as an individual than when I was younger, but still scarred in many ways by my upbringing as well. You learn to close off certain sides of yourself as a form of self-protection until you begin to realise that you don’t have to protect yourself anymore and that those defences you’ve put up have become the real problem. Perhaps you never entirely unburden yourself of your past, but you do manage to find peace of mind.
“I’m more attentive to certain things which you notice about your children as they grow older, especially during their teenage years, which are the most complicated. I’ve also had Keely by my side who holds our home together and is a very smart and caring mother. She’s a strong woman who has helped make my life so much richer, and … we’ve been able to enjoy a wonderful life together with our children.”
Brosnan remains one of Hollywood’s last classic leading men.. His cinematic journey may have taken him from his native Emerald Isle to the States, but he carries his idiosyncratic “Celtic heritage” and devout Catholicism with him everywhere “in his back pocket”: a welcome reminder of the power of positive faith in a life threatened by multiple tragedies played out under the spotlight of fame.
“There have been tragedies, yes, but I’ve also had great fortune in life,” he concludes. “I aspired to be in the movies, I wanted to become a movie star, I wanted to be Bond, I wanted all the grand things that came with that life. I got it all.
“It can happen like that. You just have to pull in the sails and ride the tiller and hopefully you’ve got faith and some good friends. You know I have the luck of the Irish.”
Pablo: From Armed Robber to Christian - by Paul Warwick
Gimme the money,” Pablo said to the building society cashier while he pointed the gun at her, wearing a balaclava.
Pablo was surprised when she answered him sarcastically, and he felt she was being deliberately slow while she put the money in the bag, so Pablo then pointed the gun at another cashier and told the sarcastic one that if she didn’t hurry up he would shoot her colleague.
Pablo didn’t enjoy doing armed robberies and says that they made him feel fearful. But he was driven to do them by his addiction to heroin, and he also sometimes took cannabis, methadone, speed, Valium, ecstasy and LSD.
Pablo ended up getting arrested by the Flying Squad and was found guilty of six armed robberies, three attempted robberies and nine counts of possessing a firearm. The crimes were committed against building societies, post offices and shops. He was sentenced to a total of 67 years, though the sentences were to run concurrently, which meant he was serving a sentence of 12 years. It was 1990 and he was 24. A year later at the court of appeal, his sentence was reduced to ten years.
Pablo served two-thirds of his sentence, as a third came off as remission for good behaviour. Towards the end of his sentence, a woman started writing to him and they started a relationship. When he was released on a short home-leave, he failed to return to the prison and went on the run with his girlfriend. He was captured 11 months later and returned to jail, where he completed the rest of his ten-year sentence. During this time, he married his girlfriend while he was still in prison. He was released in the late 90s.
Pablo says about his marriage: “The pressures were very great … and I ruined the marriage. It was completely my fault and we divorced three years later.”
He hadn’t had a good start in life and had a very unhappy childhood. He says, “At the age of five I was put into a Salvation Army children’s home [along with his sister] which I stayed at for three years the first time. I was returned to my home, but roughly a year later we were both put back in the children’s home in Whitstable … I stayed there till I was 12 and returned home and stayed [there] until I was 15 and I was put in a children’s home yet again, in Croydon. When I turned 16 I was put in [a] hostel, which I left on my own accord and started a long road of bed and breakfasts and little bedsits, which was a nice time until I reached 18. Things started going wrong then. A succession of [relationships] that went wrong, and I got in with the wrong crowds, doing wrong things.“After some years of testing the police and system, I was arrested for armed robbery when I was 24. There were nickings before that. I was arrested quite a few times, but when I went to court I always managed to get out of it, but obviously on the charges I was brought up on [armed robbery] – there was no getting out of them.”
When Pablo got out of jail he took drugs again for many years. A couple of times he overdosed and ended up in hospital, during which times the nurses weren’t that sympathetic, as overdoses by drug addicts are seen as self-inflicted. He did later go into a drugs detox, and he says that it was a completely different and therapeutic place, where the nurses and other staff were supportive, kind and helpful.
Drugs, though, eventually led Pablo to have a mental breakdown about six years ago, and since then he’s had a schizotypal illness. Pablo explained how the illness started.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing on a lot of occasions. I thought that people were spraying me with chemicals. And I wouldn’t talk to anyone … I used to tie my windows up and put extra locks on the door. I didn’t trust anyone. I had a mental health nurse, but she couldn’t get close to me, and I was put in the Bethlem [a psychiatric hospital] for three months. I was particularly ill, but after a couple of months of taking the medication I got better.”
Pablo was then discharged from hospital and agreed to continue taking antipsychotic medication, which he has by depot injection every four weeks. He’s stopped taking medication a few times since then, but became ill, and he’s taken about six different antipsychotic drugs, to see what works best for him. Soon after he was released from hospital, he moved to Canterbury House, a large hostel in Upper Norwood, south-east London that houses mainly people with mental illnesses. The residents have their own independent living facilities within the hostel, such as large self-contained living rooms with their own kitchen area and toilet and bathroom.
Pablo started going to church about a year ago, after being invited by Daz to the Freedom Forum, an award-winning Bible study and social group at Christ Church, Anerley, south-east London. The group is run by Daz, who’d spent time in prison and hospital, before committing his life to Jesus. Daz now has a small team who help him run the group.
