Was it all really worth it?

It’s good to be back. I’ve missed writing up my weekly ramblings. There’s something quite therapeutic about offering oneself up on the sacrificial alter of the internet for cheap laughs and kind donations. And it’s the latter which brings me here again for one final, glorious flourish.

A few months ago an Englishman from the town of London had a very silly idea. He dug himself a hole 200km deep x 10m wide and for three months attempted to skate his way out of it for charity. No one thought he could do it, least of all him. Well somehow he finished.

That was 2 months ago. Since then I have slowly returned to normal life. And in between turning down calls for dodgy TV appearances, and losing muscle mass, the donations have kept coming. My £6000 target at the outset was, I thought, optimistic. I can now happily say my forecasts were wrong. We have raised £10,255.

Please take a moment to reach round and pat yourself on the back.

Yes a wonderful amount, split between Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and Headlines. I popped along to hand over a giant cheque last week to Martin, head of fundraising at GOSH. When we finally got someone to take a photo of us outside, it was a proud moment, made possible by all you lot out there who gave so damn generously.

As we parted company Martin asked if there would ever be a Teddy The Penguin 2. I said I wasn’t sure, we’ll have to see how the documentary goes down. And with that i’ll leave you with this.

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One cold waddle for Penguin. One skate leap for Penguin-kind.

You can probably guess by the rather unnatural looking -30 degree tulips that Penguin made it. All that gives away the previous 200km of torment is the slightly mad expression, my very relieved wife and brother… oh and the block of ice for a face. Phew, that was tough.

I crossed the finish line in the dark after skating for 9hours 27minutes, a Penguin world record. I also came both first and last amongst humans, the 200km race having been lessened to 140km due to poor conditions making the circuit around the frozen Lake Kallavesi shorter than usual. The race organisers however said I must do the full 200km on my own if I wanted some Tulips. No, they let me attempt it because of the cause. I said I couldn’t hold my head up high in Great Ormond Street Hospital if I hadn’t tried the 200km… it was on race day that I realised I might not be able to hold my head up at all when it duly turned to ice within 5 minutes.

The start was delayed until 9 a.m. (normal time being 7 am.) due to the arctic temperatures – It may well have been pushing -30, but add windchill to that and you’re looking at -50/60. When I saw the Finns complaining about the cold and covering their faces with insulating tape I started to get worried. Rather than starting with the bang of a gun, Timo simply said something along the lines of “ok, you go can now;” typical Finnish understatement.

At the beginning of the race I managed to stay with a medium fast peloton for the first couple of hours, a peloton being a group of skaters. The great benefit of this is that one is almost pulled along – wind resistance nil. The downside is that one’s main view is of the next skater’s derrier and not of the ice cracks. A few people had gone down before I too caught an edge and unceremoniously stacked it. After sliding a few meters on my belly, Penguin style, and having checked everything was in one piece I caught up with the group – no one stops for you here. Once a group of skaters gets even 100m ahead there’s no catching them. This happened when I had to change my goggles which had frozen up. That’s when things started to go downhill. I tried to fit in with another peloton but it was hard finding people who were going at the right speed. In the end Penguin went solo, the positive to this was that I had a better view of the cracks, the downside being that with wind resistance I was putting in an extra 30% effort to keep the same speed, let alone body warmth.

After 80km I genuinely thought I wouldn’t make it. I was exhausted. I thought this might happen at 140km, not this early. This despondency turned to near depression when after 4 hours I decided to take a wee break at the farthest point of the course. For the next 5 minutes I fumbled with my gloves and 6 layers of clothing to Free Willy. My hands weren’t functioning. You know those brain teaser Christmas presents where you have to figure out how to free some piece of wood from a block? Well it was like that. But a bit harder. It must have been really quite funny if it wasn’t so serious. By the time it was over, I had no feeling in my right hand, and my mindset for the next 3 hours was not good.

I should point out that whilst I was playing at brain teasers, Ela, Angus, Dad and cameraman Ed were dutifully waving me on and offering much needed encouragement. The temperature peaked at a balmy -20 at midday. And although the sun was shining God knows how they managed to avoid frostbite as they basically stood there waiting for me to come round again. Ela was particularly tested when the area around my mouth froze over. My hands being immobile meant ela had to feed me. Wedges of Soreen cake  and flapjack were force fed through an ice tunnel before entering my mouth, or often just into my beard. At least this led to a useful emergency food storage area for later on.

