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AofA People: Janet Kelly – Writer


7 Minute Read

Janet Kelly, 61, is a writer and started writing novels in her 50s. She has four published books as well as a number of scripts in development. She tells us how much she’s enjoying her life in her early sixties. And answers our Q&A in the way we love with long and meandering answers.

Where do you live?

Brighton

What do you do?

Writer

How do you feel about being this age?

I am thoroughly enjoying being this age, never having really thought I’d make it this far. I’m still in awe of the fact I am in my sixties and having a good time. It’s like joining a secret club where the admission fee is age and experience. There are the occasional lapses of memory and physical limitations – I have been aiming to run a half marathon but my knees gave up – but these are probably more down to an excessive lifestyle than my years on this planet.

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

The confidence to be who I am and grow into myself without worrying what other people think. For example, I grew my hair out during lockdown and am now completely grey, and loving it – particularly after years of constant trips to the hairdressers to get the roots coloured. I’m embracing the opportunity to be as natural as possible.

I do have a constant nagging feeling that time is very short but I was born with a sense of urgency so I think older age has just enhanced my need to go and do things.

I do also feel a sense of wisdom about life and people. We’re all experiencing the world in different ways and tolerance is so important (not that I always have it!). My view isn’t anyone else’s view and so I think age has helped me try and understand we are all different and need to celebrate that fact – every single person has something to offer.

What about sex?

What about it?  Highly overrated in many ways and a mechanic of nature to get us to reproduce. Once the hormones are out of the way and we can see it as a pleasure to be taken as and when, rather than an overriding drive to find a mate, it can become a pleasure amongst many other pleasures rather than the bee all and end-all.  True intimacy can come from great friendship, hugs, empathy, and connection. It can include sex but doesn’t have to.

And relationships?

I treasure my good friends and look forward to living a long life with all of them so we can continue to look backwards as well as forwards. As I’ve got older, I recognise that no one person can fulfil any emotional need, this comes from personal growth and connection with a range of different types of people. Romantic relationships aren’t as important, probably for the same reasons already mentioned – once that need to reproduce is removed from the biological psyche the options for finding fulfilment expand exponentially.  Having said that I am far more tolerant in my relationship with my partner than I might have been 20 years ago and enjoy the small levels of companionship and partnership rather than the big gestures.

How free do you feel?

I am very lucky to feel free in most ways, partly because of the accident of birth and living in the UK with all it has to offer – not least its amazing language and diversity – but also because things that used to worry me no longer keep me awake. We’re here for a very short time and all of us, very likely, will be dead in 100 years. This is a sobering thought and makes me look at all those who are striving for great wealth and power with pity. The real secret to success is the ability to enjoy the life we have at whatever level we experience it.

What are you proud of?

Many things but mainly my children and particularly my grandson – it is a different relationship to being a parent. On a personal level, I am proud of overcoming adversity and difficulties and finding the ability to keep reinventing myself. I started writing novels in my 50s and have four published books – one for children – and a number of scripts that I have written since turning 60 that are in development. I am now following a career that I should have started in my 20s had I not been influenced by a need to chase the dollar.

What keeps you inspired?

As an eternal optimist, I think it is the fact that my next ‘big project’ is around the corner and that there are limitless opportunities to become involved with things I love.  I enjoy connecting with creative people who have energy and drive, and who make things happen. I am inspired to be part of that.

When are you happiest?

Walking my dogs on the seafront or meeting friends for coffee and talking about what we will be doing in our older age. I live near the sea and it always calms my mind and reminds me that we are all in this together. The sea has always been there and always will be – while people come and go.  I love doing new things – such as taking my husband for a spitfire flight experience, which was just awesome, all that history and incredible engineering.

I also love gardening and get very excited when new shoots arrive in the spring or I get to pick some homegrown vegetables. Seeing a new runner bean or courgette is like Christmas!  My chickens also make me happy as they are very much underestimated.

Where does your creativity go?

I have really started to enjoy my creativity in recent years, starting with my writing and then moving into art and music. I started up the Saltdean Jazz Band where I live which is aimed at amateur musicians who might not be able to play anywhere else as they are either rusty, don’t know enough about music or lack confidence. I play the saxophone and finally have a place to develop my musical creativity, getting more involved with solo improvisation which I find exceptionally hard but exhilarating. More recently I have been undertaking art classes and put myself forward to have my body painted by an artist as part of a campaign to get women to love the bits they hate.

