[Note: I have added some detail which was not in the story - you will find these in square brackets]
I am sitting at home on Thursday and truck arrives from Absolute Party Hire. Somehow I do not think the marquee is being put up for Jeremy's christening party on Sunday. The cat is out the bag and 6 months planning by my lovely wife (Lorraine) comes into play. You see I turned 60 on June 19.
We had an amazing party with the marquee in the backyard decked out with a cycling theme. Two of my bicycles are hanging in the corners with an array of cycling jerseys and jackets that each tell a story of my cycling exploits. The guests arrive and we settle into a few drinks under the setting sun in the back garden. The threatened heavy rain has not arrived [and does not arrive until Sunday during the night].
So here goes the threads of what I said totally off the cuff though I had thought about the frame of what to say while I was on my bicycle on Thursday.
I have been completely overwhelmed since I found out on Thursday that there was going to be a big party. I said to the guy in the bottle shop when I bought the beer today, "it is quite amazing to think that one has friends that can keep a secret for 6 months". It has been fabulous watching Richard [my oldest son who is 26] working with Lorraine these last two days doing all the food preparation. It is quite amazing to see so many of my Australian friends and family here. I could talk for hours about the story of the last 60 years, most of which none of you will know anything about. Rather than do that I thought I would take some slices of the story.
It all started in 1956 [born in Pretoria, South Africa]. I do not know much about that. I do know that 1956 was the year the Suez Canal was closed and Gamal Abdel Nasser became the President of Egypt, really the first truly independent state in Africa [June 23].
Rolling forward to 1966, I cannot say I remember very much either except England did win the football World Cup (we used to call it soccer). I had not learned to ride a bicycle by then. I got my first bicycle when I was 12. [it was stolen before I learned to ride it]. In 1966 my sport was boxing and we used to listen to all the fights on the radio, including listening to the great Muhammad Ali fights. Rest In Peace, champ [1966 was the year he refused conscription - so he made big headline news in South Africa too]
1976 sees me starting my first year of university in Cape Town. Sporting activity was focused on squash and field hockey and I played at league level in both sports. You would find me on a squash court 5 days a week and on a hockey practice ground or field twice a week. 1976 was a critical year in South African history as it was the year of the Soweto riots where the South African Police began the crackdown on rioting school children in Soweto. Two years later, I remember the police coming onto the university campus to deal with protests there. My cycling journey began a little after this and the year of my final exams a friend and I cycled over the mountains with our panniers loaded and did a 1,000 km, 10 day tour. We did not know what we did not know.
Moving on to 1986. These were the dark days in South Africa. The President at the time was PW Botha. He used to wave his finger and berate us from the TV. And I remember his Rubicon speech. "There comes a time in the history of a nation when there has to be a choice between peace and war" [Speech was actually made in Afrikaans in August 1985]. In that time, I was watching the role of the Army being changed to that of a force acting to suppress the rights of people I thought had rights to be free rather than a force protecting the borders. I was not prepared to do that. I came home from work one day late in 1986 and told my wife (at the time) that I had bought tickets and we would be moving to England (in February 1987). Little did I know that in 1986 the government had started discussions with the ANC which ultimately led to the release of Nelson Mandela and the democratic elections in 1994. Had I known that at the time I made my choice,the story could well have been different. As it happens the day after the tickets were bought, call up papers arrived for 3 months service in Soweto starting on February 14, 1987 (I flew the day before).
Moving on to 1996. I had joined a bunch of friends and we had started our own consulting firm. We were driving hard to grow a sustainable and credible competitor to number one in our industry, McKinsey & Co [where I worked for 6 years from 1987 to 1993]. I was travelling all over the place and working every hour a man could muster. I remember flying into Zurich from Athens to have lunch with one of my Swiss Bank Corporation clients. I was wearing the London uniform of the day - a grey pin stripe suit. Heinz says to me, "You look like shit. Your face is the colour of your suit". That comment set my resolve to keep driving hard at what we were doing so I could get to a point where I could stop and enjoy the fruits. As for sporting activity, no cycling as nobody in their right mind becomes a keen cyclist in England weather. [I played golf instead].
2006 finds me in Australia. The business is sold and I am now not working for anybody. It was a big and a challenging year. I had started riding Audax randonneuring events, many with my friend Karen over here who I met sometime in 2002 after my first cycle ride across Australia. We rode the Alpine Classic in January - the jersey is the first one in that array of jerseys you see. The mountain on that jersey is Mt Buffalo. When we reached Bright with 70 kms to go (up that mountain) the temperature was 42C. I remember well the crowds lining the streets when I got back into Porepunkah and Bright - they were cheering madly. I made it with 20 minutes to spare and was one of only 35% to finish. Nowadays the riders are stopped in Bright if the temperature is above 38C. This was a big cycling year as I was preparing to ride the pinnacle of Audax riding - the Paris Brest Paris 1200 km event - you will see the jerseys on the wall. In this year, I rode 12,000 kms including riding across Australia for the 3rd time from Darwin to Adelaide. 2006 was also the year that Lesley and I separated. And On June 21, 2006, my decision to leave South Africa was vindicated when my children's grandmother was murdered in her Cape Town home (aged 94). Rest in Peace Granny.
Here we are in 2016. In between these years, I have added another 4 trips across Australia. In all, two on the bicycle on the right (Giant road bike) and five on the folding bike on the left (Bike Friday). That is nothing compared to my friend Peter Shaw in the back there who cycled all around Australia in 2013 starting in Cairns and riding with Cycle Across Oz to Melbourne and then doing the last leg back to Cairns supported by his wife Jan. Back to the now, I am quite overwhelmed by the fact that you are all here [almost all of whom I have got to know in the last 10 years = the price of moving country a few times]. It is fabulous to see my two sons here. I thank you all for coming along to celebrate my journey. And I give all my thanks to Lorraine and to Richard for all the work they put in to put this together.