Refine Your Search

2018 – A Look Backwards & Ahead


9 Minute Read

I turned 57 in 2018 and, above all else, reaching this less-than-milestone age informed my year more than any other particular incident. Closer to 60 than 50, I began to see, with greater clarity than the year earlier, how my age was coming to define my life and my place in the world.

Take, as an example, my tech startup, Frugl, a website that curates daily deals from most of the leading providers such as Groupon, Living Social and Wowcher. I’d created the Frugl app in 2014, when I was 53, as an adventurous idea to help myself and others enjoy London’s culture on a budget spurred on by the rather naive belief that if I gathered enough users it would somehow become profitable. As someone who had always enjoyed hunting out fun and usually free events in London for the greater part of my life, I had witnessed, in the more recent past, how much harder it was to find them (especially as Time Out was no longer my go-to source). Four years later, having pivoted the business a number of times, burning through cash and experiencing more than my fair share of ageism and sexism, I realised:

a) with the benefit of hindsight, the original app would have made a great social enterprise (having learned this past year the difference between a social enterprise and for-profit business) seeing that Frugl had been championed and particularly popular amongst young people, often on low incomes;

b) that, generally, equity funded businesses (the ones you read about receiving large amounts of investment) are ones that solve clear, genuine technological problems and are easily scalable. In a bizarre twist, I did discover that in trying to build the latest iteration of Frugl, the one that I had hoped would feature all the deals, vouchers and sales across the UK, there was a genuine technological problem to be solved. The problem being, I just don’t have nearly enough cash to solve it and…

c) being an older woman working on a technology-based business isn’t much fun unless you enjoy the challenge of fighting the status quo 24/7 and

d) most companies that receive investments are fronted by young, white and middle-class men (see c).

Would I have embarked on this new career path having known all this back in 2014? Perhaps not. Did I regret the time I’d spent learning just how tough on women (especially) the sector can be? Maybe but, as a result, I’d met an investor, Yvonne Fuchs, that turned into a great friend and is now working with me on my social enterprise Advantages of Age, created in 2016 to challenge some of the biases I’d encountered through working on Frugl. So, in the end, there has been a silver lining (always there, if you look for it)! We’ve been discussing how we can redevelop the original Frugl app as a loyalty product with a bias towards helping those over 50 save money so watch this space!

If 2018 taught me anything it was to be resilient and flexible. My income stream, until quite recently, had been through generating PR for SMEs, diversified to such an extent that it made answering the question, “What do you do for a living?’” practically impossible to articulate in less than 10 minutes. I have become the very definition of a woman with a ‘portfolio career.’ Since then I’ve heard others in similar circumstances describe themselves as polymaths or renaissance people, both of which seem grandiose terms to describe what constitutes just keeping one’s head above water.

Here are a few of the things I have done this year to earn a living:

Rented out a room on AirBnB
Taught a business course for over 50s
Given talks at Soho House
Managed communications for a co-working space in South London
Sung bawdy blues at a club in Camden
Freelance writing
Been part of various focus groups

As a result, I managed to stay afloat while gaining a deeper perspective of the career challenges many over 50s are now facing as we move towards an ever more distant retirement. Never before have I had to take on so much work to earn so little.

Meanwhile, I’ve watched as friends and colleagues my age struggled with redundancy and unemployment.  This actually has allowed a handful to find purpose in their lives, many having previously defined who they were by what they did. The problem is – how to earn money from their passion. The past six months I’ve been trying, along with Yvonne, to figure out how to solve what is a genuine problem of how to keep over 50s in work, either by helping them to start a business or finding a job. It’s the one thing that keeps me up at night and I can’t say I’m anywhere close to cracking it yet! I’m looking forward to 2019 as the year where AofA can play a part in supporting over 50s to generate an income that aligns with their skills and passions.

Social media isn’t delivering results for my businesses like it did a year ago. Back in 2016, I invested in an internet marketing course with a ‘social media guru.’ I was naturally sceptical about a course that promised to deliver £10k a month in revenue within a year, and I quickly realised that the course was primarily aimed at those who wanted to coach or consult others and not the perfect fit for me. Word of warning – if you’re being sold a course that promises you £10k/month in revenue from the get-go, the likelihood is that you’re going to be learning how to create a course not dissimilar to the one you’re on that you can resell to others. Even so, my ‘guru’ did manage to deliver one killer piece of advice, ’start a Facebook group.’

I chucked in what little paid work I still had left and decided to spend 8 hours a day on Facebook building a community – called Advantages of Age – Baby Boomers & Beyond – of over 50s who, like myself, refused to give in to the media narrative around ageing. It now has over 3.5k members but with less active members than I expected or noticed a year ago. It may be that quite a few are lurkers, those that read but don’t post, but I suspect that the algorithms have changed and many users aren’t seeing the group posts. That makes reaching them difficult and figuring out how we can help them with some of the challenges they are facing, even more so. The more we can connect in other ways, whether it’s email or hosting events that bring our members together, the happier I will be. I fear that one day we’ll all be having to spend money using Facebook simply because we haven’t figured out how to communicate with each other in a convenient way! (Anyone who has any suggestions as to how to avoid this, I’m all ears).

