It’s All About The Hair

You would expect that after a diagnosis of killer boobies, the focus of other people’s attention would be very much on your chest area. The last few weeks have shown quite clearly that it’s all about your hair.

Now before I start, let me clarify that I’m talking about the mop that previously covered my head. The chemotherapy drugs have been doing their job and destroyed just about every hair follicle from my neck down, giving me a fabulous result that years of waxing, plucking and laser treatment never quite achieved! However at the time of writing I still have my eyelashes and a fairly good attempt at eyebrows, as well as a reasonable smattering of die-hard bristles across my scalp to help minimise the shine of my skin.

After spending a small fortune on wigs and jaunty scarves, two weeks ago I found myself getting increasingly frustrated by the preoccupation that comes with making sure that a) knots are secure and b) there are no strange areas of scalp exposed whilst out and about. Following some very wise words from one daughter (“Mum, you’ve had cancer and nothing is as scary as that”) and a reality check from another daughter (“Mum, I’m not embarrassed to be seen out with you. It’s your behaviour that is embarrassing”) I decided to go commando and ditch the head covering on a day to day basis. It’s been an interesting experience…

…firstly, not many people seemed to actually be bothered by it! In a society that is obsessed by how we look, I think that actually our appearance needs to be rather shocking in order to get noticed. Beyond the honest looks of confusion by young children, I’ve not experienced anyone laughing or mocking or any of the other reactions I had feared.

The social filters of adults are a different matter. There was the checkout lady at Tescos who asked if I was doing ‘it’ for charity – hmm, yes sponsored walks are so last year, thought I’d get cancer instead – would you like the link to my Justgiving page? Thinking of having my left leg amputated next year just to make sure I hit my target! Undaunted she then proceeded to ask me where my cancer was and to regale with the story of how her friend was dying from this illness. So much easier if she would have stuck to the corporate script and asked me if I needed carrier bags or help with the packing.

Then last week whilst out shopping I was approached by an older lady who was dressed straight out of a WI fashion magazine and asked “Excuse me dear – are you struggling with cancer?” Now I did take a moment before responding because this conversation could have gone in many different ways, so I smiled and said that I was having chemotherapy at the moment – and it seems that her daughter had undergone similar treatment last year and had opted to ditch the headscarves, stating that she wasn’t going to hide from how the cancer or its treatment had changed her. Seems that she’s doing very well now, and this lovely lady simply wanted to applaud my decision too!

Finally today I was in a small queue, waiting to pay for some baking goods and the woman in front was loudly telling the staff about how she was taking part in the Macmillan charity head shave at the end of the month as her friend had recently started chemotherapy for breast cancer and lost her hair so she wanted to “be the same as her.” Yes, I was stood there with my patchy scalp on show, dressed in tight jeans and high heels so clearly not electing for a hairstyle that matched a personal fashion sense. On and on she went, all about how emotional she felt about losing her hair, how she just wanted to feel like her friend was feeling at the moment. I was honestly lost for words – would it have been rude to say that losing her hair wouldn’t even get her close to what her friend was probably going through right now? That letting your GHDs gather dust was not the same as spending days and days trying to get endless nausea under control? That the savings on shampoo and conditioner did not compensate for the sore mouth you get after your saliva turns to slime and the ulcers that appear in your cheeks and under your tongue? That the benefits of a ‘wash and go’ head were lost when the fatigue that regularly descends makes it virtually impossible to even stand up at times?

Losing my hair is such a small part of this journey and yet it’s been what the majority of people have asked me about or commented on, from being told that I’m very brave (no I’m not, I still get scared about the future) to the fact that I’m lucky because I have a great shape to my scalp (another body part for women to worry about!).

And it’s all about perspective – when I go to Christies for my treatment I suspect there may be patients who are envious of my final few follicles!


Feeling the Fear – But Doing It Anyway

According to Wikipedia, endurance is explained as “the ability to exert and remain active for a long period of time, as well as the ability to resist, withstand, recover from, and have immunity to trauma, wounds, or fatigue.”

