What do you do when someone tells you to cut off all your hair? Hair you’d grown long over many years.
Royd Tolkien’s first gut reaction was ‘No way!’ But then he cut all his hair off. Why? Because his little brother Mike asked him to. Cutting short his once long hair, was one challenge from a list of 50 that his brother had tasked him with. Doing standup comedy at a gay comedy club was another.
“He [Mike] made me do things that were outside of my comfort zone.” – Royd
Royd and Mike Tolkien, great grandsons of J.R.R. Tolkien. “Every family has one, the brother who repeatedly climbed to the top rung of the ladder, the cousin who played with matches but never got burnt, the kid with an inborn, insatiable appetite for risk, always on the lookout for the next rush. That’s my little brother, Mike.”
Royd has been travelling around New Zealand on an epic adventure set by his late brother, Mike Tolkien. Mike suffered from Motor Neuron Disease (also known as ALS: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and Lou Gehrig’s Disease and, it was after his death that Royd’s quest began.
ALS destroys neurons that send signals to different parts of the body, while keeping the mind perfectly intact. Those afflicted become prisoners inside their own body as the disease aggressively renders their physical form useless.
Mike, an adrenaline junkie, impressed his brother with his inner strength, spirit and determination to face ALS head on, while at the same time slowly losing the ability to do physical activities he once did with ease.
Before he passed away, Mike set Royd a challenge – a quest their great grandfather J.R.R. Tolkien, and Gandalf, would be proud of. Mike had drawn up a bucket list for Royd. He had compiled this list over the last two years of his life and on it were 50 crazy things he wanted his brother Royd to do in New Zealand.
Royd is completing this list in memory of his brother Mike and to help raise awareness about ADSL. In doing so, he has faced many of his own personal fears, just as Mike had to face his.
He brought a team with him to document his journey: a cameraman, director and an assistant. Producers in England are coordinating Mike’s list of activities and Royd’s journey logistics from A to B. The plan was to turn Royd’s quest into a 90 minute documentary called There's a Hole in my Bucket. The feature documentary is currently being edited in London and it’s Royd’s goal to be back in New Zealand in November to promote and raise awareness for ADSL.
By design, Royd doesn’t know what tasks are included on the bucket list – they are only revealed at the very last minute. This is deliberate, to capture on film a genuine reaction to each one as it is read. Imagine, then, Royd’s surprise at the first task on the bucket list - that he trip over at Mike’s funeral.
Royd Tolkien appeared as a guest speaker at The Learning Connexion, on Monday 19th June. He came to talk about how conquering fear of the unknown can lead to a new outlook on life; that, sometimes, doing things that are hard or difficult makes you grow in ways you never imagined.
Watch the video of Royd talking at The Learning Connexion to hear more about the rest of the bucket list tasks and his journey:
In talking about the bucket list tasks he says, “It doesn’t matter, looking like a dick...There was no let off for Mike...ADSL is relentless...My discomfort, embarrassment doesn’t matter...Mike never complained.”
One of the tasks was deliberately left blank. Mike had given Royd the option to pick his own challenge. Appearing on Seven Sharp News, and asking for suggestions on what to do, a viewer proposed carving a piece of pounamu, New Zealand greenstone.
Royd carving pounamu.
TLC jewellery tutor, Hanne Eriksen Mapp and her partner Owen, helped Royd achieve this task. They helped Royd to design and carve a pendant made-up of two halves that join together.
He intends to leave one half of the piece with Mike’s ashes on top of Machu Picchu and gift the other half to Mike’s son on his return home.
Machu Picchu is the very last task left on the bucket list. Royd shared with those attending The Learning Connexion talk, that he is reluctant to fulfill this last one as it means an end to the journey and a final farewell to his beloved brother Mike.
Royd Tolkien and student Morgan Linforth in the Ceramics Studio at The Learning Connexion. Morgan gifted Royd one of her hand crafted ceramic mugs as a sign of appreciation after attending his talk. He said he looked forward to drinking his next lot of Builder’s tea in it. Builder's tea is a British English colloquial term for a strong cup of tea. It takes its name from the inexpensive tea commonly drunk by labourers taking a break, and is typically brewed in a mug with a teabag, milk and sugar.
Royd’s journey has been about ‘grabbing life by the balls’ and spreading hope; learning how to conquer fear, seize the day, and achieve things you might have once thought were impossible. Now he wants to help others; to give something back. It is this mindset that the staff and students at The Learning Connexion school of creativity and art admire and identify strongly with.
Here, at The Learning Connexion, students reclaim the confidence in making art that they once had as children. They learn skills in creative thinking that enable them to meet any challenge head on. They learn how to feel the fear and do it anyway; to get back up when they fall down. And, every day, they work hard at having fun and doing what they love.
To enquire about studying at The Learning Connexion School of Art and Creativity call 0800 278 769 or request a prospectus.
To find out more about Royd’s journey and be informed on when the movie, There's a Hole in my Bucket, will be out, visit: roydtolkien.me
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time given us.”