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The Importance of a Good Travelling Companion


11 Minute Read

One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things   Henry Miller

I’m not one of those people who like to travel alone. I like to share my experiences with someone else. However, I don’t underestimate the difficulties of being with someone else for 24 hours a day. I know it’s a testing experience. There are many areas for conflict. It can break a close friendship.

After two years of not just Covid-prevented trips but also working on projects that needed all of my attention, I was keen to go away. I’m always interested in exploring new places and I’d loved going to Senegal in West Africa with my son a couple of years ago. I wanted to do more in that part of Africa. Ghana arrived by chance – I was chatting to someone who worked for the same charity as me. He happened to have built an eco-lodge on the coast in the Volta area of Ghana called Meet Me There, I looked at their website and decided then and there that Ghana would be my new destination.

That was summer 2021 and of course, I had no idea what would be happening with Covid and it was pre-Omi. I invited my partner, Asanga to come along. January is always my favourite time to get away, a long way away; to flee the pervasive grey, the post-Xmas blues, to lighten the emergent year.

Eventually, Asanga declined. A few years ago, he and I faced our differences on this front. He declared that he was no longer – he’s 78, has a major climbing injury and is happy with the heavenly landscape of sea and mountains in North Wales – interested in long haul trips abroad. But he was supportive of my continuing enthusiasm.

I was stumped because none of my usual travelling companions was available. And then I happened to be talking to an old friend, Ruby Millington – we met when we both worked as freelance journalists for the Evening Standard’s Metropolis 30 years ago – and she confessed that she’d wanted to go to Accra for some time to check out the style and the art. That she’d read it was the new New York.

We’d never been anywhere at all together that lasted longer than an afternoon but in September, we booked the plane tickets. It was a commitment and a leap into the Covid unknown. We booked a recommended hotel/hostel in Accra and the eco-lodge for a few nights and then we did nothing except rest in a kind of uneasy contentment about our future plans.

There was a flurry of worry amongst my friends as Omicron arrived in South Africa. I explained that South Africa was a long way from Ghana. Ghana, in fact, had very low Covid deaths – just over a thousand according to their official figures. For some reason, I had faith.

In mid-December, I realised that I needed not only my Booster Covid vaccination but also diphtheria/typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever. Not just one vaccination but three. I tried to get out of the yellow fever one – I managed to find proof that I’d had it in 1978 in New Orleans and these days, it’s meant to last for life – but Ghanaian regulations stipulate that you need to have it in the last ten years. I had it. I have survived so far.

This was the beginning of the tenaciousness that was required before we even set foot in Ghana. A whole trip in itself. There was the visa situation. There were umpteen conditions to fulfil – a written invitation from our host, proof of a hotel, proof of money, flights, a vaccination pass etc. Ruby and I almost lost the will to live trying to fill it in online. And then we had to get the Ghanaian High Commission in Archway – after a lateral flow test in the morning.

Finally, just before Xmas, we had our visas. Hurrah.

Ruby looks after her incredible 96-year-old mum, Maria – who (bless her) was really keen for her daughter to get away for 18 days – and was organising for a lovely local woman to go in every day, as well as preparing meals for the freezer and a multitude of other tasks. I hadn’t realised what a superwoman, Ruby was. She actually managed to ring her mum every day while we were away – from petrol stations (Ghana’s petrol stations are often like palaces, they have oil and are proud of it), from the side of busy roads with a Pentecostal choir singing nearby. It was one of her many travelling feats.

And then there were the British Airway requirements. As well as the PCR test to do.  Uploading vaccination passes, Travel Codes that took hours to obtain from a Ghanaian-approved website – we spent hours trying to work it all out. We failed to upload them and arrived on Jan 6th 2022 at Heathrow feeling weary and anxious.

It was a good sign that it was a pretty smooth check-in, after all. A six-hour flight and then there was a mini-crisis for me. I could hardly walk as I arrived in Accra. My ankle had been affected by sitting in one position on the flight, I wasn’t sure what was going on. But I had to hobble up and down the airport getting the incredibly expensive Lateral Flow test and the results. And then my bag was one of the last to arrive. Luckily Ruby was there to help out. We both took it as a good sign that a holy man from Senegal was arriving at the same time to chants and hoots from a group of local Muslims.

BUT WE HAD ARRIVED IN ACCRA. We celebrated with a beer at midnight amid the gorgeous equatorial heat next to the pool at our travellery hotel/hostel. We had booked separate rooms aware that we hadn’t voyaged anywhere together and as a space precaution. In other words, we might need that space from one another.

I really liked Somewhere Nice – mostly occupied by young people backpacking or working for NGOs – there was a big breakfast table for the sharing of tales and I found out from a couple of Parisian-Cameroonian women some good local places to eat – but Ruby wasn’t so keen. She saw the layers of untended dust and dirt, I saw the communal thing.

Accra was confusing to navigate at first – not to mention my difficulty walking which thankfully only lasted a day – lots of duel carriageways and am not sure Ruby was convinced by the ‘new New York’ description. But something happened on the second day that cemented our travelling relationship. We had decided to look at art galleries; in the evening, I suggested we go to the 1957 Gallery (the year of independence, Ghana was the first African country to leave its colonisers under the socialist vision of President Nkrumah in 1957) which was located in the five-star bling Kempinsky Hotel. We visited the bold figurative works on the walls and then cocktailed at the pool bar. Afterwards, we, unlike everyone else, didn’t have a taxi waiting for us so we actually walked down the road. There was a daunting black James Bond-type armoured Hummer outside too. Just as we were about to hail a cab, we noticed that there was music emanating from the National Theatre nearby. We decided to check it out.

The next moment, Ruby was taking photos – she’s an ardent Insta woman – of what seemed to be a band on the red carpet. Within seconds, the lanky be-dreaded, be-hatted, be-shaded main man had ushered us onto the red carpet as well and then into what turned out to be The Young Ghanaian Achievers’ Awards. Losso Saabele – king of afro-pop and dancehall – was up for Artist of the Year.

Here we were in our casuals amidst Ghanaians dressed up to the nines in sparkly shoes and sequinned dresses. The award ceremony was slightly shambolic – sorry Ghana – nominations were missed. And sin of all sins – our man should have won and he didn’t. It’s now being re-awarded to him. Talk about La La Land. Anyway, he did invite me for a little dance as part of his performance which of course I rose to the occasion for!! And Ruby recorded!

And then Losso, his crew and the Rs went back to the Kempinsky Hotel for a little after-party. It did it give me great pleasure to witness Losso with his unicorn-like front dread wandering around this ultra-shiny hotel occupied mostly by foreign military-medal-adorned dignitaries.

This was only Day 2. The rest of the trip saw us continuing to have a blast. Ruby turned out to be a perfect travelling companion. I was the guidebook queen – I like actually reading about the places – and she was the savvy tech queen. Which meant we both organised but in different ways. I researched places to go, she was able to book hotels and guide taxi drivers (we wondered how anyone ever got anywhere in Accra because none of them had a clue where we were going). She had a local SIM card, I opted not to.

There was a sense of equality. She is good at snooker, and I am good at table tennis! The snooker was in a nightclub, the tennis at Meet Me There. Payments were shared easily. Phew. Ruby is more than generous. She lent me 3,000 local cedis (about £350) when I couldn’t withdraw enough to travel East.

Meet Me There turned out to be a delightful destination – we had the best rooms (one each still) right on the lagoon. Every detail had been attended to – gorgeous décor, carved wood tables, amazing food, compost loos, ever-friendly staff. And we were actually in the middle of the local Dzita community. Local fishermen/boys were all around. There was a dispute one morning which MMT staff went over to successfully mediate. An older man had accused the younger ones of overfishing the lagoon and he was probably right. And there were deeply expressive church services that went on next door. Don’t go to Ghana if you are uncomfortable with noise!

All the profits from MMT go to their Dream Big Ghana Foundation. One morning, the co-manager Christian took us to see the magnificent compost toilets – purple paint and tiles with showers too – that they had built in the local school. And they also had created ones in the local villages. There are big public defecation and urinating issues in Ghana. The NGO also does educational workshops about the ‘compost’ which can be used to fertilise crops and that is the whole circular point. Great activities as well as an educational centre with books and computers for local children. And tree-planting.

Next was the mountains of the Eastern Volta region – the river was dammed in the 60s to make a huge, huge lake which provides most of Ghana’s electricity – and here in these much more basic lodgings, we decided to share a room. It was a big dormitory room and it went well. This was the new Ruby and Rose sharing a room period.

We loved the mountains. Cooler and more innocent. On the first afternoon there, in the highest village in Ghana, it was a Friday and there were about five processions going on. They were transporting their dead loved ones – often in ambulances with the sirens blaring out – to their homes for a wake. The atmosphere was celebratory. Everyone ignored us which we were very happy about. And they didn’t seem to mind us being there either. The next day, their loved ones would be taken to the cemetery. This was happening all over Ghana.

There were a few difficult moments later on in the trip but we dealt with them well. Ruby – with her tech-savvy – booked us into a dodgy hotel where we actually had to share a bed. That was fine in the end but the hotel was a guest house in the middle of nowhere. And then there was the characterful Rasta in Cape Coast in the West who charged us 60 US dollars for a shared room that turned out to have no water (yes it was a serious local problem but other hotels had paid to have extra water). And he had omitted to tell us. We had to get angry and demand our money back for the other two nights. We managed it and remained united.

We shared a sense of curiosity and desire to learn about Ghana and Ghanaians. We both like to mix up our experiences. And we both loved travelling around – that on the road feeling.

Our new ways of seeing included appreciating the Ghanaians for their eagerness to connect, their friendliness, their expansiveness, their grace. One of my son’s best friends is just like that, but I hadn’t realised that it was because his grandma is Ghanaian and she looked after him as he was growing up. She passed on this sense of ease and generosity.

Well, it was a wonderful 18 days. We packed so much in. And I haven’t even mentioned how intrepid Ruby is. I found her inspiring. I ended up doing something that I would never do – using a rope to descend some rocks. I only did it because she had already done it.

Rwanda has been mentioned.

Thank you AofA Members – Round Up 2021


1 Minute Read

‘AofA is my favourite place on the internet these days’ Marianne Power, author Help Me – how self-help has not changed my life

Back in December 2015 when the idea was mooted for Advantages of Age in Suzanne Noble’s legendary garden hot tub, we had no idea what it would become. We just felt strongly that we – a group of older women – were being misrepresented by the media.

