THE FIRST AND LAST (True Story for Halloween)

Thursday 31 October 2019

On 25 January 2013 I travelled from home in the Scottish Highlands to Horsley, London to pick up my ‘new’ car. My boyfriend Paul came with me so we could share the drive back up north.

I paid for the car and we left Horsley not long after we’d arrived.

Driving further north the worse the weather conditions became. Snow was falling thick and fast. It got so bad you couldn’t distinguish the different lanes on the motorway. It was getting darker too. I was freaking out and bottled out of the driving well before we were anywhere near Newcastle. Paul took over. The satnav was taking us home by the ‘fastest’ route and Paul pulled off the motorway onto the A68. This was a big mistake. Huge.

Drifting snow from open fields had piled onto the road and the blizzard caught in the car’s headlights made it seem like we were in the opening credits of a Star Wars movie. Paul drove well but my hands were sweating and my pits prickled as I felt the back end of the car slide about on the white surface. ‘I mean, thank fuck there’s no other traffic!’ I squeaked at Paul.

‘Yeah, all the smart people have stayed home,’ he said.

‘I’d kinda like to see another car or even light from a house. It’s spooking me out. I don’t like this. At all.’

It really was so very, very dark and very, very quiet – apart from the noise of the car’s engine. I became afraid we were going to get stuck in the snow, miles from anything and anyone. Plus it was late now, approaching 11pm. Paul checked the Satnav. The miles were too far and too treacherous. After what seemed for ever, out of nowhere, a building appeared on our right. It was an Inn, but it was in darkness other than lights shining on its sign The First and Last. We drove on. ‘This is stupid,’ I said.

‘Shall we go back and see if there’s anyone about at that place we just saw?’ Paul suggested. I was all for it, so he, very carefully, stopped the car, turned, and drove back. We knew it would be a long-shot but we were desperate . . .

We looked into the window of the Inn. Definitely all locked up. We walked round the back, through a kind of courtyard, and knocked on the door of the house. The night was so still. A dog barked, but nobody came. We turned and walked away completely dismayed, our breath making cauliflower clouds in the cold air and feet crunching over the snow. Suddenly a marvellous sound – a handle turning. ‘Can I help you?’ A woman asked, standing in a lit doorway.

Paul explained our situation and that very kind woman took pity on us. ‘We don’t have any other guests so we closed the Inn, but I can’t turn you away in this weather. Come with me,’ the woman said. We followed her back across the courtyard, to the locked up Inn. ‘Where have you travelled from?’ She asked. We told her we’d driven up from Horsley in London. ‘That’s funny,’ she said, ‘this place is called Horsley too.’

The woman gave us a Jack n Coke from the wee bar before showing us up to our room.

‘Why’s it called The First and Last?’ I asked.

‘Because it’s the first Inn over the border from Scotland and the last Inn leaving England,’ the woman smiled, and I smiled back.

I can tell you, I’d never felt so happy and relieved as I flumped onto our double bed for the night. Paul immediately switched on the TV (rolling eyeballs and rolling off the edge of the bed I go to the window and push it up and open). I scoop up a giant amount of snow from the ledge and pack it into a beautiful sphere. I weigh up the consequences of the action I know I’m about to take. Fleetingly. Then, as swift as the blow from an executioner’s blade, I spin, I aim, I fire.

Paul is raging.

I’m laughing hysterically. What joy! I climb into bed. Before long I ask P to put the TV off.

It’s pitch black. I close my eyes and wait for sleep. In the darkness I hear the faint sound of music. It’s almost like ceilidh music or something. ‘Do you hear that?’ I ask Paul, my eyes now wide open, waiting impatiently for them to adjust to the blackness.

‘The music?’ he says.

‘Yeah!’

‘Yeah, I hear it.’ A few moments pass.

‘Where’s it coming from?’

‘Dunno. Maybe the woman’s house?’ Paul suggests. He’s probably right. I settle and soon am drifting towards sleep.

Suddenly I’m yanked into wakefulness again. Paul is leaning up on his elbow in the bed. ‘Did you hear that?’ he asks, ‘I thought the woman said there were no other guests and we were alone here?’

‘Yeah,’ I mumble, ‘she did. What is it?’

‘I heard someone out in the hall.’ Paul said.

‘Have you locked our door? You better get up and lock it!’ I tell him. Paul does.

The next morning we go down for breakfast. The woman smiles and asks, ‘How was your night?’ I decide to be truthful.

‘Well,’ I start, ‘Were you playing music?’

‘No,’ replied the woman. ‘I went to bed after you came because I had to get up to do your breakfast. You heard music, what sort of music?’

‘Kind of like dancing music, like ceilidh or something,’ I answered. ‘And did someone else arrive last night because Paul heard someone in the hallway.’

‘No. There was no-one else here,’ the woman confirmed, then added, ‘I’ll go check all the radio clocks in the rooms.’

‘This is super weird, isn’t it?’ I say to Paul. ‘I mean, sound travels, but there’s nowhere else around here for miles. Where the fuck did the music come from? She said she went to bed!’

Several minutes later the woman reappeared. ‘The clocks are all switched off. It’s strange,’ she said, thoughtfully. ‘When I first took this place over my uncle visited. He stayed the night in the room you were in. He swore blind he saw a little girl dancing in the corner of the room. I just thought he’d had a few whiskies too many. But that’s really, really weird that you say you heard dancing music and noises in the corridor.’ Paul and I ate our breakfast and got out of there.

