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The Culture Interview: Lucy O’Brien – Writer & Academic


11 Minute Read

Lucy O’Brien, 58, is a writer and academic. She has written for NME and City Limits as well as the Guardian etc. She has published various books including Madonna: Like an Icon. She has just updated and re-released her biography of Dusty Springfield – Dusty.

What attracted you to writing this biography of Dusty in the first place in the late 80s?

I interviewed Dusty in 1988 when Phonogram released The Silver Collection, a sumptuous greatest hits album. I’ve interviewed quite a few musicians and artists and she stood out – for her Goonish humour and her original responses. She didn’t trot out a PR spiel, and she thought carefully about each question I asked. I think that summed up her approach to life and music. She never sang the obvious, and she made each song her own. The angle I took with the piece was that Dusty was ‘Queen of the Mods’. She had a cool mod sensibility, and was a regular on the 60s pop show Ready Steady Go!

I did the interview for City Limits magazine, and shortly after it was published an editor at Sidgwick & Jackson wrote to me saying, ‘Would you like to do a biography of Dusty?’ I jumped at the chance. I hadn’t published a book at that point, and it was a great opportunity.

Can you tell us something about that initial undertaking and the process around it?

Ooh, it felt arduous at first. I’d never written a book before…but then I realised that it was like a string of articles put together as chapters, with a linking theme. The next challenge was tracking down interviewees, people who knew her and had worked with her. In the late 80s there was no internet, so I had to use a lot of snail mail, do a lot of phone calls and face-to-face interviews. I also spent time in the US, travelling to New York, Memphis, Nashville and LA, interviewing friends and musicians she had worked with. There was a mystery around her at that point, because she moved to America in 1970 and disappeared from the scene. No one really knew what had happened to her…and I had to somehow piece the story together. All I had to go on was a trickle of articles in back issues of NME, and some press around the time she visited the UK for a ‘comeback’ tour in 1978. It was like doing detective work.

How has Dusty’s image changed now in this LBGTQ-aware era? 

She has become an LGBTQ icon. She was in the closet as a lesbian in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Being out and gay on the pop scene was tantamount to commercial suicide (and to an extent it still is). She had to invent boyfriends and live a life in public that felt artificial. In private she had a very active love life and used to go to lesbian clubs like Gateways, and had a legion of gay male admirers, some of whom used to enjoy dressing up in her gowns!

What did you find challenging about the writing of it?

The main challenge in the late 80s was what I couldn’t put into the book. It was read by lawyers, and I couldn’t write about Dusty’s lesbianism. I could only hint that she was bisexual, because she had said once or twice during interviews ‘I’m just as easily swayed by a woman as a man.’

I loved writing about her music, her childhood, the 1960s pop scene, and all her soulful influences. But I had to be careful when discussing her mental health issues and her drug use – she hadn’t talked about these things in our interview, and they were not in the public domain.

Would it have been different writing it now with the internet?

Writing a biography now is a very different process – it takes half the time. You can get in touch with people much more quickly via the internet, you can do Skype interviews, and there is SO much more information at your fingertips. However, you still have to fact check. And there is no substitute for physically travelling to a place and breathing in the air and absorbing the atmosphere, and talking to people face to face. Old-fashioned physical research gives you much more emotional information about a person’s life. The internet is very flat, gossipy and superficial. For instance, I learned so much about Dusty’s experience recording Dusty in Memphis when I actually went to the rundown studio in Memphis where she recorded it. And feeling the close-knit cameraderie of the Nashville music scene, or, by contrast, the alienation of those sun-baked LA freeways.

Tell us something about the interviews you did? For instance, with Pat Rhodes her longstanding assistant? Or others that stand out? 

I loved meeting her 1960s manager Vic Billings – he was a camp impresario of the old school, a real gent, and hilariously funny. Also her Philips producer Ivor Raymonde, (whose son Simon was part of that amazing post-punk band Cocteau Twins). Ivor was dashing, dedicated, and very good at explaining why Dusty stood out from the other 1960s beat girls like Lulu and Cilla Black.

I also remember interviewing the Dusty In Memphis producers – Jerry Wexler (so articulate, yet a little exasperated with Dusty), Arif Mardin (he drove me through Manhattan in his enormous station wagon and talked about Dusty’s instinct for soul music), and Tom Dowd (who gave me funny anecdotes about her tottering into the studio with her beehive and gown ‘made up like a Southern lady’). Sadly, all of those wonderful people have passed away, so I’m thankful I was able to capture their words and memories.

Dusty’s assistant Pat Rhodes was also helpful, giving me insight into Dusty’s childhood – her vivacious, slightly unhinged Irish mother, her shy, lumbering father, and brother Tom, who formed folk act the Springfields with Dusty in the late 1950s. Pat was a constant in Dusty’s life, and she has been really supportive of the book, at each stage.

This publication is updated – could you tell us something about that?

What’s good with this publication is I have been able to use some of the interview material that was out of bounds in the first edition. I can be much more frank about her lesbian relationships, and her struggles with mental health and addiction. It’s enabled me to go into her story in greater depth, and really explore the full impact of her legacy. I was able to interview her former lover Julie Felix, who told me a lot about the tensions of their secret relationship in the 1960s. I also talked to Pat, and Dusty’s close friend, the singer Simon Bell, about the last five years of Dusty’s life after she got the cancer diagnosis. They both spent a lot of time caring for her, staying at her house in Henley. It was reassuring to know that Dusty’s dry wit and humour stayed with her to the end.

And I interviewed playwright and TV scriptwriter Jonathan Harvey, who wrote the recent Dusty musical. He gave me a fresh perspective on her music, her psychological struggles, and her legacy as a gay icon.

Was there anything that shocked you when researching Dusty or Mary O’Brien’s life? 

I never forget talking to Brooks Arthur, producer of Dusty’s ill-fated, unreleased 1973 album Longing. ‘She wasn’t handling her New York trip very well. Something had begun to tumble,’ he said to me in an interview for the first edition of my book. He was hushed and close to tears when he talked about how she attempted suicide. He had to take her to hospital, and was devastated that he couldn’t take ‘good enough care of her.’ I was also shocked when talking to her US manager Howard Portugais, about how she tumbled so badly through drink and drug use, that she ended up with no money, living in a ‘halfway house’ in LA. I had no idea things had got that bad. I felt enormous sympathy for her, and realised then what a fragile character she was.

Did you understand Dusty’s mental health problems any better at the end of this research? 

Yes…that she was a bit like Amy Winehouse in the way she had to fight personal demons just to sing. She was her own worst critic, and had such a harsh opinion of herself. Yet she created such vulnerable, beautiful music. So much more is understood now about mental health. Many musicians struggle with it, and the music industry, with its punishing schedules of touring and promotion, can make someone’s mental health much worse. Dusty suffered from having to hide her true sexuality, and she battled anxiety and depression. However, as Jonathan Harvey says, what’s so inspiring about Dusty’s story is how in the end she made a brilliantly successful comeback with the Pet Shop Boys. And although she died young at 59, she found happiness and peace of mind at the end of her life.

I hadn’t realised what happened to her in South Africa and how she took that stand that made her controversial at the time, she wouldn’t play to segregated audiences in 1964? Good on her. Max Bygraves wasn’t too pleased!

Yes, Dusty was close friends with the Motown crew, particularly Martha Reeves. She was a huge supporter of the civil rights struggle, and was utterly opposed to playing to segregated audiences. However, Dusty really paid for that – many of her peers (like Max Bygraves) criticised her, saying she shouldn’t mix politics with showbusiness. A question was even raised in Parliament, asking whether a pop star should get involved and speak out against apartheid. Times really have changed.

And what about that beehive? What did it represent for her?

Dusty modelled her look on drag queens. She was never particularly comfortable being a typical girl, so she created a style that was hyper-feminine and over-the-top, with the panda-eye make up and the huge beehive. The queens loved it. I explore this in the book, how there was a split between the real-life Mary O’Brien and the stage persona Dusty Springfield. After a while, though, this split triggered a psychological crisis, and Dusty felt dominated by the alter ego she had created.

And the Lady? Her reputation wasn’t always great with musicians? And she was known to throw things around in her dressing room?