Kind of sums up the last 10 days.

Chemo session number 2 was uneventful, went home feeling tired but relieved. However within a couple of hours the nausea was building so I hit the anti-sickness meds hard but nothing was working. By early evening I was in a pretty bad way but the out of hours GP said it would be six hours before they could get to me with an injection…so grateful for a medical friend who quickly came round to administer a shot. However that too also couldn’t stop the sickness, so 10pm found me sobbing on the phone to the Chemo Hotline (yep!) at the Christie, who promised me that if I came in they would be able to help. True to their word, they gave me an injection which finally did the trick.

As I’ve said before, nausea and needles are the two medical procedures that I fear the most and clearly someone ‘up there’ was setting me a challenge…my Portacath also decided not to play so I ended up with an IV cannula in my elbow for saline and another one under the skin of my arm for the anti-sickness drugs. The next two days passed in a bit of a blur – I remember desperately trying to stay awake when family visited but ultimately failing miserably – until I came home on Saturday evening, still feeling sick but able to keep small amounts of food and fluid down.

By Wednesday I started to feel back to being me again, more tired than usual but able to focus on conversations and stay awake for more than a few hours. Now I’m in my two good weeks so trying to balance the need for rest and recovery with the urge to make the most of every day.

The oncologist called to say they had reviewed my treatment plan and instead of a further dose of what clearly makes me very poorly, I’m now switching to the next chemo drug early. I’ll need four cycles of this one (rather than the three, originally planned) but I shouldn’t be as sick. It also means I can start the Herceptin therapy a little earlier – and that’s the one I need to help stop me getting another tumour. The downside is that I’ll probably get bone pain (which can be managed to a degree with painkillers) and I’ll be very tired as this one tends to wipe out a good number of both red and white blood cells. Chemo – the gift that just keeps on giving!

So why the affinity with the description of endurance? Because the one thing that has kept me focused on getting through everything so far since my diagnosis has been the belief that all of this is temporary. That at some point in the future I won’t have to make every decision based around my cancer or treatment. That I’ll be able to arrange to have a meal out with friends without first checking where I’ll be in my treatment cycle. That I’ll be able to chose what to wear without thinking if I have a matching scarf to cover my head with. That I’ll be able to book a holiday without wondering if I’ll be able to get travel insurance by then. That my blog will be about something else than this.

I still fear nausea, but I know that when it gets to the point where I’m retching non-stop the hospital will give me an injection to control it. I still get anxious at the thought of injections, but sometimes they bring relief and it’s worth a few moments of hurt to get to a better place.

These last 10 days I’ve learnt to resist the urge to say “enough, I can’t do this any more.” I’ve been able to withstand my body responding to highly toxic drugs in ways that make me very upset. I’ve seen how I do recover and come back to those who love me.

And I won’t let my fears decide my fate.733a4c3ca3781fc6282fa5f53b166729

Turning The Corner

You have no idea how good it is to be able to eat again.

We often talk about being really hungry but after nearly five days of not eating, trust me the sheer pleasure of actually feeling hungry and being able to satisfy that need to eat is the best thing to have happened to me in days.

My first cycle of chemo has now been undertaken, not quite ‘through it’ yet as my white blood cells will drop in number in the next week as a response but hopefully they will recover well so that I can be subjected to this fun all over again.

The scariest part of chemo is not knowing how your body is going to respond to the drugs – so I sat there on Thursday in an anxious state as the lovely nurse injected two large syringes of pink stuff (the one that causes your hair to fall out) and one large syringe of clear stuff (that gives you an itchy nose). An hour later it was time to go home and I slept for 10 hours, simply from the relief of having got through the day.

