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AofA People: Tim Hutton – multi-instrumentalist/producer/songwriter


10 Minute Read

Tim Hutton, 59, is a multi-instrumentalist (self-taught guitarist, bassist and drummer as well as a brass and piano player) producer/songwriter. He’s toured with many high profile bands like Dexy’s to Fela Kuti, Groove Armada to Amy Winehouse and Prodigy plus written songs and recorded as a vocalist or instrumentalist for several others.

What age are you?

59 and a half. As I approach each new decade for some reason I start straining at the bit, only to arrive there, cast my eye around and wish I could leave. Next year I’ll be thinking about subtracting at least five years off in answer to this question. Seriously though, I feel kind of relaxed about being a 60-year-old. It’s the new 40 – maybe I’ll achieve the kind of gravitas we were originally all supposed to get when we hit that age.

Where do you live?

I live in Leeds. I met my lovely now ex-partner, with whom I have a nine-year-old son when I was in the middle of a tour in 2002, and we had a night off in Leeds (I was living in London then, as I did for 30 years). I made a lot of friends that night and used to love visiting for fun times. Eventually, about five years later we properly got together, and as I was at a kind of crossroads with things generally at the time, and it wasn’t an option for her to move down, I made the move up. We ended up living ten miles out of town in Guiseley and I absolutely hated it. We however loved each other and had a son, which gave me a very concrete reason to be up there, and when we split up, very amicably, I had the opportunity to move back into the centre of Leeds, which was always what I liked. I’m an urban kind of, um, spaceman. I’m very happy about my new situation there, which I’ve been in now for nearly three years. I’ve been looking after my son a lot of the time this last year, it’s been fabulous.

What do you do?

I’m a musician – songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, arranger, producer. I do productions and sessions from my set up at home. I play live and tour with an array of bands, most currently being my band Doghouse Derelicts, of which more later; Dub Pistols, which I’ve been part of for 20 years now, and play mainly brass but sometimes bass or guitar live and all 3 on recordings. Above and Beyond, whose acoustic/semi orchestral tours I have played on without exception over the last 10 years, taking in venues like Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood Bowl and Sydney Opera House and playing the trumpet, trombone, French horn, guitar, keys, tuned percussion and vocals (they call me the Octopus); and also Red Snapper, for whom I’m playing the odd gig (when they happen) playing the guitar, and I travel wherever needed for other sessions and writing gigs. I’ve got writing/singing/playing credits with people like the Prodigy, Ian Brown, Amy Winehouse, Groove Armada, etc.

What’s it like being your age?

I’m finding this upcoming shift into my seventh decade quite profound, slightly terrifying and kind of beautiful. I’m starting to feel very differently about my place in the world, and how I go about things, how I handle and present myself, and how I’d like to be remembered. I’m being forced, this time, to think about eating and exercising correctly through likely impending type 2 diabetes, following my dad and his dad before me at roughly the same age – it’s yet to kick in though so I think I can do loads to offset its arrival. I also seem to be totally reappraising my approach to being in relationships (I’m not in one) and what I want out of life in that area.

What do you have now what you didn’t at age 25?

On a material level, it’s the means and knowledge to create fully produced music on my own equipment – something very few people could achieve when I was that age, and also clearly very useful to me, and something I fantasized about in younger days, and on a personal level an awful lot more confidence and sense of self than I had then.

What about sex?

Sex is taking a back seat for me right now. I’m not really communicating with the sexual part of myself – at all – through active choice. I was an absolute hound for sex and drugs on tour and off for a good couple of decades and I just need to give the whole thing a rest, and it feels great, and incredibly energising. I don’t think about sex at all when I’m alone. I appreciate a pretty girl when I see one but that’s where it ends. I guess lockdown has something to do with it, but I welcome it.

And relationships?

Since splitting with the mother of my 9 year old, I’ve had three very short-lived relationships, all of which ended with the feeling that I would just prefer to be on my own. I’m not saying I’ll never be in one, but I don’t want any more of that type of brief and ultimately disappointing scenario, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my own company so I’m not going to be persuaded without being absolutely steamrollered by an incredibly deep and beautiful connection with someone. I look forward to that happening, I just don’t expect it any time soon.

How free do you feel?

Personally, I feel very free. The freedom to do what I enjoy and am good at in order to survive; and the freedom to be the person I am, or want to be. The one proviso to this would be Brexit, which seems to be disastrous for touring prospects in Europe so far – the source of a significant chunk of income annually, up to now.

What are you proud of?

Mainly my boys. My elder two have turned out to be such lovely and capable people whom I really admire, who have both pursued careers of their choice in and around music (I tried to warn ‘em haha!) – my eldest Jake is a sound engineer and drummer who works with Edwyn Collins and others (he engineered David Gray’s last album) and Liam has been a pro drummer since a very early age and has a string of credits to his name (also Edwyn, plus Neneh Cherry, Mabel, and a constantly growing list of new bands and producers), and my youngest is just incredible – so talented in any direction he chooses, but he’s only nine so has yet to set his course, and I’m not pressuring him – but he loves performing, is very musical, very literate, quite sporty, and so comfortable in front of a camera in a way I just wasn’t. He amazes me every day.

What keeps you inspired?

People I meet and spend time with, changing circumstances keeps me inspired and on my toes, movies and books, new and old, familiar and unfamiliar music, instruments and players; and a little bit of mild (not skunk) weed. I don’t drink and I’ve stopped everything else.

When are you happiest?

When I’m with my boys.

Where does your creativity go?