Dusty had a fiery temper. She had a ‘difficult reputation’, but many argue in the book that she had this reputation just because she was a woman making demands in the studio, and not accepting second best from the musicians she worked with. She was a hard taskmaster…and she fell out with a few musicians – notably jazz drummer Buddy Rich. They got into an argument and she whacked him round the head, sending his toupe flying.

She also liked to release tension by throwing food and crockery around her dressing room. She says that she always cleared it up!

Why did she disappear in the 70s in the US?

Dusty adored US soul music, and wanted to perform and record in America. She was also fascinated by American culture and Hollywood films, so moving to the US in the 70s was like the fulfilment of a childhood dream. Unfortunately it was also her undoing. The US music industry then was still very segregated, and they couldn’t understand or market a white English woman singing soul music. Also, as her backing singer Doris Troy said, there was a lot of cocaine around – ‘the devil’s dandruff was rulin’.’

And did she ever find a good gay relationship or was her family Catholicism always at play in the background? 

Dusty was inhibited by her Catholic upbringing, and found it hard to form lasting relationships. However, she had a long-term lover in the 1960s, artist-singer Norma Tanega. And she lived with a number of lovely women in LA. Pat says that towards the end of her life Dusty was single, and more devoted to her cats. It was simpler that way.

How was your interview with her in the late 80s?

I really enjoyed talking to Dusty. She was an original thinker with a nice turn-of-phrase. I always remember her talking about how being a female performer involved ‘such a lot of upkeep. All those hair extensions…’ And she enthused about Sinead O’Connor saying, ‘Where were women like her in my day? She’s young, Irish and so talented.’ She was analytical, and she KNEW her music. I would love to have known her as a friend, and to have her perspective on pop music now.

Dusty: The Classic Biography, by Lucy O’Brien is out on August 22nd

* Lucy is featured with writer Julie Hammil at The Rock N Roll Book Club event ‘Madonna and Dusty: Icons of Song’, London Dublin Castle, on September 4th. For tickets and info: https://www.wegottickets.com/event/476707

On Reading


4 Minute Read

Mish Aminoff Moon, 61, is a photographer and a member of AoA. Here she describes what she does. She was born in London into a tight-knit Persian Jewish Community and brought up in a multilingual household which alternated between English, Farsi and Hebrew.

‘When I’m walking around a city and suddenly notice something that sparks my interest, I feel a combination of freedom, concentration, stimulation and harmony. There’s a choice be made, to take a photograph of this image regardless of whether or not I think it will work. That is part of the freedom: the experimenting.  My eye and approach are influenced by a love of art history and painting. Prior to studying Photographic Theory & Practice at The University of Westminster, I graduated in History of Art at Sussex University but my interest  – as evidenced in my old diaries – started much earlier. As a young teenager going to art galleries and museums was a gateway into an exciting world. I now believe I can experience the exciting, the beautiful, and ultimately my quest for seeing art on my everyday wanderings.’

This project is about reading. She found a photo of her maternal grandfather reading after work on his balcony in Tel Aviv and the project progressed from there.

Looking through old photos from before I was born I found another informal photograph of family members reading newspapers.  Here are Matt and Pauline reading their papers in the back garden  in Stamford Hill, circa early 1950s:

However, the tendency was that reading matter was used as props in formal studio portraiture. Below, my father in 1930:

Another relative – my father’s cousin Haji-Ben who was based in Milan – with an open book as a prop. His direct gaze and grown-up cross-legged position contribute to the quasi adult composure of the portrait:

And below another studio portrait of my aunt Hannah, this time hand-coloured, with a large open picture book as a prop. I can’t make out the illustration, but it seems like a grand scale documentary image, not what I’d expect from the context!

A posed photograph of me in my bedroom when i was about 3 or 4, taken by my father. This was part of a series of photos he took of me in my room; one at my dressing table, another chatting on a toy phone.  I find it interesting that the bookshelf in my room is filled with his old Penguin paperbacks, possibly deemed unsuitable for display in any other part of the house?

When my own children were born I took lots of photographs documenting their everyday experiences and family life; I was interested in capturing moments that I considered significant. The photograph below was taken in 1990 after a particularly sleepless night; Rafi finally asleep on his father’s right thigh and an open book in Josh’s left hand:

And one from the mid-90s of Josh reading one of his old Tintin books to the boys:

Dan occupying himself reading the Zelda manual on our regular Sunday morning brunch outings to Bar Italia in Soho

Some more from Bar Italia – my mother used to say that I always had a book on me everywhere I went. Nowadays it tends to be a Kindle, but here’s proof that it was a habit that continued into adulthood.  A portrait of me framed on the mirrored wall, part of a semi-permanent wall display of “regulars” at Bar Italia. I don’t remember the name of the photographer but I remember posing for her back in 2009. Here I am taking a photo of the portrait of me with my book, sitting at the bar counter:

The photo below was taken outside Bar Italia; I like it because if you look carefully you can see a luminous image of a man with long white hair – looking like a biblical representation of God in sunglasses. It happens to be the Brazilian musical Hermeto Pascoal, who is rather amazing, and definitely a jazz master if not a god!

Travelling further afield, here’s another café reader, taken the other week in a February sun-drenched Campo Santo Stefano in Venice:

And at this Tel Aviv café back in 2014,  a Hebrew newspaper is used to block out the bright February sun:

On the first day of my first trip to Japan in 2006 I was excited to snap a detail of my Manga-reading fellow passenger on the Tokyo Metro:

I took that trip with my younger son Dan who was 13 at the time. The photo below was taken one night  by Dan –  I’m reading a book by Haruki Murakami, in my new Japanese glasses:

I like the parallel activity of these bespectacled book browsers in a Parisian gallery shop:

Next up are a couple of images taken on London Underground. I loved the intimacy of this elderly couple sharing their art magazine:

This dapper gentleman in a corduroy suit and coordinating tan accessories was reading a book called The Tao of Physics:

Next a couple of diary-like images, the first documenting my ora dell’aperitivo ritual, complete with Campari, pistachio nuts and tapas like snacks and obscure Kyrgyz-translated book:

And on a relaxed Saturday morning my husband Stephen gets some tips on power from GQ magazine:

The story behind Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag


11 Minute Read

Ollie Moore is 58 and a saxophonist who used to be in the very funky Pigbag. Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag was No 3 in the singles chart in April 1982. Here he explains how it all happened. Let’s go down this 70s and 80s lane…

It’s important to say that the song was written collectively, as that was always the way we worked as a band so everyone had an equal input to the music that evolved.
I think it’s fair to say that Pigbag, the band, and Papa’s got a brand new Pigbag were inseparable in many people’s view.

I will endeavour to explain my part in how this tune came to be.

As I am the only remaining member to live in Bristol, this is entirely from my perspective and, inevitably, this is linked to how my career in music started.
My father wanted me to learn the clarinet whilst at Bristol Grammar School, and my Uncle, who played clarinet in the London Symphony Orchestra, sourced a reasonable student model for me to play. I still remember the pleasing smell of the instrument in its furry case with its cork and woodiness.

Ollie MooreOllie Moore

Any pleasant associations with this intriguing instrument were soon to be dashed by an abusive, bad-tempered teacher called Mr Stone. I was 12 years old.

He was a lumbering figure of a man who stood at about six foot three and wore a suit several sizes too small for him. He also drove a three-wheeled Reliant Robin car, in which he looked ridiculous. A bulging leather briefcase completed the dishevelled look.

He would ‘correct’ my mistakes with a thrust of the base of the clarinet upwards against my teeth. If I made a squeak or played a wrong note, his face bulged and turned puce in colour, as if he were about to burst a blood vessel, as he spat angry words in disgust at my incompetence.

Consequently after a few lessons with this monstrous man, I stopped going altogether.

I didn’t tell my father who was Head of Music at BBC Bristol until the end of term.
My parents were divorced by the time I reached 18. The family house was sold and I went to live with my father, who had bought a flat in Clifton.

It was now 1979. I had finished an intensive one year A level course in Birmingham, where I had lived with my grandmother, in her large house where she rented out rooms to overseas students plus an Indian family who lived at the top in a self contained flat. It was very multicultural, and she was featured in an article in the BIrmingham Mail, where she was described as Mrs United Nations. This was 1970s Birmingham where the English population weren’t very tolerant of ‘foreigners’.