Friday was OK – some nausea but manageable with the four sets of drugs I had been sent home with. In the afternoon Jeremy had the pleasure of giving me an injection in my thigh, which would help stimulate my bone marrow over the following week to counteract the immunity drop caused by the chemo. Afterwards I slept for another six hours but woke feeling really poorly – my temperature had dropped and clearly all was not as it should be. A midnight trip to the Christie and overnight stay with antibiotics meant that Saturday was a little better, but I was still feeling very sick and unable to eat.

Sunday and Monday came around with not much improvement in the sickness but a huge invite for one to The Pity Party that comes after the steroids finish. All I can say is that they were dark days and challenged me more than I had ever thought I would – as someone who thinks that she has enough mental strength to get through almost anything, those days have made me realise that it’s not about being strong enough or being determined enough, it’s just about being.

Monday afternoon my rescue came in the form of another anti-sickness medicine (my others had all run out) and it was wonderful – a strange tripping experience as I was definitely not functioning normally and do have recollections of wonderful feelings of calmness and contentment – but I had cheese and biscuits for tea and they were the most delicious foods ever! Followed by a decent night’s sleep and woke in the morning to actually feeling hungry and being able to eat some toast, which was heaven.

A trip to the supermarket to stock the fridge again (not driving yet, still feel a bit spaced out) and catching up on e-mails, messages etc. I doubt I’ll be out for a run again soon but I’m certainly starting to feel a bit more like me again.

This is going to be one hell of a ride but it’s about taking the help you need – whether that’s a super-strong anti-sickness tablet or simply saying to a friend “I can’t do this” – I need to remember that this is the journey, not the destination.



Time To Rock and Roll

Right, so today is D-Day – or C-Day to be more precise. It’s the first of my six chemo sessions (there’s a 3 week break between each one) and I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. The last couple of weeks have been rather surreal and I’ve been kept very busy putting Team Suzanne together.

I’ve devised a list of rules that we all have to abide by over the next 18 weeks…

  • There will be times when I need to have a good cry and you have to let me. Don’t tell me to be strong or to be positive, just supply me with tissues.
  • There will be times when I try to act tougher than I really am – play the game and keep up the pretence, it’s how I’m coping.
  • There will be times when I’m actually rocking this shit, tell me how great I am!
  • Please keep in touch with me – a text, a FB message, a phone call, an e-mail. You’re not mithering me and it’s good to know that even though I might be off the social radar for a short while, you include me.
  • Inappropriate jokes are essential, the more outrageous the better. Make me cry with laughter – like the friend last week when I was moaning about how old I’m going to look with no hair, no eyebrows, no eye lashes – until she pointed out that at least my ‘foof’ will only look 6 years old! Priceless.
  • Please don’t get offended that I can’t hug you – my immunity will be shot to pieces and I need to keep myself well. If you have a sniffle or a cough then please meet up with me another time – I won’t be upset and I won’t get poorly.
  • Chocolate makes everything better.
  • As do diamonds (only joking – apart from Jeremy!)
  • I need suggestions for Netflix – already lined up ‘Orange is the new black’ and ‘House of Cards’ – so all ideas welcome.

Time to get my Big Girl Knickers on.


The Good Side Of Bad

I hadn’t realised how much I use words – and writing – as an outlet for thoughts and feelings until 5 weeks ago when my children asked me not to blog about what was happening regarding my cancer diagnosis. The shock, numbness and denial we were all experiencing in those early days may have provided a rich source of content but it was right that they weren’t made public then. Despite what some people think, I don’t live my life via Facebook and other social media and therefore have been rather selective about what I share and how I do so.

As I move into the next stage of this unenviable journey, I’ve been forced to think about how I’m going to stay focused. For me, words have always been how I’ve expressed myself. I’ve often joked that I don’t fight with my fists but with my mouth! You never need worry that in an angry moment I’ll give you a nasty thump, but you may find yourself wounded with a very unkind (but probably spot-on!) observation of your worth to me.