The other social media channels aren’t as interactive for the over 50s community as Facebook and I’m reaching a point of wondering how to get back to stuff that happens in real life and not online. Part of this has been spurred by my renewed interest in singing, the biggest surprise, and delight of 2018.

In March 2018 I was given three singing lessons with a well known vocal coach and performer herself, Nikki Lamborn, as a present by one of my best friends and my two children. I’d been a jazz and session singer in my twenties as a sideline and missed performing in front of an audience. But, following menopause and over two decades of not singing, I’d moved from alto to more of a baritone. I couldn’t hit the notes I used to and singing along to the radio was painful for anyone without earshot. Nikki took me under her wing and, over 6 months, got my voice good enough to guest at one of her gigs where I sang three bawdy blues songs from the 1930s, my favourite era for music. This led to my own sold-out gig at the same venue, the Green Note in Camden. I’ve also been booked for two more shows and am even thinking about how I can work my set up into a one-hour history of the bawdy blues in time for the Edinburgh Festival!

I love singing now and my range is slowly coming back, thanks to lots and lots of practice. I love performing in front of others, seeing my friends in the audience and for it to be something which others are willing to pay for (maybe I’m a renaissance woman, after all). It has come as a complete shock to me that within such a short space of time, I have been able to get a show together and find a young and accomplished pianist who enjoys playing the dirty blues as much as I enjoy singing them. Nikki and her partner Been are even talking about writing a song for me and producing an EP! It’s a wonderful feeling to know that I haven’t lost my voice and a  brilliant way to wind up what has been an eventful year. If you’d told me a year ago, that I’d be ending the year with my own sold-out show, I
never would have believed you.

Finally, 2018 was the year that taught me never to give up on the idea of finding love. I got divorced back in 2001 and, since then, have been in and out of relationships, some good but mainly not so great. In between, I’ve tried most online dating sites, with varying degrees of success. Friends often said they admired my tenaciousness when it came to finding a partner but were also, I’m guessing, doubtful that I ever would. Then I met a man in March with whom I felt a genuine affinity and respect. My feelings for him have deepened over the past year. Like me, he has also spent over ten years online dating and neither of us are spring chickens. It’s very much a relationship of equals, not one where one person is trying to fix or save the other. We’re having a lovely time together and I’m looking forward to the year ahead with him.

I don’t like to plan too far ahead but I’m looking forward to spending more time with friends and family in 2019; as well as developing the work we’ve been doing at AofA into a clear, strategic plan that can see us become a truly sustainable enterprise by the end of the year; and working up my bawdy blues repertoire. My motto for next year is Think Big and that’s what I intend to do.

Goodbye my Lovely Friend – Nigel Castle


5 Minute Read

There comes a point in life and I’m sure it’s different for everyone when one becomes aware of one’s mortality. I can’t pinpoint when, exactly, it was for me but one day I became scared of climbing up or down steep staircases, thinking I might fall. I stopped driving about 10 years ago when my little Fiat 500 was taken back by the leasing company and, since then, when I get in the passenger seat of a car, I’m aware that my heart beats a bit faster than usual. I avoid looking out from tall buildings. These may all be totally unrelated or, as I suspect, they’re just my brain sending out a warning signal that life is full of dangers that I’m not quite as resilient as I was in my youth and that death may come upon me suddenly.

I have also spent the past year becoming more interested in death and specifically, how I’d like to die and my funeral. A lot of this has come from putting together the film Death Dinner which Rose Rouse and I created last year with the help of an Arts Council grant.

Death Dinner explores the arena of death in conversation with ten characters who are connected to the death industry. There is a marvellously gothic mortician, an end-of-life-doula, a death rituals’ academic, a soul midwife, a photographer of Afro-Caribbean funerals and more. It all took place over an abundant feast in the Dissenter’s Chapel at Kensal Green Cemetery. Prior to making the film, I hadn’t really given death much thought, but the dialogue over dinner made me realize that there are many different sorts of funerals and ceremonial aspects, as well as various ways of body disposal.

Recently, I attended a Thanksgiving for the Life of Nigel Castle, held at the Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel in the heart of Hampstead. Nigel was someone who had been in and out of my life for the past decade, thanks to an introduction made by his closest friend, Rob Norris.

