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Oakland, skunks, and the joys of Advil (Book Tour #3)

So it all started with the time change. Fool that I am, I hadn’t realised that there are different time zones across the US and while I kept moving west, during the first week of my book tour, my body clock stayed resolutely somewhere over the Atlantic.

By Thursday I had spent the best part of a week waking up at 5am after only a few hours’ sleep. My schedule involved six flights in six days, and it was starting to tell. Add to that the Very Annoying Italian Woman at Chicago O’Hare who coughed and coughed at me without covering her mouth, and I suppose it was inevitable that I would get ill.

So yesterday I hit my low point. I got up at 5.30am, caught a taxi from Manhattan Beach to LAX, got the 8.25am flight to Oakland Airport, and by the time I was mid-air I felt ill. Properly ill, like when you don’t care that you look weird resting your head on the table on your flight, and find yourself leaning against your oversized suitcase for support, and weep inappropriately in restrooms.

Thank goodness for Alex. Alex is my handler on this part of the tour (we have spent some time discussing the right title for her job – she doesn’t like ‘media escort’ because of the, um, connotations). Alex got me through yesterday. Even as I fell asleep between events, dozing in a sweaty stupor in her passenger seat, she kept me going. She fetched me hot lemon and honey during my speaking engagements so that my voice kept going, and soup for the car journeys, and by the time I made it back to my hotel last night I was so grateful to her I could have actually cried. (I think I may have done).

So as I lay shivering in bed last night I watched the news reports about the ‘flu epidemic sweeping America and realised that my aching limbs and prickling skin and inability to stay awake between engagements might not be *just* the product of time zones. And I started to panic – because you can’t be ill on a book tour. There are too many things riding on it; the schedule is too tight; I couldn’t even imagine how we would reschedule.

Then I remembered something an old friend who was a nurse had once told me. She had been due to sit medical exams when she came down with a virus. It could not have been worse timing. So she drank a pint of water every half an hour for the best part of a day, until she felt better. She literally flushed it out of her system. It was a tall order, and I know there will be dire warnings about over-hydration etc etc but given that I am in a hotel that is nowhere near a pharmacy, and I woke up this morning with no voice at all and had an hour-long radio interview at lunchtime today, I thought I’d give it a go.

Reader, I have drunk a mug of warm water every fifteen minutes for the past eight hours. I have drunk some with lemon and honey, some with agave syrup, some with Tabasco sauce. I have gargled with salt and glugged cough syrup. It has been, frankly, disgusting. I have drunk black tea, herbal tea, coffee, and iced water. I have eaten Advil every five hours and silently blessed its manufacturers for They Are My Friend.

And, gratifyingly swiftly, I have begun to feel human.

I have a new found respect for pop stars and actors who spend a lot of their lives on the road. When I looked at my schedule from home and googled the nice hotels and the travel schedule it sounded simply exciting. How hard could it be, after all? But over this past week I’ve learned that while being on tour *is* undoubtedly exciting and rewarding, it also means you have to treat your body with a little respect. I know of one author who simply gave up halfway through her tour and went home. I wouldn’t go that far, but I have a greater understanding of why you might.

So anyway in the two days that I didn’t write anything, a lot happened, and not just book-related. I had an animated discussion with a lovely driver called Kelly about accents: (“I could listen to your accent all day, Ma’am.” “That’s very kind. I could listen to yours.” “But you’re the one with the accent, Ma’am!” “No, I’m the normal one, YOU all have the accents.” (repeat to fade) ) I had dinner in Silver Lake with my two oldest gay friends, who have been together 47 years, and looked through their albums of the Gay-Ins of the 1970s and felt deep happiness about being in an actual house and ate their delicious black bean soup (am I the only one who remembers David Soul singing a song about this?). I slept in a room which had a whirlpool bath with ‘mood’ lighting and learned that green is never going to be a good idea. I was surprised at a bookstore reading in Santa Monica by my lovely Scottish friend Damian, who diverted his trip from Palm Springs to support me. I hung out with a friend Alison who I hadn’t seen for 9 years and discovered that with some friendships you really can just pick up where you left off.

But most excitingly of all, I finally discovered what a skunk smells like. My friends Bruce and Reggie, who couldn’t believe we don’t have them in England, drove me slowly past a dead one. The smell lingered in the car for a further five miles, making me gag pleasurably. BOY they small bad. I feel like a lifetime of Pepe Le Pew cartoons finally make sense. Who says you don’t learn something every day?

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