So I was now back in Bristol, armed with three O level passes, two of which I had already!

So I now had an O level in Law. Let’s just say I did a lot of socialising and didn’t quite knuckle down to study, despite my dear Gran’s best efforts.

I sold my year old motorcycle, which I had saved up to buy, as the insurance had risen drastically, and bought a car for £95. I then bought a Martin Tenor saxophone in silver from the music store in Hotwells. It cost £240. I was over the moon and excited about learning how to play it…BY MYSELF!

I had already met Simon Underwood, bass player with the Pop Group. At their gigs. I knew the lead singer, Mark Stewart, as we had been at the same school together. Simon was becoming disillusioned with the band, and the inevitable clashes, personal and musical, had come to the fore. It was time for him to move on.
He was becoming more and more interested in jazz and world music, and was eager to experiment in that direction. He shared a lot of this music and I was eager to lap it up. I ended up buying a lot of records from him and from Tony’s record store at Focus in Clifton village. Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Fela Kuti, Chico Freeman, Funkadelic, James Brown, and of course, the totally out there Sun Ra and his Arkestra.

Unfortunately, my father wasn’t very keen on me playing the sax in his flat, and I had several complaints from an elderly retired Austrian doctor, who lived in the flat below.

A toilet roll stuffed down the bell of the saxophone wasn’t a very effective mute. Luckily, I was able to move in with old school friend Rich Beal, artist, singer and songwriter with Head and Pregnant. It was a tiny room at the top of the house in Regent St, Clifton.

Friends who lived in a basement flat let me use their cellar to practice, so there was of not so much likelihood of upsetting the neighbours.

This was just a temporary move until I moved into a squat in Hotwells. This was called Trinity Rooms and was a great place (and free!) to live, as there was a rehearsal room there where we could play pretty much whenever we wanted.
It also had an empty church hall out the back with a great natural reverb echo.
My first band was called Fish Food, featuring the now sadly departed, hugely talented and eccentric singer/poet Andy Fairley, who went on to record with the mighty Adrian Sherwood and On U Sound. Howard Purse was on guitar, Daniel Swan, former Cortinas drummer, also featured. The Cortinas were the first proper punk band I ever saw. They supported the Damned at Malvern Winter Gardens in 1976. They were riveting.

The first gig I played was at the Granary in Bristol on Welsh Back. A band called Double Vision were playing, featuring Melanie Dicks on vocals (Bristol City manager Alan Dicks’ daughter!). Rob Merrill was on drums. I ended up on stage with Mark Stewart who was singing a version of Max Romeo’s Chase the devil. I had been playing sax for about 3 months now! A little while later, I hitched up to Hitchin in Hertfordshire and played with the Pop Group. On this occasion they had two drummers, Bruce Smith and Brian Nevill who later joined Pigbag after Chip had left in 1982.

By this time, my dedication to practice and playing had paid off and I was quite proficient at navigating the full range of the horn.  Although later in the summer of 1982, Pigbag played at Bracknell Jazz Festival on the same stage as jazz heroes Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell with Nana Vasconcelos.
A subsequent review in the Guardian described my saxophone tone as like being in an Iron foundry!

In the spring of 1980, I was jamming with Simon, and we had been put in touch with some guys in Cheltenham who had heard that Simon had left the Pop Group and asked if he would be interested in playing with them. We would go up to Cheltenham and play in a place called Beech House in a room with black walls. Sadly early recordings of these sessions were lost from an Akai reel to reel tape recorder.

These sessions were where Papa was born and it would go on for about 20 minutes in a frenzy of percussion, including frying pans and horns!

The band was James Johnstone and Chip Carpenter, who were in a punk band called Hardware. Roger Freeman was on timbales and percussion and Chris Hamlin on congas and clarinet. Myself and Simon Underwood. Chris Lee was on trumpet.
After a few months in the summer, I decided to head off to France to look for an adventure while working picking fruit. I took the saxophone with me. Janine Rainforth’s father – Janine would go on to form Maximum Joy – had a house near Avignon and there was a possibility of some work. It didn’t work out. I don’t think he was overly impressed with our work ethic.

I returned some six weeks later on the day the Pop Group played their last gig at a huge CND rally in Trafalgar Square on 26/10/1980. Coming back to Bristol things had moved on and Pigbag had played their first gig supporting the Slits at Romeo and Juliet’s. Fortunately I was welcomed back to the fold.

Dick O Dell had approached Simon with a view to managing us and he wanted to record Papa.

We rehearsed at Janine’s dad’s house in a village outside Keynsham, called Burnett, near Bristol.

I remember that it was the day that John Lennon was shot and killed in New York by Mark Chapman. 8th December 1980.

My first gig with the band was at a Bristol Recorder event at the Anson Rooms at Bristol University. We were supposed to be top of the bill.
But the other acts, including the Electric Guitars, played over their allocated times and we were left with 20 minutes before the curfew. The porters turned the power off and we carried on acoustically, banging frying pans and blasting away on the horns for a good 20 minutes longer.

We continued rehearsing with a view to arranging Papa to around 3 and a half minutes. This took place in Cheltenham and we were booked in to the studio in Berry St. Studios in Clerkenwell, London. This was March of 1981. Legendary film- maker and documenter of the punk movement Don Letts was there with his video camera.

He filmed us as we recorded it. Unfortunately, the story goes that he didn’t actually have any film in the camera. I’ve never seen any footage.

As we were still raw, rough, self-taught musicians high on energy, we didn’t have a grasp of bar lengths and sections so when it came to recording the solos it was decided that Roger would stand in front of us with a stopwatch and after one minute of free blowing he signalled us to end!

Dick O Dell, in what turned out to be a very shrewd move, withheld the release after a year or so of regularly selling 1000 or so singles weekly and attaining top position in the independent charts of the time. The strategy worked, and in the summer of 1982, the single entered the top 40 playlist and Radio 1 had to give it airplay. The pre-order sales had built up over six weeks or so. At that time, the chart positions were based on weekly sales. We got to number 30, then number 9, then number 3. We were denied the number 1 slot by Bucks Fizz and Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder with Ebony and Ivory.

I remember it well, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, on the green outside my flat, listening to the radio, hearing the chart countdown. Happy times.

I’d particularly like to thank my clarinet teacher, Mr Stone because my experience with him directly led to me teaching myself the sax.

At work, a few days ago, one of my colleagues introduced me to two other workers at Bristol docks.  ‘Do you know who this is? Do you remember Pigbag?’  ‘Yeah’, one of the guys, who was about my age, replied. ‘My mate was the only one who could dance to that song.’

There had been some discussion about whether or not we should do TOTPs. We were concerned about ‘selling out’. Fortunately we decided to do it. Roger Freeman wasn’t happy though, as he claimed we had told him that he couldn’t wear his donkey jacket, which he always wore. He decided not to appear and subsequently left the band.

That was a shame. He is a very talented musician and taught himself trombone in a short space of time. He played a solo on the 12 inch extended version of the song.
My only regret now is that we didn’t include the single on our debut album.
Our reasoning was that we wanted people to hear new material as we felt we had moved on since recording Papa and people could hear it by buying the single.

One of my most enduring memories was supporting the Specials at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park – later to become infamous as a mosque where the radical Muslim Abu Hamsa made his hate speeches. The Specials had just written Ghost town and were playing it in the sound check with the great late Rico Rodriguez on trombone. Wafts of ganja smoke drifted out from the open door of the dressing room as the legendary trombonist warmed up on his instrument.

We were very nervous to be playing in front of a huge crowd of mods and Skinheads and ended up playing at nearly twice the tempo. Jerry Dammers was grinning at the side of the stage, encouraging us on. We were on for about 25 minutes.
After a couple of numbers one of the youths at the front shouted ‘Oi, what’s the name of the band? The single wasn’t in the charts at this time.James Johnstone guitarist, percussionist and keyboards player, leant forward and politely said; ‘Pigbag. What? Pigshit?’

We were then met with chants of ‘PIGSHIT’ after each number. I think they enjoyed it really though…

The Culture Interview: Jenny Gordon – Artist


6 Minute Read

Jenny Gordon is an artist and filmmaker who has a son called Gabriel Bisset-Smith. She is black and her son is white. Or they are both mixed race? Her son has written a lively play Whitewash about race, skin colour and gentrification. It’s on at the Soho Theatre in London until July 27th. Book here – https://sohotheatre.com/

How did Whitewash evolve? 