That ‘old’ was being portrayed as this hideous entity that we didn’t recognise.

Old, we decided, needed to be reclaimed and redefined. We weren’t afraid of looking older, just pissed off with the idea that looking older was something to be repelled at all cost. And that being meant diminished energy levels plus a falling off of our creativity and entrepreneurial spirits.

Suzanne was and is a serial entrepreneur, I was a PR, writer and poet, another of us runs the MA in Screen Acting at one of the top London drama colleges, another was creating websites, and another was a street anthropologist and author. We were aged between 46 and 63. We wanted society to reflect the breadth of our different experiences. We were single, divorced, dating and I’d recently found a Living Apart Together partner. Some of us had children, others didn’t.

Caroline Cadenza | The Advantages of Age

Oh and we wanted to include men in this campaign too. Of course. Together, we wanted to sally forth.

By 2017, we’d received Arts Council England funding to put on a series of performances and mini salons around the taboos of ageing – from death to sexuality to style. This culminated in the Flamboyant Forever open-top double-decker bus tour of London which was a phenomenal success. People met and are still friends. There was a lot of strutting in OUTageously colourful outfits. It was wonderful.

And the FB group started up. Which has given us a way to connect to older people all over the world. What I love about the FB group – Advantages of Age – Baby Boomers and Beyond – is how lively and how considerate most people are. At first, not many men joined in. But over the years, many more seem to feel included.

For me what is important and significant is that we are able to have dialogues with each other about uncomfortable subjects. Not always, of course, I am a big supporter of the humour in the group, the proclivities towards rock n’roll, the everyday kindness towards each other and I am proud of the way that conversations can be had about mostly recently for instance, whether we have children or not. And how society treats us as older people if we do not.

One of us who is divorced with four children wrote this within the thread –‘ Love hearing all these thoughts. As someone who always planned to have children (albeit never very keen on anyone else’s!) and went on to have 4, now all in their 20s, without much, if any reflection, I do struggle to understand those who choose not to, so really value this convo as contributing to my understanding. I think it’s really important to understand each other, and so easy for those of us who have chosen the “norm”, or majority, or socially acceptable route to be lazy about that. And I guess that’s where the infuriating comments come from – ignorance and an unwillingness to understand?’

In a society that is now dogged by division and polarisation, it is vital to be able to express ourselves so that others hear us. And I feel that we often do well here. We even managed to have a dialogue about Covid not long ago where the vaccinated and unvaccinated exchanged information rather than insults.

Recently someone posted – you are all very welcome to post what you think would be appropriate to the group which ranges from vintage photos to obituaries to dating and sexuality stories to stories about older people, often inspiring ones – What can you talk about for hours? The responses were wildly, incredibly impressively eclectic in the best way. From academic to down-to-earth, they were riveting in terms of the richness that is in the group. One woman said Thanatophobia, another man said Ending questions with prepositions, another woman said The Plight of Afghan refugees in Sweden and another The Films of Peter Greenaway. I was entranced. Someone suggested we form a human library. Good idea.

Sometimes I post a personal question like – What are you doing tonight? And then I’m amazed at the variety of the activities from dancing at nightclubs to singing in choirs to looking after grandchildren to writing poetry. I really enjoy those snapshots into your lives.

During the lockdowns, it was hard for many of our members and some have been left with long Covid. That is tough. One of our members – Hanja is very much a poster woman for us, 84 and so sprightly in mind and body – is in hospital at the moment and she’s not very well. It’s not Covid but the doctors don’t know what it is yet. She often entertains us with her witty comments and also the articles that she’s written for us, particularly the one about her resilience on her own at 84 in lockdown. Thanks, Hanja and we send you our love and hope that you recover soon.

Death is one of our favourite topics. I know that sounds a bit strange but expanding our vocabulary around death and dying is part of our core ethos. After all, we are alive but we are closer to death than we have ever been. Society is changing but there is still a long way to go – we need to develop our awareness about how to talk to the dying, and if we are dying and ill how we can talk to our family and friends. We know that connection is everything so being able to have good exchanges about death, but also our funerals, our wills etc increases our choices in those areas.

Actress Helen McCrory died this year of cancer at 52. Damien Lewis, her husband led the way – no doubt urged on by her beforehand – in being real in how he talked about her afterwards. Many of us said we were in tears at his and her humour, courage and openness.

“Helen was an even more brilliant person than she was an actress,” the 50-year-old actor wrote in The Sunday Times. “She was a people person, sure. ‘I’m much more interested in who I’m with than where I am,’ she would say, and innately wanted to share. But she also lived by the principle of kindness and generosity. That you put these things out into the world to make it better, to make people feel better.”

Lewis, who wed McCrory in 2007, said he has “never known anyone so consciously spread happiness” and that even on her deathbed, she repeatedly thanked her caregivers. He said she always “over-tipped,” especially taxi drivers and wait staff, a job she once had herself. The actor said McCrory always “made each person she met feel special, as though they were the only person in the room.”

“I’ve never known anyone able to enjoy life as much,” Lewis wrote. “Her ability to be in the present and enjoy the moment was inspirational. Nor was she interested in navel-gazing. No real interest in self-reflection; she believed in looking out, not in. Which is why she was able to turn her light so brightly on others.”

Lewis said their children Manon and Gulliver “have in them the fearlessness, wit, curiosity, talent and beauty of their mother.” He said McCrory told the kids repeatedly, “Don’t be sad, because even though I’m about to snuff it, I’ve lived the life I wanted to.”

The actress also encouraged her husband to move on after her death. Lewis wrote, “Only a couple of weeks ago she said to us from her bed, ‘I want Daddy to have girlfriends, lots of them, you must all love again, love isn’t possessive, but you know, Damian, try at least to get through the funeral without snogging someone.”’

Somehow her spirit seems to encapsulate much of what we aim for in Advantages of Age.

I’ve always said that we are Death, Sex and rock n’roll. We watch Strictly and The Slits.

We care about gardening and still go out for a boogie. We laugh and we are able to be considerate when needed. And campaign too. Most of us feel that Assisted Dying should be made legal now.

A huge heartfelt thank you to all the members in the group and particularly those who contribute by posting, by adding their comments to threads and by caring about this world that we live in. Please do carry on.

Helen McCory declared that she’d lived the life she wanted to. In Advantages of Age, that’s exactly what we’d support you to do. Not in just a way where we are all individuals but also as we are all part of a tribe, a family, a collective, a community. We act for each other as well as for ourselves.

Since we started Advantages of Age, Suzanne and I have gone off in different directions. Suzanne has started nestful which helps to house like-minded people in houses/flats/homes owned by the Over-50s. She’s also created Startup For Seniors with Mark Elliott – a much-needed enterprise to support Over-50s into new businesses. Both are flourishing. Suzanne is also out there singing jazz and blues, at the moment in Las Palmas.

Meanwhile, I have been doing a poetry project – Willesden Junction Poets and BeWILDering, a book of our poems about the station – funded by Brent2020, and this year Dance Me To Death, a performance, exhibition and short film where a group of Over-60s non-professional dancers (including me) honoured our beloved dead through ritual and dance. This was funded by Arts Council England.

The reason we come back to Advantages of Age and keep to our mission of a revolution for older people is that we are both living the lives we want to. We passionately want this for all our members too.

Wishing you a wonderfully nourished and fruitful 2022.

Being at LoveJam, a festival where Baby Boomers are in the Minority


10 Minute Read

I felt cynical on the way there. I knew I was going to be a rarity. Festivals often feel as though they belong to my generation. Talk about entitlement. Yep, that was me. Putting out festival entitlement.

Oh no said a loud voice in my head, not young facilitators, young teachers of yoga, young breathwork teachers. Hell is a festival like this. It’s going to be endlessly rosy in the worst way. Spiritual bypassing with the flowers intact. What do they have to say to me at 68? Been there, got the Make Love Not War T-shirt.

At least we had a bell tent. I’ve always aspired to own a bell tent and now I could pretend with this delightful borrowed five-metre lovely from my friend Jake. I could at least relish that. I’d even taken fancy lights to adorn it. Not to mention a puce pink garland.

Here we are – arriving on a field in Cambridgeshire, using our grand age to take advantage of passing through the barriers (we can’t park here and pull a cart full of our stuff across the field, we’re too old) and something else happens.

The clouds darken, a rainbow appears. It is a heavenly portent. A message from the festival gods. A double rainbow. We bathe in this extraordinary light, this is a sign of the times.

I still have my ‘observer’ hat on. Vegan cafes, a sober festival with no alcohol, an upcycling clothes stall, a lot of Hemp talk and products. A main marquee with the Hemp Redemption stage – all huge pagan drapes and hangings, a van which half made up the stage, tassels, fairy lights and a very young technician. At first, I thought he was a small person and then I discovered it was Xi, a thirteen-year-old ‘lege’ – as my niece who is co-creating this LoveJam Camp Out 2021 puts it – who plays didge, juggles fire and tends to the musical equipment on stage. In his spare time.

As the light fades, we – I am with my other niece, Mils, and Asanga, my partner – wander over to the sacred fire, which is located behind some odd mounds. A dandy poet declares words of love and honour. There seem to be Vikings amongst us as well. Long haired young men with bare chests and long coats. Violins. Accordions. A young woman sings into the wind, laments, stories of freedom and connections to the ancients. I realise quickly that ANCIENT is a very important word at this festival. It’s everywhere – on lips, hips and in philosophies.

I’m not listening to their hearts yet, I’m still on their style. Modern medieval, I conclude. But there’s Rasta thrown in there. And a lot of natural fibres. No makeup, just face paint.

The next morning is the Opening Ceremony – we gather (maybe 100 of us out of the 600 that will be present on Saturday), Nathan, my niece Zena’s boyfriend, who’s 27 and founded LoveJam by inviting a few people to Victoria Park in London to drum together– starts us off with acknowledgements. He’s also had his grandfather die in the last few days so is trying to cope with that as well as running the camp. He invites offers to lead it and up steps PK – short hair, black humour, a lot of it and a wolf at her side. Well, okay a dog. PK takes us to the four directions and we honour their qualities and what they will bring to the camp while we move around this axis. Someone else invites us to freesound (new verb to me) and lo there are wild, cascading sounds. The dandy poet proclaims our virtues. A blonde-haired young woman sings with passion. That’s it we’re ready to go.

