Day 4

On the Road to Change…

I wish I could have blogged on Day 1 but after waking up in a tent in Chingford at 6am (After 4 hours sleep…) I had to get geared up in all my walking paraphernalia and jump a taxi then two tubes to the National Theatre on London’s South-bank, find the banners, flyers and balloons that had been printed and delivered there, find everyone invited to the event and get them to the right part of the building, think of something deep and meaningful to say at the podium in front of the prestigious and well-wishing attendees(I remember saying: ‘Two year of planning had gone into that moment but really I’d been on this journey for around 25 years’ I talked about how I’ll feel walking into countries where it’s currently legal to sleep with children and where the rights of survivors are actively ignored and the rest I said was about Forest Gump, I think…) walk a mile behind a piper in full highland regalia (Alex McGrotty www.british piper.com who played at the event for no charge, bless him!) with the whole gathered crowd of friends, family and supporters who had travelled from as far as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Geneva and Washington DC to be there, then pick up the pace an walk a further 24 miles before it got dark or my batteries died and I lost all GPS devices…so my wee blog had to wait till today. Day 4. So here I am, currently parked at the harbour in Newhaven, waiting to board to boat to France, after a safe and simple 65 mile walk from London over the last three days. Allow me to recap…

Last week (My last week in Scotland) was a complete blur. Every hour was packed with last minute details and planning but thankfully on Monday night, Tom (Urie) and Maggie Kinloch (Dumbledor) took over and had arranged for all my family and close friends (who I won’t see till 2015) to meet in a restaurant for one final big ‘Cheerio’ meal. As half my family live in Ireland, Tom had also secretly contacted them all to record video messages wishing me a safe trip. Ronan Keating…but I wasn’t the only one… (Roaring and Greetin)

Saying goodbye is always deeply emotional but beyond the tears I felt their strong and unending support for the unique and challenging adventure ahead of me. Tom made us all say a few words, which really helped us reach that really unattractive snottery-coughing greetin stage…All I managed to say was that the reason I am not scared to walk 10,000 miles through countries I couldn’t have pointed to on a map two years or stand in front of thousands (possibly millions) of people and say ‘I am a survivor, here’s what happened to me, here’s what’s happening to children right now and here’s what we can all do about it’ is because of the people there that night, my wonderful and loving family and friends. It was a struggle getting the words out but I looked at them and meant it when I said: ‘When you have an army behind you, you’re not scared to do anything.’ I’ll miss everyone so much, every minute of every mile, but this is something I have to do and anyhoo, I’ll be back safe in 18 months

So the launch went exactly as I’d always imagined. Huge heartfelt thanks to all who travelled great or small distances to be there and bless Jess Jones (National Theatre’s events department) for allowing us free use of the beautiful space to gather and say a few words before the off. Dr Pamela Pine, founder and CEO of ‘Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, Inc.’ had flown in from Washington DC to be there and welcome the other key international organisations who are partnering with us at Stop the Silence to help ensure the Road to Change reaches its full potential. Pam has been running Stop the Silence 100 hours a week for 12 years and it was her ethos that originally inspired me to write the play ‘To kill a Kelpie’ in 2008 and began this whole extraordinary journey. After Dr Pine, Sandra Brown OBE Founder of the Moira Anderson Foundation in Scotland, stood up to mike before the humble first mile and spoke about our hopes for a successful Road to Change and also for the last mile, down Edinburgh’s Royal mile in February 2015. Sandra has been an endless source of support for me and my whole family and she personally donated £500 back in 2008 to help the original production of ‘Kelpie’ and incredibly has donated a further £500 to the Road to Change. The Moira Anderson Foundation helped me and my family through the entire legal process of prosecuting my uncle in 2009 and also provided free counselling and therapy when needed. This wonderful service is available to all in Scotland and beyond. If you feel you could benefit from it, click on their logo on the home page of this website to be taken to their site with all the contact info.

After Sandra was Dr Ariel King, Founder of Ariel Foundation International, based just outside Geneva, who is helping us with so many aspects of the Road to Change it’d be impossible to list them all but they include finding translators in each major city, reaching out to Policy-makers in Brussels and at the UN in Geneva, meeting NGOs, setting up screenings of the ‘Kelpie’ movie and talks in Universities across Europe and even providing a free office with interns who will work remotely with me and my driver wherever we are to coordinate events in the cities we are approaching. I am deeply amazed by and truly grateful for all their support. The fourth organisation, Innocence and Danger based in Paris could not be present but I’ll meet their Director Homayra Sellier in 8 days when I finally get there

And so the Road to Change began, with a wee stroll along the Southbank through busy Londoners and bemused typical tourists watching the crowd of us holding ‘Road to Change’ balloons, keeping pace behind Alex as his pipes blared out ‘Scotland the Brave’. I haven’t much thoughts on this moment, I just recall looking at my feet as they began to walk and thinking ‘One, two, three, four, five, six…’