Rather than hide my blobby tummy and cellulite I think it is time I celebrated the fact it is all a result of my life experiences and need to be recognised. Not only that, my body works – it does its jobs – and I’ve been very rude to it over the years. It’s time to apologise to it for being the workhorse it has been and say thank you. Without it, I’d be nothing.

What is your philosophy of living?

Do the best you can with the resources you have. You won’t always get it right but somewhere along the way there will be nuggets of gold that make the journey more than worthwhile. I get up every day looking forward to something – whether it is collecting eggs from the chickens or preparing for a walk, a holiday or a major work project. Time shouldn’t be wasted – and by that, I don’t mean we can’t sit and dream for hours on end because that is not a waste!

And dying?

It happens. For some, it happens far too early, particularly for those left behind. For some, it happens in horrendous circumstances and for others, it is just the last breath, the full stop.  I hope my end falls into the latter but I’m aware we have no idea of what might be meant for us. So don’t waste time worrying about the next stage. It will come when it’s ready.

Are you still dreaming?

Without my dreams, I’d have achieved nothing. I spend time before I go to sleep each night dreaming of what might be.  Some dreams are possible, others a little more unrealistic. Although I’m not one to ever say ‘never’.

What is a recent outrageous action of yours?

I got so drunk on my 61st birthday that I fell over, cut my head badly, and was taken to hospital in a pizza van. I still have the scar which I wear with a kind of pride that the consequences weren’t much worse. I was more upset that we lost my birthday cake. We think the seagulls ate it.

How I Became a Holy Woman in my own First Novel at 60


7 Minute Read

My father had just died of hospital-acquired Covid, my mother was in the depths of grief and clearly further developed in her dementia than I had realised. Towards the end of a working lifetime of being bullied and/or taken for granted, interspersed by failed attempts at self-employment, I felt I had run out of steam. I wondered if I could re-invent myself?

Losing my father and attempting to care for my mother had put me back in touch with childhood trauma in a most unwelcome way. I was 60, the age at which, when my career began, I could have expected to retire. The idea of working beyond 60 had never upset me.  Yet suddenly I felt utterly spent, although not ready to say, ‘I’m retired’ if anyone asked, ‘What do you do?’

I didn’t have to wait long for my answer to the re-invention question. Planning an outing with some ex-school friends, one of them suggested going to Boscobel House in Shropshire. All I knew about the place was that King Charles 2nd had hidden in an oak tree there after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, to save himself from execution by Cromwell’s Parliamentarian troops. ‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘it will be a day out, and good to see my friends again’. Little did I know what was waiting for me.  Or, should I say, who?

As we entered the house, a guide was relating how Charles, aged 21, recognised by Royalists as Prince of Wales in England, Ireland and Wales, and King without power in Scotland, had arrived at Boscobel in the early hours of Saturday 6th September 1651. He was soaking wet, cold, hungry, exhausted and very footsore. ‘I expect Charles would have rather stayed by the fire all day instead of hiding in the oak tree,’ he said. Something inside me lit up. ‘What if I’d been here then? I could have taken care of him!’ I thought. That feeling grew stronger and stronger as we went around the house. At one point it was so powerful that I dissociated for a few minutes, swept up in my fantasy of looking after Charles.

For a fortnight afterwards, I barely slept. I read everything I could find about Charles’ rescue and eventual escape from England after six weeks as a fugitive. Source books fell off library shelves into my hands, and a friend to whom I mentioned my newfound passion gave me Georgette Heyer’s novel Royal Escape which he had just finished reading. Simultaneously, I started writing my creative narrative, blending historical events and characters with a fictional account by an imagined woman who cared for Charles.

The story poured out of me so naturally and so fast that it felt more like remembering than imagining. Sitting at my laptop one day, I saw the words ‘Healing is my sacred calling’ appear on the screen. ‘Who wrote that?’ I wondered, before quickly understanding that these words were the key to my story. Dame Sarah, my fictional alter-ego, was a herbalist. Charles needed medicinal interventions for his traumatised mind and body. This revelation also gave me a great plot twist. Sarah was adamant from the start that she was a holy woman.