As we drove away from The First and Last Paul said, ‘Well. That place is aptly named. First and last time I’ll ever stay there again! Not because of the service, that woman saved our lives last night, but that place is definitely haunted.’

 

Happy Halloween everyone! Please friend me on facebook here, so I never have to leave my house to socialise again – unless that’s up a mountain. Lol.

Check out another true story. MY  BOOK Just Another Mountainhere.

 

 

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27. Life is a Catwalk: ‘The Show’

This is the 26th post of a series which is introduced here.

Thursday 25 October 2018

A 7am start to the day. Me and my roomie, fellow model, Eve, go down to be seated for breakfast at the Hilton Hotel, Glasgow.

‘Breast Cancer?’ The young male attendant enquires.

‘Er no! We’ve already had that thanks very much, but some yoghurt and fruit might be quite nice.’ I answer. The guy is suitably embarrassed, apologises for his lack of tact and takes us to our table. I’m not a pig, but I eat a variety of the delicious options available at the buffet (it’s still all about the protein, man). Eve doesn’t have much of an appetite and only picks at things.

Unlike me the Hilton is well fucking posh. I’d already been impressed by the grand reception area with its shiny marble floor, high ceiling and modern chandelier lighting – not to mention the larger than life-size canvas images of three of our lovely models suspended from the balcony above. Excitement stirs. The day of ‘The Show’ has finally arrived.

I stash three little pots of marmalade and jams into my pocket and leave the restaurant. I’m off to the lift on my own feeling slightly apprehensive but reasonably confident I know how to use it now, after yesterday’s fiasco when Eve and I had spent a good ten minutes yo-yo’ing up and down between reception and the third floor – eventually (after my arms had practically fallen off ’cause of the weight of holding my boot boxes, and after I’d pleaded with two women not to get in with us as the elevator doors opened at reception for the umpteenth time) a kindly Chinese man, who had bore witness to our pitiful plight, explained that we needed to use our room key to make the lift work.

So while Eve has already gone to get her hair and make-up done, I make my way back up to our room for a sneaky extra lie down before rehearsals at 10am – after all, it’s going to be a long day, and rest is nice.

I accidentally fall asleep.

Last down I’m horrified to see everyone lined up in their first outfit ready to begin, waiting for me. I’m on the receiving end of a deserved but small row from our Stylist. Oops.

Between the first dress rehearsal and the afternoon performance it’s my turn to get my face looking acceptable by Sara Hill and her team from the Academy of Make-up, and my hair sorted by the Sassoon Stylists. I get to choose my look so say, ‘Let’s go Amy Winehouse.’

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Hair ‘n’ make up. For me it’s black flicks and metallic red eye-shadow to match the barnet.

Before I know it me and the twenty-two other ‘models’ are lining up ready to take to the catwalk for real. I’m second on and am shitting myself. I keep peeking out behind the backstage curtains to survey the audience, it helps calm my nerves to see tables of women all smiling and enjoying themselves. It’s going to be fine! I tell myself. I’ve just had one of the hardest years of my life: if I can get through all those cancer treatments I can walk down a bloody catwalk!

Outwardly I think I must have looked confident, bold and strong, but inside I was trembling like an aspen leaf as I stepped onto the catwalk to ‘Feels Like I’m in Love’ – my knees really were shaking and my heart was definitely beating like a drum.

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Layering up is in. I get to wear my own footwear which makes me feel a bit more me.

It was over in a flash, but we are then ushered off to have a group photograph taken and give quotes to the reporter whose job it is to do a write-up for the Sunday Mail, who sponsor The Show.

In addition to the Sunday Mail photographer there was also another geezer, David Brown, knocking about taking piccers – all day and to the very end of the night.

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Forget about the man with the golden gun, he is the man with a camera and a golden heart. David Brown ‘n’ me.

Afternoon guests leave and we are called back down to rehearse for the evening show – because for the final scene we have escorts; football players from Partick Thistle and Glasgow High Kelvinside rugby players, wit-woos.  I watch the boys escort the other models. Footballer Aaron seems most at ease so I collar him and tell him to make sure he’s second in line for the later performance.

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Afternoon Show hosted by STV news presenter Halla Mohieddeen . . . Emotional talk by fellow model Liz McAinsh and Tricia McAneny . . . Evening Show hosted by former River City actress Libby McArthur.

I listen to Liz talk about her experience of finding her breast lump and then the discovery her cancer had spread to her spine. I hear her talk about her son, and think of my own boys. Tricia tells the audience how she was diagnosed with breast cancer only weeks after losing her mum to the disease. I think of my own Mum. I miss her. I feel a tickle as the first tear trickles down my cheek, but think, fuck don’t cry, your make-up will get ruined! I cry anyway.

I miss my kids and I miss my boyfriend.

Before the evening show I take advantage of a foot and a head massage offered by one of the Breast Cancer Care charity volunteers. Wonderful! And since I barely ate at lunch I make sure I get enough dinner in my belly. After squeezing a spot that appeared on the end of my nose I get the make-up artist to fix a shining red beacon that would give Rudolf a run for his money. The Sassoon stylist is in good form as she starts fixing my hair up again…she offers me a glass of fizz and is enjoying a sing-song as she works, I’m thinking she’s a bit pished, but if you can’t beat ’em join ’em so I swig down the wine she shoves in front of me and belt out ‘Laid’ by James.

It’s time to do it all over again.

The boyfriend, and friends Lorna and John, are here tonight to support me. What a difference it makes to my happiness to see them at a table close to the catwalk. I see Paul from my spot backstage and actively will him to look my way, he doesn’t. I cannot wait for him to see me.