The social group starts at midday and runs for two hours on a Thursday. This is followed by the Bible study group at 2 p.m., which usually lasts between 60 to 90 minutes. There are sometimes up to 20 people who attend the group, many of whom have been in prison, hospitals, and have mental illnesses. Pablo says he started attending the group at first, because he was curious.
After a year of attending the Freedom Forum, Daz was bringing Pablo to the group in his car, and he asked Pablo if he’d like to become a Christian. Pablo said, “Yes.” When they got to the church, Pablo said the ‘salvation prayer’ with Daz and gave his life to the Lord.
Pablo feels that he’s changed a lot since he’s been to church and become a Christian. He says, “I used to argue and fight with people, but now I’m much less likely to. In fact, since I’ve been coming to church I’ve walked away a couple of times [from arguments], which is something I’d never have done years ago.”
Pablo adds that it’s not easy living with 70 people who have mental illnesses, and says there’s bound to be problems sometimes, but he handles it better now. He says that since he’s been attending church, he’s more humble, calm and at peace.
Paul, one of the people who help lead the Freedom Forum, says about Pablo: “Like all new Christians, Pablo is in a transitionary period. I’ve seen a real change in him since he started coming to the group. When he first used to come he would often fall asleep during the Bible study, because he regularly gets insomnia. Gradually, though, he’s [starting to have] more energy and now sometimes helps in the kitchen, making teas and coffees for the group, and putting away chairs after. He was also very quiet when he first started attending, but has gradually started to open up more in conversations with people.”
Paul adds, “Tara, my wife, who also helps lead the group, usually buys snacks … each week, like sandwich stuff, sausage rolls, crisps and cakes etc., and now Pablo sometimes insists of paying for the snacks for the group. [He] has also given Tara money for petrol, as she’s the main person who picks people up from Canterbury House to bring [them] to the group and she drops them home after.”
Paul says, “When I found out that Pablo was an ex-armed robber I was stunned and so surprised, as though Pablo is quite a cool character, he is also very softly spoken and comes across as very gentle in spirit. He is … very likeable and I’m sure God has got good plans for his future.”
Pablo is hoping to do some voluntary work soon and has recently had a couple of interviews with an organisation about doing some volunteering to help people with mental illness.
I asked Pablo if there was anything he’d like to say to anyone reading this article and he replied, “I would tell them not to get into a situation where they turn into someone they’re not, because it’s so easy. It only takes one or two problems, and that will happen. Especially people that are really young. I’d tell them not to take drugs. It’s true what everyone says to you that it only ends one way. … So other than that, just take life as it comes, don’t strive for what you can’t get, just be happy with what you’ve got, and try to do it legally, and maybe with the Lord’s help as well!”
Just Like Magic - by Alex Willmott, Chief Features Writer
Professional magician Max Somerset is doing what he loves, but his journey hasn’t been conventional. Sorted magazine caught up with him to hear his journey of adoption, loss and faith.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in the village of Bampton in Devon with my adopted parents, Mervyn Priddle, who was a milkman, and Shirley, who looked after the house of Edward and Molly Somerset, my biological grandparents. I had been brought to the West Country from Italy by my biological father, Ed Somerset junior, who found it difficult to deal with my Italian mother’s mental health issues and so they parted ways when I was two years old. Father left mother in Italy and took me to be with his ageing parents while he and two others set up a tiling design company in London called Fired Earth. Shirley had undergone a hysterectomy and therefore could have no children.
A twist of fate occurred a year later when my biological father contracted a brain tumour and it was mutually agreed that the best thing to do was to give me to Shirley and Mervyn Priddle.
I had a very happy childhood in Bampton and the loss of my biological father in 1981. He was 36 and I was seven. It didn’t affect me greatly because I never really saw much of him. But I was to suffer the loss of Uncle John (my adopted mother’s uncle) in 1983, which was my first bitter encounter with death. I was very fond of him and we would spend many hours doing woodwork in his garage and going on walks. Prior to John’s death he had responded to an ad in the local supermarket selling a Hammond organ because he thought I was musical.
A few years later at Bampton Middle School, I got chatting to Paul Bucknell, who was to become one of my dearest friends and still is to this day. It transpired that he had this thing called a Yamaha Electone at home. His mum and dad invited me to come over at the weekend. After lunch, Paul jumped onto the organ stool and began to play. I was riveted. I had never heard such sounds come out of an instrument.
My adopted mum and dad were incredibly supportive and took me to Exeter for organ lessons. Taking their cue from Mr and Mrs Bucknell, they went to the music shop and purchased one of these Electones, which were digital and gave you the possibility of choosing all manner of different instrumental sounds. That, in turn, gave you the potential to have a whole orchestra at your fingertips, depending on your skill level.
My childhood was not really typified by a lot of social engagement with peers. I was, due to the adoption, an only child and spent hours either working on the organ or creating magic tricks inspired by watching Paul Daniels on TV on Saturday nights. Bampton Primary School and Middle School had strict teachers and a headmaster called Michael Truman who really supported my organ playing, creating opportunities for me to play in school. As a lover of magic, I always wanted first and foremost to be a magician, but my parents told me “magicians don’t make any money” – well, many years on, that’s how I now earn my main income.