A keen gardener, skilled healer, acupuncturist, osteopath, masseur plus being a good musician, Nigel was multi-talented. At various times, he had tended to my garden, worked his magic on my back and danced with me and others at 5 Rhythms, another passion of his. My children, now grown up, remember us all sitting in a circle and singing together while Nigel and Rob played guitars. He was a familiar face around Maida Vale and Queens Park, driving around in his beaten up Volvo. I never knew how he kept that car on the road but somehow he did. Nigel was always around and then, one day, I found out, via Rob, that he had lymphoma and two months later he was gone. He was 67. I never got a chance to say goodbye but there were plenty of people that did. Nigel was much loved by everyone that met him.

If funerals could come with ratings, then Nigel’s would have been a five star one. I’m by no means an expert on what constitutes a good or bad funeral, but Nigel went out in a way that will leave a lasting memory for me and, I’m sure, for many others.

Rob Norris

The service itself lasted two hours. And, let’s face it, it’s hard enough to find a table in a restaurant that will let you sit there for two hours, much less a chapel. The service presided over by Anja Saunders, Nigel’s old friend and an Interfaith Minister, wove together music, poetry, tributes, recollections and finally Nigel’s own voice. At various points during this unconventional and beautiful service, we danced around the beautiful wicker casket to Dance me to the End of Love by Leonard Cohen, and then we were invited to come up and weave flowers into it or write tributes to Nigel on small, brown labels which would be buried with him.

There were tears and laughter as friends and family recounted their memories of Nigel. A pianist had written a song for him. A guitarist wrote another one. His friends from 5 Rhythms read out a series of poems. Rob and I particularly liked White Owl Flies in and out of the Field by Mary Oliver, which seemed to sum up Nigel perfectly.

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings—five feet apart—
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow—
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows—
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us—
as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

The length of the service felt like we were all able to collectively grieve, and by the end, I felt my spirits lighten as we all said goodbye to him. It was an amazing tribute to a wonderful person and I couldn’t help thinking that the world would be a richer place if everyone chose such an intimate departure ceremony.

Afterwards, I spoke to Anja to thank her for the way she managed to oversee the service and its host of participants in such an effortless manner. She was so fittingly graceful in the way she provided just the right amount of space and time between tributes for us to absorb what Nigel had meant to those he loved and just how much of an impact he had had on so many people. At the end, she encouraged us all to breathe and we did…

On Being Naked Across The Years


1 Minute Read

I first experienced being naked in public in my twenties, when I went to the Greek island of Ios with a girlfriend. We took a day trip to a naked beach on the other side of the island, reached only by a boat that left in the morning and came back in the evening.

I’ll never forget lying on the pure white sand, my naked body exposed to all and it feeling very daring and radical. As I recall, there were just a few others on the beach, including a group of Italians I befriended (and later ended up visiting) and a Dutchman with whom I had a brief liaison.

While I lay there half asleep he had dropped water on my feet, introducing himself by saying, “It’s raining.” Looking up I saw a gorgeous, tanned man crouched down in front of me. The rest then followed the typical 18-30 holiday trajectory – boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy disappears never to be heard from again.

It was another twenty years before I took my clothes off in public again, this time at a sauna club in Kentish Town. I’d gone there with a boyfriend on his birthday as something fun to do and indeed it was, moving around from sauna to steam room then jacuzzi, wearing nothing more than a towel wrapped around my waist as we travelled from room to room. Feeling the steam soaking into my skin without a swimsuit sticking to it was divine. Following that first time, I went back often on my own, liking the attention I received from men, as much as being divested of my clothes for a few short hours.

After that, I became more interested in naturism in general so in 2005, when I was invited to the largest naturist village in the world, Cap D’Agde, by a group of very liberally-minded friends, I jumped at the opportunity.

Situated in the Languedoc region of France, not too far from picturesque Carcassonne and Montpellier, Cap D’Agde is a walled town, created in the 1970s. Although nowhere near as beautiful as the neighbouring towns, it does have the advantage of being the only place in the world where nudity is mandatory. The town holds up to 25,000 naturists in the high season who stay in one of the many campsites, hotels or apartments in the village. I was in my mid-40s, up for fun, adventure and generally bungee jumping my way through life. But all that aside, what I remember most – was just how wonderful it felt to be naked twenty-four hours a day.

I’d spent the vast majority of my life covered up and embarrassed about my body, having been overweight throughout my teens and twenties. It took having two kids and a succession of personal trainers with whom I exchanged PR skills for weekly workouts to get myself into shape. Still, it’s one thing to feel confident about one’s body and another to wander around the supermarket with one’s breasts exposed (and, yes, the frozen section is really cold).

Since first going to Cap D’Agde, I’ve been back four times, usually taking friends with me. Most have been naturist virgins. Mike was one. A big, tall Yorkshireman, I don’t think he truly believed that he was going to be walking around starkers until we entered the village and he spotted the street signs proclaiming that clothes weren’t allowed! It took him about 30 seconds to get used to being naked in public and once that short initial shock had passed, he was in his element. On leaving the village, he said it was the most fun on holiday he had ever had.