Another unexpected effect of the cold was the ice. In Britain, ice is ice. The idea that you get cold ice simply doesn’t register in our warm, naive brains. Of course all Scandinavians know that at -20 and below, crystals form on the ice. The effect being that it feels like your skating on sandpaper… a lot less slidey.

I think it was around the 140km mark, when everyone else was ending their race, that I started to see a glimmer of hope. Surprisingly my speed was still pretty constant – about 22kph – and the ice crack crashes had not completely written me off. This slight reversal in mindset had a huge impact. When your body has nothing left in it, keeping going becomes a mind game.

Having that bit of hope really helped. And I needed it because by now the sun was going down and the temperature was dropping with it. There were a few kick-sledgers still on the lake track but apart from them it was pretty empty. The quiet, epic landscape was glowing red in the dusk and if it hadn’t been so bloody cold I think I would have got my camera out. I was all alone in the arctic wilderness. As it was, I just kept focusing on the cracks – this was the same throughout the race. If I looked away for a moment, I was down. If I thought about someone’s nicely knitted Moomin scarf. Down. Cracks really did keep one’s mind focused.

By the time it was dark Timo had got into his 4×4 and was chaperoning one pretty chilly Penguin with the car headlights. Also in the car was a paramedic in case things went wrong. It is quite an experience skating on natural, cracked ice at the best of times. Doing it in -28 degrees by the light of a car is more interesting. Even more exciting is when the car stops because Timo needed to tell someone something and I carried on into the darkness. I wasn’t sure whether to post this video clip due to Ela’s use of my nickname and the fact that many strangers will probably be watching this. However I feel satisfied that my embarrassment is worth the joy it may bring to others. And I if there’s one thing wearing a penguin suit on Finnish National news teaches you it is that nothing else can hurt you.

After that incident the car didn’t leave me alone. The last 15km’s were pretty emotional. As I crossed the finish line to the deafening cheers of, oh, about 10 very brave people, I swear I would have cried if my tear ducts hadn’t been frozen. It was all very Hollywood as we hugged and I was over indulged with compliments. When a Finn says you’ve done well, you take it as a compliment. And I did. Frozen tulips and all.

Just like to say thanks to everyone in Finland. You’re a very special bunch, all the more so for taking a stranded Penguin to your hearts. Timo, Arri, Apa, Ekko, and Kaija in particular. I can’t recommend a trip to this awesome country enough…go,go,go.

Thanks too for everyone’s wonderful donations to Headlines and Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. It will mean so much to them. We are nearly there with the fundraising. So please chip in if you’d like to help.

And to my friends and family who have supported, inspired and been bled dry by me. And lastly to Ela who as you can imagine has put up with a lot of antisocial behaviour these last few months. x.

Tbc?

I had many strange and wonderful experiences in the run up to the event, but I’m keen to get this post on the blog today. I will hopefully put together something for the Guardian shortly (Copy and paste?) which will have some of the classic moments, including the ferrero rocher moment with the Ambassador, as well as Penguin’s brief foray into Finnish  television. Watch this space. Now i’ve just got to get some minor frostbite of the chin sorted out. So much for the beard.

I’ll leave you with a very special moment.

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5 Days to go. World meet Penguin suit. The last post?

You’ve all been waiting for it. Here she is. If you’ve just arrived to the Penguin party and you’re concerned you have landed on some strange animal fetish site, perhaps you should catch up with the story of the suit here.

I think you’ll agree that the idea of letting the children at Great Ormond Street hospital design my ice suit was a colossal miscalculation. Not only have they made a mockery of me, but they have ensured that everyone will talk about it, share photos of it and ultimately raise more awareness for themselves. Typical – cruel, self-serving, imaginative kids. Well done guys.

When I venture out onto the ice in 5 days time, surrounded by proud, hardened ice skaters of a noble tradition, I just hope they don’t turn away in shame, thinking “has it really come to this?” “Must I really race against human penguins from the wrong hemisphere?”. I don’t know. I’m sure the Finns will appreciate the humour. I’ll know pretty soon either way.

Now to a brief thank you. Not only did it take many hours of scouring the globe to find someone who could make the suit on time and in budget, but it took a fair amount of experimenting with vector files, printing, and general head scratching to turn the original design into a real suit. Thanks for this goes to the quiet speaking Alan in Ohio at PyroApparel, who didn’t laugh when he opened the email. Well, he may have laughed but his reply seemed serious. Alan thanks. And thanks again for taking a zero off the bill. Don’t deny it.

Anyway back to the now. I’ve been busy packing.