The house to which Charles was first escorted from Worcester was a manor house called White Ladies, built among the ruins of a convent. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries monastic communities were suppressed, but some men and women still gave their lives to God. Sarah was one such, serving her community with her healing knowledge and practice. But herbalism also has roots in witchcraft, and during the Civil War, the ferment of Republicanism versus Royalism, and Puritanism versus Catholicism (Roman and Anglican) provided ideal conditions for anyone who practised healing to be suspected of witchcraft. Puritan rule had done away with bishops who had previously issued licenses to midwives and healers, so if the slightest thing went wrong these practitioners were prey to accusations of being witches. And women like Sarah, highly intelligent and of independent means, were threats to the patriarchy in such dangerous times.

What started as a private writing exercise soon burgeoned into a 15.000 word novelette, and it didn’t stop there! I wrote a preface setting the story in the social history of herbalism. Then friends began asking to read it. I’m normally extremely private about my writing, but I decided to share it. Six trusted friends who are writers and/or academics read it, and all said, ‘This needs to be published!’ My republican friends – whom I had expected to say it was a pity the monarchy was ever restored – told me instead that they had lived every moment of the story and they also picked up intuitively on the subliminal message I’d woven in about the relevance of Charles’ rescue to today’s emergencies of wars, inequities and the cost-of-living crisis forcing so many people onto the kindness of strangers.

So, one damp January afternoon I began an internet search for a publisher. As a first-time novelist, I knew there was no chance of being accepted by a traditional publishing house, so self-publishing was the only way forward. Nevertheless, I was astonished and elated when the first company I approached was very keen to take on my book and had a lead editor whose favourite genre is historical fiction. And, just in time for Oak Apple Day on 29th May, the anniversary of Charles’ birthday and coronation, my book is published and selling!

That visit to Boscobel House was a truly life changing experience. Not only did it give me a fabulous structure on which to write my first book of fiction; it taught me to really open up to a hugely powerful benevolent force. Many people might call it The Universe. I am an Anglo-Catholic Christian. I had an overwhelming sense of vocation to help and to care when I was a child, but have struggled with belief in adulthood. This recent experience has felt like a massive blessing and has rekindled my faith.

It has put me back in touch with happy times in my childhood when I felt spiritually at one with Nature. My love of gardening has a new focus in planting an apothecary garden. I’m applying to study a foundation course in Medicinal Herbalism, and guess what: the only college in the country which offers this course is just 16 miles from my home. Dame Sarah is a thinly veiled version of the person I would most like to be, and now I feel her guiding and shaping me to become more like her.

I even have a plan after studying to offer Living History events at which Dame Sarah teaches herbal identification and demonstrates medicinal plant remedies. But perhaps most of all, I have been taught to open myself to signs and wonders all around us which strengthen, support and sustain us if we observe and listen carefully. Emmylou Harris says that women can be just as reproductive, if not more so, after the menopause than before it, if we’re paying attention; and the Dalai Lama has said that spiritually empowered women will change the world for better. I have always believed in those ideas and am more ready than ever to embrace what is called sweet power and be part of a beneficial life force thrumming with nurture, love and compassion for the whole world.

Hilary Wellington (on social media as Ginny Rawson)

Nottinghamshire, May 2022

My book A King’s Sanctuary can be bought at

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kings-Sanctuary-Hilary-Wellington/dp/1915338212/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3GTFL2XLL3S3N&keywords=a+kings+sanctuary&qid=1653169752&sprefix=A+King%27s+%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-1

or contact me at hjwellington@icloud.com for direct sales

I Hate to Call it a Disorder – finding out I had ADHD at 57


8 Minute Read

Ivan Pope is a writer, artist and long-distance cyclist who lives in Brighton. He originally graduated from Goldsmiths College Fine Art BA. He was involved with a number of early internet developments in the UK and across the world. He invented the cybercafe at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts and founded the world’s first web magazine, The World Wide Web Newsletter. He has taught at art colleges in London, Newport and Brighton. He is now a writer of fiction and psychogeographic non-fiction. He is currently undertaking a PhD in creative non-fiction at Plymouth University.

I have spent most of my life in creative pursuits, drifting from one thing to another without ever clearly understanding what I was doing. I certainly never had a plan, much less a career and, although I had some notable successes along the way, and am not unhappy with my life, I always felt something was wrong. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

The revelation of attention-deficit to me was a classic epiphany. I was trying to work out some issues that we had with our son who, although a very intelligent boy, seemed incapable of working at university and had just extricated himself from Oxford in the most painful and seemingly pointless fashion. Someone suggested ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the full name of this syndrome. I was both dismissive and uninterested, believing at that point that ADHD was a term applied only to annoying children who would not sit still. Nevertheless, I went to Google and searched the term. Immediately I came across a list of ADHD attributes and these brought me up so sharply that my life changed in that instant. I was fifty-seven and, while I wouldn’t say my life had been a disaster, I seemed to have always stood on the edge of normality. ‘That’s my life, I thought.’ I was alone but I may even have spoken out loud. It became as obvious as it could be: almost every way that ADHD was said to manifest was familiar to me. In that instant, I understood myself better than I had ever done.