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The boyfriend with Lorna . . . the boyfriend with John . . . the four of us after The Show.

I walk out and do not contain myself when Paul and my friend Lorna spot me. Lorna stands up and waves – and I wave madly back like a kid on stage at their first school nativity when they spot their mummy and daddy. It’s a different vibe in the room tonight and the atmosphere is incredible as I strut down the catwalk to cheers, whoops and claps from the crowd.

Suddenly I discover a new confidence and I’m itching for my turn on the catwalk again. A quick but careful change into the next outfit and I line up. I have come into my own and unlike the afternoon’s show in which I felt like a bag of nerves and rushed through, I now want time to slow down so I can savour every second.

Moves Like Minnie. How will you wear your polka dots?

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Winehouse hair. Lots of volume and height. Rockin’ the Wild at Heart theme in leopard print top, gold skinnies and an FCUK faux fur.

It’s the final scene. I prime my footballer before he walks onto the stage ahead of me. I go on and take his arm. ‘Walk slowly,’ I say. We pose back to back at the end of the catwalk. People are up on their feet – what a thrill it feels.

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Shoot to thrill. Lol.

My footballer deposits me at the top of the stage where I remain and watch the rest of the models as they come out one by one. I am full of joy and pride, and feel both humbled and privileged to be here sharing such a unique and uplifting experience with these inspirational women. They are all amazing. I look out at the audience and I hope that our happy stint on the catwalk has encouraged our female audience to love their bodies for what they are. But more especially, by sharing our own stories of our breast cancer journey I hope we have succeeded in highlighting the importance of cancer awareness and the necessity for people to get to know and check their bodies.

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All my wonderful fellow models.

More than 4,800 people in Scotland alone will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Getting this diagnosis can mean so many different things and can impact life in so many unimaginable ways. By taking part in The Show we wanted to prove that it is possible to look and feel fabulous after going through treatments and, for some of us,  having to continue to live with the disease that can be treated but not cured. Events like The Show – which raised in excess of £155,000 – mean that Breast Cancer Care can support more people through one of the most difficult challenges they will ever face.

 

An insight to why Life is a Catwalk? – Like my afternoon performance I wanted the last twenty odd years  of my life to hurry up and be over as I searched for answers. But since coming to terms with troubles of the past, the loss of my mother and my own cancer diagnosis I now want life to slow down so that I can savour every precious moment – just like I felt doing the evening performance of The Show. (Soz if that’s not clear, I’ve had a couple brandy n cokes, lol.)

Thanks for reading.

All support is appreciated. Please give my Facers page a ‘like’ if you would like to follow my journey. Any questions, just ask. I’m right here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26. Book Deal Boost, Sir Chris Bonington’s approval and Mel’s Last Munro (hill climbed: Beinn Sgulaird)

This is the 26th post of a series introduced here.

Saturday 29 September

Thinking that my cancer might be back my friend Mel and I planned to do her final Munro. In spite of both of us being anxious to get it done quickly opportunity did not present itself – work, cruddy weather and appointments got in the way so it was relief in more ways than one when I received news from hospital that biopsy test results were clear. It felt like I’d been given my life back – again, and with the rest of summer sprawling ahead of us the need to get the last Munro done seemed slightly less pressing.

I don’t just have my life to be thankful for. Jenny Brown – Edinburgh based literary agent who had taken an interest in the memoir I’d written – had been in touch to say a publishing deal had been offered for my book. I’m monstrously chuffed that these literary experts think my story is interesting enough and written well enough to be put into print. I recall a memory of my grandad, ‘Sarah, you’ll never win the Nobel Prize for Literature but your letters home come like a breath of fresh air.’ I wish he was here now so that he could be proud of me and know I’ve done something good – at last.

Me and Jenny
Me and Jenny at her Edinburgh Book Festival party August 25th.

August comes and goes.

‘How long did it take when you climbed Beinn Sgulaird?’ Mel asks in a WhatsApp message. I go upstairs and am sitting cross-legged on the drafty wooden floor in the bedroom. I slide my walking diary out of its space in the bookcase and leaf through its pages. I find the entry. There is no note of timings other than ‘set out at 10am from Druimavuic’.  It’s a short write up so I read on and refresh my memory of the hill. There is no mention of precipitous drops, narrow ridges or battles with the elements – it had been an outing that was straightforward and uneventful, but nonetheless the date and day are poignant. I pause for reflection.

I eventually reply to Mel’s WhatsApp telling her I have no clue how long the walk had taken. A LOT of messages are exchanged but we come to an agreement to get the hill done before September’s end, ‘whatever the weather’. At this juncture we’re still hopeful we’ll make our summit camp on Beinn Sgulaird (translated from Gaelic it means hat-shaped hill, but it’s better known to the local shepherds as ‘the bastard’ – and man was it going to live up to its nickname).

The Munro lies solitary and steeply above upper Loch Creran in Glen Etive; the mountain is indifferent to the increasing impatience Mel and I feel over our desire to traverse its rocky ridge and three summits.

September draws to a close.

Although our diaries have been cleared of all other engagements it’s sod’s law the West Highlands forecast continues to be pish on days we have off work, and the sense of urgency to get the bastard hill done resurfaces. We have no choice but to put our money where our mouth is. The summit camp is abandoned but, by choice, we meet up to do the walk in the worst weather that has been forecast for the last three days of the month.

Mel’s bright orange jacket is in cheerful contrast to the moisture laden sky over Druimvuich. She is standing poised with phone in hand. My boyfriend Paul opens the car’s window. ‘You can put the phone away Mel. We’re here. No need to text. It’s only two minutes after half eight!’