Of course much is the same for most holiday packing, however i’ve got a few novel entries this time…

Warm clothes. Check. Hiking boots. Check. Wash bag. Check. 19 inch ice blades. Check. Weeks’ supply of porridge. Check. Ferrero Rocher*. Check. Book titled ‘We die alone’. Check. All in one Penguin suit. Check. Willy heaters. Check x6.

I think that’s everything. Managed to find insurance today. Took a while – most companies had never heard of tour skating. The rest of the kit, such as nose-guard, cod-piece, and balls, I hope to purchase in Finland.

* I received an email from the British Embassy a few days ago kindly asking if I could pop by whilst in Helsinki. Cue change of flights, ironing of shirt and some suitable gifts.

For those unsure of the Ferrero Rocher link, please educate yourselves for a moment with this advertising masterpiece. For those who think I have gone overboard on the generosity, not only have the Embassy donated £850 to Great Ormond Street hospital, His Royal Ambassador Matthew Lodge is putting me up for the night, as well as feeding and watering me. Or so I hear. Hopefully the heart-shaped Rocher box will help. Yes, it’s all they had.

As if this wasn’t enough excitement for an out of depth Englishman abroad, MTV the popular TV station want to do some filming tomorrow. Anyone else get the feeling I have dug myself a particularly deep hole here? Hmm.

Whilst i’m on the subject of misplaced celebrity. This morning/last night, New Zealand radio broadcast an interview I did with their host Bryan Crump. I listened to it this morning whilst in the bath. Yes, a hot one. If you care to have a listen here is the link below. It is quite in depth and goes on for too long, but it gives a good idea of why i’m doing what i’m doing, what it is like, and quite a bit about Mr Angus. More likely is that my mumbling voice will just put you to sleep. I’m really selling this aren’t I. Seriously though, have a listen.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/nights

http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/ngts/ngts-20110214-1917-Teddy_the_Pengwin-048.mp3

So that leaves me to say goodbye to Blighty.

It has been a good final week. Had my last training day in the park on saturday. A heap of friends jumped out from behind a tree on their bikes. It was like a camp version of Rocky crossed with ET as we rolled/cycled through the last lap together. Anyway, the work day is nearly over. Just got an email from the boss saying that the company are going to donate £1000 to the cause. Chuffed to bits. A great way to end 3 month’s of preparation. A great way to start a week of stuffing my face, relaxing, and generally pretending that i’m not bloody scared.

I’ll try and get one more post in before the race on Saturday… we’ll see. It’s certainly looking like a warm welcome for me in Kuopio.

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11 Days to go. Humiliation, exposure and a taste of things to come.

Humiliation:

Last week was a busy one. It started off with a trip to Brands Hatch racing circuit. The folks there had kindly offered to shut down the track to let some bloke on rollerblades get some experience. It was also a good opportunity to get some PR. The Sevenoaks Chronicle even asked if their guy could join me on his own skates. It was all falling into place nicely.

I’m not quite sure why I thought it would be just me there on a saturday, but as Ela and I drove through the gates in our manly Smart car, I realised that of course it was a track day and therefore the place was teaming with petrol sniffing Clarkson’s. If they thought the Smart car was funny, what would they make of a lycra-clad bearded man on rollerblades? I took a few deep breaths and opened the door… Not sure whether it was the reception or the weather but it was cold.

To be fair once I had got over the humiliation of falling down Paddock Hill, I rather enjoyed myself. I soon forgot about the 1000 mini Clarkson’s choking into their coffee’s and tried to appreciate this rare opportunity to have such a famous piece of tarmac under my feet. It was the first time I had experienced such a smooth, wide track to practice on and in my amateur way I tried to mimic the long graceful strides of the Nordic ice skaters. Until the next hill appeared. Fortunately the Finland ice marathon track is flat.

As I crossed the finish line the checkered flag came out and not wanting to attempt Paddock Hill bend again I called it a day. One lap. 7ish minutes. A short but successful exercise in self-laughter and tearing lycra. Thank you to Brands Hatch for the track time. Thank you Michelle in the control Tower for turning off the speaker system as you laughed. And thank you to all the mini Clarkson’s who turned out to be very respectful of such a misplaced fairy. And the hordes of press? Not a sniff of them.

Exposure:

After the weekend’s fall from grace it was a nice monday surprise to find an article I had written for The Guardian had just surfaced on the internet. If you didn’t get a chance to read it just click on the picture below.

Here was some timely exposure for my beleaguered fundraising efforts. Yes, the follie of my escapade seemed to strike a chord with the readers and my justgiving pages enjoyed every minute of it. There’s nothing quite like raising money from strangers. Not only were people’s pockets emptied but, half expecting the readers to ridicule the idea, I was pleasantly surprised when the opposite occurred. Cue some very helpful  comments.