Probably fairly obvious by now I’ll have to say music – I do also like writing, and want to write a book sometime before I expire – but I haven’t really found an outlet for that yet, or given much time to it. My mum was a writer, with the pen name Barbara Whitnell, and was prolific, and I’ve inherited some of that urge for sure. Her Dad (whom I never knew) was a keen musician, and that’s the bug that got me.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Treat everyone as you would be treated yourself, and find what it is you want to do, and pursue it doggedly. Don’t be put off by fear of the consequences and playing safe if that’s what you really want to do, be serious about it and go for it – the rewards will be great. Ok, I’m a single 60-year-old man living in a flat in Leeds, but don’t judge…

And dying?

Death is looming large for me at this very moment, as my Mum died last week…I don’t fear my own death at all, but I fear the deaths of those I love. However, for my Mum, it was a blessed release in many ways, and she was in no discomfort at the end – and suddenly she’s no longer the small, helpless, isolated old thing she’s been for the last year, unable to speak the words she wanted to after a stroke four years ago, she’s gone but suddenly in our hearts and minds she’s the person she was in her prime again, and we can forget her trials of the recent past. I guess I’ll say that death is inescapable, and part of life for us all. I don’t know if there’s anything afterwards – the science-minded will say definitely not, but consciousness itself hasn’t been properly located anywhere in the brain, so…if there is, wow! If there isn’t, I shan’t be bothered, clearly.

Are you still dreaming?

Oh god yes. I’m dreaming like a mf most nights, usually, there’s a festival, a gig, a party or my kids in my dreams, and a lot of repeating themes – one being that there’s an amazing gig I’m about to do, but I either can’t get to the stage, or I do and I realise I don’t know the parts, or I’m not plugged in, and usually the gig never gets started. But I’m also still dreaming in terms of ambitions in life – I have dreams for my boys and me, – and Doghouse Derelicts, the band that I started seven years ago with my northern dwelling, bass playing compadre in the Dub Pistols Dave Budgen. We have started at last attracting interest from people offering opportunities to take it where we wanted to – we haven’t played the industry game at all, concentrating on creating and releasing tunes and playing live (when we can), and finally people are coming to us. Our dreams are big, and we’re worthy of them.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

Hmm, tough one…I haven’t done much outrageous stuff recently – my last outrageous action was about 15 years ago, when I knocked a ridiculously overzealous bouncer out onstage at an Ian Brown gig in San Francisco, and a picture of me looking like Muhammed Ali (I’m very far from it!) ended up on two pages of the NME! More recently I’m afraid I’m struggling to think of anything. I’ve done some outrageous long-distance drives after gigs on very little or no sleep, that I wouldn’t advise anyone else doing. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got or all I’m saying…

Irresistibly Drawn to Work in a Recording Studio Down The Road Aged 59


9 Minute Read

Michele Kirsch, writer, wit, asthmatic isolator, mother of two, furloughed chef wrote about Lockdown 2 for AofA and it was brilliantly funny. Here it is. Now she’s onto the next one, and a new enterprise has arisen.

Of course, by the second lockdown, after the confusing tiers for fears, the novelty had worn off. I was well over the glorious government approved and subsidized slacking of getting paid to NOT go to work. At first, my furlough payments were looking kinda handsome as my employers had forgotten to take off tax and National Insurance, but suddenly remembered, and took the lot off as soon as I returned to work. This was after two months of going for long bike rides in desolate London, trying to remind myself that that ghosts of the civil dead might not actually all be dead, but watching telly, in their flats, on furlough, swearing at Joe Wicks and waiting for the ice cream van, just like me. The vast emptiness of London I initially adored, now just felt abandoned and, like me, waiting for something to happen.

At home with the cat

It was so stinking hot; I could barely breathe.  I’d get home from work, run a cold bath and lie in it with bra undies on. Then, chilled to the bone for about five minutes, I would lay on the bed, briefly blue with cold and looking halfway dead. In no time I would be unbearably hot again, and swearing at England, which was clearly breaking the summer rules, of being chilly, by New York standards. I had done many New York summers, and they all felt like this: unbreathable, unbearable, and slow-mo. Nothing was going up except the temperature, and the death count. The manic gaiety I felt – the joy of small things, was fading fast.

Michele in the bath

Work as a chef had changed, in the lockdown. They were more performance-orientated, all speed and efficiency. Right about the same time, I was LESS all of these things, and older. Very suddenly. When a rating system came up i.e. the better you performed, the more hours you got, I came second to last. It was A SIGN. I had spoken to my ex vicar (I have at least as many ex vicars as ex-husbands, but I am very fond of this one) who told me something would happen but not in the way I expected. So I gave notice on my job, thinking Rev Marj, with her Bat phone to God, would make sure nothing very bad happens to me, even though I was doing this insane and catastrophic thing – quitting a job I did not deplore, but certainly no longer loved.

I kept thinking of a line from a Lake Woebegone story, where the mother of the protagonist, a waitress, keeps saying to her, ‘Oh honey, you coulda done something with your life.’

Well, I HAD done something with my life. I had just temporarily forgotten. In July I won a prize for my book, CLEAN, which gave me some money, and a holiday in a mansion in Sligo, which my daughter said I must take because that’s where Normal People happened, and Normal People was all anybody was talking about the last lockdown. But if I were to take the holiday, I would be locked in the mansion for 14 days for quarantine. Yes, it’s not exactly like being locked in Holloway Prison for a similar stretch, but still, I would want to walk through the bottomlands and pick wildflowers and hang out with young groovy and beautiful intellectuals like the ones in Normal People. The photogenic shaggers, him with his medallion swinging all over the shop. Her with the cheekbones. Not on my lonesome, trying to work out the plot of a novel, and figuring out where the microwave bit of an Aga was located. All that had to be put on hold.