Basically through situations and conversations my son and I have had over the years revolving aroundrace and the differences of our skin colour. Then, he decided that he wanted to make them into a play that explores mixed raced identity and housing in London.

Could you explain the name – I guess it’s a play on words re London and race, and also something to do with white privilege?

Yeah, it has a few different meaning really, like the word itself. It’s to do with the white privilege of the main character but also the whitewashing of London.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

Were you actually involved before your son wrote it?

It is based on our life and his upbringing so in a way yes. And he has been involved with my housing situation which has been part of the motivation to write this!

Did he interview you in order to use your experience?

He didn’t have to interview me because we have an on-going dialogue.

How do you feel about being at the centre of this play?

Initially I found it quite stressful as I’m very private about my personal life so it was odd having people think the play is real when it’s just inspired by some real events. But I’m getting use to it now.

And has it affected your relationship with your son, Gabriel?

The whole experience has been really positive for our relationship. We are always very supportive of each other as my son I are very close and we get on really well. I understand what he is doing and it’s been great collaborating with him as I did the painting for the show and he’s a dream to work with.

I noticed you refer to yourself as black and the publicity from the Soho theatre says mixed race?

I refer to myself as black but for the clarity of the story the publicity says mixed race.

How was it being a black mother with a white baby/son/child? In the public arena? And what does that say about us as a society?

When Gabriel was born the first thing I said to the doctor was  – ‘Is he going to go darker?’ and the answer was no. If I hadn’t seen him come out I would have thought they had made a mistake, so it took me a while to bond with him. He was very blond with ringlets and blue eyes and people always thought I was the nanny or minder, and sometimes people would argue with me that he couldn’t be my son.

It became very tiring so I just went with it, which made me take a step back. I didn’t really talk about it so I would just laugh it off but I think it had aneffect on me.

I’m not sure what it says about society but it madeit much harder if you were different in any way out of the norm. People thought they had a right to comment on it? Nowadays it’s probably more hidden.

Have we improved or gone backwards?

With Trump and the possibility of Boris Johnson becoming a Prime Minister, I feel that these are quite risky times and there is a feeling that we could be going backwards in terms of being a woman andrace.

There’s a lot of focus on white privilege these days? Is that good?

Yes, I think it’s a good thing that white people are made aware of their privilege. It’s been there forever but they are really only becoming aware of it now. And it means people like me have a clearerunderstanding of why we get shut out of opportunities.

How is it a love letter to London?

It celebrates what is great about this city. Clubbing, art, diversity and over the course of 30 years. But it also questions what’s happening to it.

How has your own attitude to race changed?

My attitude to race has changed for the better. It’s so much better for me now than when I wasgrowing up. I had a lot of racial abuse wherever I went. I had to be aware of which places that I couldgo to socialise, where I looked for work and education. Now it’s so much more cosmopolitan with so many more inter-racial relationships. I don’t suffer any open outward racism anymore.

What was it like being a young artist in the 80s and 90s in London? How did you survive?

I lived in Culross Buildings in Kings Cross, which could be a bit edgy, with drug addicts and prostitutes. I had a free studio in the same building as my flat and a communal hall where we would hold celebrations and parties. I would go for meetings with gallery owners and with quite a few of them I had bad experiences. I was invited for meetings on the basis of my paintings. However when they saw me, they kept me waiting for hours and then said my work was too controversial for their gallery. I found this experience to be very disheartening and as a result it made me less confident to promote myself as an artist in the ‘art world’.

I also had a part-time job working in a nursery where my kids went and I used to do a vintage stall down Portabello Road. Soho was my go-to-place for socialising at The French, Colony or Gerry’s.

We created a haven in the Victorian buildings and cobbled streets, which were used as film sets for films like Charlie Chaplin and Mike Leigh’s High Hopes. It was a really great artistic communitywhere you felt safe and protected as everyone looked out for each other.

Overall we could be more creative and less money-dependant. I had great support from family, friends and neighbours. It could be tough but we always had lots of fun and good memories of a London that no longer exists.

One of the themes in the play is social housing and how that is changing? I think you have personal experience of that?

I think social housing is coming to an end. It’s more like social cleansing, which I am experiencing myself at this point in my life. They are trying to redevelop where I am living now. It always starts with small damp issues which are never proven and leads to demolition and an uncertain future.

Is Whitewash also a celebration of London?

Yes but also a battle cry to try and save it!

 

AofA People: Jilliana Ranicar-Breese – Radio presenter, writer, poet, salon host


9 Minute Read

Jilliana Ranicar-Breese, 74, is a radio presenter, writer, poet and hosts a Spoken Word Salon in Brighton on the first Tuesday of the month. Jilliana is a veritable one-woman hive of activity and role model for getting older brilliantly.

How old are you?

I am 74 [Capricorn] and reside in Brighton

What do you do?

A lot in this day and age of Social Media. I am the co-presenter and co-producer of a weekly Friday radio programme called ‘Your voice matters’ at Brighton and Hove Community Radio [BHCR]. I choose my guests carefully, brief them and also interview them separately for my own YouTube channel for my series ‘Jilliana in Brighton’.

I travel as much as I can, up to five months of the year, studying the country, culture and language as a project before I leave. At my destination, I interview people in English, French, Italian or Spanish for my YouTube channel or do Vox Pops. I go to markets and am passionate about fashion, food, music and photography. I am also a senior reviewer for TripAdvisor so I am constantly making notes and taking photographs of food, hotels and restaurants as well as ‘Faces and Places’.

Last year I began my monthly Spoken Word Salon [Jilliana’s Spoken Word Salon] in Hove and created more work for myself!

I fervently write my vignettes and narrative poems when I have time between writing daily to friends and e-friends, sending photographs and texts all over the world to people I have met or people who I will meet. There is not a day when I am not writing something to someone, if not to myself! I cannot live without the power of the word!

Tell us what it’s like to be 74?

I am proud to be a mature 74 knowing that I don’t look my age nor, thankfully, act my age. I had to make the decision when I turned 70 that I would not hide my age if and when asked. The only thing that irritates me, when meeting new people, is if they ask me straight off, if I have grandchildren!

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

A good question. I did not have life experience nor worldwide cultural knowledge. I only spoke Italian at 25 in 1969 and had not experienced life in Paris which became my cultural education. Nor was I a writer. I didn’t have an identity either. I was not a property owner so at 25 I was a free spirit. I had no proper career and no goals. In fact I was an enthusiastic travel agent at Global Tours (Number 3 in the UK) in Oxford Street planning my journey to Brazil in 1970 which would influence my life forever lured by the Bossa Nova and the beautiful sound of the Brazilian Portuguese language – music in itself to my ears.

What about sex?

Well, what about sex? That’s like opening a can of worms. A bit of a joke for me as I used to deal in ‘Erotica’ prints and postcards in Paris and London in the late 70s and recently have interviewed at least 5 Sexperts for my ‘Jilliana in Brighton’ series on Sex Education. An education never given to me in the 60s by my pharmacy owner Mother when I was growing up in Liverpool.

And relationships?

After betrayal by my husband in 2006 and two events in 2013, men do not figure in my life. I am not gay but frankly prefer the company of women to men. I find woman more honest, open and willing to share their experiences and stories. Women don’t play games, men do – in my book!

How free do you feel?

I have freedom of choice now that I have no husband to ‘control’ my behaviour. 25 years of restricted behaviour! I am also free of being in business and earning money, meeting deadlines and being polite to clients and colleagues who, at times, I could not express myself freely to.

What are you proud of?

Proud that from being a technophobic about 7 years ago, I have mastered basic Social Media and am not afraid to ask for help. Never stop learning, I say.

I am proud of becoming a radio broadcaster.

I am proud of winning the award for best co-presenter and co-producer of 2017.

I am proud of winning the Rotary Club of Brighton and Hove award for Community Services Award in December 2018.

I am proud being the MC at my own Salon.

I am proud at my Page Spoken Word reading of my vignettes and poems to an audience.

I am proud I can make an audience laugh.

I am proud I can interview people and get them to reveal stories that they never thought they could tell.

