Keep Right On (to the end of the road)

Apologies for being late, running long, and including too many selfies. I'll try to do better next time.

Prior to the unpleasantness of the past few weeks, I booked a trip for my oldest and I to go to England to see friends and watch football (soccer). After the news dropped, I cancelled the trip. This cancelled trip was one of the hardest things for me to swallow in this ordeal. My nightmare was of a future where Spence would be forever tortured by the big trip with his father that never happened. That thought absolutely gutted me. After the dust settled, however, I found that I had two weeks before chemo started, and that in fact the dates for our trip were still feasible. After a quick check with the doctors, it was back on.

One of the great relationships in my life started in 1991 when I met an Englishman named Jem Jones at the University of New Mexico. We were fraternity brothers and fast friends. He introduced me to Birmingham City Football Club- a club that I have supported ever since. Space will not permit me to describe exactly how much Jem, his parents (Alan and Anne), and his wife and daughter (Sarah and Sophie) have meant to me over the years. With two-day notice, they paused their lives, dropped their plans for the Easter holiday and helped Spence and I with the trip of a lifetime.

The details of the trip are beyond description, but I will hit the high points. Uncle Jem met us at Heathrow on Thursday and it was off to the races. We spent that first day touring London: Tower of London, St. Paul's, Big Ben/Parliament, Westminster Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, etc. I made a pilgrimage to Fergus Henderson’s St. John, but unfortunately the restaurant was closed for a private function and I didn’t get to eat there. To ease the disappointment we stopped off at a very traditional pub near Smithfield Market so that I might hazard a pint. For lunch we stopped by M.Manze, an old school pie and mash joint. The highlight of the day was Spencer’s reaction to the stewed eels I encouraged him to try (it went down as you might suspect). We stopped in Southall for a curry as we made our way out of London and on to the lovely village of Henley-in-Arden.

Pie & Mash (and the infamous stewed eels)

Friday's activities were the original reason for the journey. As noted before, I am a massive Birmingham City supporter, and have passed that along to the children. One of the things I have always wanted to do for the boys is to bring them over and find a way to arrange for them to be mascots for a Blues home game (the mascots are the kids who walk out of the tunnel with the players just before the game). With the help of the Joneses, we sorted this out, for the home fixture against Rotherham. We got a couple hour tour of the grounds and locker rooms, he met all of the players, got to play on the pitch for a bit, and escorted Blues into the stadium (he was paired with a fellow left-footed #3, Jonathan Grounds). Blues won 2-1, extending their remarkable streak of being undefeated when I am in attendance (six games over eleven years). My highlight of the day was getting to sing the unofficial Birmingham supporter's song Keep Right On with Spence. I've always loved this song but the events of recent weeks have put the lyrics in a different light:

As you go through life it's a long, long road
There'll be joys and sorrows too
As we journey on we will sing this song
For the boys in royal blue.
We're often partisan - la la la
We will journey on - la la la
Keep right on to the end of the road
Keep right on to the end
Though the way be long let your heart beat strong
Keep right on to the end
Though you're tired and weary
Still journey on 'til you come to your happy abode
With all our love we'll be dreaming of
We'll be there. At the end of the road.
Birmingham!!!! Birmingham!!!

More footy was on tap for Saturday with a trip to see West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. We were treated like royalty at the home of the Baggies and got another stadium and locker room tour. Unfortunately, we were unable to bring any luck to the Albion who fell 4-1 to Queen’s Park Rangers. That evening, an all-star cast of English C.Rushing cronies made their way from all over the midlands to join Spence and I for dinner. In attendance were such luminaries as Alan (Spence’s English Grandad), Uncle Sted, Simon onions, Uncle Tim, Uncle Filth, Uncle Pauly, and of course Uncle Jem. These men are top, top blokes, and friends that I an unworthy of. Yes, I did hazard another pint, and yes, Spence did learn some new English words.

Sunday was essentially a day of rest. We had a big English breakfast with the Jones clan, then took a leisurely tour of the Cotswolds with stopovers in Bourton-on-the-water and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Monday was quite the road trip. The main of objective was to get to Bournemouth to watch our Blue boys take on the league-leading Cherries. Along the way we stopped off at the impressive Stonehenge (strike that from my architectural bucket list). The second strike off the list was a stop at Salisbury Cathedral. This is an outstanding building, and home to an original Magna Carta. This is also a place of great significance for me in this bigger journey. I excused myself from Jem and Spence for a bit, found a quiet corner, and had a special prayer. Perhaps some day I will write about it, but I will leave it for now.

A very special place.

Away games in English football are arguably more fun than home games. The siege mentality makes the singing louder and more profane, and the camaraderie more closely felt. Much to everyone’s amazement Blues scored the first two. It was bedlam in the away in end. Unfortunately, my prayers did not extend to the afternoon football match, and we eventually fell to the better team by a count of 4-2. My undefeated record with Blues died a valiant death on the south coast of England. As they say, all good things must come to an end.

We were feeling pretty good at this point...
With our heads held high, we departed Bournemouth and headed east. We stopped by Highcliffe for fish and chips overlooking the English Channel. We eventually let Spence talk us into walking down the cliff to the water’s edge to dip our toes in. Sufficiently wet and sandy, we made our way to Winchester for the night. Uncle Jem got us safely to Heathrow terminal early morning. Spencer and I gave my dear friend the biggest hugs we could muster, and said our farewells. We are now resting quite comfortably in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse (which I must say puts every Delta SkyClub to shame) awaiting our flight home.

Over the course of the week I answered my friends' questions about the cancer, but we didn't dwell on it. I think I did a good job of putting it out of mind and enjoyed being in the moment. In the end, however, until the fight begins and is won, it's always right there with me.  I am so very happy to have had this special time with Spencer and with my friends. Now it's time to get back to work and see if we can beat this thing. Until next week...Keep Right On!!!

1 comment:

  1. Your Brothers in the other royal Blue are with you every mile. Keep Right On indeed! #637