Michele in her mask

Then on Jobseekers allowance, I did every free course available to those on JSA. I was going to re-train to be something useful, not just some withered, wasted form of post-pandemic protoplasmic life. I studied, did modules for coursework and had two job advisors. That bit was a fluke that would never happen in real Jobcentre life, my past experience of that Inferno being dead-eyed, stressed out, shouted at civil servants in Matalan suits, shouting at me, shouting at them, in my Matalan suit. These work-from-home Jobcentre people were nice people, and they seemed to genuinely keen to get me back into work. I’d hear a dog barking in the background. The Jobcentre never had a dog.

I also signed up for Advantages of Age’s own Suzanne Noble’s course, Start Up School for Seniors. Not that I actually had an idea for a start-up, but there was a potential opportunity for something local, that had been started up, dropped as per safety measures during the pandemic, but on the verge of starting up again. It was something shapeless, brewing in my head, but there. It was at a recording studio that I passed most days, as it is about 200 yards from where I live. I was drawn to the place, for reasons not yet clear to me.

While I didn’t attend every session of the Start Up School for Seniors course, I just got into the idea that starting conversations about the thing you wanted to do, was a good thing. It helped me work out what I wanted to do. I already knew WHERE I wanted to do it: at the recording studio.  Everybody who walked in or out of there, or who hung out the front, vaping or smoking, seemed in an impossibly good mood. It had a VIBE. I told Suzanne I wanted to be part of it but wasn’t sure what USP I had to offer.

Now the idea of working in a recording studio appealed to me, because I was in the music biz many years ago, as a journalist, press officer and briefly and traumatically, as a tour manager. I understand people in the biz, how they roll, how pretty much all you have to do, to get ahead behind the scenes, is not be an arsehole. To be useful, to be nice, and to be efficient at modern life. This last bit might take some work, but I was two-thirds of the way there. Oh sure, the business has changed beyond recognition from the days when I was young and green and down the front at some indie gig at ULU, going home drenched in sweat that did not come from my body. This was still in the biz, but more grown-up and desk-based.

Plus, I had been in recording studios, well – twice. The first time was with Killing Joke, and that was the most noise-related fun a gal could have at maximum volume if you discount the two weeks of tinnitus that followed. The second time was many years later, watching The Neville Brothers record some tracks, and that was heavenly, in swampy New Orleans, in an air-conditioned room. Could I put that on a CV? More to the point, could I get a job, the way I did in the olden days, without a CV, just by, er, not being stupid, or a shit? I just wanted to be IN there, doing something. I did this about a billion years ago at my first newspaper job in NYC. I wanted to be IN, so I just walked in and then it kind of happened-the newspaper job. Right place, right time, and willingness. My life coach friends would call it the Universe being ready. I call it being willing to be ready for the next thing, without quite knowing what that next thing would be.

Then, a couple of things happened which made me think Rev Marj had been on the Bat phone to God. First of all, I met the owner of the studio in a book group I had just joined. We got on very well You know those rapid-fire conversations where you just kind of nod furiously in agreement about pretty much everything? It was like that. Then, weirdly, the novel I had started to write was set not quite in a recording studio but around some rehearsal rooms off the back of Carnegie Hall and centred on a music teacher who came from nowhere, to teach piano and singing and meet Stephen Sondheim. Could life imitate this formative art, maybe swapping Carnegie Hall for Hackney Road?

The owner and I got to chatting, mainly on email, and he told me that his second in command had sadly passed away from the vile virus. Not that I thought for a minute, that I could replace her, but I could do some of the jobs that she did, again, using the ubiquitous skills of giving good phone and email, and not being difficult. He mentioned that one of the things that got dropped during the Plague was the educational side of the studios, delivering masterclasses and intensive courses in piano, vocal techniques and songwriting. Was that something I thought I could pick up, help organise, administrate, deliver, publicise? Revive? Dare I even apply for a job that I thought might be fun? Well, yeah!

After a few more emails and some socially distanced walks, I was offered a part-time job, and there was really nothing to not love about it, except an uncertain terror that I might be crap at it. A terror, like most of my terrors, founded on zero evidence.

Now I spend three half days a week surrounded by music, fun people, and a feeling of proper hope, that people will never stop making music and never stop wanting to learn how to make music or be better at the music they make. It’s solar-powered, the people are super friendly, and there is an office cat. The potential bonus is that if something weird or plot twisty happens during my time there, I can whack it into the book.

I thought leaving my job during a time of mass unemployment was probably not smart, at first. But the confluence of the prize money, the book club, setting my novel in a place where people did music lessons, and then getting a job where I would be setting up, initially, music lessons, felt really smart. The longer-term goal is to set up a songwriting academy, get some kind of Brill Building mojo going right in the heart of Hackney. I think it’s possible. I think lockdown 2 consolidated my job goals, and everything else was just kind of intention and good fortune. That stuff counts more than you think.

www.premisesstudios.com/blog/jazz-piano-week

The Joy of Sleeping Separately


4 Minute Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Elainea Emmott

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

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

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

AofA People: Mat Fraser – Actor, Writer, Musician


4 Minute Read

Mat Fraser is a disabled actor, writer, and musician, who’s been in American Horror Story: Freak Show, His Dark Materials, Silent Witness, and played Richard III on stage in 2017. His writing has been sometimes awarded, and recently, published.

His solo show “Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability Was Kept in a Box”, won the UK’s Observer Ethical Award for Arts & Entertainment 2014, and he wrote the ONEOFUS production of “Jack & The Beanstalk”, for which the New York Times awarded him and his director/performer wife Julie Atlas Muz “New Yorkers of the Year” 2018.

Mat was thrilled when BBC Arts commissioned him to curate the series of monologues around Disability, “CripTales”, for BBC 4 & BBC America, also writing & acting in one of the pieces,“Audition.” Mat believes that authentic disabled voices and faces are vital in liberating narrative and portrayal of disability, and mainstream life in Society.

Mat is currently working with a TV company on an anthology of 30 min dramas around disability, written by and starring disabled people. He’s also practising his triplet and quadruplet rolls hard, for that ever-elusive drumming gig.

