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When the Wild Adventures Stop and a Real Loving Relationship Begins Later in Life

5 Minute Read

Sometimes he sneaks up behind me when I’m in the kitchen and puts an arm in the small of my back. I take a breath or jump, kitchen knife in hand. Of course, it’s Andrew, however, somehow it hasn’t registered that he’s the person saying hello. So far nobody has been injured, however, there have been lectures on kitchen safety. Yes, I do know we live together and I’m not expecting anyone else but maybe I’m not expecting him either. We’ve lived together for around three years now and I love it. So, why the hell do I react like this almost every time?

I can only surmise that it’s the legacy of living alone for around 16 years. Ok, maybe 17 but however long it’s been, it’s patently obvious it’s had a profound effect on me.

First, you should know, I love living with him. Unequivocally. I was never a serial monogamist and he’s really only the second person I’ve loved. In between the two, there has been a wild series of adventures which, as well as being diversions with all the fun and frustration those bring, only served to make me more aware not just of what I wanted in a man but what I needed as well.

Our meeting was the most serendipitous and I’ve never enjoyed being around someone so much. For one thing, it’s helped to address my cuddle/hug deficit which was in the negatives before he came along. I mean – we are talking serious minus numbers here. I think that subconsciously while I was having those mad affairs in my 40s, I knew I needed hugs but unlike my 20s when I had sex hoping I’d get a cuddle as well, I never expected them. Unless they were the pre or post-sex kind.

Besides living alone, I’d been brought up to be utterly independent. There wasn’t much choice when you were part of a migrant generation in a new country with both parents working and trying to figure out how life worked. At nine, I was taking the tram to Melbourne’s CBD with my sister and buying clothes. At 14, I was doing it by myself and by 15, I could sit in a café with a cappuccino as if it were the most normal thing. I loved travelling alone around Europe in my 20s and while I would have liked some help in making big life decisions, the way things were – I just made them.

Meeting Andrew was huge for me, but then on another level, it was absolutely the right time. The other day, musing about it I said, ‘I was ready to meet you.’ He agreed. And yet when I make a cup of tea, I still don’t ask him if he wants one. Same goes when I raid the chocolate stash on level two of the upper kitchen cupboards. (He could if he wanted to put it on level three out of my reach but he doesn’t.)

He asks me what I’m going to do on a Saturday and I’ll say I’m off to trawl my favourite charity shops. Now I know he likes doing this. I consciously know this however instead of saying: ‘Why don’t we….’ I, well, I still say: ‘I’.

I’ve improved a little bit over time. He does get a hot beverage sometimes, even when he doesn’t want one. And he doesn’t miss out on the important things. If I cook dinner, I do it very much with him in mind. His guitar mates marvel at the compliments I give him just because I say what’s on my mind. They tell me they’d have to work very hard to get anything like that.

When we’re at home, we’re two introverts in a toybox, a world of our own. Sometimes he’ll go off and play guitar but not before checking in and letting me know he’s off to make noise and may not return for some time. I’ve told him he doesn’t need to ask me because that’s just plain wrong. I don’t own him. My mother always told me that. When he tells me, I appreciate him even more, however, I don’t think I’d appreciate him less if he didn’t. I just take it as two adults who understand each other doing what they do. I must be infuriating sometimes.

I’m utterly delighted when he walks in the door even though I might be in the writing zone. I just don’t want to talk right then. I love it when he picks me up from the train. For me, these are moments of excitement. Perhaps, just perhaps, the little girl in me is happy he’s returned and can’t believe it. Because I actually never expected to meet a man I love being with later in life, and I know many readers probably felt or feel the same way. Occasionally, I’d accept the idea that I’d be alone, but the enormity of that didn’t ever register.

And if you’re not going ‘aw shucks’ by now, I will tell you what changed us from being friends into lovers. It was a moment when we were all with our late friend Bob and Andrew was leaving the weekend party early. For some reason, he stopped and said, ‘Behind those passionate eyes is a lost little girl.’ He hugged me then left. Luckily, that was the beginning of a whole new conversation the next day.

Why Keith Richards Had it Right about Sport! 

1 Minute Read

The first sport I did was serving orange quarters to Amazonian Australian girls who were on the teams. As these things tend to go, the same girls didn’t just make one team; they stormed onto all of them. As a small, migrant child dispossessed of hand-eye co-ordination, I was forever doomed to be the last one left standing when the captains chose their crew. Looking back perhaps they felt the same way when I played most of the parts in Shakespeare. I don’t really think so.

Most of these kids had emerged from the womb already swimming. Besides the dread of the weekly school lesson, there was the nuclear cloud of chlorine that hovered above the pool. It was impossible not to inhale which was pretty much my major take-out until we learned privately when I hit the ancient swimmer’s age of eight and they took the chlorine down by about fifty shots.

That’s pretty much how it went in Australia in the 1970s. Unless you were any good – no let’s make that very good at something – you were excluded. By Year 10, I’d adopted the waiter’s trick of spitting on the oranges and excelling at something none of them were interested in: cross-country running. Meanwhile, they were too busy chugging ciggies as they walked the course. I should have taken note back then.

I ran for a few years after that – until knee pain sent me to a specialist who took one look and said: ‘Well, you’re not built like a runner are you? You’ve got hips. Go swimming instead.’ Determined to turn my diminutive, curvy body into something it was resisting, I persisted. Away from the gaze of school bullies, I perfected my freestyle until I moved to London where people did not do laps in swimming pools. They floated on their backs and kind of gurgled like toddlers.