Being naked in a town full of naked people or in any other naturist place is fascinating. We may all be human but every one of us has our own distinctive shape. There is no such thing as perfection. While there will always be lithe young women and muscular men to admire – for the most part, everyone has lumps and bumps. What unites us all in these types of naturist venues is an acceptance of our naked selves and a pleasure in going through our daily life without having to worry about what we’re going to wear. Packing for a week away with just a carry-on. No problem!

Then there’s the fun in doing all the everyday activities ‘butt’ naked. Shopping for clothes, for instance, which seems counterintuitive but is actually hilarious as it consists of putting items on. Eating breakfast while sitting on a sun deck that overlooks other people also having their croissant while naked is a treat. Sex on a beach is, well, sexy – although one needs to watch out for the sand ending up in intimate areas. And there’s no better place for watching the world go by than at an outdoor, naturist cafe.

Aside from getting an all over tan, there are other positive benefits of holidaying naked. If you’ve grown up surrounded by images of beautiful people as most of us have, then it can be hard to accept one’s body for what it is, with all its blemishes, cellulite and loose bits of skin. In Cap D’Agde, where the average age is somewhere around the mid-40s and above, one comes to view bodies as fascinating rather than judging them on their individual parts.

Above all, being naked is actually good for your health. ‘Spending time in the nude is a great way to get in touch with your body,’ says Dr. Jenn Mann, relationship expert. ‘Being in the nude reduces shame. You can work on self-acceptance and that can be very healing.’

If you’d like to find out more about naturism and places within the UK and abroad check out British Naturism’s website.

My Voice Lost and Found


1 Minute Read

Some things you just take for granted. Me being able to sing was one. When I was young I was one of those kids that used to get up and sing in front of my parents friends to entertain them. When I was in High School I was chosen to be part of an exclusive group of singers to perform madrigals. For a couple of years a dozen of us would go ‘on tour’ to Spain or Germany to perform in secondary schools in front of kids our own age. I loved singing those medieval songs almost as much as the mischief I made on those school trips. I remember more than one occasion, stripping off my horrible costume, a tartan floor length A-line skirt and matching waistcoat straight after a concert, and climbing out the hostel window with my friend Laurie so we could go in search of the young men who had come to see us perform.

At University I was rejected from singing with the school’s jazz band because I wasn’t doing a music degree and that was the criteria for anyone who wanted to sing with the group. And in my twenties I did lots of session singing, eventually rejoining Laurie and her sister to perform complicated three part harmonies that Laurie had devised as the band ‘The Dirty Blondes.’ We had a blast, singing at various pubs and clubs where I’m sure nobody really knew what to make of three twenty-something young women singing Andrew Sisters and Rogers & Hammerstein tunes when punk was all the rage.

By my late twenties I’d moved on, teaming up with a pianist where we would perform jazz standards for hours in tiny wine bars across the city. Singing and music was in my blood. My mother had sung on the radio as a child. My uncle played drums for Janis Joplin (whom I met when I was 6) and a distant cousin was Stan Getz.

In 1988 I met my husband who was not musical but was a total music geek and photojournalist. Although he was obsessed with music, he could never understand why I would want to sing in some half empty wine bar all evening for the price of a decent steak. So I stopped singing except for humming along to tunes on the radio or a Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald record. I gave birth to a couple of kids, my youngest of whom also inherited the family’s musical gene, and put my own singing years behind me.

It took a trip to Cherry Grove, Fire Island, and a good ten years into my marriage, to re-awaken my voice. I’d gone there with a man with whom I’d been having a long distance affair. He was a born and bred New Yorker and, being August, he suggested we spend a week there to get away from the heat of the city. The place was populated almost exclusively with gay men, so much so that we quickly got a reputation as the only straight people on the Island. It was Friday night when we popped into a piano bar. One after another, guys got up to perform show tunes or jazz standards. They were mostly buff, young men who were taking a break from a Broadway show and so the bar had been set pretty high for me. I hadn’t sung for over a decade but I’d told my lover enough that he knew that with enough provocation, I’d want to have a go.

I’ll never forget that night, I went up to the pianist and said, “My Funny Valentine. Key of G.” He started playing and all those years of being silent just fell away. Suddenly the room grew quiet. When I’d finished, I went to sit down and lots of guys came up to me and asked me where I performed in the city so they could hear me sing again. “I don’t perform,” I said. “I haven’t sung for a decade.” I started to cry. I suppose I felt cheated, that I’d stopped doing something I loved so much, just because my husband thought it was a bit silly. Although I still didn’t return to singing despite feeling validated that evening.