So to balance the need for me to express my thoughts with the sensible approach to not always sharing everything right here, right now I’m doubling up! I’m keeping a private journal of this journey where I can safely offload all my thoughts – both happy and scared – without fear of upsetting anyone I love, yet some of the words may well find their way into this blog if they serve a purpose. I’m still finding humour in the most challenging of situations and sometimes those stories need to be shared with friends!

Cancer and chemo humour is all about perspective – how things that might be important to one person have little relevance to another. Such as the day before I was due for my surgery and the technician taking my blood shouted at me for moving my arm just as she inserted the needle, which she told me would result in me getting a bruise inside my elbow. She couldn’t understand why I found that funny until I explained that the following day I was due to have a chunk of my breast and armpit removed so a small bruise wasn’t too much of a problem. She thought quietly for a moment and then simply said “Fair enough!”

Or the amazing anaesthetist who recognised just how my mind works when I apologised for using the ‘F’ word when she inserted the canula in my hand before sending me off to sleep. Her response was she loved to use that word herself and so I drifted off to her asking the team for all the f***ing drips and drugs!

At the moment I’m in a bit of a lull – recovering well from the surgery and relieved to be cancer-free but at the same time busy planning for the chemo, which will hopefully start in less than two weeks. And whilst needles and nausea are my two biggest fears when it comes to medical problems my focus at the moment is getting through the next few months when I won’t be full of energy and being the strong person that everyone thinks I am.

I have genuinely been overwhelmed with the love and support shown over these last few weeks, the belief that other people have that I’m made of strong enough stuff to get through the treatment and then get on with my life. I’ve also been moved to tears by the kindness of strangers – when cancelling holidays and events that I’d signed up for I’ve received really personal e-mails back, sharing their own experiences of loved ones with breast cancer. I’m a new member of the teaching team at MMU and yet there has been nothing but encouragement and happy rescheduling.

I’ve been busy putting Team Suzanne together – the family and friends who will share the days when I’m feeling steroid-induced euphoria as well as the times when I just want to crawl under my duvet and cry. Trust me, you will all be called upon at some point!

Being positive will not cure me – that will be down to the scary combination of lethal drugs that will be pumping through my blood later this month. Being strong won’t happen all the time – I’m human, I’m scared. But writing it all down will be how I manage to get through it and so I want to thank you for being by my side. Whether you’re simply offering love, prayers and thoughts or being my provider of food, endless medical advice or psychological help (also known – by one of my friends – as ‘just telling you to stop thinking too much and get on with it’) then please know that my gratitude goes beyond words.

And that doesn’t happen too often!


A Letter To My Mum

Dear mum,

Tonight I’ll be lighting a yartzeit candle – a memorial candle that burns for 24 hours and lit on the anniversary of the death of a close relative. I’m writing this letter because it just feels too long since we last spoke, since we last had a chat about ordinary stuff, about the every day things.

Everyone told me that the first year would be the worst – the first time we did things without you there. And although it was hard, I find that as each year passes the need to see you or speak with you actually gets stronger. I’ve learnt to live without you but not with losing you.

I still have your number in my phone, you’re still my friend on Facebook. When is the right time to change these?

Strangely, it’s not the big times when I miss you most, but the little, almost inconsequential things that still bring tears to my eyes and a great big lump to my throat.

Like spending the day shopping with Amy in London and having a fabulous time, culminating in both of us splurging a rather indecent amount of money on a fabulous pair of high heels. And as we queued up to pay we laughed at how you would always insist on trying on our new shoes and then acting surprised that they wouldn’t fit, even though you were at least a size bigger than us. And in that moment of remembering, my heart broke all over again.

Or when we go on holiday and after landing and waiting for our luggage, I don’t need to text to tell you that we’ve landed safely. Given the recent news coverage when a plane goes missing, it did seem a little strange to think that without that text you might never had known we had arrived safely, but I still miss sending it to you.

Josh got engaged last month, which is wonderful. But it was so hard because what I really wanted to do was call and tell you the lovely news and then have to ask you to not tell anyone for the next few hours whilst he told their friends, knowing that the moment I hung up you would ignore my request and proudly call everyone and anyone in true Sybil fashion!

