Wednesday, 11 March 2009

As requested, a short resume of the Scirocco 2 Morocco trip

Several people have asked me to tell them about the trip that we made in September from the UK to (Almost!) Morocco.
I was asked also by the Hospital magazine to write a round up of how we got on during the 9 and a half day drive for publication in the next edition, so i have decided to post the article that i have submitted to them in order that the folk that asked me for a run down of the challenge can at last get one !.

Anyway, without further yapping on, here is the article with a few pictures that serve to illustrate some aspects of the challenge:

Scirocco 2 Morocco 2008.

The result!

Veteran Television weather man Bill Giles chats with us before we set off.

When Jayne Morton asked me to write an article for the Oakleaves that was approx 600 words long, I thought that I would probably struggle to achieve that target, but now, having had some time to reflect again on the challenge that was “Scirocco 2 Morocco”, I now think that perhaps I may be struggling to keep the tally low enough! lets just see.

One thing that I would like to say at this point is that the details about the trip itself would take up far to much space if I was to rattle on in this article, so if you want more in depth coverage of the challenge you may want to log on to our online blog at for a blow by blow account of our adventure plus some video.

Ok, just to refresh your memories (and on the off chance that you were fortunate enough not to have been cornered by myself or Glen and persuaded to part with your hard earned cash!). Scirocco 2 Morocco was a totally random idea that myself and my good friend Glen Place had, to drive a 21 year old Volkswagen from the UK to North Africa to raise money for charity. We had decided to try and raise cash for 3 good causes. The Linc’s and Nott’s Air Ambulance, MacMillan Cancer Support and Leukaemia Research. We also decided that, just to make the trip more interesting, we would also manufacture a trailer to tow all of our gear in that this was to be made out of a second Scirocco. We decided to call this our “half Roc”.

The total time spent in planning this little excursion was around 9 months. The planning was first initiated in December 2007 over the Christmas holidays, and eventually concluded when we arrived back in the UK having spent just over 9 days on the road and driving almost 4000 miles without any major problems.

The car, a 1987 Volkswagen Scirocco Scala had already completed one charity challenge named “Roc Around the Clock” in August 2007 when my wife Teresa and I had driven almost non stop (allowing for loo breaks!) for 24 hours visiting hospitals around the UK to raise money for Leukaemia research, so I guess that you could say that we had proved it’s reliability during that little outing. The trip to Morocco was going to be run over a much longer period, and, due to my bright idea about towing a trailer with us, some modifications to the car were required, namely fitting a tow bar plus electrics!.

The tow bar was picked up on an Ebay auction for the princely sum of £1.65, and as an added bonus the seller, who was conveniently located in Ollerton, threw in a few other spares free of charge to help us along.

Next, following a chat with a fella called Andy Walsh, of AW body repairs, we had the offer of getting the car, and after its manufacture by a company called ASMech in Mansfield, the trailer, fully resprayed for nothing. This was completed on the 5th April 2008, and all that then remained to be done was to take the whole rig over to a guy in Tattershall called Lee Balland, who very generously covered the car in its challenge logos for no charge.

Disaster strikes.

The damage to the car after the accident in April 2008.

In mid April 2008, just as things seemed to be going so well with the car and trailer resprayed, most of the sponsors logo’s applied to both, and the arrangements for our route well under way disaster struck…or to be more precise a small red Toyota struck our car as I turned across a junction in Mansfield Woodhouse on the 16th, en route to my parents house were I was to drop off my kids for the day. It was my fault, I saw a gap, started to move off without enough revs on, the car started to stall, and I was then hit on the left hand quarter of the bonnet by a chap coming the other way.

After the initial shock was passed, along with my insurance details, I found myself looking at a rather sad looking car parked on my parents driveway, and I was now faced with having to make a phone call to Andy Walsh to tell him that at this point it looked like the fantastic job he had done for us repainting the car was in real danger of being all in vain as I was pretty sure that due to the cars age it would be written off by the insurers.

I can honestly say that the wait for Andy to pick up the phone seemed like the worst few seconds of my life. How embarrassing to have to tell him what I had done to this (up until this point) shiny “as new” car.

I need not have worried as having explained to Andy the damage that the car had suffered, he immediately began to arrange to get the old girl back to his workshop in Sleaford to see if he could save her. He managed to do this, and for that I will be eternally grateful to him and his staff who, after myself and Dave Howell (yes, that is Dave from the I.T dept!) had sourced a donor car in Tamworth, then rebuilt the front end and had her back on the road by mid June. During the next few months we took the car to a few Volkswagen shows around the country, hosted a competition to win tickets to the British Grand Prix which my cousin (who works for the Renault F1 team) had managed to blag for us…cheers Darren!, and even managed to get some exposure on local radio and Television and attended the RAF Waddington Air Show to promote the event which by now was only a matter of weeks away.