Then the menopause arrived, and along with hot flushes and sleepless nights, I lost my singing voice. When I tried to sing to songs on the radio, all that came out was a strange and unfamiliar croaky sound. I couldn’t hit the notes I used to and I couldn’t find my way around a tune. I grieved the loss of my voice much more than my sex drive or my waistline. Singing was just so much a part of me, I just never thought there would be a time when it was something I could no longer do. I stopped singing along to the radio because it was just too painful and derived pleasure listening on the sly to my youngest son and his beautiful, soulful voice as he sang along to R&B songs in his bedroom.

Over the last year I decided to try something new, I dropped down an octave, sounding more like Barry White than Barbara Streisand. I wasn’t ready to let go of the singer in me and discovered I could still carry a tune despite not being able to hit the high notes,

Recently my friend invited me to a burlesque karaoke night. I didn’t know what to expect but when they passed the book of songs around, I worked out that it wasn’t the burlesque performers who would be singing along to the backing track, it was the audience. After a drink, I decided to have a go. I picked my signature tune and one that I’d sung with the Dirty Blondes thirty years earlier – Fever. I dropped the song by an octave and, recalling that evening in the piano bar in Cherry Grove; I could feel the room go quiet. After I’d finished, a few people came up and told me how good I sounded. At the end of the night, I got back on stage (at the audience’s request) and sang another song. I felt transported back in time, only this time with my new, different voice.

That’s the thing about getting older. It’s about acceptance and celebrating that transition. I won’t lie. It’s been hard getting used to not being able be sing like I used to, but hey – I can still make a room go quiet. And I have a new voice. That is something to relish.

AirBnB Hostess – Heaven or Hell?


1 Minute Read

Back in my 30s, in the late 90s, when I was married (and flush), my husband, two kids and myself would travel to the West Coast of Mexico every year for a three-week Christmas holiday. I loved it there. Lying on the sandy beach, a gentle breeze always in the air, the delicious local food. At the time, Isabel Goldsmith (daughter of Sir James Goldsmith) was garnering some media attention, having built a luxurious 16-room boutique hotel inland called Las Alamandas. Reclining on my sun lounger during those long, hot days, I often daydreamed about such a future for myself. I liked to imagine myself as the hostess with the mostest, running a very small boutique hotel somewhere warm and managing a small team of staff. I imagined each day would go something like this: spend the morning making sure my guests were happy, planning the small menu each night with our resident chef, leaving the rest of my day to read a book and lie in the sun.

Fast forward 20 years and, having been an AirBnB hostess for the past two years; any dreams I had of being a hotelier have been firmly put on the back burner. To those that work tirelessly in the hospitality industry, I have the utmost respect for what you do. This ‘job’ has taught me more about human behavior than any psychology course ever could.

I live in a three bedroom, interior designed flat, a stone’s throw from the Kilburn High Road, which just happens to be off the famous Abbey Road.

Here is my listing:

“Lovely, cosy room just off the Abbey Road and only 2 stops from Euston Station. The West End and trains/buses to East London, Central London and West are all nearby. This is a very quiet flat and the owners work and live there. This room is suitable only for singles due to its size.”

My listing then goes on to say that the room features a comfortable, pull out sofa bed and the guests will have access to a large bathroom with rainwater shower head and the kitchen to make teas/coffees but not to cook breakfast or for lounging. The room also features Wi-Fi and Cat5 cabling for super fast Internet access. The price is £35 per night.

“Gee, isn’t that a bit too cheap?” said a friend of mine when she enquired about the room on behalf of a friend of hers who was visiting London and needed a place to stay.

“Well,” I replied. “It’s a very small room and I’d rather have it booked all the time and turn people away than have empty days. Besides I keep it low to avoid my guests having unrealistic expectations. They pay for a nice, clean (but small) room in a lovely flat and that’s what they get.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve learned it doesn’t actually matter whether one lives in a shoebox or a castle; travellers using AirBnB now demand the same level of service they would have if they were staying in a Hilton. On an average day as a hostess, I might be required to create a day’s sightseeing tour in London, help my guests navigate the transport system plus recommend local restaurants. I have travelled to the nearest chemist open on a Sunday to pick up a prescription when one of my guests inexplicably developed gout overnight. I have shared a bottle of wine with a guest who wanted to tell me of her marriage woes. I am a therapist, a housekeeper and a tour guide all rolled into one.

I have always been a clean and tidy person but being an AirBnB hostess has required me to take my cleaning skills to a whole new level. Take hair, for instance, or rather my futile effort to make sure that there are no traces of it in the bathroom or on my kitchen floor. Every time I host a person with long hair, no matter what shade, my inner ‘neatnik’ goes into overdrive. My bathroom floor and kitchen floor are both laid with pale grey porcelain tiles. Beautiful, yes. Practical, no. Every single hair, every crumb, every piece of fluff is visible and, yes, it drives me crazy. My dustbuster is my new best friend. Who needs a degree when just having a broom and some bleach can earn me enough money to be able to travel and avoid having to take on any client-facing work… just about.

