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The emotional story behind why friends Roy and Pete are embarking on a tour of Europe's major cities... in an £800 Ford Ka

 

Construction worker Roy Lucas is currently putting the final touches to plans for an ambitious road trip to Europe next month in an £800 Ford Ka with best friend, Peter Davies.

But behind all the last-minute preparation and anticipation lies a very poignant reason for his travels - the venture is a tribute to his inspiration and his hero - his dad Ernie who died in May this year.

"My dad had terminal cancer and was diagnosed about two and half years ago so we had plenty of time to prepare for what was to come," says Roy, who lives in Lisburn with wife Alison (30) and their two-and-half-year-old daughter Emily.

"He was so brave throughout and a true inspiration to us all. Unfortunately, in January he was diagnosed with brain cancer and his condition became rapid."

Two weeks before he passed away on May 8, Ernie was moved to hospice care at the Somerton Road in Belfast.

"I've never seen a place like it," says Roy. "It was amazing and so welcoming. Everyone from the doctors and nurses to the cleaners made us feel welcome and as cliched as it sounds, everyone always had a smile on their face. It was a happy place to be under very difficult circumstances.

"Nothing was too much bother for the staff. If I was sitting with dad or couldn't sleep, they made us a cup of tea at 3am.

"There was always someone to chat to, no matter what time of the day or night it was. There was always someone there to talk to and to share a chat and a cuppa with."

Roy recalls that in the last two weeks he spent quality time with his dad and his mum Angela.

"Dad and I would go to the coffee shop and talk for ages. He was a very smart, well-educated man and had an opinion on and could talk about everything.

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Roy with his mum and dad at his wedding

"We talked a lot about Brexit as it was in the news all the time. About borders and travelling. By this stage I had told dad I wanted to do something to thank the hospice for the work they do. He was in full support as he was so content and calm there, and knew he was being well looked after.

"One of the ideas we talked about was travelling all over Europe and visiting the different hospices in different countries and making people aware of the work they do.

"Dad loved this idea and got very excited and animated about it. That is one of the last conversations I had with dad. After that he became very weak and was medicated so he was sleeping a lot.

"He passed away in the early hours of the morning. He was surrounded by his family and it was very beautiful and peaceful. We couldn't settle and we all ended up in his room at just the right time.

"We were so thankful to everyone in the hospice who went out of their way to make his last days so peaceful and so dignified. It was exactly what dad would have wanted."

Roy reveals that the family have all had an adjustment to make as they come to terms with losing Ernie.

"It has hit mum especially hard. They were together for a long time but she finds wee signs that he is still around, like a chain he lost when he started treatment that she found just after he passed away."

A month after losing his father, Roy started to think seriously about how best to honour that promise to his dad - and help raise money for the hospice as well.

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Roy and Alison with their family on their big day

"I really wanted to raise vital funds for the hospice which costs millions to run every year and is free to everyone," he says.

"So Peter and I bought an old Ford Ka convertible for £800 and began planning our trip. We decided we would visit the 16 countries in Europe with hospices in them. Dad and I talked so much about this trip and about how cancer doesn't stop at borders, but is prevalent everywhere.

"Every hospice across Europe is offering the kind of services and support we received and we want to mark that by visiting them.

"It may seem like a madcap idea travelling around Europe in a beat-up old Ford Ka convertible, but I know it is what dad would have wanted me to do.

"As well as raising awareness about the work of the hospice, we are also raising funds for it. We are being sponsored and also have a justgiving page. Our target is £10,000."

Roy says that his wife Alison and mum Angela are fully behind his motoring adventure.

"They have listened as we have talked about and planned this for months and are very excited for us. They just want us to get around it all safely.

"We will be travelling from 6am to 11pm most days. Some nights we will book into a hostel and when we can, we will just pitch up a two-man tent which we will have in the back of the car.

"We are travelling light and taking as little as possible with us."

Roy and Peter's Great Tour begins on October 28 and they plan to make a total of 16 stops in 14 days. Roy said: "As regards our route, we will take the ferry over to Cairnryan and drive to the Glasgow Hospice. We will then go to Cardiff and London before travelling from Dover to Brussels. Stops then include Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Croatia, Slovenia, Venice, Milan, Zurich and Paris, and then we get the ferry home to Dublin.

"We hope to have a cup of tea in each of the hospices and share a bit about our experience.

"Dad was a real gentleman. He was the sort of man who would just say 'go for it' and he wouldn't have let anything stop him - we are embarking on this trip in the same spirit.

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Roy Lucas (left) and friend Peter Davies at the NI Hospice with their Ford Ka

"We hope the car holds up but we have a friend who is a mechanic who will give it a good going over before we leave. We plan to do as much of it as possible with the roof down."

One stop-off point will undoubtedly churn up mixed emotions for Roy.

"Berlin will be a difficult one as I had planned to take dad there for his 70th birthday, but sadly he got sick and couldn't make it.

"But I will be taking some of his ashes with me - so I can say dad and I made it to Berlin!

"Dad was an engineer by trade. He was very intelligent and a great friend. I am so grateful that he was my father. This trip is for him and in his memory. I know he will be with us every step of the way."

Roy says that some of his earliest memories of his dad involve music - his father was in a showband, The Confederates, that was very popular in the Sixties.

"Dad loved music and he was always teaching us to play the piano or the guitar. My sisters Stacy, who is 39, and Suzanne, who is 37, and I grew up listening to dad play music.

"When he wasn't playing music, he was building and working at the house. He often told the story of when he laid a concrete floor down in the house and I thought it would be a good idea to dig the floor up with my new Tonka truck ... he told that story until I was in my 30s. Even when he wasn't well, he was still trying to build and fix things."

And, as he and Pete are preparing to give the Ford Ka another road test, Roy made one last appeal: "We are okay about most of the countries we are going to visit, but we are concerned about Croatia and Hungary as we are worried about the language.

"So if anyone can help us out on that front with a few key words and phrases, then please get in touch."

To make a donation visit justgiving.com/the-great-tour

NI hospice charity heavily reliant on donations

Northern Ireland Hospice cares for 3,500 babies, children and adults with life-limiting illnesses and their families each year.

Demand for hospice services in Northern Ireland is increasing and the charity is now caring for over 90% of patients in their own homes. While hospice care is free to the patient, it is not free to provide and the charity relies heavily on support and donations from the public.

Following on from the opening of a new adult facility in north Belfast and a refurbishment programme at the Children's Hospice in Newtownabbey, the charity is now looking to the future and to meeting the palliative care demands of the local population.

As has been the case in children's services for many years, NI Hospice adult services is now extending its palliative care reach beyond cancer and striving to support those with dementia, neurological conditions and respiratory conditions using a palliative care model.

It costs in excess of £9m per annum to run Northern Ireland Hospice care services and the charity relies on voluntary income to fund circa 60% of these costs, with less than 40% being met by statutory funding sources.

For more information, visit nihospice.org or tel: 028 9078 1836.

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