And then along came strapping Sean from NZ and a love affair with weights. Trainers are like medical professionals, you are not allowed to covet them. And for about 20 years, I trained like a boy, watching with amazement as my muscles became more defined and grew. I delighted in wearing sleeveless tops and flexing my muscles at every opportunity. It was death or glory, I chose the latter, I even learnt to ski at the age of 47 having figured out that since my life was probably half-over, injury would not be so bad.

A life spent sticking to the Mediterranean diet, a good measure of genetics and things ticked along nicely until I was about 52. Up until then, I had not given the slightest consideration to the possibility that my investment in myself could go down as well as up. My first oversight.

The second was menopause.  Okay, I had no control over that one but while I expected the sudden bursts of tube rage, I didn’t anticipate that every past injury and some new ones would all surface at once and suddenly instead of a fighting machine, my body would become a nagging old aunt.

I started to feel very, very tired. I now realise I should have adopted the Keith Richards fitness regime way before. With barely a couple of glasses of wine a week and the same healthy diet, the GP informed me two months ago that I was ‘highly methylated’ with dangerously high copper and stupidly low zinc. I got capsules for that. I also acquired a physio for the hip bursitis – that’s a menopause thing apparently – and Pilates Reformer classes for the neck. I briefly tried opiates but my tolerance maxed out after two days. Go figure.

I recently opined to my mum who has never been ill in 89 years but then she stuck to gardening, that I should have stuck closer to the Middle East staples of cigarettes and alcohol with minimal exercise – my cousins don’t eat. The rather delicious irony in all this is that because the pharmaceutical painkillers either don’t work or hurt my stomach, my effective painkillers these days are vodka or scotch and the odd cigarette.

Two nights ago, the osteoarthritis in my neck reached beyond a level of tolerable pain, I helped myself to a couple of vodka shots and felt good enough to dance to random You Tube tracks for four hours.  I’m not sure that particular recipe will work long-term, but right now a modicum of the Keith Richards’ methodology is working just fine.

Book Review: Bolder- making the most of our longer lives | Carl Honoré

1 Minute Read

Carl Honoré is approaching his 50th birthday with trepidation. He’s worried about what happens on the other side and this sets the background for Bolder.

This context is worth remembering as you read Bolder. Honoré’s exploration of ageing is a self-confessed part of his own education and need for ‘reassurance’.  Compared to many members and followers of AOA, who’ve been splashing about in middle age for a while, he appears at times to be an ingénue: he is genuinely surprised and shocked by attitudes to age.

Reading Bolder is like following an explorer in ageing Disneyland, a place that proves to be a personal roller coaster ride for the author. He finds many positives about ageing that are backed up by researchers and academics, but occasionally, usually when you start feeling good about being whatever age you are, he steps on a spike and it’s like getting the snake in Snakes and Ladders.

One moment he is laughing with Spanish grannies on a graffiti workshop, the next he brought quickly down to earth by a young female observer who tells him she wouldn’t put them on her Instagram because ‘old people aren’t that attractive.’ There are his descriptions of a Lebanese television show where over eighties play pranks at pharmacies asking for Viagra, a show that has become extremely popular and produced its own media stars.

And the same thing happens: he begins to wonder about that slender line that separates something sweet and charming from being a circus in which the aged are targets of the wrong kind of laughter. These elements in the book are the ones that made the headlines in mainstream reviews, i.e. The Guardian. While I understand how the media works, I’m not convinced that ageing, which the author describes as a game for ‘losers’, needs to be a circus.

There is much that is positive about ageing here: cognitively we are better at learning and picking up new things in middle age. In a study of IT professionals, those who were in their fifties were far more relaxed about new technologies and ready to take them on than their younger counterparts. Our experience curve gives us an advantage in making fast connections in our brain, something Don and Patricia Edgar have written about in Peak – Reinventing Middle Age. The reality is that given good health – and enough money, there are no cognitive, intellectual or social reasons why older people shouldn’t be able to continue to be the person they are. And more.

At the same time we are up against a culture that bows to youth and beauty, where social media rules the cultural narrative, and the good life is associated with the unlined and pretty.

Despite the stylish older media stars and the author’s examples of celebrities baring their wrinkles and appearing in ads, they are celebrities that means they get a very special pass that the rest of us don’t get. I wisely skimmed his section celebrating celebrities and grey hair: wild curly hair will never look good grey and I don’t intend to give it another passing thought. Not caring is a big advantage of age.

My first death

1 Minute Read

Unlike many people of my vintage, I’d never experienced dying up close. Last year the universe sent me on a crash course, reuniting me with my friend Bob whom I’d met at university in 1979. This isn’t just a story of death. It’s one of friendship, the kind that doesn’t need Facebook Likes to remind it. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Bob in 26 years but it seems he’d been sitting in my subconscious. ‘Bob’ is how I’ve always introduced myself at parties when I don’t really know anyone. It sorts the dull men from the potential. I bought a cult toy back from New York years ago. It had a name but I renamed it Bob. For some unknown reason my godchildren call several of their toys Bob.