Hopefully the surrealist moment of the entire walk will be reaching the top of the stairs at Westminster Bridge and turning and waving goodbye to the festival of friends cheering me on then in an instant, turning south out of site and finding myself alone on a quiet street in London, surrounded by the usual somebodies who had no idea the life changing journey I had just begun, but another was walking at full pace through Brixton and hearing a wolf-whistle, then seeing my cousins Julie and Stephen Oates, who have been massive supporters of all my events over the past few years, and they’d travelled down from East Kilbride to surprise me at Trafalgar Square, but events in London last week meant our route for the first mile kept changing to accommodate security concerns, so they’d jumped in a taxi and raced ahead of me to surprise me on a random street. I can safely say it was the last thing I expected to see when I turned that corner but a deeply welcome surprise and final final cheerio on my walk…

Day 1 was simple. Paths all the way. Not so much fun on your knees but level, so easy on the ankles. I always ended up at the stopping point 2 hours before Yvonne (The van) but hey…London Traffic…I reached Salfords just after 7pm. 25 miles from the National Theatre. Mojo, my brother and van driver until Luxembourg, had had a stressful day running people from the event back to airports and picking up motorhome washing machines, so I didn’t mind sitting on a wee bench till he appeared. Phillip Weddell, a wonderful actor and artist, had donated and week of his time and materials to create the Road to Change logo on Yvonne’s nose. When I seen them coming towards me up the express way I finally realised it was really happening. I was on the Road to Change. Dreams come true…If you make them…

My feet didn’t even hurt, not a single blister (Thanks to the SAS Officer who invented Stride-Out foot oil…) I was in a kind of adrenaline-fuelled daze where everything seemed possible. It was here I realised that we needed somewhere safe and quiet to park and as if lead by angels, I walked to the edge of the town and found a Harvester. All it took was a mention of the 10,000 mile walk to riase awareness to tackle child sexual abuse to get us a free parking space and even free breakfast (Bless Miles their manager) and Boom! I had witnessed the first of hopefully a long list of ‘Random acts of kindness’ that many on these kinds of adventures talk of. Mark Beaumont (World circumventing cyclist and fellow Scot) was very kind in the early stages of planning in advising me on various aspects such as logistics and injury prevention. When I asked him if he ever felt scared, he said ‘You’ll find people are nice the world over.’ Thankfully, that has been my experience for the first four days at least.

Day 2, 24 miles walking, Salfords to Kemer, was again straight forward but I did have to walk up some roads without a sidewalk. American News Channel ESPN had emailed recently asking me to comment on the death of Richard Swanson, who began a similar 10,000mile trek only last month and has already tragically died when he was hit by a driver who didn’t see him. The tragic news of Richard’s death shook me possibly more than anyone else who didn’t know him personally. I can imagine what his family and team must have gone through is all the weeks and months leading up to the beginning of his 10,000mile journey. All those sad goodbyes, all their worry and concern for his safety, all their hope and pride at his ambition, only to have their worst fears realised so soon into his honourable undertaking which he had embarked on to help address world hunger. I know they must be all inexpressibly devastated and my heart goes out to all his family and support team.

On the Road to Change, we have spent two years carefully planning every aspect of the walk but this incident was a stark reminder of the real dangers I will face every day. My strategy is simple but strict. If ever needing to walk on a road, I walk at the side facing on-coming traffic. I wear high visibility clothing over my Road to Change logo’d t-shirts, (I’m already wearing a eyebrow-rising blue kilt) If it’s bright, I wear sunglasses and if not I don’t, to maximise my vision. No matter how boring the particular road is, I switch off my ipod and put my earphones away so I can hear traffic all around me. If my phone rings or I need to look at GPS, I step off the road a safe distance before taking my attention off the traffic, and even if it means doubling back and taking hours longer, I never take short cuts along or across motorways. The route we’ve planned avoids all major roads anyway but I’ve already been lost twice ,adding hours and miles, and had to think fast to get myself back on track. I expect this to be a fairly regular occurrence and so have decided not to get annoyed and just go zen whenever a need to change the route comes up.

Day 3, supposed to be 14miles/5hours but became 16miles/7hours along Sussex’s beautiful South Downs Way, was the day I met and spoke to the most lovely people. I’ve found it’s mostly other walkers and cyclists out on similar adventures are the more likely candidates for a pleasant wee chat and I now fully understand why England has always been described and green and pleasant.

Reaching Newhaven yesterday, there was no time for sore feet as we I had to get ready for the town council’s screening of ‘Kelpie’(Advertised last week in the Sussex Express) with their Mayor, Julie Carr, in attendance. Arriving at the Meeching Hall, a cute wee red stone public building built in the 1890s, I wasn’t at all disappointed to find that the technician, Nick, who had arranged the projector and the Mayor herself were in fact the only people who had turned up for the event, apart from me, Mojo and Yvonne…I’ve hosted ‘Kelpie’ performances, screenings and talks to attentive crowds of 2000 and bewildered wee groups of 4, and after walking 65 miles in two and a half days the idea of an impromptu ‘night off’ was hardly bad news. The decision to hold a screening in Newhaven was only suggested two weeks ago, when Amanda (my second in command) contacted their local press and authorities to announce I was coming. I know from experience across the world, a night focusing on child sexual abuse is a hard gig to sell and our real efforts have always been aimed at the major cities in each nation. I would love to stop and share the Road to Change in every town and village I pass though but it would mean I’d be walking for fifty years and I truly hope the situation regarding the sexual abuse of child in Europe is far different by then anyhoo.