There’s a lot of Nathan-venerating, I worry slightly and hope there isn’t a guru-type situation brewing – after all, that’s where so many communities in the 70s and 80s went awry. By giving too much power to one person and pedestaling spiritual leaders.

One of the joys of LoveJam is that in attendance with my family. Invited by Zena – niece and co-visioner of LoveJam – my other niece Mils is here, my son, Marlon, and his girlfriend, Lina are soon to arrive. We’re an encampment. My sister, Ro, and her husband, Martin, are staying in a Shepherd’s hut a mile away. We’re eating together outside. We’ve made roast vegetable tarts and blackberry – from the hedgerows of Wales – pies. And we’re toasting the proceedings with tonic and lime. They are so tasty. Who needs gin? What a pleasure! And a blessing to be able to do.

And then there are the workshops and the dancing. Tonight we go exploring in the woodland music village. A relic from the Secret Garden brigade, it is a wonderland of trees with a pink neon heart stage called funnily enough New ANCIENTS stage. There’s some psytrance whirling – not my kind of sounds so we find a pathway which leads us to another new world – a fire, wooden structures, huge ones all around, more lights, mandalas specifically made around an oak tree, a young man turns up with a flute and blesses the arboreal altar, a few naked beings scamper towards the sauna in the next area. It’s cinematic. One from the Heart.

The red sign on one of the other trees says – not all those who wander are lost. 

Exactly my ethos.

A quixotic creature with a swirling light tail passes by. A mythical reminder that we are in fairyland.

We walk back to the tents, past so many bell tents, and gatherings of musicians. Guitars, flutes, drums – they regale us with their haunting tunes as we meander.

One of the advantages of not having alcohol is that I’m up and ready for Phil’s yoga at 8 the next morning. He’s a Scouser, who is part of the organizational trio – Nathan, Zena and himself. He also seems to know an awful lot about mudras and Sanskrit. His session is fast and furious. Backbends, front bends, warrior poses, full wheels if you so desire, sun salutations. I do what I can do which is quite a lot. I observe Mils doing some great binding in front of me. My arms are too short for binding but I’m a star at bending. It is dynamic and I appreciate that as well as his devotion to the practice.

And then there is a highlight. Naked swimming in the lake. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be socially possible. I’m with my partner, and my son and his partner. But Asanga and I decide to go for it. And Marlon and Lina lie down and look away!! It’s that thing about the freedom of strangers and the boundaries around family. But I’m so glad we did ditch our clothes and allow that cold water to seep over our bodies. There was hardly anyone around and it was a holy moment. In homage to water and bodies. Amid the water lilies. And so refreshing. There was even a wonderfully positioned carpet over the stones so that walking in can be graceful!

There’s lots of nakedness over the weekend at the lake and it’s so welcome. And lovely. And innocent. These gorgeous bodies. I change my dress code when more of my family is around – brother in law, sister – and opt for a costume. I notice and feel proud that my LJ co-visioning niece strips off and jumps in when her dad is in the water. Great confidence and knowledge of what is right for her.

Nathan is running a Breathwork and Intimacy workshop next. He developed it himself. Impressively – and this is one of the key differences with younger facilitators – he stresses that intimacy doesn’t mean that fire of passion, that it’s not about exchanging that fire and asks for our consent on that front. Everyone’s hands go up. Which really clarifies and distinguishes sexuality and intimacy and prevents blurry lines.

The breathwork was simple in a good way – six breathes in and then out. A grounding support. To recorded bells so we could be in unison. And then the intimacy exercises which most I am familiar and comfortable with. It’s about being open, in your heart and just receiving and giving from that place of love. But wow, what a gift to do with this community. We give each other heart words/appreciations while gazing right into the other person’s eyes. We are walking slowly around the tent until Nathan invites us to stop in front of someone. After a few times around the tent, I realise that Marlon, my son, is in there still. Some people faded away as we came to these structures. And then we’re in front of one another, and unconditional love is pouring forth. I am crying first and then tears roll down his cheeks slowly. We use the breath to ground ourselves and carry on looking deeply into one another’s eyes with such everlasting tenderness.

What a supreme moment!! How blessed we are to both be in the same workshop and get to do this exercise together. This is a first for us. Being in a workshop at the same time.

I honestly felt after this experience, I didn’t need anything else from the festival. It had given me this precious witnessing. But the festival went on giving.

At 5 pm, a band sets up at the end of the pontoon which extends into the lake. It is like being at a wedding, the perfect location. They play Brazilian tunes and a Forro class with partners starts in the middle of the lake. I joined briefly but I am not feeling it so I go rogue and solo

I dance in the breeze. Giving everything to those minutes.  Surrounded by fresh water and naked loveliness, caressed by eddies of air, it is rapturous. My body spins around, limbs twirl, head bobs. It is an utter joy. A sumptuous young woman joins me, we go wild together. We let go into melting and communing. And laughing with our flesh.

In the evening we make our way down to the Hemp Redemption stage and Mobius Loop, these Lancashire musicians who have songs about veganism and death, get the entire tent dancing. And singing. Rollicking, proclamative, political, humorous, they are like crazy cabaret dervishes. My favourite song is Dance Dance Dance while you can, We’re all going to die, Dance Dance, Dance while you can. I sing it very very loudly.

It could be an Advantages of Age anthem. I sing it with determined abandon. I couldn’t agree more. Dance now while we can. We break out into ceiliad -stripping the willow. The joy of dancing and singing about death at the same time. The next day they are down at the protest nearby which is about closing down the beagle puppy farm where they are sold for animal testing. Mobius Loop sing about ending slavery of all sorts, including these puppies. Campaigning and dancing at the same time.

On Monday morning, there’s the closing ceremony. We gather around the sacred fire. Nathan, Zena and Phil do their thank-yous. People stand up and declare themselves grateful. PK does a closing speech – speckled with expletives, honesty and fire. I decide that I need to speak. To honour the young that have created and facilitated this festival. I mention that it’s often the elders/olders that are respected and honoured, but that I also think there’s a fallacy about older people having all the wisdom. We are not automatically wise because we have lived for a long time. We can learn so much from each other.

And then I simply thank them for creating a festival so full of love and kindness and inclusivity and sweetness. That it has enabled me to expand into my better self and also to fulsomely be here.

You will gather that I am no longer cynical about a festival run and peopled mostly by young people, instead I am inspired and ignited on an intergenerational level.

www.lovejamcommunity.com

Dancing Queen – from a Mitcham living room to Kensal Green cemetery


11 Minute Read

Movement has the capacity to take us to the home of the soul, the world within for which, we have no name.  Anna Halprin, a legendary dancer, innovator, choreographer who died last week at 100.

The carpet would be rolled back in my Auntie Win and Uncle Len’s living room in Mitcham, Chubby Checker was on the turntable – my dad and I, often known to my friends as George Henry, would be twisting and twisting again. It was a family do. It was the closest I got to wildness at 13. Well, if you don’t count the discos at Butlin’s.

George Henry was a bit of a showman. I’m so grateful. He passed it on to me. He gifted me his dancing spirit. Sometimes it was a bit much. On the Costa Brava – Arenys de Mar, actually – when I was a bit older, 17, I recall our upstairs neighbours doling out the sangria as if it were lemonade. Well, it was partially lemonade but not enough for my mum. My poor mother who didn’t drink inadvertently got drunk and was laid out on the bed. Meanwhile, dad decided to come to the disco with me. No, dad, sorry, that really was cramping my style. Not to mention transgressing the daughter/father boundaries. Yes, that word.

Pan’s People on Top of The Pops. Fuck Latin and German, I just wanted to be a go-go dancer. This was the 60s, and I was the proud owner of white PVC boots – I worked in a shoe shop in Ilkley at the weekends – they looked hideous but I thought I was a Bond girl. Oh and white lipstick as well, my family were horrified.

Our place of deification at the time was the Cow and Calf disco. Up on the moors, you went downstairs – it was like a cave with ultraviolet lights and endless Tamla. It was heaven when you could get in. When I could get in. My friends all looked older, I barely looked my age. The security guys often wouldn’t let me in. It was a subject of constant humiliation. To top it all, my parents banned me from going, it was an uphill struggle but of course, all of that didn’t stop me from trying.

Once inside this den of iniquity, the Supremes would start up and the transporting would begin. To another universe. Unspoken and free. Marvin, Ike, Tina – they were alluring dancing partners. Little did I know what was actually going on. We hung out with those young men with sports cars, already at work and therefore in the money. Who wanted schoolboys when you could frug with semi-grown ups?

Much later, post-son, in my 40s, I started 5 Rhythms dancing – New Yorker Gabrielle Roth created this urban shamanism, this limb prayer, this way of connecting, no really connecting, not drunken connecting – because my friend, Carol Lee was one of her first students in the UK. My son often came with me and played amongst us while we danced our bones and blood. These were special times in a church hall in Shepherd’s Bush where our friend Miguel would turn up with his didge and offer its healing growl to our hungry bodies, we would sing the rhythms, we would stop and do spontaneous tarot writings. These were not traditional classes and that’s why they were so inspiring. When we danced with partners, we’d stop and tune into each other, there was a closeness, a tenderness and I loved it.

In my mid-50s, the dance camp arrived. The Field of Love. Ten days on a field first in Norfolk, then in Suffolk and finally in Dorset. With live musicians. We danced ‘til we dropped. We dropped as we danced. It was a crazy love fest where we would bundle together, see into each other without social masks, dance like dervishes, cook over open fires, and roar with laughter in the hot tub made from an old orange juice container with a Heath Robinson fire to heat it. There was even a caravan sauna.

I was single and I went to those camps for nine years. Just as I was disappearing from view in some ways in society, I re-appeared on the Field of Love. It was a space where age did not matter.  Where I felt totally met in the dance. And emotionally. I was able to be vulnerable and there were people to hug me. We were a community – in a loose way, we still are – and we looked after each other. A men’s and a women’s group came out of it, both still exist.

Profound friendships were made. And we’d dance in the morning when we got up when we were chopping vegetables when we were tired and should have gone to bed. We were raw with each other and open to love. Our hearts were on fire.

I got the chance to practice – performing poems, presenting the cabaret, leading runway flamboyance across the green green grass, instigating a hat parade, taking the group on a late-night labyrinth meditative walk, creating a pleasure bazaar based on one I’d experienced at a Tantra Festival in Catalonia. There was no end to our creations.

