On On Saturday 9th November, there was an unusual buzz at Victoria Station, and for once it wasn’t excited tourists, desperately looking for Buckingham Palace.
For the 5th time in less than a year, a group of Palace fans had congregated at The Beer House, ready to do the three mile walk to Stamford Bridge as part of the Walk and Talk campaign to highlight the issues around mental health, and in particular, male suicide, We were joined this time once again by the Sarmatians, with support from British Transport, Southern Rail, Gatwick Express and Southeastern.
Once again, it was an incredibly successful walk and talk. We did have a little detour to Westminster Abbey for the group photo, and a spontaneous verse of ‘We Love You’, from which we were asked to move on by the police, as apparently that isn't allowed. This was met by a lot of laughter and a few shouts of ‘spoil sports’.
The great thing that I have found, having done 4 of these walk and talks, is the people that I have met and some of the stories that I’ve heard. There’s one particular story that is beyond inspirational. An Arsenal fan called Ed, has been a big part in the walk and talks, and is a full time carer for his 94 years old grandad. Ed pushes his grandad in a wheelchair the whole way, and I’ve been very fortunate to hear Ed and his Grandad's story. It’s a story that I very much wanted to share. I have been very fortunate that Ed has been willing to answer some questions for me, and so I am honoured to be able to share his story exclusively, with our readers.
[Q] Hi Ed, first things, first. How long have you been caring for your Grandad for?
Hello Kate. First let me say how wonderful it’s been to meet you now on all 4 of the official WalkAndTalkMMH walks I’ve been to. Yourself and all the Palace fans I’ve met on this adventure have all been so welcoming and understanding towards this Gooner and his Millwall Grandad.
It’s really hard to pinpoint a moment in time when I became a carer. It just prompts more questions really: What is a carer? Who is a carer? If you just cook dinner for someone or tidy their house are you now a carer? Some of these things are things we just all do for others without even thinking, on another day they will do them for us in return, are they now our carer?
I started living with my Grandfather, Phil, a little over 14 years ago, in August 2005. Gradually over time he relied on me more and more. I never even noticed it for many years. It really was the easiest and kindest way to become a carer. It is far tougher on people who are suddenly thrown in at the deep end in next to no time at all. They have my utmost respect for all they do.
Q] What encouraged you to take part in the walk and talks?
[A] Well Kate for me it was the focused reaching out to men specifically. Of course, women come along on the walks, which is fantastic in itself, the math's just made sense to me. It’s no secret men are 3 times more likely to die from suicide than women, here in the UK. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, not knife crime, not a cancer.... Suicide. Every day as a society we lose enough men to fill the starting 11 in a football team, and still have a guy left to put the kettle on. 12 fathers, sons, brothers, friends that mental illness steals from this nation daily, just shocking to me. I don’t want to over generalise things though; my good friend Rachael lost her mother to suicide. Just how when I discuss breast cancer, I often remember that my ex lost her grandfather surprisingly to breast cancer. Huge Palace fan Paul Price deserves a mention here, because I found out about the walks after seeing him on my favourite Arsenal show, spreading the word. I’m now honoured to count him among my friends.
[Q] Being a full-time carer for your Grandad, how do you go about preparing for the walks and have you found anything particularly difficult with the walks?
[A] On a short walk, really the only preparation is to get Grandad a few early nights so that he is awake at a sensible time, not too different to myself really. On a long walk however, there is a lot of preparation. Whilst I won’t go into every detail, some of this will start up to a week before the walk. I also have to make sure one of Grandads daughters can be nearby with the car, in case he wants to call it a day or has a medical issue. Normally Grandad and I do walk’s every day, about 5 miles; just the two of us. Sometimes we do longer walks, often over 10 miles. We have even done marathons spread over two days. Grandad loves going for walks in the wheelchair, especially to see interesting places or green spaces. These are not a problem, it’s just me and Grandad, so I can give him all the care and attention he could ever want. In return, I get some great company and get to hear the most amazing stories, fewer and fewer of my generation now have the privilege to hear these.
The main issue as the walks get longer is the crowd. Grandad has to wear hearing aids, the ambient noise from the crowd really tries his patience. Also, it’s just the fact the crowd walks far slower than I would walk with him alone. Grandad would be the first to admit he is not a patient man. On the Arsenal walk, the schedule was to take 7 hours. For perspective, we regularly walk such distances in 4 hours on our own and include rest stops in that. It can be trying for Grandads patience, however usually he perseveres. I know how tough that can be for him so I’m always really proud of him and make sure to remind him when we get home. I treat him to a little bottle of his favourite milk stout as a thank you.
[Q]Finally out of all the walks you have done, what has been one of your favourite bits?
[A]In all honestly on the day of a long walk, my mind is so focused on Grandad that I don’t take much in. It’s hard to remember favourite bits. With so many people in front and often to the side I can’t see the path ahead very well. I’m constantly on the lookout for bumps that would ruin Grandads comfort, or obstacles that the crowd may obscure. Plus watching out for cues from Grandad and communicating with him, often in little non-verbal ways people will not notice, due to the ambient noise issues. I can be busy chatting with someone on the face of it, but there’s the gentle squeeze of Grandads shoulder to let him know I’m there, thinking of him. The thumbs up from him, to let me know he’s okay, certain gestures that all have meanings to us. Really my favourite bit is the Friendships myself and Grandad have made and taken with us. We now often meet up, for a meal, some non-league football. One time even a picnic with a handful of palace fans, a fellow Gooner and with WalkAndTalkMMH’s founder, Fulham fan Lee Adams.
These friendships have been life-changing and meant the world to me. It’s certainly done wonders for my mental health, and I know it’s helped others too, perhaps with friendships, often with opening up about their own issues. I encourage anyone from any club to give it a try.
When you hear stories like this it certainly puts a lot of things into perspective. Having done these walk and talks it really makes you think how the result of the game isn't the important thing. The important thing is the people you meet along the way, the stories that you hear and I'm so incredibly grateful to everyone that I have met, friends that I have made and the stories I have been so fortunate to hear. Thank you, Ed and Grandad, for allowing me to share your story, I'm honoured to be able to call you my friend!