I am proud that I created an international business in the antique collectibles world with the investment of £200 in Paris in 1977.

I am proud that I founded and created Retrograph Archive in the mid 1980s that was under offer to Duke’s University, Hartman Collection for seven years before I was told they did not have the funds to buy it. They wanted me to donate it! Proud I was ahead of my time. Finally my Nostalgia Archive went to another museum in London. 2,000 of my images ended up in the Mary Evans photo library in London and I receive no income. A tragic story not ready to be revealed involving betrayal.

I am proud that I did the fire-walk despite having a fear of fire. Mind over matter. I am unstoppable.

I am proud that I am confident without being conceited.

Proud I became a radio journalist and broadcaster

Proud I became a narrative poet

Proud I found my Voice to express my thoughts and life experience

Proud I was invited to perform my vignettes and poetry in Paris, Chaniá, Kalkan and Fethiye.

Proud that people consider my writing inspirational.

Proud I speak several languages.

Proud that I started to travel at the age of 22 and despite getting into hot water, learned to manage my life through my mistakes.

Proud that I became a world traveller without fear of the unknown. I opened the door to Europe and further afield.

Proud that I survived a serious ‘Breakdown/breakthrough’ and rose from the ashes of my former life.

Proud that I became a better individual with a greater understanding of others, less fortunate then myself.

Proud that I became less selfish despite being an only child in a silent home

Proud that I am a sincere good friend to my close friends.

Proud that I have let go of the betrayal in my life.

Proud that people consider ME inspirational.

Proud of my Jewish cultural heritage

Proud that I am an honest person. What you see is what you get.

Proud to be a Liver Bird.

Proud that I founded Retrograph Archive and its photo library.

Proud that I became an Archivist and a Picture Researcher/Visual Consultant.

Proud that I created and styled non-digital ‘RetroMontages’ in the late 80s that were published in the UK, Munich and New York.

Proud to be the Mentor to my adopted Cuban ‘daughter’ Ingrid.

Proud I became ‘Sultana Jilliana’ and created my own original Sultana fashion style.

What keeps you inspired?

Meeting positive people from all walks of life who have a story to tell and teach me something. Everyone has a story to tell. That’s the jigsaw of life.

Seeing beautiful clothes on lovely beings.

Seeing beautiful colourful flowers and trees or seeing exotic photographs of animals and nature that people kindly send me through social media.

When are you happiest?

Watching good classical movies from the 40s, watching American chat shows or comedy shows on YouTube, listening to world music, listening to piano and violin classical music, selecting music for the radio show, being with tropical plants and flowers in a lovely garden or walking in botanical gardens, being with dogs and cats, especially with Neko, my adorable cat who I have written about.

I am happy when I am on holiday or in the company of my best friend and Soul Sister, British of Jamaican heritage, Pauline Weir who is inspirational. We inspire and appreciate each other. I am happy when I am writing and inspired by my own creativity. Frankly, I enjoy my own company.

Where does your creativity go?

Today my creativity goes into my appearance. I live for colour, which uplifts my spirit. Colour combinations and textiles and textures are essential for me. A daily dose of colour keeps the doctor away!

My creative release is more importantly through my writing. I cannot live without being creative and expressing myself through the Spoken Word. I am forever telling my true stories and have now found a platform and an audience globally. Spread the Word I say. Write what you say and say what you mean’.

Are you still dreaming?

I believe if you wish hard enough for something, it will manifest. I rarely remember my dreams. I am a realist. I don’t dream. I know Walt Disney said ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ but my whole life has been synchronicity and Happenstance. I never planned my life, it just happened. A door opens and I walk through it.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Live abundantly for the moment. No one knows when our time is going to be up! Speak your truth. Be a good, kind and generous friend to your friends and surprise others not in your life from time to time.

Be a mentor to others less fortunate than yourself. Share your life knowledge with others. Take an interest in your health, mental well-being and physical well-being. I repeat. Be generous and share. We came into this world alone with nothing and we will depart from this world alone with nothing. We only ‘borrow’ possessions. In fact, we need very little in life. But in later life we need a comfortable bed, a pet and friends we can confide in. A sense of humour is essential even turning a tragedy into comedy. I speak from experience. In a way I must thank my dear departed husband for his betrayal and mental abuse, otherwise I would not have become the woman I am today.

Of dying?

I do not think about death. I live for the moment. Carpe Diem. My funeral will be a celebration of my life. I hate it when people say ‘What WAS your name? ‘ I usually growl and say ‘I’m not dead yet!’

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I had always planned to age disgracefully like my dear departed late ex-husband did with the inevitable consequences, which caused my breakdown/breakthrough. Now I have changed my mind because people can get hurt through selfishness and cruelty.

Last action was 2013 in Berlin! I was dared to do something and took up the challenge. But was it really outrageous? Umm. But what IS outrageous? We all have different ideas according to background, culture and age. Now that I am a public figure in the Brighton and Hove community, I have my reputation to consider. After all, I AM Sultana Jilliana!

Jilliana’s Spoken Word Salon is on the first Tuesday of the month in Hove. www.jilliana.com

AofA People: Ashton Applewhite – Writer & Activist


3 Minute Read

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Ashton Applewhite

HOW OLD ARE YOU?

66

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Brooklyn, NY

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I’m a writer and activist.

TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

I love everything about it except the physical deterioration: arthritis, osteoporosis, and some hearing loss – none of which keep me from doing the things I want to do.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?

Infinitely more self-confidence, self-awareness, and self-acceptance.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

Sex is way better than it was when I was young, because I’m more accepting of my physical flaws and better at expressing what I like and don’t like.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

The most important component of a good late life is not health or wealth but a strong social network. Those networks tend to shrink as we leave the workforce and people we’ve known all our lives die. I’m always urging people to make friends of all ages, have followed my own advice, and have many wonderful younger friends. I’m going to need help shoveling and schlepping and getting rid of those damn chin hairs, and I want to be able to cast a wide net. Age is a dumb divide. Think of something you like to do and find a mixed-age group to do it with.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

Extremely. Partly because I’ve been brave, but mainly because I’m lucky and privileged: I have enough money, I have a partner, my kids are doing fine, and I’m pretty healthy.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

I’m proud that my first book, Cutting Loose: Why Women Who End Their Marriages Do So Well, earned me a place on Phyllis Schlafley’s Eagle Forum Enemies List. (She was the dreadful woman who tanked the Equal Rights Amendment in the US in the 1970s by brilliantly framing it as a family values issue.) I’m also proud that I’ve gotten as far as I’ve gotten as an anti-ageism activist with zero training or institutional support, self-publishing This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism in 2016. That changed this spring, when Melville House brought the book out in the UK (along with Celadon Books in the US) – hooray!

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be fascinated by aging, I’d have said, “Why on earth would I want to spend my time thinking about something so sad and depressing?” Now I understand that it’s the biggest canvas there is: how we move through life and interact with institutions and each other. For a generalist like me, who could never decide what to be when she grew up—I certainly never intended to become a writer or public speaker—that’s heaven. It’s also a critically important social justice issue in a world of longer lives, especially everyone with less power and voice: people of color, women, and people of all abilities.

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

When I have a smart idea and get it down “on paper.” When my grandchildren run at me. Outside on a hot summer day, ideally dancing — badly.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

Into my writing.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

Don’t have one. Be kind. Try not to judge.

AND DYING?

Check me into the psychedelic hospice, please. (It’s a thing.)

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

Of course, bigger all the time.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

Hopping the subway turnstile. Because they announced my train wasn’t running, so I exited, and then they announced it was, so yeah.

If you’d like to catch Ashton while on her book promotion tour, here’s her schedule:

Appearances

 

AofA People: Pete Lawrence – Founder, Campfire Convention


13 Minute Read

Pete Lawrence, 61, created the concept for The Big Chill in the 90s, and went on to found Campfire Convention as an innovative social network, which also sparks membership-based events. They’re very much about making space for important conversations about values and the way people want to live, which will make the way for societal change. Their first outdoor Convention was in Hereford in 2016 and Brian Eno was one of the key speakers. They are launching a crowdfund Fire in the Belly on May 1st.

What do you do?