The camps emboldened me and I made a couple of dance films – well I say I made, my son is a film-maker, he did the practicals – Dance Willesden Junction (https://vimeo.com/34487064) and Dance Harlesden (https://vimeo.com/66771510s) as part of my Harlesden book project. Oh I so loved those dancing days. I felt as though I had my very own nomadic dancing tribe. We danced to Al Green in a piss-stench tunnel, we rolled on the paving slabs in the heart of Harlesden. People stared and smiled and were sometimes entranced. Others rubbished us. We laughed at ourselves. I didn’t want those days to end.

So much of what happened on the Field of Love has seeded what I’m doing now. Both in poetry – I just finished a year’s Willesden Junction Poets’ project with nine poets and BeWILDering, a book of our poems about the station, which was funded by the Brent2020 Culture Fund. And now with Dance Me To Death, an Arts Council England-funded performance, film and exhibition with ten Over 60s non-professional dancers, of which I am one!!! This is the perfect Advantages of Age Project.

Really this is my dream come true. To create a dance piece with choreographers Rhys Dennis and Waddah Sinada from FUBUNATION. I met them in 2020 at the Brent Artist Network – set up by Brent2020, it was such a good idea and meant that artists and performers in the borough got to meet each other. Rhys and Waddah were doing a presentation. I chatted to Rhys afterwards. I had it already in my mind that it would be great to do an intergenerational project.

I got even more excited when I saw the dance that they do. They explore black masculinity through dance and challenge stereotypes around what that is. Their pieces are all about trust and gentleness. They take risks with intimacy and touch. They are two young black men who are not afraid of diving into unknown male territory.

They perform contemporary dance but there are many crossovers with 5 Rhythms. This willingness to explore and take risks relationally in the dance. is what I’m passionate about. Next, I had to persuade them to do this project with me. I met Rhys for a cup of tea in Harlesden, he actually seemed keen. I felt into the potential richness. I felt my body smile.

And then the long Arts Council application slog started. It was relentless. Seventy-three pages of budgets, marketing, management and explanations. I nearly gave up the will to live during this time. It seemed endless. And I was scared that I would fail. Finally, it went off.

When the answer came a few weeks later in December, I didn’t open it for a few weeks. Not wise. I hadn’t got the money. I guess around this time, Rhys and Waddah thought that we wouldn’t get it. I had to gather myself, get through my fear of failing and respond to the ACE feedback. I was in N Wales for this winter lockdown and I just had to hunker down and get on with it. I did.

Two weeks before the Dance Me To Death start date, I found out that I’d been offered the grant. It took me weeks to actually believe it.  Now we just had to create the performance, a short film and an exhibition. There was just one hitch. A condition of the offer was that Kensal Green Cemetery – the chosen location because it is gloriously one of the Victorian Magnificent Seven in London – agreed to be the location for the performance.

This was a stressful period. I was looking for a hall for rehearsals, putting a call out for non-professional dancers while I didn’t know if we had the cemetery to dance in. A lovely Operations Manager at Kensal Green Cemetery, Peter Humphries – he’s Australian, very laid back and has been so supportive of the project – pushed it along for us. And it happened.

Now six weeks later, we’re about to start our fourth workshop and the performance is starting to come together. There have been all sorts of uncomfortable zones to pass through – like counting, like actual choreography. Many of the dancers come from a 5 Rhythms’ background, which is great for me because we get to dance together in a way that I understand.

At the first workshop, Waddah and Rhys taught us ‘flocking’, a term in contemporary dance which means one person starts a movement and the others follow, and when you’re in a group, the change of the person leading becomes almost imperceptible. The group is moving as one. It was terrifying – you have to step out and lead – but thrilling.

This was a way of building content. In fact, Waddah and Rhys gave us exercises so that we created the movements, and then they chose which ones to use in the performance and started breaking them down with breath and counting. This was scary as well. I went home the first week feeling intimidated by the idea of this choreography.

However, by end of the second workshop, I loved it. It was stretching us. And I could feel us moving together as a collective and that was very satisfying. We felt like a dance company. I must say my admiration for all the other dancers is immense, everyone without fail has been giving the workshops their all. It’s moving to witness and be part of.

And the musicians, Fran Loze on haunting cello and Mark Fisher on tight percussion and guitar hold us in the dance and the beat. The performance has started to feel like a wake already. Funnily enough, Fran and Mark are musicians that I met on the Field of Love and I relish that continuum.

In the mornings, I facilitate emotional work around death and dying. We are making layers of trust between us. The first week, I asked everyone – Rhys and Waddah are included – to bring objects to put on the altar (this is a sacred place created every week) that honoured their dead. I brought a photo of Jayne, a close friend who decided to take her own life because she couldn’t stand to be here any longer. I talk about her kindness and how important she had been to me. And the way she’d made a gentle place for herself in the woods as a way to go.

Neither Rhys nor Waddah has had anyone close to them die yet but Rhys brought in one of his grandma’s bracelets and talked about finding his place among his ancestors. I was touched that he was already thinking about the ancestors.

In the second week, I invited them to get in pairs and create an International Grief Ritual for people who had died worldwide from Covid. I don’t think they expected that but they had some great ideas. I think we’ll come back to those rituals. One was a festival like Live Aid, another was a ritual, that was repeated all over the world.

The morning’s work feeds into the dance. Dance Me To Death. One of the dancers, Anthony, mentioned early on that when he’s dancing for three hours at 5 Rhythms classes, he can imagine dying in that space. In that bliss and peace.

Yes, Anthony, yes.

Anna Halprin – whose quote I use at the top – died at 100 last week. She was a dancer and choreographer until the very end of her life. She believed in the healing power of dance and indeed used cathartic movement as part of her healing voyage with cancer in the 1970s.

This is all tangling up and finding its way into our performance. I can’t wait.

Dance Me to Death is happening on June 26th at 3pm in Kensal Green Cemetery. You can buy tickets here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/…/dance-me-to-death.

The price includes a glass of wine or sparkling water afterwards.

There is an after-party, an exhibition, a Q & A plus vegan tagines are available to pre-order. There will also be a short film that will be screened later in the year.

We’re on Insta #dancemetodeath

The Joy of Sleeping Separately


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Sleeping as I get older is a huge thing!!! If I don’t sleep, then I am likely to be grumpy, reactive and extra-feisty. All day. I’m sure you agree.

Sometimes, I don’t sleep when I’m on my own – lots of restless rolling around, hotness despite well post-menopausal – so add into the mix a partner – that really puts the I into Insomnia.

I had been on my own for a decade before I met Asanga. I really thought I could never share a bed again. I loved having a double bed to myself. I liked waking up in the morning than reading or writing poems or both.

But hey, it was amazing to meet a loving, crazy, flamboyant, log-splitting, rock-climbing man when I was 60 and he was 70 in 2013 and then there were the beds and the bed-sharing. We tried. I spent many nights at my place in London and his in Wales rigidly awake. He spent nights listening to me snoring – when I first met him, he was mad enough to say he loved listening to my gentle roar. He’s changed his tune now. He gets up several times a night to go to the loo but that inevitably disturbed me. Sorry, I was never as benign as he was. I never loved the sound of him getting up!!

This painful co-sleeping – the norm for a couple – and we were trying hard to be a ‘normal’ couple in this way, went on for years. Years of misery. I’d often run off to another bed in the middle of the night. Or he would. And then we’d both be super-antagonistic in the morning. I think it’s because we were having a LAT relationship – Living Apart Together with 250 miles between us – that it felt all the more important to share a bed when we were together. It felt shameful somehow to admit this difficulty.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age
Rose Rouse with her partner Asanga for Family.
Photo by Linda Nylind

Actually, on holiday, it seems to work fine. Rajasthan – there were brilliant big beds even in budget hotels. Goa, Bali, Costa Rica – the beds all worked out. I think perhaps I’m a little more relaxed on holiday so that I can actually drop into easy slumber. Last year, just pre-lockdown, we were in Fez for my birthday – I booked an 18th century townhouse in the medina and it had been exquisitely done up. The artisan details all restored, filled with fascinating objets from all over the world and a huge, huge bed. We lapped it all up and slept too. Hallelujah!

However, over the years in our ongoing LAT existence, something more peaceful happened on our stays with each other. I think it probably happened in London first. My main double bed is smaller than his! We settled into a routine, one of us would sleep on the sofa bed in the living room and the other in my bedroom. We’d visit each other in the evening, light a candle, cuddle, talk and then one of us would slip away for a hopefully brilliant night’s sleep. In the morning, there would be another gentle or sexy invitation. There was no routine – just a series of new encounters. It works for us.

In Wales, it was less settled. Asanga has got a bigger bed – the key to non-disturbance for me, plus earplugs for him – and so it makes it more possible to sleep together. But there is always the alternative of the guest bedroom and that can be a godsend.

And we do both like to wake up together and snuggle. Well, that’s before the fire – with logs split by Asanga and often carried in via wheelbarrow by me in my wellies – is lit and the animals fed. In the cold months, at least.

Credit: Elainea Emmott

This winter lockdown has seen me in Wales for a longer stint of country living. I have learnt a lot about types of wood for burning, bill hooks, wheelbarrows and headlights! And we have established a routine. I am in the guest bedroom – it has become my writing/editing/work/Zoom room too – during the week and I migrate into Asanga’s bed at the weekend. Of course, there is the occasional evening visit during the week too. We like to keep some of the spontaneity going!

And I have to tell you mice arrived in the spare room, which saw me leaping into bed with Asanga again.

But it’s a huge relief to out ourselves. There is no more shame about separate sleeping. It means we can be more present, more loving and less likely to be irritable when we are together. And that is beautiful.

My Conversion to Mountains and Other Matters


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The Track Re-visited

 I am here again. On Asanga’s wild land. Slow running up the track that I walked and slowly ran up during the first lockdown in March and April 2020 when I was here in N Wales, in Gwynedd and scared. Of Covid. Of societal collapse. Of the food chain failure. Of being treated as an interloper and sent home to London.

This is where I saw that hand-written sign on the telegraph pole right at the start of the track – GO HOME STAY HOME.

What happens when you – that is me, 67, and my partner, Asanga, 77 – have in a very small way become a poster couple for Living Apart – last year we were just about to be on the One Show when Covid hit and I’ve written various articles about it – and then are thrown together by lockdown?

Suddenly instead of Living Apart – as in five hours apart by car, we were Living Together in Wales. Heavens to Murgatroyd!