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It’s straight into uphill walking along an ATV track which we soon leave. A small cairn marks the start of a good path that ascends the mountain’s grassy ridge. I’m slower than the others and soon lag behind. Mel stops to wait. Ahead of us the men are enthusiastically engaged in conversation about electric bikes…Mel and I are pleased because it means we can talk by ourselves about whatever shit we like. I tell her about the texts I get from my eldest son when Paul and I were on our road trip.

Marcus: What do I do with this ‘vaginal applicator’ thing in the bathroom sink? Lol x

Me: Lol. Um. Give it a good wash and rinse in warm water 😀 x

Marcus: Uh-huh, and put it where?

Me: Lol lol lol. Get a tub from downstairs and pop it in there. Not the good tupperware tho. An unusual treat for you today. Lol. Eat carrot cake if you are traumatised x

Marcus: Hmm yes. A real treat! x

Mel chuckles and I laugh so hard I clutch my belly (I’m still in horror-awe – that my boy should have seen the bit of plastic kit used to help the old sexy time along, and that he was mature enough to deal with it without fuss). ‘He’ll make someone a great husband one day,’ Mel says.

We’re over the first small top and are ascending straightforward slopes toward the first of the three summits when I finally find my sea legs and pick up the pace. Inwardly I’m relieved and have to remind myself again that my body is still in recovery from the cancer treatments that only finished at this time last year. It’s easy to dwell on the bad things so instead I think about the progress I’ve made; I’ve lost weight through better diet and exercise, I’m not bald and can in fact tie my hair into a tinsy-winsy ponytail and, though it doesn’t happen often, even sex isn’t painful anymore. I’m in my own little world as I plod on out in front but then I notice I’ve lost the thread of the path. Oops.

Progress on the hill halts. We realise we should be on the ridge, heading for the first of the three summits, not traversing the slope underneath, but it’s no biggie. We take a bearing and contour round to the col between it and Meall Garbh. The wind now blows fiercely and visibility is limited, but I catch a glimpse of two walkers ahead who quickly disappear from view. ‘Yay! Other humans!’ Mel shouts at me over the wind. When we catch up with the boys and round some crags they point out our people – two dopey looking sheep that scarper off again into the enveloping mists.

The wind finds its way through the fabric of my outerwear; I’m wet and cold but now we’re back on the path we move faster. Up and down the undulating ridge we go. Paul isn’t happy and shouts at me not to go too far ahead. I wait. ‘My legs are totally heavy like I’ve no power to push up on them,’ he says. I think welcome to my world, but say that I understand. Descent to the next col is steep and rocky.

‘This is a very confusing hill,’ Andy states. Mel and I laugh.

‘How far is it to the top?’ Paul asks.

‘Another 1.04km,’ I answer.  We lean into the wind to push forward, hoods up heads down. Horizontal precipitation drives into exposed skin like needles.

‘Christ. This is like extreme exfoliation!’ Mel exclaims.

‘About two thirds of a mile,’ I hear Paul call. ‘One thousand and seven yards,’ he adds. (He was nearly right.)

‘Paul’s back,’ I yell at Mel, laughing and totally bemused.

We go higher and conditions become more severe. It’s a skill to stay upright and I’m buffeted and blown on the scramble up and up. A mega gust knocks me sideways off my feet and I land hard onto a rock.

‘This is fucking nuts. It’s not fun,’ Paul shouts to me above the wind.

It is wild, but personally I’m enjoying myself. I think Mel catches my thoughts because she stops to say, ‘See, it’s because of times like this that most people think we’re fucking maniacs.’ I grin agreement and wonder if there could be anything more life-affirming than pitching yourself against nature and coming out on top.

 

Summit reached at 12.05pm…The boys are left out in the cold – literally and metaphorically – while Mel and I enjoy shelter, champagne and cake in the bothy bag…I, Queen in the North, on this most auspicious occasion of Mel finishing a full round of all 282 of Scotland’s highest mountains, bestow upon her my official Munro Compleater’s Badge and welcome her to the club…The frozen boys still manage a smile for a group selfie at the top (Mel and I are a bit pissed). 

Retracing our steps we leave the summit. Andy is in front and drops down out of sight. Mel and I play in the wind. Its strength is extraordinary and supports our weight as we lean into it. I almost forget I need to keep walking.

Unexpectedly we cross paths with other walkers – two grim-faced blokes who exchange absolutely no pleasantries and a young woman who flashes a smile. We keep moving. I’m in the middle of thinking how glad I am that we’re battling our way down and not up when all three of us – me, Paul and Mel – are simultaneously knocked down like skittles by a ferocious gust. The wind momentarily pins me to the rock I’ve fallen onto and threatens to bowl me along like tumbleweed. ‘Thank fuck we aren’t on a narrow ridge being blown to our doom,‘ I think…and then my mind conjures images of proper mountaineers who have contended with way more serious conditions. I think about the hundred mile an hour winds that blast Everest. I think about my mum’s fiance (once a lion amongst Himalayan climbers) and I think about Chris Bonington who vaguely knew him. I think about the book I’ve written and the email Chris sent me only days ago to say he is reading it ‘with pleasure,’ that I ‘write well’ and that he will be ‘delighted to write a foreword’ for me. I feel good.

Dropping east down the leeward side of the mountain I feel even better – we are out of the wind and soon on the ATV track. My friend is feeling the good vibes too.

‘I’m so happy to have the bastard thing done at last,’ she chirps.