Not to waste the opportunity of the Mayor’s undivided attention, I took her inside and showed her the map of the route and the 7 minute video form this website, which did in fact move all who were to tears. Nick, who had until that moment thought the line on the map indicated a 10,000 mile road trip in the Road-to-Change logo’d Yvonne parked outside was dumfounded when he realised it I was my walking route. Both he and Julie took flyers and pledged their support to donate and follow my progress. The Mayor of Newhaven then lead us personally though the town and showed us a wee peaceful and picturesque spot to park Yvonne for the night. I really think it was a worthwhile (If wee…) event and a good reminder to get the publicity flowing at least 6 weeks before I reach anywhere…so far all good…

So today, Day 4, has been simple and wonderful. This morning I met with Mayor Julie Carr again on the beautiful Newhaven Coast for photos going in the Sussex Express. Mojo and I have since spent 3 hours making Yvonne feel like home. I spent every penny I earned this year as an actor and playwright on travel vaccinations (Hepatitis, Tic Born Encephalitis and RABIES) and other essentials for the walk, so the trip itself is entirely funded by the kind support of everyone who’s donated through the website or attended any of the many Road to Change fund raising events over the last three months. My wee mum handed me a card with £50 and said ‘This is for you, not this thing you’re doing.’ So today we made it to Brighton and I spent mum’s gift on a duvet cover (Blue like my walking kilt) and a few other homely items to try and make Yvonne feel more like the wee mobile house and home she will be for me over the next 550 days.

Yesterday, as ever, I arrived in Newahaven to a hug and a ‘Well done’ from Mojo, and we noted the spot where I stopped. I can then be driven anywhere in the area in Yvonne, as long as I go back and begin walking from that exact spot where I stopped the day before. This afternoon, I went back to where I reached yesterday and walked from there to the check in desk at the Ferry Port to ask if I could be allowed to walk on to the boat as a foot passager, even though Yvonne is booked on with two passengers. The staff kindly arranged with the security and local police for me to be specially escorted from the terminal, across the 500 meter carpark onto the boat, as usually foot passengers need to board a wee bus.

Still typing this blog as we drove up to the clerks kiosk, I closed my laptop and was about to get out a walk to the desk that I had walked to this afternoon, and when we handed over our passports and the clerk immediately held open one open and asked: ‘Who’s this?’

Looking at the picture on the passport, then at Mojo as the colour drained from his face, I said: ‘That’s Paris, she’s Mojo’s girlfriend’…Poor wee Mojo. He’s been such a star these past few days. He’s an awesome cook, he designed and maintains this website and he’s no stranger to driving a left-hand-drive Transit Motorhome in the UK (He even knows what to do should Yvonne ever breakdown). He’s had nearly as much to deal with as me in the weeks leading up to the Launch so we weren’t at all perturbed when this wee hiccups presented itself. Like I said, I just went zen, smiled and rethought the plan. (The Transcendental Meditation that I practice twice daily now really has chilled me out, the old me might not have found this so funny) In seconds we were laughing with the friendly staff and even signing autographs and having pictures taken with them for their Grandchildren who watch me in the mornings on Cbeebies.

So now…Mojo’s Passports in Glasgow we’re in Newhaven. I’m getting on the morning boat to start walking and Mojo will meet me on day 6 when he can finally enter the country with all the correct documents…I did just call a 24hr courier but the £1300 they quoted to have Mojo’s passport here in time or the morning boat would be a massive waste of all the kindly donated funds donated to support the walk. So I’m on my own for the next two days…I’m packing my French Phrase book as I type…

More on how this worked out next week…

Well, leaving London was the official start of the Road to Change but for me, the real scary bit was always going to be leaving the UK. Perhaps its right that I now need to do this bit all on my own. I’ve never seen this as one big 10,000 mile walk, I see it as thirty wee walks from one city to another (some wee-er than others). Each individual city to city walk has buffer days planned in, to account for wee hiccups such as this. I’m kind of excited to be on my own for the first two days of the entirely new part of the walk. Thankfully, the rest of my Road to Change t-shirts now say ‘I walked here from London in French’ on the back. (J’ai march’e jusqu’ici depuis Londres)

Anyhoo, sorry this week’s blog was mostly a recounting of events, next week I’ll be back in the swing of things and plan to share more insights into my own healing journey and plans to reach out to Policy Makers here in the EU. Right now though, I need to find somewhere to stay tomorrow night within 30km of the French coast…Better get packing a light weight overnight bag too…

Thanks for reading…

Matty, Happy on the road to Change x

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Before the first step…Finally grasping how far I have to go…

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