I wasn’t meant to be in Melbourne last August. I was meant to be working in Qatar. I didn’t care for the place but, unusually, I’d taken a contract purely for the money. They took the job away the day I arrived so I flew to Australia. Three weeks later as I was suggesting to a policeman he should close Melbourne’s meth labs, instead of fining me for my inability to cross at the lights, my sister switched on her car radio and heard an interview with Bob who’d become a famous children’s screenwriter. And then she heard the words ‘brain tumour.’ Bob had a Stage Four Glioblastoma Multiforme.

“Fancy name,” he said when me met. “Basically, it means Mr Imminent is at the door.”

The boy from Western Australia wasn’t just my friend. He was my Lebanese mother’s adopted Jewish son and a favoured guest at family gatherings. It took us one three-hour conversation to reignite our friendship. After that we were inseparable. I stayed at his flat and looked after him. People said later “You’re amazing for doing that.” I told them I was fortunate to be with Bob again.I wasn’t there because he was dying. I wanted to be with my intelligent, incendiary and incredibly funny friend.

“I’ve taken up smoking again Leens,” he said when we met. “I figured I’d die from lung cancer instead. That way people won’t feel sorry for me, they’ll just say I deserved it.”

These past months have been a time of fierce joy shadowed by despair and tears. Joy generally doesn’t turn up without conditions. There were times we both knew we’d never be more alive: I can’t recall rolling on the kitchen floor with laughter in many, many years. Bob looked after me as much as I cared for him, reconnecting me to people from our mutual past and introducing me to the parcel of scriptwriters, cyclists and musicians who coloured his life. At night feasting on Lebanese food parcels from my mum with a film primed to go, he’d grab my hand and say, “It doesn’t get better than this Leens. We’re living like kings.” Bob liked a ritual. We sat at the kitchen table as he smoked his evening cigarettes, then hugged each other before he wobbled off to bed. As people heard our story they shook their heads in disbelief. “You’re meant to be together for this time.”

Somehow I found strength when he needed it, shoring him up before hospital visits and distracting him from the demons who inconveniently popped up when we were trying to enjoy the moment.In January 2016, the Glioblastoma brought out the heavies. The seizures started and his left side was no longer his. I kept telling myself it would be ok. As aggressive as the tumour was, he wasn’t in pain. I didn’t figure on the emotional suffering, the anguish of having a lucid brain in better working order than most healthy people ever have. Very early on he’d told me he wasn’t going to let the cancer decide. Following his diagnosis he’d done copious amounts of of reading on the Glioblastoma and joined Exit International. “I’ve got Nembutal,” he told me. He’d bought it from China. “When the time is right, I’ll use it.” We knew it would be more difficult when he went into palliative care, but Bob knew all the legalities as did a close circle of friends. As long as we weren’t there, he could do whatever he wished. Endless discussions were held about how to get around the first part of that sentence, but it wasn’t possible. We all hoped he wouldn’t do it but we also knew that was just the living being selfish.

Those eight weeks Bob spent in palliative care – far longer than most people- showed me why we need to be able to make choices about what we think is a good death. Opposite Bob lay Graham, drugged to the eyeballs and getting increasingly foetal everyday. Quality of life is an individual issue and Bob knew this wasn’t the dignified manner in which he wished to die. He’d pushed himself mentally and physically all his life, and to be reduced to whimpering in the manner of a wounded kangaroo wasn’t in his plans. It was his wish and mine that I’d be rubbing his head when he died. Instead, along with a few other confidantes, I was reduced to distant bystander, wondering when it would be. The deadline kept shifting but two weeks ago it was patently obvious he’d had enough. Earlier that week he’d had a huge setback when his right hand seized, as he was playing his beloved harmonica. The last thing he liked doing was now out of reach.

I saw him 24 hours before he died. I’d already been to see him that day but at 6pm I was struck by a sudden urgency to be with him. When I arrived he was in his wheelchair staring at the wall. He looked so vulnerable, confused and childlike.

“Hello,” I said, coming up behind him. He was startled.

“Who’s that?”

“Me Bobby. What are you doing?”

“Dreaming. I think I was dreaming.” It was the way he said it but watching this huge character, this giant of a man suddenly dissolve into a lost child was too much for me.

I put my arms around him. He sparked up for a while, he asked me if I had plans because he was worried I didn’t plan enough and then he was tired. We hugged which we always did and he played with my hair not wanting to let go. Because I was trying to be grown-up and strong, the sobbing accelerated. Now he was comforting me. “I don’t say I love you enough Leens, but it sounds trite.” I told him it wasn’t but trite itself was highly overused and beneath him. He laughed. I cried all through the night and into the next morning. I figured we’d have a few more days but his calmness worried me. They put him on watch the night he died because he’d yelled at the psychiatrist but he was a clever bastard. He found a window around 10pm. It was time enough to wheel himself into the toilet, mix up the bitter powder, drink it and get back into bed. He fell asleep for the last time.

Bob detested the smiley cancer industry. Like Hitchens, the idea that he was fighting a brave battle was swatted aside. “It’s a fucking illness,” he said. The prevailing narrative of survivors and bravery overlooks the reality that most people diminish and die in the most painful circumstances. From the moment you’re diagnosed as terminal, death becomes a process based on a collective view of what is best. I’m not questioning palliative care: it’s one of the only alternatives we have. But it’s not for everyone (and by the way how many doctors do you see curled up in palliative care?) While we ramp up the fetishisation of cancer and parade those who’ve fought the good battle, it seems to me we’re avoiding the hard discussion, the one about most people dying horrible deaths and being unable to die the way they choose.