Tell us about your teens and what life looked like for you.
My teenage years saw me perform on the organ at many private and charity events. Mervyn had a Nissan Prairie and would lug this organ from venue to venue, pubs, clubs, charity days – you name it, we did it. At that time I was going to Kingsmead Wiveliscombe community school where I was to meet my English teacher, David Clark who introduced me to the idea of a personal connection with God through Jesus. I had gone may times to the Anglican church in Bampton with Shirley, who was I would describe as a ‘God-fearing’ mother with a good spattering of superstition. However, Jesus had never been presented as real and alive. There was an old organist there who nodded like a turtle every time he played some dreary and meandering thing like the Nunc Dimittis; there were more people in the choir than the congregation on the cold, hard pews and a vicar who glided about the place speaking monosyllabic prose. I think I could have gone in and out of there for years and sadly not really known what was going on. Ironically, after I gave my life to Christ at the age of 14 the words in the Anglican services all made sense and came alive. Prior to that experience, reading a Bible was like attempting to chew a brick.
I was predicted very low grades in all my GCSEs but there was something about the encounter with Christ that grounded what I think was a very troubled soul whose talents and energy were not reined in. To their surprise I surpassed school expectations and got to go to Richard Huish College, Taunton for my A levels. During that time I suffered the loss of my adopted mother. She was 56 and I was 17. Though painful, I had now reframed the way I understood death and so the grieving process was enfolded within a greater hope. From there I went on to gain a scholarship to Trinity College of music, London, an achievement which, sadly, mother was never to see realised.
After five years at TCM and the first person to achieve a Master’s Degree in performance and related studies on an Electone, I wrote syllabi for the TCM external board, gave concerts and taught privately as well as heading up a worship band at Willesden Green Baptist Church, a lively multicultural congregation in north London. Shortly after this, my adopted father passed away in the same year as my biological grandmother, followed by Uncle John’s wife – Auntie Dulcie. I was left with no family and far too many funerals to arrange and attend, and I began to understand how older people feel when their shared memories die with their loved ones. I was told by my grandmother that my biological mother was a sick woman and had died years previously, so as an unmarried man with no children I was forced to ask the question: “Who will bury me?” It saddens me today that I can’t ask, “Mum, Dad, what was I really like as a kid growing up, how did you handle all my mad energy?”
When did the idea of ‘faith’ become part of your thinking and how did this begin to affect your life?
If it wasn’t for my faith in Christ, which has been the glue and the strength to deal with a very fragmented past fraught with so much loss, I don’t think I would be as centred as I am, or even have coped at all. People say, “Christianity is a crutch for the weak.” To me that’s as dumb as saying, “Food is a crutch for the hungry.” We are all broken in one way or another; some are less or more aware of it and only Jesus is the one who is completely whole, so I think it’s a no-brainer to be as close to him as we can. In John’s Gospel, chapter 15, he said he is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him we will never know what it is to be connected to an unconditional, wholehearted and continual love. That has been my experience of him. Loving me in spite of who I am at times and for who I am at other times (probably in that order).
Faith in Christ helps me to frame my entire life. When my adopted dad passed away, I got the call from the nurse to say he had gone while I was furiously trying to driving down to the hospital in time. I immediately stopped the car in a lay-by, took a moment, got out of the car, went down on my knees and said, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, thank you, God, for every blessing.” I don’t take anything for granted. Everything is a bonus, including the very ontology of my own existence. I didn’t have to be here; I have some pretty harsh letters from my grandfather telling my mother what to do with her pregnancy. But by the grace of God, I am here.
Paul the apostle said in Romans 14:8: “if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord” (ESV). God had a few surprises up his sleeve for me as well.
In 2007 I visited my grandfather’s 103-year-old sister, Merva, in New Zealand. I was able to share my faith and hear stories about my grandfather’s childhood growing up in NZ. She also provided me with family history on Grandfather’s side and, despite her bad eyesight, was totally compos mentis. In 2008, I decided to do some research into my biological mother. I discovered my biological mother alive and well in Switzerland and we were reunited after 32 years! I’ll never forget the reunion; she walked in wearing a puffer jacket, pink leggings, smoking a cigar and wearing fluorescent bangles – such a 70s hipster. She asked me if I had met my half-brother and sister to which I replied that I wasn’t aware I had a half-brother and sister! Amazingly within three months they also found me and my mother; we were all searching at the same time and are now reunited. I have wonderful cousins, aunts, uncles across the globe. An aunty in LA, family in Switzerland, Maui, New York. “God sets the lonely in families…” (Psalm 68:6, NIV).
Why and when did you come to a point where you wanted to begin your own Christian faith?
