This is a blog post that doesn’t offer many tandeming miles – but it definitely more than makes up for that with with a huge wow of a feelgood factor!
In fact I challenge anyone not to be impressed with the magnificent spirit of the star of this story – a sprightly blind Paisley pensioner called John Chapman, who clearly wants to defy the fact that his age is 91! Or as John himself likes to point out: “I’m in my 92nd year!”
John – who is an inspiration to us all – lost his sight 20 years ago but doesn’t let that stop him living every second of his life to the full.
Recently he announced he would like to turn back the clock and get back on a bike – some 30 years after his last pedalling experience! You see riding on a tandem is on John’s bucket-list and he was determined to tick it off the list!
John regularly attends events at a Paisley charity called Roar – Connections for Life Roar is a provider of preventative, health and well being services for older people through the development of community opportunities that connect lives. Its Mens Group aims to allow men to keep learning and experience new things – as well as offering friendship and fellowship. It was during a brainstorming session about what activities they would like to do that John mentioned his dream of getting back on two wheels – although he admitted it seemed unlikely given his problems with his vision.
But Nicola Hanssen, Roar’s General Manager, had a secret plan (or at least a name in her contacts book) to make John’s dream a reality! She contacted Team Matilda to see if we would help John meet his challenge and remove an item from his bucket list!
Nicola had come into contact with the “old git” when he worked at Big Lottery Fund Scotland, which funds some of the charity’s work, and she was interested in my tandeming blog adventures and even signed up as a follower.
So Nicola got in touch with the “old git” and asked him if he would bring me to Paisley to make John’s wish come true – while also doing a chat session about tandeming to the Mens Group. The answer was an immediate yes – and that’s why on a Friday morning I was packed into Matilda Transport and we headed away from Matildas Rest in Auchterarder to the West End Community Centre in Paisley, which is Roar’s base.
Unfortunately the “old gal” couldn’t be with us due to her work commitments, but the “old git” was more than capable of looking after me! On arrival we met Nicola who explained that John was very fit for his age – but that he thought he would never again experience the sensation of cycling again.
The Mens Group started to gather for their regular afternoon meeting and Team Matilda was delighted to be introduced to John. The “old git” could see not only how smart he was, but how fit he looked. But he still cautiously asked John if he would need help in getting his leg over the saddle – only to be given a spirited retort of “not likely!”
This was obviously John’s big day – and something he had been looking forward to for a while. He was eager to enjoy every second of it, so after fitting him up with a crash helmet, and a quick chat about moving off and stopping, we were ready for the off!
And I am delighted to report that John took to riding a tandem like a duck to water! Those 30 years away from a bike disappeared immediately as we pedalled around a nearby park. As we tandemed along John told the “old git” that it felt so good to be back on the saddle! And the huge grin on his face told everyone watching just what it meant to him.
As John’s confidence grew, I could feel him really push the pedals and he was happy to go round corners, with no balance problems! And he didn’t want to stop – as we pedalled round the circuit a few times and even along a nearby street. He was so confident he even took his hands off my handlebars to wave! Ultra cool!
Indeed as we stopped John was keen for more saying he had thoroughly enjoyed the experience – and that he would be happy to go for a spin round his local park any time we were in the area!
John was a true superstar! And this “old lady” – who can give John 30 years – was really impressed with John’s ability to jump on and off my saddle! The “old git” said he was incredibly nimble and mounted and dismounted like a youngster! Truly John has #ScotSpirit by the bucket load!
What was particularity nice – and really added to John’s experience – was that all his fellow members of the Mens Club were there to cheer him on and gave him a big round of applause and hearty congratulations when he finished. So it was only natural that I had to pose for a group shot!
Roar’s own digital guru person was filming all my tandeming activity with John – which is usually the job of the “old gal”. And after the event Roar pulled together their own little promotional video of me, the “old git” and John – to encourage more “older” men – but clearly young in spirit! – to come along to the group. Watch the great little video here. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)
In addition to the video, I couldn’t believe my luck – as a local newspaper photographer was also there to record the ride – and take pictures of me! A lovely article – entitled “Blind pensioner John Chapman, 91, is thrilled after his dream to ride a tandem comes true” appeared in the Paisley Daily Express.
My only minor disappointment of the day was that despite all her pre event bravado, Nicola somehow managed to blend into the background amid all the chaos over interviews and photos at the end – and neatly avoided her pledge of having a shot as stoker to make comparisons with John’s ride!
She said she has a knack of blending into the background to avoid the spotlight – and both the “old git” and me forgot to remind her about it until it was too late! Me and the “old git” thinks that was her plan all along – but maybe another time … as I am sure she would have enjoyed the thrill of sitting on my stoker seat, even if she may not have been as fit as John!
After the excitement of the ride, the group retreated back into the West End Community Centre where the “old git” entertained the Mens Group with a chat about some of our tandeming adventures – sharing some amusing stories and showing some of our funny videos.
The question and answer session was great fun, with most of the men keen to hear about the mechanical side of tandeming. Indeed after the chat many of them took pleasure in examining me in close details to see exactly how I function!
At the end of the session, the “old git” was delighted to be presented with a bottle of artisan Loch Fyne gin as a thank you – which was much appreciated. how they knew he likes gin beats me! As we took our farewell the lovely people at Roar promised that I would feature on their own blog – complete with even more photos of me! – on their own blog site. And what a lovely blog it is – well worth a read!
As a seasoned (old!) hack, it would need to be said that the “old git” knew that John’s tandem ride was a great media story. And it was therefore no surprise to my Captain that – as a result of the newspaper article – the story was picked up by the telebox – with STV seeking to do a feature on their Live at 5 show, which bills itself as Scotland’s biggest daily magazine show bringing you the best local chat, stories, music, cooking and features from across the country.
Unfortunately due to work commitments, the “old git” couldn’t make it to the studios – which meant I couldn’t go either! But they more than made do with John and Nicola, who didn’t disappoint!
That’s despite the fact that I am reliably told that John and Nicola were both a teeny bit hassled getting there on time – running a red light after getting caught in a tailback on the motorway getting to the STV studios in Glasgow – before getting soaked in a rain storm while parking! That left the pair a little nervous while waiting in the “green room” but when the red light went on and the show started, the pair took it all in their stride and were media professionals!
And I am delighted to say that I am now even more famous after my sleek frame appeared on television as the Live at 5 team showed footage of this “old lady” – with the “old git” and John on board – from Roar’s own video!
Click on the pic of the studio interview below (or click here) to watch the feature on the Live at 5 show – and don’t forget to look out for my big appearance! I am such a poseur you know! (Remember again that if you are on email, click onto the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)
As you will have seen on the extract from the show, John was tv gold! He showed off his acute sense of humour and had the presenters laughing away at his answers. Meanwhile Nicola took all the questions in her stride about the charity – showing she was a tv natural!
So all in all a wonderful experience – and Team Matilda was delighted to have been able to help John’s dream come true and tick riding a tandem off his bucket list at the age of 91! Let’s just hope that I will still be tandeming around Scotland with my dynamic crew at that age – if we are all still well oiled!
This was the first part of a busy weekend for Team Matilda as we then headed off for an overnight stay to Strathyre to take in the final part of the cultural outside art #BLiSStrail, the brainchild of LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group, Look out for that blog soon!
But a final message to Roar and John – thanks for having us! Team Matilda was delighted to be able to help John tick riding a tandem off his bucket list! It was truly inspirational and humbling.