‘You know it’s almost exactly four years to the day since I did this walk,’ I say. ‘It’s funny how this was my penultimate Munro and it’s ended up being your last.’

‘I didn’t realise that,’ Mel replies, ‘I wonder why I didn’t do it with you?’

‘Dunno, but I do know that was the first day I didn’t feel ‘right’ and when I started using the expression ‘super tired.’ We walk back through the tree plantation and reach the cars by 4pm.

 

After a few post-hill drams and dinner in the gloom of the Clachaig’s dark but cosy interior, we retire to the mother ship where we melt against the walls in the instant heat that belches from the wood burning stove. Mel pops the cork on another bottle of champagne and we raise a plastic cup once more to celebrate her achievement, to friendship, to good health, to staying alive to see how Season 8 Game of Thrones ends and to all round epicness.

It can take an entire lifetime for some people to climb all 282 of Scotland’s highest mountains, but most people who set out to ‘bag’ the Munros, on average, take between 8 – 10 years to do a full round – although another article I read claims the average to be 23 years (12 Munros per year). Apparently climbing all the Munros is the equivalent of ascending Mount Everest from sea-level 19 times – that’s 550,869 feet and a total distance of approximately 1,690 miles. Mel and I have climbed more than half these mountains together. I wasn’t able to join her for the bigger hill days last year because of my bastard cancer, so to have been able to join her for her last is nothing short of fantastico (only actual death would have stopped me from doing it). She did say, ‘Now, what next?’ But that’s easy – the Corbetts!

FANX for reading! Any relevant questions then please get in touch. I’m right here. If you’ve enjoyed please do give the old Facebook page a like by clicking the link below. Your support is appreciated 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/sarahjanedouglaswriter/

 

 

 

 

25. Seven Hells and The Real Full Monty Highland (hill climbed: Meall Fuar-mhonaidh)

This is the 25th post of a series which is introduced here.

Sunday 15 July

It feels like there is a balloon inside my head. I need to get out of my house. Rain is threatening, but I don’t care. I need to be on a heathery hillside working my way to a mountain top.

I drive and I wonder if the throbbing is due to concussion when I hit my head last week or if it’s related to the shock I had two days ago. A wave of nausea rolls in my gut. The landscape passes by to the vibrations of my car. Focus! 

I’m on autopilot and barely notice the forty-five minute journey. Pulling up I switch off the engine. Rain is now pelting onto the car windows, blurring an empty carpark. I sit for a moment then dig out waterproofs from my battered old backpack. I almost put them on then decide I’ll take off my leggings and put on my shorts instead (my indecision a symptom of stress). ‘It’s a bloody good job this place is deserted today,’ I mumble as I all the same attempt to rapidly conceal the naked bush.

Loudness of the car door slamming shut and the electronic locks clunk-clicking reverberate in my head. I set off on foot. Cloud conceals the top of my hill. Doesn’t matter. I walk and enjoy the feeling as droplets of water dampen my skin. I stop to stare, and listen to the rain; it thuds onto my jacket’s hood, it patters on the leaves of the trees and it gently plips and plops into the quiet stream.  It’s humid. I breathe in the heavy scent of earth and plants and am flooded by the wonder of life.

 

 

 

I’ve been up and down this path countless times. Not so long ago I was here with Quentin – the guy who was shooting some film to be shown on the night of the charity event I was organising for Maggie’s. I think back to that outing and how happy I was to be doing something positive, doing what I could to ‘give a bit back.’ I stop in my tracks again, this time to take paracetamol. Pain in my left breast pulses and my head is spaced out.  Conflicting thoughts do battle. My mind flashes to  Angeline – my breast care nurse – who I saw on Friday at clinic. I think about her part in my Real Full Monty Highland (RFMH).

Click play to watch as guests arrive, fizz flows and Tich McCooey hosts. Breast Care nurses Karen Daltrey and Angeline Macleod take to the stage with fake boobs; they demonstrate how to self-examine and be cancer aware.

Self-examination didn’t help me this time I think ruefully, and once again I go over the events of two days ago. It was my first annual check-up at the breast clinic. ‘Everything feels fine,’ my consultant had said cheerfully before sending me for a mammogram. Afterwards I see Angeline. We talk and laugh about the Real Full Monty Highland.

‘Shall I go and see if your mammogram results are ready?’ she says, ‘it’ll save you having to wait for a letter.’

‘Yeah, if you can, cool,’ I reply breezily. I’m not worried at all. I go to the window and gaze out. I’m still laughing inside at our Full Monty chat as the A-Team theme tune choruses through my head.

Click play to watch The Real Full Monty Highland first rehearsal.

‘Where’s the pink-haired girl gone?’ I hear a voice call.

‘I’m here!’ I shout as I walk to the open door.

‘I need to take another set of images. The doctor needs a closer look, something is showing up on your left breast.’ I’m fucking dumbstruck and follow the nurse back to the x-ray room like a scared kid. I lower my top and remove my bra again. ‘If you can just lean in to the machine for me,’ the nurse instructs. Fear seizes me. I’m sent back to the room where I wait to be called for an ultrasound. I phone my boyfriend Paul, but barely manage to squeak more than his name. He tells me he’s coming to the hospital and will be there as quickly as he can just as I hear my name being called.

It’s the same doctor who I saw last year and who, back then, did not waste time in telling me that what she’d seen on the ultrasound was suspicious. I like her, I like her straight up honesty, and I know she’ll be able to tell me if I’m about to enter seven hells territory again.