“Wanted to begin” is a curious kind of question. Did I find out that Jesus was the Son of God and then say to myself, “Right, I had better do something about this”? No. I like what psychologist Jordan Peterson says when they ask him, “Do you believe in God?” He answers simply with: “I live as if God exists.” I think people say a lot of things about what they believe but their actions don’t match up. I mean, we are a mystery to ourselves, that’s why we have psychiatrists and psychologists … To know if we believe something, it will affect our lives. People get all angry and upset with Jesus’ brother, James (who, incidentally, I think is closest to Jesus in his thinking of all the New Testament writers) when he says faith without works is a dead faith. It’s not complicated to understand. It doesn’t mean that we need to be checking ourselves to see if we are doing a good job of being Christians in order to convince ourselves we have faith. It means exactly what Paul says when he expresses the truth that we are saved through faith, by grace, for good works which God prepared in advance for us (see Ephesians 2:8-10). When we come to Christ, we don’t ‘decide’ to live a Christian life any more than a freshly born baby now ‘decides’ to live and breathe. As night follows day, one follows the other. All James is saying is, if the switch won’t turn it on then it’s probably just not plugged in. I didn’t kind of ‘want to begin’ being a Christian any more than I wanted to fall in love with Jesus.
I believe that when anyone truly sees Jesus – who he is – he is irresistible, he is everything anyone could wish for. Yes, love is also a decision, but primarily you do that because you value the other person. It’s easy for Christians to look at other Christians and have this deep-down feeling of inferiority and feel that perhaps they aren’t making enough decisions for Christ, or the right decisions for Christ. We need to remember that each relationship is individual, Paul the apostle said in 2 Corinthians 10:12 that when we compare ourselves to others we are unwise. We would all do well to breathe a sigh of relief, stop doing that, and tell Jesus how we are really feeling about everything and anything – he’s got your back.
Why should UK men look at the teachings of Jesus?
UK men can confidently look to Jesus in his attitudes, actions and teachings. Paul says that the same Spirit that raised him from the dead is at work in us to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so on (see Romans 8:11; Galatians 5:22-23). It’s not to think of men as a picture of strength and women as a picture of emotional awareness. Those attributes of the fruit of the Holy Spirit equally apply to both. Again, being a man or being a woman is not something you try to do; if you do try to do that, you will become a caricature of yourself. That’s why it’s important to remember that in Christ the delineations are broken down. The external (race, gender, class) doesn’t need to define or compromise your internal identity.
I think that the crisis we see in masculinity in our society and general confusion about gender come from thinking that what we are on the inside is unrealised unless it has the correct label or is externally affirmed and identified.
I think any roles that the New Testament sets out for men and women, especially married couples, have to do with models for ways that love can function. The important thing is that love functions, not so much how it functions. In Ephesians 5 Paul draws on a picture of Christ and the Church. This doesn’t mean that men represent Christ and that women represent the Church, that is a trite understanding of the analogy. Christ is a picture of a lover who gives himself up for his bride – the Church – and similarly the Church is the picture of the beloved who will give all she has for her husband. It simply shows that a functioning relationship is not defined by drawing lines in the sand and clinging on to rights. Both parties enter to serve one another. If in a relationship you are worried as a man about who ‘wears the trousers’, then I would jovially suggest you remember that Jesus wore a tunic. As men, our strength is our willingness to set aside any need to use our strength to control, but rather to undergird and, like any good tennis player, improve our serve.
What advice would you give UK men today?
As a man who has taken a slightly unusual path in life – now a professional magician and a performer – I am very comfortable with the feelings of vulnerability every time I get up in front of an audience. Is it going to work? Will they like me? Will it bomb? Sometimes after a show I just wanted to hide under a rock, it all went wrong, and other times shows were so good that I won awards from the Magic Circle. My advice here would be that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. Look at the cross. Worse than putting yourself out there to be vulnerable to experience rejection or success is not putting yourself out there at all.
As a man who has suffered a lot of loss and a lot of blessing from God, I am very comfortable with what may or may not happen in my life. I am 44 and as yet unmarried with no children. However, I have many wonderful friends and family members and two rabbits. I am prepared not to make decisions just for the sake of feeling that I need to fit into moulds. You are unique, don’t take your tack from peer pressure, go to Jesus and talk it out with him and those who you trust that genuinely care about what’s best for you – not what’s best for what they think you should be doing. And remember, people know you better than you think they know you, but not as much as they think they know you. Jesus knows you better than you know yourself.
John Sutcliffe Cape to Cape - by Ali Hull
Facing his fast-approaching 70th birthday and retirement, John Sutcliffe wanted to do “something rather special” – and in his case, that meant planning a walk of more than 1,000 miles, to take him from the foot of the UK, at Cape Cornwall, to the top, at Cape Wrath. John comments: “As a lover of the outdoors, a long walk through Britain would fit the bill and help me reconnect with Britain and the British hills after a lifetime of working abroad.”
The idea, he says, came from a friend of his, who had read a book by someone who had done the same thing. But John was keen to avoid the usual route – Land’s End to John O’Groats, or vice versa. “I am a Far From the Madding Crowd sort of bloke which sort of rules out both Lands’ End and John O’Groats.” He believes that Cape Cornwall has far more to offer than Lands’ End: “It is a lovely unspoilt spot conserved initially by H. J. Heinz, who then bequeathed the land to the National Trust. The rugged Cape of gnarled and twisted rocks is underlain by ancient tin workings that extend far out under the seabed – an extra plus for a minerals exploration geologist like myself.”
Geological concerns were high on John’s agenda, and feature a lot in the book, Cape to Cape, that he wrote about his journey. John O’Groats, he says, is also not as wild and interesting as the alternative he chose. “John O’Groats is underlain by Caithness sandstones that give rise to a flat and rather dreary waterlogged landscape. Cape Wrath is an isolated spot and to get there I would cross the remote and stunningly beautiful North West Highlands. It’s not the most northerly point of mainland Britain, but then, for that matter, neither is John O’Groats.”
