Steve Evans and the final leg of the journey

Richard and Steve

 

Steve Evans passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of this morning 16 January 2014.  The following words were written two days before.

Rest in peace Steve

Today I listened to Steve Evans ‘final’ radio interview with his good friend Richard Bacon for Radio 5 Live.  I defy anyone not to be moved to tears like me!

As previously blogged, I have followed Steve’s journey since I first heard him chatting to Richard on one his most excellent daily chat and news shows back in May 2013.  I, like many people, was inspired and absolutely in awe of someone who is able to face such adversity with humour and, as Richard nails it, resilience.

I don’t know what the coming days and weeks will bring for Steve, but, as he describes it, from his carriage he can probably see the final destination, and he is somewhere near the back of the train.  Steve is blessed with some amazing family and friends who always rally round him when things get particularly tough.  Now is one of those times, and like a well oiled machine Team Evo springs into action!  One of his best friends JP has been doing an amazing job of keeping Steve’s many friends informed of his progress and posting updates with the usual humour; Steve is still a wanker, and JP can’t even write properly!  Even in these challenging times, they make a great double act!

As we move with Steve along the final leg of his amazing journey, I feel I have been honoured to be part of it in some small way, in touch on Twitter and Facebook, while never actually meeting him.  He has touched the lives of so many people, including mine, is and will always be, an inspiration.

Much love xx

Steve Evans

 

 

Nelson Mandela – a farewell

Floral tributes for Nelson Mandela at Parliament Square London

The recent passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Madiba, will leave a large void not just in South Africa but the world.  This immense figure who epitomises struggle and forgiveness will be sorely missed.

As the world mourns his passing and celebrates his influential life, I took the opportunity to take a trip into the centre of London and three particular locations where the great man is commemorated.

Nelson Mandela bust Southbank London - The struggle is my life

The struggle is my life

My first location is a large head and shoulder bust of Mandela, mounted on a high plinth outside the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, by the sculptor Ian Walters and erected in 1985.  This was during the time when Mandela was incarcerated in the notorious Robben Island prison and was classed as a ‘banned’ person in South Africa.  In the UK the Thatcher government was reluctant to support the call for Mandela and many other political prisoner’s release, and certainly didn’t support the idea of sanctions to try and bring about justice and change.  And because of the right-wing apathy for the situation, many left-wing councils named roads and buildings after Mandela, to keep his name alive and in the public consciousness.

My next stop was the Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square, again designed by Ian Walters and finally erected in 2007 following a number of disagreements about where it should be located.  The unveiling ceremony was attended by the great man himself.

RIP Madiba

RIP Madiba

Mandela, son of South Africa

Son of South Africa

Lighting a candle in memory of Nelson Mandela

Lighting a candle for Mandela

I was surprised how few people were at the statue, but it was a subdued and respectful gathering as a steady number of people gathered to lay flowers and candles and leave personal messages.  There were plenty of photographers on hand to capture the growing tributes.

My final stop was the Embassy, South Africa House, at Trafalgar Square.  Similar to Parliament Square, there was a small but growing collection of tributes at the door to the embassy, but instead of a quiet gathering, the place was full of joy, singing and dancing, with a group of South African men, women and children leading the singing of freedom songs.  I found myself singing along to the few words I remembered of Nkosi Sikelele Afrika – s0 moving!

This brought back many memories for me.  During the apartheid days, when Mandela and many others were imprisoned,  I had taken an interest in the anti apartheid movement, sometimes accompanying my good friend Jenny to join protests at the Non Stop Picket (NSP), which was organised by the City of London Anti Apartheid Group (City Group).

South African Vuvuzela for Mandela

Making a noise

Flag at half mast at South Africa House London

Half mast at South Africa House

Singing for Mandela at South Africa House London

In full voice

It was a random re-tweet I’d seen that led me to discover a blog, called Non-Stop Against Apartheid, that a former member of the NSP has set up as part of his research project into ‘solidarity activism’.  I can’t pretend to know what that means, but the blog is a fascinating insight into the reasons behind the formation of the group, its relationship with the mainstream anti-apartheid movement, and more interestingly, its relationship with the government of the day and the police.  Certainly, articles I’ve read have jogged my memory and made some sense of the stranger things that were happening during this time, although my recollection is a bit vague – it was over 25 years ago!

