Female friendships are pivotal to a woman's existence.  Women fulfil a role in our lives that men just can't in my opinion and for that reason I suppose I would classify myself quite firmly as a woman's woman.

Although happily married I am not a woman who regards my husband as my best friend and am always somewhat surprised and intrigued by those women that do.  I didn't become the person I am in tandem with my husband and just as I don't satisfy all his emotional, intellectual or entertainment needs, he doesn't satisfy mine.

We love and respect each other and (aside from our family) share a passion for the theatre, art, eating out, comedy, reading, long walks and bizarrely Eastenders, but we don't have all the same interests.  Apart from the obvious man passion for sport, he is a huge Sci-Fi fan, I am not.  Computer games can engage him for hours but irritate the hell out of me. I love clothes and the latest fashions, he couldn't give a damn.  I enjoy a good romp around an antiques or interior fair, whereas furniture for him is just functional.

Essentially, I think I am a fuller person and therefore wife to him for having my girlfriends in my life to satisfy those other bits of me that he can't reach and to share my interests with me that he doesn't.  Let's face it there are some subjects that men just don't want to know about let alone talk about, whereas with women that you trust there is no such thing as a "no holds barred" conversation.  Also women love attention to detail.  If a decision needs to be made there is generally always a woman ready to discuss the pros and cons of any given scenario at length but I am yet to meet a man that is and most important of all, shopping with a woman is on a whole different level to going with your husband.

Then there is the girls night out or weekend away.  Where would the female world be without these?  Nothing compares to a group of women getting together for a good catch up and a bloody good laugh; you know that kind of hysterical belly aching laughter that happens when you are having fun with like-minded women?  Girls will be girls!

For me friendship is all about the shared experiences, the mutual understanding that doesn't require words and the intimacies you would only share with a loyal and trusted friend and don't have to think about before you do. If you have to pause before you share a confidence with a girlfriend or say "please keep this to yourself" then it is probable that that girlfriend is a good friend but not a true friend.

My girlfriends fall broadly into three categories - University, Work and Children.  This  is probably true of most people, as you tend to pick up friends at each of the key stages in your life.  I have made some truly incredible friends through work and some even better ones through the mothers I have met through my teenager's schooling.  However, whilst some of my university friends have obviously known me the longest and shared my most formative years such as losing my virginity and my first major boyfriend drama, there are some in this group that I would not necessarily deem as amongst my closest friends anymore.

There are some experiences since leaving university and defnitely since having children that have shaped who I have become today that just don't involve some of those old friends.  They will always hold a special place in my heart and my memories but we have quite simply moved on from each other.

Over the years it is natural that you re-organise your friends, it may be that you live too far away from each other and seeing each other is complicated, that you don't like each other's partner, that your children are different ages or quite simply that you have lost touch.  This is all perfectly normal.  Friendships, like a marriage, require love and attention and sometimes life takes over and it just isn't possible.  Generally speaking though the ones that fall by the wayside are those that stand apart from the friends that you don't see for ages but can just pick up with instantly from where you left off as if it was only yesterday and the friends who have got your back in a time of crisis and are really looking out for you and particularly those that support you through the good and the bad.

For this reason whilst planning a celebration for my 50th next year I found myself inadvertently doing  a bit of a friendship cull in deciding on the kind of party to have and the friends I want there.  Sadly, I know that there are a couple in particular from my 30's and 40's when I encountered some of my toughest challenges that I simply won't carry through to my 50's.

When I raise a glass to being 50 and celebrate with a tear and a laugh, I want to surround  myself with those true friends that have stuck by me through thick and thin.  By that I mean the ones who were there when I got divorced; the ones who supported me when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and the ones that helped me without being asked when my husband suffered his mini stroke last year.

Some of these are relatively new friends but they are valued.  True girlfriends are hard to come by so when you do find them, they need to be cherished, nurtured and thanked for listening.....