Mother’s Day has come and gone three times and that always makes me feel lost. If you’re a single person on Valentine’s Day you can rebel against the hype and declare yourself proud to be independent. Doesn’t quite work the same way when there’s no need to queue in Clintons or make merry in the M&S Flower Shop.

I want Jess to make me laugh when she complains that you still grab her arm very tight when crossing a road, even though she’s now 18 years old. I want Laura to know about your childhood years, stories that are now lost.

234_14407407810_9844_nI miss trying to make arrangements to spend time with you, but getting frustrated that your social life was far better than mine. I miss the way you could just make a comment that would make me feel 14 years old again – and I’d then behave like a sulky teenager too.

I miss taking your presence for granted, for believing that we would have many more years together and thinking that there was always another day to make plans with you. I miss the endless jokey e-mails you forwarded to me on a daily basis, none of which were that funny!

In the last year I’ve had quite a career change and for the first time you would probably appreciate the job that I do. Seven years ago when I decided to freelance you never quite got how I could work for myself but that meant working for other people too. I miss my mum proudly telling everyone her daughter is now a teacher – even though you still probably wouldn’t understand what marketing communications is!

I get jealous of friends who have lost parents but had time to say goodbye first. I get anxious around friends who lost a parent as suddenly as I lost you – I can see in their eyes the shock and disbelief of what’s happened. And in some strange way, you’re the person I really want to talk to about it.

I miss you sitting in my kitchen, trying to complete a Sudoku puzzle over endless cups of tea. I miss you keeping me up to date with all the Nottingham family news, making up the bits that you’re not sure of so that it just sounds more interesting.

I want to tell you that my brother and I are close again, for you to see us all together as a family. I want you to meet our dogs and spoil them, as I know you would. I want to have a conversation with you where you ask what’s new, and I just say “nothing much.”

So I’ll light my candle tonight and remember you with love as I have done every day for the last three years. You did a good job mum – I turned out OK!



An (Almost) Perfect 10!

The best way to start your day? When you get on the scales to weigh yourself and the first number is lower than it’s been for the past four years!

OK, this only works if you still use old-fashioned stones and pounds but for me, having the number 10 at the beginning is brilliant news! It means that the last six weeks of changing my diet and exercise routine has really paid off and that motivates me to keep going in the months ahead.

To update you on the sugar-free approach – not going to lie, the first three weeks were hell! I’ve never really smoked but I now understand just how overwhelming cravings can be and trying to get by with just will-power alone is very, very difficult. But although I now still look at chocolate or sweet puddings and think “Ooooh, that looks rather tasty!” I wait for the moment to pass and focus on how good my clothes are feeling at the moment! I’ll admit that Kate Moss wasn’t thinking about impressionable young girls and the horror of eating disorders when she said it, but her comment of “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is something that definitely resonates and focuses me these days. Although I still have a long way to go before I would consider me skinny!

What’s really worked for me has been a fabulous App, recommended by a friend and has been amazing! It’s made me record absolutely every time I eat, drink and exercise – and being someone with strong obsessive compulsive traits updating via the App  has been central to my life this year! In all honesty, I hadn’t realised just how many calories I had been consuming each day – when you’re a constant grazer like I was, then it’s easy for them to add up. So I started on 1600 calories a day and now that I’m heading towards my target weight (which needs to be another number lower!) it’s reduced to 1500 a day, which is all achievable if you keep in control.

I’ve also increased my exercise to three or four times a week – either military fitness classes or swimming (the open water swimming season starts in a couple of months!) so that’s also helped to gain better muscle tone.

And of course, we now have an extra mouth begging for my food at meal times! Jack the Yapper – as our new puppy has been named – has quickly learnt that if I’m going to the fridge or doing something at the oven, it means food so he follows me around the kitchen and yaps constantly until he gets a treat. Interestingly, his weight has doubled since we got him last month and we all laugh at how heavy he’s become, but I know that since January I’ve lost more weight than he currently is!

