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Ancient Feet: 2 - You Wrote The Number On The Soap?

...No sooner had I put the phone down than it rang again and it was Tom trying to enlist me for the Coast to Coast Walk. The dates he was talking about were just a couple of weeks after my sixtieth birthday and I had been wondering -what I could do to celebrate the great event. I have to admit that the Coast to Coast Walk had not occurred to me but, what the heck, this was my opportunity to prove that there is life in the old dog yet...

Alan Nolan agrees to take part in the longest walk of his life.

To purchase a copy of Alan’s deliciously humorous book Ancient Feet visit

Signed copies of the book are available from Alan http://apn.thelea@yahoo.co.uk

I was in the bath when Tom phoned to ask whether I would join his party of intrepid walkers later in the year and my acceptance put me in Suzanne's bad books on two counts. She was out at the time but had told me that she was expecting an important call and that I must make a note of the phone number so that she could call back.

'Make sure you write it down; you know what your memory's like. You forget anything that happened more than two minutes ago', which I thought was an unwarranted slur on my message taking ability. I had been in the bath only a couple of minutes when the phone rang and I congratulated myself on having the foresight to take the phone in the bathroom with me. Suzy could not fail to be impressed with my efficiency.
'Suzanne's out but, if you give me your number, she'll phone you back when she comes in,' I said in my most competent telephone voice, 'oh shit, hold on a minute, I need a pen and paper!' Suddenly, I was in serious trouble again but, fortunately, the ingenuity of the mature male ensured that a satisfactory solution was at my fingertips. I could scratch the number on the bar of soap using the bottom of the toothpaste tube as the pen. Brilliant!

No sooner had I put the phone down than it rang again and it was Tom trying to enlist me for the Coast to Coast Walk. The dates he was talking about were just a couple of weeks after my sixtieth birthday and I had been wondering -what I could do to celebrate the great event. I have to admit that the Coast to Coast Walk had not occurred to me but, what the heck, this was my opportunity to prove that there is life in the old dog yet.

On my fiftieth birthday, I had walked up England's highest peak, Scafell Pike, and had promised myself that I would do it again on my sixtieth but, somehow, the intervening years had made me more, rather than less, ambitious and I was looking for something far more challenging. Indeed, I had been considering entering a team to take part in the 24 Peaks Challenge, a charity event organised by Care International, but had been having a little difficulty in recruiting a team, so the Coast to Coast would be a challenging alternative, despite the major drawbacks of having to carry on my back all my equipment for twelve days walking, and not having the comfort of a hotel bedroom at the end of each day. It must have been the relaxation brought on by the bath that lowered my defences and I allowed Tom to persuade me to join his Coast to Coast troop. At the time, he was anticipating about ten members in his indomitable band, but the numbers dwindled in the months leading up to the event itself. Having agreed to do the walk, I found that I was pleased I had something to look forward to and, preoccupied with thoughts of the twelve day walking challenge, I soaped myself down and completed my bathing experience just in time to hear Suzy return. Mustn't forget to give her that number. See, the memory isn't that bad at all.

'What do you mean, you wrote the number on the soap and then forgot and used the soap and washed it off? What sort of an excuse is that? And how could you agree to doing the Coast to Coast Walk in September; isn't that when you're planning to do that ridiculous 24 Peaks Challenge thing? The dementia is getting worse. How on earth you manage to run a business, I'll never know. And I suppose you expect me to cope with three dogs and running the house on my own for twelve days while you're off playing with your mates, do you?'

I excused her petulant comments on the grounds that she is at a funny age. She would not be able to understand my need to prove to myself that I am still capable of taking on new challenges. She was right though, about the 24 Peaks Challenge that is. This is a charity challenge, involving climbing 24 peaks above 24 hundred feet in 24 hours. Set in the Lake District, the event was scheduled for the Saturday and Sunday immediately following Tom's proposed Friday start for the Coast to Coast Walk. However, in view of the problems in getting a team together, I decided I would leave that until next year (or perhaps the year after that) as I would need to concentrate on preparing myself for twelve consecutive days of tough walking on the Coast to Coast. Although I had always enjoyed walking, I had never done anything like this before. Walking sixteen or seventeen miles a day for twelve days without a break sounded hard going. No problem though. After all, I had always kept reasonably fit. Mind you, none of that poncing about at the gym stuff. And none of that fitness training bollocks either. Taking the dogs for a walk most days and the occasional walking break in the Lake District had kept me unusually trim for a man of my age. My announcement that I would be retiring the following year had elicited many flattering comments from clients, who could not believe that I would want to retire at such a young age.

'Well, I will be nearly sixty-one by that time,' I pointed out.

'Oh, but you don't look it. I would have put you at no more than fifty-nine.'

'Thanks very much, but I am only fifty-nine now!'

The decision to retire had prompted me to look back at my life and I found it hard to believe that I had worked for other people for about twenty years before starting my own business as an Independent Financial Adviser. I was not suited to being an employee, so becoming my own boss was inevitable really and I ran the business on my own for fifteen years before taking on a couple of partners six years earlier. I had no definite plans about retirement at the time, but knew that I needed to provide an escape route for when the time came and the partnership put that in place. Oddly, the provision of the escape route pushed me towards retirement earlier than I would have anticipated. It's funny how things work out. Having built up a business over twenty-one years, it would be strange to give it all up, particularly as I knew my partners would want to make significant changes and I would be forgotten in no time at all. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to being released from the responsibility of being in my office by eight every morning, and to having the freedom to do different things. The one drawback was that I would miss my clients, many of whom I had come to regard as personal friends. That apart, I knew that I would be able to walk away without looking back.

