Tuk to the Road

The trials and tukulations of Jo, Ants and Ting Tong the tuk tuk and our three-wheeled odyssey from Bangkok to Brighton...in aid of the mental health charity Mind. For more information please see www.tuktotheroad.com

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meetings with Remarkable People

Aside from raising money and awareness for Mind, one of the best things about doing a trip like this is the people you meet. In the last few weeks we’ve been blessed to meet and speak with a plethora of explorers, world record holders and all round expedition gurus. All of them have been truly inspirational. We’ve already recounted our meetings with Sam Rutherford and Hugh Sinclair, so I won’t repeat myself, but since then we’ve had the pleasure of speaking with two more remarkable individuals, Simon Wilson-Stephens and Olly Hicks.

First up was Olly. Now Olly is younger than Jo and I, about 23 I believe. On 28th September 2005, after four months at sea, he arrived at Falmouth having rowed solo across the Atlantic, the youngest ever person to do so (see www.virginrow.com). Mindboggling. Just him, the ocean and a pair of oars. And not a lot of food by the sounds of things. Now my Great Uncle won a bronze in the Olympics for rowing and I was always pretty good on the rowing machine at the gym, but the thought of rowing all that way…on your own…defies imagination. Congratulations Olly. And good luck on your next project, rowing around the world solo, due to lift off at the end of 2007.

Next in the line of remarkable people is Simon Wilson-Stephens. Simon had suffered from depression since the age of 15 or 16. This all came to a head after the Millennium when, as Simon says, his ‘wheels came flying off’ and he had a breakdown, his foundations crumbling as he tried to settle back into life in the UK after a stint in Africa organising safaris. But he recovered and decided to go back to East Africa and follow one of Henry Morton Stanley’s Expedition routes by bicycle and kayak. He, with new found friend Stanley the dog, completed the trip and in the process raised £16,000 for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. When I spoke to him a few days ago he had just run the Marathon and Stanley the dog was just off for a walk. And its Simon’s fault that we’re now booked in to give a talk at the RGS on December 12th. The prospect fills me with more horror than a wrestle with a Ukrainian gangster.

Finally, Jimmy Goddard (www.jimmygoddard.com). I haven’t actually met or spoken to Jimmy but my friend Tom Townshend is in training for not one but two triathlons this year, to raise money for Jimmy’s Trust. Jimmy is in his late 20’s and was paralysed from the chest down by a horrific climbing accident in 2004. But he refuses to be beaten by his disability and is about to be the first paraplegic to climb Mt Kilimanjaro (www.pushinghigher.com). Hearing about people like this is a humbling experience and makes you regret those times you winged about your own petty problems. Good luck Jimmy (and Tom) I think you’re amazing.

On a different note – our launch party (flyer below) is in 3 weeks (May 17th) at The Cobden Club. Doors are 8-1 and we will be entertained by Alice McLaughlin, October and very special guests The Egg. I’ve already rambled on about them in an earlier blog, but I’ll just say once more how great they are and how thrilled we are that they will be playing. Thanks Matt @ Square Peg and the boys. See you on the dancefloor….

Friday, April 21, 2006

Stress, depression and the 21st century

The article in The Independent stating the amount of people that are taking anti-depressants made quite shocking reading. Are that many people really suffering from clinical depression caused by a neurochemical imbalance? Maybe, maybe not. Unfortunately there are no conclusive tests that can be carried by clinicians to diagnose mental health problems e.g. scans or blood tests. Diagnosis is based on reports from the sufferer and observations from clinicians and friends/family. A recent report in a scientific journal demonstrated that animals exposed to high levels of stress were shown to exhibit depressed behaviours. This is not exactly a new finding and extreme stress can lead to the development of a state called 'learned helplessness', characterised by apathetic behaviour.