Since then I have come to see attention deficit as both the driver of creativity and the author of my strange unfocused life. I have not been formally diagnosed, I am self-diagnosed.  I have read a lot about it and also, more importantly, listened in to a growing community online who discuss, challenge and inform each other about how attention deficit works in their lives.  This syndrome seems to explain a lot about the strangenesses of our lives: why are we like this and also like that. It is a strange and shape-shifting disorder which is comorbid with a range of other neurodiversities and some even more strange issues like hypermobility and digestive issues.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not named well. It’s not really about hyperactivity (although to be fair, there is a hyperactive version, and it is said that for many of us, the hyperactivity is internal). It’s not even really a disorder. It seems to be more of an attention surfeit, we pay too much attention to too many things. It also creates a strange relationship with time. I’ve known these attributes my whole life, but I never considered them strange. I assumed everyone had them to some degree and that my creativity, my way with ideas, was just something I was a bit better at. Then I found ADHD and suddenly I could see myself in operation, I could anticipate how I might react and understand what I was doing, and why I was doing it. This ‘disorder’ (as I don’t like to call it) is well scientifically and medically documented, but still hard to put into words. The notion that it is about an inability to sit still is nonsense in most of us, though the hyperactivity may be considered to be internal, a driver of our restless lives. We have huge issues with procrastination, an inability to get started, and then we have hyperfocus, the ability to spend hours in a different world, undertaking a single task.

I started looking, as I so often did, at art and literature for answers. In her book Flights, the Nobel author, Olga Tokarczuk, describes a condition that she calls Lazy Venus syndrome Although she never uses the term attention deficit, she describes someone with ADHD perfectly and beautifully.

“The result of this situation is that I have, as I see it, Lazy Venus syndrome. In this case, we’re dealing with a Person whose fortune has gifted generously, but who has entirely failed to use their potential. Such people are bright and intelligent, but don’t apply themselves to their studies, and use their intelligence to play card games or patience instead.

This … induces a strange kind of laziness – lifetime opportunities are missed because you overslept because you didn’t feel like going, because you were late because you were neglectful. It’s a tendency to be sybaritic, to live in a state of mild consciousness, to fritter your life away on petty pleasures, to dislike effort and be devoid of any penchant for competition. Long mornings, unopened letters, things put off for later, abandoned projects. A dislike of any authority and a refusal to submit to it, going your own way in a taciturn idle manner.”

It is interesting to compare Tokarczuk’s description with a more conventional list of attributes of ADHD:

  • Easily bored, Gets frustrated, Anxious
  • Does not meet goals, Easily distracted, Searches for stimulation,
  • Sense of underachievement, Restive
  • Disorganised, Can’t get started (Time blindness)
  • Resistance to authority, Impulsive, Doesn’t follow procedure
  • Impatient, Procrastinates, Lots of hobbies
  • Called dreamy. Hyperfocuses.
  • Has an aversion to paperwork

People I talk to, especially artists, often recognise this sort of language because it has been applied to you. Indeed, it reads like my own school reports. They (and my mother) constantly told me I lived in a dream world ‘to live in a state of mild-consciousness’. We are often categorised as lazy ‘a strange kind of laziness’ despite being intelligent and highly creative. We tend not to finish things, getting distracted or starting something new. We tend to be impulsive, getting into trouble and resisting authority in different ways, ‘A dislike of any authority and a refusal to submit to it’. People with ADHD will often ask themselves how they can be lazy when they spend so much time being busy, starting and getting on with multiple interests ‘abandoned projects’. We tend to have a dislike of paperwork ‘unopened letters, things put off for later’. ADHD can drive fierce creativity but it can also ensure that creativity never finds lasting expression.

