We have, after 41 days on the road, over 6,500km driven, 21 countries visited, and 10 million wrong turns, finally arrived in Istanbul! Can you believe it – it hasn’t quite sunk in for us yet. Of course, Dad has welcomed himself into the city in style and is already cracking into a bottle of red wine and having his “last cigarette” of the trip! Dada and Dadima, Auntie Nina, Uncle Jay, and Sushila surprised us all in Istanbul and have flown all the way from Nairobi to mark the end of this challenge and raise a toast to you. So have James’ family, Heather, Vayla and Dom, Hugh and Margaret, and Helen! You officially have a fan club!!
The drive into Istanbul was madness. Another 4 lane not-motorway-motorway which had thousands of heavy lorries transporting everything and anything. When we arrived in the city we had to remind ourselves multiple times that we are on a trip for charity and so giving people two fingers as they honked and swerved in front of us probably wasn’t a wise idea! Instead, we went for a more passive approach and James was excellent on the tuk tuk horn, something we feel you’d have appreciated. Although, if you’d have been at the wheel, you would have marched up to the offenders and knocked on their windows to tell them off for their terrible driving! You were the only one in the family with a crash under their belt, but Amy got into another scrape today, which brings her ahead of you and back into Dad’s bad books. We were at Galata Tower trying to take our arrival photograph when a car tried to pass us. We stayed still, the lady driving took a terrible line, and crashed straight into the side of us raising us off the ground temporarily! Luckily the tuk tuk is fine, but her car took a minor battering. We had to move the tuk tuk out the way after that and the woman ran after us, not realising that Mum was waiting to speak to her at the top of the road where the whole incident had happened. Given she ran straight into us and ignored Mum, we felt we were justified to carry on with our evening, but let’s see what happens to Mum and Dad at the border!
The previous drive from Plovdiv to Edirne was uneventful except for the 5 mile long queue of lorries trying to cross the border into Turkey. When we thought we were going to have to wait in the queue, Dad went as white as his hair (well, what’s left of it!), but luckily we could squeeze past them. If we’d had to wait in that queue James and Amy were considering frequenting one of the hundreds of Bulgarian casinos just before the border – probably for the best that we didn’t have to.
The border guards were not very impressed by the tuk tuk and were very suspicious of us and all the wires we had for charging our multiple devices. The main guy called for support and there was a point where we were surrounded by guards, only speaking Turkish, armed with all sorts of weaponry, rifling through every pocket and box in your car. The drone only fuelled their suspicions that we were spies and we had it confiscated, stashed in an empty warehouse to be collected (supposedly!) when Mum and Dad go back to Bulgaria! If only we’d shown them the video of Dad in his tropical leggings – then they might have thought twice about him being a foreign agent! Sadly that means we can’t get an aerial shot of the Blue Mosque for you, a challenge for another time perhaps.
We’ve talked a lot about pathetic fallacy on this trip, which took us all back to GSCE/O-Level English. We didn’t know what we were expecting when we wrote “Are You Watching Us Emily?” on the top of the tuk tuk, but we have the overwhelming sense that you have been with us every step of the way – how else could we have been blessed with the most amazing weather for the whole six weeks and how else could we have missed the snow in Switzerland that arrived 3 days after we were there! Having said that, today was not good weather and, as we drove to Istanbul, it rained the whole way to the capital. We couldn’t help but turn our minds to whether that is because you, and all of us, are sad that this adventure is ending. It could have been the horizontal wind and rain in the back of the tuk tuk that caused Amy to cry all the way from Edirne to Istanbul, but we all know it’s because she has struggled without you. Sisterhood for her is not the same without a sister. She doesn’t have anyone to share Dad’s theatrics with, or to tell her secrets to. Nobody to open her stocking with at Christmas, nobody to share a room with on family holidays to save her from Mum and Dad’s snoring, nobody to joke with about Dada calling James’ face a moon – and it’s hard for her to think that James, who has been long-suffering on this trip and who has put in the most extraordinary amount of effort for you, will never have met you in person. She even cried during her Turkish Television interview, so you can expect to see her ugly crying face broadcast to millions of people on Saturday – make sure you crack open a bottle and have a good cackle.