All Bob wanted was a few people to be around him at the end. But because he didn’t follow the script, he had to die alone. It’s not so much his death that upsets me: it’s that I wasn’t allowed to be there to rub his head.

I woke up at 40

5 Minute Read

There’ll be times when you’re walking down the street and you’ll see two twenty-somethings with legs all the way to Lithuania, and that paradoxically world-weary manner of girls who have the world ahead of them. This being North London they are indeed from Lithuania. You shoot them an appreciative glance. A bit of envy maybe, but nothing deep. All you have to do is remember what they have ahead of them: adoration yes but also the insecurity of youth, the men you longed for and never understood when they hurt you, but mostly the constant jostling for your place in the world; that nagging feeling that you had to be at the centre of everything because if you weren’t you simply didn’t exist. Sure you looked great in a scrap of white broderie anglaise and bare legs but it was accessorised with insecurity and anxiety about what other people thought of you.  Because you were not even sure what you thought of you. “You don’t appreciate yourself,” said my mother. I now find myself saying that to my niece who is eighteen and gorgeous. She looks at me utterly perplexed as if to say “What is there to appreciate?” And I realise it’s hard for her, like it was for me: she has no idea who she is.  Youth may be a gift but it’s also one hell of a messy experiment if you do it right.

At some point, if you have examined and thought about life and its randomness, you will stop wishing you were six inches taller/had blonde hair/had larger breasts/had smaller breasts/had a perfect nose. It just doesn’t matter to you because you’re involved in life. And you become magnetic to people because they sense it.  You have hotter sex, spirited conversations and fun, the kind of fun you have when you really don’t give a damn. You don’t need to be the life and soul of the party; attention becomes something that matters more in private with close friends. You still look at and admire youthful beauty but you don’t spend time wishing you were that person: Charlotte Rampling once said that now when she sees a young, pretty girl attracting the eyes of every male around, she thinks, “that used to happen to me.” She said it not in a regretful way but simply as fact, as you imagine a woman of her demeanour might. It’s done. Now move on.

In terms of relationships it’s fascinating. I encounter men who find women their own age troublesome, challenging and Not Young.  This is an ancient setting for men, possibly it is literally set in stone and there’s no point fretting it.  Some do it because they can and it makes them feel good, others  because they fear their own mortality and that’s where I think women have an advantage with the ageing process: our bodies go through changes constantly and gradually.  We are adaptable creatures and we do just that so that by the time we’re forty-five we’re not fretting when that six pack no longer appears.  We know our breasts left level one a long time ago and for the most part, except for the days when we’re in the grip of our inferior, we just get on with it.

For men it can be a smooth run until their mid-30s when they are struck by the stark realization of a beer belly, love handles and then at some point during a routine visit, their doctor looks at their cholesterol readings and asks, “Do you want to see your kids grow up?” They overreact. They take up marathon running, a mistress or buy a Porsche. Or all of the above. It’s not such a shock for a woman to see stretch marks and a thicker waist. We adjust to those things and we evolve our style while investing time in our knowledge. I rarely wish for the past though I might smile at photographs of myself in lycra minis and think “Well I rocked that,” I don’t want to wear them. All the smart ladies I know focus on being their best in every possible way. They take the extraordinary amount of self-knowledge they have plus what they know about the world and they use it.  It’s the ultimate freedom to realise you have all these resources and also scary because you know it’s time to take the biggest shot at life you’ve ever taken. Your forties and fifties are in many ways the most radical period of your life I think.

So while ‘youth is beauty, anything else is not worth considering’ is the broad media/social agenda, I refuse to be infected by it because I’ve finally found me. I went through my twenties and thirties doing things because they were there, not consciously. I hid a lot of me, especially emotions. It’s taken me around 25 years to get to the point where I say to someone, “Actually this is how I feel. Take it or leave it.” Looking my best still matters but that doesn’t mean looking ‘young’. What matters now is being me and having these wonderful friends I have now, who are there for life and they know me.

This is the point I was meant to reach and if I wish for anything it’s that I’d reached this place of relative peace (also known as I don’t give a fuck) before. But it only comes with age and in my case it took me until my forties to even locate that place. I feel like I know what I am and what I want. I’ve also noticed that coincides with the world opening up in ways I never imagined.

The title of youngest/prettiest in the room is gone for good, but that’s always gone anyway. It can’t last.  But sexy, smart, sorted, funny, clever, these are the qualities that improve in the phase they quaintly call mid-life, but I just call my time. It’s all up for grabs.

The Frenchman: Dinner and Dungeon

4 Minute Read

The next time I saw the Frenchman he was holed up in luxury at Blakes. He’d thoughtfully and firmly requested I join him for two days. The morning of his arrival from Paris I was standing at my lingerie drawer, wondering what vibe I wanted to convey. Pink would be wrong. He had already found my inner slut. I couldn’t go backwards so I opted for expensive whore. It wouldn’t last anyway. He liked naked. A lot of naked.

He sent a text from the hotel.

“I may have a surprise for you.”

At that point my imagination boarded a fighter jet and did a 360-degree roll. Off I went into erotic meltdown for a couple of hours, distracted and dreamy to the point where lifting silk lingerie from a drawer felt ponderous. When I re-entered the world, I thought he’d organised a threesome. I hoped he wasn’t going to surprise me with a woman though. I have no idea what the point of an extra woman is in sexual liaisons. I find an additional man far more beneficial to my needs. Anyway, I turned up and the room was empty except for him.

