Monday, 31 December 2012

What will 2013 bring?

As 2012 is about to end, I've taken two steps that I hope will help further improvements in our NHS. I've become a member of my local health trust and will soon be standing for the position of Governor. On top of this I continue at University, now in my third year, but not without problems. Due to a cock up in the admin I was missed out of the students who are allowed access to the main media web site. This meant that I've completed 2 years without key information that was available to all other students in my year group. The enquiry is still ongoing, but it looks like I will be doing a fourth year (fully funded) to complete the media module. I don't mind too much, I love it there and the people are great, so what's another year? 

I'm out with the 'Fix the Fells' team early January, filming the BBC as they film the team at work around Aira Force near Ullswater. Then it's back to the Juniper Project and I have a huge amount of film to edit and still plenty to shoot.

Beverley bought me a massive telescope for Christmas, one of those almost as round as a beer keg that you can see footprints on the moon. I'm busy converting the attic into an observatory, but I haven't told her yet. Just need the clouds to clear, could be a long wait. 

Other plans for 2013 include a trip to Italy and another longer one to India, flying into Calcutta and out of Mumbai, so no chance of getting bored there. There's also the Rugby 6 Nations to look forward to in February/March when Ireland will top the table with England coming a close second…honest!

Happy birthday to my brother Andre on 1st January, it's going to be a fantastic year for him.

I would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year, and hope to see many of you as we zig zag across the country.

My main message for 2013 as always is this…

If you know a man who you would miss if he wasn't there anymore, please ask him what his PSA is? If he hasn't got a clue what you are talking about, force him to the doctors to have a simple blood test. I know many men this year who were in their early forties and found that they had advanced Prostate Cancer, and had no symptoms to warn them. Had they gone for a PSA test a few years before, they could have been saved. It will never happen to your Dad, brother, cousin, son or friend, will it? Well it does to about 45,000 men in the UK every year, so why shouldn't it!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Thank God...

My 2 year blood test for PSA was taken on Tuesday, and I've felt ill with worry since. I wasn't supposed to call for the result until tomorrow, but I called my doctor's receptionist tonight on the off chance. She casually said…

"Yes, your PSA is fine, still under 0.03"

I gasped, "FUCK, thank God!", then quickly apologised as she laughed out loud and I tried my best not to cry. 

2 years cancer free! So pleased, so relieved, so happy. Now I can relax until the next time, in the spring, in the lovely month of May.

To my amazing surgeon, Mr Nimish Shah... Thank you.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

It's been a while since I put this link up, but whatever stage you're at on your journey, it is so worth a visit...

YANA (You are not alone)

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

PSA... still a month to go!

3rd year has started now, the final year of my degree course and I hopefully graduate in July! This year is tough because it's all 'do it yourself' with very little time at the University, you are more likely to be out in the countryside or stuck in the attic writing. I've just handed my 'Cornwall Project' in, my first attempt at an interactive pdf, using 'Indesign'. Hey, I didn't even know what that was until a couple of months ago! Now we've all started on our final piece, mine being the Uplands for Juniper project with the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust, combined with a yet to be decided travel writing module. Any ideas?

One month still to go for my 2 yearly PSA test! My friend down south, Bazza wasn't so lucky with his, but has had radiotherapy since and I'm hoping it's going to be all good news there. All the others that I know, including Andrew are still all clear, so there's good times ahead. My army friend Roy who lives in Scotland, joined the same day as me in 1967, we share the same birthday, was diagnosed in August and is deciding whether to opt for surgery or radiotherapy. When I look at others from the forum though who I have been in regular touch with over the years, we have lost some amazingly brave men recently. 'Old Al' who was only in his early 50's, inspirational to the end, even when his PSA went over 7,000. Phil, one of the nicest guys I've ever met, and the list seems to go on.

I was asked in one interview by a student journalist, "did cancer draw your family closer together?" I had to answer, "No". It has drawn Beverley and I much closer together, but it stopped there really; even drove some of them further away :-) 

Nick Federico, a great friend of mine from about 1978 to 1988 contacted me through Facebook this week, just can't wait to meet up. Facebook is great in so many ways, and yes, there are down sides but on the whole it's been magic for me.

Did you see the new Alternative to PSA testing which has been developed by Professor Neil at Addenbrookes where I had my treatment. What do you think? Would make sense if so many men could have an alternative choice to surgery, knowing whether their cancer was likely to kill them.