While he met with reasonable weather, he couldn’t hope to traverse these islands without meeting some of what they have to offer: “I had a good dousing in gale-force storms crossing Dartmoor which I almost enjoyed, shouting back at the howling wind at the top of my voice until I came across another half-drowned soldier. The real weather challenge, and one I will never forget, started with the onset of Storm Bertha on afternoon of 10th August at Kinloch Hourn. It quickly rose to hurricane status with, I later learned, 100mph winds on the higher ground. I took shelter in a tiny stalkers hut next to a stream. By next morning, it was a raging torrent, impossible to cross. This weather system would plague me for the next 10 days.”
While John did stop overnight in the odd bed and breakfast, he chose to wild camp a lot of the time, picking up supplies and water as he went. How hard was this, particularly towards the end of the walk? “Wild camping was easier than I had anticipated, and except for two occasions, I had no problem in finding a good wild campsite. Wild camping is the only practicable way to cross large tracts of wilderness area, and the tent on your back gives you the freedom to halt the day where your fancy takes you, free of any timetable. Getting supplies was never a problem in England and southern Scotland. For the Highlands, I posted off three food parcels to hotels and a garage, collecting them as I passed by.”
It wasn’t always easy, he says. “Water was occasionally a problem in the southern counties with many streams draining agricultural land and therefore possibly containing pesticide and animal contamination that a water filter will not remove. In these areas I obtained water from pubs, farms and private dwellings. To avoid carrying the extra weight, I tried to leave the task of securing the night’s water as late as possible, which was always a subjective judgement call. The Highlands are well endowed with clear uncontaminated streams.”
He clearly enjoyed the experience, and lists the highlights as: “Discovering and savouring some of Britain’s remaining wild places, making new friends along the way, and the kindness some showed, including permission to camp in a pub garden, being invited into a family’s home, having cups of tea in people’s gardens, receiving offers of lifts – when I didn’t need them.”
Apart from the weather, the biggest problems were equipment, and the scourge of any walker in Scotland in the summer – the midges. “I had aching shoulders and painful feet to contend with, especially on the first part of the walk. When I reached Bath, I changed both rucksack and boots, and that helped a lot.”
John is a keen rambler, and goes out for long walks up and down the glories of the Yorkshire Dales, on a regular basis. So he didn’t spring up from a sedentary lifestyle to tackle the walk. But having said that, to do 1,253 miles, as he did, over 106 days (he had a break to celebrate his mother’s 100th birthday) is still a huge undertaking. What training did he need, and what would he advise anyone else, wanting to literally follow in his footsteps?
“It might sound obvious but walking with a heavy pack is very different to walking with a day pack, especially in mountainous terrain. I would recommend, especially for an older person, a shorter trial walk of, say, 100 miles, carrying the intended equipment over similar terrain. In 2013 I walked from the Yorkshire Dales, through the Lake District to Carlisle, before finally committing to this walk. Being reasonably fit is a big help, but ‘mountain fitness’ will develop along the way. I had allowed several weeks to reach my target of 20km (13.5 miles) per day, so my training was essentially ‘on the job’.”
Did he mind sleeping in the woods on his own? “No. Woods are far safer than our towns. I would have appreciated company from time to time, as this helps reduce the load by sharing common bits of equipment like cooking gear and tent. You just have to remain friends for 99 days!”
What about the dreaded midges? “These are the scourge of the Highlands from July to early September, and they can be truly horrendous. Fortunately there was a good sprinkling of bothies in the Highlands – these are wonderful midge-free basic shelters, free for anyone to use. I think the midges kept people away from the North West Highlands in August, so I had the whole vast area and the bothies almost entirely to myself.”
A Run in the Pennines: The Spine Race - by Pete Woodward
The Spine Race is billed as one of the World’s toughest endurance events. It’s easy to see why, with a spectacular route up the Pennine Way, starting in Edale in the Peak District and finishing after 268 miles of boggy moorland and rocky mountaintops in Kirk Yetholm, just north of the Scottish border. The race is run non-stop with a time limit of seven days. Runners can sleep when and for as long as they want, but in the full knowledge that while they are doing this, the competition is hot-footing it towards Scotland and gaining crucial ground. This spectacular cocktail of extreme race distance and inevitable sleep deprivation pushes runners to their limit on some of the most challenging terrain the UK has to offer. The winter race, held in mid-January and often taking place through deep snow and sub-zero temperatures, has been running since 2012 and has achieved legendary status. In June 2018, I ran the newer summer event over the same course. In comparison with the fierce winter conditions, we gained firmer footing and daylight hours in a trade for running in a week-long summer heatwave with temperatures over 30 degrees C.
Running 268 miles wasn’t something I was taking lightly, and I had trained hard for months in the lead-up to the race. I had struggled along the top of the Seven Sisters in the pitch dark in a winter storm, given myself hyperthermia running 16 miles in a foot of snow and fought hard to take third place in the East Sussex Cross Country League. Standing in the hills on the night before the race, watching the long shadows of a beautiful sunset melt into a still night, I knew I was as ready as I could be, but I still wasn’t sure if it would be enough.