“Comment about your tackle very justified. Furry codpiece is not OTT but some shrinkage will be normal.”

And then the more realistic ones:

“We should open up a book on just how far the poor blighter will get before he very gallantly and gentlemanly vanishes into the deep white. All the proceeds to his charity of course…”

And then there was Aunty Penny:

“Teddy…reading the e mail about your totally crazy fundraising brought tears to my eyes…good luck and don’t let Jack Frost get the better of you
love love love
Aunt Pennyxxx”

Anyway thank you to everyone for your donations, comments and support. I don’t know who many of you are but judging by the new Facebook fans i’m guessing some of you will be reading this. So yes, thank you.

Exposure of different kind:

On wednesday it was off to Austria to get some proper practice in. Each year lake Weissensee plays host to another 200km ice marathon. This being Holland’s alternative venue for their famous 11 Stage canal race which due to global warming doesn’t occur very often in their home country – so it’s off to the Alps for them. And me.

This was my first taste of things to come in Finland and although I was attempting 125km it was quite enough. Cue 5 a.m. wake up, -11c air temp, and many mad looking Dutch ice skaters in the darkness. Did I mention the cracks?

I won’t go into too much detail, suffice it to say that it was pretty cold. I lost complete feeling in little Ted for a couple of hours and my beard took on a new look. The start was quite something as we headed off towards the dawn coming over the mountains, the sound of blades on ice interspersed with the odd crunch and yell as someone hit a crack. The first 80km were nearly enjoyable despite a few wipeouts of my own. The last 45km were a different matter. Heaven knows where i’m going to find a 75km reserve tank from. Anyway must stop writing, I’m late for work.

The hunt for little Ted.

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Angus has spoken. Arise Teddy the Pengwin.

In Angus’s own words: “i would like to say well done to the children at GREAT ORMOND STREET HOSPITAL it was a very hard choice but their can only be one winner teddy the pengwin”

Angus I’m not sure if the misspelling was intended or not, but I appreciate the sentiment. However farfetched it may be. Talking of winners, the creator of this design wisely opted to remain anonymous.

Am now in the process of getting the suit made. Took about 20 emails to different companies to find someone who could do it in time. They have never done anything like it but Alan at pyroapparel seems confident they can do the job. Fingers crossed.

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30 days to go. The designs have arrived. Oh dear, oh dear.

Initially I felt bad about getting the kids at Great Ormond Street to design my suit. The morality of getting children to do one’s work is hard at the best of times. These guys are in hospital. However on seeing the results I now see that it is I and not them that have drawn the short straw. Ladies and gentleman may I introduce the Teddy on ice 2011 Winter/Spring collection.

‘Teddy d’Crayon’                                                                             ‘Teddy on Pollock’

‘Steady Teddy’                                                                                   ‘Teddy got bored’

‘Teddy No, Sandra actually’                                                             ‘Teddy for peace’

‘Grrrrr Teddy’                                                                                  ’Teddy the Penguin’

‘Teddy, Teddy, happily Gay’                                                                ’Flash Teddy’

‘Ben, no Teddy…no, Ben’                                                                          ’Er’

‘Teddy the Skater Hero’                                                                  ’Ready Teddy Go’

‘Freefall Teddy’

As you can see, this year’s collection is redefining skate couture. Sadly, (or happily depending on where you’re sitting) only one of these designs will be made for real. For the task of choosing the winning design, I have asked Angus to be the judge. Given his history of brotherly love I expect nothing but the worst. Angus if you could leave a comment below with your choice. In fact why don’t you all help him decide – add your comments too.

Thank you to all my designers sitting there in Great Ormond Street, probably smirking into your ribenas. You’re all fantastic. And I forgive you ;)

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37 days to go. Teddy resorts to child labour.

It’s been a busy week. Firstly I have been doing my bit for child labour by asking the kids at Great Ormond Street to design my skin suit. For those against such practices, you must remember that the children will surely gain more out of this bargain than the wearer of the suit.

As you can see, I have tried to steer the would be designers down the superhero route, although I imagine i’ll end up with Mr Messy meets Pingu.

I have found a maker in the States that can custom make the all in one spandex suit for me, although I am yet to secure a means to pay for the suit. If you are reading this and have just secured your 2 million city bonus, feel free to get in touch. When asked by the manufacturers what I had in mind I sent them a child’s scribbly drawing of a penguin. They didn’t bat eyelid in their response: – “Yeah that’s fine.” Anyway, will show the results when they come in next week.