The first time round, we learnt a lot. It was not a pretty sight. There was quite a lot of shouting. I am a woman of my own terrain, and then I was on his admittedly very beautiful wild terrain and in his farmhouse. The trouble for me was it was exactly that – it is his. And he had very precise ideas about the execution of most household tasks. I struggled with this dynamic. I had lived on my own for far too long. No wonder he refers to me as the Duchess of Harlesden!

I enjoyed returning to London at the beginning of June. To the friendliness of the city. To my road’s tight squeeze of terraced houses. To people. To neighbours. Friends. I revelled in that warmth. It’s a topsy turvy world in more ways than one. Well, okay, not everyone yearns to live in the countryside. But there is a growing trend amongst my friends for moving out of the city.

And now in January 2021, back on the track, there are no shoots of new growth. No blackthorn blossom. No hare. No vole. No willow warblers. Just the bare bones of the trees to identify. And those mountains.

Those Mountains

Asanga moved up here for the mountains. He has been a rock climber since his teens, but had a major climbing accident in his early 50s, took 15 years off, then returned again to the crags in his mid-60s. By the time I met him, he’d more or less given up because he couldn’t attain the same levels. I used to joke vaingloriously ‘I am your mountain now’. Ha ha.

No Ropes, No Ropes, No Ropes 

Like a balletic Welsh goat

he devils the overhang.

A saucy clamberer, his ferocity

belies any sinking libido.

Before me, he’s a circus performer

eager to reverse salty-old-lady disapproval.

Tantric Goddess (Eyewear 2017).

I’ve given up being his mountain now though! More recently, Asanga has started going to an indoor climbing wall and joined the Mega-Vet competition for the Over-70s. The wonderful Ginger Cain aged 90 died recently so maybe he’s in with a chance! Formerly a bit of a purist about outdoor climbing, he’s now an avid indoor climber too. And during the lockdown, of course, there is the Zoom Climbing Group where they cook up their next ventures – sea stacks, slabs, overhangs – when it’s possible to go out again.

Five years ago, Asanga took me into the mountains, up Tryfan, a 3,000 ft mountain in Snowdonia. I was unprepared. I had had very little sleep.

We scrambled up the final rocks and it was scarily windy and misty on top. This is what mountain-lovers call ‘atmospheric’ and I found terrifying. And the way down was much worse. Not the manouvering between rocks but the long journey down with the loose stone to negotiate. By the end, I was trembling with exhaustion.

It put me off. I love the coastal paths from Borth y Gest to Samson’s Cove, the pebbly beach at Criccieth, the Dwyfor river walks down past stunning reed beds, I love the woods at Tremadog and the walk along the Glaslyn gorge near Beddgelert.

But I was wary about mountains.

The turning point was more of a gentle roll. We had talked about going up Cnicht, which is referred to as the Welsh Matterhorn – it’s the shape – for years. But somehow we had never made it. I’d been sticking to the sea, rivers and woods.

Yet my appreciation of Asanga’s climbing skills – his nimbleness and balance, that ‘balletic goat’ stuff – had been growing. Secretly. I started to be able to actually listen to his amazing accounts of ice climbs, of Himalayan treks or of leading feats at outrageous sea cliff locations. And even watch the very occasional climbing film like Free Solo.

Gradually it came to me that it would be great to join him in some way. Not climbing. Even if I laughing talk about it. But by finally going up Cnicht together. A going towards – from me. A sharing of his mountain love.

Finally, we went. I was anxious. Not just about being on ice and snow while climbing upwards but also about wearing the right clothes. I borrowed boots from this daughter – Asanga bought new laces – he found me some purple rainproof over trousers, I had layers, a woolly hat. My first and maybe last time in a woolly hat. I have to add that I still had flowers in my hair underneath. My loyalty to floral adornment did not waver. Oh yes, and the gaiters – they had straps that went underneath my boots and waterproof material which went up to my knees.

I looked hideous but was so content to be ready for the mud, the ice, the snow. I was also warm. This was a good start. Also, Asanga was reassuringly organised when it came to getting ready. Flasks of tea and hot chocolate.

‘Look, I’ve got these two survival blankets,’ he announced showing me these two shiny packages. I am still not sure whether he should have told me that or not. But I understood that the intention was to keep us safe whatever the outcome.

Importantly for me, we discussed various possible eventualities before we went. I said that I felt vulnerable, that mountains were his territory and unknown to me, and that I might have to say that I’d gone far enough. He agreed that that was okay. I had to do this because I didn’t want to feel pressurised into going to the top. I knew that he would want to go to the peak.

The climb starts in the spectacular mountain-cradled village of Croesor and a mossy oak wood. Reassuringly, there were four young people leaving at the same time as us. ‘Good luck,’ said a broadly smiling woman.

The lowlands were muddy and sheep-scattered, we could see one peak ahead, but it turns out there is another ‘true peak’ behind that. As we walked, we looked down and saw the Glaslyn Estuary at Borth Y Gest and the Cob, as well as the other snow-covered peaks around us – Moelwyn Mawr to the right, the Nantlle ridge to the left. I was a little concerned about the clouds coming down and being engulfed in grey. I was afraid of getting lost even though Asanga knew the way.

And it was raining. Raining was unexpected and not what I wanted on this mountain walk. It turned into sleet as we got further up. But there were sheltered pauses. I avoided all the ice at first, and then found what bits I could walk on safely. Of course, it’s all about feeling confident. And the sticks – this was my first time – helped with balance. Asanga really is like a mountain creature when he gets going on these steep trails and the sticks were a good aid for me.

At about a 1,000 feet, we got to the snow line. In fact, it was still fairly thick and we were accompanied in our hot chocolate drinking by the deep croak of a raven flying back and forth. We wished for a peregrine but the raven was thrilling in itself.

Now, we started a steeper climb, winding carefully up this spinal ridge because there was a drop on the other side. I followed Asanga. I was happy for him to lead. Of course. He was exhilarated to be up here in his magnificent mountains again. He really is in his element.

I took in the silence. I felt the aloneness. The snow and ice. And that sense of expansiveness as we looked down to nothing except other hills and peaks. No cars, no villages. Just the mountains.

And as we kept on, it wasn’t physical tiredness that got to me, it was more the constant sleet and the grey clouds descending. And the drop down the side. There came a point where I felt my ‘No’ gather strength and eventually emerge. Asanga graciously accepted. We were three quarters of the way up, I didn’t feel the need to get to the peak.

Afterwards, I felt content that I’d done it. And I know Asanga did too. I had shared a few steps of his grand passion. My going towards had created a new layer of togetherness. I could feel the difference in our disagreements. There was a different layer there. A new trust. Another bit of the love web. 

Getting Creative as We Get Older – Go For It!


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How are you doing on the creative front? Has getting older freed you into a more creative place?

I just googled exactly that and depressingly it came back with endless reports about the brain being less creative as we get older. Bullshit, I thought. But I did find this from Psychology Today in 2007.

‘The ageing brain resembles the creative brain in several ways. For instance, the ageing brain is more distractible and somewhat more disinhibited than the younger brain (so is the creative brain). Ageing brains score better on tests of crystallized IQ (and creative brains use crystallized knowledge to make novel and original associations). These changes in the ageing brain may make it ideally suited to accomplish work in a number of creative domains. So instead of promoting retirement at age 65, perhaps we as a society should be promoting transition at age 65: transition into a creative field where our growing resource of individuals with ageing brains can preserve their wisdom in culturally-valued works of art, music, or writing.’

I am 67 and a half!! Did Adrian Mole ever get to that age? And I co-founded Advantages of Age with Suzanne Noble in 2016. In many ways, we’ve gone in different directions – in that Suzanne is developing her Silver Sharers site and Start-Up For Seniors while I am more focused on the arts and my relationship with poetry and dance and writing non-fiction. Although having said that Suzanne is singing the blues and performing when we’re not in Covid times.

Being a part of Advantages of Age – advantagesofage.com – has definitely helped me develop my relationship with the arts. In 2017, we received – on the second try and we didn’t write the budget bit – our first grant from the Arts Council and we created Death Dinner, the film about death and dying, had hot tub salons on everything from tantra to co-housing, ran a Taboo Club around sexuality/love, filled a bus Flamboyant Forever with Over-50s dressed up not just to the nines but the tens and elevens. There was a lot of production work involved.

And I realised that I could do it – get that sort of thing together. The same year 2017, I had my first poetry pamphlet Tantric Goddess out on Eyewear. By 2019, I created a book of poems with my partner, Asanga Judge illustrating them with watercolours – it was called Wild Land. We had an exhibition – poems and paintings together – at the Llyn Arts Festival in N Wales and we also performed there. By this time, I’d written a long poem A Song for an Old Woman, which was about the fears and vulnerabilities of getting older plus my mum having Alzheimer’s and the horrors of the later stages. Asanga plays the crystal bowls. So we did a performance where I read one stanza and then he responded with the haunting sounds of the bowls. We were going to do a version at the Poetry Café but Covid came along.

In 2019, Brent – I live in Harlesden and have written a non-fiction book – A London Safari walking adventures in NW10 – about my walks here with Louis Theroux, George The Poet etc – were told that they’d won the competition to be the London Borough of Culture 2020. Immediately, I started thinking of a project that I’d love to do. Be Willesden Junction Poet in Residence and immerse myself in this bleak but beautiful place. This scary but intriguing place.

I already had a relationship with the station. I’d done a chapter in A London Safari where I walked with railway enthusiast, Ian Bull and been enthralled by his litany of Willesden Junction nuggets, for example, that the buddleia seeds were brought in on the train’s wheels from ports, they came from China. For example, the old transformer building dates back to 1910 and is Arts and Crafts. Plus his winsome theories on my favourite building – the building on stilts. He surmised that it was a carriage washing building.

However, I didn’t go ahead until I’d had several chats with producers. Thanks, Titania Altius. And it became obvious that community was the name of the case. Of course. It’s not all about you, Rose. So I came up with the idea of The Willesden Junction Poets in Residence. I would gather poets in Brent and we would unravel the station through all of our different perspectives. And so I filled in the form. Yes, I managed it with a bit of advice from Suzanne on the budget front.

Lo and behold, last November I heard that I was one of the lucky ones. I had a grant of £3,000 to create The Willesden Junction Poets, make a book out of our poems, find an artist to illustrate it and launch it. I was over the moon. Exactly my kind of project.

By Feb 2020, I’d put the word out on social media, the Kilburn Times and amongst friends for nine poets. I found about 30 and decided on the group. One of my aims was to cherish this group so that it had long-lasting roots so that we became a collective that could carry on afterwards. I had tea with the ones I had decided upon.

