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Thank You from Suzanne to all the Members of AofA


7 Minute Read

I live by the principle that you don’t know until you try with very little consideration to the consequences. This attitude has in the past gotten me into sticky situations, primarily where men were concerned. Advantages of Age was no different, although with far better and more exciting results!

I was sitting with new friends introduced by Rose in my hot tub back in December 2015. We were lamenting the media’s attitude towards ageing as being a state to be avoided at all costs, despite its inevitability, when Amanda remarked, “Someone should do something called the Advantages of Age.” Having had a few glasses of prosecco, a little drunk, I nevertheless thought this sounded an excellent idea, and once everyone had left for home, I went online and purchased the website name advantagesofage.com. Then I set about creating the site, sourcing more positive representations of ageing. By the time of the next hot tub gathering, three months later, the site was live. Rose came on board as editor, and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

Over time, we’ve grown beyond the site to host activities and the Startup School for Seniors, which I run with Mark Elliott, who officially joined Advantages of Age as co-director in October 2020. During the past year, I suspect as a result of COVID and Rose’s more direct involvement, the Facebook group has become a very buzzy place where differing opinions are freely expressed in a manner befitting our age. In other words, without it turning it into a bun fight. I gave up most of my work four years ago to set it up, and it’s great to be able to take a back seat now and feel I can participate in the discussions without always having to be the one to start them.

I’m fortunate to be working with Rose and Mark on two different sides to the business, both with different skill sets and interests but with our shared aim of helping people over 50 manifest the life they desire in whatever form that takes. We are passionate and committed to this shared objective. Although we don’t have the hundreds of thousands of members that some organisations aimed at the over 50s do, I  believe our group is far more eclectic, engaged and exciting than the others!

The group has led to me having a much bigger circle of friends and new businesses. Despite being called Advantages of Age, the new connections I’ve made and the discussions in which I’ve taken part has led me to want to take action around two crucial topics – housing and employment, for which being older come with challenges.

As a direct result of living with lodger my age and the conversations with others in the AofA group in a similar living situation, I created nestful, my business supporting more people over 50 in finding compatible people with whom to share.  It really was those early conversations with AofA members that made me realise how many older people are in this situation financially. In other words, they have to share. That’s how this business came into being.

Moving into the housing space led me to all sorts of other realisations about the challenges of housing in later life. I was also invited to participate in panel discussions and to become part of a growing community of academics, business owners and investors interested in the impact of our ageing society on different aspects of life. Advantages of Age is starting to become recognised within these influential communities, which is gratifying.

Sadly, the pandemic had a crushing impact on nestful. Many of the older homeowners who are part of the nestful community identify as vulnerable; they didn’t want their spare room occupied by a stranger. The business flatlined, although I’m hopeful that we may begin to see more older people consider the benefits of sharing, both from a financial and a social viewpoint, by the spring.

As one door nearly closed, another opened. I saw friends and group members losing their jobs with no possibility of permanently rejoining the workforce. Startup School for Seniors is an Advantages of Age initiative that goes into its sixth term in January. It first received funding in September 2020 to build the eLearning platform on which the course sits. It has its own Facebook group for members. It is financially self-sufficient due to tenders we’ve won to deliver the programme to residents based in London, Central Bedfordshire and Dorset.

I submitted a grant application on behalf of Advantages of Age to perform with other musicians aged over 60. It was successful so we created a jazz concert of standards on Kilburn High Street, as part of the London Festival of Ideas. The musicians enjoyed it so much that they recommended we perform on high streets in other deprived areas of Britain!

Approaching 2022, we are considering more ways to support and receive support from our members. The first website we created in 2017 is currently undergoing a significant refresh, focusing on the hundreds of exclusive articles that Rose has commissioned over the years from both published and unpublished writers. It’s a goldmine and my go-to place when I want to read inspiring stories about growing older. Other Advantages of Age members have said the same. If you haven’t already, check it out. It deserves more recognition, and we would like to be in a place where we can pay to commission articles that support our ethos. We want to host an Advantages of Age Awards Ceremony in 2022 with both fun and serious categories, spotlighting organisations, people, media that promote positive ageing and those that could do better. COVID permitting, we want more opportunities for members to meet, either face to face or virtually. We’ve mooted the idea of an AofA Book Club, as we know many of you enjoy reading. This year we had a couple of fabulous walks – one on the South coast in Emsworth organized by Nadia Chambers, and the other (funded by TFL) around Nunhead cemetery with superbly well-informed psychogeographer and author, John Rogers. This is another area we see growing and John is equally keen to create more walks for us; members may well offer to take us around their areas too.