So it's nearly the 5th November which is just as well, because at this time of year you can legally handle gunpowder and ignite it! As part of my Juniper project I need to film some gunpowder being used, so what better than to break open a whole pile of fireworks and play with the contents. Probably health and safety issues there, but it was fun in the 60's, so what's changed!

Look at this beauty that was on our kitchen window waiting for a meal a few nights ago…if you zoom in you can see it's a boy :-)
I'm having a few days off now...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Do you see the person that others see?

It IS possible to love your body as it is.

As pervasive and insidious as it is, you can fly in the face of societal programming.
Improving one's own body image perception is a process that occurs over time and requires shifting the way in which you define beauty and your own self-worth.
Key to making the shift to a positive body image perception is becoming acutely aware of the hidden messages about beauty that surround you. Recognizing the impact of these images and observing thought processes that lead you towards beliefs that undermine your self-love is an excellent place to start. 
Here's how:
1.) Notice when women or men are being portrayed sexually to sell a product and notice airbrushed images that do not accurately portray the female or male form. Recognize the beliefs that you conjure up from these images about your own beauty.
2.) Question what you are looking at and the hidden intentions behind what you see. Often, media images are intended to manipulate you into believing that you are not good enough so that you will then purchase a product.
3.) Form your own opinion about what it is to be beautiful. Include all of your amazing female and male qualities in your definition and don't forget, your personality counts in this equation! Working on your outer looks without working on your personality would be a big mistake, because the former will fade with age, but the latter will be with you forever. 
People can -- and do -- change their beliefs throughout the course of their lives. 
The most powerful and healthy belief systems are the ones that influence the love of and care for your body. When your body image perception improves and you begin taking better care of yourself, your confidence improves along with your health.
In direct opposition to what today's media and advertising purport, finding happiness and fulfillment is an inside-out job. Choose today to start being a critic of what you see in the media. Enjoy the positive effect this has on your entire life.

Monday, 17 September 2012


If your PSA starts to rise after you’ve undergone prostatectomy, so-called "salvage" radiation therapy might be a good option to explore. With this approach, external beam radiation is delivered to the area immediately surrounding where the prostate was, in the hopes of eradicating any remaining prostate cells that have been left behind. Radiation is more commonly being given after surgery for men with high risk disease (positive margins, seminal vesicle invasion, positive capsular extension), even in the absence of a PSA rise. If you did not get radiation immediately, doing so later based on a rising PSA is often reasonable. (Brachytherapy is not an option because there is no prostate tissue in which to embed the radioactive seeds.)
But the procedure is not for everyone. If there are obvious sites of disease outside of the immediate local area, if any tumor cells have been found in your lymph nodes, or if your Gleason score was 8-10, post-surgery radiation therapy may not be right for you. In this high risk situation, additional therapy may be warranted such as hormonal therapies or clinical trials. Also, in men who are considered good candidates for this therapy, it can be very effective, but five-year disease-free rates tend to be considerably higher in men whose pre-therapy PSA levels are lower than 0.2 ng/mL compared with those whose pre-therapy PSA levels are greater than 0.2 ng/mL. Therefore, if you and your doctors are considering post-surgery radiation, ideally you should start before your PSA goes above 0.2-0.4 ng/mL. Side effects from the radiation therapy can be moderately severe, and are additive to those previously received with surgery. These include rectal bleeding, incontinence (urinary leakage), strictures and difficulty urinating, diarrhea, and fatigue. Be sure to discuss with your doctors what you can reasonably expect before deciding on a course of therapy. In some cases, hormone therapy might be added for a short period before radiation to allow your urinary function to heal, or during the radiation treatment, which can also add to the side effects that you might experience.
Because the anatomy looks different and the tumor is often not visible on imaging or felt on DRE, the radiation oncologist has to carefully balance between delivering sufficient radiation to destroy the prostate cells while not damaging the healthy tissue. Once again, practitioner skill can make an important difference in outcomes.
In some cases, particularly if the tumor was considered high-grade and therefore at greater risk of spreading to the surrounding areas, your doctor might decide to initiate radiation therapy right after you’ve healed from your surgery. This approach, known as adjuvant therapy, typically starts about six weeks after surgery, and is unrelated to "salvage" radiation therapy that is administered if the PSA begins to rise.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Dan Zenka

