So, I had quite a stressful morning before I even went to pick up my buddy and fellow walker - I ran out of velcro sticky things for our presentation board at 2am on Sunday morning, so ended up having to race into town to find more (as well as find something to wear - don't let anyone say I'm not organised.. HA!). But anyway, we were supposed to be leaving home at 12 to pick Claire up at 1... at 20 to 1 I'm still frantically sticking letters onto our presentation board. We finally did manage to leave at about 10 to 1, and this was where there nerves started building... We picked Claire up at about half 1 (the traffic to Cardiff was surprisingly non-existent!) and then we were on the road! Random chat managed to keep the nerves at bay for most of it, but when we got around to planning our speeches about half way there, that was when it really took hold! We arrived and parked at the hall an hour before we were supposed to be there too; I swear it was the most sickening hour of waiting I've ever done.
When we finally managed to get into the hall (after meeting Deb outside), the set-up time was a whirlwind of people moving tables and shifting things around, scurrying around and getting ready for what we all were really hoping would be an amazing night. It went so fast it was all a bit of a blur, but I can vividly remember being stood next to our table with Claire (feeling a little helpless because I didn't really know how I could help anyone) and when I turned around, Gloria and Harry (and his adorable wife Sandy) were stood in the doorway, talking to whoever it was that was there. That was it, no fanfare, no big announcement of their arrival, NOTHING. They just walked in through the door like anyone else would. My main feeling after seeing them was shock - I know I was expecting them to be there, but to see them and to be in the same room as them was quite unbelievable. We were called over by Deb to be introduced to them, and I can't really remember a lot about that, except that Harry has huge, rough hands (I generally do notice strange things like this) and Gloria is light. It just shines from her, she is a truly beautiful person. From that first moment, it was extremely clear to me why Marc loved her (but more about this later). The first thing she said to us was "We need to talk" and that was when it hit me that, shit, we really do need to do this now, no turning back (not that I ever had any intention of doing that!). I believe the words shared between Claire and myself went something along the lines of "Well this escalated quickly."
Ok, so onto the main event... If I miss anything, I'm sorry (I'm sure Claire will end up filling any holes in her blog!). So Jed started by welcoming everyone to the event, and then he performed the song 'Africa' (and another one I can't remember, sorry Jed!) before calling up Gabriella Fairley who came to the event on behalf of the Red Cross in order to talk about the work that they are doing in Sierra Leone, why we were liaising with the Red Cross, and why the school is going to be so important to the community. At one point in the evening, I can't remember exactly when, she gave us some articles she'd brought with her to look at, and told us about a little boy who could have been so greatly helped by having something like the Marc Bolan School in his life. I'll copy what the article said here, because I think it sums up a lot and it is also extremely moving;
"One [story] that really made an impact was a nine year old boy who was discharged from the Red Cross treatment centre in Kenema. He lost his mother, two sisters and brothers. He was very traumatised. He has one older sister who is still living, but she couldn't afford to take him in. He was discharged, but without any sign of happiness. He was placed in interim care until a solution could be found. It was really striking to see both the joy and happiness of the Red Cross staff cheering when he came out of the high-risk zone, discharged and Ebola free, but without anyone to take care of him."
This story quite clearly explains why the school is needed, why it is SO important that these children have somewhere where they can go, where they can feel valued and safe, and where they can be helped to cope with the traumas that they have been through, things which no child should ever have to suffer. Along with everything else that I heard on Sunday night, this is one of the most poignant reminders that the school is important - we can't allow Gloria and Rolan's dream to go unfulfilled, because the school (and hopefully more like it) is SO needed by the children of Sierra Leone. As a side note to the formal reason she was there, we discovered that the Red Cross couldn't have sent us a better representative in general; a genuinely lovely person who seemed to have a real interest in the school, our walk and everything to do with it!
The architects (Bolans Architects - how awesome is that?!) were the next to speak. We had chance to introduce ourselves to them just before they did their part of the talk, and I genuinely believe that Marc's legacy and Gloria's vision is safe with them. I know it's going to be a word that I use a lot in this blog, but they really are such amazing people, and so lovely to talk to! I really wish I'd had more time to talk to them to be honest, I would LOVE to sit down around a table with them and just get them to tell me everything they have planned for the school, because it is truly beautiful - so much thought and love has gone into the design of the building. You could feel the love oozing out of the tiny little model of the school that they had brought with them, and every single concept image that they showed while giving their talk. I really do wish that I wasn't in such an overwhelmed/panicked state while the ideas for the school were being presented, because I'm certain that I missed out on so many fascinating things. What I can remember though, is that they said the school will be built by the people of Sierra Leone, using materials that can be found in the country (bamboo and corrugated iron for the roof were mentioned although I can't remember anything else) as well as the fact that the building will serve a dual purpose - being both school and a community centre, with 24 hour access. The idea of a cinema was mentioned, and is something I found particularly moving - the whole community will benefit from this school, all of the money we raise will be helping the community to strengthen itself again and grow, hopefully, to new heights. This was the point in the evening where my first real tears were shed, because it made it suddenly seem so REAL, and it's so beautiful
Jed did some more songs to break up the speeches - I'm sorry to say I can't remember a lot of any of the entertainment between talking to people and being in a state of total panic which kind of made me forget everything (including how to speak and understand what people were actually saying, I'm sorry to all the unfortunate people who had to deal with me in that state!) but I remember Tranquilisers and he was brilliant, as expected. All the T. Rex songs that were done later in the evening were also amazing, with one of the highlights of my entire evening being able to watch Gloria and Harry's reactions to hearing Jed sing Marc's songs. It was amazing to watch, because they were both clearly enjoying themselves so so much. I can't quite explain why it was so moving, but it really was. Also, the other musician Gary Rollagher was fantastic too - and he was so sweet when we spoke to him! If I remember rightly he bought some wristbands from us and wished us luck for the walk!