We talk about premium membership, but we’re aware that we could improve it from the research we’ve undertaken. It’s unclear what it delivers, and we know that for the vast majority of the premium members who pay a monthly £4 99, it’s about supporting us to help pay for the website, for paying for Rose to moderate the Facebook group – which takes time – as well as commissioning articles and any other staffing requirements. We’re in the process of transferring this aspect of Advantages of Age to Patreon, a platform expressly created to help champion creative individuals and organisations that would benefit from financial support in order to evolve. Stay tuned for that announcement.

I can see so many brilliant opportunities for Advantages of Age. From a small kernel of an idea in a hot tub, we have grown into a tree with many branches, of which I’m enormously proud. Whether it’s Rose’s Arts Council funded project ‘Dance me to Death,’ the poetry project she has curated, Startup School for Seniors, more informal social events, the Facebook groups. We want to encourage and support more people who want to flex their creative muscle or in other ways, like championing a JustGiving campaign or other crowdfunded initiative. We’re a group that clearly cares about one another and have seen what happens when people come together over a shared concern and what a difference that can make.

I want to echo Rose in thanking everyone who has participated in a discussion in the Facebook group(s), attended Startup School, provided Mark and myself with feedback, and paid to be a premium member. The kindness you have shown to us and each other is remarkable, especially during this time when such divisiveness is all around. As we enter 2022, I look forward to taking Advantages of Age to the next level and us all having some part to play in that. Thank you, AofA members, for being you!

Lapping it up in Las Palmas


6 Minute Read

I’m a Piscean, for as long as I can remember I’ve been happiest when I’m close to the water, although I’m a terrible swimmer. I also love travelling although in recent years, mainly due to the pandemic, I haven’t strayed very far from home. For the past twenty years, I would say when asked how I wanted to retire, I would reply, ‘I want to travel the world like a Victorian.’ I didn’t mean that I wished for my Louis Vuitton luggage to be transported by servants from one grand hotel to another as I did the ‘European tour,’ but that I wanted the freedom to move from place to place without a timetable.

I wanted the luxury of knowing that I could rough it in a hostel or choose to spend a night or two in a five-star hotel and be comfortable enough financially and liberated enough, workwise, to be able to make that choice. I had no date in mind to accomplish this but, turning sixty, combined with the dreadful, cold winter we’d endured in the U.K. in 2020, created an impetus in me to make a move. Losing all the work I’d been doing in a physical place, I went on to create an online course for older people seeking to start their own business, this enabled me to work from anywhere with a decent wi-fi connection which promptly sealed the deal. It was simply a matter of finding a place somewhere warm and preferably by the water to call home. OK, not forever, but for long enough to escape the wet, damp, frosty U.K. winter and to experience a different culture and style of living.

I joined various digital nomad groups, mainly populated by software developers. Thailand seemed a popular choice. It was warm, cheap, and there were lots of ex-pats. The downside was that it was in a different time zone and would make it challenging to attend my regular meetings. My friend Shelley suggested L.A., but I couldn’t afford it, and then there was the same time zone problem. I’d been to the Canary Islands in the past during the Autumn, and although it would have been a stretch to say it was beach weather, I knew it was warm enough to wear a t-shirt most days and a light jacket in the evenings.

Las Palmas, Gran Canaries, seemed the most favourable place in all the islands for my requirements. It had superfast wi-fi, plenty of short term lets, a large, mainly transient ex-pat community and just about enough culture to mean I wouldn’t suffer from lack of stimulation. I checked on EasyJet and found a flight for £28. Then in my typical impulsive fashion, I booked it to leave on 1st December and return on 1st March. Next, I went on Airbnb and, with no knowledge of the city or its layout, found a two-bedroom flat for £700 not far from the Centre by bus and booked it. Lastly, I told my partner that I would be spending three months away in the Gran Canaries, to which he seemed somewhat, although not altogether surprised.