She looks at the image on screen as she rolls the probe over my skin. ‘I’d like to do a biopsy now if you are okay with that?’ she asks. I tell her to go ahead. She disappears from the room momentarily and on return produces a consent form. ‘It’s procedure now that I have to tell you all the things that could happen, sorry,’ she says. I tell her it’s fine although did feel alarm when she showed me the size of the needle and said there was a small possibility my lungs could get punctured if she slipped.

 

 

 

Still smiling.

Forty-five minutes, three local anaesthetics and a bent needle later the doctor was on the verge of defeat. ‘This has never happened to me before. I always get my samples,’ she said. Her tone made me feel sorry for her, and in her I saw a kindred spirit – a determined fucker just like me. ‘I think you’ve been through enough. I don’t want to do any more to you,’ she says (I know there’s a ‘but’ coming) ‘but I could go and get the bard,’ she suggests (and there it is!).

‘Yeah, get the bard,’ I tell her, ‘I love a good poem. That’ll get us through this.’ We laugh. She leaves the room and returns with the bigger needle which I see through slit eyes – like I’m trying not to see it.

‘You were trembling when I came in, now it’s me who’s shaking,’ the doctor said.

‘For God’s sake, don’t tell me that when you’re about to stick your giant needle into me!’ I laugh. The bard leaves holes in my breast but the doctor gets her samples. The nurse presses hard on my boob to try minimise bruising and the doctor tells me I have been extraordinary. I return the compliment. She tells me pathology should return the results next week, but that it’s likely I’ll need to have a different type of biopsy. I don’t like the uncertainty of my situation.

Paul is waiting for me and we leave. As we walk round the side of the hospital building my legs collapse and I hit the ground like a stone. I can’t breathe – everything is swimming and I’m close to passing out. Paul holds me up between his arms and tells me it’s okay. I cry convulsively into his shoulder but then pull myself together. ‘Let’s go to Maggie’s.’ I say.

I think about all of that as I walk up out of the trees and on through open moorland. I approach the deer fence and climb up over the big stile like I’ve done so many times before. Thoughts about Maggie’s and Quentin filming me here merge.

Click the image to watch a clip of how The Real Full Monty Highland came about and my wee bio.

I’m on the ridge and gaining height. Pressure is building in my head and I hope the sensation passes. It does. A cool wind blows harder that seems to help clear stresses from my mind. I power up to the summit plateau. There is no view but it is so still and the rain has stopped. I’m all alone up here. I sing the words to Fight Song and as I do I perform the full monty dance routine one more time. The song’s words seem more relevant than ever before and I do believe – I have to believe – that everything will be alright, and that I do have a lot more fight left in me.

meall fuar-mhonaid
I’VE  GOT  THIS!

Click on the video link above to watch The Real Full Monty Highland with (from left) Gina, Shelly, Moi, Shaw and Linda.

 

If you would like to watch the whole Real Full Monty Highland video click the link below:

 

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed my writing and would like to follow my story please do either following my blog or give my Facebook page a ‘like’ (click link below). Your support is important and appreciated. 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/sarahjanedouglaswriter/ 

Winner of The Scottish Wedding Awards 2018 Quentin was an absolute legend to get involved with the RFMH event. I feel privileged that he lent his skills and creativity to this project.  To find out more about what Quentin does check out his page  QS Digital Video.

FINALLY BUT IMPORTANTLY PLEASE ALL, GO NOW AND CHECK YOUR BODIES FOR ANY CHANGES. AND WOMEN, MAKE SURE YOU ATTEND MAMMOGRAM APPOINTMENTS. THE EARLIER CANCER IS CAUGHT THE BETTER YOUR CHANCES.

 

 

 

 

22. Fun in the City: Part 2 (no hills climbed, only stairs up to the Daily Record Building for photo shoot)

This is the 22nd post of a series which is introduced here.

Saturday 21 April 2018

It’s a sunny Saturday morning and I’m walking by the Clyde, the river that cuts through Glasgow. My friend Mel is over this side of Scotland to climb Beinn Bhuidhe. Although I’ve done that Munro, with the pal I’m meeting later for dinner, part of me longs to be with Mel on the mountainside. But there again what I’m going to do today is a different kind of awesome. It’s just after 10 o’clock and nervous excitement starts to tingle through me as I climb the concrete steps up to the Daily Record building – in fact I’m so nervous my guts are going wild and I’m going to have to go bless their toilet (that’ll be the third time already today).

Why was I nervous?

Well, you see, I was lucky enough, along with twenty-three other women, to be selected to model at Breast Cancer Care Scotland’s biggest fundraiser of the year ‘The Show.’ The event – one of a kind in that all the models have had a breast cancer diagnosis – doesn’t take place till the last week of October (to mark the end of breast cancer awareness month) but today everyone involved in it has come together for the official meet and greet.

After going through several locked doors I am shown into a large meeting room where twenty-four chairs are set in a circle; they soon fill up. We are welcomed by the Breast Cancer Care team who introduce themselves, our stylist and the reporter who will be interviewing each of us throughout the course of the day. We’ve each brought a photograph which we are then invited to talk about.

Some people choke up as they talk and I feel the emotion rise inside me. What I hear is powerful stuff, compelling to listen to and utterly inspiring. It’s my turn to speak, but I don’t get beyond, ‘This is a picture of me and my mum,’ before hot tears roll down my cheeks. I keep talking but my heart is breaking all over again.

me and my mum.jpg
Taken a few weeks before secondary breast cancer caused my mother’s death. I was 24 years old, but my mum aged 44 was only a young woman herself.

