Sunday, May 18, 2008

May is still my favourite month and It's Time to say Goodbye

May is still my favorite month, and this May sees the end (finger's crossed) of my Cancer treatment for the foreseeable future.

I started out on this journey in May 2006, when London leaf and bud were preparing with me, for my darling daughter Aimi's marriage, little knowing what lay ahead in the months to come after the wedding celebrations were over.

24 months later, I am now free of all treatment and, as far as anyone knows, free of Cancer, thanks to early detection and the wonderful care and treatment I have received.

I am at the other end of the tunnel with a new crop of wavy hair. I have survived!

And so it is time to end this blog else it will drift into being just a chatty diary which was not it's purpose.

It was time to end it a month ago but I have procrastinated and dragged my feet towards this inevitable parting. It has been really hard to sit down and close this chapter in my life. A psychiatrist that I consulted for six sessions prior to my marriage in the early seventies due to a pair of very cold feet (they knew what lay ahead!!!) once said two very wise things to me that I have held on to for life.

The first thing he said was that my relationship in my forthcoming marriage would be no better and no worse after marriage than it was at that precise time. He was absolutely right, of course, and my hopes that things would get better with a ring on my finger proved not to be so.

The second amazing insight he gave me after a relatively short, getting-to-know-me, period was "Why are you so afraid to lose the thing you love"?

I have never found a satisfactory answer to that question, and it's origin must lie in childhood somewhere, but, in spite of all the work I have done on myself over the years, the fear is still alive and kicking today. If I love something or someone, that love is almost always intertwined with the terror of imminent loss and/or abandonment.

With any loss, whether person, place or thing, there is the inevitable empty space to be experienced before new growth replaces it, and so with a fairly heavy heart it's time to say goodbye and face the void bravely and with many, many thank yous to be expressed.

We Do Belong!
I received a small royalty cheque this morning, for mechanical sales of my little song "We Don't Belong" - now viewable on You Tube and available on itunes!! (sorry about the plug!)

This fairly obscure disc which I recorded in 1965 has been re-discovered and re-released on two compilation cds, recently, one of which was nominated for two Grammy Awards this February (best historical and best packaging!) and is still staggering on saleswise!!

In order to achieve any of the meager success this little song has earned, I needed the help of a 70 piece live orchestra to accompany me all those years ago at Lansdowne Recording Studios, Notting Hill.

In order to get through early stage breast cancer, surgery, chemotherapy and other treatments, I have needed another 70 piece live orchestra which has been made up of my family and friends who have stood by me with love, support, encouragement, presents and practical help to see me safely through this passage.

I would like to acknowledge them now.

On piano, my wonderful daughter Aimi who was gifted to me staight from heaven. For her huge and constant range of always being there; for quietly fetching me, after her work, in my dressing gown and taking me back to hers for supper on the bad days, for standing on the steps at the Marsden with tears matching mine in her eyes when we were told I had to have chemo, and for being the best daughter anyone could ever hope to be lucky enough to have - Thank you darling!

On drums, cousin Christopher, for providing a steady and continuous beat of practical helpfulness, cheerfulness and encouragement (as did cousin Irene) and for all the cups of tea and chats on my bed in the morning that kept me going. - Thank you Chris!

My son in law Massimo on bass, who held it all together on the occasions when I just had to work. For carrying equipment that I was too tired to manage and changing rolls of film when my fingers were too creaky to do it and for ferrying me about - Thank you Mass!

To my darling granddaughter Mia, on triangle, for providing the light entertainment and the joy of her company after school and at weekends. Thank you darling Mia!

The (heart) Strings section containing: Connie & Peter, Sue Coles, Irene, Francis Topp, Penny Tham, Mary Morris, Deborah Peat, Aunty Amy, Lisa Nokes, Amica & Frenchie and Liane Saunders, all of whom I will NEVER be able to thank enough. Thank you all!