Eventually the day arrived for the challenge to begin and after meeting up with Glen who had travelled up from Kent the night before with his wife, we set off from the Sleaford Vintage and Classic car show on the 6th September at 1:15pm, waved off on our merry way by friends and family, Nookey Nauyokas (Bad lad’s army’s corporal Nauyokas) and Bill Giles the weather man.

After a drive “Daan Saaath” along the A1 we arrived at the ferry port an hour early after first stopping off at Glens home to pick up a few supplies and feed the cat, then after boarding the ferry we decided to have one last taste of great British cuisine in the ships restaurant before we settled down to our rather bland food menu for the next 9 or 10 days….and boy, that chicken tikka was sooo good!.

After leaving the boat at around 9pm we spent our first night in the car before setting off the next day and heading south through France, accidentally passing through Paris (oops!) after our satnav (that we came to know a Yoda due to the voice that we opted to use to tell us the directions) became a little confused when faced with a large amount of road works around the capitol and went on strike!. We stopped at an area just below Paris called Volcane then, the next day we made our way across the Millau viaduct which is a huge bridge along the Paris to Barcelona super highway that spans the Millau Valley, designed by the Englishman Sir Norman Foster and which was featured on a recent Top Gear show a while back when the lads drove 3 supercars across Europe. We then drove across the Pyrenees Mountains, into Spain, down to Toledo, then to Marbella and on the 11th September we headed to Gibraltar to catch the ferry for Morocco, and this is the point at which things went a little bit wrong, but I will explain that later!

Any old port in a storm!

Camping in Marbella,Spain.

Sorting out accommodation during the trip was something of a hit and miss affair. On arrival in France on the first night we found ourselves parked in a lay-by at a service station about 25 miles from Calais as a plan to stop over at a town called Marquette-les-Lille (Sleaford’s twin town) had fallen through at the last minute, and we had no time to make other arrangements. Having badly pulled my back on the morning of the challenge this was not the ideal situation, and Scirocco’s are definitely NOT the most comfortable of cars to try and sleep in !.The rest of the trip after this first night of torture was a little more civilised and consisted of a mix of campsites and hotels (I preferred the hotels!).

Food wise, until our arrival in Portugal on the homeward bound section of our trip, we survived on just one or two meals a day, plus a host of snack foods including salami sausage, crisps and sweets. And at the end of each day we opened up our on board rations which we had carried from the UK and made up a variety of filling, but not entirely interesting meals that the contestants of ready steady cook would not be proud of mostly based on tinned beans, spam and hotdog sausages……yum!

It’s all going terribly wrong.

Our unexpected final destination.Morrisons supermarket in Gibraltar!

We had decided not to book the ferry in advance as it would mean that if the car broke down, we would not be able to get a refund, so we decided to wait until we pitched up in Gibraltar to arrange a crossing. When we made enquiries it became clear that the going rate for a return trip to Morocco (approx 16 miles each way) was going to set us back over £400! We had been forced to work to a VERY tight budget, and it soon became apparent that after driving over 1900 miles we were going to be stopped in our tracks by the cost of crossing…or maybe one of us could take out a second mortgage to pay for it. In the end discretion became the better part of valour, and after making the call to end our challenge at this point, we retired rather dejectedly to a familiar place in a far off land….Morrison’s supermarket café in Gibraltar!, and yes, it is just the same as the one next to the hospital in every way, except for the much higher temperature and the presence of sparrows that patrol the café floor looking for the odd scrap. The only really notable event before we left Spain was when I dropped the trailer arm onto my big toe whilst re attaching the trailer to the car after it was searched by the Spanish customs, and if you look closely at the picture of myself and Glen that was taken in front of the rock of Gibraltar you may just be able to see the tears in my eyes as the snap was taken about a minute after this rather painful experience!.

Myself and Glen just after the trailer on the toe incident !

As I mentioned, it was not until the inward journey as we reached Silves on the Algarve in Portugal (An ex RAF friend of mine named Graham lives there with his Portuguese wife and step daughter) that we managed to get any “ethnic” food, although due to Glen’s problem with his Crohns disease he had to be a little careful of being too adventurous. The food in Portugal really is fantastic, and boy did I make the most of it whilst I was there especially as Graham and Bela made us feel so welcome, and after the discomfort and bland food of the previous few days it really was a welcome change.

Show me the way to go home…please!

Homeward bound.Only 1500 miles to go!