Age (in years)

58

Where do you live?

On the China Walk Estate, Lambeth Walk, OI! London

What do you do?

Writer,  actor, and occasional these days only, musician

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

Quintupsensually OK, good for knowledge, knowing myself, knowing answers, knowing what to say and do in most circumstances, hard for losing my fitness and superb body, harder work needed to maintain, harder to be relegated to irrelevant by the young without becoming hateful toward them, weird to know you’ve lived more than half your life now… I’ve always totally ignored many of Society’s stupid rules and acting my age is one of them, I just act the age I feel, and I’m still having a ball. Speaking of balls, yes they hang lower but oh boy do I get pleasure from them. Luckily no lumps yet.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Knowledge. Money. Dwelling. Experience, marriage & thus consolidated partner happiness, pensions in my sights, an inability to suffer fools gladly, intolerance, a knee replacement, white pubes, scars, gut, a hernia mesh, regrets, resistance bands, a mobile phone, a computer, a shitty Wi-Fi deal with Virgin, an electric toothbrush, arthritis, people skills.

What about sex?

Yes, can’t go hard at it for quite as long as I used to, but still, have lots of great sex….1st lockdown we made a home porno for fun…an urgent sexual response to the weird feelings, but then it dissipated..luckily it has returned for a decent regular sex life, offscreen.

And relationships?

Long term, loving, happy. THE BEST thing about growing older is the amount of time you’ve known your friends, and how much more meaningful those friendships become with time….being a friend online to people alone, important, parents included…

How free do you feel?

Free to be me, unfettered by mainstream opinions, State propaganda, but I’m stiff and in arthritic pain now too so less free in my body.

What are you proud of?  

CripTales, my body, helping other disabled people get work, taking care of my Mum, my black belt when I was 38, my disability and lived experience giving me insight into what others miss, Jeremy Corbyn, BLM, #metoo…

What keeps you inspired?  

My continued need for ever-elusive righteous justice and equality for disabled people.

When are you happiest?

When I’ve just written “The End”

And where does your creativity go?

Scripts, songs.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Try to be kind, question everything you are told, stay fit, enjoy life, fuck the system but cleverly so no one notices, be an agent provocateur at all times creatively, do unto others etc.

And dying?

Yeah well, it’s gonna happen, but I’m trying to put it off.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, of greater achievements, love, and care, a better Society, a Democratic Socialist Government, an Oscar, growing into a really old age with Julie by my side.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

Bottomless Zooms, commissioning 7 disabled writers, scoring £300 worth of weed because of lockdown.

The Vaccination Story


8 Minute Read

Each generation leaves a legacy behind them – there are tales of love and war, myths of gods and goddesses but it is only written or oral words that can really give us a real narrative of what happened.

The history of human health can be analysed through forensic investigation. Current scientists can work out what our ancestors ate and what diseases they died of and this will be true of the future. To think about the next generation I want to take a look at the past, then explore our current health narrative.

I will be discussing vaccination in a positive light and making an argument as to why we need to think about disease prevention for the people who will be following us, once we have departed. If you have doubts, then please take the time to read what I have to say, as I believe I have a lot to share with you. I am going to start my exploration with a story of a milkmaid and a doctor.

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) is credited for the development of the smallpox vaccination. However, apparently, it wasn’t him who made the connection between using the serum of cowpox to vaccinate against smallpox. It was one of his milkmaids who told him she knew getting cowpox gave her immunity from smallpox.

Jenner took this idea forward and developed the world’s first-ever immunisation. He was what we would call today an outsider scientist. He took his idea to the established medical community, only to be laughed out of the room. Eventually, his idea was accepted and smallpox was eliminated from the world in 1977.

Nonetheless, the day immunisation was invented, the anti-vaccination movement commenced. Soon after nonsensical myths started, such as parents believing that the vaccine would give their children bovine features or at worse turn them into cows. Infant deaths were associated with the inoculation months and years after it was given and as we will see, there are similar myths today.

I argue that many of us in the West live behind a golden veil of adequate healthcare, especially those who live in the UK. Before the World Wars, people still lived in fear of becoming infected with life-crippling/threatening diseases such as tuberculosis, polio, pertussis, and measles. Life expectancy was short and if you did make it to older age, it was probably grim.

After the Second World War, Bevan developed the National Health Service alongside Public Health Services and these included vaccination programmes; the idea being that vaccines prevent us from having to be hospitalised. Anti-vaccination beliefs still continued, especially and not unsurprisingly with the thalidomide scandal in the 1960s, however, uptake did remain high until the 90s.

In 1992 Andrew Wakefield, a pro-vaccination Consultant at the Royal Free Hospital published an unethical study in the Lancet. He had a financial interest in selling the single vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella; so he set out to discredit the MMR, a single jab containing all three vaccinations. He claimed that it upset gut bacteria and was an underlying cause of autism. It is important to note that the underpinning paradigm of science is to disprove theories, not prove them, and since then study after study has found no correlation between the MMR and autism. However, the combination of his falsified research, sensational journalism and wider use of the World Wide Web, led to a more powerful anti-vaccination movement. Wakefield now makes a fair amount of money from his anti-vaxx campaigns, but I must emphasize, he had a financial interest in the single vaccines.

Anti-vax, vaccine hesitation is a complex matter and I for one have had many heated debates on social media. I have very good friends who do not like vaccines for all sorts of reasons and I respect their views. I do know there have been unethical practices, injury and death. But lessons are continually learned in the science community and as we have seen from AstraZeneca and Pfizer human trials, strict protocols and independent monitoring programmes are in place to ensure public safety.