This was back in July 2021, and there were times over the next five months when I wondered if the pandemic would rear its ugly head again, forcing me to cancel the trip. In the meantime, I discovered many different groups on WhatsApp, Facebook and Slack for digital nomads in Las Palmas. Groups of people who enjoyed hiking or meeting up in restaurants to try out the ‘Menu de la Dia,’, for yoga on the beach, salsa dancing, and boat trips. I joined them all, living vicariously through their experiences.

I admit I wasn’t entirely confident I’d be happy living independently. I’ve had various Airbnb guests and lodgers for over five years. Previously, I was living with one or another of my kids. My partner spends every weekend with me. I couldn’t remember the last time I was entirely alone. As much as I longed for being free of seeing another human being apart from when I wanted to, I was also nervous about doing so.

I packed my bag with every known item I could imagine needing for three months, including a karaoke mic so I could practice my singing along to music, various leads, a selfie stick, clothes for every season (but mostly summer). I made my way to Gatwick on 1st December. It was a cold, miserable day, precisely the sort of day from which I was seeking to escape.

When I touched down in Las Palmas later that morning, a smile immediately appeared on my lips as I emerged into the clear, blue skies and warm temperature. Just seeing the sun and the sea made me feel happy. I knew immediately I’d made the right choice to leave London behind. I’ve been here just over two weeks, and I’m having a blast. My apartment is a little further than I would have hoped from the beach, but it’s well equipped, clean and quiet. The bus to town stops virtually outside the door, and there’s a big supermarket just across the street.

I discovered a wonderful group of musicians through a chance meeting with a German man at ‘Tapas Thursday,’ who plays jazz piano. We’ve rehearsed and performed together a couple of times. And are now seeking a place where we can put on a show. He lives on a ‘finca’ (farm) with a regular weekly jam. It’s a fun crowd of people, a mix of professional and non-professional musicians, and the atmosphere is lively and the people warm and welcoming. I feel fortunate to have been introduced to them.

I’m dipping my toe into some of the other groups. Mostly they are younger people, but I’ve met a few other oldies, people like myself who came here to escape the winter, some leaving their home country for good.

I love the freedom of living on my own. Of course, I miss my friends and family, but as many of them are coming to visit shortly, I know it’s not for long. Not speaking Spanish is a barrier to broader involvement in the community, and I’m going to start taking lessons in the New Year. Some friends who see my regular posts on Facebook suggest I might want to settle down here. I don’t see it that way. I’m just travelling like a Victorian in the twenty-first century. If you want to follow my adventures, I often post on Facebook here: https://facebook.com/suzannenoblemail.

On Turning Sixty


4 Minute Read

In March 2020, I turned 60. I had a big party planned six months earlier, as we were in lockdown, and I wanted to allow guests to fix a date in their diary. Friends commented on my forward planning and enjoying having an event to look forward to.

I envisaged singing, dancing, a gorgeous vanilla sponge cake, delicious cocktails surrounded by all the people I know and love. I didn’t want to hide my light under a bushel or pretend I was anything other than my age. When you co-run an organisation about the positives of growing older, it’s essential to walk the walk and talk the talk. Turning 60 is a milestone birthday, and I wanted a big, f*** off party in which to celebrate it.

It didn’t happen. Instead, I took my newly acquired Oyster 60+ card, entered the underground and spent a rainy Monday visiting a handful of friends across London with a keto-friendly chocolate cake cut into slices. I arrived home at 7.30 pm to finish the celebrations with my partner Bob. We ordered a takeaway pizza and burrata, joining a dozen friends from across the world via Zoom, who stopped in to wish me a Happy Birthday. I felt cheated and underwhelmed, the previous two decades celebration held in clubs complete with drinking, dancing and lively conversation.

On reflection, turning sixty hasn’t felt nearly as dramatic as turning forty or even fifty. At forty, I had recently gotten divorced and spent the next ten years perpetually in heat, exploring sexual avenues that were extreme by most people’s standards. At fifty, menopause arrived and with it, hot flashes, sleepless nights and my libido going off a cliff which took about three years to accept. I sold my house, moved my career into technology and, with it, encountered ageism for the first time. Setting up Advantages of Age with Rose, more by accident than design, was a turning point that opened up opportunities and a whole new friendship group. By sixty, I am comfortable in my skin which may not be as dramatic as turning forty or fifty but is a boon.