Ninety percent of my guests only stay for a night or two, leaving me little time to get to know them, but there have been a number of amazing people with whom I have kept in touch such as the former high-flying woman physicist, recently retired, who was travelling around Europe on her own for the first time. Or the guy who left his City job to make chili-infused jelly (his mother’s recipe) that he was now selling at food fairs and artisanal grocery stores around the country (and left me with a selection to try). The up and coming pop singer who was playing a gig in town was a sweetheart too, despite forgetting to set her watch to the correct time zone and missing her train.

Then, there is the handful that I would classify as ‘odd’. I’ll never forget the Irish woman, in her mid-30s, and in London for the first time, who drank a full bottle of red, stubbed her rollie out in the hallway and tried to make a pass at my son. Or the Israeli guy who insisted on sleeping with his bedroom door open in just his boxer shorts. My most recent horror was an English guy who showed up four hours late, spilled a full bottle of (thankfully) water on the carpet and then complained that the room had a sofa bed and not a double, although this had been clearly stated no fewer than three times on the website.

I won’t lie. The lack of privacy can be a drag. The walls in my flat are not soundproofed and it’s when I’m in bed, and having sex (a rare enough occurrence) that I really wish I were alone. Lovemaking is often accompanied by the sound of doors opening and closing, footsteps on the stairs outside my room, or muffled chattering. But frankly, it’s a small price to pay for the freedom I have – to do exactly what I want each and every day.

The one-night bookings translate into a lot of washing. I have never done so much laundry in my life. It is not glamorous. I have become very adept at changing duvet covers.

For those considering being an AirBnB host, here are my top tips.

  1. Undercharge to begin with because it’s important to get reviews. This will help move your residence further up the search.
  2. It’s not necessary to offer breakfast or cooking facilities (I don’t) so think about whether you want the additional hassle of having to clean up someone else’s meal (although you can charge for breakfast too).
  3. I use Instant Book which means I don’t get to choose my guests but does mean I get almost 100% occupancy.
  4. Photos are super important – make sure your residence is tidy and take nice pics. It makes a huge difference.
  5. You can choose whether you’re a friendly host or don’t want much contact. If you work from home, I would choose the latter.
  6. If you want to rent out your entire home, you will be limited to 90 days in any one year (in London). The same rule does not apply to individual rooms.
  7. Cleanliness is super important. Stray hairs, full rubbish bins and general untidiness doesn’t really cut it with most guests and will lead to a poor review.
  8. If you have a problem with any of your guests, report it immediately and take photographs to document your evidence. My experience is that the site responds very quickly and will attempt to deal with your problem straightaway.
  9. For those that worry about items getting stolen or hosting weirdos – if my experience is anything to go by, most people are actually very respectful of your space and will go out of their way to be friendly.

If you’re an AirBnb guest:

  1. Never assume your host is a hermit. If you’re going to be late, let your host know. They may be waiting around to let you in so they can go out.
  2. Make sure you’ve read the listing thoroughly so you know what to expect.
  3. Take the sheets off the bed and hand them to your host on departure (not necessary but a lovely gesture).
  4. Try and keep noise to a minimum.
  5. Unless it has been agreed in advance, don’t assume it’s suddenly OK to bring your partner or someone you just picked up in the pub home with you.
  6. In general, treat others with the same respect you’d expect someone to treat you and everyone will get along brilliantly.

Being an AirBnB has its pluses and minuses but, if it’s taught me anything, it’s that I’m not cut out for running a boutique hotel on the Mexican coastline, any other coastline or inland, for that matter. And I look forward to the prospect in a year or two’s time – of being able to rent out my entire flat for months at a time to become location-independent. But, right now, I really must go and take the sheets out of the dryer…

Herstory of the Hot Tub


1 Minute Read

“You’re not planning on getting another hot tub, are you?” my two boys asked me. In unison. It was not so much a question as a plea. You have to understand, my hot tub, or the hot tub I once owned, had a reputation. If that hot tub could talk, oh lord, the stories it could tell. Back in my hedonistic 40s, my hot tub was the scene of more than a few orgies. A round cedar tub of the type you rarely find outside of Southern California, it sat in the corner of my back garden in West Hampstead, overlooked by thirteen windows. That the neighbours used to steal a glance while I was getting it on with two or more men was never in doubt. As an exhibitionist, it was all part of the fun.

Aside from sex, the tub was a place for confessionals. I recall sitting in the hot water with two close girlfriends, crying over a guy who had been cheating on me, while we watched his old jeans burn to a crisp over the BBQ. I wanted to see them go up in smoke just like our relationship.

During my sons’ teenage years, the hot tub was the place we would retreat for difficult discussions. Sitting in hot water definitely helped soften the blow as my boys let off steam and their feelings of anger, often directed towards me.

