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Hello.

I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind www.thetimeofourlives.net - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Fast Fiat,high heels; big bangs....



You can pay good money for a whistlestop tour of Rome in a Fiat 500, you know.

But here I was, travelling buckshee beside the petite Italian driver of this little white chariot; its horsepower whipped to the max on a hilly hairpin .

An hour before, I`d laughed at the plump Bellini elephant statue chosen for the start of our foodie themed walking tour, quickly rescheduled as other group members were delayed. That left guide Daniela and me--a Rome alone newbie. A walk together? Yes please.

The pace was brisk, with Daniela serving up stories on every square, street and statue; with a side order of good girlie gossip. Crazy cabbies? Reader, she married one. Zebra crossings where traffic never stops? The lines were more a `suggestion`. Those girls in heels on scooters?  So much easier than heels on cobbles.

We pause at the world`s most improbable place for a cat sanctuary-- the temple ruins at Largo Argentina where, some say, Caesar was murdered. Scores of the city`s feral felines are cared for and fed here. Our turn next : at the city`s oldest produce market, Campo di Fiori --fresh fruit salads and sticky handshakes with Emanuale, fifty years a stallholder. We pose for pictures and a Japanese couple want shots with him too. Bewildered, he smiles again, and we leave him to box up his beans.


Next stop: the Tiber, for tales of torrential downpours and burst banks, then we`re piling into her car, opening windows for a breath of breeze in this searing city heat. `We should make it,` she says softly, before snapping, fortissimo, at the scooter rider on her blindside.

The road`s steeper now; twisting. Summit reached; Daniela brakes sharply; ramming the car into reverse, one palm flat on the wheel, winding it this way and that: a snug Fiat fit.

`We`re in time`, she beams, ushering me across the road to a low wall, watching with pride as I gasp, drinking in the most stunning panorama; the city`s riches laid out like an emperor`s banquet.


Pantheon, piazzas, monuments; churches ; only my guide knowing that in tre, due, uno, I`d be gasping again at the reason for her haste throughout my bespoke buzz around Rome--my big surprise: the deafening `BOOM` of cannon fire just metres below; a daily, high noon nudge to the battle here in 1849, when Garibaldi defeated the French.

The smoke fades; the show`s over; mine too. Daniela has a date.

Fiat fired up, we speed back down to the city centre; now an angry bee swarm of blaring horns and buzzing scooters. Rome`s getting tetchy; needs feeding.

`It`s like lasagne, this city`, she says, dark eyes darting about for one of the relatively few Metro stations in this ancient place. `You know, in layers. You can`t just dig more stations. You could damage something precious.`

But a red `M` is in sight, so I scramble out into three angry lanes of snarling traffic; shouting a drowned out `thankyou` to my new Italian friend.

I dive down the Metro steps, way below b├ęchamel sauce level. And I`m sure, even with a Colosseum trip to come, that this tailor made morning that started alone, and ended up in a tiny Fiat with a real Roman…..is going to be hard to beat..

Friday, 4 July 2014

Kick the bucketlist. Just do it.



Bucketlists are supposed to be a list of things you really long to do before you die, aren`t they? And sadly, you often see people with life-limiting illnesses setting out what they`d like to see or achieve once time starts ticking by extra fast. Some make it. Others just don`t beat the clock.

So..well..this.

February on Harlech beach. 
Don`t write a bucketlist. Don`t wait for the moment you`re told you might not make it to the Queen`s telegram. Don`t procrastinate until you`re too ill to travel, or until the long lost friend you meant to visit in Sydney has popped their clogs .Just do stuff now. Maybe it`s skydiving. Or running a marathon. Or something closer to home like walking Offa`s Dyke, or strolling along your favourite beach in the moonlight. Or going camping in your favourite beauty spot. Or saying `sod the chores` and going out for a picnic.

I don`t want to get too morose about this, but we all know people who`ve received shocking news about their health. People whose life, suddenly, turns a right-angle. It can happen to anyone.

I was found to have a pre-cancerous, high grade breast condition called DCIS three years ago. I had to have minor surgery, then three weeks` radiotherapy. They`d spotted it on a mammogram--a regular test because of my family history (Mum got breast cancer at 48 and died seven years later. Three of her sisters got it too--two also died, and one has survived into her eighties). It was scary, but they were pretty sure that after thwacking mine with that course of action, I`d be fine.

So it was a bit of a shock a few weeks ago, the day before Dad`s funeral actually, to get a call saying my most recent mammogram had shown little dots, possibly calcification spots, and they wanted me back in for a biopsy. I was already shattered about Dad, but parked the fear, put on a brave face and closed it all off until after the funeral. Then I started Googling what it could be, and found that if it was another bout of DCIS, or worse, they wouldn`t be able to offer radiotherapy to the same area. It could mean a mastectomy and possibly chemotherapy. So I kept quiet, had the biopsy under a local anaesthetic, (the team at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford were truly fantastic; thanks Dr Walsh and the radiography ladies) went to Glastonbury (would have been on my bucketlist if I believed in them...) with backpack straps bashing my bruising, had fun, regardless, and 35 long, long days after the call from the hospital, went back to the clinic for the results.

All fine.

The dots really had been calcification, and everything was benign. I asked everyone to double check, including the registrar who examined me. When I got up to leave, still trembling, my heart sank as he said: `There`s just one more thing I need to tell you`. Here we go, I thought. `Your buttons are completely done up the wrong way,` he said. I decided it would be inappropriate to kiss a registrar while partially undressed (or fully dressed, for that matter,) so made myself decent, legged it down the corridor, bought a breast cancer fundraising badge in a blur, and sped home, weeping with relief most of the way.

I didn`t fancy bubbly, or balloons. Or celebrating, much. There was a clinic full of women with me that day, some of whom would be getting far less welcome news. I feel for them. And for everyone else I know right now who`s living with cancer. I don`t, and won`t, ever consider myself `out of the woods`, and I signed up on the spot to be in a clinical study which might, just, help others.

Juliet on a chilly day trip to Aberdovey
But it got me thinking about how, if the news had been different, it would be less easy to see the places I still want to see, because there`d have been treatment, and possible side effects.

I asked for voluntary redundancy from my job two years ago, for a couple of reasons.That decision bought and brought me freedom, and the chance to travel, relax, see the people I want to see, wipe out every bubble of work-related stress and focus on my priorities. So yes, I`m incredibly lucky, and I`m hoping to travel again soon, and treat my daughters to some trips, too.

It`s all well and good if you have spare cash to travel to those special places. If you don`t, there are cheaper ways to travel. Here are my top tips:

+I signed up with a house-swapping website (www.guardianhomeexchange.co.uk ). You need to pay your travel, but you can get free accommodation in the UK or further afield.

+List yourself as a house-sitter, and care for someone`s home and or their pets while they`re away, in a location you really want to visit (TrustedHousesitters.com).

+ If you fancy a weekend under canvas, but don`t have the kit, try Freegle (www.ilovefreegle.org) , and get a tent for free, or ask your friends (I have a leaky pop up tent from Glasto...but if the forecast is ok and you want to borrow it, just shout!)

+If you want to skydive or parachute jump, you might be able to sign up at a charity event, and get your kicks while raising cash. And if you`ve always longed to run a marathon, you probably can. Just start slowly, with help from a local running group (www.shropshire-shufflers.org) --and you might just cross that line in the Mall one day.

So that`s it really. No bucket to kick this week, I hope. No lists. But no procrastinating, either.


Badge from the fundraisers at PRH.