People should also be able to challenge and ask questions, but my beef with the anti-vax movement is the spread of myth and lies. With the spread of COVID infection and the development of the new vaccines, myths have started to appear. I could not believe it when an old friend of mine put up a petition to stop Bill Gates putting a microchip in his vaccines. Another was that the Pfizer vaccine changes one’s DNA. Do these myths ring any bells? If these myths prevail and spread, this will prevent vaccine confidence and reduce take-up, this I believe will have disastrous consequences for the people in the future.

Many of the diseases, which we are able to prevent, are treated with antibiotics and antimicrobial medicines. It is a well-known fact that we need to reduce our use of these. I am a mere nurse, but what I do know is that current scientists watch how diseases behave and work out how organisms can be manipulated not to harm us. The Pfizer vaccination is a perfect example of this, as it can look at the genome and behaviour of a virus and the vaccination gives a message to the cell to tell it how to defend itself.  With this incredible piece of science, I believe that it won’t be long until we will be able to reduce our antibiotic, antimicrobial use.

Not everybody is a lover of science, and of course, many people would like to live a natural lifestyle, so vaccines and medicines are counterintuitive to this ideology. I question what natural means in this sense? I know that if I were dumped in the Amazon for a night, I would be munched on by all sorts of weird bugs pretty quickly. Equally, I live in a city and if I were deprived of clean water, sanitation and vaccination, invisible diseases such as cholera and diphtheria would also be sitting at my bedside waiting to get me.

The obsession with our individual natural health can be coined as healthism. This is the notion that one’s own health is a priority above anyone or anything else.  The Internet is awash with natural health advice and one recent argument I have fought against on social media is that herd immunity is a more natural way to beat COVID-19 than vaccination.

I have seen arguments for herd immunity based on the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, citing it was over within two years. When I have tried to point out numerous times, that up to 15 million people died, and the deceased were mostly the poor, pregnant women, old and ethnic minorities, I was rebuffed. I noted that people feel that they are unlikely to get ill, as they have a great immune system, which they attribute to a good night’s sleep, healthy diet and lots of exercise. This is a perfect example of healthism, I am afraid no amount of downward dog or yogi tea, will prevent or halt COVID, it is a game of Russian Roulette and you just do not know who you are going to pass it on to.  I really encourage people to start to think of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’.

History is sadly repeating itself. Here in the UK, COVID has disproportionately affected the old, the vulnerable and those who are living in poverty, who sadly always have poorer health outcomes. Additionally, we need to look at developing countries, as we hoard our vaccines and get vaccinated, this means less for others and this is termed vaccine nationalism.  Contrary to the anti-vaxxer myth, Big Pharma has no interest in vaccinating the developing world, as there is no money there, hence charity organisations such as the Gates Foundation who make their mission to share vaccines out.

From the Rock’N’Roll 50s, Swinging 60s, Punk spitting 70s, Romantic 80s, to the Raving 90s – our generation has had the privilege of sharing close spaces, we haven’t had to concern ourselves with not breathing over each other. Back in the last century, our elders feared TB, it killed and maimed and they had to distance themselves for fear of a suffocating disease. The only passable infections that my social group ever worried themselves with were sexually transmitted disease, which meant a trip to the clap clinic.

COVID has now killed over two million people, which is probably a low estimation. Vaccination is the opposite of healthism; of course, it is important to eat healthy food, exercise and live well, however, vaccination shows that we care about others and those in the future. The world is rid of smallpox because our ancestors got the jab; are we the generation that could have rid the world of measles and polio, but decided not to?

What concerns me is whether to vaccinate or not doesn’t really concern my generation; we have made it to middle, older age. The late Ian Dury is the last person I physically saw who was crippled with polio, I have never seen someone scarred from smallpox. TB remains a worry, as I do come across it at work. I was recently shocked to find out that TB medication is now being appropriated to treat COVID patients in the West which deprives those in people in Eastern Europe, and their death rates are rising.

I am not here to try and persuade anyone to vaccinate as it is a choice and I hope it will continue to be. However, what I do ask is that as a generation – we need to think about what we leave behind and how our actions will affect those who come after us.  Sadly Jenner’s statue was moved from Trafalgar Square in 1862 as the anti-vaccination movement opposed it, so now it sits quietly in Kensington Gardens. If I had my way, I would happily push his statue back to Trafalgar Square and add the clever milkmaid and her cow, for it is they who saved billions of lives.

AofA People: Gilly Smith – Author & Podcaster


1 Minute Read

Gilly Smith is an author and podcaster who coaches and works with women in mid-life to help them find their voice. You can buy her book out this week,

How to Start and Grow a Podcast here.

What is your name?

Gilly Smith

Where do you live?

Brighton, UK

What do you do?

I’m an author and podcaster.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

Blimnin fantastic! At 54, I left the part-time working, child-focussed world and started podcasting. Four years on, I’ve found my voice, am coaching others, all midlife women, to find theirs in podcasting, hosting retreats (pre and post COVI) and my book on How to Start and Grow a Podcast has just come out. Finding my voice in podcasting must have helped my writing too; after writing 15 or so books, I’ve just been shortlisted in the food writer category for the Gourmand Best in the World Awards in June for my book Taste and the TV Chef: how storytelling can save the planet.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Where do I start? Voice, confidence, belief in myself, a proper relationship, a passion to change the world and a career that I love and can see growing until the day I die.

And what about sex?

I literally wrote the book on sex, but it’s not until I felt confidence in myself that it really works.

And relationships?

Marriage is a deep dive into ourselves and that’s been a 25-year swim among different universes, only occasionally coming up for air!

How free do you feel?

Once I’m done my lower back reset yoga in the morning – FREEEE

What are you proud of?

Finding myself in my 50s. My girls. My podcasts.

What keeps you inspired?

Family, work, campaigning through podcasting, communicating.

When are you happiest?

Pretty much all the time. I’m a white middle-class mid-lifer living happily, working creatively and keeping warm and safe in a pandemic. How could I complain?