I often feel stressed, but I usually feel stressed because I choose (or have learnt) to interpret situations as stressful. For example, I am stuck in traffic and am going to be late for an appointment. There is little point getting stressed under these circumstances, as me getting pissed off and uptight will not clear the motorway of traffic. I am sure that there are a lot of people out there who get stressed about things that they cannot alter. Over long periods of time high levels of stress can eat away at one's physical and mental health. Are our lives today really more stressful and hard than those of people growing up 50 years ago? Are the causes of stress in modern society really the end of the world? No, they are not. I think in many cases we all need to re-evaluate our lives and work out what is important and what is not. Also, that being a stress head is generally not helpful and conducive to being a content individual.

I am not saying that the number of people stated in The Independent do not need chemical treatment for depression. I think GPs are under enormous pressure to treat patients within a finite period of time and mental health problems usually require more time to correctly diagnose and treat than a 10 minute consultation. Unfortunately, the waiting lists for non-drug therapies can be huge, often months. In the time while someone waits for a referral for a talking therapy is it better to just prescribe them anti-depressants? Many people may be better suited to a talking treatment rather than medication, but what can GPs do with such long waiting lists for these psychological treatments? It also very much depends on the individual; some will respond brilliantly to medication alone, some to psychological therapy alone and some to a combination of both.

I am not saying that pills are not the answer. From personal experience, I honestly believe that anti-depressants saved my life, although it took awhile to find the one that worked best for me. I think the government needs to invest a huge amount of funds into NHS mental health care, because the problem is only going to get worse. It has been predicted that the cost of mental health problems to the country's economy already runs into billions of pounds- surely that in itself is reason enough to increase funding.

I also believe that we need some kind of social revolution in this country. What has life come to when 85% of assaults are drink-related, thirty year olds are being treated for cirrhosis and you can't go for a quiet night out in any town centre at weekends, because people are pissed out of their heads and acting like twats. I think the media needs to become more responsible to the young people in today's society, because a lot of popular media aimed at young people is promoting superficial ideals. The majority of women are now dissatisfied with at least one part of their body and many are just too caught up in our ever expanding consumer society. We need to wake up to what is really important in life and get real.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Prozac Nation

This was the headline of The Independent on Easter Sunday. Not exactly uplifting or Easter Bunnyish but an extra reason why you should all sponsor us and help Mind fight the war against the depression pandemic that seems to be sweeping our green and pleasant land.

According to the article, 3.5 million Britons are popping pills daily; Prozac, Cipramil, Seroxat, Zoloft, Lexapro, Optimax....you name it, we're on it. In the last decade our collective misery has seen prescriptions of these pills rise by more than 120%, costing the NHS £400 million a year. Alarming stuff. And not to mention that the World Health Organisation predicts that depression will be the second biggest health problem globally by 2020. Mind (www.mind.org.uk)and other charities campaigning for better mental health hence need all the support they can get.

Oh, and here is a picture of a Tuk Tuk - ours is being sprayed pink at the moment and will look very like this little baby. 4 weeks to go and counting....

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Happy Easter

Ants has really put me to shame with her blogging skills- she had to remind me yesterday how to actually use our blog. So, this is the first post from me (Jo) since the very first post after our bike tests.

This whole trip doesn't feel real to me yet. Ants has described it as doing all the preparation and reading for your university dissertation and then you just have to sit down and write the bloody thing. I think that we are so involved in all of the planning and preparation and there is so much to do that it is difficult to comprehend that in 5 weeks time we will be flying out to Bangkok.

Went to see the nurse at my Doctor's surgery today and I will need to have 4 jabs before I go. I need a polio booster and was most upset to learn that this is no longer given on a sugar lump, as I remember my last polio shot aged about 5. I have also been advised to have meningitis and consider rabies and Japanese encephalitis. So next Tuesday I have an appointment with the nurse and will have the pleasure of 2 injections and my overdue smear test- I can hardly wait!