Whilst it was actually Dad’s terrible directions and Mum’s appalling city driving that made them both cry today, rest assured that every time they think about you their hearts skip a beat and their eyes prick. Both have cried in the back of the tuk tuk over the past 6 weeks thinking about you and how we all wish you were with us. It has felt strange at times, being on a trip that you would have loved, but that we probably would never have done if you hadn’t died. It’s a stark reminder to us to live while we can and not to save the special stuff for another day.
We are all looking forward to going home and wearing our silkies up to our armpits and not having to travel every day. We’ve all put on a lot of tuk tuk weight this trip, so much so that Mum is going to make Dad cook when they get home. Given he can’t even boil an egg that should mean those extra pounds drop off pretty quickly! Do you remember when you and Amy were 3 and 5 and Dad looked after you both while Mum was away in India and you only ate baked beans on burnt toast for 2 weeks? And the time he told you and Amy that whoever got out the bath the quickest would get the big towel, and, after Amy lost, he gave her a teeny flannel as a joke…
When we started this whole campaign we never imagined what it would become. Our initial target for SUDEP Action was £21,000, to mark the 21 people who die from epilepsy-related deaths each week in the UK. We never realised how hard we would work to try and make this a success, we’ve been entirely driven by our love and memory of you. Mum has worked on this full time since February, Amy has spent every waking moment she has on this, James has gone far above the call of duty and Dad has even made social media accounts for you! But as we pull into Istanbul, we have now reached over £117,000 in donations with the auction proceeds yet to come! Over 800 people have contributed to the cause – your friends, our friends, family, colleagues, and even complete strangers have been more generous than we ever thought was possible. Your untimely death has struck a chord with so many and, even in death, you have something that makes people want to rally behind you. That is a sign of how truly special you are.
We were never given then chance to tell you everything we wish we could have before you left us – how much we love you, how funny and beautiful you are, how our lives will never ever be the same without you. Home is a lot quieter without you there and there is never a day we go without thinking about you. We cannot change what happened, a sense of helplessness that has been so frustrating, but we can change what happens to other families like ours. This trip was our opportunity to SHOW you how much we all – your friends and family too – love you still, and how your death will not be for nothing. You will never have the luxury of growing old, falling in love, travelling the world, having a family of your own, but your legacy will make sure that someone else has that opportunity. We hope that, wherever you are now, however hard it must be to watch everyone doing what you cannot, that you, and we, can take some comfort in that.
We are very proud of everything that has been achieved, but there is an anxiety we all hold now this trip is done: that people will forget – a sense that this is the last hurrah before we close the door on our grief and “move on”. Please be assured that that will never happen – we will always have an irreplaceable part of us that is missing. We haven’t been able to listen to your favourite James Arthur song since we played it at your funeral. But the words go, as you well know: “Tell them all I know now, shout it from the roof tops, write it on the sky line…tell them I was happy, and [now] my heart is broken, all my scars are open…” These words resonate so much with us. We’re often told that the price of love is pain, and we are all in so much pain without you. But we will carry on, we know you wouldn’t have wanted anything else, but, remember, you are and will forever be in our hearts and minds and the memories we have of you we will treasure forever.
Dada wants to do a Sanskrit prayer for you today – when he does we will all look to the sky and we hope that you will be watching back.
Wishing you were here with us and devastated that you are not.
We are very grateful to Webnetism who are our sponsor for Turkey. Webnetism are a digital web design company who combine design, technology and strategy to give you a meaningful digital experience. They have skilled graphic designers and developers in their Cheltenham office able to cater for your business requirements – no matter how unique they may be. They create great looking web based solutions to fulfil your needs and can host all of it in their own on-site data centre. If you’re looking for an exciting digital design agency backed by a team of fantastic front end and back end website developers then give them a call on 01452 855558 or look at their own website: https://www.webnetism.com
Early morning sponsor photo at Selimiye Mosque, Edirne,Turkey for Webnetism