This is a post from Dan Zenka's blog in the USA. It's so good that I thought it worth sharing....
It is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month—no better time than now to reset some thinking about this men's disease. It is the second most common form of cancer among men after skin cancer and the second leading cause of death of American men after lung cancer. In incidence and mortality, prostate cancer is to men what breast cancer is to women. Yet for many reasons, it has remained too long in the shadows. This problem fosters a good deal of misunderstanding about a disease that will be diagnosed in 242,000 American men and kill 28,000 of them in 2012. Globally, more than 16 million men and their families are challenged by prostate cancer.
Let me dispel some common myths right now: it is not just an old man’s disease, it is not “the good kind of cancer” with which to be diagnosed as it is not always slow growing as is commonly believed, and a family history is not always needed to be diagnosed. Further, prostate cancer is often asymptomatic, meaning you don't have to feel bad to have it growing inside your gland.
I know first hand.
At age 51 (not an old man in my book), two years after joining the Prostate Cancer Foundation in Santa Monica to head up their communications, I was diagnosed with my own case. Ironic? Perhaps. But not surprising. I already knew that one in six American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. Someone needs to fall into the statistics. Why should I have been given a pass?
Two months following my diagnosis, I had a radical prostatectomy (removal of the prostate) and the cancer appeared to be contained and the margins were mostly clear. Despite believing that we had gotten all those nasty cells, one week later, the post-surgical pathology report showed that the cancer had metastasized to my lymph nodes. I was suddenly a Stage 4 cancer patient with advanced disease. It was on to 35 sessions of radiation therapy (equivalent to more than 48,000 chest x-rays) and two years of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) to cut my production of testosterone since this hormone of manliness fuels the proliferation and spread of prostate cancer. Despite all the side effects I have had to endure from a near total lack of testosterone, I have been fashionably manscaped for the past two years and a new crop of hair follicles has taken root on my once more sparsely populated scalp. I suppose there are upsides to anything if you look for them.
With 27 genotypes or varieties of prostate cancer, it is not always slow-growing. There are both the indolent, non-life-threatening types that a man will die with rather than of, and the very aggressive varieties. In between the two ends of the spectrum lie a number of varieties that require moderate rather than aggressive treatment. For those diagnosed with varieties that appear less aggressive (Gleason score 6), active surveillance is often a viable option.
Since the age of 40, I had been having annual PSA tests and a digital rectal exam (DRE) as part of my annual physical. Just before my diagnosis, my PSA score nearly doubled—a signal that triggered a biopsy and subsequent diagnosis. And yes, the PSA test—though not a cancer-specific test—indeed saved my life with its ability to set off the smoke alarm and alert my physician that something might be going wrong in my little walnut-sized gland.
Today, as I wean off of ADT, I have a 30 to 40 percent chance of one day hearing the words “you are cancer free.” If not, there are a range of additional treatments and new drugs to be tried once I become resistant to ADT, as most patients invariably do. From my perspective, working alongside the world’s leading prostate cancer researchers, I often tell fellow patients that there is no better time to be a prostate cancer patient, if you have to be one, than today. So, I remain optimistic.
The good news about prostate cancer is that with early detection and treatment, the 5-year survival rate is nearly 97 percent.
Here’s what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones:
1. Help break down the barriers of “macho-dom” and make prostate cancer something to talk about. If we can openly rally to save the ta-tas, we should be brave enough to save our walnuts;
2. Share family medical histories;
3. If you are over 40, talk with your physician about when it is right for you to begin annual PSA testing and DREs so you can make an informed decision depending on your health, family history and other relevant factors;
4. Eat a healthy diet and exercise—research shows that lifestyle plays an important role in preventing prostate cancer and disease recurrence;
5. Eat more cruciferous vegetables, particularly broccoli, which contain high levels of sulphorophanes that aid in the repair of damaged DNA;
6. And finally—just because you won’t believe this one—do not char you meats. The amount of char on an 8-ounce steak carries a carcinogen (PhIP) that is the equivalent of your prostate smoking a pack and a half of cigarettes. This compound interfere with the normal replication and repair of DNA in the prostate which can lead to the development of cancer.
For more information on prostate cancer, including the most recent updates on research, visit the Prostate Cancer Foundation website at

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Major award to study protective effects of broccoli consumption against prostate cancer