The first two days, covering 110 miles to Hawes, passed fairly smoothly. The sun baked the ground hard and felt like a physical pressure. A cool night running under a bright moon refreshed me and gave me the confidence that I could cover the ground well around the clock. The stunning Malham Cove inspired me. I arrived in fourth position feeling reasonably fresh. I jogged into the checkpoint at the hostel, had something to eat and had four hours’ broken sleep. When I woke, I was concerned to see that a couple of hot spots under the front pads of my feet had developed into huge blisters.
As I shuffled out of the hostel and onto the rough ground of Great Shunner Fell, I entered a very difficult period of the race. My broken feet and swollen shins sent searing pain up my legs. I was exhausted and very daunted by the fact that I wasn’t even half way through the race. I staggered over the top as the first light broke the horizon and shuffled through Thwaite towards green fields. Tired and broken, I lay down and slept on the path as soon as the sun broke the horizon. I woke with the sun on my back and the sound of a crashing waterfall below in the valley, and felt fresher. Pushing on through a huge empty valley, the route passes England’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn, before heading into the vast Sleightholme Moor. The path meanders through a seemingly endless expanse of dry heather which shimmered in the heat in all directions. Parched, with the heat building and my exhaustion stifling, I wobbled through an incredibly tough afternoon, eventually staggering into the third checkpoint in Middleton in the late afternoon, determined on ending this torture. How could I possibly cover another 124 miles like this? I could barely stand.
I sat in the shade and stared into space for a while before being plied with chicken curry and slowly becoming more optimistic. Inspired by the steely determination of the first woman, Brigitte, as she screamed while the medics attended her feet and shrugged off the hole in her foot caused by standing on a nail a week earlier, I resolved to rest and head out in the cooler temperatures of the night. Overtired and irritable, I abandoned my attempt to sleep and headed out of the checkpoint as the last of the sunset faded.
The path follows the River Tees for six miles past the spectacular Low Force and High Force waterfall. While initially my progress was good, my attempt at sleep had done little to ease the draining lethargy that smothered me. My temper was short. Two fields warned of bulls and I crept through the sleepy herds, trying to sound soothing to the startled cows while frustration grew inside me. Past one farm a dog came racing out to meet me and aggressively snapped in the dark, eventually forcing me to wearily pick my way across a lumpy field to join the path at a stile.
My feet throbbed with pain and a cold sweat covered me from dealing with this and the tension that every stuttering footstep caused. I sat on the stile and felt close to tears. Feeling alone and vulnerable in this vast space on a dark night, I turned my phone on and was instantly greeted by a flood of positive messages from friends and family. I felt my strength rise, knowing that everybody was willing me through this. I resolved to keep pushing, but the gnawing doubts about my pathetic progress and the vast distance still to be covered nagged at me. Cliffs closed in around the river, their looming presences felt rather than seen in the moonlight. The next two miles to the Cauldron Snout were pitiful. Almost completely covered in a jumble of waist-high boulders, the path was very slow going. I picked my way across the mess on sore feet, every footstep at a different angle, scraping broken legs, tearing blistered skin. I screwed up a lump of my coat, stuffed it in my mouth and bit hard to help deal with the pain. It also stopped the pathetic whimpering sounds that were starting to annoy me.
After what seemed like an eternity, I got to the foot of the rocky scramble up the cliff alongside a surging waterfall. I was sure that these were the last steps of my race. The crashing white water roared down the rocky steps and the thundering echoed around the valley. Tired, broken and intimidated, I scrambled to the top where I could see Pete from the race crew frying bacon and brewing coffee. “How is it going?” he cheerfully asked, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a man who had stood out all night waiting for us to arrive. “I’m broken,” I mumbled and crawled into a tent in a ditch by the side of the road and instantly fell asleep.
I slept deeply, with the sound of the crashing water seemingly distant. Two of the messages that had really helped me to push on earlier in the night were from my wife, Talie, and my brother, Andy. As I came around, surfacing from a deep sleep, I thought I could hear them talking about me outside the tent. My heart raced. Were they here? How? On stiff legs I stumbled out of the tent and blinked into the darkness as Pete grinned at me over the flames of the camping stove. He was on his own. I had imagined it. I was confused and still only semiconscious as Pete took the opportunity to load me with coffee, bacon and paracetamol.
“I nearly went for a swim while you were asleep,” he joked. He had gone to the edge of the swirling waters to rinse the mugs and had fallen in, only just scrambling out. We chuckled about the daft situation, in a remote part of the Pennines, where I could barely stand, and he had almost been swept over the edge of a waterfall.
I was off before I really had time to think about it and, walking up the bridleway to the crest of the next hill, I had a chat with myself. The way I saw it, I had three options: stop, stagger to the end like the living dead, or take the fight to the race. In the end, there was no real decision to make. There was fighting or there were various forms of giving up. I had come here to race, not to mince around on broken feet.