Although I would not be retiring until the following year, I did not want to wait until then before launching myself into new projects so, when I read about the Care Three Peaks Cumbria Challenge, I just had to find out more. Care's website explained that this was a challenge to climb three of the highest peaks in the Lake District in under twelve hours, which included an allowance of one and a half hours driving time. Teams had to commit to raising at least ,£2,500 for Care International UK. Apart from the fundraising, I thought that sounded a reasonable challenge for a fit, youngish sort of bloke but then I spotted something far more interesting.

The website showed that Care also organise the 24 Peaks Challenge which entails conquering 24 peaks above 2,400 feet in 24 hours (with no provision for driving time). Now that sounded more like a real challenge for someone with something to prove! There was just one little doubt, niggling away at the back of my mind. Something I couldn't talk to anyone about. Only a few weeks earlier, one of my clients had phoned and told me he had just come out of hospital after a quadruple heart by-pass operation. Stifling the urge to say I hadn't realised he had four hearts to by-pass, I encouraged him as well as I could, telling him that several of my clients had undergone similar operations and made a full recovery. As soon as I put down the phone, I checked his file and, to my horror, found that he was fifty-nine. The same age as me.

Over the last couple of years, three other clients had either had heart attacks or by-pass operations (or both) and they were all fifty-nine at the time. It was obvious to me that a faulty batch of hearts had been issued, the lifetime guarantee being valid for only fifty-nine years. Hopefully, I was not one of the unlucky ones and, if I could just get through the next few months without mishap, I would be able to celebrate my sixtieth in style. Twenty-four hours of climbing up and down mountains would be ideal. The event was scheduled to take place just a couple of weeks after my birthday, so it seemed the ideal way to prove that reaching sixty does not mean that a man is past his best. It might knacker me for the rest of my life, but I could do it!

There were two problems. Firstly, the minimum fund raising requirement was .£5,000 and, secondly, teams consist of four to seven people, so how to find enough mugs (sorry, like-minded people) to do it with me? Still, I didn't think that would be too much of a hurdle as I knew plenty of blokes who like to keep themselves fit and who would be just as eager to prove themselves as I was. I just needed to sift through all the possibles and invite those who I thought would be fit enough physically and who I thought would be able to raise at least £1,000 each. Also, it was important that I should ensure that everyone would be compatible, so I would not be inviting any whingers or any show-offs who might want to race ahead of the rest.

I drew up a shortlist and planned what I would say to all those who did not make that list when they heard about it and complained that I had not invited them to be in my gang. With my list completed, I started phoning the elite squad. Bearing in mind that it was only March, I was surprised how many had already planned their holidays for September that year and how there seemed to be a spate of leg injuries (my friends were more stoic than I could have imagined as not one of them had brought their disabilities to my attention before then).

I decided to spread the net to include the whingers and show-offs but still no luck, so I drew up a list of acquaintances who I knew had two legs and even started asking people in the pub whether they knew of anyone who could walk. It would have been easy to give up and forget the whole idea, but I was determined to achieve something to celebrate my sixtieth birthday. Mind you, my old pal Tom was as dependable as ever. When I phoned him, he volunteered immediately, even before I told him the full details. What a man! The only problem was that he volunteered to be the driver, to get us to the starting point on time and pick us up at the finish.
I got no team and it's breaking my heart But I've found a driver and that's a start

Perhaps someone could make a song out of that!

By the time Tom phoned about the Coast to Coast, my team still consisted of me and one possible who had promised to take part if his hip replacement proved successful, but even Tom seemed to have forgotten his promise to drive. In the circumstances, I was happy to substitute the Coast to Coast for the 24 Peaks Challenge. Either way, Suzanne thought I was mad.

'What does Alan think about being sixty?' a friend asked, a day or two after the great day.

'I don't think he's noticed. He seems to believe all this guff about sixty being the new forty and, although there's no doubt that people are living longer and doing more adventurous things than previous generations, there is a limit. He's doing the Coast to Coast Walk in a couple of weeks and, whilst I'm sure there are plenty of sixty year olds who are capable of doing it, they must be a small minority, even in this day and age. All he seems concerned about is whether the others will be able to do it. I think he must feel a need to prove he's not completely past it. Mind you, the others are all as barking mad as he is. Tom, who's organised it, is sixty-nine would you believe? Mind you, he has done it nine times before, but I think he's forgotten that it's five years since he last did it and those five years will make a big difference at that age. I'll be surprised if they're not back after a couple of days.'

'It sounds a bit risky to me. Isn't this a bit out of character for Alan?'

'Well, you say that but, when he gets an idea in his mind, there's no stopping him. He doesn't seem to think about the consequences.'

'But he does come across as being quiet, doesn't he?'
'Quiet may be, but that's not because of any lack of confi-dence. And don't forget that he did set up his own business, which was a major risk at the time. He gave up a secure job with a company car, a subsidised mortgage and a pension of two thirds final salary at age sixty and he didn't have any clients and no promises of clients when he started. Come to think of it, he was thirty-nine at the time, so perhaps it's the approach of'significant' birthdays that trigger these things.'
'You'd better watch out in twenty years time then!'

Suzanne may have been sceptical but at least my son in Italy was supportive of my efforts.

'I'll give £5,000 to charity myself if you manage to complete the course,' he said when I phoned. I didn't think he could afford it, but what a nice gesture!


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