I am founder and firestarter for Campfire Convention. We are building a member-led online social network, free of advertising and algorithms, already putting on regular face-to-face events. We believe that we have the potential to evolve the way we do social networking as well as stepping up and actively facilitating change at the local level.

We’re busy getting our first crowdfund together which we’re calling Fire In the Belly and we’re launching it on May 1st. It’s important for us to enable the building of an alternative community-based social network that can work for the good of all. The funds will start to pay some of our wonderful volunteers such as our lead developer Tim who is upgrading our software and also working on some very exciting features.

A mentorship circle has formed around the crowdfund, almost by accident – members have stepped up and offered workshops or sessions around their skills and passions, and will share their wisdom for the benefit of all. I regard the nurturing of the concept and functions of elders as increasingly important in the world and hopefully, Campfire can play its part.

Much needs to change. In the wake of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s now clear that the ‘surveillance capitalism’ model of social media is unsustainable, built as it is on monetising data. The full implications of us choosing a digital advertising platform as our presumed safe space in which to share all our most intimate thoughts, hopes, fears and passions are only now being realised. It creates a forum in which the owners of a gigantic operation rule the social media world, arguably the wider world too, for their own ends and for shareholder profit.

My vision for Campfire is to provide an alternative forum which actually does what it says on the ‘social network’ tin: in other words, to help to build and strengthen communities. Campfire works for its members and seeds new ideas and social change for the benefit of all. As part of our next phase, we’re looking to reward our members through a Karma Scheme, which simply measures input and remunerates accordingly. However, we need your help to ensure this dream of an ethical social network – that gives back, and builds real-world belonging – can become a sustainable reality.

The crowdfund will tell us whether we are on the right track. So if you’re looking for alternatives to the tech giants, please support us. fundrazr.com/campfireconvention (from May 1)

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

It’s pretty good in many respects. At 61, I feel unencumbered, liberated from much of the niggling commitments I had at earlier ages and more flexible in terms of how, when and where I work. I am privileged in that respect and I’m not taking anything for granted. I am thankful for my physical health and mental faculties are intact. Having already lived a full life with many memorable experiences, I honour every extra day that I am alive as a gift and a blessing. I don’t feel much different to how I felt when I was 30 in many respects. I’m still a teenager at heart!

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

Hopefully, a modicum of wisdom from assorted life experiences, a host of stories and adventures, the responsibilities associated with two children, a house of my own, a motorhome, not to mention some unwelcome RSI and much greyer hair!

And what about sex?

What about it? Hard to know what to say. Sex hasn’t lost its appeal in any way. Quite the opposite, I very much enjoy the physical expression of love and connection, the ecstasy of explosive chemistry.

I’m still a subscriber to the view that an open-minded approach to sexual experiences can be enthralling, enlightening and totally inspirational. In my younger years, I was often chasing the next sexual adventure and the thrill. Today, I might be less likely to have spontaneous sex on a Greyhound bus with a stranger, but my attitude is more about going into an encounter with that same sense of adventure but keeping my eyes and other senses as wide open as possible. Respect for the other person or people in a sexual experience is paramount. The imagination is the supreme gift.

And relationships?

Relationships make the world go round and often richly repay time investment. Several people have commented on the tribute that I have just written on Campfire for my good friend who died, saying that it’s refreshing and even unusual for a man to write in that way about another man. To me, it’s just second nature to pour my heart out and to be open about the impact and effect of a friendship or good relationship, whatever the gender. I vividly remember a Campfire Conversation in Winchcombe based around the word ‘relationship’ which was one of the best sessions we have done yet. People were in tears – one because of the power and memories of a positive friendship, the other because a chance sexual encounter had led to an HIV infection. This was human relationships, raw and exposed. It was hugely cathartic for many.

How free do you feel?

I don’t feel burdened at the moment. Most importantly I am lucky to be generally free of illness and will be extremely grateful for that while it lasts. I am fortunate to have a house without a mortgage and I don’t feel bogged down by grief, guilt, emotion or other human characteristics that can prevent freedom. Having a year living in my motorhome was a great eye-opener in terms of unloading possessions and learning to live out of a suitcase. It showed me that if you don’t have an address, you’re outside the system and hard to track. But that also has a downside in that it’s much harder to insure a vehicle, for instance. Surveillance capitalism is everywhere.

I became much more conscious of my footprint on this planet because I lived with limitations on water, electrics, lights, fuel and other ‘luxuries’ that we often take for granted. I learned a more frugal approach, which has shaped other things, from the choice of food I eat, the clothes, goods I purchase and generally limiting my consumption wherever possible.

Whether ‘freedom’ is totally desirable is another talking point. Some might argue that freedom often equates to the freedom to exploit others, for example. A rallying call from some right-wing politicians for ‘a bonfire of regulation’ tells its own story. Often a degree of regulation and some agreed values and principles, rules, laws can be liberating or reassuring for sections of society. It comes down to whose interests the ‘freedoms’ work for. Raoul Martinez’s excellent book ‘Creating Freedom’ expands on this.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of everyone who played their part in the rollercoaster journey that was The Big Chill, which was a highlight of my life and showed me the power of community and how life-changing bringing people together can be. And it was great fun and I have met so many people through it that I still stay in touch with. We’re aiming to have a little reunion this summer, which I’m hoping to confirm very soon.

Also, bucking the 80s trend of overblown studio recordings by making an album on a £1 recording budget which sold close to a million copies gave me a certain sense of satisfaction and was my first business venture after making the leap into the unknown world of being self-employed.

I’m proud of my kids too. And my friends.

What keeps you inspired?

People – their diversity, their unique genius, foibles, quirks, ideas, their creativity…

Music – the universal language.

Art – creativity in all its forms.

Political change-makers – those working for a better world.

When are you happiest?

When I’m creating. It’s a great outlet. When I’m in a yoga class and not distracted by more worldly irritants, when I’m in stimulating company, with friends or with my children, when I’m immersed in a sunset or sunrise, swimming in the clean waters of the Aegean or listening to a great musical work and otherwise involved in someone else’s creative spark or humour.

And where does your creativity go?

Being creative in all sorts of ways – musically, sexually, in preparing food, in conceptualising ideas while I’m walking, showering or sitting on the beach. For me, nothing beats the reward of seeing other peoples’ ideas spark into life. If Campfire can grow into a platform that can hold space for this, it will be serving its purpose. Much of my creative juices are expended on my laptop, whether in writing, photo manipulation, making short films, music or podcasts. I love my computer (in preference to my mobile) but would love to be doing more with my hands other than tapping keys!

What’s your philosophy of living?

To live every day mindfully, take notice of what is around me, think not of outcomes but of the moment, listen to others, learn, be humble, be grateful, celebrate this life in all its myriad forms, strive to serve the greater good. Stand resolute in the face of challenges, setbacks and negative influences. Aspire to a calm state of mind, whether through meditation and yoga (both should be mandatory for politicians!) or through other regular practice. Reach out, share and be as inclusive as possible. Do something helpful for somebody else whenever possible. Work towards a society based around the motivation inspired by the question ‘what can we build together?’ rather than ‘what’s in it for me?’ Aspire to spread hope and positivity.

I love Swami Satanyanda’s ‘Sankapla’, which might be a good place to start in terms of how to approach life.

I thank my friend Kimm sent it to me today.

I am an invisible child of a thousand faces of love,

That floats over the swirling sea of life,

Surrounded by the meadows of the winged shepherds,

Where divine love and beauty,

The stillness of midnight summer’s warmth pervades.

Life often cuts at my body and mind

And though blood may be seen passing,

And a cry might be heard,

Do not be deceived that sorrow could dwell within my being

Or suffering within my soul.

There will never be a storm

That can wash the path from my feet,

The direction from my heart,

The light from my eyes,

Or the purpose from this life.

I know that I am untouchable to the forces

As long as I have a direction, an aim, a goal:

To serve, to love, and to give.

Strength lies in the magnification of the secret qualities

Of my own personality, my own character

And though I am only a messenger,

I am me.

Let me decorate many hearts

And paint a thousand faces with colours of inspiration

And soft, silent sounds of value.

Let me be like a child,

Run barefoot through the forest

Of laughing and crying people,

Giving flowers of imagination and wonder,

That God gives free.

Shall I fall on bended knees,

And wait for someone to bless me

With happiness and a life of golden dreams?