I’m in a better place mentally, moving forwards financially after some rocky starts. I’m settled in a good way. I’ve rediscovered my voice and taken up jazz singing again after a 35-year lapse, and it feels good to be engaging with that side of my creative life again. I like the attention and the occasional praise. Occasionally I consider all the mad escapades and the frankly dangerous circumstances in which I would often find myself, especially in my forties, and wonder whether there’s any of that younger me still left. While the desire for that outrageous behaviour no longer holds the same attraction for me, I’m not quite ready to let go of the thrill that comes when stepping into the unknown.

The ongoing battle to be in better shape continues. This week a pair of jeans I have struggled to get anywhere close to buttoning slipped on without a hint of fat spilling over the sides. It has taken ten months of changing my eating habits, exercise and daily listens of a ‘Thinking Slimmer’ audio download to achieve this personal goal. I have lived in tent-shaped dresses the past year when I have a wardrobe full of figure-hugging clothes.

Last week I decided to take frumpy ole me in hand, not in an attempt to turn back the clock but to reflect the older but still glamorous me and become more visible. I hired a former stylist I met while working as an entertainment publicist in the 90s; I wanted a ‘look’ for performing jazz & blues. Standing in my bedroom, watching her dig into my wardrobe to find suitable clothes, retrieving dresses and high shoes from my younger days was a form of therapy. ‘I’ve never seen you look like this,’ she said as I paraded around in 4″ heels, a tight red ruched dress, flower in my hair. I almost didn’t recognise myself.

She issued me with a set of instructions.

Cut my hair shorter into a graduated bob.
Trim and tint my eyebrows.
Buy a new colour of blush – something with a pink tint.
Obtain new shoes, with a wedge heel but comfortable.

‘I want glamour,’ she said. ‘Older woman glamour. Sexy, a bit louche. I want to see you perched on a high stool, leaning back but with attitude.’ I looked in the mirror and saw a different me. Yes, I thought. I’ve still got ‘it.’ Issuing me with a shopping list and a recommendation to turn three dresses into pencil skirts has led to a new feeling. I am developing a persona who is me with all the lived experience, the awareness and the self-confidence that has taken me all of sixty years to acquire. I’m well aware it’s an ongoing process.

Although sixty and I had a crap start, I’m aiming to make up for it now, starting with these shoes. Wowza!

Everything I know about Women Over-50


1 Minute Read

I was recently signposted to a fabulous article by Alyson Walsh, journalist and more widely known as the creator of the site, ‘That’s Not My Age’ called, ‘I’m 56 and proud – and here’s what I know about women in their 50s.’

The article came out in January but I missed it until it randomly popped up on the Advantages of Age Facebook group as a post waiting to be published.

It got me thinking. In March 2016, Rose and I started Advantages of Age, on an impulse – we wanted to challenge the media narrative around ageing. Four years later, I’ve probably spoken and heard from hundreds, if not thousands of women (and a handful of men) over 50.

What do I know about women over 50s? A lot more than I did when I was in my 40s.

For a start, as you’d expect of a group of people characterised in a general way by age, we’re a diverse bunch. Some want to dress up in funky, colourful clothes; others are happy to blend in with the background. Many are quite relieved not to be the centre of attention while others still want to shine in the spotlight. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to being a woman in her 50s, much like any other age group. I would prefer it if that bulge around my middle – that suddenly appeared around the same time as my hormones took a nosedive – would go away but I’m learning (slowly) to get used to it.

Sex is and continues to be a divisive topic, with some of us still having it when we can and others happy to have left that all behind after the menopause. My own libido definitely fell off the cliff when I hit ‘the change’ and never fully recovered. It took a couple of years to get used to not being constantly horny but eventually, as the writer M. Scott Peck said of his own dramatic lessening libido: ‘It’s like a monkey off my back.’