But while the great man and his imposing presence will be deeply missed the world over, his legacy and his capacity for forgiveness in what, for most people, would be an unforgivable situation, can only be an inspiration to us all.  From what I read, things still seem far from perfect in South Africa, but I hope this event will help refocus on what Nelson Mandela stood for.  And what he stood for could be equally applied in many other countries!

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” ~ Nelson Mandela, Rivonia Trial, 1964

Candles laid for Mandela We are human being not skin

We are human being not skin!

RIP Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

 

 

World Mental Health Day

Old lady with ice cream

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day and each year the campaign focuses on one aspect of mental health.  This year has focused on mental health and older adults.

There has been a lot of recent talk on blogs and on the Twittersphere about mental health issues; many people have suffered and still do suffer from the stigma of being labelled as ‘mental’  One of my favourite blogs is by a guy called Spencer, he is funny, lovable, articulate, and crazy (in an endearing kind of way). He also suffers from depression.  Don’t ‘they’ say there is a fine line between madness and genius?  Spencer isn’t afraid to tackle the subject of mental illness and his depression head on, giving his readers an insight into his innermost thoughts about the subject, how it has affected him personally, and how it has shaped his personality.  The way I read it, rightly or wrongly, ‘it’ has shaped ‘him’ to be the {insert adjectives above} person he is.

I have also suffered from depression.  But on a comparative scale of 1 to 10, it would probably score a 0.7 (said in a Len Goodman voice!).  In a former life I discovered that my then husband was having an affair (this comes with sincere apologies to my eldest if she is reading this and didn’t know) and it frankly knocked me for six.  Our relationship was never the same, the trust having gone, and a trip to my GP resulted in a prescription for anti depressants.  I think they did their job, they made me feel like shit, and I came off them after a few months.

But there is a world of difference between my kind of mental illness and that of Spencer and those in a similar situation.  Mine seemed to be triggered by outside or environmental  influences and an unhappy episode that seemed insurmountable at the time.  In the big scheme of things I soon got over it.  For others, and I’m clearly no expert, the condition seems to be hard wired, a predisposition, or a chemical imbalance, that lends itself to a mental outlook that is considered to be abnormal by ‘normal’ people.

Take my next door neighbour.  When we first viewed our house 1995, we met our neighbour, looking a bit disheveled, and the estate agent told us he lived with his elderly parents and was ‘harmless’.  Not long after we bought the house, we started to find out more about him.  His parents were in fact both dead and he was living on his own.  He was, and still is, schizophrenic, and, I’ll be honest, I am very wary of him.  He is a strong man, with his David Bellamy looks, and must be in his late seventies now.

Anyone who knows this part of south west London may already know of him.  He comes across as the archetypal nutter!  He looks scruffy and dirty, there must be animals living in his hair! He jumps on the local buses and shouts at people.  He will ambush me or my husband at the front door and start to chat.  Which is fine, they start friendly enough…

Oh, hello Mrs Coaby

“Hello David”

I don’t know….. what is this world coming to”

“OK” trying to get into the front door double quick because I know exactly where this conversation is going.

“Bloody foreigners”

Sigh….

“Hitler had the right idea”

Sigh….

“We should bomb the lot of ‘em”

“Bye then” Slams door.

I know that sounds terribly rude and intolerant, but after 18 years of this I’ve really lost interest in the rants of a man who has led a very sad and lonely life.  You see, his father apparently was one of the first British soldiers to liberate a Nazi concentration camp in the second world war, and liked tell his son stories about what he found there.  As a young man, David’s girlfriend committed suicide, an undoubtedly devastating tragedy for anyone.  He’s an intelligent guy, trained as an accountant.  He is a very clever guy.  And he’s a very angry guy.  Angry at the world, and God. And who can blame him.

“Fuck you God, What have you ever fucking done for me?” he will scream from one of his many open and smashed windows, the ones that overlook the piles of rubbish thrown into his back garden.

But he is a very clever guy.  He used to throw rubbish into his front garden too, until the local Council cleared it up and threatened him with legal action if he did it again.  No one except his neighbours can see the rubbish piling up in his back garden.  And if asked, he will stop swearing at the top of his voice when the kids are about.  And the priest who came to visit was very understanding too.

