IT’S only at the very end that the tears begin. “Something positive, that’s what we’ve held on to in the darkest moments,” says Lynne McNicoll ushering us out of her light-filled office.
“Seizing the day, living life, it’s what get’s you through. Now don’t get me started . . .” she blinks quickly as her eyes begin to fill.
Yet tears are the one thing you expect from her.
After all, how can raw emotion be far from the surface when through your charity work you’ve had to attend the funerals of children and teenagers who have bravely battled yet still lost their fight with cancer?
When your stepson has recently been killed while cycling to work? When 3000 cyclists who turn out for a campaign for better road safety hold a minute’s silence to remember him and others who have lost their lives on Edinburgh’s roads?
There were tears that day too. “Yes we were caught out on Saturday with the silence and the bells ringing,” says Lynne, looking across the living room to her husband Ian.
“It was incredibly moving. We were emotionally raw at that moment and then we were asked to lead the cyclists. We both had tears in our eyes.”
But rather than cry, Lynne and Ian got on their bikes and pedalled to parliament.
Which is perhaps the perfect metaphor for how they have dealt with Andrew’s death.
The 43-year-old was killed in a crash while cycling to work on Lanark Road in January. A keen cyclist and a new member of the Edinburgh Road Club, police are still trying to determine just what happened that morning. The inquiry into the crash is still ongoing and the police still have Andrew’s bike.
Lynne and Ian had heard that the Lanark Road was closed because of an accident on the radio that morning. An hour later they were at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Andrew died the same day, another grim statistic.
Four cyclists have died on Edinburgh’s roads in the last 12 months – the latest being 40-year-old Bryan Simons, who was in collision with a taxi on Corstorphine Road in March.
In April last year, 32-year-old Craig Newton died after being hit by a council bin lorry outside Broughton Primary School. Audrey Fyfe, 75, died after a collision with a car in Portobello Road last August.
But rather than sit and wait for the result of the police investigation – they admit they might never know what really happened – Andrew’s death has led his parents on a new crusade: cycle safety.
Both are now seasoned campaigners after Lynne set herself the goal to raise £50,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust when she turned 50. Around five years and £650,000 later, Lynne’s work helped establish a new unit at the Sick Kids for the care of teenagers with cancer, and plans have been made to have another at the Western General.
The couple, who live in Craiglockhart, have since gone on to establish their own charity It’s Good to Give, which since April 2010 has raised £180,000. Ultimately they want to raise £1 million to fund the build of a purpose-built respite house for young people and their families affected by cancer.
Right now though, their focus is on the Andrew Cyclist Charitable Trust, which, despite only gaining full charity registration yesterday, has already raised more than £6000, the majority from Balfour Beattie, Andrew’s employer.
“The day after Andrew died we were talking about what we could do,” says Lynne. “I think it’s in me to be a campaigner and we are both positive people, so we wanted something good to come out of what had happened. We needed to find something positive to focus on. We couldn’t let it be for nothing. It’s a way to help us cope with our loss.
“We had the web page up and running within 24 hours after a friend volunteered to set one up and worked till 4am to do it. We have had such tremendous support.”
The trust is campaigning to make roads safer – including restricting parking near traffic islands and reducing speed limits, especially on Lanark Road, where Andrew died.
Their thoughts on safety chimed perfectly with those involved in the Pedal on Parliament demo at the weekend.
“I’m on Twitter and heard about it through that,” says Lynne. “We got in touch with the organisers, they were pleased to have us along and we really thought it was something we wanted to support.
“We really were taken aback when they asked us to lead everyone off. I was particularly pleased when they told me I was going too fast. It was an amazing day, although my bahookey is still rather sore. I hadn’t been on a bike in about three years.”
Growing up in Comely Bank, Lynne never learned to ride a bike – while Ian, who describes himself as a “fairweather cyclist” has been cycling since he was seven.