We know who we are. One of the greatest pleasures for me in meeting and talking to so many women my own age is discovering a bunch of people who really know their own minds and aren’t afraid of expressing their opinions. And I love that about them. There’s no pussyfooting around with a woman in her 50s. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t interested in what they have to say – they’re going to tell you anyway. No longer trying to please others – as I suspect so many of us were prone to do or had to do to fit in – most women over 50 that I know are comfortable in their own skins. It’s what makes hanging out them such a pleasure. We can explore the range of our opinions and accept or challenge them. That is a huge bonus for friendships. And the depth of friendship.

It’s very tough to make money. This is one of the universal truths about life for the Over-50s. I’ve spoken to women working to create positive change in the world, others who are simply trying to put food on the table and we’re all trying to work out how to generate a reasonable income that wouldn’t hold a candle to what we were probably earning 20 years ago. Lots of my friends have been made redundant or are currently unemployed. It’s actually harder to come out of a corporate career because you’re used to a regular pay packet than if you’ve been freelance for most of your life and are used to living with uncertainty. I don’t know that I’ve figured it out for myself yet but it’s one of the reasons that I’m continuing to work and develop programmes aimed at supporting older people into self-employment. It’s important that we’re all able to make enough to survive and more.

The pension gap hits women over 50 the hardest. One of the many manifestations of working with and listening to women over 50 for the past few years is that I am invited to and participate in events, webinars, zoom sessions, meetings with others who share my interest in helping our generation. I have a google drive stuffed full of reports related to the Over-50s to the extent that I’ve become a geek when it comes to understanding the various ways we’re taking a hit.

Ageism and sexism play a part but there are other lesser-known factors too such as the switch from Defined Benefits to Defined Contribution pensions, becoming informal carers to our parents or in having had occupations that by virtue of the industry we chose to work in, no longer exist. I’m thinking of all the Over-50 journalists now, people like Alyson Walsh, who has recently set up a subscription page on Patreon asking for contributions of £1 – £4.50/month to keep her site alive. So many women I know are trying to figure out how to do what they love and get paid for it; it’s not easy.

We talk about grey hair a lot. Is it OK to go grey? The pros and cons. Why some of us would never do it or we did and didn’t like it or the ones that are fiercely pro-grey. Along with sex, it’s a big topic that always generates lots of debate. That and going pink or purple or blue. Let’s just say, hair colour is a definite thing if you’re a woman over 50.

When it comes to the opposite sex, many of the heterosexual women over 50 are on the fence as to whether it’s worth the bother. Online dating has proved successful for the very few who are tenacious and tough enough to deal with the ghosting, the rejection, the prevalence of men pretending to be someone they are not. I met my partner via Tinder after over a decade of online dating, on and off, but I appear to be the exception that proves the rule. Most women I know would still prefer to meet someone via a friend and as we all so rarely go out, especially at the moment not-quite-post lockdown, it’s unlikely to happen. There’s a lot of celibate women over 50, some who would prefer to be more sexually active.

We think about our future housing needs and there’s a trend towards a more communal style of living, even if that means something different to everyone. We don’t want to end up in care homes. Nearly every woman that I know, in every group of friends I have, is clear about this, having witnessed what is happening to parents in care. Some experiences have been more positive than others. We all worry about the prospect of getting dementia or Alzheimer’s or worse. Health is a topic – what we’re doing or not doing about it. Whether or not we’re exercising. Walking, cycling, running, bodybuilding. And a range of approaches to eating from supplements to intermittent fasting. There’s no one size fits all. As we age, we want to be active, even if our bodies are suggesting it’s time to slow down a little.

Women over 50 are curious about life. There’s no stopping them. Freed from looking after kids, if they ever chose to have them and often with a divorce/split up (or two) behind them, the women I know have a relish for life and for living that is undiminished. They’re still out there, being creative, travelling (when they’re able to), hosting small and large events and parties, being seen in ways that don’t depend on whether or not they look or feel sexy. It’s not always an easy life and often means having to accept that there’s little to no money in the bank. But having good friends and strong relationships is important to them. I’ve met dozens of new friends since starting Advantages of Age, all over the globe and I hope one day that I’ll be able to see them all too.

What do I know about women who are over 50? They’re living life, to use the cliché, on their own terms and isn’t that great?

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…

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