On March 1st, we got together for the first time. A vegetable curry at my flat, lots of research about WJ strewn on my floor, shared our WJ stories and then we went to the station. The sun shone and we looked at the station in a way that we never had before. Even me. The fences suddenly looked like the staffs owned by medieval nobility. There were convex mirrors everywhere. And frills on the roof. A wasteland with steps to nowhere. The poets were animated and falling for WJ. Poems started to be written.

And then there was the night visit. I really wanted to go in the dark. Three of us went just as social distancing was coming in but wasn’t understood. Not by us either. No masks yet. We stood in the drizzle and dark, feeling like people in an Edward Hopper painting. There was a loneliness to it and an endless blue freight train. And postmodern blue lights like spears.

Lockdown happened. We took to Zoom like everyone else. Poetry workshops – we shared and commented on our WJ poems. Zoom kept our group together. The project was meant to last three months. We spent two months on Zoom. It deepened the trust and commitment in the group.

By June, the visits to the station started again. This time with masks. Filmmaker Tereza Stehlikova – she’s made Disappearing Worm Wood which is about this landscape which is changing all the time – came for a visit with us. This bleak and beautiful landscape. The vast horizon with all those tangles of tracks where both art critic John Berger drew and made etchings from (I haven’t been able to find any) in the 50s and painter Leon Kossoff made gorgeous, ugly paintings in the 70s and 80s.

Tereza told me she thought of Willesden Junction as a land of enchantment, I told her I thought of it as a theatre. Together with poet, Sue Saunders, we found the beating heart of WJ. Round the back, down a narrow passageway, near the steel bridge. Where the station staff make their way up and down in their orange hi-vis. Where we were forced into close encounters because the pathway is so narrow. Where the mainline trains speed by to Scotland, where freight trains chug by slowly carrying limestone aggregate, for instance, from the Mendips. And the wind is howling as though we’re on the moors in Haworth. Meanwhile, we’re caught up in an intensity of lines – fences, bridges, tracks.

More poems are written. Another high point is the visit with a botanist, John Wells who introduces us to over forty varieties of wild plant in the wilderness that looks like a wasteland full of rubbish and rats. Bristly ox tongue, dove’s cranesbill, spear thistles to name but a few.

I’d always wanted to re-frame the infamous WJ ‘walkway from hell’, ‘the purgatorial pathway’, ‘the jailed path’ with our imaginations. And these urban plants gave us another chance to see and feel this challenging walkway differently. And the poems went on.

By July, I’d picked the poems for the book and thought that BeWILDering could be a good title. The station was referred to as ‘bewildering’ in the late nineteenth century because it was labyrinthine and people actually got lost trying to look for their trains!

Be Wild, re-wild, Wild thing, Willesden Junction – they were all in that title for us. And Sue turned up at our interview with local radio station The Beat with badges bearing – Be, Wild, Er, Ring. I congratulated her on her brilliant deconstruction of our title. ‘I just couldn’t fit it on the badges,’ she said beguilingly.

In the meantime, Keira Rathbone was making her dazzling typictions.  And having her own adventures at the station. She wasn’t keen on WJ at first, but as time went on, she fell into intrigue. Keira would appear in her silver jacket and mask looking like a visitor with Mars with her own old Imperial typewriter. Then she’d sit and turn the platen while typing furiously and by some twist of wonderment, she’d create all these images.

On one occasion, she and I were down by the heart of WJ, and we simply became fascinated by an old pipe in the wall. This very textured wall with what looked like gunshots in it. Keira said something like – ‘Look like her come hither look’. And then she became the sexy pipe. And on we went. The spirit of the WJ residency captured. That spirit of tale-telling and you never know where it will lead you.

The book went to the designers, then the digital printers. By October, we had the beauties in our hands. Finally, my son, Marlon – thank you son – who is a filmmaker came down and made short films of us reading our poems ‘on set’ as Tereza put it. It was a great day. An acknowledgement day. Andrea Queens read Legend – where magical occurrences happen at WJ – on the steel bridge, I was near my beloved Building on Stilts, Ian McLachlan performed Changeling down ‘the purgatorial path’, we even got into the station itself for a quick shoot of Sue Saunders reading her Closely Observed Pigeons, Elizabeth Uter was filmed near the 266 bus stop reading her How Many Feet, Iman Hamid told us about her experiences On Platform 4 and Sue Saunders read Nick Moss’ STOP because he couldn’t be there.

And so The Willesden Junction Poets project has been a great project. We are now a group and hopefully, we will carry on performing in London. And I have just filled in another application. So let’s see if the next project comes about next year when I’m 68…

The book can be downloaded here – https://www.brent2020.co.uk/whats-happening/programmes/culture-fund/bewildering-by-willesden-junction-poets/

Follow us on #willesdenjunctionpoets on Insta Films on YouTube –
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCt3edoilQeSdKFh4d25Os0A

Lockdown Shock – Moving In With My Partner In N Wales


10 Minute Read

For the past seven years, I have been having a Living Apart Together relationship with my partner, Asanga. He lives on his beautiful wild land in North Wales and I live in my funky flat in Harlesden, North West London. Every few weeks, we visit one another for four or five days.

We are together but we retain our independence. We’d also found a way to be interdependent, we send photos and WhatsApp messages about our daily lives. Our gardens, our thoughts, our friends, our plants, our interweavings – we’ve both given each other so many gifts, he even has rags made from the maroon candlewick bedspread that I had on a bed as a child because he helped my family clear my mother’s house – then there’s his baking, my poems, his paintings. Life is rich and the anticipation around seeing each other again is relished.

We were in Fes this year on March 7th my birthday. News about Covid-19 in the UK has started but there was still the idea that it was a mild flu. I hadn’t given it much thought. I had organized a shared birthday party – with Suzanne, my co-founder at Advantages of Age – for March 14th after I returned. On March 9th, I was basking in the glory of a beautiful 18th century Medina townhouse and I received a warning text from Suzanne. Had I seen what was happening in Italy?

I hadn’t and I had no intention of removing my head from the gorgeous red Moroccan earth. I promised I would look as soon as I got home. By that Thursday – 12th – I was looking around FB and seeing that people whose politics I admired, were saying that we should be in lockdown already. That we should be learning from what happened in Italy. I read one particular article that convinced me which spoke about Covid-19 and how infectious it was. That the reason for lockdown was to stop that infection but also to protect the NHS.

We cancelled the party – I’m so glad in retrospect that we did. It was that weekend – the Cheltenham Festival weekend. The virus was spreading rapidly.

The Decision

The next week, it was obvious that we should be locked down already and it was coming. There was all the panic buying. No-one, where I lived, seemed to be taking social distancing seriously. I felt afraid. It literally felt as though society’s structures were collapsing.

Interestingly to me – forever independent – I found myself thinking that I wanted to spend lockdown with Asanga. Marlon, my son, said I should go. Asanga was excited – thank you for that sweetness – at the prospect.

By that Saturday morning, March 20th, I had packed up my little car, my big Apple Mac there too. I had never taken my computer to Wales! That felt so significant and made me feel extremely anxious. I always feel as though my life is on my computer and if I move it, it might all disappear.

So you see – I am very rational when it comes to my computer!

Replicating Living Together Apart When We’re Now Actually Living Together!

I moved into the guest bedroom. A fabulous bedroom that looks across the oak canopy. At this point, there were no leaves but the Irish Sea was there in the distance. And Moel y Gest, the little mountain. And this wild land. Fourteen acres of it.

I could have my own world. The Apple Mac was installed.

So it began – I spent four days sleeping in the guest room and three weekend days, Friday, Saturday, Sunday – sleeping with Asanga. Saturday would be our day when we devoted ourselves to the relationship. Making love, baths, appreciations, cooking together. It all sounded perfect!

And I was still working three days a week, so that could carry on as normal.

The ups and downs, the downs and ups.

The ups were all around living in such splendid isolation. No neighbours, lots of naked sunbathing.

The Track has to have a capital. It had such an important part in my lockdown story. This was a lane that Asanga had never travelled up – I persuaded him to walk up it one day to confirm my spotting of a pair of willow warblers – well, not by foot and was a back route to Criccieth. And every other day, I would walk or slow run up it.

For eleven weeks, the Track amazed me with its unravellings. Not since I was a child in our Yorkshire village have a felt so close to the earth, to nature. To the layers of life. While Covid 19 raged elsewhere – and it did feel like a ‘bubble’ where we were –the creamy froth of blackthorn blossom arrived, a mighty hare which appeared like a messenger from a magical story, three dead moles were displayed, the dazzle of the gorse yellow accompanied me.

As I read more about the horrors that were going on in hospitals and then care homes, and the PPE crisis, the bus drivers dying, the young health workers dying, the mounting death count – it was the weekly toll of small deaths on this lane that put me in contact with my grief. I couldn’t believe how quickly they came and went. I was truly shocked by the speed of their fading. Wood sorrel, wild garlic, stitchwort, bluebells – there was a parade of death and birth.

Maybe as well it’s because at 67, I’m aware of my own death approaching and have faced that my spring blossoms are finite now – but I felt deeply sad as the blackthorn turned brown. I wanted to yell – Stop, slow down. Yet in a giddy fashion, the hawthorn had already replaced it with its more substantial cream. This longing for life went on.

There was the hand-written sign on the telegraph pole, which announced Return Home, Stay Home early on. Initially, I felt like an intruder from foreign lands but Asanga pointed out that the notice was aimed at those who had caravans and mobile homes nearby. Still, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for being from London.

And insisted that we keep a low profile about my presence.

More ups were planting of all those seeds together in the first weeks. What a mixture – from lupins to peppers, cucumbers and mixed flowers – that quickly turned into lush seedlings.

And the swing seat tradition – in breaks from working up in Roseworld, I’d come down and share a mid-morning piece of banana bread with Asanga while listening to all that birdsong. Ah yes the baking, Asanga was the man in the kitchen producing rhubarb flapjacks, cinnamon buns, sourdough bread and different banana breads. What a marvel. No, I didn’t lose weight during my Welsh lockdown experience.

