By way of background, Danny (a teacher and former Marketing director of the National Quadrathlon squad) explained that he and his sister, Natalie (a graduate of Falmouth University and now a locally based artist) are the world’s top brother-sister bog snorkelling duo, holding the men’s and women’s triathlon records respectively. Danny clearly likes doing what he describes as “fun and crazy things” – like climbing the Gherkin, running up the down escalators the wrong way. Indeed, by the age of 11, he had already decided he wanted to travel the world for charity.
As children, the family used to holiday in Cornwall every year, surfing and playing in the sand. Coincidentally, he visited earlier this month to see some of his sister’s work (see nataliebent.yolasite.com), which is now winning national competitions.
Getting back on track, I asked him where he got the idea for the journey described in his book. “I like my classroom to be alive… throwing paint at the teacher in art, climbing trees in maths, creating animations in science. Not just a buzz – I like the tiles on the roof to be vibrating, some days I even like to try and blow the roof clean off. I was teaching children about a village in India, comparing it with our own lives. I struggled to make the subject as exciting for the kids as it was for me, but when you’re eight years old it’s hard to imagine a life in stark contrast to your own. There was only one thing for it. Go out there to put myself – a figure they knew well (and I hope respected) – in the picture. When I told my class, one boy, fully clued-up on our school’s Green Awareness policy, asked how I was going to get there. Plane? Bus? In contradiction to everything I’d taught them? I couldn’t. So I uttered the four words which changed my life. ‘I’m going by bicycle’.”
So he set off. Nine thousand miles to India. On his own. With Shirley, his steel-framed bicycle, carrying everything he needed.
I asked him about the high points (and the low) of his journey. “The people I met who had nothing, but gave everything. People in slums coming together to buy two cups of tea – one I was forced to drink under watchful eyes, the other they shared; Uzbek women selling home grown produce who fought over who would give me the most apples and cucumbers. Those people had the warmest of hearts and the kindest souls.”
He explained that he felt everything was an adventure. Even whilst soldiers’ guns were pointed at his head, he was thinking “can’t wait to tell people about this.” Bandits, snakes, wild goats, riots and other hazards…he loved every second.
Danny is dyslexic, so I wondered what prompted him to consider writing. “When I was at University, I used to write to my parents regularly. Dad replied saying I had a way of saying a lot about nothing at all …I think it was a compliment. I started my writing career by doing race reports for magazines, then I got a few articles in national papers. I began wondering if I could write a book – and then at the point where the three highest mountain ranges collide, with war raging around me and only Shirley for company, I thought people might like to hear about it. So, on my journey I wrote blogs and kept a pretty detailed diary and when I came home I spent nine months writing in ‘Look mum no Hands’, a cycle café in London with loads of interesting people around me – I spent more time chatting than writing, but it was fun!!”
So, what next? “The charity initiative is calling me and I like the idea of staying in the UK, but changing the lives of millions around the world. So on 11/11/11 I launch my unsalaried charity initiative ‘1111’ (www.oneoneoneone.org) aimed at raising £1million for the charity Keep a Child Alive. It’s a really simple idea – I aim to recruit 1000 warriors. They can be schools, businesses or individuals and their role is to do something they’ve always dreamed of, or simply something fun – run a marathon, organize a party, climb a mountain etc. and by doing so, empower 100 of their friends to give £10 in sponsorship. We already have authors, international brands, famous musicians and pop icons involved. I know how generous Cornish people are, so come on Roseland – help me to help others. All it takes is one person or business to come forward and you’ll be on your way.”
Meanwhile, Danny’s book is available via Amazon and from discerning bookshops. If you’d like to know more or look at some of his wonderful photographs, check out his website www.dannybent.com.