We are split into two groups. It’s welcome relief to leave the room and go get measurements taken by stylist Ian Todd. I’m smiling again. Then I get my make-up done. I keep my eyes closed while it’s being applied, but have a sneaky peek. My blood runs cold and I feel a prickle in my pits; I look like I’ve been face planked into a bag of flour. The make-up artist sees the visible horror on my face but reassures me that I will not look like I’ve been resurrected from the dead by the time she’s finished. I keep the faith. When I open my eyes again I’m pleased with how I look. She punks up my hair and then I get changed into the outfit I’ve brought. For the first time ever I look glamorous and that makes me feel happy in a way I’ve never experienced before.

There I am in the pink Breast Cancer Care t-shirt…click to watch this time lapse video that records the day of our photo shoot. If you keep your eyeballs super peeled you will see me whizz past in my sparkly trousers, and a blue tartan corset designed by Mary at  Loch Dress

me at BCCC Glasgow Glam
Six months ago I was bald, very ill, rather overweight and uncertain. Seeing myself like this makes me feel more confident. Thank you Breast Cancer Care for this fabulous opportunity!

After the photo shoot in our ‘outfits we’d wear on a nice night out’ (as opposed to those outfits one would wear on a regular slutty night out) we found out a bit more about what the charity does – and what we could do to help as the charity’s ambassadors (raise breast cancer awareness, raise awareness of what the charity does, help with fundraising by getting sponsors and raffle prizes).

I want to do my bit, but I’m no good at asking for sponsorship – partly because I’m scared of rejection.

As we are called back into the studio for the last shoot of the day Emma, the charity’s Press and PR Officer, asks me to go with her for my interview with Sunday Mail Freelance Journalist, Jenny Morrison. On the way Emma mentions she thinks my art is amazing. I’m puzzled as to how she knows I’m an artist, but she explains she’d seen links to my work on my Facebook page. I feel flattered, but also inspired…

creation of adam (2)
I decide to donate this painting I did of The Creation of Adam for auction at The Show, hopefully it’ll raise a bob or two for the charity.

I’m also inspired by the women taking part in this event, they all have remarkable stories. Some were diagnosed many years ago, some – like me – have not long finished treatments, others are currently receiving treatment, including some who have secondary breast cancer which can be treated but not cured.

Click the link below to read more about the other models involved. Some of these stories will be expanded on and featured in the Sunday Mail between now and ‘The Show’ in October – and there may even be the opportunity for other media work, like on radio and TV. Cool or what.

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/health/brave-scottish-super-models-hit-12444240

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The day wraps up with one last group photo. I am a person not a number…oh…wait…yes, yes I am a number…I’m number 8.

Jenny the journalist shakes my hand and invites me to sit. She is kind and has a sympathetic disposition which makes me feel at ease. It’s been a long day and I’m tired so manage to tell her my story without spilling more tears. I tell her how hillwalking rescued me from the loneliness and grief after cancer caused my mum’s death, and about how it was my salvation during my own cancer journey. I tell her about the book I’ve written and she asks if she can read it, I’m very happy to let her. I explain that I wrote it for my sons and also as a drawing of the line under all the sad years. I add that it’s just as I finished its writing and am ready to embrace a happier life that I discover the lump in my own breast. There was no time to stamp my feet and yell at the world how unfair it all was; I just had to get on with it. I tell Jenny that planning hill days and blogging about my cancer journey gave me something positive to focus on and ultimately what I want to do is to help and inspire others by sharing my story.

It’s a wrap.

The day at the Daily Record building is finished. But I am not. The sun is still high and so am I.  I go to the Counting House in George Square for a drink. I’m pressing my lower back into the fruit machine when a kind woman offers me a seat at her table. She asks what I’m doing in Glasgow. When I tell her about my day she pulls out her mobile phone and asks if she can have a selfie with me; now I don’t know how much alcohol she’d put away but I wasn’t gonna refuse her request when she’d just made me feel like a total star! LOL….and yeah, dinner with my mate Lorna was a top way to round off a tremendous day.

 

To find out more about the many services Breast Cancer Care provides click here: https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/

To find out more about The Show Scotland 2018 click here: https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/fundraising/show-scotland

Check out other awesome images by the photographer who took these shots – from sporting heroes, superstars like Sting, the Scottish landscape and coastline to the sky at night. Click here: http://www.amacmedia.co.uk/

Thank you for reading. Please show your support by clicking the link below and liking my Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/sarahjanedouglaswriter/

21. Fun but no Sex in the City: Part 1 (hill climbed: Arthur’s Seat)

This is the 21st post of a series that is introduced here.

21st – 24th March 2018

I am off on a jolly to the big city of Edinburgh for a two day event ‘Younger Women with Breast Cancer’ (YWBC) organised by the charity Breast Cancer Care.

The ticket collector is getting closer and I shift uncomfortably in my seat, but the squirming stops and I feel the flood of full-on glee when he scribbles across my ticket without noticing I am travelling on the wrong date. Happiness is enhanced as I am sitting next to a power point AND I have free WiFi. The train journey passes quickly.

Before I check in to my hotel I go to see Jenny Brown, the literary agent who’s helping to find a publisher for the book I have written – she tells me it once took her six years to find someone a publisher…I wonder if that is her subtle way of trying to tell me to be patient… It took a year to write the first draft of my story and, after a commissioned editorial report, another year to restructure the entire manuscript. In the third year a second editorial report was carried out to get the material up to submission standard – I carried out the minor changes, but this was challenging as I was undergoing chemotherapy. I got there though, and in June last year Jenny made the first submissions to publishers. This is now the fourth year of the journey toward publication. It’s a slow process, but Jenny is confident – and I just have to hope that I can stay alive long enough to see my book in print!