In the meantime i’ll leave you with a little video from one of my morning training sessions. ‘GRIPPING’ says the Observer, ‘SUSPENSEFUL’ says Dave, ‘A COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME’ says everyone else.

1 hour in 30 seconds…

I’d also like to say a big hello to Jamie and Kate down in Australia. If it wasn’t for all this ‘pretending to be an ice skater’ Ela and I would be down with you on your wedding day. Blame Angus and Great Ormond Street. Have a wicked day guys. Big love.

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Frozen sea swims, a nudist colony and something called slideboarding*. How about your Christmas?

* If you’re lazy skip to video at bottom

It’s about time I wrote another post. It is the New Year and it deserves a bit of attention at least to get over the first day at work. As you can probably guess from the post title, my Christmas and New Year break was a bit different from most people’s. The lack of alcohol consumption played a large part in making it a new experience for me too.

Gone were the hangovers and bleary cheer of yester yuletide, replaced by 6 a.m. runs through the Devonshire countryside with my brother – temporary PT instructor for the week. Head torches made the icy hill top paths vaguely navigable and it was with much gladness that we arrived back to breakfast each morning, ankles intact.

Boxing day was pretty chilly, note frozen beard. We were joined in our morning dip in the estuary by some pleasant slush ice – managed about 3 seconds of immersion before brains overtook pride.

*

* Chameleon knee cap – one of the lesser known side effects of skate training is one’s ability to take the colour of the surrounding environment.

That, plus a brief foray into three-legged sandbag racing, was Christmas.

New Year was different.

I won’t go into detail but we were in Germany and found ourselves with these guys. If anything the experience will make wearing a spandex suit less painful.

This brings me up to now and the increasing feeling that i’ve got myself into something over my head. As Top Gun would put it; Teddy’s ego is writing cheques his body can’t cash. This I knew from the very beginning – it is after all the whole point of taking on an impossible challenge that links what i’m doing with kids at Great Ormond Street. Even so nerves are starting to kick in. Gone are the days of carefree comedy, arrived are the days, 45 to be precise, of serious, earnest, emotional tragicomedy

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A Christmas Special

Happy Christmas everyone. Here’s a little thank you present for all your help. See you in the New Year.

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Ready, Teddy…

After the highs of Holland I feebly succumbed to man flu (nearly ‘woman cold’) last week. Skate lunges became Lemsip lunges, power squats turned into sofa squats as my training schedule degenerated into undignified loafing. Some things I could manage…

Extreme Christmas tree decorating                      Brain feet double act

The week got better on Friday. Popping out for a stroll I was handed the local paper by a passing vendor. I declined, at the same time wondering to myself why people read local papers. As I hit the high street I caught a glimpse of my name in type through the steamed up window of a cafe. A woman reading the paper was inadvertently holding up a picture of someone who looked very like myself with someone who looked very similar to my brother Angus. That was nice. I had no idea. You can enlarge by clicking on the image.

Now the Stoke Newington Gazette may not be the national paper of choice, but to get a front page spread anywhere, the story must be vaguely interesting… or things pretty quiet on the news desk. I will take the former, although suspect the latter. As I went into the news agent to buy a copy I half expected a little smile of recognition from the cashier. Perhaps even a conversation about 200km ice races. Nothing.

Judging by google analytics, an online tool which shows traffic to your website, not many folk in Stoke Newington found much interest in the article or were inspired to offload cash to the cause. Perhaps the in-depth article satisfied their cravings for quixotic Finnish ice skating events. Perhaps, like me, they just didn’t take the newspaper when offered. Either way Angus and I are very grateful to the editors for 1 square mile of Friday fame. Thank you.

At the beginning of the week I was fortunate enough to have renowned photographer, and old mate,  Spencer Murphy take some photos for a potential article. Having arrived from Holland at 1 a.m., it was up at 6 and off to the park for daybreak to capture these photos. At -4c Spencer’s fingers weren’t very happy. And my backside enjoyed frostnip from sitting down on the ground.

The ice cracked just as this picture was taken. For one shot we encouraged ducks, with the aid of bread, to come and join me on the ice. This exciting scenario was scuttled when one of the ducks fell through said ice. None of them wanted to play after that. Anyway big thanks to Spencer and Baz for making it down. Great shots.

So there we are, not a very chronological rundown of the week. I even missed out the CT scan I had on the ankle, but they wouldn’t let me film that so i’ll leave it for another post. In the meantime here’s a frightening vision…

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