The Prostate Cancer Foundation is providing $1M of funding to the Institute of Food Research and the University of East Anglia (UEA) to study the protective effects of broccoli consumption against prostate cancer.
It builds upon several years of research led by Professor Richard Mithen on the biological activity of a naturally occurring compound called sulforaphane that is obtained in the diet from eating broccoli.
Professor Colin Cooper (UEA), Professor Richard Mithen and Dr Maria Traka (IFR)
Professor Mithen and Dr Maria Traka will lead the research at IFR, and will collaborate with leading cancer genetics expert Professor Colin Cooper of UEA, and Mr Robert Mills and Professor Richard Ball at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.  Professor Cooper, supported by the Big C charity, has recently joined UEA’s Norwich Medical School and School of Biological Sciences.
This is one of nine ‘Challenge’ Awards made by PCF in an effort to accelerate scientific discovery and new treatments for prostate cancer patients. It was selected after rigorous peer review of 96 applications from 10 countries.  The unique capacity of the Norwich Research Park to integrate high quality plant science research, food research and clinical studies on a single campus was an important factor in the granting of this prestigious award.
“Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK – with more than 35,000 cases diagnosed each year. Around 11,000 men in the UK die from the disease,” said Professor Cooper.
“It has long been thought that what we eat can play a part in the likelihood of developing prostate cancer but the responsible dietary components have not yet been identified.”
Men who eat diets rich in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, have been shown to have a lower chance of developing prostate cancer, or of progressing from localised cancer to more aggressive forms of the disease. Studies using model systems have suggested that sulforaphane, which is found at high levels in broccoli, may be behind the protective effects.
The new study will follow changes in the metabolism and gene expression in prostate tissue of men identified as being at risk of developing prostate cancer, and see how these changes are affected by eating a diet enriched with sulforaphane.
Professor Richard Mithen
“The results of this study could help men by providing evidence that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables or sulforaphane can reduce the likelihood of metastatic cancer, leading to the provision of higher quality dietary advice. It will also result in a greater understanding of metabolic and gene expression changes in prostate tissue that may lead to better drug development,” said Professor Richard Mithen.
“A change in diet could be a very simple way of decreasing the risk of developing prostate cancer, helping future generations to avoid the disease altogether,” said Professor Cooper.
“The receipt of this ‘Challenge’ award from the Prostate Cancer Foundation is very exciting news for Norwich Research Park and testament to the innovative research carried out by scientists in our Partner institutions,” said Matthew Jones, Chief Operating Officer, Norwich Research Park.
“The nine funding awards have only been given to those working in cross-disciplinary areas of research with near-term patient benefits. This is further evidence of the value seen by an increasing number of organisations in the unique combination of expertise on Norwich Research Park, ranging from fundamental research through to clinical trials and we are delighted by this endorsement.”

Monday, 27 August 2012

Quick update...

Just back from 3 weeks in France, 2 weeks in a tent and 1 on a narrowboat, what an amazing time. Still 3 weeks to go before Uni starts again and this time, I'm in 3rd year!! A lot of hard work before I hopefully graduate in July next year. What then? Who knows, the job market is tough for graduates, so how about a 61 year old graduate? I've got to do something with the final 39 years of my life and I'm sure there's something out there waiting.

Next PSA test is in December which seems miles away right now, and if all clear that takes me up to 2 years all clear after surgery.
Best wishes to Clive who is having this same surgery tomorrow. Give me a call if you need to talk in the coming weeks.

I'm getting married next year! What a girl ... xxxxx

Monday, 16 July 2012

Feeling a bit down and sorry for yourself?

Click on this and listen to the most inspirational person I've ever witnessed...


Hello everyone! I'm so sorry that I haven't been able to post for the last month. I'm signed in as Beverley now as the issue still hasn't been resolved, but I don't mind showing my feminine side for a while :-) I can sign into my blog, but I can't seem to do much else with it! 

I still can't publish a final account for Expedition Romania because the DVLA are "investigating" my claim for a refund of the tax disc used on the 4x4 that I gave to the Serbian Mafia in Belgrade. I'll keep you in touch with that one as it unfolds!!

I got my 2nd year results yesterday, just short of a 1st but I reckon I can make that up by the time I hit the end of 3rd year in June 2013. It's fairly complicated how the marking works out. Your 1st year marks don't count, you have to pass and at the end of 1st year I was doing pretty well considering that I had cancer surgery half way through! I think it's 30% (may be 40%) of marks in 2nd year count towards the final mark at the end of the degree. You are allowed to drop the worse mark in 2nd year, thank god, and mine was a woeful 40% in web design. Just a pass at 40% and funnily enough it was the only module that I asked other students and tutors for any help on!! But I just couldn't grasp the concept as some of the youngsters floated through it. I think for my final piece next year I might do a good old fashioned book, paper with print on that I can relate to so much better than the techy stuff.