Time to dust off the skinny jeans…..!


Turning Negatives Into Positives

They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your five-year plan.

Because you can set all the goals you like and make as many new year resolutions as you can think of, but it doesn’t mean they’ll happen. When I look back at my blog entry from a year ago I can’t help but smile because 2013 didn’t exactly work out as planned.

Triathlon entries were cancelled because of my knee surgery.

The skinny jeans remained gathering dust because I couldn’t train (and comforted myself with eating instead).

Plans for returning to University to study for a PhD were halted.

My book never got written.

But it was a much better year than I’d hoped for because the injury made me review my training and now I’m back feeling fitter and stronger than before, I bought some much nicer jeans than fit really well, my work has taken a completely new and exciting direction and my book is still evolving and developing in my quieter moments.

So this year I thought that instead of making New Year resolutions full of what I’m going to do, I thought I’d create a list of all the things I’m not going to do in 2014. In no particular order, these are:

1. I’m not eating sugar for the whole of January. Many of my friends are doing a ‘dryathlon’ this month and giving up alcohol; my addiction has always been to the sweet stuff and I reckon it’s about time I knocked this on the head!

2. I’m not apologising for my use of social media. Over the years ‘friends’ have felt it perfectly acceptable to greet me with the words “I don’t need to ask what you’ve been up to because you write everything you do on Facebook!” No I don’t. I write what I want to share with others on social media, but trust me there is an awful lot of stuff that I do, feel, think and worry about that never makes it into the digital world. I’m fed up with trying to justify it with explanations of how I work in marketing communications and therefore need to epitomise good practice to my clients. It’s quite simple really, if you don’t want to know then turn me off from your news feed. I use social media to have conversations with people, share ideas, give opinions, support through tricky times, share happy times. Nope, from now on if you moan about what I write I’ll just unfriend you.

3. I’m not going to ignore MOTs. Now this has nothing to do with car maintenance, but a brilliant phrase used by a very good friend of mine, Chris Barrow. The acronym stands for Moment Of Truth – when something happens, someone says something or treats you in a certain way, when there is a blinding moment of clarity and you realise that maybe the relationship you have with that person, shop, company, supplier, or friend really isn’t what you have been thinking it is. And that’s the time to act – either by explaining how you feel or simply realising that the best thing you can do is move on without them.

4. I’m not going to keep apologising for my age. So what if I can’t run as fast as those who are 20 years younger, I’m still doing more than many others in their sixth decade (yikes!). And yes, as a trainee teacher I’m the only one on my course who remembers 11+ exams, O’levels and corporal punishment but I can call on a wealth of life experiences that make my lessons rich and interesting, I’m not phased by having to stand up in front of large numbers of students in a lecture hall and having four children has given me all the training I need to perfect my ‘classroom stare.’

And I’m not throwing out my skinny jeans just yet, either!





I’m sat at Washington Airport, waiting for our final flight of the holiday to be called. It’s hard to believe we’ve been away for only just over two weeks as it seems that we’ve done so much and travelled so far during our 16 days here.

Many thanks to all of you who have commented about how you’ve enjoyed these holiday blogs; I’ve enjoyed writing them and it helps us remember all the little stories and experiences too.

California really is a huge but fabulous state to visit, we’ve been really lucky to have been able to cover so much here and yet we feel we’re leaving only having seen a fraction of what it offers. So I thought this blog could focus on a few things that I’ve noticed but not mentioned before:

1. Dogs – they love them here! Restaurants advertise that they welcome them and everywhere we went, people were walking their pooches. Summed up at San Diego airport earlier today when we were heading towards the departure gate and passed a Dog Relief station – yep, right there between the Ladies and Gents toilets was a room that was furnished with artificial grass so that they could – errr – ‘go’ before they boarded the plane!

