I want to say ‘thank you’……

…..to all of you who have tweeted, emailed and contacted me in various ways with your messages of support after reading yesterdays post. Please know they are very gratefully received.

I’m not going to revel in any self-indulgent twaddle gilded with emotion, that’s not me. I have a sense of humour and if I have anything to say I’ll try and make it worth my while writing and your time reading.

I read a cynic say some time ago on a forum “Mehh all this online sympathy sucks, you don’t know these people, they’re all strangers, what’s that all about. I just don’t get it.”


I was/am part of a forum that some years ago hatched a daft plan. We are all Buell motorcycle owners and considered these radical bikes to be vastly underrated. So as you do, we decided to pool our resources, expertise, and to use the internet to collaborate, liaise and take an old Buell bike to Bonneville Salt Flats for Speed Week. And there, to race it against the works teams from Harley-Davidson, Moto-Guzzi, BMW etc – in the air-cooled twins, and v-twins categories. So Team Elves was born. Few of the participants and sponsors had ever met each other, we were all strangers to each other. My contribution was rewarded by having my name on the helmet of the bike’s pilot.

“I’ve got a portable catering truck, I’ll bring it and make great food!” said one guy.

“I’m a freelance photographer I’ll do all the stills work we need doing” said another.

“I’ve got video kit and a satellite uplink system and we can do daily reports live as we go!” said someone else.

“I’m a masseuse with all the portable kit – I’ll make sure the rider is relaxed and tuned up too!”

And more and more and more. To cut a long story short Bonneville had seen nothing like it. The hugely funded works teams looked on in amusement. Which turned to envy. Then disbelief. And finally to dismay.

We broke four world land speed records in various categories, some by a significant margin. And we got onto the front cover of several major US papers and magazines.

That’s what strangers can do.

But closer to home when I was in Social Work Disability Services, a letter was delivered to me as the senior staff member in the facility I was managing. It was from a man who had been sitting in the town park and had a seizure, slumping forwards and blocking his airway. Nobody stopped. Well nobody except my ‘client’ John……………..

Who is John? John has an ‘intellectual impairment’ and was at that time regarded as being a complete and utter pest by all the shopkeepers in town. He was banned from several of the stores because of his unpredictable behaviour. I ‘rescued’ him one day, in a large supermarket that had just installed an automatic-gate barrier system. John had bowled in and with his severe short-sightedness and tunnel-vision he could not figure out why his regular routine of ‘enter store, take five paces, turn right, walk in a straight line, get to chiller cabinet for milk’ was being thwarted (the bruises on his thighs betrayed the vigour of his efforts!).

So instead he decided to go down onto his stomach and crawl under the obstacle. It was a good plan, but it relied also on a degree of vision which he did not possess, and unfortunately he instead negotiated his way under a long long long nest of trolleys which of course are left handily beside the barrier. He had got part way down this tunnel, on his stomach, and may have succeeded in emerging at the far end, had an unfortunate snag not impeded his progress. The ‘snag’ was literally a loop of wool on his pullover which caught in a badly-placed hook of steel that had escaped quality control at the trolley factory. It had escaped, but John wasn’t going to. You can imagine the performance involved in releasing him………………

….but anyway……..John happened to be walking through the park on the day the man took the seizure, and speaking to everyone he met whether he knew them or not. And came to the man who was slumped forwards and had been ignored by all the other passers by in the park on this sunny day. The man did not answer John’s loud salutation. So John came closer to get it all in focus and realized there was a problem. He immediately dragged the man onto the ground, put him in the recovery position, cleared his airway, head back, picked up the man’s mobile phone and dialled 999 for an ambulance. When he saw the ambulance appear and other onlookers had got involved, he wandered off and promptly got thrown out of another shop for pestering the shop assistants. The man’s family was able to track down John fairly easily.

The letter he’d sent asked me to pass on the man’s thanks to John, and wondered could he come and meet this chap who’d saved his life. He thanked my staff for ‘training him to do what he did so well’. I spoke with a rather nonchalant John about the incident, and asked what had happened and he explained, and I asked how he knew what to do……

He laughed and said “Been in institutions all my life, seen lots of people have fits and seizures and they all fall down and the staff just put them on their side and pull their heads back and that does the trick. Anyway got to go, things to see, stuff to do. Bye” and he waltzed off, a contented  man whose life was simply an ongoing adventure to be sucked in and enjoyed. The meeting between John and the man whose life he’d saved was one I’ll remember.

When my partner Melanie hit the deck earlier this week, several of the people surrounding her administering first aid were strangers. Their efforts made a difference. How much of a difference will be revealed in the days ahead. But without their efforts Melanie would have had no chance.

All of you who have sent your messages of support over the last 24 hours, many of you are strangers, in so far as we’ve never met. But your support does matter. It does make a difference.

And to all the cynics who “just don’t get it” maybe one day you’ll need assistance, and whatever that passing stranger may be able to give – at that moment – may be just what you need. Even if all they may be able to offer are a few simple words.

So, thank you.

Author — John Macpherson

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

Discussion (7 Comments)

  1. Stan B. says:

    Loved that story concerning John (I work with people with disabilities)- one can so easily dismiss that help and concern can sometimes arrive from ‘the other side of the equation.’

    Wishing you and yours a speedy recovery, and all the best…

  2. Wonderful story, and so true. You never know when you will need assistance from a stranger. My father had Parkinson’s disease for 7 years before he passed away. Whilst trying to cling onto his independence and mobility, he had a number of incidents of falling over in the street and later on crashing into things in his wheelchair. In nearly every incident a stranger assisted him and helped him in some way. Genuine kindness does exist and we must all play our part in making this world a better place to live.

    I sincerely hope your partner makes a full recovery, and I wish you and your son all the best in these trying days.

  3. Lesley says:

    I’m a stranger who would like to wish Melanie – and you and William – all the very best for a full recovery and an understandable explanation. Thanks so much for this inspiring post.

    • Lesley – thank you for taking the time to reply, its heartening to know that you found it valuable. We’re making progress but it is going to be a long hard slog. But Melanie has had a second chance, something few people are luck enough to experience.

  4. Graham Russell says:

    Hi John,
    Just been reading about your misfortune. I have been enjoying your blog about building the 110 roof, from across the other side of the world, in NZ.
    Sorry to hear about Melanie.Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

    • Thanks Graham – I decided to carry on with the 110 – planning for the time when we can use it! Was welding on Saturday, grinding on Sunday, now ready for top alloy sheet when I find a moment. Need some fixed points of reference in this shifting landscape and this will keep me sane!

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