“I decided to learn to cycle when I turned 50 as part of that I can do anything thing,” laughs Lynne. “Andrew took me out a few times to give me some advice, but spent most of the time laughing. Then when I was training to climb the Himalayas for charity, I was given some more help in cycling as part of my fitness programme and I really enjoyed it. I cycled for over a year or so, but then I got scared on the roads. Ian stopped about the same time as he no longer enjoyed cycling on the roads either.
“So Saturday was the first time back in the saddle. But I think we’re going to continue with it – just find some quieter roads.”
Former project manager Ian, 67, adds: “Andrew always cycled. He loved it, and had a number of bikes, which we couldn’t believe the price of. He would cycle to work every day. That’s where he was headed the day he died. But we never really spoke about road safety, or his thoughts on it. I think he would be delighted, though, that we were involved on Saturday and what we’re doing in his name. It seemed a natural thing to do. I think Andrew would have been well chuffed with us.”
One of their major aims, they say, is to break down the barriers which seem to exist between car drivers and cyclists. “There seems to be a lot of violence in the words that are spoken between the two,” says Lynne. “It’s horrendous. We are all road users, we all need to respect each other on the road. We shouldn’t be just criticising each other’s road use but working together to make things better for everyone. All that anger should be channelled to make things better.
“Lothian and Borders have been running a great Drive Safe, Cycle Safe campaign this month which aims to remind drivers that red boxes at traffic lights are for cyclists, but also to remind cyclists that they have to obey red lights. I think people have forgotten the rules of the road.
“So many people have said to me that they’d love to get back on their bikes, to get their children on their bikes, but they’re too scared on the roads. We want to change that.”
Ian agrees. “We don’t want there to be endless talking about it, but for something to actually be done.
“There’s been a lot of focus on cycling by the politicians in the run up to the council elections, so I don’t think they can back away from it, whoever has the power.”
As we wander from their living room to Lynne’s office, she points out photos of children she’s met through her cancer charity, including Zoe King, who had a three-year battle with soft tissue sarcoma before dying just before her 18th birthday.
“She has a special place in my heart,” says Lynne. “Life has many setbacks, things that throw you off course, but you’ve got to keep on going, and even when it’s something terrible you can do something positive out of it.”
It’s that positivity that they both hold on to. “At least we had Andrew for 43 years,” says Ian. “Some of the parents we know never even had their children for three years. You do have to look for the positive, to do something positive with that loss.”
A DAY TO REMEMBER
WHILE friends of the McNicolls rallied round to support them with the launch of the Andrew Cyclist Charitable Trust – from creating websites to logos and donating money – a stranger also contacted them, touched by Andrew’s death and their positive outlook.
As a result, Alastair Guild has organised A Concert for Andrew at Polwarth Parish Church next Friday.
Lynne says: “Alastair didn’t know us or Andrew and got in touch out of the blue. We were blown away by the fact that he wanted to do this for the charity and for Andrew. It will be an amazing concert and, for once, we just have to buy tickets and turn up.”
Alastair, a freelance writer who has organised concerts for organisations including the United Nations and who is also a cyclist, says he was moved by the story of Andrew’s death – and his smiling face – after reading about it in the News. “I was also touched by the fact that Lynne and Ian had already decided to try to do something positive out of it,” he says.
“I have always cycled and I’m aware every time I go out on the bike how dangerous it can be. I wasn’t sure how Lynne and Ian would react to the idea of a concert, but they were so positive.”
The concert will see soprano Natasha Day take to the stage along with pianist George Duthie, guitarist Matthew McAllister and flautist Aisling Agnew.
“Natasha has an amazing voice,” says Alastair. “She sang in Waverley Station recently and her voice soared above all the other noises. Matthew has travelled all over the world and is an astounding guitarist.”
Tickets for the May 11 concert are now on sale at the Usher Hall box office priced £12 (£8). To book, call 0131-228 1155 or visit www.usherhall.co.uk