Instrumentalists, Brother Jon and Jessica, Johnanna and Sam, cousins - Bill & Bernie, Stephen, Robert & Jane, Johny & Janet, Richard, David Whitt, David & Marysia, Digby, Cherry, Kinny; dear friends, Avril & Winston, Jenny Lee-Wright, Robin & triplets, Ruth and Alan Franks, Cam & Kate Fairchild, Karine & Donald McCall, Michael, Chad & Lainie Vaughan, Peter & Sherry Doyle, Marc Guild, Bill Potts, Leslie & Robert Engels; Barry Fitzgerald, Kerry Falcon, Bernice, Ric Hiscott, Annie, Leapy
lee, Kearrey Graham, Ann Findon, Andi Welman, Barbara Frederickson, Maureen Holllinrake, Sarah Wooldridge, Judy Chilcotte, Julie Ivelaw-Chapman, Cynthia Rogers, Caroline Gardner, Zelda (Valerie) Chesterfield, Nick and Fiona Carter, Jane Russell, Rosallind Bailey, Caroline Upton, Andrea, Sylvia Boyd Norris, June Reed, Carol Reed, Les Reed, Donna Reed. Roger Greenaway, Sean DeVine, Karen Crowley, Verina Wilson, Diana Baer, Nigel Ryan, Jeremy Vaughan, Carol Stockham, Pam, Dunja Lavrova, Richard Gambrill.

Chorus: Beppie, Robert Wodjaki, Karima Chentous, Sveltla, Katya,Mrs Morozgalska, Father Mark & the staff at St John's school. Maxine & Yvone, the Hair Garden.
Claire Nichols for reflexology, psychology and healing. Alex, Gosia & Chris at the Haven.
Mr Gui - surgeon extraordinnaire, Mr Smith's oncology team of doctors; Marsden nurses Francesca, Olive, Valerie, Stephanie, Zoe, Jenny, Paulina, Sonia, Michelle, Motoko, Arleen, Soot Mee, & Zena on reception

And last, but certainly not least, my ever-young musical director, Russell Herring who put a song in my heart, and wielded his magic baton throughout the symphony with some unforgettable solos on the French Horn. - Don't ask!!!!

I shall now step down as Priniciple Artist and take my place again in the Great Orchestra of life as we all roll along to the music and to our ultimate and unavoidable Destination together.

If I have helped anyone who has been dealt the Cancer Card through the sharing of my experience it has been well worth it and that makes me feel good.

Thank you all
Thank you for listening
Thank you for reading
Thank you for phone calls, presents, cards, flowers, hugs and smiles
Thank you for your love

We DO Belong!!! We belong to each other

and - All Shall Be Well.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Eat and drink! For you know not whence you came, nor why; Eat and drink! For you know not why you go, nor where" Omar Khayem.

Its time for a celebration!

I had my last (if the Great Spirit of the Universe decrees) treatment of Herceptin, the wonder Cancer preventative drug, today.

I took the angels (nurses) a box of my favourite Lindt chocolates to say thank you, and was late as usual, and, as usual nobody minded or said anything.

The needle went in sweet as a nut and the infusion proceeded effortlessly. For the last time, hopefully, I gave my name and date of birth, and the nurse read out the name of the drug, quantity to be given and today's date, as a safety check before getting on with it.

I took my last Ham sandwich and apple juice plus 2 cups of tea from Esther, the rather grumpy tea lady, who I have finally coaxed a smile out of, and sat back like an old pro for the hour and a half process.

The yellow room was cheerful and bubbling with goodness and I acknowledged a few buddies I have made along the way with a smile and a nod.

They say there are no coincidences, and I found myself sitting next to a young woman with a fairly apprehensive expression who was on Day One of FEC chemo - same as I had last year. I was able to keep her talking as the first canula was inserted (it took two go's - my first took 4 goes!) and reassure her that the whole process would not be as bad as she might fear.

Later I sent her by email, my chapter on the first chemo cycle and the one where the hair starts to go so that she can know what to expect, and we exchanged phone numbers in case she needs some support.

Having been signed off and told I don't have to return for 3 months when I am due for a check up, I said goodbye to the Royal Marsden and its angels, and 19 months after the "big shock" I stepped quietly out of the building into the Spring sunshine with a light step and caught a number 414 bus back to Fulham to collect Mia and her friend Isadora from school.

We sat on the blue bench and played with the guinea pigs till it was time to go to Aimi's for supper.