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Mother nature instinctively teaches us to protect our children no matter what the cost, so when it comes to letting our children grow up how easy is it to stand back and remove the safety net that we have carefully placed around them?

As parents we are presented with this challenge each time our children pass another milestone.  Some milestones and the responses they evoke are more ludicrous than others.  Am I alone in having felt that wave of panic when your preschool child first goes on a play date with a new friend?  It is an irrational panic of course that makes you spend your precious childfree time apart wondering if they are OK with these "relative strangers" and have remembered everything you told them not to do, like not to eat a grape whole in case they choke and the parent isn't profficient in the heimlich manoeuvre!!

Or how about an invitation to the theatre, cinema or a shopping centre that brings you out in hives as you have nightmares about their becoming separated and lost forever. Then there is the hurdle of the school trip.  I have seen goliath mothers reduced to gibbering wrecks at the anxiety of being separated from their offspring for more than 24 hours.

Everyone's anxieties are different and there is no right or wrong response to a scenario other than ensuring you make the right decision fundamentally for you and your child.  However, as each of these milestones are passed and our children survive, the safety net is widened some more and new caveats introduced as they take on more individual responsibility - going to the corner shop alone, catching a bus with a friend - basically there is always the "next thing" they want to do.

Now, however, as a parent to teenagers I have noticed the challenges to the safety nets I have erected to protect them are more frequent and on occasion more sinister.

Last year our daughter, the youngest teen signed up for an end of year school trip to France. Unfortunately, six months prior to the trip in late 2015, France was blighted by a series of terrorist attacks.  Some school trips were reported in the media as cancelled on the advice of the Foreign Office.  By the time of our daughter's trip, however, the no travel alert had been lifted and it was deemed safe for everything to go ahead as planned. Some parents, however, disagreed and their daughters pulled out.  Now I have a first class degree in worrying but for my part, I felt that it was important to maintain perspective on the level of threat at that time and an air of calm as I didn't want my daughter to feel an unecessary sense of alarm. After all being caught in a terrorist attack has a lower likelihood than that of contracting cancer.

Despite feeling confident in my decision I would be lying, however, if I didn't say that their doubt didn't force me to question whether I was being a "responsible parent" in allowing her to go, much to the annoyance of my husband who finds such paranoia beyond comprehension.  But that is what happens when someone plants a seed of doubt in your mind.

In another instance a series of attempted abductions in our area forced parents to reconsider the "safety" of their children walking home from school. There was a feeling of needing to protect our girls but simultaneously not wanting to take it to such an extreme that they would think there was a bogey man on every street corner.  At the end of the day it came down to reinforcing the safety net for a while and insisting the girls did not travel alone.

On a  different note, my eldest teen attended a Grime concert in Kentish Town recently.  For those not familiar with the world of Grime, it is a music movement that began in East London in 2001 and includes artists like Dizzee Rascal. The essence of the music is anti-establishment and the lyrics are fast and full of authentic accents and slang.

This all seems harmless enough but one of the elements of Grime music, is the moshpits it provokes.  Now for me ie "the oldie in the corner" the moshpit has always simply been the huddle at the front near the stage, but as the teen said quite clearly "Oh Mum you just don't understand!" - in the Grime world it means so much more.  According to the teen the concerts are highly charged and the moshpits involve forming a circle and on the order of the artist, charging in to the centre.

Sometimes I have found with teenagers that there is such a thing as too much information and this revelation was one of those times.  Not only was he travelling to the other side of London, but he was also placing himself voluntarily in an aggressive scenario.  He is almost 18 and perfectly capable of looking after himself but for me it was time to worry some more about his safety. Why couldn't he go to a "nice" concert with seats and just stand up and wave his arms around??  His answer of course was "That's boring!"