I got a Rav 4 4x4 SR180 yesterday, went all the way to Edinburgh to see it, but well worth the trip. Some sound advice from a friend of mine Derek, who is to cars as Houdini was to escapology, and the deal was done. 
So I now have a 12 year old Toyota Avensis going very cheap if anyone is interested?

I'd like to say hello to a lovely person called Dorothy who phoned me for advice this morning. She's having terrible trouble with the Cumberland Infirmary after being very ill and needing surgery. You are not alone Dorothy, as soon as you call me back we will start the ball rolling and get you sorted.

I was up at the University last week filming for their new TV advert. I got a speaking roll no less, even though I was reluctant to put on the make up before filming :-) It was good fun and I'm looking forward to seeing the end result.

On Saturday 30th June I went to our cancer support group meeting in Leicester, last year was my first time so this year I was a veteran! I took Beverley and we met some amazing men and their wives. 9 people had died since last year, which sent a shiver down me. I almost felt as if I was a cheat! Elise, the guardian angel for the group, came all the way from Ireland with her Mum Elsie, who's husband had sadly lost his fight a few months back. George did a great job again in organising the event and I'll certainly support it forever.

I've not only joined a Badminton Club, I'm winning some games! Now if you had told me that 18 months ago I would have laughed. I love it and looking forward to gaining some fitness so that I can improve  even more.

Beverley's last day at her old school last week, think I'm going to recommend her for an OBE. So many children crying there eyes out, so sad to see her go, but she's a magical teacher and I just know that her new school will be getting an inspirational new Head Teacher to start in September.

If you are one of the 100's of people who visit the Blog still every month, I hope you will look through my journey and take heart from it. Remember, when you are diagnosed, you must not leave your hospital in charge of your journey, you must manage your own case. I took that step after being ignored by my specialist, Mr Bashir at the Cumberland Infirmary for months. Not getting replies to letters, phone calls and e-mails, I was literally being left to die!!
Thanks to Mr Nimish Shah and the brilliant team at Addenbrookes, I have my life back. Be your own case manager and if you need help because at this point you know next to nothing, please contact me.

Friday, 1 June 2012

We will be publishing our accounts for Expedition Romania before the end of June. This will allow time for all receipts and refunds to come through. Once again a massive thank you to all those who contributed in any way, because you made it possible.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

18 months all clear!

18 months after surgery, my PSA has come back all clear!!!
So pleased, so relieved, so grateful...

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


The news is full of it: Syria bullying it's own people, Germany bullying Greece, Russia bullying the Ukraine and the USA & China bullying anyone that's left to be bullied!

Bullying is part of life and considered completely natural in the animal world as a way of passing on stronger genes through time. The more aggressive male gets the best females, who in turn have the stronger children. But the 'more aggressive' human male has to play a very different hand in a more vigilant society; a society where bullying is considered  very 'uncool', by almost everyone.

What is bullying?

A country can bully another country, a bank can do this to a company or another bank, but most of us recognise it first at an early age, in the school playground. As a young Irish boy with a strong accent, I witnessed it first hand in its simplest form at the age of 5. The school bully, Adrian Webster, would come up to me and punch me to the ground, for no reason. Then all the other kids would stand around chanting and ridiculing me for a few minutes until they got bored. Not crying and not reacting was the key to survival at the time, but becoming friends with  the other school bully was a later tact. I thought of punching back but I saw the deformed results of those who had, and believe me it wouldn't have been worth it.

Bullies now have to be far more sophisticated because we live in times where this practice is considered to be extremely anti social. So in the office, the bully may not go up and punch a person, he may just wear them down psychologically, just picking away every day, almost a form of entertainment to him, but with a devastating effect on the victim. I say 'he' because bullying is mainly a male trait fuelled by testosterone, but I have seen it 'woman on woman' and even between the opposite sexes.

Should we confront the bully? 
Yes, for sure but be prepared for the consequences!