In his book Adult ADHD: How to succeed as a Hunter in a Farmer’s world, Thom Hartmann says that the forgetfulness, disorganisation, impulsivity and boredom that ADHD brings can be as constructive as they can be destructive. To be fair, attention deficit can be hugely destructive and far more intense than I have experienced. It is a formal medical condition that can ruin lives and there is a lot of disagreement currently (especially in the US) about over-diagnosis and medicalisation. My interest is not in the medical side or in the politics of this, but in understanding how or whether attention deficit relates to creativity. In this, I mean all forms of creativity, the ability to come up with new ideas, to execute creative work within any field. It is clear that this is an ability that not everyone has – not everyone wants it – again, creativity could be seen as a curse as in the Chinese saying, May you live in interesting times. There is a double edgeness to creativity, an understanding that true artists stand close to some edge, that they may pay heavily for their talent – and not everyone wants that.

I have become fascinated by the double-edged sword of this syndrome which gives great creativity through the restless search for stimulation while undermining it repeatedly with distraction. Impulsivity is important for creativity, as is a resistance to a normal way of doing things, and a willingness to experiment, but finding disorganisation and frustration will often destroy what has been started. I used to fear that my creativity would leave me, while at the same time having no understanding of what drove it. Now I can look at myself and my behaviour and see what I am doing. I haven’t changed in how I operate in life, but I am more at ease with why I am as I am. When I was an entrepreneur, my advisors would demand consistency – and consistency is the exact opposite of attention deficit. I even came up with a phrase to refute them: consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. Now, with my new knowledge, I look back at that time and that attitude and understand that I precisely understood my way of being in the world even when I had no way of thinking about it. Now I do.

If you have read this far and are now thinking what I describe is just the description of normal people, of a certain creative type, or of human behaviour, then consider that maybe you are looking at the world from within attention deficit, that you yourself have Tokarczuk’s Lazy Venus syndrome. Welcome to the club.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Pope

Over 50, Want to Set up Your Own Business – Startup School for Seniors is for You


6 Minute Read

When I was a much younger woman, sometime in my early twenties, I recall my mother telling me that the ideal job for a woman who wanted children was to be a teacher. She spoke as a teacher herself, having taught Home Economics in an American High School when I grew up before moving into marketing in my teenage years. ‘Teaching,’ she said, ‘allows you to do a job that fits alongside childcare and enables you to take holidays simultaneously as school-age children. It’s perfect if you’re planning to be a mother.’

Frankly, I could not imagine a less desirable job. Working with children sounded like my idea of hell. All that paperwork and standing on one’s feet in front of a classroom. No, thank you. I have very few pleasant memories of my school days, and my interest in academia ended as soon as I completed university. I couldn’t wait to put my classroom days behind me and work, preferably in a glamorous job such as TV or Film, which I did for nearly a decade. Although I quickly discovered that it was not glamorous but tedious, with many hours spent waiting around for lights to get rigged, make-up to be applied, and crews assembled.

Now, thirty-five years later, I’m a teacher of sorts, and I love it. However, I suspect anyone on the course, Startup School for Seniors, I co-run with my colleague Mark Elliott, would say that neither of us is reminiscent of the people you would encounter in most schools or colleges. Firstly, we’re the same age as our students. There’s no classroom hierarchy of us versus them. I still have no academic qualifications, but I’ve earned my stripes, having started multiple businesses with varying degrees of success. What I ‘teach’ comes from experience and the desire to ensure that our students progress through our eight-week programme with the confidence and skills to understand how to create a successful business. Mostly, I’m keen to make the learning fun and effective.

Whether you want to look at it as a positive or a negative depends on your point of view, but had it not been for the pandemic, there’s every chance Startup School would not exist. In December 2019, I held down multiple jobs, including hosting events at Soho House on behalf of Advantages of Age, working for a co-working space in Croydon on events and PR, and singing blues in pubs and clubs. I’d run a version of Startup School called the Advantages of Age Business Academy a couple of years earlier with Yvonne Fuchs. We found funders had limited interest in supporting it as people over 50 didn’t appear to be particularly needy and participants wouldn’t pay for it. Rose and I were ticking along with Advantages of Age, hosting the occasional event or party, moderating the growing Facebook group and maintaining the website.

By March 2020, nearly all my work had dried up, as did many others that I knew of a similar age. Within three months, three quarters of my income had completely evaporated. However, unlike my peers, I had a lifetime’s worth of experience of starting again or starting over. Having a knack for discovering routes to money, I found a fund seeking to help social enterprises like Advantages of Age move their work online. I filled in a short application and, within three months, it provided us with a grant enabling the creation of the eLearning programme Startup School for Seniors. Mark Elliott joined me, we’d met a year earlier at a dinner party where we were the oldest attendees and bonded over our interest in supporting older people with the skills to set up their businesses.