However, before that it is Easter and that means a couple of things- hot cross buns and chocolate. See, being made to go to Church everyday at school doesn't necessarily make one a good Christian. I am totally clueless about the Bible and its contents- not that that makes me a bad person, does it? I think I am just one of the hundreds and thousands of young people out there who are not particularly religious and God fearing. The closest I get to God is probably uttering the phrase 'Oh my God' on a reasonably regular basis. The God on our trip will be Ting Tong and I hope that she can undergo a blessing before we leave Bangkok. I will kiss her everyday and worship her beautifully formed three wheels and pink bodywork. Actually, that reminds me that I probably need to keep reading my latest purchase 'Autorepair for Dummies'. Plus, I need to get intimate with my unloved motorbike and learn how to remove her front wheel, because on our trip we will need to change our front brake pads roughly every 3000km.

I would like to reiterate Ants' thanks to Sam and Bea for their invaluable advice- such lovely and well-informed people. Our meeting left me feeling pretty positive.
Anyway, I think I have talked quite enough crap, so now I am going to go and make some breakfast- the time is 4.45 pm and my body clock is way out of sync. I was up really late last night though, because I played with the ferrets in Brighton, after having seen October (Toby) at a gig in Kingston before bombing down the M23 back to Brighton from my parents' house. Well done Tobes- you were wicked despite those drunk twats in the corner that wouldn't stop talking really loudly.
ciao for now......

5 weeks till lift off....

Gee where do I start - so much has happened in the last few days its hard to keep track of everything. Organising this venture is the ultimate emotional rollercoster; some weeks you feel like you are trying to climb a neverending mountain, other weeks everything goes right and you are bowled over by the kindness and generosity of people. This week has definitely fallen into the latter category.

On Tuesday Jo and I drive down to Winchester to see expedition guru Sam Rutherford and his wife Bea. Sam drove from London to Sydney in two pink landrovers in 1997 (www.lsoexped.com) and since then has set up his own company www.prepare2go.com, with his wife Bea, organising rallys and advising people like Jo and myself on how to travel the world and make it back in one piece. Since this is their business it was extremely kind of them both to dispense free advice to us.

Talking to people like Sam you pick up tips that you never would in a month of research. Perhaps his best piece of advice was to keep our sense of humour - particularly in China which allegedly makes India seem like the proverbial stroll in the park - and never to lose sight of the fact that the main thing is to get home safe. He also allayed our fears that someone might steal Ting Tong; it seems that painting her pink is infact a stroke of genius since it would be pretty hard for someone to steal her without being caught pink-handed as it were. Thanks both of you for your help..and you might have the (mis)fortune of having two rather grubby tukkers staying with you in Brussels on the last leg of the trip.

Having had lunch with a World Record holder on Monday we were spurred into chasing up Guinness to see if our journey would make it into the record books. The answer came back that upon completion we could well break the record for 'The Longest Jounrey ever by Autorickshaw', currently held by Ken Twyford and Gerald Smewing who drove an Indian auto-rikshaw 19,165km. (11,908 miles) between Hyderabad, India and Great Harwood, Lancashire, England, from December 17, 1999 to June 23, 2000. The only slight caveat is that the rules stipulate that the vehicle must have 'no modifications'. Do roll bars, a comedy horn and shocking pink paintwork come into this category I wonder?

Our wonderful web designer Brian at Indrum in Brighton (www.indrum.com) has been busy adding all sorts of gadgets behind the scenes this week. We can now see how many hits we've had at www.tuktotheroad.co.uk and where our hits are coming from. You can imagine our excitement on seeing that in the last 3 days alone we've had over 3000 hits. Amazing, who are all these people looking at our site! And no, its not JUST us, although we might have added a few to the counter.

On the press side of things, Marie Claire are interviewing us for a feature on May 3rd, and The Mail on Sunday have said they want us to write a piece on our return. There was also the journalist (who shall remain unnamed) who, in a brilliantly camp voice, asked Jo if our 'luxurious' tuk tuk was equipped with a microwave. Dream on.