“Fucking neighbours, shagging all the time”  Hardly endearing himself to anyone there!

And it goes on.  The police knocking on the door in the middle of the night because he has gone missing….again.  The abuse he shouts to anyone who might make a noise louder than he can scream.

But he has got better, the police don’t come round with riot gear anymore, trying to coax him down from the roof while he throws roof tiles at them.

He is a lot quieter now.  And actually, when he is quiet everything is fine.  As long as he takes his medication. But sharing an adjoining wall to a house that is like an ice box, with no maintenance isn’t fun either.  Luckily the insurance company paid up for the dry rot that had to be cleared, it wasn’t nice having the back of the house propped up while a wooden beam and floorboards were ripped up and replaced.

But does anyone take responsibility for him?  Should anyone take responsibility for him?  Am I being unkind?  Cruel?  Selfish?

Mental health issues seem to manifest themselves in many ways, and it is often those closest to it that are affected the most, either in an emotional or in a physical way.  I don’t pretend to know much about mental illness generally, and schizophrenia specifically, but perhaps I should.  Perhaps knowing more would help me to tolerate or even like this man who, it has to be said, is very hard to like.

Old lady with ice cream

Time to enjoy ice cream

But far from being a purely negative issue, World Mental Health Day is focusing on the mental health well being of older people and the positive aspects of mental health in later life.  As an issue that will affect so many of us either directly or indirectly it’s good to have a focus once a year, and a catalyst to spark more debate on this ‘unseen’ illness.

 

The bloke from the council is poorly

Steve Evans

The man who inspires me and many others is poorly.  Not that you would know it, you wouldn’t be able to tell that this amazing man is entering the final phase of his journey.

Back in August I wrote about Steve Evans, how I first came across this inspiring guy, who has been fighting the fight against the Big C, and, despite a few setbacks, winning each round on points!  A seemingly ordinary kind of bloke, now retired from the Council, loves fishing, part time entertainer and magician.  I followed him on Twitter, got chatting with him about our common chemotherapy experiences (those chemo pins and needles reach the places they shouldn’t normally reach!), and I was honoured to be invited to join Steve’s extended Facebook family and friends.

One of Steve’s targets through his recent treatment was to attend the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) convention in Buxton as compere, early in September.  Steve achieved his goal, and went down a storm by all accounts.  A couple of days later Steve was honoured with the coveted Associate of the Inner Magic Circle (AIMC) with a Silver Star award.

Shortly after the convention, Steve fell ill and was taken to hospital.  Friends waited anxiously for news of his condition.  We heard from his daughters, through Twitter and Facebook, that Steve’s condition had deteriorated, to the point where his tumour had grown and was bleeding, and the location of the tumour meant that he couldn’t eat.  Steve was very poorly indeed, and he readily admits that he thought his journey was about to reach its final destination.

But within a few days Steve’s condition had improved, the ‘genius of the NHS’, as Steve describes those dedicated people treating him, had managed to stop the bleeding, which in turn had allowed him to start eating again.  As he gained some strength, he received a visit from Richard Bacon, with whom Steve has become good friends, and he agreed to give an interview, recorded for Richard’s BBC Radio 5 Live show.  The link to that interview is here.  It’s a tough listen, but the words and the emotion explain everything; who Steve is, and what he is about.

This weekend, Steve appeared on the BBC Breakfast show, to discuss the story of the  extension of the Cancer Drugs Fund to 2016.  This is a very important development for cancer sufferers, and Steve explains here what it meant for him, or as he puts it “I simply stayed alive!”  He also tells us where he is on his journey at this time.

Knowing that he had been pretty poorly in hospital, and wasn’t able to eat for many days, I was concerned at how he might appear on the TV, but actually he looked amazing and was as chipper as ever!  As he says, he is relaxed and at peace with his condition, and will  enjoy a “better quality of life for as long as it is.”

His positivity shines through and he looks good on it!

Steve, you are truly an inspiration.  And I look forward to seeing you more in your new career as a TV personality!

Steve Evans

Steve Evans on Twitter @steveevans51