Over three months, we worked day and night, creating videos about ideation, customer discovery, branding and marketing, and the legal aspects of running a business. I interviewed lots of people over 50 who had set up both large and small enterprises for themselves. Paul, a recently retired policeman turned video editor, offered to help edit the content and flung himself into the project, not quite anticipating the enormous amount of material we would be producing in a short time! Determined to make the course as accessible as possible – we captioned and transcribed everything we created – which contributed to the vast workload. In hindsight, it was a monumental task.

The first course launched in October 2020 with over 50 students, and by the end of the eight weeks, we knew we were onto something special as the glowing testimonials from our first guinea pigs flooded in. We both broke down in tears from exhaustion and pride at what we had achieved during the cohort’s final session.

We are now on our eighth and most significant size group of Startup School for Seniors, having won funding from multiple local authorities and grants from trusts and foundations who now recognize the need to support older people into self-employment. Recently we were shortlisted for a People’s Choice Award from Work for Tomorrow and the West London Business Awards. We’ve had inquiries from people in the U.S., Italy, and Norway who want to attend the programme or work with us. I’m most proud that we now have two part-time staff, one a former Startup School student and another who is a member of the Advantages of Age Facebook group. We’re our own best advertisement for the programme, having only got going roughly at the same time as we delivered our first programme. We’re keen to stress to anyone who comes on the course; we’re learning as we go along.

Entering ‘teaching’ in later life may not have been many benefits when looking after my children, who flew the nest five years ago, but it has its upsides. Last winter, due to the course being remote, I was able to escape to a warmer climate and carry on delivering the course from Las Palmas, Gran Canaries. It’s a joy watching my peers learn how to become financially self-sufficient doing something they enjoy. Like all the best jobs, it rarely feels like work, as Mark and I get so much from meeting and working with people for whom we can make a genuine difference to their lives.

If you have an idea, you’d like to turn into a business, or too many ideas with no clue which one to choose or an existing business that isn’t making enough money, come and join an upcoming cohort. We run the programme throughout the year and have sponsored places available for people who fit our funder’s criteria. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain!

We run courses throughout the year. Sign up here to find out more:

 

https://startupschoolforseniors.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing To Live Apart – how does that shimmy down as we get older


9 Minute Read

We were old when we met. Asanga – Pete, Albert variously – was almost 70 and I was almost 60. And we lived five hours apart by car. Holy non-matrimony, that’s quite a trip. From West London to North Wales. And now I’m nearly 70 and he’s nearly 80 – we’re still doing it. And relishing the difference.

Honestly, it was a nightmare to step into this relationship. At least for me. I can’t speak for Asanga but I’d been on my own for 17 years (apart from various mad, bad and dangerous carry-ons with unavailable men – from the drunken difficult psychotherapist to the charismatic alcoholic /would-be property developer, more likely to be found eating the carpet, let’s call them the classics) whereas he’d been married for 30 years. He was more used to a solid relationship.

Asanga found it difficult to comprehend my anxiety levels. Oh – they were so there. Especially when my family were around. For a woman who never wanted to be married (and still doesn’t) and lived her life amid squats, hippies and punks plus has never really been employed; I turned incredibly conformist when it came to this relationship. I was constantly anticipating disaster of an erotic or embarrassing kind. And to give him his disaster credentials, Asanga did live up to my expectations. I won’t go into all the details. But there was the time that he managed to use the bidet – no one actually used it, it was a throwback from 1970s new housing aspirations – and break it in my mother’s Yorkshire abode. I was beyond mortified.

And I absolutely hated that he didn’t know, understand or seem particularly interested in my vivid personal history or vast web of friends – my lumbering baggage. And equally, I abhorred having to get to know him. There was so much of it – on both sides. I’d always wanted to connect to someone who understood my roots and all their little rootlings. That was a part of that woodland, my particular wood.

However – thank heavens – I did love being transported to heavenly North Wales. I’d drive (and still do) my mother’s golden Fabia down his track and wonder at this little piece of earthly paradise full of oak and ash nestled behind Pentrefelin. I still do. Something happens to me as I arrive – a dropping down. Well – it does now. In previous years, we’d have a fight as soon as I got there. To bridge the gap and then we’d have to find a route through. We practised a lot of vulnerability-revealing in those days. It was hard work but good practice, ultimately. We discovered alleys through conflict.