We continued our drive back to old blighty after our days rest in Portugal and headed north towards Lisbon, then once we had left Portugal and entered Spain we made our way up to Santander, across the Pyrenees for the second time in a week, we then stopped of in a campsite in Burgos before loading up the tents the following morning and heading towards France.

We were a couple of days early as we made our way towards Calais, so we made a call to P&O (who had given us a free return crossing) and asked if we would be all right to catch an earlier ferry, due to the fire that had occurred in the Channel tunnel a few days earlier they had a few problems finding us a space, but eventually a crossing was found, and we set off on the final sea leg of the event at 16:05hrs (local) on the 15th September.

After an uneventful crossing it was up the road 40 or so miles back to Glen’s for a cuppa, then after unloading his gear, we said our farewells and I then completed the last 120 miles back up to Lincolnshire, arriving back home at about 10:15pm complete with a Chinese meal which I had picked up on the way…ahhh, home cooking at last!.

Results of the Scirocco 2 Morocco challenge 2008?

We covered 3979 miles in 9 and a half days in a 21 year old car pulling a 19 year old trailer. We managed to raise a little over £5000 that was shared between the 3 charities mentioned, and I had terrible back ache for weeks afterwards!

Can I just say a great big thank you yet again to all of those people who made this challenge possible. From Andy Walsh and all at AW accident repairs who sorted out the car twice for me, to Lee Baland who did all of the graphics on the car for nowt (again!), Pitstop and Heron Volkswagen who provided Garage services gratis, and lastly, everyone who helped us out in all manner of ways, from donation of parts, to donations of sponsorship money. Without the generosity of so many individuals and companies, we would not have got off of my drive, never mind (almost) to Morocco!

We did it for Joel.

Joel has a sit in Scarlet.He was our inspiration.

During the preparations for the challenge I was made aware of a little lad who lived over in Farndon (near Newark), named Joel Picker-Spence. I had heard a plea on BBC Radio Nottingham made by his mother Ann, for people to attend a bone marrow donor’s recruitment event that was being held at Kelham Hall, and although I myself am not able to donate bone marrow due to my own Leukaemia, I decided that I would pop in on my way home from work that day and see if there was anything else that I could possibly do to help them with their search.

I met little Joel and his mum Ann and told her about our Scirocco 2 Morocco trip, then, after explaining why I was unable to register as a donor myself, I offered to post things on our website about Joel’s appeal, and to apply logo’s onto the cars bodywork to promote the work of the Anthony Nolan Trust, who are a charity that help to seek, identify and recruit people to the bone marrow donors register.

Ann was really grateful for the offer, and she even managed to dig out some stickers to apply to the car. Glen and I kept in touch with the family on the lead up to the drive, during our trip, and also after it was completed, we even brought Joel a gift medallion back from the Millau viaduct, and told him that when he grew up perhaps he would get the chance to go and see this amazing piece of architecture. Little did we know at that point that this was tragically never going to happen.

Joel was only 6 years old when he died on the 10th November 2008. His leukaemia was too aggressive for him to receive a bone marrow transplant, even though the Anthony Nolan Trust had found him a 100% match. I remember that all through our trip we had been in touch with Ann (Joel’s mum) to keep up to date with his progress on the lead up to his transplant. Up until the 19th September, a few days after our return to the UK, she had not told me that he was not going to be able to have the transplant and would therefore die of his illness. She told me later that we had been so “upbeat” about our achievement that she did not want to take the “wind out of our sails”……and it was heartbreaking to think that she considered this whilst her son was dying, how guilty did Glen and I feel when we finally found out the awful and crushing truth. This is the reality of leukaemia, and if anything it reinforced to me and Glen exactly why we had embarked upon our mission. We, as a mere engineers and a nurse, are not able to find a cure for this disease, but by god we were at least trying to help those who one day will.

Could you be that special person?

As this article goes to press I would like to ask you to consider volunteering to become a member of the Anthony Nolan trust bone marrow register when clinics are held at Newark Hospital on the 23rd June 2009 and Kings Mill Hospital at a date soon yet to be confirmed. There are currently 490,000 people on the register, but they need many more to try and help give hope to people with leukaemia who without a transplant will probably die. Only 1 in every 1000 people will ever be a match for someone, so that is less than 500 with over 16,000 people worldwide waiting to be given the chance of life.

As one mother put it when her daughter died of leukaemia a few months ago, “Johanna campaigned ferociously to raise awareness of the need for people to join the Anthony Nolan register. The Anthony Nolan trust gave us hope for 12 years, the charity never failed to find her a match – her match simply just didn’t join the register.”

Please consider becoming a member of the register, and there is just a possibility that you may be able to give someone the gift of life, and hope were there is fear. Thank you.

Andy Ward.

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