By now, I had reached the crest of the hill and the sun broke the horizon, flooding the vast empty plateau with golden light. I stuffed my coat into my mouth, bit hard and started running. Cold sweat caused by dealing with the pain ran down my face. Tears prickled in my eyes. I have previously developed a strategy in road racing, inspired by the great Ron Hill, that when it starts to hurt, I push harder. These are the moments that can decide whether races are won or lost. Here I was fighting for survival in the race, but the principle was the same. I ran harder, it hurt more, I ran harder still. Eventually, my feet went numb and the elation of covering ground quickly rose within me. I am going to survive this race. I am going to beat this race. The more the elation rose inside, the harder and more aggressively I ran.
Through a vast open plateau and to the lip of High Cup Nick, a huge U-shaped valley gouged by a glacier on the edge of the Northern Pennines. Around the rim I soared and raced down the grassy slope to Dufton. Coursing with adrenaline and feeling fiercely defiant, I snarled and grimaced up the longest climb of the route to the highest point of Cross Fell. The scale of the landscape inspired me and fed my almost animal-like aggression. Soaring on my momentum and looking to land the killer blow on the race, I hatched a plan to run straight through the next checkpoint and collect my sleeping bag. I planned to run as far as I could before dark and put myself within striking distance of the finish on the following day. Suddenly thinking about the race finish had me surging like a track runner who has just heard the bell and I pushed hard until, by sunset, I was staggering across Featherstone Moor on shaky legs.
I eventually lay down my sleeping bag and crashed into a deep sleep, 72 miles from the finishing line in Scotland. In my exhaustion, I forgot to text race control and had a very entertaining midnight rendezvous with the race safety team; me surfacing from a deep sleep in complete panic and thrashing around unable to escape from my sleeping bag.
I overslept, or more accurately, semiconsciously told my alarm what I thought about being woken at 1 a.m. to go running. Waking an hour later ,I squeezed stiff shoes onto swollen feet and hobbled through a thick mist. A spectacular final day started with a run along the ridge of Hadrian’s Wall, a sea of silky white clouds below extending to the distant hills. Magical memories. Into the Northumberland National Park, I pushed hard through pine forests and fiddly stretches of farmland, my fuddled brain struggling with the navigation and making simple mistakes.
Just after the final checkpoint, I caught Heinz in fifth place on a high heathery moorland that was shimmering in the stagnant afternoon heat. By now it was clear that I was enjoying a spectacular day of running form, the sort that I have only experienced a couple of times before. Keen to secure fifth place, I pushed hard on wide forest tracks and up the steep climb from Byrness onto the Cheviot range, our final obstacle. A dark, springy ribbon of peat wound through the Cheviots over the final 27 miles to Kirk Yetholm. A spectacular sunset lit the sky on one side of the ridge and a bright moon rose over the other. I ran with abandon, in pure joy at pushing hard at the end of a race that had brought me to my knees only a day earlier. A sense of calm settled within me and as I skipped across the paving slabs and scree slopes, trails and summit cairns, I felt completely at one with the mountains in a way I have never experienced before. I thundered down a steep slope, nine miles from the finish, past Jonathan to take fourth place. With a still night settling over the mountains, I eased back and soaked up the moment. Over the cattle grid, up the final hill on the road and I floated around the village green to touch the wall of the Border Hotel and finish the race.
“How do you feel?” Scott, the race director asked.
“Incredible,” I replied. “That is the best run I have ever done.”
A Marathon with a Difference - by Luke Gratton
It had been nine years since I had been on mission,” explains 38-year-old Luke Gratton from Prestatyn in North Wales, “and I felt my world view had become limited; I believe you need to make sure every now and then that this is blown apart and that you are living in a bigger way.”
This is why Luke embraced training for a marathon across the Kenyan desert when his wife, Karen, who leads Alive Church in their home town, signed him up for an ‘adventure’. Karen had completed the Muskathlon Challenge in Rwanda in aid of Christian child development charity Compassion UK herself in 2017 and the family had since sponsored Nphibia.
The Muskathlon is an overseas adventure challenge hosted by 4M UK for Compassion UK, with participants choosing from a half, full or ultra-marathon, 120km cycle or 42km or 63km walk through the communities for which they are fundraising. The event encourages participants to find sponsors for children or raise funds to support local initiatives such as building classrooms and toilets.
“I’ve always played sport but I wasn’t a runner so it was a challenge to get up to marathon distance. However, I’ve developed a love for running.” explains Luke. “I started by running 5ks in my lunch breaks and then gradually moved up to 10k where I plateaued for quite a while. I eventually managed to push myself to do a half-marathon – and went on to do four or five of these but didn’t manage a full 26 miles until I was out in Kenya.”
Luke, who at the time worked as a visual producer for Npower, left behind Karen and his two sons Noah (ten) and Eli (seven) for the week-long trip to Kenya. Travelling with 55 other race-goers from the UK, the team visited Compassion-supported projects in the slums of Nairobi and then out in the region of Marigat in western Kenya to meet some of those being impacted by the charity’s support, before taking on their challenges at the end of the week.
“I love the Muskathlon mantra – to live for a cause bigger than your own,” comments Luke. “I really felt my heart had become hardened to the actual plight of people. You can see adverts and news reports about poverty taking place in the world, but unless you activate all of your senses you don’t really know what that’s really like. You need to get out into the world to see in all rawness the conditions people are living in. I liken mission to taking a defibrillator to your heart to shock it back into sync with God’s.