Then there was the Zoom Dance Ups – my family were so great at this, we’d pick tracks and then dance together before settling down for a chat, we had a couple of Saturday night club nights where we threw our bodies around and dressed up with friends including our French friends. Oh, and there was one Zoom evening which was supposed to be a cabaret night and turned into something more meditative and lovely. One friend played Bach on her cello, another showed us the paintings that she’d done on chair rescued from a skip, my sister read from Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, I read a new poem Today The Death Count Reaches Eleven Thousand…

Oh yes, the Friday poems. I learnt to make little videos of myself reading my mostly new poems and I really relished doing it. Even though the holding shots often showed me not at my best! It became another little ritual for my time in Wales and on several occasions, Asanga joined me on his crystal bowls.

Ah ha and the downs. The crazy ongoing not sleeping. Awake at 2 and not asleep again. Again and again. But it wasn’t just the lack of sleep, although this also contributed. It was the return of my high reactivity towards Asanga. I was living in his house. And on a part-time basis, I had learnt how to do this with ease, bring food, cut out mundane chore stuff, focus on the special activities. On a full-time basis, I was lost.

I reacted strongly to being in his domain. I was in his home and I found that difficult. I hated being told what to do – never a strong point of mine. I took everything – all words of instruction – as criticism. I felt unappreciated. I bought lots of food to make up for feeling unsafe. My internal waters were shaken by storms that I already knew well but I could not stop the shaking.

I had been content with our arrangement, the visiting, the exchanging but this living together – even though I was in the spare room much of the time – disrupted the emotional me. Sent me back to daddy waters. I struggled with this unwanted, familiar territory.

There were explosions on both sides. There was intensity. One of my mantras, as I get older, is that I am happy with the every day, I no longer need the extraordinary. I am a self-confessed recovering drama queen. Sometimes my recovery lapses. These weeks contained constant lapses.

Despite the dressing up for takeaways, the slow runs up The Track, the birdsong, the wild land, the walks in the woods, the poems, I was exhausted by my own emotions. Of course, the communal grief for what was happening outside my bubble was part of it. The deathly undertow. The Tory chaos. Dominic Cummings.

One weekend, I feared my mental health was tipping. Fortunately, Alan Dolan – who does conscious breathwork – was having a Zoom workshop that day, I used this circular breathing through the mouth – as Alan says, it’s deceptively simple – to bring me back to solid ground. I used it every day until I travelled home at the end of May.

Home Sweet Home

Neighbours came out to greet me. Jakki and Dylan who have saved me on several occasions including when I needed a heater – my central heating boiler had packed up – after Marlon’s heart surgery. Francisco and Gabby who for years adored our cat, Tara, they provided a second home for her just up the road. My 80-year-old next-door neighbour, Patrick who had been watering my garden all this time.

I hadn’t realized that a lack of neighbours would affect me so profoundly. That I loved being squeezed into a street with people. That this warmth is part of my love for living in the city. That I am a country woman – I come from a village – but now I am a city one at heart.

Over the last couple of weeks, my internal waters have calmed. My sleeping has improved massively. I have been in the garden a lot, planting out the seedlings that germinated in Wales, building a barricade to save them from those frolicking fox cubs, listening to the robin who is always around. I have been back on those tennis courts –my proclivity for combat fulfilled. I’ve still been writing poems, now about Willesden Junction. I have tended the street garden. I have seen my friends and family.

And three weeks on, I’m ready to go back to North Wales again. This time for five days…

AofA Poetry Evening – Introducing the Poets


18 Minute Read

From our inception in 2016, Advantages of Age has always had a proclivity for poetry. In 1936, William Butler Yeats, widely considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, described Edith Sitwell’s poetry – ‘Her language is a traditional language of literature — twisted, torn, complicated, choked here and there by strange resemblances, unnatural contacts, forced upon us by some violence beating in our blood, some primitive obsession that civilization can no longer exorcise’.

This week, I asked our six poets – myself, Caroline Cadenza, Wendy Klein, Beatrice Garland, Matthew Brown and Debra Watson – to introduce themselves and to tell us something about how getting older has affected their poetry. We will all be performing at the Poetry Café this Thursday, June 27th at 7pm.

ROSE ROUSE

I started writing in my mid-50s so I was already old when I started. I wasn’t a teenage poet however I had been a journalist for years, and words ran with me like water. I found myself in the position career-wise where the opportunities to be a freelance journalist had become less and less. The democratisation of writing on the web and my age mitigated against the career I’d relished for the previous 25 years. It was a scary time. So I decided that re-invention was the best policy. In order to earn money, I started doing press and at the same time, I signed on to a Beginner’s Poetry Class at City Lit in London.

Elainea Emmott

There was something about the succinctness of poems and the task in hand that attracted me, and it still does. And there is a parallel in that, with journalism. Condensing an experience that is long and complicated into something that bites with its intensity. Like pasta al dente. Not to overcook. That is my aim.

My first pamphlet Tantric Goddess was published on Eyewear in 2017 when I was 64. It was an exploration partly of the relationship that I started when I was 60. Hence the title which also has a tongue in its cheek. More recently, I did a project with my partner, Asanga where I sent him ten poems and he created ten watercolours as a response, this then became an exhibition and a book Wild Land.

Here is a poem from Tantric Goddess –

LOVE IS LIKE FINDING A SECRET BALLROOM IN MY HEAD

All those years I’d been doing crazy asanas,
the dancing was happening round the corner.
My Conscious Relationship teacher did a lecture
on Holding The Psychosexual Boundaries.
Destroy his letters in a fire ritual.
I’d always dived into Never-Neverland
with broken men, bits of rope and dirty dishes.
To me, the terms were incomprehensible,
I thought my writing should be on their walls.
Enlightenment came through painstaking logic,
a series of unyoga-like forays into household chores.

Like rebels in flagrante,
we move our old limbs slowly.
I haven’t mentioned the chandeliers.

CAROLINE CADENZA

Caroline Cadenza, 51, is an award-winning advertising copywriter, living and working in London. Not finding much scope to express the deep stirrings of her soul whilst writing cat food ads or car brochures, she often uses her daily commute to write poetry. She loves reading her work at Open Mic events and feeling it resonate with audiences.

She has just published Metaphorplay, which she describes as ‘a wildly poetic romance’ and is a collection of her erotic, naughtily edgy, witty poems. She has also illustrated them with her own inimitable pizzazz and colour.

Here’s what she says about her evolution as a poet –

In my 20s and 30s, my poetry was a microphone for my innermost voice as it sung of my spirit’s longings for wholeness and my passion’s yearnings to bust out of the prison of my shrinking-violet personality.

Throughout my fantastically freeing 40s, my art and poetry were increasingly an outlet for my mischief and wildness. But at some point, this ‘secret me’ was so thoroughly outed as the ‘real me’, that putting it back in its box became pointless.
Now at the tip-over from 40s into 50s, it seems that my former decades were merely fertilising the ground for the fruition and bursting forth I’m currently enjoying. This feels like the midsummer of my life – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually blossoming, blooming, ripening and epiphany-ing all over the place.

My poetry today remains an amplifier for my ever-more daring voice – defying convention, berating ex-lovers and shaming them for chasing ridiculously younger totty. But my main catharsis comes from fondly deriding myself and transmuting my tragedies – confessionly, into comedies. As ever, my poetry doesn’t just express my inner world, it reveals, translates, unscrambles and interprets it to me. The trembling voice of my awe and gratitude to be here at all, offers both poetic prayers of thanks and laments the loss of contemporaries who have already passed away. Through my poetry’s portal, my inner goddess roars her wrath and purrs her promises.

What’s next? Who knows? I love turning my poems into performances. So watch this YouTube space for more like this:

This is one of Caroline’s poems that we published at Advantages of Age. It epitomises her courage and naughtiness.

FRUITION

Fruits plucked in haste when ripe enough to eat
Are fresh and firm and tolerably sweet
But look again and higher up you’ll see
Maturer fruit still hanging on the tree.
Come connoisseur, this mellow one’s for you
Not tang and tart and biting back
Nor am I overdue
But come to my fruition – in my prime
Beyond delicious: my taste is sublime.
You’ll barely need to bite – just use your lips
I’ll yield my liquid treasure for kiss
My perfume beckons – lures you to come near
Good sir – you are the reason I am here.
I’m burdened with this ripeness, heavy with completeness
Never before nor ever more will I exude such sweetness
Nectar-seekers, lotus-eaters have not tasted such
Come pluck me now and glut yourself while I am soft and lush.
I’ve nought to lose and all to gain
For it shall be lamented
If my ripeness finds no mouth
Before I’m all fermented.

WENDY KLEIN

Widely published and winner of many prizes, Wendy Klein, 77, is a retired psychotherapist, born in New York and brought up in California. Since leaving the U.S. in 1964, she has lived in Sweden, France, Germany and England. Her writing has been influenced by early family upheaval resulting from her mother’s death, her nomadic years as a young single mother and subsequent travel. Despite dashing about between four daughters and fourteen grandchildren, she has published three collections: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013) from Cinnamon Press, and Mood Indigo (2016) from Oversteps Books.

She writes about herself – ‘I believe profoundly in the curative powers of dancing dogs and reading poetry out loud. I hope that someone will humanely destroy me if I cease to be able to enjoy these pleasures.’

Here’s what she says about age and being the poet she is – I am a bit of an imposter to Advantages of Age, because I really don’t see many advantages in terms of any part of my life. I read the brave, positive items you post with great interest and wonder!  Certainly getting older has made me less confident about many aspects of my life, and writing is one of them. I am a glass-half-empty person who does her best to stay just ahead of the black dogs. Everything takes me longer, I am more disorganised, I forget titles I have changed, waste a lot of time looking for lost/mislaid items, electronic and paper.

I had a pretty good system up until we moved a few weeks ago, but I have just spent a whole morning not finding a reading I did in Chichester recently, which I want to repeat in London this Saturday, and I cannot find it.  Will have to reprint, and I have no replacement cartridge to make my printer work. It is solvable, and I have a wonderful techie partner who bails me out. But…  Performance-wise, I suffer more from nerves than I did when I was younger, stumble more, etc.  Am pretty diffident about promoting my work, more etc. You get the picture.

I think I am definitely past my prime in terms of developing new ideas, experimentation, etc.  I write what I write and know my limitations, which I guess could be described as an advantage. In general, I find the poetry world an awkward place to navigate, and I think I have retreated from the competitive corners of it I used to inhabit willingly. I still put on a pretty good show, but it doesn’t feel secure.

This is a wonderful poem that Advantages of Age published of hers! I love that it’s ‘the beast’ that she covets. I’m sure Yeats would approve.