2. Baby George – the Americans are totally obsessed with our Royal Family and the latest heir to the throne. As soon as they realised we were British, it was the first question they asked – “What do you think about the gorgeous new baby?”. And seemed offended that we didn’t have photos to show them on our phones.

3. The price of petrol – we got very excited when we first filled up Sally as it was $4.95 a gallon. Until we then headed out of Death Valley and into civilisation and realised that it’s only $3.95 everywhere else!

4. Cash dispensers – OK, over here there is a little plastic cover over the slot that dispenses the money and it seems that you are supposed to make sure it’s closed before you begin. Otherwise it spews out $20 dollar bills all over the pavement and you have a frantic few moments torn between chasing after them or staying with the machine till it finishes.

5. Their obsession with the elevation and population of every town you pass through. How often do they update the figures? And to be honest, the fact that the town of Harmony only has a population of 18 should really trigger an investigation by Social Services.

6. They can turn a simple structure into a fairground ride. Where we stayed in San Diego was on an island, with a two mile, 250ft high bridge connecting it to the mainland. And only two lanes per side. The fact that the tour trolley driver drove across it at high speed whilst blasting out music from ‘Top Gun’ was not quite the experience I had been expecting!

7. Music – this was going to be a difficult one for us to agree on, two weeks in a car together and with very different tastes in bands. But the best thing ever was the Eddie Stobart Trucking Songs triple disc set that our son bought Jeremy for his birthday – absolutely brilliant and assured several hours of roof down, sunshine basking car time.

Tomorrow it’s back to family, friends and work.

And deciding where we go next year!


I guess it’s a sign of a good holiday when you don’t have time to write a blog post, so sorry if this one is a little longer than usual but we have quite a lot to catch up on!

After breakfast and a few hours of sight-seeing in San Francisco we began our journey south down the Californian coastline, except that the sat nav clearly wanted us to take a quicker route which didn’t hug the sea-shore. Which meant a rather frantic first hour trying to cross the city centre, avoiding numerous road closures, other drivers and me having to say out loud “Drive on the right, drive on the right” at every junction.

Finally made it to Carmel after just another two hours, hotel set high up on a cliff top over-looking the ocean below. However the journey up there had been rather fraught with endless “is this where we go?” conversations between me, Jeremy and the sat nav to the point where we decided not to venture back out that evening but order room service, watch a DVD and put the complimentary bottle of champagne and box of chocolates to good use!

The next day we went into Carmel – after discovering a very simple and easy route back down off the cliff top. I have to say that Carmel is absolutely beautiful and it would be my dream place to retire – gorgeous little shops and cafes, a beautiful beach and a really lovely, relaxed atmosphere to the town.

Now I think at this point I should mention the driving issue of this holiday. Before we left the UK we agreed to split the driving – we both enjoy it, although I’ve driven several times before in the States and Jeremy has never driven here. So on our first full day, when we drove from Death Valley to Yosemite, I did the first two hours and then he took over for the next two. Now I’m not going to disclose private conversations that happen within a marriage but the outcome was that afterwards he was promoted to the much more important role of Chief Navigator, whilst I would remain the driver for the rest of the holiday.

And he’s been very good at it, even though the sat nav worked brilliantly. He has been really great – often identifying a different route than that shown on the display screen, suggesting it to me and then helpfully pointing out the road that I should have gone down – as we pass it. Or telling me that I should turn before the display tells me to. Or shouting at me to stop when actually we’re still several yards from the actual stop sign.

Over the days I began to notice that a particular phrase was being used between us on a regular basis whenever we were discussing travelling directions. For the sake of decency I’ll abbreviate it here to “FFS” but it would either prefix or suffix a communication between us , such as “FFS you need to be in the left hand lane!” or “Can you please tell me which exit I’m supposed to take, FFS!”. So for the last two days we’ve tried to introduce another word at the end – ‘darling’. Somehow, screaming “FFS the sat nav is telling me to turn right NOW! – darling” seems a little kinder on the ears and it has certainly helped defuse a few tense moments. Not quite sure it’ll last once we get home though :)

Anyway, back to the holiday itself! After a second night in Carmel we headed off the next morning down to the beautiful coast of Big Sur and then on to Hearst Castle, which unfortunately had a two and  a half hour wait for the next tour so we pressed on, past Cambria where we had planned to stop and had lunch at Morro Bay. One of those times when we were grateful for the internet as we could then book a hotel 40 miles further south at Pismo Beach and spend the night there.