No, I shall run into the desert of life with my arms open,

Sometimes falling, sometimes stumbling,

But always picking myself up,

A thousand times if necessary,

Sometimes happy.

Often life will burn me,

Often life will caress me tenderly

And many of my days will be haunted

With complications and obstacles,

And there will be moments so beautiful

That my soul will weep in ecstasy.

I shall be a witness,

But never shall I run

Or turn from life, from me.

Never shall I forsake myself

Or the timeless lessons I have taught myself,

Nor shall I let the value

Of divine inspiration and being be lost.

My rainbow-covered bubble will carry me

Further than beyond the horizon’s settings,

Forever to serve, to love, and to live.

And dying?

That’s a very pertinent question as someone I would consider my best friend died last week. I think he had a good death surrounded by friends and loved ones in his last few days, though the traumas around his unexpected stroke a week before were not good in any sense. But somehow death brings others together, not only in grief but in celebration of that person’s life and we have to keep that at the forefront. It’s been a tough start to the year as I’ve lost six friends in quick succession and found myself thinking about death almost every day. But many positive things have come out of that, not least attending my first Death Café in Frome and finding that I had the space and support to properly grieve for my mother who died when I was 15. At the time I wasn’t allowed to. There was something extraordinarily powerful about crying with others, grieving together for the whole world, for sadness, for the miracle of life and the cycle of life and death. It was very moving for all of us.

Dare I hope that I will not live my final years in pain, depression or other suffering?

Are you still dreaming?

More than ever. Collective dreaming. Imagining a different world. What are we dreaming of for Campfire? For starters, an end of quite a lot that’s prevalent at the moment – outmoded politics, right-wing ideology, and surveillance capitalism. An end to a world increasingly fuelled by mistrust. What do we want? Obviously, a thriving community would be the holy grail and much could spark from that. A vibrant website and exciting events are our first priority, but our vision can extend a lot wider. We can play our part in social change, in helping create a fairer society and in empowering our own membership, both individually and collectively by providing an environment where ideas can lead to inspiration. Debate can lead to community determination, co-creativity can lead to collaboration and realisation, which in turn can lead to recognition, confidence and hopefully financial rewards too. We must hold on to hope above all, when hope dies the spirit is extinguished. None of these desires or actions are a universal panacea but the important thing is to not lose sight of the fact that each one of us can make a real difference, though every conversation and interaction that we have.

My personal dreams overlap with what I wish for in my work life. The expression ‘work-life balance’ is meaningless – but I also dream of a more harmonious, less self-centred society that prefers building bridges to walls.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I’m not really the one to decide that! However, outrageousness becomes more subtle with age and thoughts and ideas can be just as outrageous as actions at times. I have just been sitting in a tea hut in East Wittering writing this Q&A. To the outside world, I probably looked pretty dull and boring but who could have imagined what was in my head! I’m refusing to spill all the ‘clickbait’ beans here.

You can find the Campfire Convention crowdfunding campaign here:

https://fundrazr.com/campfireconvention

A Book of Its Time – Female Sexual Fantasies by Hanja Kochansky


13 Minute Read

Hanja Kochansky, 82, is a free-spirited iconoclast who has led a big life including acting, writing and living in a ménage a trois. Her book, Female Sexual Fantasies was published before Nancy Friday’s Secret Garden in 1972. The excerpt, which is an interview with Yvonne, 74, reads like a document of its time, the only sexual fantasies, in fact, come right at the end!

A Book of Its Time – Female Sexual Fantasies by Hanja Kochansky

I have to confess that it all started because I wanted to earn some money as a writer, and asked myself, what sells? Sex, of course, sells, but what hadn’t been done as yet? Ah, women’s sexual fantasies hadn’t been explored. I certainly knew a lot about those, seeing as I practically never had sex without thinking up elaborate ‘dirty’ scenarios while I was doing it.

I soon found a publisher who gave me a decent advance, and so, armed with tape recorder, curiosity, enthusiasm, and considerable apprehension, I set out to interview many women from different walks of life, and stepped into a labyrinth of euphemisms, revelation, truth, laughter, sorrow and words. I detected an undercurrent – words are distortions, contradictions, hazards. The sentences we’ve been taught automatically shape our notions and label our emotions. And most often, the idioms we’ve been unconsciously indoctrinated with – formulate the patterns of our lifestyle. I tried to avoid these traps and pitfalls as I endeavoured to arrive at each meeting fresh, without preconceived notions, and let the individual talk freely, and in so doing reveal both herself and her sexual fantasies.

I took it for granted I would have no trouble gathering a bouquet of carnal Scheherazade stories, and hey presto, the erotic best-seller would be on bookshelves. I was wrong. As I found myself unwittingly stepping into lives that I had not given much thought to, I very soon discovered that most of the women I met lived their mundane existence without fantasy, and this reflected in their sexuality.

It’s rare to hear tales of perfumed gardens by chemically sedated housewives, bored-to-death establishment teachers or robotized secretaries. Most often I encountered simply the real need to talk, share secrets, ask questions.

I became a feminist then, when, due to the interviews, I became conscious of the hardships of both ordinary and not-so-ordinary women. As my research proceeded, my heart went out to the women whose secret confessions I heard.

It soon became clear to me that the nature of my own fantasy life was not unique, that multitudes of women shared the masochistic orientation: degradation, brutalization, flagellation and slave images which are so much a part of their role. I felt that if women could verbalize them and share them, perhaps it would serve to clarify both their own sexual identity and to what degree these fantasies are a product of male domination and, therefore, not genuinely their own.

The women arrived organically – one sent the other. They all wanted to talk – for the majority, this would be the first time they could speak openly about their sexual fantasies. I was privileged to be able to give them a voice.

When I presented the manuscript to the publishers they were furious and asked for the advance back. Yeah, sure. They accused me of giving them women’s real stories rather than hot sexual fantasies.

They were right, because as I started to speak to the women, whose lives mostly seemed miserable, I was drawn to their stories.

They did publish it in the end but cut the women’s stories considerably.

When I finally got the rights to my book back I typed my original out and gave the women their voices back as I self-published.

Here is one of them.

YVONNE interviewed in 1971

Seventy-four year old Yvonne chars in a recording studio: she exudes energy as she dances to the music while she sweeps the floor. The full volume which pounds into my brain and hurts my ear-drums doesn’t seem to bother her. She chats, jokes, and speaks loudly in a foreign accent. The sound engineers smoke dope; she refuses the joint, saying she’s never been able to inhale, but accepts a glass of red wine from the producer; then goes to the pub next door, brings back toasted sandwiches for everyone, makes coffee in the studio kitchen, gives her opinion on the music. Her grey hair is pulled back in a bun; her round face speaks of good-natured as do her bespectacled, lively black eyes. She laughs and laughs, showing horsy teeth; her short, stocky body is strong. Everybody in the studio loves her: she’s part of the group.

I ask her shyly if she’ll talk about her sexual fantasies. “Sure dear,” she says enthusiastically. We make an appointment to meet at her flat.

Her bed-sitter is in an airless, dark, damp basement in a seedy building in a characterless street: a non-residential area almost exclusively utilized during the day by office workers.

A couch which doubles as her bed, two standard sofas, a green rug, and several small coffee tables covered with lace doilies and many framed photographs of her children, grandchildren, herself when she was much younger and her family in Belgium. Well-cared for rubber plants, potted violets and ferns all giving an impression of warm overcrowding. The sparkling-clean bathroom, she tells me, has only been installed a few years ago after much pressure on her part.

In the diminutive kitchen yeast pills, organic medicines, herbs, vitamin C, brown rice and potted herbs crowd on each other. After our talk, she was going to the Health Food Fair which had opened the previous day.

She likes to go to the cinema, spends time in the pub, but finds that usually she can’t communicate with her contemporaries.

Born in a village on the periphery of Brussels she’s been living in London ever since she married her Irish husband.

She serves me jasmine tea.