There is so much to negotiate when you live together and yet apart. And there is so much richness too. I love being alone and with someone. It suits my psyche especially now I’m 69. I don’t want to be with another person all the time. But I relish the web. There is such freedom here for me. And for Asanga. We can have the best of both worlds. Well, we can now that we’ve been doing it for so long.

Phew, we are now familiar with the long bags that we drag behind us. Although we are always learning new aspects of each other, misunderstanding and trying to find understanding. Take this week. Here is a small example. Asanga is called Asanga because it’s Sanskrit for aloneness and the spiritual healer, Osho or Bhagwan gave it to him. Sannyasins are not big on boundaries because they are so great at being without boundaries which can be wildly exciting and it can make life feel very unsafe for people like me who are insecure. This is a minuscule example. A FB friend of his, an older woman, also an older sannyasin, responded to Asanga’s climbing post by commenting ‘Great Shape’. It was a comment about his body, his physical shape, she liked it. To me, that was going over a boundary. She knows he’s in a relationship and she decided to not care. I wasn’t majorly upset, just a little putout.

Asanga and I have had a lot of tooing and froing about this kind of issue. Examples more serious than this one but all along a similar line-crossing. Either by him or other women. I’ve often felt that because he’s not insecure in this way, I am being too much. This time – and we have done a lot of personal work on it – I messaged Asanga and wondered if he would act around it. In the past, he would have been, defensive and then claim it was absolutely fine. This time, he understood. He messaged her privately in a good way, then she took down the comment. O the simplicity and calm that I yearn for.

For me, that was a huge action even though it wasn’t. That action made me feel so seen. My love for him instantly deepened.

And we’re still driving 240 miles to see each other. There is no regularity about it. Sometimes it’s every two weeks, often we meet in other places – I love being on neutral terrain with him so that we can relinquish our territorial attachments, especially me, I’m forever clearing his belongings into the study, mind you, I do live in a small flat – like Ilkley in Yorkshire, Bristol – although next, I am going up to North Wales for a month. And he will stay here in July for a week because we’ve got two weekend festivals to go to – Silver Sky Festival, then Womad.

I enjoy the feeling of organic endeavour between us and that it’s not regular but is dependable. We trust each other. We’re in contact every day, mainly messages on WhatsApp and photos of what we’re up to. That’s the safety of the web that I feel holding me/us. We don’t talk much, maybe once a week. But since our energy wanes in the evening, one of us might cancel. Often me. I just don’t feel like talking on the phone when I’m at home alone. Or anywhere else for that matter. And I love that it’s okay.

I appreciate that he’s having a good time in N Wales as I am in London. We’re interdependent rather than dependent. It’s taken me a long time to get to this place. And of course, we’re lucky that we’ve both got homes that we own, and are financially stable independently. Neither of us spends much money. Asanga is frugal, my mother was frugal. And – as long we have occasional splurges on travel and a delicious meal out – I’m content to be careful in this way. Money and how we as humans spend it, and what we feel comfortable about spending is such a hugely fascinating topic.

And we are both getting older. We’re aware of it – we’re talking about death and dying. Although not especially at the moment, it’s spring! The question came up not so long ago – what will we do if one of us can’t drive anymore? The answer is that we’ll adapt. If Asanga became unable to drive, I’d be the one who did all the driving, or perhaps I’d move up there for longer periods.

It’s good to be prepared and talk but you can’t be prepared for everything. Going with the flow is one of those hippie things that we can both do. As a family, we the Rouses, learnt when my mother first got Alzheimer’s – she died in 2018 – that it’s important to be organic in terms of finding solutions. My mum moved in and out of different stages – at first, she could be at home with a little extra help and occasional companions to take her out – then it came the time for her to have more care and she moved into a residential home where there was a daycare centre. The daycare centre was so good – mum was ready there and waiting every day, she loved playing games and being sociable. It reminded her of her cruising days. We kept on the paid companions to take her out and about when we weren’t there. Neither I nor my sister lived near Ilkley. Eventually, she moved to a nursing home nearer to us. It was an ever-changing scenario where we tried as hard as we could to fulfil her needs as well as see her as much as we could.

Although I hope our experience in our older years is different to that of my mother’s (in terms of getting Alzheimer’s plus she didn’t have many friends), I know one aspect will be the same. We will be organic around what happens to each other. Fortunately, Asanga has a daughter who lives with him – her boyfriend comes to stay – and that is also a boon for me, because I know he has company and support in maintaining his large four-bedroom farmhouse and 14 acres of land. There have been times in the past when I’ve thought that he’s crazy to keep it on, but he’s almost 79 and he’s still doing it! And it’s gorgeous so why not? He’s happy in his wildland. I’m also very happy about his wildland when I’m there.