“You missed the surprise,” he said. “There was a man here I wanted you to meet.”

Damn.Had I been too tardy for my threesome? Did our third have another more pressing engagement?

He led me over to the Zen seating area. On the table was an assortment of leather floggers, whips and various instruments of discipline, all just waiting for the perfect collective noun.

His eyes shone with the expected delight of a man who had just purchased new tools.

“The guy who makes these just delivered them to me. You could have met him.” He sounded extremely disappointed that I hadn’t sighted the craftsman of pain.

He picked up something that looked like a whip but was much shorter and came to a thick, short point at the end.

“Zis one is very arrsh.”


‘Yes.But it is not for you. Too arrsh.” That one was for his Japanese slave. She was a pain slut. “Slaves are such hard work, ” he remarked. They’re so needy and selfish.” I made a note never to have one. From lunchtime into the evening, at least I think it was evening, it became a hazy, erotic blur. We had sex: well actually we didn’t have sex, he fucked me. We didn’t leave the room. I couldn’t anyway since I was tied up. At some point, mid-evening we napped. Then we fucked again. He finally let me have an orgasm which was good of him and in my Zen surroundings, suitably transcendent. Room service arrived and he kept me tied up, naked. They were young waiters, two guys, who were very happy to see me and when he said “Thank you,” they quickly shot back with “No, thank YOU sir.”

“You bastard.”

“Most ungrateful. You should thank me like they did.”

He had a meeting off-site the next morning so I was allowed to leave the lust nest. Just as I was on the verge of remembering who I was in real life, he called. “Where are you?”

“South Ken. Down the road. Aren’t you at lunch?”

“I came back to have lunch with you. See you in a minute. I am in the restaurant. Hurry.”

I didn’t want to miss the school bell. The Frenchman is strict about that stuff.

We sat in the restaurant at Blakes where he managed to casually eat noodles, while putting his other hand up my skirt. “Tonight I have a surprise for you. Something you have not done.” Only the week before I’d ticked off another must-do when I went to Legoland with my godchildren. Anyway, it was just your average date. We went to Honey & Co where we ate wonderful food, debated falafel recipes and he bought me the restaurant’s cookery book. After that he took me to a dungeon owned by a former pro-domme, told me to remove my clothes, put a dog collar and leash around my neck and tied me up. I looked rather good. Then he led me to a cage, indicating that I should get in. Unsure what the modus operandi was, I assumed a suitably feral pose while he gave me a highly informative running commentary about the dungeon, in the friendly manner of a tourist guide. Then he let me out, tied me face down on a bench, blindfolded me and spent the next couple of hours doing beautiful and terrible things that made me shiver. He scooped up my ravished body, dressed me and said, “Let’s go back to the hotel. I have not finished with you yet.” Indeed he had not. Five denials of orgasm later and I was almost in tears until he finally let me have it. Then he invited me to Paris. Because of course I wanted more.

Whoops, I didn’t forget to have children

1 Minute Read

I’m rarely asked why I chose not to have children. I’ll admit the idea of missing out on mum politics and a school run did disturb me but it passed. People I know have never felt the necessity to discuss the topic with me, probably because I didn’t. I recall reading a strident Polly Vernon, vehemently defending herself from the barrage of people who seemed to approach her daily, yes daily I tell you, to inquire as to her fertility choices. I’d hazard an educated guess that when faced with intensely personal issues, the stress comes not from others but more likely is a result of our unresolved selves. It’s somewhat far-fetched that your hairdresser, newsagent or the guy at the pub will constantly engage you with, “So what are you doing tonight? Thinking about having children?”

I’ve never had a change of heart. Barely eleven years old, I recall thinking to myself – indeed I may have even loudly announced it to nobody in particular – that I was never going to have children. My father ensured our home life wasn’t stable and it left a legacy. On reflection I realise that I didn’t get the chance to enjoy being a child, and the idea of being responsible for one was far too scary. Nonetheless, at the time I thought I was odd. I hadn’t even thought of marriage. However, what I had come to think of as my errant woman brain turned out to be a full-time, clinically depressed one. I took and still take anti-depressants, drugs that my psychiatrist said might have to change if I wanted children. No way. Now I’d got the right ones, after so many false starts, I was finally feeling like me. I wasn’t about to do something that would alter that state. A life marked by years of inconsistency and instability finally had a floor, albeit a shifting one, but it was the most security I’d had and this was no time to go rogue.

I told him it was sorted.

“What do you mean?” He said in the same voice he said everything: his steady, educated but slightly uninformed voice that ensured he got the information he wanted.

“I mean I’m not having children. As much as I think they’re adorable and the idea of a squeezy toddler makes me smile and go gooey, it’s just not going to work. It’s too much responsibility and I’m still dealing with the fallout of being a grown up toddler myself.” He thanked me for doing part of his job for him, then out of interest I asked him how high the stakes were for a depressive having children. The figures weren’t good. That applies both in terms of producing a child who would have to face a life where the moving men drop into your brain, as well as the spectre of post-partum depression from my end. I didn’t want to end up in the news, demonised by social workers because I left my kids in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket.