As parents it is natural to worry and mothers in particular are very good at it, but as my teenagers grow up and explore more I have found it is important to keep a balanced view and not to freak out, lock them in the house and stop them doing things . It is not easy sometimes to stand back and remove that safety net but as my daughter's French teacher said prior to the trip, if you stifle young people's opportunities and stop them doing things, you run the risk of them being anxious.  We all want children with lifeskills and an ability to be independent, not children who are afraid to venture out in to the world, take risks and explore what life has to offer don't we?


What do you think?  How do you manage the balance of keeping your child safe and letting them explore life's possibilities?

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For the next stage of our Californa Road Trip we headed South.  From San Francisco we took Highway 1 over the Golden Gate Bridge, following the same route we had taken only two days previously on our bikes and started our journey down the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) along one of the most spectacular and dramatic scenic routes I have ever travelled.

The highway literally hugs the cliffs, winding along the coast and giving you open views of the Pacific and the beaches below.  There are frequent pull off points for cars and it is almost impossible to avoid stopping to take a picture whenever you can and to just stand and stare at the view.  Brought up near the coast in Norfolk, I am naturally drawn to the sea but this was like nothing I had ever seen.  It is overwhelmingly beautiful.



As well as viewing spots to take photographs, there are also many places to park and enjoy a picnic with seating areas looking out to the Ocean, in fact I challenge anyone to find a finer place to eat a sandwich.  Our destination was Carmel which allowing for stops along the route was approximately  a 3 hour drive.  Carmel is a town in Monterey County, well known for its famous mayor Clint Eastwood and its multitude of art galleries.  In fact there are reported to be 100 in the town itself and with such stunning scenery to inspire them it is not hard to see why.


A charming oddity of the town is that it is illegal to wear high heels on the cobbled pavements, which made me smile as the town, although small is full of designer boutiques and perfectly coiffured ladies walking their picture perfect dogs along the streets and would in my opinion seem the ideal place to take a stroll in a pair of Manolo's.

Carmel is, however, a convenient spot for visiting the more touristy town of  Monterey for a spot of whale watching which is why we were there.  Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey is home to various whale watching tours but a keen diver Mr MoT had booked in advance with Monterey Bay Whale Watch as the trips are conducted by experienced marine biologists.

Despite my love for being near the sea, I am not keen on boats and tend to avoid them at all costs, so on the day of the trip I was feeling mildly nervous.  My husband kept assuring me it would be fine whilst pointing out that the sea was like a "mill pond" so there really was nothing to be afraid of.  However, that was the bit of the sea that we could see immediately in front of us, you didn't need to be a brain surgeon to work out that the bit with the whales in would not be like that.  Informed by the shore staff that it was "choppy" on the day of our trip we took motion sickness tablets and prepared to board.

Anyone prone to sea sickness will tell you that the only place to be is at the back of the boat with your eyes on the horizon and that is where I sat.  The boat was small in comparison to the others we had seen in the harbour yet I had been assured that a single hulled boat in choppy waters is better for managing the nausea.   We were soon to find out.

As we left the harbour we were surrounded by sea lions basking in the sunlight on the piers and old abandoned boats in the harbour and as we headed out to sea the cacophany of their barks rang in our ears.  As promised it was choppy.  In fact I had to avoid looking at the swell of the waves to maintain my calm and all this whilst being quizzed by a friendly group of Californians on Brexit!  Nothing like taking your mind of it I suppose.

Every now and then the skipper would kill the engines as we were confronted by a huge wave and we would all whoop with delight as we went up and down as if on a roller coaster.  A lovely lady who spends all her spare time on whale trips kept regaling me with tales of her previous whale watching trip in the Antarctic which was apparently alot calmer.  I am sure she meant well!!

After about an hour and a half of heading out beyond the headlands of Santa Cruz, we stopped.  It was at this point that many passengers hit by the sudden stillness after the continual swell, promptly dashed to the back of the boat for a quick chunder.  This included Teen 2 who encouraged by her father had been enthusiastically enjoying the views from the front of the boat which clearly took the brunt of the ferocity of the waves.  Sickness over it was time to take in the view.