And where does your creativity go?

Into my podcasting and writing, my daughters and my gold walls.

What’s your philosophy of living?

It’s never too late.

And dying?

I read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at an impressionable age. Watching my dad die was one of the most incredible and privileged experiences of my life. I’m cool with it.

Are you still dreaming?

ALWAYS. I also host a weekly Dreamwriting Zoom class with a bunch of mid-life women.

What was a most outrageous action of yours?

I’m not sure I’d call anything I do outrageous although most people dare to ask for most of the things I ask for.

Why I Love Cold Water Swimming…


7 Minute Read

I have loved being either in or on the sea ever since I learned to swim off the sandy beach at Margate. I was four years old and these summer Sunday trips on the train from London Bridge station, were a highlight of my young urban life.

I can recall the sheer excitement of seeing the first glimpses of the shining sea, the squeals of joy as the salty air rushed up to my nostrils and the utter happiness of splashing about in the water, riding on my dad’s sandy back as he swam out and then being towed back in towards the shore. My dad encouraged to kick and swim as he confidently held me, letting go a little bit more each time until I could float and propel myself. The feeling I associate with being in the sea is one of glee. Yes, sea swimming is a really gleeful activity for me and continues to be so.

Of course, lockdown in these pandemic times has seen scores of people taking the plunge into the briny for the first time, and many of them continuing to swim through the summer into the autumn and onwards into the winter. People who are, somehow, now captivated by that increasingly popular lockdown activity –the Cold Water/Outdoor/Open Water/Wild Swim.

A great deal of attention has been given to something that – only a year ago – was the province of a relatively small group of oddballs who maybe commanded a column inch or two on New Year’s Day.

2020 saw the rise of the Outdoor Swimmer, the cataloguing of the many health and wellbeing benefits of immersion in cold (15 degrees or below) water.

Looking for an improvement in your mental health? Get in the water! Eager to strengthen your immune system? Get in the water! Want to fix whatever ails you?….. You get my drift. Open water swimming has been chronicled, critiqued and analysed from a dozen perspectives and yet, for every article written, there remains a weird mystique attached to the lets face it, the relatively uncomplicated act of getting undressed and getting wet.

This is my personal account of taking my existing relationship with the sea, one that has included scuba diving as well as swimming, to a new and unexpected level.

Cold Water

In January 2020, when the notion of a pandemic and the chaos that would ensue seemed quite preposterous to me, I found myself following a friend and local sporting hero on social media who had been swimming through the winter. She, along with a group of (mostly) women, regularly swam off our local Portsmouth beach, right through the coldest months of the year. It looked great, if slightly unhinged and I really wanted to join in. Then Covid and lockdown entered our lives and vocabulary and, for a while, I forgot about everything except trying not to catch the virus. Easter came and went and I hardly ventured outside of the house, not least because we had my elderly mum staying with us for several weeks and I became a full-time carer.

However, once mum was able to move back into her flat, I started going to the beach and found myself desperate to get into the sea. It was now the beginning of May and yes, the water was fresh!

The body has a clearly defined and well-documented response to immersion in cold water. It is, at once, an assault and an energising stimulant. Your blood pressure goes up, your breathing becomes gasps, your nerves zing and I swear you can feel your internal organs contract (well, maybe that’s just me!) But, and this is the thing, you can learn to accommodate this reaction, to acclimatize your body, to control your breathing (it really is all about the breath, the exhale), to relax your tensed muscles, to embrace the cold and then welcome it, wallow in it, love it.

All that is required is for you to be present, focused, alert and surrendered all at once.

The biggest benefit for me, in all of this, was not, however, the physical sense of wellbeing. It was the fact that, in going swimming in the sea, I was able to maintain contact – in real life – with my best friend, because she came too.

Since last May we have swum together several times a week, always socially distanced – she is a senior nurse in ICU and I am clinically extremely vulnerable. We’re both healthcare professionals (I’m retired) and we both understand the principles of infection control. The act of going swimming moved beyond mere exercise and getting some fresh air, it became more than a routine, providing a focus and structure in this chaotic and dystopian world. It has become a ritual, a celebration and an anchor.

The Process

Each swim begins the day before when we are in contact via WhatsApp, exchanging details of tide times, sea state, weather conditions and work commitments. We agree on a time to meet on the beach and then we prepare. Swim kit is packed. Swimsuit (our personal challenge is to avoid wearing a wetsuit), goggles, hats, tow-float, swim watches, towels, a flask of hot drink, hot water bottle, extra warm layers of clothing, waterproof changing robe all organised into a bag ready to go.

There is a methodical wonderfulness in the way we first wave to one another, then chatter briefly before setting onto the shingle, shedding clothes down to our swim gear and then striding – we always stride – down to the water’s edge and then walk straight in – without hesitation. I like to start jumping up and down in the water, laughing or shrieking, as the water gets deeper. I whoosh my out breath forcefully and inhale deeply, overriding my gasp reflex. It calms and strengthens me as I immerse myself to swim.

Catriona simply slips her shoulders beneath the waves and exhales. I watch the stress melt away from her dear face, the world’s biggest smile taking its place. We remain several feet apart as we swim, talk, take photos, marvel at nature, sing or cry. We keep an eye on how our hands and fingers are feeling – a loss of dexterity is an indicator that your body is pretty cold and you need to be getting out. During the summer months, we were swimming for anything up to two hours at a time. Now, in January, the water temperature is around six degrees and we manage 10-15 minutes before our fingers start to seize up and it’s time to exit.

The ritual extends to emerging from the sea, beaming and burnished, getting dried, dressed and warmed up as quickly as we can whilst continuing to bask in the heady mix of endorphins and companionship.