By the way I adore kids. No that’s wrong. I love, love them. I love them for being interesting and creative people and fun. I’m a fairy godmother, an anarchist auntie and they’re not just cameo roles. I’ve played a huge part in the lives of my godchildren – yes I’ve changed nappies and dealt with school runs (the politics of the latter was far too much for me) as well as the fun stuff – and it’s been utterly fulfilling. It’s also been just enough, enabling me to enjoy my own inner child, who likes to play. I like the fact that a piece of cardboard can be a car and that when I’m with them I can be in the moment. Now in the advantage of my age (my new name for middle age) I don’t get questions, however I see the questions debated in articles from the UK and Australia where many people are old and alone.

“But aren’t you afraid of growing old alone?”

Ah now you’re talking future. In order to maintain non-panic in my life and give the impression of being the most resilient depressive in the world, I have a dirty secret: I live for the moment. Not the future. That’s too onerous. You see why I love the company of children? So the idea of having babies as some sort of insurance, a security blanket for old age, has never entered my head. It’s a strange notion in this era. Children go travelling and meet tall blonde men on beaches whom they follow to a foreign place. (I did) They study abroad. They work abroad. They become drug dealers and go to jail. They build lives that people could not have imagined 40, 30 even 20 years ago.

“It’s nice to have children around as you get old.”

What is old? Will I get old? I might die before then. I might be hit on the head by a coconut, struck by lightning or taken by aliens. Seriously I know so many people who have kids they never speak to. And others who have children they don’t like, where the feeling is mutual. I know one family where the only child joined a religious sect and was never heard of again. So this concept of being around, let alone kids being around, well it’s all a bit abstract, to me anyway. Word to the wise: If your reason for igniting your ovaries is to bring security in old age, I’d seriously rethink it.There are no guarantees they will be there or even bring you joy. Having said that, I do get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see generations together, but there’s no envy or self-pity. It’s the same feeling I’ve had when I see young children with their parents in the park. It makes me happy. A bit like watching Toy Story.

“Aren’t you scared of dying alone?”

The adage goes there are two moments in life when you are totally alone. Before you make a speech. And just before you die. Having just experienced the death of my friend Bob, his children were in his thoughts but as seizures and incontinence took over his body, he didn’t want them around. Some of us don’t get old. Happily, even with there are still many families where the children are around to provide comfort in old age or can quickly hop on a plane when needed. However, there will come a point, regardless of who is around, where we will all feel alone. From a personal point of view, I’ve lived my life feeling alone in a crowd of people I know, leaving parties after five minutes because I’ve felt disconnected. So the idea of being old alone doesn’t concern me as long as I have some friends who are still alive and most importantly good health. Because ironically, the thing that people value most as they grow older is independence. My mother who has not been sick a day in her life is 86 and not a day goes by when she doesn’t reclaim her independence. While she loves to see us and have us around, I know it’s that ability to run her own life that keeps her from being alone.

Make Wit not WiFi

1 Minute Read

Time was when the only accessories to be seen with in your local cafe were a black coffee and a cigarette. There are parts of the world where this still happens, but unfortunately these now tend only to surface in war zones. Militias like a short black and a smoke. If you’re already walking a emotional tightrope with caffeine and cigarettes, this may be too much excitement for you.

Fact is, smokers tend to be the more interesting people and are naturally open to conversation. “Do you have a light?” is one of the greatest unhailed, chat lines ever. It’s pretty much gone. As has coffee. Instead we are offered the impersonation of a caffeine flavoured high-lactose solution. It is a beverage but it is not coffee. The dumbing down of cafes continued when some fool created muffins which attracted women dragging prams, nay thrones, bearing children called Persephone and Titus. That was the moment when wit began to leave the cafe.

"This looks like a good place for a cafe," said Lena. They all agreed.
“This looks like a good place for a cafe,” said Lena.
They all agreed.

And then came Wi Fi. Fucking Wi Fi. Like many modern folk I have it at home. It is most useful for booking travel and watching pornography, as well as cross-referencing recipes for Lime and Coconut Tart. But I do not feel the need to be seen with WiFi in cafes, more to the point Wi Fi Cafes do not attract people who are funny and clever. Quite the opposite. Wi Fi is a drawcard for frugal, bespectacled types with Cross Faces, especially men who sigh with rabid displeasure when you ask to share the table. He is busy sending Facebook messages, however there is the real possibility he is a writer because he has Word on his computer.This leads me to think I may be a hairdresser because I own scissors. Writers rarely work in cafes and most certainly do not have a shiny Mac: he or she has a ravished keyboard with a totally faded ‘A’ that has been replaced twice in six months. When a writer goes to a cafe, they go to escape the book that has come to a dead halt, to discuss NOT WRITING with other writers who are officially NOT WRITING and to figure out what they can do about it. And laugh nervously at their impending doom.

This got me thinking about my favourite writer, Dorothy Parker and her posse who spent their time at the Algonquin’s round table hazed in cocktails and cigarettes, where they discussed NOT WRITING and flirted with words as well as each other. The wit flew in all directions. Gems like Parker’s,”You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think,” emerged when Dorothy’s pals required she use the word in a fresh sentence. Today, Parker would be updating her Twitter, where her “What fresh hell is this?” would be misconstrued deliberately by women who decided she was anti-feminist and she’d be blocked. Noel Coward and Robert Benchley would be engrossed in You Tube watching cat videos while sucking on cigars. When asked by a press agent,”How do I get my leading lady’s name into your newspaper,” George S Kaufman would not have responded with the elegant,”Shoot her” because he was Skyping. In Paris at Café De Flore, Sartre would be looking around at the shiny equipment with disdain. “But I have no choice, I need to text,” offers a punter. “Nonsense,” retorts Sartre. “You can choose to kill yourself.” Sitting next to him, Dali would be engrossed in wondering how a shark could produce words. Hemingway would be in a manly rage because he’d written a bad sentence. Annoyed by all four words, he’d throw his laptop in the bin, and immediately take out a new one because that’s what a real man does.