Shouts rang out around the boat "Whale 2 o''clock" "Dolphins 7 o'clock" this being the agreed language for us all to alert each other to any sightings rather than "Over there!"  It was a tried and tested method and it worked.

There are two seasons for whale watching in Monterey Bay, mid-December through mid-April to see gray whales, dolphins and killer whales migrating, or alternatively mid-April through mid-December to see humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins and killer whales.  So October was the right time of the year for whale sightings but nevertheless as with anything there are no guarantees.  We were lucky.  Not only did we see schools of dolphins jumping in the water we saw what we had all paid for really a whale and not just one, several.  In fact on the day of our trip the guide and biologist recorded a total of 12 humpback whales.

What you see varies obviously, but the first indication is a rainbow spout of water as the whale prepares to surface then it might be its back you glimpse or its tail as it dives down.  On our trip, however, we were also lucky enough to see a bait ball.  This is when fish swarm in a tightly packed spherical formation, in a last ditch attempt to defend themselves from predators.  It was a spectacular sight and was followed by the fish looking as if they were jumping out of the water as the whales came up from underneath with open mouths to feed.  It was spectacular.

Even Teen 1 who spent the early part of the journey terrified that we would overturn and be consumed by sharks and is rarely in awe of anything in the natural world, was rendered speechless and exclaimed afterwards that "This is the kind of thing you only see on the telly!"  It really was that good.

The whale trips vary in length.  We booked a 4 hour tour which with an hour and a half there and back left us with an hour just drifting out at sea spotting the whales.  Sitting on a relatively small boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean watching whales was surreal and was without doubt one of the most incredible experiences for all of us and one we will never forget for sure.


This post is a part of a series, if you missed the first part you can see it by clicking the link below:

Part One - A California Road Trip with Teens


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My youngest teenager had the honour of participating in the Cenotaph Parade for Remembrance Sunday.  A once in a lifetime opportunity, here are her memories of the day, in her own words.

  • What did it mean to you to take part in the Cenotaph Parade?

It was so humbling to be there with so many different people paying our respects and to be doing the March Past.  I hadn't realised until I arrived just how big the whole occasion is.

  • Describe what happens when you arrive

We all had to gather in Horse Guards Parade for security checks and then after that we had to stand in a set column in ranks of 6 so that we were in the right order for the parade.  There were so many people, Army veterans, people in wheelchairs and then groups like us.  The Army people wandered around shouting instructions and there were police everywhere with guns.  We were behind the Scouts and there was a lot of banter between us.  They helped us to redo our scarves and toggles so that they were hanging properly.  I think they were teasing us actually as they had done it so many times before whereas none of us had.

  • What was the atmosphere like?

Everyone was quite excited.  It was like a celebratory atmosphere, I mean even though it is a solemn occasion, you feel really buzzy.

  • How did you feel whilst you were waiting?

I was really nervous in case I did something wrong because there are lots of things you can't do, like smile or talk and I was really worried about tripping up.  We were told that we couldn't look around or up towards the balconies where the Royal Family were but we just had to keep looking ahead at all times.  Also you have to look the officer in the eye on the command "Eyes Right" . I didn't want to do anything wrong.

  • What was it like during the 2 minute silence?

I have been to our local Remembrance Services before but even with all those people it was just so quiet, there really was not a single sound.  I was thinking of keeping very still and remembering the people who had fought for us and thinking how different the world would be for us all today if they hadn't.

  • Did you remember anyone in particular during the day?

I always think of my Great Grandfather and the stories Grandpa has told me about him and how he lost his life and the effect it had on him as a young boy and his family.  I also thought this year about all the people involved in wars today.

  • What was it like when you started marching?

It was great because everyone shouts and cheers as you walk past them and you can overhear everyone's conversation.  I can remember hearing someone say "Oh look it is the Girl Guides, don't they all look so smart in their uniform!" It made me feel proud.