The Bond

We have both noticed how much we enjoy the view of the world from sea level, in the water. It is time out of time when the world and its business stands still. The water that holds us suspended in its cold depths connects us to one another. On Christmas Eve we enjoyed singing carols as we bobbed in the waves and then on Christmas day we exchanged gifts before donning novelty hats to swim in.

As I write this – I’m thinking about the swim we have planned for tomorrow. It has been a week since our last swim, Catriona’s work schedule has been punishing to say the least, and storm Cristoph laid waste to the few possibilities of getting into the water safely.

It’s okay though. The sea isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’ll be there tomorrow to welcome us. We’re both hoping that the water temperature will have fallen further – another boundary to push at, another day of feeling very alive.

The Culture Interview – Glen Colson, 72, music PR


5 Minute Read

Glen Colson, 72, is an ex-music PR – his clients have included Lindisfarne, Ian Dury, Kokomo, and Elvis Costello. I always remember Glen as a prankster PR who was interested in the ‘craic’ more than the selling of records. He worked for Stiff Records at one point, and re-papered the NME’s editor’s office walls with Costello’s new album cover. He has just published the book of his life as a music PR and typically, it’s called Nefarious. Although I think Glen was more hilarious than nefarious! He’s now more into his bamboo growth… Nefarious is available here – www.glencolson.com

I didn’t realize that your mum and dad ran the Magdala Tavern in Hampstead?

 I lived at the Magdala Tavern for 19 years.  In 1958 Ruth Ellis murdered a racing driver outside the pub and became the last woman in England to be hung. 

And you come from a long line of Kent publicans?

Yes, all my uncles had pubs in Margate.  My uncle Bob’s pub, The Dog and Duck, was the biggest, right on the seafront.  I was born in the Princess of Wales which is opposite Dreamland.

Tell us a bit about drumming and you? How come you didn’t end up as a drummer rather than a PR?

I have been drumming since the age of 10 and had lessons with Frank King, a famous tutor in Archer Street, W1.  The reason I didn’t end up drumming as a career was that I couldn’t find any like-minded musicians in Hampstead growing up and fell into PR at the age of 21 and never looked back.  Only drumming after that for pleasure.

You used to frequent La Chasse, a private members club for the music industry, in the 70s?

The Chasse was a private members club in Wardour Street where the Charisma office would relax after a hard day’s work. It was frequented by musicians and roadies from all the great bands of the day, including Marmalade, The Nice, The Searchers, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Keith Moon, and Stan Webb.

And your tutor in PR, Terry The Pill?

Terry the Pill was a villain who sold pills to the Beatles in Hamburg and then managed Eric Burdon and ended up becoming the fly poster King of London.

Oh and your stay in NYC which included being asked to dance by the great Pattie Smith? Which, of course, was at a party hosted by Frank Zappa in 1976.

In 1976, I spent 18 months living in Manhattan, sleeping on Chris Charlesworth from the Melody Maker’s sofa before getting a job with the rock manager Pete Rudge.  He managed The Stones and The Who.  I had originally arrived from the US to promote a Van der Graff Generator date at the Beacon Theatre. 

Glen Colson
Keith Allen, Jock Scot, Neneh Cherry, and Glen

Tell us a few Stiff tales…

My favourite Stiff anecdote took place when waiting outside the offices for a coach on the 5 live Stiffs tour. 

A robbery took place on the opposite side of the road at the house of Tracey Ullman.  The perpetrator fled along Alexander Street and was pursued by an entire coach load of Stiffs and finally being tackled to the ground by none other than Nick Lowe.  

Who was your favourite behind-the-scenes character in the music biz? 

The funniest guy I ever met in the music business was Tony Ashton who was a Hammond organ player who was originally with the Remo Four from Liverpool.  He later formed on Ashton, Gardener and Dyke who recorded ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ famously covered by Elvis Presley. Tony always drank his beer from the water jug. 

How did you meet Keith and Kevin Allen? And I guess there were a few japes in those years?

I first met Keith when he played the Albany Empire and latterly met his brother Kevin when I intervened in the two of them brawling in a club in Convent Garden.  I ended up waking up the next morning with a black eye for my troubles. I recount many tales of the Allen brothers in Nefarious.

Glen Colson
Andy Paley, Glen, and Brian Wilson

And then there was the spirited, gifted Kirsty MacColl?

Kirsty was a close friend who I sorely miss.

I like your honesty about Trinidad and ‘the local lovely’ who made off with your shoes, shirt and shorts after sex following your claim that you ‘had no cash on you’.

This event took place in a Trinidadian nightclub when I made the mistake of picking up a girl who unbeknownst to me turned out to be a hooker who demanded money from me when we entered my hotel room and then made off with all my clothes when I was sleeping.

And the Viv Stanshall years? You seemed to genuinely like him?

After drumming sting with the Bonzos in 1969, Viv became my mentor who I would work with for the next 25 years.

Although not Ian Dury, who seemed famously tricky?

I worked with Ian Dury when he was in The Kilburns and latterly The Blockheads, although, he could be a very tricky customer who had a wicked tongue.  From time to time I would feel the lashing from it.

I guess I can’t miss out The Warwick in Portobello which is where I know you from. What a place! The characters.

After starting to work with Keith Allen, he introduced me to his local pub The Warwick Castle in Portobello Road. The pub was brim-full of Runyonesque characters, murderers, thieves, actors, musicians, market traders, dustmen, and alcoholics. The landlord, Seamus Costello specialised in pigs trotters and pints of Guinness. 

What are your reflections now on music PR at that time?

I have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever.

And how did you get into gardening?

I have always loved and been fascinated by growing things ever since I planted my first tulip bulb in a window box as a young boy. Many years later I was lucky enough to be accepted as a volunteer at Kew Gardens. After taking an RHS course in Horticulture at Twickenham College, I spent ten years at Kew working in various departments until my retirement five years ago.