In an ideal world, you go up to the bully, explain the error of his ways, he says sorry, the bullying stops and you feel happy that you've confronted him. 
But in reality, the bully usually has an entourage, a group of people who like to be around him. Sometimes because they just like to take part in the fringe bullying for fun, other times because he's a popular guy and they don't see the harm in having a laugh, as long as it's not at their expense. The bully, more than anything doesn't want to feel silly or embarrassed in front of this group, he has an image to uphold, he also needs to entertain them!

So you decide enough is enough, you take the chance and make that confrontation. The bully, then naturally his whole group hit back at you... "It's only banter, we're just having a laugh, he doesn't mind, ask him?" they all shout back! 
But 'banter' is when a group of people are all having a laugh and a joke, where no single person is being constantly picked out and everyone feels included and comfortable with what's going on. 

Bullying is very different...  

There are loads of definitions, I think this one does it justice...

"Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. Bullying or harassment may be by an individual against an individual (perhaps by someone in a position of authority such as a manager or leader) or involve groups of people. It may be obvious or it may be insidious. Whatever form it takes, it is unwarranted and unwelcome to the individual".

So you've made the confrontation, the bully and the entourage have hit back, and if you're lucky they will agree that they have been bullying and agree to stop. 
But, far more likely, you will now become the target! You have embarrassed the bully and the entourage! They feel ashamed, they know they're wrong, they're not necessarily bad people, but you have forced them to examine their own poor behaviour. They may not even like or speak to you again, but you've given them something valuable to take into their future.

The person who was the victim might even come and tell you in private that he is grateful for you having the courage to do what he couldn't do himself! But inside he is delighted because the focus is now off him and firmly on you. If he keeps quiet he may now even be accepted into the entourage group as a full member, but he will always be a victim with this tact.

Yes, you can feel better about yourself, but did you really solve a problem, or just shift it elsewhere? Is bullying just human nature, will it always be with us no matter what?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Cancer World...

I was interviewed by this European wide publication last month and today they sent me 2 copies. You can read my article below. 

What is 'Cancer World' about...

The aim of Cancer World is to help reduce the unacceptable number of deaths from cancer that is caused by late diagnosis and inadequate cancer care. We know our success in preventing and treating cancer depends on many factors. Tumour biology, the extent of available knowledge and the nature of care delivered all play a role. But equally important are the political, financial, bureaucratic decisions that affect how far and how fast innovative therapies, techniques and technologies are adopted into mainstream practice. Cancer World explores the complexity of cancer care from all these very different viewpoints, and offers readers insight into the myriad decisions that shape their professional and personal world. 

Cancer World includes in-depth interviews with some of Europe’s most influential oncology leaders, who are invited to comment on breaking news, discuss complex and difficult issues and share their experiences in overcoming personal and professional challenges as they have pushed forward the boundaries of their practice. The magazine also features interviews with people with a high public profile that have an important impact on cancer care – they shape public attitudes and influence how cancer services are delivered and research conducted. We hope that these stories will give our readers a broader perspective on cancer and perhaps inspire some initiatives that will help improve the care that cancer patients receive.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Back home, but only just!!!

We started back, leaving Ojdula in Romania at about 8am, but Expedition Romania still held some surprises on the 500 mile trip to Belgrade in Serbia!

All was well until we stopped at a tiny village, still on the Romanian side. I turned off the engine, we bought our crisps, pop and chocolate and all piled back into the vehicle. Flicked the ignition switch and pressed the button, nothing! Tried again and again, just dead. All sorts ran through our minds as we still had about 250 miles to go. We were trying to puzzle it out, when a well built lady walked past, could tell we were in trouble and signalled to us that she would get help. This was followed by a series of people who then attended, first a thin woman who went to get her son, he went and got his brother who then went and got his disable friend he could speak a little English. He suggested getting this other guy who came along and looked, then went and got another guy in overalls. He examined the engine and then drove off, coming back with a long piece of wire which he attached so that we could start the engine by just sparking the other end off the + side of the battery, and this is what we did every time we started up from then on. I gave the guy £20, even though he really didn't want to take it, but I forced it on him. I had just given him 4 days wages but he had saved us considerably more. We were all so grateful to be on our way once again.