  • What was the most exciting part of your day?

Oh gosh seeing Prince Charles.  He was doing the salute at the March Past.  We were told we could not smile at him but when I turned to look at him all I could think was "Oh my god, it's Prince Charles, I mustn't smile"  and then I panicked that I had maybe stared at him for too long and I think I fell out of sync with the steps for a bit.  It was so cool.

  • What is your biggest memory?

I can't pick one.  The silence.  Then the noise of the guns during the salute - they were so loud, they really made me jump and then there was the noise of the crowd as you marched down Whitehall.  Oh and the Coldstream Guards.  I hadn't realised just how low their hats are.  I mean they are literally over their eyes so all you see is their nose and mouth which when they are speaking to you is totally weird as it is just like the beerskin hat is talking.

  • Would you want to do it again?

It was an amazing experience, it was pretty cool actually and one I will never forget but I don't think if I did it again it would be the same, but of course I wouldn't say no.

  • Do you have any top tips for anyone if they are asked to do it?

Don't stare at the Royal Family, march in time and wear 4 pairs of socks - there is alot of standing around.

The Remembrance Sunday Cenotaph Parade is organised by the Royal British Legion who this year asked the nation to Rethink Remembrance by recognising the sacrifices made not just by the Armed Forces of the past but by today's generation too.


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America and more specifically the West Coast, has been the desired holiday destination of my Teens for some time now, so with both a 50th and an 18th milestone birthday on the horizon, we decided to make this year the one to remember with a California Road Trip.

Planning started back in January of this year.  We decided against a summer trip because of the heat and plumped instead for October, taking advantage of the two week half term holiday, which would give us a total of 16 days with a route along the Pacific Coast Highway which would take in San Francisco, Carmel, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and finish in Vegas, Nevada.




Direct flights from the UK land early evening which gave us just the right amount of time to hail a cab, check in to our hotel, eat and jump into bed.  Thanks to the jet lag there was no hanging around the next morning, so we were up with the larks and off to hire bikes to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.  We stayed in historic Fisherman's Wharf and from there you can take a cycle route alongside the bay to the foot of the bridge which is approximately an hour's cycle.   Although heavily populated, unlike London the cycle paths are wide and on the pavement, away from traffic so it feels safe.  There are a lot of hills on the route so it is physically challenging but the result is well worth the effort.


The first sighting of the  Golden Gate Bridge is awe-inspiring.  It looms out of the mist connecting San Francisco to Marin County.  Nothing, however, can prepare you for the experience of cycling across it. You have to go up a steep and winding hill from the shoreline to the cyclepath on the bridge.  One side is for cyclists and one for pedestrians.  Once at the top the first thing that hits you is the noise of the cars.  Highway 101 crosses the bridge which is a busy route, but the cars also make a strange clackety-clack sound as they go over the bridge's expansion joints which is deafening.  The second is the height - at 220 ft above sea level, the views are stupendous, on one side there is the bay with Alcatraz Island, on the other the open Pacific Ocean with waves crashing on the rocks below.  At this height and in such an explosed spot it is also very windy up there.   The third is the speed of the bikes going across. It is single file, two way traffic and without doubt whilst it is breath-taking it is also terrifying in equal measure.

The bridge is 2.7km long and the outside railing is at chest height for adults.  There is nowhere to stop easily until you are half way across and for those that do try to stop before that point, there is the risk of a pile up or abuse from your fellow cyclists. There are cycling speedometers at intervals on the bridge and there were many who impatient by the slow line of tourists and their kids would overtake at speed which when you are focusing all your efforts on maintaining calm and supporting your 13 yr old novice cyclist daughter to just keep going and not look down is nerve jangling to say the least. Having said all that it is totally exhilerating and something as a tourist you will probably only do once in your life.

