interview: Hello from Harrison

Most of us uni students are swamped with assessments and revision right about now, however, I found it far more of interest to have a word with a Mr Kersey about his experiences fundraising, his opinions on the world wide web, and why you ought to stay well away from the Fugees.

The sandy-haired enigma that people call Harrison Kersey is a second-year student reading Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. Over his Easter break, he embarked on a two-wheeled woodland journey across Europe with two mates. This was in order to raise money for Medecins Sans Frontieres, a non-governmental organisation which works to aid victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and other disasters.

Having experienced the joy of cycling across France last summer, Harrison had initially planned the trip for fun. The mission brief was as follows. Kersey was to cycle about 800 miles eastwards from Hook of Holland to Berlin, accompanied by Stan, ‘sweaty and sensible’, and Arthur, a ‘freewheeling saint’. Though I was told that the expedition was gifted with gorgeous weather and a flat landscape, the trip wasn’t all gliding comfortably through the sunshine, for the boys kept it rough and tumble by wild-camping the whole way, pitching tents in whatever spots they could find. The inspiration to fundraise struck when a friend’s girlfriend commented on the surprising length of the route and suggested that they get sponsored. Harrison told me that it seems obvious looking back, and offered his keen sense of adventure as an explanation for his lack of previous enlightenment. ‘I guess to some people, cycling right across two countries is their idea of hell, whereas we were all pretty stoked about the idea’. Next, the boys had to choose where their donations were going. They eventually chose MSF in admiration of their incredibly important work and the bravery of the doctors, who ‘put their lives on the line to help those in need’. Trip planned and cause chosen, all was set for some good times.

Harrison told me about one of the many highlights of the trip. Having cycled over a hundred miles when they crossed the River Elbe, the active crew had promised themselves that they’d cross it before they stopped for the night. By the time that they did, there was nobody around. ‘It was dead quiet as we went over, the bridge and the water below all lit up beautifully by the moon. We all stood in the middle of the bridge, watching the water pass underneath us, knackered, but full of wonder at how far we’d come.’

There were some surprises along the way, however. Out of fuel for the camp stove, the three kings spent three hours making for Camping World, bikes following that shining beacon in the sky that we call Google Maps. Doubts started to emerge when they reached an industrial estate outside of Rheine, but the real downfall came at their arrival: ‘It was just a f*cking carpark full of huge white mobile homes, with a showroom selling televisions and sinks to customise them with. Turns out, “camping” means something very different in Europe; effectively what a camping holiday entails for them is you drive an enormous moving house to a spot near a lake or somewhere nice, and live exactly as you would do at home with satellite TV and an ensuite master bedroom.’ Looking for a bit more rustic wilderness, the travellers didn’t take the miracle too well. ‘Needless to say, we were hungry and pretty pissed off’.

Harrison, who has written for the Mancunion in the past, has now made Global Source in order to practice his writing and share his life with anyone who’s interested. On his blog, he has recorded his recent experiences abroad, including one of his funniest. He recounts sensible Stan getting bitten by a pig, which he charmingly characterises for us as Miss Oink:

‘Miss Oink got an apple core from me and a grape from Arthur, leaving Stan to choose between his apple and his trousers. Like Eve in the garden of Eden, he chose the fruit, and his joggers have the holes to prove it.’

Don’t worry I’ve got your backs. Hungry for more information, I asked for the full damage report. Turns out, ‘she just put a set of holes in his trousers. Almost like she’s practiced…’

And before you ask, when I saw these questions, ‘‘Will they make it to the border? What terrible monsters await them in the forests of Germany? Will Stan fall in love and elope with a tall and beautiful Dutch girl?’ you’re damned right that I got the answers. (‘Yes’, ‘All sorts, eagles, otters, owls, deer’ and ‘hopefully one day but not yet’).

Tumblr isn’t the only network that Harrison is active on, for he relied on the hearts of his Facebook friends to fundraise for the sponsored cycle. He detailed his take on the relationship between social media and charity work. ‘I think it’s a great tool! I think the concern about the negative impacts of social media can often overshadow the tremendous benefits it also offers.’ And he’s not wrong, for Facebook yielded two-thirds of the £813 that was donated to the cause. (Note that this is only a rough estimation based on the proportion of friends that donated as opposed to family).

Aside from MSF, Harrison supports non-profit organisations in the frequent perusal of charity shop wares and has raised money for JDRF a few times before. ‘It’s a Diabetes research charity, which is something that’s always been close to my heart as my little sister has been Type 1 Diabetic since she was a baby.’

However, ever the vigilante, the man warns us to stay wary. ‘Someone whose opinions I value once told me you shouldn’t donate to cancer research charities because they’ve already got so much money that they’re not really in need of any more. I don’t know how much truth there is to that, I’ve never looked into it myself, but it does seem to make sense. I remember a few years ago there was a scandal involving Wyclef Jean where he’d been embezzling funds from a charity he set up for victims of the earthquake in Haiti. What a scumbag. So yeah, any cancer charity with associations to members of the Fugees is probably one to avoid.’ Well, I guess A Change is Gonna Come now that we know The Score. (Did I take that a pun too far? Probably. It wasn’t great to begin with.)

And though his moral compass is most surely intact, Kersey ain’t a saint.  When I asked him about his past in fundraising he let me in on a triathlon-related secret. The man will run for charity but he’ll also cheat: ‘[I] did less running than everyone else. I thought I’d made an incredible comeback when I saw where I’d placed, but it turns out I’d done one lap too few. Oh well.’

On the subject of other young people and charity work, Kersey held what I see to be an equally useful and truthful insight. ‘I think the important thing is that people do what they can. It doesn’t have to be a massive endeavour to raise money for charity, even just running a 10k could be a platform for raising a couple of hundred quid.’

In terms of his plans for the future, Harrison hopes to hop on his bike again for his year abroad. ‘It’s older than I am, and it’s taken me around France, Holland and Germany, as well as being my stepdad’s when he lived in America. I think taking it back to Taiwan, where it was made, would be the cherry on the cake. A nice homecoming, and hopefully a good laugh as well.’ And this is a good place to leave it, for ‘a good laugh’ is an apt description of my conversation with Harrison, (always a pleasure), and I hope that any readers out there had one as well.

If you had fun reading about Harrison’s ‘wicked fun times’, have a peek at his blog here,  and check out his six-part journey soundtrack here:

‘Miss Oink’s Eastward Extravaganza’ features:

  1. Keep Ya Head Up by 2Pac,
  2. Spottieottiedopalscious by OutKast
  3. Flatiron by Suzanne Kraft
  4. Sense by King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard
  5. The Real Deal by GoldFish
  6. Didn’t I by Darondo)

Finally, if you can, have a look at skimming a little bit off the top of your bank balance to donate to MSF. You can do this via. the boys’ JustGiving page here, or go and give directly to MSF.

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