WHAT THE WEAVER KNOWS

I’m not just any maiden lounging in the millefleurs,
there to bait the trap. On my canvas, invisible
to the innocent, fish knives gleam, wait to scale
your silver, crack open your heart. Listen;
there are rumours of drowning by metaphor:
the flicker of dance, the aspiration of flight,
the whale-bone squeeze that robs breath, moulds
flesh into enticement, promises nothing.
Embrace the rush of darkness, the drip and seep
of 4 AM when eyelids are peeled back, lashes bat
and flap, when the tick of the body is loudest
as light advances, twists, morphs, begins its birth trial:
crown of head, shoulders, the buttocks’ heart-cushion,
legs and feet, their twitch and kick built-in.
No I’m not just any maiden, there to bait the trap, a silly pawn
in some hunter’s game. It’s the beast I covet:
the arch of his back, his mane’s rough silk, the heave
of his white, white breast. Look out, for only the canniest
can break into the spiked circle, where I spell-spin;
a sucker for unicorns; not much of a lady.

BEATRICE GARLAND

Beatrice Garland, 81, has a day job as a National Health Service clinician and teacher, work which requires a lot of publication in its own right (under a different name), so there have been long gaps in her writing poetry since she began in 1989. But it has never stopped completely.

This is partly because she has always read – poetry from the sixteenth century right up to the 2019s, as a result of a first degree in Eng. Lit. – and partly because no job can satisfy every need, perhaps particularly not the need for something personal and self-examining. She spends a lot of the day listening to other people’s worlds. Writing poems offsets that: poetry is a way of talking about how each of us sees, is touched by, grasps, and responds to our own different worlds and the people in them.

She won the National Poetry Prize in 2001 with Undressing, has won several other prizes and has two collections out – Invention of Fireworks and The Drum.

Beatrice is one of the most dynamic women I know. Her poems are vivid and daring.

Here’s what she says about her writing and getting older –

I only started to write really once I was older – say, from 50 onwards. And over the last four or five years I’ve become more confident about performing/reading. But basically growing older for me has meant knowing my own mind, and not being afraid to speak it without becoming strident.

ACHILLES HEEL

We are going to bed.   From where
I am lying, hands behind my head,
I watch your progress with interest
for you are a fine-looking man, good hair
and yes, still slim.    When you remove
your shirt, stretching to take it off
without undoing the buttons, I see your ribs
and catch a drift of something feral,
warm, from the efforts of the day
and it makes my pulse quicken.   But first
I must tell you something important:
you must never ever ever again
leave your socks on till last.

MATTHEW BROWN

Matthew Brown, 54, is a freelance journalist and writer. His poems have appeared in a number of publications, including Magma, Other Poetry and South Bank Poetry. He grew up in Durham and lives in East London.

Matt is brilliant at forensically dissecting experiences, particularly around nature. His poems are have a quiet but flaming sensitivity to them.

Here’s s poem of his that was in a group pamphlet, Sounds of the Front Bell.

GUTS

Weigh it first in the palm of your left, belly up.
Then flop flank down on the block, tail fanned out
against marble or oak. Note the gold scales,

the red-eye dots. See the gills collapse,
the arsehole’s dark O. Touch your blade tip here,
clip a nick, press till the slit grows. Grip.

Use a rag if you must, then slice through chest
to throat – a fine line where pale flesh thins.
Stop before the slack jaw’s wishbone. Make it clean.

Fishwives, it’s said, could cut through fifty 
a minute, their blunt fingers stunk to old age.
Slide yours between the flaps to catch

the guts, a moist purseful of soft mechanics.
This is what there is: a tube for in and out 
made slime. Snip the gullet, tug

the slick innards till membrane peels 
from bone. Adjust your hold, thumb
back muscle, let the knife-point pierce
the spinal column. Ooze as black as claret dregs.
Most goes with a running tap; some spots
need an edge, a fingernail. With luck, what’s found

between the ribs is pink. Leave the head,
let eyes pearl in the pan, skin butter-crisp 
with sting of lemon and dill. What’s left
is skeleton: skull, vertebrae, fin; tail, a tattered 
flag on a grounded ship. Fold the waste
in old news, seal the lid from night’s predators.

DEBRA WATSON

Debra Watson, 53, is the co-founder and director of The Crimson Word, a poetry collective for shows and events exploring multi-sensory, immersive poetry. She is also a regular performer at The Poetry Brothel London and with The Bloody Poets. She has recently published her first chapbook Laments and Incantations.

Debra is a sensual poet whose words wrap around you and wrestle you to the floor. She delights with her provocative tongue.

Leif Sebastian

Here’s what she says about her work and evolution as a poet –

I stopped writing poetry when I came to the UK in 1997 and started again in 2011. I found a batch of poems that I wrote between 1993 and 1997 and to be honest, the themes and the writing styles are not madly different. I think, if anything, I have developed more craft in the writing. It was wonderful working with poet and editor Katie Haworth on my chapbook. The reasons the poems look more ‘professional’ is that Katie brought some ‘grammar rules’ to the work. She has a fine eye for teasing out the style of the poet and creating formatting rules. She is a tough editor and I had to fight my corner. I am quite stubborn, so often my first reaction to changes is ‘no’ – but then I would look again, and I would see that Katie had actually made a really genius and elegant suggestion. If anything, getting older has made me more willing to open up my work to collaborations.

What has made the most impact on my writing is performing live with The Poetry Brothel London. When I first started I asked Gabriel Moreno if I had to learn my lines. He suggested that I did, but left it to me to decide. The first few performances, I read from a book both for the opening performances and for the private, 1-2-1 readings. However, The Poetry Brothel always has photographers roaming about, and I didn’t like the way the photos looked. So I started learning the poems out of vanity. It was very freeing.

It is very much like that point in rehearsing a play when the director calls for ‘books down’ and suddenly, you can concentrate more intently on your body and your internal relationship to the words than you can if reading from the page. I find this difficult to describe, but in some way it has affected the musicality of the writing.

Performing ‘book down’ has then become really useful when performing intimate poetry either with The Poetry Brothel or with The Crimson Word, the poetry performance company I started with Winter James. Being book free has made it possible to get really close to the clients and to experiment with performing multi-sensory poems.

The poet Amy-Nielson Smith was the first person I knew who was doing this in her private readings, using blindfolds and smell sensations. I was reluctant at first – but after a few months at the Poetry Brothel – seeing how much the clients loved it when other poets blindfolded them, I started doing it too. Now it is a central part of my intimate performances and has made me super aware of the use of multi-sensory word triggers within the long form poems.

The second major influence has been working very closely with the violinist Henni Saarela. Henni is a hero. So much of the impact of the work has come through developing work with her. I have worked with musicians a lot since I started performing publicly in the 1980s.

I used to write far more political stuff till the late 80s, early 90s and worked at first with a traditional drummer and then a cellist. I have always written erotica and performed at a lot of arts events in my youth. At my book launch in May, Henni and I were joined by PicturePoems and Gabi Garbutt for some of the poems from the collection.

There are a lot of poets who are musicians and we tend to talk a bit about the difference between writing music and writing poems. Sappho, of course, was a musician, so the two have been linked in a bardic way through many cultures. We keep intending to record. I’d love that to be a collaboration with other musicians. The Spanish poetess, Belen Berlin, played ukulele on the first performance of ‘Dammit Johnny’ with the collective ‘The Bloody Poets’ and it was amazing. Henni plays that part now and sometimes other instruments too.

At the last Poetry Brothel, Henni and I were joined by Gabriel Moreno on guitar for ‘Barcelona’ and it was sensational. The title of my chapbook is called ‘Laments and Incantations’ and some of the writing has choruses/ refrains that reflect this influence of working with musicians. I’ve worked with a few different musicians on different instruments, but never all at the same time. I guess that might be next.

The last few months I have been dealing with chronic pain and have not had much mental clarity or energy to write. The last thing I wrote which I performed with FemmeDemomium at The Uncensored Festival is a prose poem called ‘Bad Feminist’.

It is a huge departure for me in terms of style. The piece before that was a bespoke performance piece called ‘Baba Yaga’. Although thematically it fitted into my fascination with retelling fairytales – stylistically, it was writing to fit in with a performance developed by poet Naomi Wood – playing the young Baba Yaga who gets the calling to visit the Baba Yaga.

I wrote for and performed the more cantankerous version of Baba Yaga. I also re-wrote ‘The Beauty and The Beast’ for a performance of ‘Venus in Furs’ which we did with The Crimson Word. It was hugely satisfying as it was delivered to be read as a pervy bed-time story and it was enacted by our house submissive playing ‘Beauty’ and an audience member playing ‘The Beast’. The fairy-tale turns the roles on their heads.

I am also busy writing for a new collection called ‘The Empire of Fluff’ which includes poems about colonialism, capitalism and environmental degradation. I don’t really know – my writing feels all over the place at the moment. Lacking discipline in so far as I am responding in very different and diverse ways to themes – so it is more difficult seeing an organic collection grow as I did with ‘Laments and Incantations’.

Here’s a poem that we published in AofA –

OLD FRIEND

Tonight
old friend
I immerse myself in you
Wanting you same
as I always did
When we were young
and the violet Jacaranda
fell carelessly in
hazy blooms
around our feet
Later
though we were still
freshly blossomed;
Both busy reaping
the sky of stars,
On occasion
I fell into you,
Carefully
Detached
and light in passing
And though
You said
we’d be doing
this
into our 60s
It seemed
to me
unlikely
that the delights and sensations of spring
could last for endless nights.
I touch you now
your belly
unexpectedly round
beneath my mouth
Your lips
open to receive me
and though we are both older
by decades
when I kiss you
I feel a subcutaneous youth,
tremulous,
surfacing from deep within
My lips
are yours
and my thighs
My longing is both endless and urgent
Generously
Your body lends itself to me
and I can be as selfish as I choose
in choosing you
The feel of you  evokes
so much light in me
that my fingertips
burst with sunshine
Tonight the smile will not
leave my eyes
or my soul
stop from spinning
and I cannot be damned for the
laughter you make well from me
or the way my body remembers
As if we had not spent mere hours together
in this life
but lifetimes with every hour.

TICKETS FOR PIZZAZZ, SIX POETS OVER 50 TAKING PLACE AT THE POETRY CAFÉ DOWNSTAIRS AT 7PM, JUNE 27TH 2019, CAN BE BOUGHT HERE –

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pizzazz-six-fabulous-poets-over-50-tickets-60587359423

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