Aside from an ashtray inbuilt into a barber’s chair (which I once saw in Beirut) I think one of the great signs of civilisation is the café conversation that starts anywhere and goes everywhere. People arrive with no agenda, just money for coffee, ideas in their heads and the knowledge that if it’s one of those days, they’ll leave with an intellectual orgasm.

Swipe for sex

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It was Suzanne, she of this site who told me to go Tinder. Basically I hadn’t been writing nor had I been fucking and was missing both. “You go on Tinder then you can write about it. Win-win.”

Having done reasonably well out of the analogue world: trains, planes, beaches, restaurants and the London Underground have all produced encounters, some of which became more, I generally consider the online dating scene as a cut-price marketplace for people who can’t get laid. These sites parade an endless stream of dull and wounded men. You know what I mean. Men who say they want ‘an honest and loving woman,’ a phrase which says very clearly they’d been chucked for their best friend. At the other end of the scale, were men who thoughtfully introduced themselves with a picture of their cock, forgetting this was an expectation, not an added feature on which to sell yourself.

But we live in tough times and sometimes an older babe has to get with the programme.  I got on Tinder at 9pm wondering how anyone could spend hours on what is a pretty crappy computer game and was still there at midnight.  Then  he turned up. French. Intellectual. He was early forties, traded something that made him lots of money and well read.  We chatted, well, we messaged with little effort. I was sure he would just wait until his moment and then send me the message that seems to be the calling card for a lot of men on dating sites: “I want to cum on ur face.” Since he was French and well educated it might be more like, “My body and soul, not just my cock, dreams of coming all over your beautiful face.”

It didn’t happen.

At some point he asked me if I’d read Hadrien’s Wall by Marguerite Youcenar.

“No it has been suggested but I haven’t read it.”

“Bad girl. You should be punished.”

Now every so often I come across a dominant type and I rather enjoy it. I recalled that I thought he looked a bit strict in his photos. It made sense. I knew how to pick them. At that point the discussion moved up fifty levels, to the joys of BDSM. He wasn’t into the whole Master/Sir nonsense which just turns me off but he had a way about him. He knew his stuff.

“I like whips,” he tapped.

“Why do you like whips?” I said it in the same way I might ask someone about their gluten-free food choices.

“They make a good sound and leave nice marks.”

“Yes I can see how that would work for you.”

If this was a bar, the conversation would have reached the dry throat, wet everything else mode. The only difference was that we couldn’t see each other.

“But I do prefer to use a flogger generally. Or my hand. I would like to to flog you but first I would like to kiss you.”

I gulped and took a deep breath.

He lived between Paris and London, mostly the former but he would be in London after the weekend. It was Thursday. He said he had Monday and Wednesday free and we should go to dinner. I didn’t want to seem too eager, even though I was on heat pretty much, so I said, “What about Wednesday?”

He said Monday would be so much better as he couldn’t wait to see me.

I reiterated that Wednesday was better (subtext: I don’t want to be that easy)  but he said no, he needed to see me on Monday.

“I want to do beautiful, terrible and passionate things to you.”

So, because I am led by my sexual desires and have no shame, I immediately said yes to Monday.

“We need to get out of here now.”

“Where shall we go? “ I asked. I mean we were on Tinder’s messaging app. Was there a chill out room I didn’t know about? A secret place for Tinderati?

“What’s App. I’ll see you there.”  Digital intimacy is a strange concept.

We retired to Whats App and the conversation continued intermittently through the weekend. On Monday he sent me a message from Eurostar. My first thought was he was going to cancel, as my few attempts at digital dating ended up in cancellations. I put this down to something I call the Power of Fresh Pussy.  Fundamentally what you have is a state of Perfect Potential. The illusion of the internet is that there is an endless, nay infinite, candy store to choose from and for men this is particularly compelling and fits nicely with their attention spans. The result is that they might make a date with you but in the meantime they discover there is another and another. Instead of having the date they  are blinded by Pussy Potential and they can’t choose.  Of course the fact that not everyone is there for them has not penetrated their brain.

“I have booked L’Atelier Robuchon and will be in the bar from 7pm. Take your time.”

Of course I would take my time. I would just go about my day as if it were completely normal. In fact I’d forget totally that we had even spoken and that he’d already worked me up into a state where I was unable to think about anything else.  That evening at half six I’d remember I had a date with a man with a filthy mind and a strict manner and I would just throw on something I found  in the bottom of the wardrobe and say to anyone who asked, “Yeah, I’ve got this like date. Drag huh?”

I’d spent a considerable number of hours selecting two dresses that morning. London’s weather, generally on the nasty side of whimsical was being particularly difficult to interpret. The skies looked ominous so perhaps a dress and a pair of reckless heels was not going to work. Plus there was another, far greater factor at play. I had to consider what I could wear home if we ended up in bed. I am not a woman who delays the inevitable. If he pours fuel on the fire, I’m not putting it out.