When we arrived on the other side we joined the multitude of tourist cyclists that gather to exclaim relief that they made it.  Then just when you think the thrill is all over, you have to make the descent from the foot of the bridge down a hill with a steep gradient that seems to wind on forever.  My lasting memory is of me screaming at the Teens to remember to just hold the left brake.  Mr MoT on the other hand is all about risk and turned the whole thing into a competition of who could get down in the quickest time!  Jesus.  Those are the times when our differences come to the fore.  I am doing "safety" and he is off encouraging the Teens to go for it whatever the consequences because "this is fun!"


On the Northern side of the bridge in Marin County is the charming little town of Sausalito with houses clinging to the steep hillside along the coastline with views to die for.  Sausalito is full of lovely shops and restaurants and from here you can take the ferry back with your bike to downtown San Francisco.  We did actually move over from San Francisco to Sausalito for a couple of nights to explore that area which is full of beautiful walks and were lucky enough to enjoy spectacular views of the Golden Gate bridge from our hotelroom.  It was great to see it from a different perspective and it is certainly a view you could never tire of.  The only word of warning to anyone thinking of going is to make sure you pack some earplugs as the foghorns do go off quite frequently in the night so if you are not a deep sleeper they are a must.



Perhaps befittingly on the day of our Alcatraz visit, San Francisco was hit by a freak weather system which saw the Golden Gate Bridge closed due to high winds and torrential rain engulfed the city. Renowned as the holding pen for Civil War deserters as well as legendary gangsters including Al Capone, it is a must see on a visit to San Fran.  You do need to book tickets in advance for this trip as it is seriously popular as you can imagine so you can't just turn up.  The website takes bookings 3 months in advance and a night tour is an option.  The ferry for Alcatraz island leaves from Pier 33 and takes approximately 20-30 minutes.  It is all very organised and boats leave promptly.


When you alight at the Alcatraz dock you are greeted by a National Park guard with a loud hailer giving instructions on where to go and warning people of walking hazards on the route.  The cellhouse sits at the top of the island and is as you would expect foreboding  and walking to it in the lashing rain and wind added to this atmosphere.  Much of the island is steep and hilly and the distance from the dock to the cellhouse at the top of the island is about 0.5km.

You first enter the cellhouse as the prisoners would have done themselves, into the communal shower area and here you can pick up the audio tour which is included in the admission price.  It is fantastic but eerie and really brings to life the terrible conditions of being imprisoned on the "rock" , through the voices of real life inmates and correctional officers.  As you would expect, everything as you go around is dark, dank and gloomy which is further accentuated by the lack of windows.  The cells themselves are horrific yet the solitary confinement units are soul-destroying.


Despite its size, Alcatraz was never filled to capacity with the maximum number of inmates during its 29 years as a federal penitentiary, only 260.  During this time 36 prisoners tried to escape and all but five were recaptured and to this day no-one knows what happened to those five prisoners.

The island is now a national parkland with historic gardens, tidepools and bird colonies.  No food service is available on the island but there is a large picnic area and as well as the cellhouse you can visit various points around the island itself, however, due to the weather on the day we went this was not advised.  All in all the tour takes around two hours.  When we came back we popped along to Pier 39 which is a bustling pier of shops and fab eateries with scenic views across the bay, combined with generous sightings of sea lions.

San Francisco is relatively compact with many of the major attractions quite close to each other, so there is a lot of walking involved - comfortable shoes are a must!  From Fisherman's Wharf we whiled away an afternoon exploring the nearby shopping on Union Street and then onto Chinatown, which is the largest outside of South East Asia and is an absolute sensory feast.

There are some cities that you visit in the world that you just fall in love with and for me San Francisco was one of them.  It is the perfect mix of cosmopolitan and bohemian and I would say is one of the most beautiful that I have visited.  In the limited time that we had for each of our stops on our road trip route, we definitely only scratched the surface of San Francisco and having now been I would definitely go back again for longer and explore further.  Next stop Carmel for some whale watching.


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