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Laurence’s VFR’s by Richard Boulter

Ian and Richard, on the coast path near Morecambe.

“Visiting Friends & Relations” (VFRs) are currently the most numerous category of travellers to the remote South Atlantic island of St Helena, where a new airport opened to regular flights in October 2017. While the island and its residents (known as “Saints”) wait for the international tourist numbers to steadily grow to significant numbers that will achieve the step-change in the island’s economic sustainability that the airport offers, Saints’ VFRs are far outnumbering other passengers. And with St Helena being one of the places Laurence and I had in common, as for Ian Mathieson too who joined one of the three days I accompanied Laurence in Lancashire, I find I have added another perspective on our many on-the-walk discussions….

Approaching St Helena...hoping that we'll be able to land and won't have to turn back and fly for 4.5 hours back to Johannesburg. See that little flat bit on the left, next to the cliffs? That's the runway. No mistakes possible.

First, a self-centred distraction, before returning to “the Walk” and VFRs. While still a young teenager, encouraged by one teacher or other, I authored a brief paper on “friendship”. Within a year or two at the most, I realised it was largely sentimental, naïve, and superficial, so never read it again, although I have it somewhere. Ironically, as often hindsight can show so clearly, I then neglected all my close school and college friends (ok, amounting to less than 10 people!) for the next forty to fifty years, in favour of new family and friends picked up in the many later phases of life.

Almost exactly 15 years ago, on 5 February 2004, 23 Chinese cockleshell pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay. This memorial stands opposite where the tragedy happened.

Ian is a leading light of “Friends of St Helena” of which Laurence is one of many active supporters, I have been a member of the “British Friends of Vanuatu” for 20 years or so, and I’m now around at the birth of “Friends of the Old Ford to Hunston Canal” in West Sussex. The characteristics of all three organisations filled some useful discussion time while coast walking northwards, and this in turn stimulated me to think about the phenomenon of Laurence being joined by so many of his own “VFRs” along the way, including those in touch from distant places through social media.

We all have our spider webs of friends and relatives scattered in concentric patterns dictated by families, shared education, employment, common postings in far off countries or different cities in our home nations, or by hobbies or interests wherever we are. Very rarely do our web of friends meet each other, and then for events that are too quick to really re-build or deepen earlier friendships. But this is what Laurence and the Walk are achieving, either in person and miles walked together, or via blogs, posts, photographs, and e-mails. And accompanied by the extra glue of finding out (yes, for many of us), learning about, and supporting life-changing research and new policies and initiatives on cervical cancer, driven by Laurence in tribute to his wife, Melitta.

We weren't quite sure what this bird was. The picture gives an idea of the marshland along that part of Morecambe Bay.

So, take a bow, if you are already one of Laurence’s active VFRs this last eight months, on my assumption that your own past connections with Laurence has been welcomingly re-invigorated by his huge 3600-to-End-It initiative and efforts. And there are another four more months to go. So, get in touch (again), donate (again), and be thankful that you don’t have to wait for another scarce friends’ reuniting opportunity. [And, as for my own neglected friends, that’s a sobering and still incomplete story, for another time and place.]

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