Arthur's Seat
After the meeting with Jenny I wander off up Arthur’s Seat and the surrounding craggy tops. 

The pack on my back is heavy – too heavy after deadlifting at weights class yesterday. When I arrive at the hotel I’m booked into my back is in spasm.

The next day is full on at the Breast Cancer Care charity event. I walk into a room full of strangers. Chattering voices grow louder and there is lots of laughter. With a breast cancer diagnosis in common we are all insta-friends.

I enjoy the breakout groups – there are many on offer, but I’m here specifically to attend sessions on the menopause and intimacy in relationships. I want to know if sex is always going to feel like being shagged by a cactus…I want to know if other women feel the same…and I’m hoping the professionals who are facilitating these sessions will offer answers.

Chemotherapy and tamoxifen put me through a medical menopause and that has dried me out which causes sex to be so painful – but that’s if I even have sex, which mostly I do not because my libido has disappeared into the sunset. I used to enjoy sexy time and feel cheated and angry because that part of my life has been fairly destroyed – but equally I am grateful to still have my life.

Sadly the professionals provide no miraculous answers, I’m going to have to find my own way forward. So what do I take away from these sessions? Well, I’ve learned that I’m not the only person whose sex life has ground to a virtual halt – and some of these chicks are way younger than me; their stories have blown me away and so not only do I feel less alone in what I’m experiencing, but I also appreciate that I am a very lucky girl to have such an incredibly supportive boyfriend who puts no pressure on me and still makes me feel loved.

After a long day me and Lizzie are first to head straight for the hotel bar.

me-and-lizzie.jpg
                          ‘Where’s your mask, Dick Turpin?’                                My back may well be bad, but I’m in need of defibrillation when the barkeep charges £11.60 for a Jack Daniels and coke! Daylight robbery.

me-and-my-jack.jpg
Quick trip to Sainsbury soon sorted out the extortion racket run by the hotel bar. Stash in a baggie under the table. Titter titter.

me n fi
My old school pal Fiona (long hair – a dead giveaway) pitches up and gatecrashes the night. Things are getting messy.

It’s midnight and the bar closes. Folk drift off upstairs to their rooms to get a good night’s kip before another day of breakout groups – but not me. No no. Me and my old school pal jump in a taxi and head off into the city. We get out at the Bridges.  Fiona withdraws money from a cash machine while I sit next to a homeless guy and talk shit. My friend pulls me away by the arm. Live music belts out from some place. We go in. I like it. It’s crowded and the vibe is good. I head straight for the dance floor. Somehow I end up on stage with the band and then suddenly I decide I’ve had enough and leave. I’ve hit the proverbial wall.

The homeless guy is still out on the street. I sit next to him again. People pass by and I enjoy asking them for money. One man withdraws a tenner and hands it over, I give it to my homeless friend. Some dodgy looking character approaches us; my new friend stands up to greet him and after a brief exchange they trade places! I walk down onto Princes Street. The homeless dude is off to a shelter and offers me the tenner for a taxi. I decline. I’m happy to walk and I know the way back to the Holiday Inn…

murrayfield
Murrayfield in the dead of night.

It’s quite some time later. I’m fed up walking and I’m freezing. I wonder how I’ve ended up outside Murrayfield Stadium and realise I’m a bit lost. I’m stumped as to how to get back to the hotel. There’s no fucker around who I can ask for directions and I’ve no data on my phone to check Google maps. It’s amazing to me when a bus appears. It’s not going my way but the driver gives me the number for a cab. I pull out the change that’s in my pocket, £3.80 – just enough to get me back to the hotel.

I’d had a good day and a bloody brilliant night. The Younger Women with Breast Cancer weekend had been well worth the trip and I’d recommend it to anyone who has the misfortune to be diagnosed with cancer. Check out the website Breast Cancer Care for more info.

Next: Fun in the City: Part Two (Steps climbed up to Daily Record building for photoshoot!)

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7. Being a Baldilocks

This is the seventh post of a series which is introduced here.

It was no surprise when my hair started to come out in clumps, but it did take  me aback that it happened so quickly.

It started falling out on day fourteen of the first chemotherapy session, the day I’d gone up Fyrish with my friend Julie Ann. And three days after that I was bald.

There was little point walking about looking like a nuclear fall-out victim, besides, my scalp had felt all weird and a little tender. I asked Paul to come over with his clippers and take them to my head. ‘Just shave the lot off,’ I said. I had, at times, wondered what I’d look like bald. Now life necessitated that change for me.

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The halfway chop.

Leon wasn’t comfortable about seeing his mum with no hair and said he’d rather I wear a wig or hat. I was sensitive to his feelings, because let’s be honest it wasn’t about the baldness as much as it was about the visible sign of my disease.

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Embracing my inner punk.

I posted the new look as my profile picture on facebook. Nobody suspected I’d shaved my head because I have cancer: it was just me being me. Even Leon agreed that perhaps it wasn’t so bad after all.

For some women losing their hair is a really big deal. It was for my mum. She saw her hair as her dignity. In the end it’s down to the individual what attitude they adopt. Cry about it or suck it up and make the best of it. The baldness is not permanent. (Nothing is.) So based on that premise I refuse to be bothered about having no hair (except my brows and lashes. I’m actively willing them not to drop out. Lol.)

Next: Chemotherapy Two, a Painful Arm and Mountain Days