Finally - the launch party is shaping up. Fingers double and triple crossed that the superb band The Egg (www.theegg.org.uk) are going to play alongside Alice and October. Having seen them at Glastonbury and The Secret Garden Party a few times I know that with them on the roster our launch will be one to remember.

Happy Easter everyone, don't eat too many eggs and see you all at The Cobden on May 17th. xx The Tukkers

Monday, April 10, 2006

World Records and launch parties

I just had lunch with the afore mentioned Hugh Sinclair, who in 1991 broke the world record for traversing the America's by bike. What a fount of information; I've come away with my brain bulging and a list of tips as long as my arm. Thanks Hugh for all your invaluable help. Hugh's story is a funny one; he and a friend decided that they wanted to break a world record. They didn't know how or where but it had to be a record. They weren't bikers but when they found out that there was no confirmed record for the fastest crossing of the America's by bike, they decided that was what they would do. So they got their tests and set off. 35 days riding, 40 accidents and an airlift later they did it. And Hugh has barely ridden a bike since! Glad to see that we're not the only certifiable people out there.

After lunch I went to the Cobden Club to check out the venue for our launch party. Its a great space so we are all set for May 17th. Keep it free....

Jo's back from India so we're getting together tomorrow to work out our final plan of action. Only 5 weeks to go and so much to think about still.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Thanks Fox Pitt Banking

I just checked out our Just Giving page and saw that Fox-Pitt banking have given us £500! Wow, thank you so much. I'm not sure where the connection is or how they heard about our venture but what a great end to the week. A few more hefty donations like that and we shall be well on our way to reaching our target. Thank you everyone at Fix-Pitt banking for your extremely generous addition to the fund.

Jo is coming back from India on Monday so next week we shall be getting together in London to work out the plethora of tasks to be ticked off before we go. Jo is going to meet Sam Rutherford, an expedition adviser, on Tuesday to see what tips we can give us. At the same time I am meeting Hugh Sinclair, who currently holds the World Record for the fastest tarverse of the Americas by motorbike. See www.geocities.com/alaskapatagoniaexpress for all the details. He very kindly contacted us to see if he could offer any advice so I'm really looking forward to meeting him. Here's a picture of them at the end of their World Record feat.

I've also been in touch with Olly Hicks, who has just returned from rowing across the Atlantic single-handedley. Quite a feat - and he's younger than us. Must be made of steel.

The weekend has landed. Feel like I need it after two nights out on the tiles in Norwich. Saw Roni Size last night who was excellent, who ever said there's no life north of the Watford Gap?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Skype on board

Hello one and all,

Exciting news - Skype confirmed this week that they are going to sponsor us. Of course we are thrilled to be in cahoots with such a well known brand and are looking forward to calling everyone via Skype from the back of the tuk tuk. If you haven't already discovered Skype, get on to it. Its amazing. I've been having Russian lessons via Skype with my teacher Vanda; she in her house in Sweden and I in my house in Norfolk. Technology eh...

Jo is in India till Monday seeing Raja. Sounds like she is having fun and her last email recounted an ear piercing festival she had been to.

Plans for the launch party are shaping up. As I said earlier, its at The Cobden Club in London on May 17th and is going to be a musical feast. The superbly talented Alice McLaughlin is going to be singing (www.alicemclaughlin.com) and I'm hoping to confirm the rest of the bands by the end of the week. Plus there will be a raffle worth spending your pennies on.

My friends Bella and Ewan have just come back from 3 weeks in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and said that it was unbearably hot, and that one night it rained so much in Bangkok the water was up to their knees. By May it'll be even hotter and with the monsoon looming there are a bound to be a few more of these flash floods. I've been caught in them before and the volume of water is astonishing, incomparable to anything you will ever experience in this country.

Off to Nightmares on Wax at The Waterfront in Norwich tonight then if I've got the energy Roni Size at Po Na Na's. Something about having Ants in my pants and needing to dance.