Running for Digger, Fighting Cancer

Barney runOops. Spent Sunday morning watching the London Marathon. Fantastic event. Elite runners pushing at the boundaries of world records, trying to run faster over 42 kilometres than anyone has ever run before. And behind them the masses, the pear-shaped women and multi-moobed men  trying to conquer their own Everest and perhaps raise a few quid for charity.

It is inspiring stuff; brings a tear to my eye to see the dedication of the runners and also the enthusiasm of the people lining the course. It is a magnificent event.

The reason I say “Oops” though is because it is a reminder that my name is down to run the Hackney half-marathon on May 10, a bid to bring down my waistline and at the same time help Worldwide Cancer Research.

I know, it is only a half-marathon. Just 21 kilometres which, for anyone clutching their medals on The Mall, is child’s play, a training run. The runners we followed during The Road to Sparta will snort with derisory laughter at anyone getting concerned about a gentle limbering up around London’s Olympic Stadium. But for some of us, it is going to be a little tougher.

Please help me to raise money for Worldwide Cancer Research by sponsoring me at

My concern lies in my performance in March at the Antony half-marathon just outside Paris when I gasped my way around the course in two hours 18 minutes something. Slow course, dull course and an all-round poor effort, falling a long way short of my older brother Felix’s performance in Bath just a week earlier

The Digger showing us the art of Greek dancing
The Digger showing us the art of Greek dancing

More disappointing was my fund-raising. I wanted to raise some money for Worldwide Cancer Research to commemorate a good friend Brian Williams, one of Queensland’s finest, who had died from the wretched disease in February at the age of 69.

Digger was a Reuters legend. A veteran reporter of the Vietnam War, he travelled and lived around the world working for the agency; in India in the 1980s he oversaw the coverage of the assassination of Indira Ghandi, the religious massacres that followed as well as scooping the world on the Bhopal disaster.

I came into contact with him in 2004 when he was bureau chief in Athens. He was responsible not only for my first hangover in the city but also for landing me three jobs in my first year there, including a place on the Reuters Olympic team. I will always be thankful for that and for all the help and friendship that he and his wife Aliki gave my family during our five years in Athens.

As I discovered at his memorial at St Bride’s church in Fleet Street at the end of March, I was not the only person that he helped in this way. Brian was a giver. A quiet giver.

Not always so quiet in the social surroundings of the taverna, mind you, where he was in his element. Funny and vivacious. the heart and soul of any long evening.

The last time I saw Brian was in September 2014, just after shooting The Road to Sparta. I was shocked by his emaciated appearance as the ravages of the cancer attacked this incredibly vital man.

aicr-logo-newHis voice had lost its strength but his eyes remained clear, his smile strong. I don’t know if he knew the extent of the cancer but he was looking it in the eye. There was never anything morose about Brian – except on those rare occasions when England scalped the Aussies in the Ashes. And that never lasted beyond the first glass of wine.

My performance in March in Antony was poor both on the course and in the world of fund-raising.

Hackney needs to be better in both departments. I need to run a better time than my brother did in Bath (2:06) but, more important, we need to pull in some more money to help the constant research that is needed to help fight the terrible plight of cancer.

The goal is 1000 pounds – that is around 1300 euros. Worldwide Cancer Research has a number of ongoing research projects including one based at the University of Queensland – Brian’s home state – into the new mutations of melanoma.

Please help me to raise money for Worldwide Cancer Research by sponsoring me at

It doesn’t need to be a large amount. Every pound or euro or dollar or yen is welcome and helps to fund the research – the research which will help the one in four of us that is hit by cancer.

Many thanks. BS.


©Barney Spender 2015

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