*******

“I’ve been by myself for twenty years now. I don’t hate men, I tolerate them. I like men’s conversation and I like men’s company, but I don’t want to know further than that. I regard sex . . . I can feel it in myself that it’s not dead, but I don’t want it. I sometimes think it would be nice to meet someone, a companion, nice and loving, but as soon as I start saying, he’s a nice chap, why don’t you bring him home, my husband comes right back, right into my mind I get him, and I revolt against him . . . a kind of revulsion inside me. The first thing that comes into my mind is, they only want you for sex purposes, and I don’t want a person for sex purpose only. Sex without love for me . . . yes . . . you enjoy it the same . . . but it’s not satisfaction.

“A few months ago a bloke had the cheek to come and say to me – he’s younger, about 20 years younger than me – he has the cheek to come and ring my bell and says: ‘Yvonne, whenever you feel you want sex I can oblige. It’s my duty to make you come.”

“I could have hit him, but he’s bigger than me, so I shut the door in his face. And he was an intelligent person because he was a housemaster . . . but he has no sense. Sex is not duty; sex is because you want that person. How can the brain of a person work so it thinks that it’s a duty?”

“My husband wasn’t what you might call a very good man. Oh, there’s not another person on the face of the earth, no matter what nationality, like my husband. I have wasted my time in every kind of way. No satisfaction in sex, no satisfaction in love, no satisfaction in having a good husband and father.”

“Well, I loved my husband when we first married and he killed absolutely everything . . . I mean right down to the respect I had for him, and by killing that he killed the lot. I’ve had so much to put up with. I’ve got five children by him and he’s never treated me like a person . . . anybody look at me he’d punch them in the nose – because that belongs to me. He’d make me feel like a piece of furniture. Well, your dream gets broken I suppose. He was like an animal, if you understand what I mean . . . he wants it, no matter if you was half dead, he had to have it . . . he called that my duty.”

“Sex to me should be loving, tender, warm, beautiful. With flowers and poetry. How can men satisfy themselves in sex and then leave you behind? How can they make a person happy, how can they call that love?”

“Well, you don’t realize it at the time that you are not satisfied. I had to put up with him for thirty years and then I couldn’t bear it any longer and it was finished. Now if you come and tell me he’s dead, alright, the neighbour is dead too.”

“When I first came to England I heard a woman saying that there was nothing on the face of the earth more disgusting than childbirth. And I thought, well, I don’t know if she’s going barmy or if she doesn’t understand, or if I’m unusual. I was very sentimental as a young girl and very home loving and I didn’t mind having children because I love children. I don’t regard them as sex, if you know what I mean.”

“You see when I come to England I couldn’t speak English at all and it took me quite a long time. In those days you wasn’t allowed to speak about sex. You wasn’t even allowed to mention period time. My husband said my period was a dirty thing. In Belgium it was different. When a girl becomes a young woman – the first period she had – the family gave her a little present and they make a special occasion, the whole family, men, women, boys; and they know she’s a young lady now and they give her presents because they are thankful she has become a woman.”

“In Belgium, you talk about sex. When I was young they talked about sex more there than here now. They have jokes as well. Here they talk about sex as if you’ve got to shove it under the carpet or something. What’s there to be ashamed of? And another thing – my father was at the birth of all us children, and I’m seventy-four, so that’s not new, is it? Here it’s new. Now, why? He’s the father, why can’t he see the child born? I think if the father was to be at the child’s birth they’ll be better fathers and becoming better fathers they’ll be better husbands and better lovers. But not such a coward as the ones who don’t want to be there.”

“Also I used to strip at the waist in one house I lived that had no bath. I always do, to wash every day, and I didn’t think anything was wrong, then my husband’s sister said I was dirty. But I’d just washed myself!!! You see because my mind didn’t work that way, I said: ‘I just washed myself, how can I be dirty?’ ‘Fancy doing it in front of the children,’ she said. ‘Do what in front of the children? I never done anything wrong in front of the children.’ ‘You strip,’ she said. Oh my God! So you have to feed your baby, and you strip to the waist and that’s called dirty also. Now, this I can’t think why.”

“Is sex dirty? Still, to some people it is because they make it. Like my husband. As I said he acted like an animal and therefore sex was dirty in his mind, except when he needed it and then it was a kind of my duty. But not lovable . . . It’s so very difficult when you come across people like that . . . well, to put it plainly, they turn you off.”

“But I think the young people, they’re all right. I realize it more and more by seeing the young people. They are free, free of mind. But the older people . . . “

“Well, of course, I’m alone most of the time. I do go back to Belgium sometimes to see my sister, yes, and last year I went to Spain to see one of my sons who lives there. Well, I don’t mind where I live – there are good things everywhere. But I would like to see more of my children. The thing is, my family, I don’t know whether they’re trying to be funny or what is wrong with them, they say I talk too much, but that’s because I’m so much alone that when I get the chance to have somebody, I think I chatter, chatter. They want to know why I talk so much. They don’t realize that they talk just as much as me.”

“Now, another thing is a woman, when she has a child, she loves her child. Why a man is jealous of his children I don’t understand. They start to think that they don’t get the attention, but they do, you see, if they look at it properly, they do. You love your husband just as much as you love

your children – I did – and the things he is able to do for himself, surely he don’t expect you to do it when you’ve got youngsters that need to be attended to. That’s where the man goes wrong; they don’t want to do for themselves that which they are capable of doing.”

“It starts with the mothers, doesn’t it? I brought up four boys and one girl and I used to say: ‘All right, you get up and you do that, you do this, and you do that’. And one day Paul came in and said: ‘Not my job to wash up; Mary’s job to wash up.’ ‘Mary’s job to wash up?’ I said. ‘Yes, it’s Mary’s job to wash up. She’s a girl.’ So I said, ‘What difference it makes, you’re a boy and you eat like her, don’t you? Every job has to be done by everybody, and you’ll find out when you grow up.’“

“Now, some women say if their husbands really loved them they couldn’t go somewhere else . . . with another woman. In my feelings as a woman, I think a woman can’t do it. A woman feels guilty when she goes with somebody else because she’s doing it without love, but a man, although he’s in love with his wife, he can still go with another person because a man in his own mind wants a certain kind of satisfaction. A woman thinks there should be love on both sides, and that’s why there are more women who are true lovers than men.”

“Now, if I think how I would like to make sex, it would be with a gentleman who really loves me and thinks of my pleasure as well as his. He would kiss me all over, like my husband never did, and tell me he loves me. And we would have this lovely sunny bedroom with lots of mirrors and flowers and wall-to-wall beige carpets. And there would be pink satin sheets on the bed.”

A of A People: Lynne Franks – Writer, Entrepreneur, SEEDSower


2 Minute Read

Lynne Franks, 71, is still innovating and creating. This time in Wincanton. She has a new venture Hub at No 3 which she describes as ‘a dynamic new concept in bringing women and men together to heal themselves, each other and the planet’. She runs workshops and events there. Of course, Lynne is the reason that Suzanne Noble and Rose Rouse met and eventually co-founded Advantages of Age.

Women’s Power of 7 Retreat in Wincanton on May 3rd – 5th

And her first women’s retreat working with her daughter Jessica Howie is in Marrakesh this November.

Age (in years) 
71

Where do you live?

Randomly moved to Wincanton in Somerset three years ago.

What do you do?

I have just started three new businesses including a café, a shop and a workshop hub with bedrooms.  I write books and articles; am developing my SEED women’s empowerment programmes; working in my local community with girls from our local school, creating a craft market for disadvantaged women etc etc etc.

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

Don’t really have time to think about age. I have always been busy and nothing has changed.

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

Experience.

What about sex?

Love it with the right guy.

And relationships?

Never giving up on love.  Just coming out of a lovely relationship with lots of love because we are both just too busy running around.

How free do you feel?

As free as I allow myself.

What are you proud of?

My daughter and my son who are great parents and individuals.  And of course my twenty years of work with helping women around the world plus a lot of other projects I have done. I tend to forget a lot until others remind me as always moving onto the next.

When are you happiest?

When I am creating new ideas that will help others. I am a SEEDSower, which is one of my archetypes in my Power of 7 women’s leadership programme.

And where does your creativity go?

My creativity goes into my work and my home and all my activities.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Living my truth and living life to the full. Always ready for new adventures.

And dying?

Don’t really think about it – no time.

Are you still dreaming?

Totally dreaming all the time – when I stop dreaming, I know it is the end.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

Starting all the aforementioned new businesses in a new town where I didn’t know anyone and just leapt in anyway.

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