Highlights of the month include:

The gift of a bar of Russian chocolate from Oxana who came to stay at the Boot Inn at the beginning of the month. The manufacturers over there are trying to get away from all the garish colours of modern life and go back to the old style wrappers. Very 'tasteful' - and delicious!

A walk in Bishop's Park with Sue, Chilli Pepper the dog and her adorable little grandson Archie who was born 11 weeks early weighing just over 2 lbs but has struggled hard to survive and is now a healthy 10 pound bouncing baby boy. The little hat I found him in Frog Orange in Headington has been a great hit!

A trip with Mia along the wobbly bridge over the
Thames to Tate Modern. It was my first visit there. I am not a modern art connisseur - in fact I just don't get it - nor do I really want to but it was time to at least have a look. I was not disappointed. At least 95% of the "artworks" such as arms coming out of the wall or the pile of bricks left me cold and insulted my intellligence. I'm sorry, but a black painting in a black frame - Art? Do me a favour! However one or two pieces were worth seeing. The huge canvasses of reflections in a river were quite beautiful, The giant Mona Lisa with moustache and beard made me chuckle, and Mia enjoyed some of the interactive games. We treated ourselves to a taxi home to the Boot Inn for a cuppa and then sat down to make our own Art from the clay pack bought in the gallery shop. Well at least I don't have to explain what they are!!!

Tea with Auntie Amy whose 100th birthday is fast approaching.
Seen here watching her favourite programme You are the Weakest Link with Ann Robinson!!!!

And an exciting visit from Bond collector extraordinaire, James Pickard and his friend James Lay who treated Robert Sellers, Christopher and I to a slap up meal at our local Thai Restaurant. "No one goes hungry when eating with me" boomed James as he ordered practically the whole menu. James Pickard has the largest collection of 007 memoribilia in the world. He has a first edition of every Fleming book - signed by Ian Fleming himself and an Aladins cave of original poster and film artwork, photographs and so on. Robert and I have been invited to view his collection in Leicester soon. He had come to London to ask us to sign some of the Battle for Bond books which he has snapped up as he is also a "fine and rare books" seller and I signed 27 of them for him. See his amazing website on

Tom, Aimi's beautiful burmese pussycat came to stay with me for two weeks while the kitchen is being made over.

Mia has taken a very fine portrait of him (left) with her digital camera which I have
framed and put on the wall! And mine is the one on the right.

I also took this one of (l to r) Mia, Isadora and Nina, the nine going on 19 year olds dressed up in my clothes, and extreme foreseeable future trouble!!!!

But for now Its great to be well! It's great to have finished treatment. It's great to be alive! It's wonderful to be a part of this troubled old world where so many are struggling to make a difference and to contribute what they can.

I've been on the receiving end of a lot of love of love during the past year and a half. It's time to put some back. Thanks for listening. I do hope something I've said has been helpful and I wish you joy and courage in your journey through the Cancer Card, and remember, as my old dearly departed friend Mark McCormack said once in his Success Secrets newsletter "The Rough is only Mental"!

ALL Shall be Well.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Sorrows of my Heart

I would not exchange the sorrows of my heart for the joys of the multitude. And I would not have the tears that sadness make to flow from my every part turn into laughter. I would that my life remain a tear and a smile..... A tear to unite me with those of broken heart: a smile to be a sign of my joy in existence.
- Kahlil Gibran, Tear and a Smile

I'm nearing the end of my treatment!! (Fingers crossed) I have two more Herceptin appointments over the next month and then I am done.

This week I had a final, very thorough H
eart investigation to make sure that the heart muscle has not been damaged by the treatment I have been having.

Mary sat with me at the Marsden whilst I was examined by Consultant Cardiologist George Amin from Queen's Hospital, Romford. George made us laugh because he said he was an "Essex Boy"!!!! I mean, Amin?!!!!! Actually I drove him mad with my chatter and jokes and he had to keep telling me to be still so he could get a complicated reading from his machine. I was able to watch the whole process. Fascinating to see my heart pumping away and the little valves going to and fro. Every so often he would click on a dark area and take a photo of it which made me slightly nervous and I would say silly things like "Is that a lump you see on my heart?" But he patiently explained that he was not looking for lumps but merely there to measure the function of the left ventricle to make sure all was well as Herceptin could cause problems.