I called Suzanne. “I am not sure whether to look like I am up for it or I might be up for it.”

“He knows you’re up for it already. Anyway, you’re on Tinder. He’s made a date with you without having to do any more than he’d have to do to call a hooker.”

You couldn’t fault her sense of romance. In the end I wore a leather pencil skirt with a small split in the side and a chambray shirt with the sleeves rolled up in the manner of a Vogue editor. I added Miu Miu high heels.  The look said smart, and a challenge but will fuck in the right circumstances.” Throwing flat shoes into my bag along with some eye-makeup remover (don’t want to wake up with panda eyes) and a small tube of moisturiser I was ready. I didn’t put a toothbrush in my bag as it seemed so premeditated and I didn’t want him to think I had thought that far ahead.

He was sitting in the bar on the top floor when I arrived. I recognised him immediately because joy of joys, he did look like his picture.  A picture on a screen always felt a far riskier thing to pursue, than screwing a guy I’d just met in transit at Singapore airport.  I’m really old fashioned like that.

There was a kiss on both cheeks and then we just melted into conversation.  We were smiling a lot and I think as far the staff were concerned it wasn’t awkward which was good because you really don’t want restaurant staff looking over at you thinking “Met on a site. First date.”

I ordered a Lychee Martini. “Aren’t you drinking,” I asked noting his virginal orange juice.

He smiled. “I haven’t drunk for twenty years since I went overboard.”

We went out on the terrace to smoke and size each other up.

Two Martinis later (me) and we were leaning forward, closing the rest of the world out, only to be interrupted by a waitress who wanted to show us to our table. We’d actually been given a spot that was easily the most  secluded in the restaurant. “Did you ask for this?” He laughed. “No they just gave it to us.” “Are you sure?” He knew what I was thinking and his eyes twinkled. Yep. Lust. It comes along and doesn’t usually bring love or even a deeper connection with it. You make your decision knowing that you are about to ride the wave and when it drops you, you must be be gracious and remember that it was a just a moment. That is lust. Anything else is optional. I however, was in the mood for lust. It had been a while since it had seemed like such a good idea.

Word to the wise: Never, ever underestimate staff at top restaurants: they are very savvy and I think the fact that he had already stroked my face and produced a visible shiver of anticipation had not gone unnoticed so they’d decided would be a good idea to give us a table that suited everyone’s purpose. Thus we were screened off from the rest of the room.

At some point he whispered,“I’d like to take you to a dungeon.”

Theatre, riverside walk, country pub, dungeon. It was all the same to me.

‘Why yes, of course,” I said as nonchalantly as I could with his hands stroking my neck. I would like that very much.”

If there had existed any doubt that we were going to spend some quality time together, he settled it when he leaned over and whispered.

“Remove your panties.”

It had been a few years since I’d engaged in this particular manoeuvre but reader you will be delighted to know I’d lost none of my skill and acquitted myself perfectly, deftly whipping off my Rigby and Pellers and sliding them down my leg while kicking off my shoes.

I reached down and then handed them to him, making a mental note to remember to ask for them back as they were quite expensive and nothing would match the bra otherwise. I did think it was a shame that he wouldn’t see me in the set but hell, sex was generally a messy business.

Now if a waiter can see there is  no white wine in your glass from across the room, they know a man has your panties in his hands and is now putting them to his lips.  Which brings us to the food.

It was most excellent but eating had turned into a sideshow by now. I remember my  sea bass was so delicate but as I ate it, all I could think of was sex which, in retrospect probably had something to do with the bubbles of lemongrass foam that were sitting on it. I think it’s fair to say thing were going very well at this point. By dessert he’d moved next to me, had his fingers tightly around my neck and my head was running through bondage scenarios. The air around us was heavily scented with the right amount of tension and just enough danger to make it interesting.

There was more foam when dessert arrived and he asked me to feed him. He didn’t want the berries underneath the foam as they were too cold. “If you give them to me I will punish you.”

“Yes of course.” I fed him the berries. He squeezed my neck in a way that said, “I totally mean it.”

I knew I had basically given him my cards and all I wanted him to do was play. He knew he had me (well he probably had me at hello) so did what every smart man in his position does. He leverages it.

“The hotel is not far away,” he whispered. “But first I need an espresso. And you need to wait.”

Somehow we made it to the hotel. Inside the lift, the padded walls had evidently aroused his no so latent dungeon instincts and he pushed me back, just watching me as he lifted my hands above my head. We were not the only ones in the lift. There were three other people trying not to look but look at the same time.  The lift door opened at the next floor and our fellow passengers couldn’t leave fast enough, no doubt headed for the stairwell to continue their journey without having to deal with an elevator now saturated with sex.

He on the other hand was completely unconcerned by them and was undoing my shirt. He seemed quite pleased with himself. I was very pleased with him.By the time we got to his room, he’d obtained my bra so I felt I didn’t have to worry about losing the panties as he’d put them together. Thoughtful.

It was one of those evenings where our bodies burned  faster than a startup shredding money. In the morning he endeared himself to me by ordering cake products for breakfast. Little pistachio cakes that were sugary and sweet and exactly what I would have chosen for myself.  “I will be back soon,” he said. “I really want to see you.” A perfect tonic after months of absolutely no fun. Which is probably what Tinder is for: a  palate cleanser.

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