Ok, so the moment we were dreading... OUR SPEECH. I swear down that I have never been so unbelievably terrified in my whole life. I've never done any form of public speaking before at all, unless you count speeches we had to make in front of a small group for GCS/A Level, so I was completely unprepared for the blankness that would suddenly come over me when I got on the stage. Having danced for many years, you'd think I'd at least be ok with stages, but apparently not, at least not for speaking. I can't really remember what was said, other thank the fact I said the walk was 111 miles at one point, (ooops!) and that Gloria asked us to keep telling people about the walk, but what happened next, straight as we come down the steps from the stage, I will never forget. Harry stood up, came to us and said the most amazing thing that anyone has ever said to either of us (I know I can say that with 100% certainty) - he said "Marc used to be like that you know". I don't know exactly if he realised how humbling and moving it was for us to be compared to Marc, but it really was. It is difficult to explain in words what it means (I'm welling up thinking about it!). His kind words were so greatly appreciated though, especially at that moment, because we were both shaking like crazy. Plus he and Sandy sponsored us on the walk, which moved us again because they really didn't have to.... It was an evening of emotion, it really was.
We met the lovely Fee and her husband somewhere around this point too - we first talked during the set up but we talked more properly after we had called her up on stage so she could present Gloria with a cheque from the sale of the Bolan Rose (one of which I am now a proud owner of, and which ae extremely beautiful). She was, as expected, very lovely and I'm glad I can now (hopefully, if she doesn't mind!) call her a friend! It was amazing to meet someone who has put so much of themselves into maintaining Marc's memory. Someone else I was very happy to meet was Brian Dunham, the producer of the '20th Century Boy' musical which started this whole journey off for us. He thanked us for telling Gloria about how much the show had influenced us and seemed very interested in what we are doing - I KNOW we talked about more than this, but I really can't recall what it was... Lovely guy, we're very lucky to have him on board with us.
Somewhere around this point, Jennifer Crawford (the artist who had put some of her art up for auction/raffle for the school) presented Gloria with a portrait of herself, which she clearly loved because as soon as she came off stage she showed it off to Claire, Harry and I, to which Harry made a comment about her when she was younger that I can't remember but which was very funny. In the raffle I won one of Jennifer's portraits (of David Bowie, it's lovely). After picking it up and sitting back down, by this point we were sat on the same table as Harry and Gloria (WHAAAAAT) and it led to one of the other highlights of the evening for me. I sat with it across my lap, and Harry looked at it, leaned towards me and started telling Claire and I a story about Marc and David and how they used to walk down Kings Road together... At this point, my poor brain, which was only just starting to recover itself, shut down AGAIN because Harry Feld was telling us stories about Marc, this is NOT something that I'd ever have expected from my life. It was surreal, amazing and just a tiny bit weird. I should probably have apologised to him at the end of the evening to be honest, because I literally lost all ability to speak so probably just sat there staring at him like a total weirdo. I love Harry, he's such a lovely sweet man, I wish I could just sit and get him to tell me every story he has about Marc. Sandy is also a complete sweetheart, I'm surprised how quickly I found myself becoming fond of her; one of the nicest, most cheerful women I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Love her too.
Having mentioned how emotional the event was in practically every other sentence, I should probably talk about the moment that made my cry actual physical tears (something I didn't bother trying to hide in the end, because I was spotted before I could. Gloria got up on stage and gave a speech about the school, the children in Makeni and the impact that the school and it was beautiful. It was overwhelming to see such an incredible woman for whom I have such love and respect stand on that stage and express the entire reason for our doing this so powerfully and fully in the space of 5 or 6 minutes. As it has been put to me, it was her rallying cry, calling us all to help her in her dream for a better future for the children of Sierra Leone and the survival of Marc's legacy. It was so unbelievably moving to hear the cause spoken about like that. I recorded the majority of her speech (my phone cut out about 30 seconds from the end) and have now converted it as an audio file for myself as inspiration. When the training for the walk gets hard, when we're on the 1st mile of day 0 and are so unbelievably tired and in pain, it will be Gloria I turn to for inspiration. That 6 minute speech reaffirmed my entire reason for doing this walk, and it strengthened my resolve to see it through - to see her dream come to fruition. Please watch the video below to see what I mean...!
I know I met and spoke to so many more people than I've written about in this blog, so please forgive me if you've been missed out - this thing is like 'War and Peace' already! I loved basically everyone I met, and it was an incredible honour to be in the room with SO many passionate and amazing people. Every single one of you. Especially my fellow Cosmic Warriors, fighting on for Marc's legacy! The Coffee House was an amazing event and it was a privilege to be there, thank you Deb for organising it!