I did feel a bit nervous because the ultrasound room was the very one I had lain in in all innocence, 18 months ago now, when the nice nurse took my hand and gave me "that look", and the rather fiece femail Cardiologist told me that my mammogram and ultrasound scans were "abnormal" and the first icy fingers of fear gripped that same heart, now pumping away so merrily on the screen, as I said "It's not cancer though is it?" and an hour later was advised that it indeed was cancer and that I would be having a masectomy in the next two weeks.

This time, thankfully, all was well. My poor old heart which doesn't look at all battered by the slings and arrows of life, on the sceen and shows none of it's scars, has been pronounced "normal" and functioning as it should.

Mary (who took these rather glam photos) and I celebrated with a Decaf Cappuccino at the Crown Pub opposite afterwards.

The banning of Robert's book The Battle for Bond which is about my late father's involvement in the film version of Ian Fleming's books has caused a few skipped beats this month. Bruce Sachs of Tommahawk, the publisher has opted to hand back the remaining 300 books that were in the warehouse rather than oppose the Ian Fleming Will Trust lawyers in a battle as to whether or not we had the right to publish a couple of letters from Fleming to my father that had been part of the 1963 law case and therefore in the public domain as far as we were concerned. It has caused no problems in USA where the books are now selling out fast.

This has resulted in some very welcome publicity and the rush to bring out the new edition of the book which will not include the letters as illustrations (though we are allowed to reveal the content) which were not necessary to the plot anyway - merely of interest, we thought, for the reader to see. the new edition which is now eagerly awaited by thousands of Bond fans will be a sligthly smaller and less expensive version of the original lovingly put together book which was a little expensive but will be treasured by the collectors.

Sean Stowell of BBC Yorkshire interviewed Robert, Bruce and myself for the clip below. It would have been an even longer clip if Barnsley had not just beaten Chelsea a couple of hours before the broadcast so that the rest of the news was filled with Barnsley football fans celebrating in various pubs and states of sobriety.

Highlights of a rather musical month have been Christopher's birthday celebrated as usual at the Blue Elephant Tai Restaurant, Fulham Broadway with a cake supplied by Aimi that original said 'Party' on it - redesigned by Mia and me!!

Maureen's Songs from the Shows concert at the Chelsea Arts Club

Dunya Lavrova represented the Royal College of Music where she is now studying for a PHD having gained honours in her final exams last year , and played some amazingly complicated pieces brilliantly and with charisma at the Wigmore Hall on Monday 24th March. She has grown both as an artist and in composure since I last saw her over a year ago.

And last but not least Mia's Schools choirs Proms Praise for Schools" Concert at the Albert Hall, which I dutifully went along with the family to see - not expecting a wild evening.
See "Mia at Albert Hall" on You Tube.

However a grand surprise awaited us as we took our seats in the ground floor box which due to the generosity of the evenings sponsors cost a meagre £5 per head, having collected drinks for the interval .

The production was spectacular with the orchestra and 12 school choirs on stage lit beautifully with multi-coloured lights. A huge ball was suspended from the domed ceiling on which was projected scenes such as eagles in flight to accompany "Up Where We Belong" and film footage depicting Fire and Flood to highlight the Elements - which was the theme for the night. Sprays of fireworks dashed round the Grand Circle and the evening ended with a gigantic glitter ball which obliterated everything from view in a shower of golden tinsel.

As I said to Russell later on, it warmed the cockles of my heart no end!!!!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mothering Sunday and All that Jazz

Firstly I would like to reassure anyone who has been kind enough to worry about me, that being "back at the Marsden" means only for the preventative treatment with the wonder drug Herceptin that I have been so fortunate to be given at great expense from the National Health. Having had the all clear, months ago, with an 80% chance of non return of breast cancer in the next 10 years, my chances are improved by another 50% (taking it to 90%) by a one year treatment of Herceptin which I have been taking as a drip at 3 weekly intervals at the Day Patient Unit at the Marsden. I finish this treatment in about a month.