It was a long day, 2 hour shifts on the driving between 2 of us, but we ploughed on, all looking forward to being back home. So all we had to do now was successfully cross the Romanian/Serbian border, something which we were warned might not be easy. First we pulled into the Romanian side and a young guy, greeted us asking for our passports. He was intrigued that I had an 'Irish' passport but the others had 'Great Britain & Northern Ireland' on theirs. I tried to explain that the English had stolen the top half from the Irish some time ago, but the fight would never end to get it back! I was trying to appeal to his nationalism, but he couldn't quite work out what I meant. All was well until he looked at the vehicle documents and saw that we were not the registered owners.  He then changed from the nice guy into a border guard and shouted for us all to get out of the vehicle and switch the engine off. He'd watched all that type of film. I explained that I was the owner, and in England we have to send away the other half of the document which then gets sent back to you with your name on it. He talked to an older guy in Romanian and they both kept looking at us for a reaction, I think. He then asked me if I was going to sell the vehicle in Serbia, to which I said "no" (because I was going to give it away!) He made me promise to him that I would not come back and tell him that I'd sold it, which I found really strange, because if I had sold it, I wasn't going to go all the way back to tell him I had! He finally agreed to let us go, but warned us that the Serbians might not let us in! As we then had to hot wire the 4x4 to start it, he didn't look convinced that he had made to right decision, and we weren't convinced that we wouldn't be returning to him in an hour, begging to get back into his country. As we drove the 500 yards to the Serbian border, I asked the others to keep calm and try and relax, just letting me talk to the Serbians. A nameless voice in the vehicle said "let's just tell them the truth, it's always the best way", which made me laugh to myself. After all, the truth was this... 

We were driving an uninsured vehicle into Serbia, that I had already declared on my insurance as not having been modified, which it had, and lied about the details of the other named driver.  The vehicle documents were in the name of Mr Simms, who I'd never met but was given these documents by a guy who loaned us the vehicle, who I'd met once when I bought the vehicle off him for nothing. I had taxed the vehicle to drive it to Dover, knowing that it would be left in Serbia. I had a letter of permission to drive the vehicle written by Mr Simms, witnessed by an anonymous person and given to me by a third party, and I was taking the vehicle across the Romanian/Serbian border to hand over to a guy called 'Dragon', who I also had never met or even spoken to. It would probably then have a high calibre machine gun mounted on the back and be fighting in Syria by next week, with the University of Cumbria logo on the side.
Having crossed a few international borders in my time for various reasons, I knew that these patrol guys just wanted to be told, what they wanted to hear, and certainly not 'the truth'. Had I even told the partial truth, we would all still be in a Serbian prison right now!

As it was, after telling the lovely, well armed woman on the Serbian border that we were just going to Belgrade to watch the football, trying to keep the subject on 'football' so that she wouldn't ask how we were leaving Serbia, which she didn't, she went away to debate us with a male colleague. They both came back, asked us to open the back of the vehicle, and I think that 3 weeks of dirty washing did the trick, with them not wanting to touch anything. I then started to admire the huge Romanian truck that was beside us, asking them questions about it which they couldn't understand, then went on to ask all sorts of questions about Serbian insurance; at which point they said we could go. I had bored them enough and tried not to lie by being very economical with the truth. 

We headed off to the airport very relieved and I couldn't wait to dump that 4x4 on Dragon that night, a weight off my shoulders, I can tell you. Where is it now? I haven't got a clue, I'm no longer the owner and it's not on my Insurance, tax disc in the post for a refund, job done.

After a sleep on the floor of Belgrade airport, Wizz Air flew us back to the UK. They took off on time, and landed 10 minutes early. Only £90 each, no food but you got a free twix bar if you ordered an alcoholic drink; no chance. Talked to Rob throughout the flight as we're both scared of flying, but it was a smooth flight and landed in murky Luton at 7.30am.

What a queue for getting into the UK, it took an hour to reach passport control. There were signs everywhere telling us this was because of 'increased security', what a load of crap! When everyone finally got to the front, one of the 4 people on duty, checked the passport photo was vaguely like you, and you then walked through. In the customs area, NOBODY was stopped or baggage checked, there wasn't even as person on duty. There were people employed to keep the crowd calm and signs everywhere warning that it wouldn't be tolerated if we assaulted the staff. I was home, in BARKING MAD Britain, I love it!

Beverley was there to meet me and after a lot of hugs and kisses, breakfast at the airport was bliss before the drive home and 10 hours lovely sleep, after a glass or three of wine.

Nearly 2,872 hits on the blog while I was in Romania took the total hits now to over 30,000. Thank you all for your lovely e mails and well wishes which helped along the way.