The Culture Interview – Isa L Levy, artist and psychotherapist


6 Minute Read

Isa L Levy, 72, is a London-based artist and psychotherapist who has just published her memoir, Conversations with a Blank Canvas: From Nowhere to Somewhere Decades of Change and Transformation. You can buy it here.

What prompted this memoir?

Two clairvoyants told me I had to write my life story: one 40 years ago and one more recently a few years ago and so I decided to write it.

What is your aim in writing it?

Sharing my life story so that others can see how it’s possible to overcome your demons and with courage keep listening to your authentic voice to fulfill a sense of belonging to your ‘true self’; so often hidden by a ‘false self’ adapting to an outer superficial world. This is very much a sign of our times within our social media screens of ‘selfie’ curated false images and how that can emphasise feelings of low self-worth leading to depression, anxiety, addiction, and in the worst case of scenarios self-harm, suicide, and high crime rates

You mention ‘invites the reader to enquire more consciously about their own personal journey’?

In writing about my own journey of self-discovery I reveal how the ‘blank canvas’ was the beginning of my true connection to myself. I only discovered painting when I was 40 and some 450 paintings emerged – I say from nowhere but in fact from an unknown place of mystery and that was tremendously meaningful for me and life-changing. What I learned about myself through painting was very much what I facilitate in my clients which is the safe space within which to explore their own ‘blank canvasses’ within and if they can face their fears and pain they will find the richness that is there hiding in their ‘true self’. 

Tell us something about your own Jewish background growing up in Cardiff and how it has influenced you?

I believe my Jewish background is within every gene of my body; however, I did not identify as a religious Jew and have found my spiritual connections as a Quaker and Buddhist. I also realised that I did not conform to family and cultural expectations, which created a deal of painful confusion for me. If I didn’t conform – who was I? The Cardiff Jewish community was tight-knit and my parents were very committed to the local community. However, the pain was my motivation to find out more about myself.

Your family knew Dylan Thomas?

Yes. My father was born in Swansea, as was Dylan Thomas and Dylan lived in Chelsea with my uncle, art critic, and author, Mervyn Levy. My father, at that time, in those Chelsea days, was a poet and had exchanged poetry with Dylan and joined them when he ran away from home. I had the privilege of sitting on Dylan Thomas’s knee as a 2-year-old, although I can’t say I remember the experience. 

You describe yourself as ‘the black sheep of the family’, how did that manifest itself?

I now realise that I am a non-conformist but it’s taken me 72 years and the writing of my memoir to accept that label. It’s hard to fit into a traditional family as a non-conformist as individuality threatens the status quo.

What have been the most challenging areas of your own personal journey psychologically?

Well, I believed I was a failure in everything because I didn’t fit in; Failed in education, the pressure to marry, not wanting to marry, weight issues, and poor body image that created a lack of confidence which led to low self-esteem.

Tell us a bit about ‘questioning your sexuality’ as a teenager and the confusion of that?

Basically, I did not feel comfortable discussing my sexuality as a teenager in the 1950s and coming from a traditional family where we didn’t discuss anything that didn’t fit in socially. I discussed with a few friends but mainly kept things secret.

You performed a one-woman show at Wormwood Scrubs which changed the direction of your life?

Yes. I made a conscious decision to move from performance into the caring profession as I was more interested in the lives of the prisoners than my own performance.

You mention depression and loneliness?

I think depression and loneliness are part of the human condition and I think these problems can be masked by a manic defense against facing our most vulnerable side by compulsive addictions that are socially acceptable – like work, money, drink, narcissistic power distortions. We just have to look at our present demise with politicians and leadership. I think depression and loneliness is what we all face within our own ‘blank canvasses’ and we have been forced to look deeper into ourselves during this pandemic as everything familiar has been taken away from us and left us with time for a re-think.

And then, finding a more meaningful life?

Buddhism as a philosophy for life gave me permission to engage with my suffering as I realized there was nothing wrong with me other than that I was just human. My painting was the beginning of this journey of letting go and just allowing everything to flow out of me – it was liberating. And then 15 years later I had nothing more to say and closed the door on my studio without knowing what next. In the fullness of time I found myself embarking on a Masters degree in Arts and Psychotherapy in my mid- 50s without an A Level to my name and graduated at the ripe old age of 61 with a whole new career as an Arts Psychotherapist.

How has painting, poetry and other writing supported your evolution?

I could not have survived without creative expression as an actor, singer, songwriter, poet, playwright, artist, author and back to actor now for I had no other way to express myself.

You’re now involved in a musical production of ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’?

That was 2 years ago but I am involved with that director, Clair Chapwell and we’re performing a weekly soap opera at Jacksons Lane community centre, North London for a Pensioners Lunch Club; on zoom at the moment. I was invited by my local MP to sing a song I wrote about Climate Change, some 50 years, ago in parliament, when I had no idea at the time about the crisis that we have got ourselves into.

Tell us about your painting The Female Resurrection?

The Female Resurrection was painted after the death of my mother and four other important females in my life. I inherited a 7 foot blank canvas and decided to paint a female crucifixion scene putting the female figure on the cross as I wrestled with the question; how can you celebrate life whilst going through so much suffering? As there was no room for the central figure’s head as if by magic, I could see that there had been a resurrection, completely spontaneous, and therein lay the answer to my question.

How has lockdown been for you?

A very creative time linking me to like-minded international souls on zoom, publishing and promoting the book, seeing my therapy clients, albeit on zoom, seeing friends in a café when tiers permitted, facing myself and my core human loneliness and finding more transcendence, kindness, and compassion towards myself and others with more of a connection to my heart.

Where are you now on this journey and how has writing the book been?

I go with the flow now and enjoy what I have to deal with each day with the resolve to make it the best that I can, opening to new possibilities and expansion in every which way possible.

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