After that, I have the same chances as anyone else as to whether I get struck down again. I am fortunate in that I shall be watched like a hawk now, just in case.

It's almost as if it never happened.
How quickly one returns to normal life. Apart from being much more tired than I used to be and not able to push myself, everything is returning to as it was before diagnosis, except that I am mentally stronger, and have a different outlook on life and love and stuff, and an awareness of the preciousness of time and the present moment.

Mothering Sunday was one of these precious days. Having only just become a mother by the seat of my pants, as it were, I am always delighted when Aimi wants to mark it as a special occasion. She is very good about this. This year I joined the family at the service at St John's Hyde park. Aimi and Mia were both reading. It was a beautiful morning. The choir there is heavenly and they sung heartily in harmony with pianist and flute.

Before my love affair with the church waned I was a regular at St John's. This Sunday, as little children ran about with posies of daffodils for all the Mums and any other ladies too, I sat whilst so many memories came to mind from over the years. My tears falling in steady stream into the red carpet under the altar rail, when I was going through a particularly harsh time in 1984 and learning to live my life without alcohol. The joy of holding baby Mia in my arms and soothing her under my big black hat with shocking pink roses at her Christening in 2000. The still vibrant and wonderful memories of Aimi's wedding a year and a half ago when the church was filled with dearest friends & family, exquisite flowers and utter happiness as I stood reading the first reading on the same patch of carpet that once held my tears.

In the evening I went to the Ram Jam Jazz club in Kingston to celebrate dear friend, Alan Franks' presence on this planet for 60 years! Alan is a multi-talented writer, musician, poet and playwright and treated us to a fun evening of music and party pieces performed by himself and other talented friends including his two grown ups sons Simon and Jimmy, or the 'Audio Bullys' as they have become, and who are currently touring the country with their new album. I enclose a few photos. Alan also paid tribute to his father in law, Ruth's father Rev Peter Gledhill who sadly died last year. Peter was an intellectual and highly educated man and Alan sent us into hysterics with this quote from the Reverend who had once delivered this worldly wisdom to him in his wonderful slow, deep and brooding Welsh voice.

"You see Alan, the thing is,.......... as one progresses through life,........... one comes to realise that a thorough grounding in the classics; ..........a familiarity with the way in which the greatest observers of human nature set down their wisdom;............. an informed appreciation of their thought processes and linguistic expertise does, in point of fact, equip you for...........absolutely................ ......................................................nothing!"

Here is one of my favourite photographs of him holding grandson Arthur on his knee.

It was also a joy for me to hear Emily Maguire for the first time. She sings and plays with a pure quivering voice not dissimilar to the late and great Eva Cassidy. Unsurprisingly, she has just been picked to support Don McLean on his new tour. Watch this space!

It's a great day for the Whittingham's.
Some footballer called Whittingham
seems to have done a great job today. He scored in an important match and helped someone else to - can you tell? I'm not a football fan? It was on in the background and I just kept hearing the word Whittingham yelled out in that unmistakle 'man excited about sport strangulated voice' . Whittingham is my maiden name and also that of my father Jack, and we were delighted to find a large article about him and his contribution to the 007 genre in the Sunday Times today on page 10. I enclose a link in case anyone is interested and I haven't emailed you already!!

There was also a news item on BBC Yorkshire TV last night Monday 10th, at 6.30 Sky channel 976 in which Robert Sellers, Bruce Sachs and myself were interviewed on the banning of The Battle for Bond book which is all very good publicity for the next edition which we intend to publish in May! As the programe came from Yorkshire they featured my father Jack heavily and showed some wonderful old photographs of him as a young man and later on with Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda) at Ealing studios. I felt proud as I watched with Aimi and Mia as Dad got some of the recognition he has always so richly deserved for producing the screenplay that helped to transform the sadistic, violent and alcoholic Bond into the suave romantic hero that he is today so that the audiences of 1960 and the likes of Messrs Saltzman and Brocolli lapped him up.

For those who have copies of The Battle for Bond, you may be interested to know that it has become a rare collectors item overnight and there are two used copies selling on for £125 and £168 each!. If you still want a copy you can order it from for a lot less but hurry as it is selling out fast!

Watch this space too!!!