“The disparity between those who have a degree of wealth and those who have nothing was troubling to see in Kenya. In this country (UK) there is real poverty but a lot of the time it is hidden poverty or at least the majority of people have a brick-built home or a degree of help from the government. The poverty I saw in the slums in Nairobi was a real shock, kids under three years old playing in the dirt next to broken glass, walking through sludge to get to what the family I visited called their home, which was nothing more than a broken shed door leading to a damp, dark, dingy room divided into two parts, one for sitting (living.) in and the other for sleeping, and this space was for eight people. And yet there was still hope found there, in the midst of darkness still a light. The mum asked us to pray not so that all of this existence would magically evaporate away, but that her daughter who was sponsored through Compassion would complete her education, and that her small business selling samosas would succeed so she could continue to provide for her family and gradually bit by bit improve the quality of their lives.“The love, acceptance and community I experienced from those who have very, very little was humbling. I came to realise that I was not there to try to be a superhero or a ‘saviour’ to them, and they were not looking for that, I was there to show dignity, love, acceptance and to champion them and let hope rise.”
To date Luke has raised almost £2,000 to support children living in poverty in Kenya. In addition, his supporters have sponsored two children in Kenya, and Luke and his family have also sponsored six-year-old Boaz. This sponsorship of £25 a month is giving Boaz the chance to have a different future – he’s already been able to start school. Their support will also enable him to be part of his local Compassion project where he will receive nutritious meals, emotional support, medical attention, the chance to get a good quality education and the opportunity to hear about the love of Jesus.
While in Kenya, Luke visited Boaz and his family at home, taking a pack of gifts from his own family and also the Alive Church in Prestatyn – including colouring books, pencils, a teddy bear and even a Welsh flag.
“It was humbling to see that £25 – equivalent to a meal out here in Wales – can make such a huge difference to a child and their entire family each month. Eight of them live in a corrugated iron shack and the dad struggles to bring in money as they don’t have any land. We tried to put a smile on Boaz’s face and give his family hope for the future.”
Compassion has been working in Kenya since 1980, and it currently partners with 392 local churches in the country to provide more than 114,000 children the opportunity to attend school, eat nutritious meals, receive medical check-ups and learn vocational skills. Luke and the other participants have raised over £150,000 through the Muskathlon challenge in 2018, more than doubling the amount raised in 2017. These vital funds raised will provide 1,500 solar lights to Kenyan households, giving a safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable way to light their homes. In addition, they will enable 49 Kenyan students to access further education, by providing scholarships for secondary and post-secondary education.
An additional 300 children in Kenya are also now being sponsored thanks to the support secured by the Muskathlon Challenge participants.
“The whole week had been very emotional, and you knew this painful challenge was coming, but that didn’t stop us all bonding and having some fun. One memorable evening, after a long tough day, we got out a guitar and sang some crazy old school songs,” explains Luke.
On ‘challenge day’, Luke, alongside his teammates, made the 26-mile run in 40 degrees C over “knee-crippling” terrain with rocks, stones, potholes and even a river crossing in an impressive time of five hours and 20 minutes. “I deliberately made sure I didn’t start at too fast a pace. It got up to 44C during the challenge and you could feel the heat radiating off the mud,” said Luke.
“When you run a marathon you need to run your own race because you have trained to a pace that you know you can run at, and therefore to run with others is not always helpful because they are not running at the pace you are used to running at. But as the run went on, I came to realise that with the terrain, heat and other adverse conditions I was facing, that camaraderie and support was essential because you are not only running a physical challenge but also a mental challenge. When I was losing the mental challenge, having someone by the side of me where we could encourage each other was essential.
“I met Ranjit during the first half of the marathon and actually we were running at a similar pace, so that also helped. Early on we decided that we were going to cherish every moment of this incredible adventure we were participating in. So we stopped for the occasional selfie and chatted to kids as they ran out of their schools when they saw ‘mzungus’ (white man in Swahili) running past in heat that not even they would be out in. Ranjit and I then picked up Findlay during the second half of the marathon. We decided that in the words of the three musketeers that it was about ‘all for one and one for all’ and that we would make sure that each one of crossed the finishing line safely, because when the heat got up to 44C that was dangerous heat, and at one point we ended up running between spots of shade to try to keep our body temperatures down. The Bible says: ‘If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble’ (Ecclesiastes 4:10, NLT). We crossed the line together and then shared a big manly hug.”
Now back in the UK, Luke reflects on the challenge and the impact it has had on both himself and his family. “It’s been important for my kids to see Daddy going on an adventure and helping change the lives of others. Noah and Eli have loved seeing the pictures of Boaz and they are proud to be a part of his life. Karen and I want them to live adventurous and outside their comfort zone.”
As for recommending the challenge to others: “Definitely step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to live for a cause bigger than yourself. Be prepared for your whole world to be rocked, but that’s not a bad thing. I wanted to go somewhere and feel like I had left my sweat in the mud – I didn’t want to go and be passive. Doing a challenge like the Muskathlon, you do just that. This was a statement of my commitment to future generations being released from poverty in Kenya.“Karen and I are also both inspired to get out there more and are looking to go on a joint mission somewhere in 2020.”
The 2019 Muskathlon for Compassion UK is taking place in Rwanda in East Africa in June, with money being raised to help children living in poverty there. You can sign up here to take part:
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