While for most men I met, being covered by four feet of water, almost always gave them a hard on, despite all academic evidence pointing to the contrary. Not that I minded most of the time.

It was a move to a new flat that prompted the question from my kids. Without asking it directly, what they were really saying was: “Are you ready to give up your crazy life?” I wasn’t sure.

Then the decision was made for me. It was six months after I’d moved into the new flat, on my boyfriend’s birthday. We were at a local pub, getting drunk. I picked up my phone, typing ‘Hot Tub’ into EBay. And there it was, a brand new four seater Jacuzzi, with flashing lights, speakers, a waterfall and loads of jets. The description mentioned something about being shipped from China. The auction was five minutes away from closing and it was £850. I pressed, “buy” and a few minutes later it was mine.

“What are you doing?” he said.

“I just bought a new Jacuzzi,” I replied.

“On my birthday??” he said, as if that special day was somehow reserved only for him.

“Does it really matter what day it is? It’s a Jacuzzi and it was £850!”

As it turned out, it wasn’t really £850. The price did not include installation, something I only thought about when the truck driver dumped it off in my front garden. “How am I going to get it in the back?” I asked him.

“I only have instructions to drop it off. You’ll probably need a crane.”

Meanwhile, the Eastern European builder, working on the flat upstairs was looking at me, taking it all in.

“£200 to move it to the garden?” I said.

“You’re having a laugh. More like £500!” he replied.

“No thanks,” I said.

What then ensued was a week of phone calls. One company told me I’d need to lift it over the house, shut down the road and get a license. The cost? A cool £3,500.

The hot tub supplier said it would be an additional £350 to plumb it in. My cheap hot tub was starting to look like a very reckless and expensive purchase. Eventually I relented, paid the builders £450 and then took a walk while eight of them lifted it over a brick wall into my garden. My friend Anne put it best when I told her: “Third world solutions to first world problems.”

As it turned out my new, modern hot tub, is on its way to acquiring the same mythic status as its predecessor, albeit without the sexual overtones. It turns out shagging while sitting in a plastic bucket seat isn’t easy. (Well, I had to try, didn’t I?) It is the place where Advantages of Age was conceived during one of my monthly gatherings of local girlfriends. Most recently Rose and I held a Hot Tub Salon about Death that we recorded using Facebook Live that has reached almost 3k views. And now that my boys are no longer children, they have come to understand its magnetic pull when attracting the opposite sex or just a bunch of their mates.

The old hot tub was a lot of fun and holds some great memories for me but I have a feeling this new one is pretty special. To the hot tub and all that goes on there. Long may it continue!

Suzanne’s View from the Hot Tub


1 Minute Read

You never know what or who to expect when the ladies of the hot tub get together. It’s a rotating feast of taste and opinions. There are always laughs. Laughing is a must. I read somewhere that laughing can burn as much as 40 calories every 15 minutes. If that’s to be believed, each Lady of the Hot Tub must burn off at least 300 calories during our time together or roughly three glasses of wine. It’s the best and most enjoyable workout there is.

Despite the rotating cast of colourful women that pass through the tub each month, some aspects never change. There is always alcohol. Alperol spritzers if I’m feeling flush, a bottle or two of wine, some prosecco perhaps. Hummus is a regular feature. The first few times we all met, I would whip up a large bowl full, the recipe courtesy of Jamie Oliver. Last night it came from Tesco, along with a few other spreads. Ingrid can always be relied on to bring a selection of Sainsbury’s Finest nibbles and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange… or two.

A few weeks ago I ran into my neighbor, a lovely woman in her late 70’s who has lived on my street since the War. “You know,” she said, “I can hear everything you say in the hot tub. You’re lucky that I won’t tell a soul.” She smiled. “I know,” I said. I like to imagine her laughing along with us in her sitting room, having a chuckle while listening to our raucous conversations.

I look forward to our monthly soirees in the hot tub like no other night in my calendar. Tonight it was the perfect gathering of women of a certain age. There was me, Kavida – a real tantric goddess, Ingrid – the Queen of Complaints and Rose, this site’s co-founder, Editor and a goddess in her own right. We are all goddesses, each with our own character and wisdom. If you ever want to observe a group of women in their natural habitat, stick them in a pool of bubbling hot water and watch what happens.

Tonight there was no shortage of stories. Despite not knowing each other for more than a couple of years or at all, we have a shared history. That’s just one of the advantages of age. If you’ve lived in London for long enough and are 40+, you can always find a connection, no matter how tenuous. Clubs we frequented when younger. The same creepy men we couldn’t shake off. Our kids that knew their kids or someone else’s kids we both knew. In the hot tub, I have come to understand how small my world really is and how I am, in one way or another, closely linked to a small community of like-minded people.

