Robin Hood And Maid Marry-On

By the time the next issue comes out I’ll be married. That may not impress some people (especially the already married) but while I’m not turning into GroomZilla yet it’s definitely a Big Deal for me.

I’ll be *married*.

Yes I know, people get married all the time. Not the same people obviously (unless they’re Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) but as I’ve never been married before it’s all a bit of an adventure.

I’m quite used to adventures though, I’ve done any number of weird and amazing things as Robin Hood but that all seems rather tame compared to getting married and I guess that’s how it should be.

Sal’s just as excited. She’s making her wedding dress herself (no, it’s not going to be a Robin Hood wedding) and even our daughter Scarlett is looking forward being a bridesmaid. Everyone we know is gearing up. Great friends are travelling from the UK, the US and Europe to celebrate with us. It’s all *perfect*.

Except… Sal has cancer.

Just over a year ago she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. It’s already too late to cure, having spread from her breast to her liver, pelvis and spine. As you can imagine, we were devastated. It was close to being the worst possible news we could have, and as Sal teaches genetics at Nottingham University there wasn’t much she didn’t know. It’s fair to say we were broken, for any number of reasons (us, our future, watching Scarlett grow up). All of it potentially ripped away in a single diagnosis.

But here’s the thing – Sal is a truly amazing woman. I love her without limits and for some reason she feels the same about me. So we wept, second-guessed, swore and wished. And then she decided to just get on with life. She started chemo and radiotherapy and after each treatment was back at work in days. I was – am – utterly in awe of her.

Her decision to live with cancer rather than giving in to it was inspirational, and not just to me. Sal took part in the University’s Impact campaign which aims to make a real difference in the lives of breast cancer sufferers. And because she was in a unique position (involved in research and a patient) the organisers asked her to give a presentation at their Open Day.

A year ago she couldn’t have done it. But a few weeks ago she gave a presentation so powerful it touched everyone there. And because the university press release mentioned that ‘Dr Sally Chappell, Nottingham’s official Maid Marian’ was speaking about having cancer local media found out too. We’d not told anyone (not because having cancer is anything to hide, far from it) but suddenly it was out in the open.

So when local media contacted her Sal could have ignored them. Instead she decided people should know that all this could happen to anyone. If any good can come of this she needed to convey a message. So she went on Radio Nottingham for a couple of really sensitively conducted interviews, she talked to the Post, raised over £2.5k for charity by doing a 5k run, and even did an interview for ‘Candis’ magazine (published later this year). And the message Sal really wants you to get is this:

Check your boobs. Check your partner’s boobs (male or female). Probably don’t check strangers’ boobs (that’s wrong and creepy) but if I can say it again one more time: CHECK YOUR BOOBS regularly. Sal didn’t have any of the ‘classic’ signs (lumps, orange peel skin, puckering) just a general thickening of the whole breast tissue that even her GP wasn’t initially worried about because breasts change after childbirth.

As I write, Sal is on round 2 of chemo and it’s dreadful to see her knocked sideways by it. Scarlett keeps us going, she’s an utter joy and gives us both love and smiles and we have a brilliant support network of incredible family and friends who help with babysitting, shopping, lending ears for us to bend, shoulders to cry on. We couldn’t do it without them. We’re really blessed, the bloody cancer withstanding.

And we’re grateful to everyone who asks how Sal is. Knowing that people care is very helpful, especially in the long dark, scary hours of night. Now even when I’m out Robin Hood-ing people I’ve never met before come up to me and ask in a very genuine and concerned way “How’s your wife?” as a lot of people think we’re married already.

I thank them for asking and don’t tell them we’re not married yet because the really great thing is we soon will be. After all of the fun we’ve had as Robin and Marian this is real, a proper grown-up adventure. There’ll be laughter and tears, love and sadness. It’s life. And it’ll be fun so wish us luck.

Oh and please remember: CHECK YOUR BOOBS

Food Time!

“What time is it, Scarlett?”

Sal and I ask our two-year old from time to time. “FOOD TIME!” she replies with glee, and starts listing all the food she’d like to eat… “Wittybix, ogange, monkeynana, yoghurt, chocle bissit, grapes and cheese PWEASE!” she pleads politely but forcefully. “And bubbles and juice! And milk!”

And we smile because somehow having a tiny person with the permanent appetite of the shark from JAWS charging around the house actively trying to devour pretty much anything (except cucumber) is wonderfully cute and endearing.

We hear stories of parents who can’t get their children to eat anything but macaroni cheese or cat food and we wonder how weird that would be, in much the same way that I find it incomprehensible that anyone wouldn’t like STAR TREK (the proper one, with Captain Kirk of course).

And maybe there’ll come a time when she’ll hate everything except chicken nuggets and Haribo and I’ll be forced, ironically, to eat my own words – but I have to say for someone who likes food Beeston is an excellent place to be growing up.

Last Sunday Sal and I, admittedly without Scarlett this time, attended a charity fundraising dinner for My Sight Nottinghamshire (formerly the Nottinghamshire Royal Society for the Blind) at the always astounding Café Roya on Wollaton Road.

I have a soft spot for the charity as every year in November I lead a group of volunteer fundraisers in walking across burning hot coals to raise money for them at Nottingham Castle. Great fun, brilliant cause (give it a go, it’s inspiring, life-changing and best of all doesn’t actually hurt, I promise)!

For once it wasn’t Roya doing the cooking though, although the food was still entirely vegetarian – the special guest chef was the phenomenal Alex Bond. Alex is a brilliant bloke – very friendly, extremely talented and has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and with Nottingham’s Sat Bains and hopes to be opening his own restaurant in Nottingham soon. Given the truly inspiring dishes he produced (in content, presentation and taste) I hope he does.

As I’ve said, Scarlett will eat pretty much anything but I’m a bit pickier these days – I certainly wouldn’t class myself as vegetarian but each time we’ve been to Roya’s we haven’t even noticed there’s no meat, the food is just so good. But Alex served up a series of dishes, some of which consisted entirely of foods I wouldn’t normally eat (olives, yoghurt and lemon anyone?) that were simply delicious.

So maybe I should learn a lesson from Scarlett and try a more varied diet – as I said, Beeston can certainly provide that.

We have a new world tapas restaurant, The Frustrated Chef opening in place of Relish on Chilwell High Road, a new seafood/Thai restaurant, The Lobster Pot (near Sainsbury’s), Korea House on Broadgate and the excellent Gurkha Express almost opposite, taking the place of the now-defunct ‘Bonito’ restaurant, a place that very long-term readers may recall I once wrote a scathingly unfavourable review of in this very magazine.

The place closed down very shortly afterwards and although I’m sure it was nothing to do with my review… well, just for a second I got to feel like a real food critic.

But these days, new food and drink establishments in Beeston have some great forebears to aspire to and beat – and I think we’re being really well served here, literally and figuratively.

So don’t worry about the clock not being repaired in the Square, if anyone asks you what time it is in Beeston you can just quote Scarlett… “Food time”!

For more information on other events organised by My Sight Nottinghamshire visit http://www.mysightnotts.org.uk. Roya’s and Alex Bond’s fundraising evening raised over £400 for the charity. Many thanks to them, their staff and My Sight’s Jonny Rudge and sponsors for organising it!

Tim Pollard

Nottingham’s Official Robin Hood

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