On Friday we began the long journey to LA, which I was dreading. Mainly because I had worked myself up into a state of anxiety about the huge freeways that cross the city. We arrived in Santa Monica area first, on the advice of our youngest daughter who said we had to go to Venice Beach. Never take holiday advice from a 17-year-old. The beach is stunning but full of  young, tanned, tattooed and trendy people. Enough to make you feel very old and past it!

We tried to find somewhere to park and were directed to a small parking lot being run by a couple of young guys who were charging $15 a day as it was right next to the beach. Shattered from quite a few hours of driving already and not wanting to try to find somewhere a few dollars cheaper, we agreed. Now valet parking is very common here and it’s quite the done thing to hand your car keys over to someone, but it was only after we’d paid, got a receipt and started walking to the beach that we realised we had left them not only with our car and keys but also all our luggage too! So a quick sprint back to say sorry, being very British but we want to lock the car and take the keys with us. They were actually fine with it and we had a lovely lunch catching up with a couple we became friends with whilst in Yosemite.

Then it was time to face my fear and drive into LA, thankfully Beverley Hills is in the north side of the city so it was quite easy to get to the hotel. Not quite sure what to make of the comment from one of the hotel guys though – he quite happily offered to help bring our suitcases up to the room and we did give him what we thought was a suitable tip, but as he left he gave me his brightest Hollywood smile and most sincere Californian tone of voice and said “Hey, congratulations on the baby – great news!”. Not sure if he got me confused with another guest or is implying that I seriously need to lose some weight – in which case, b*stard!

The hotel was in a great location, just a 10 minute walk to Rodeo Drive and some good restaurants. The next day (Saturday) we took a tour bus to see all the sights, the city is so big you really can’t walk it so it was good to be transported around and benefit from the knowledge of the guide, who could point out all the interesting places that we might have missed if we’d gone ourselves.

So today was my last day of driving and I’d asked Jeremy to take us out of LA along the coastal road to avoid the large freeways. About a mile into the journey the sat nav was giving a different route than the one Jeremy was following on his map, but I decided to take the computer generated one. Which led me directly onto an eight lane freeway. For over 50 miles. And here, there is no slow lane or fast lane – you can overtake on either side, so for most of that stretch of the journey I was in the middle of the road from hell with cars, lorries and motorbikes whizzing past in either side whilst I just gripped the steering wheel and prayed for a different route to appear!

Finally we took a toll road, which was much quieter and after another couple of hours we arrived in sunny San Diego. Dropped the suitcases off at the hotel, took Mustang Sally to the car rental returns depot near the airport, taxi back to the hotel and we were by the pool within an hour.

Here now until Thursday morning, 1504 driving miles under our belt and nearly two weeks of great holiday in our memories. It’s been wonderful to see  so much of this gorgeous state and enjoy the scenery as well as the local cultures.

But I’ll finish with a brief story from yesterday’s tour of LA. We’re on the bus and we collect some young girls photo-1from another hotel. Apparently they were from Dallas – not sure if this explains the conversation but anyway. The driver was pointing out various sights and we go past a large building with Ceders-Sinai Medical Centre written very largely on the side. And the conversation goes like this:

Driver:    Hey ladies, see that building? In there, went Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Sammy Davies Junior and Frank Sinatra.

Girl behind me: OMG no way! Are they still in there? (Frantically gets camera out of her bag)

Silence on the bus.

Driver:   No, they all died there. But it’s actually a great hospital and some of the people do live after being treated there.

God Bless America.