In the hot tub, we make plans. We have ideas. We want to take a trip to Havana and dance salsa with sexy Cuban men for a week or two. Maybe we’ll do it as an Advantages of Age group tour. We discuss the power of dance. The way a good dancer can force you into a rhythm for which you may not have a natural feel. We discuss submission and domination and why is it that controlling women (like ourselves) just want to be told what to do (in bed). We rarely talk about our work. That’s just something that we do. We talk about previous partners or current ones, about fantasies. Oh, and would Ingrid take a picture of Kavida’s nipple because she loves her nipples (and who wouldn’t?). There is a natural flow to our conversation. The talking never stops, except when a glass of wine needs to be refilled.

After 3 or 4 hours, rarely less, we leave the tub. Skin like prunes, satiated by good conversation, food and drink, the women put back on their clothes and head back home. I think how lucky I am to have such fabulous friends. I fall into a deep sleep – the perfect end to another perfect Ladies of the Hot Tub night.

Random Thoughts on Being a Recent ‘Empty Nester’


1 Minute Read

His ‘care package’ contains a Bluetooth speaker, Green & Black’s dark chocolate and two small, plastic tubs of Ras El Hanout, a spice mix from North Africa. “Honestly, Ras El Hanout?” I text him. “Are you serious?” My eldest son has moved to NYC and this is what he wants.

I am now an empty nester. It’s a moment every parent knows is coming, some with trepidation and others with excitement. I was definitely in the latter camp for most of my years as a parent. It was a running joke in our house that while other parents we knew seemed more than happy to have their offspring at home until they had reached middle-age, I couldn’t wait for mine to leave. ‘My room is a bit small,’ my youngest, then nineteen, said when I moved into a new flat three years ago. ‘That’s because it’s not your room,’ I told him. ‘It’s a guest room where you can come and stay from time to time.’ After twenty-two years of being a parent, I thought I was ready to be alone, free of parenting responsibilities and for the chance to do exactly what I wanted 100% of the time. Then I hired my eldest son to work for me. Two years later he was still living at home and my attitude changed.

In the process, we’d become best friends, a fact commonly acknowledged by his mates. We spent more time together building a business than I’d spent with anyone else in my life, partners and parents included. We worked together, ate together and sometimes even bunked off work at 6pm to go to the movies at our local cinema. I’d watched him go from being a spoilt kid with the usual millennial entitlement issues to a confident and responsible man, emotionally mature and self-assured. When he left home I spent the first few weeks bereft, feeling the loss of his presence. His younger brother having made it quite clear to me that he had no intention of moving back home, I was well and truly alone.

Nothing can prepare you for being an ‘empty nester,’ specially if you happen to be a single parent. You can think about it, prepare for it, wonder what it’s going to be like to suddenly be free but until it happens, you don’t know how you’re going to deal with it.

Many books have been written about becoming a parent but virtually nothing can be found in the bookstores about what happens when, suddenly, you are on your own. Parenting never really ends but it changes. Just because you’re no longer buying their clothes or worried about whether they’re going to pass an exam or find friends at their new school, doesn’t mean you’re no longer a parent. It’s just, well, different. Instead of knowing the day to day of your child’s life because their life is entwined with your own, there is now a physical distance between you.

While before you may have caught up with the day’s events over supper, you now find yourself on Skype being shown their new flat or discussing their new job on Whatsapp. Thank heavens for modern technology for helping to bridge the gap.

I have friends my own age with teenagers now moaning about their difficult behavior. I have others whose kids moved out years ago and have been empty nesters for a while. At each stage of parenting there are challenges and adjustments to be made.  The meals I used to make every night for my son and myself now last me two days. I just don’t seem to be able to cook for one. I can’t find or remember the music that he chose every day while we were working together. Having always had someone around, I’m now getting used to ‘me’ time being all the time.

In my case, I’ve found my calendar is much fuller than it was when my kids were around. Friends whom I saw maybe twice a year, I’m now seeing weekly. I’m working harder, with less distraction. I’m watching more TV. I’m thinking more about my life, what I want and how I’m going to get there. It’s an exciting time, a new chapter in my life that feels full of possibility.

I’ve rediscovered sex. Within weeks of my son moving out, I hooked up with someone who lives nearby. He may not have long-term potential for a variety of reasons but he lives close by, is handsome and kind. More importantly, his kisses make me feel wanted and as a recent empty nester, that’s very important to me.

There is no manual for being an empty nester. Nobody can equip you for it. It was my father who told me, at least ten years ago, to cherish and nurture the relationships with my partner and friends. ‘There’s no point,’ he said, ‘of making your kids the centre of your world because one day they’ll grow up and move out and forget about you.’ His words are not in keeping with modern day parenting attitudes but, now, on my own, they make perfect sense. It’s a new, exciting beginning for me.

Surprise Me

Hear more from us

Subscribe to our newsletter