I also have a son – who’s 35 – and he lives in London with his partner. We’re very close. I’m not a grandmother yet, but I might be one day, and if I am, I’d like to be relatively nearby. Another reason that Living Apart Together suits me.

I also have to confess that I’m a sucker for anticipation and the ritual of preparation. I’m already thinking about what to take to Wales when I go very soon. I’ll be working there this time – I did that in lockdown too – and Asanga has cleared out his office (formerly a dumping ground for every discarded item) for me. I am touched.

What will the future bring? We’ve really no idea. But I have confidence that we’ll roll with it.

If you would like to read more of my work, it’s here –
http://www.roserouse.co.uk

Funky Morrissing in London – meet Syd Pochin


4 Minute Read

‘The one thing that gets me is, you just get six guys and a musician, and you’ve got a show. It all comes together ‘

Syd Pochin and I are having a pint in a Battersea pub where House music is playing in the background. It doesn’t seem as far away from the sound world of Cornish Billy or The Worcester Hornpipe as you might think.

‘When I’m dancing, I’m thinking this is tradition, this goes way back to a bygone age when there were no electronics. And no boxed sets on the couch.’ Whereupon Syd deftly traces the Rabelasian history of Morris Dancing as the resident musician of the Westminster Chapter. The stipendiary gig, he tells me, goes back to Henry VII bringing in an artisanal take on things to lively up the Galliards and Lavoltas in the court cloister. A bit later, Will Kemp was doing Morris moves instantly recognisable to country people all the way from London to Norwich.

Dance was a bush telegraph of allusion and social mobility like folk song tweaked visually and musically cross-country and quite possibly across continents. ’This is how we do it’ as youngers chant at Raves. If you’ve ever shaken a leg at a wedding reception or a corporate do, or indeed ventured out with a bit of A of A–style Flamboyance, it seems we’ve actually being Morrissing without noticing it. Syd got me wondering, as the house soundtrack ran on, about Ceroc, Capoeira and The Four Tops among other things.

These days Westminster Morris is itself the host of a Day of Dance in Trafalgar Square and radial hostelries in W1 which this year falls on May 12th. For reasons best known to itself, Westminster Council has just given them the morning, around noon, thus far. Although the Morris tradition is maintained and respected in the new world of dance diversity – Bhangra, Lindyhop, you name it – by the likes of Cecil Sharpe House for instance, the repository of many of the tunes in Syd’s cheery repertoire – you hopefully will be lucky enough to come across him on one of TFL’s busking pitches up West as I was recently.

Syd’s fascination with Morris began when he left the Wirral for a ten-year stint in Systems Consultancy with KPMG in Hong Kong. ‘I got involved with the Round Table and we used to put on an Ox Roast every year – we came across the Honk Kong Morris, about 15 guys from Ove Arup and other Anglo- Chinese outfits.’  One wonders how the present administration in Hong Kong would respond – given the Chinese urban habit of Tai-Chi in the morning.

Morris, as a team game, appears the soul of joshing democracy.  The ‘corners 1 and 6, 2 and 5 dance together, corners and middles rotate as does the leader, then the middles 3 and 4. Then everyone dances together’. Tempo is moderated democratically over a swift half.  Westminsters’ bush telegraph moderates to the Cotswolds’, while across the country, according to your locality, you might find ‘swords’ (actually used, Syd explains, to brush down pit ponies while the miners danced in lieu of showering facilities), handkerchiefs (fluttering Moorishly to waft away evil spirits) or clogs (factory girls square bashing to the looms’ groove to keep warm). Even, in Syd’s Liverpool days Pom-Poms, where female troupes with melting-pot influences from Tiller Girling to The Nolans and Cheerleading – practised enthusiastically under the handed-down Morrissian aegis. These days, Open Morris welcomes women and all the colours of the terpsichorean rainbow.

Syd’s first encounter with the musical kinship of Morrissing harks back to the Scouseward pub residency of The Spinners, whom you might remember as beacons of Scouse diversity on night-time TV in the seventies – you had to arrive early to get a seat. He has in turn gravitated to a Wednesday night residency at the Brewhouse in Islington, near Highbury Tube, which hosts all manner of guests and where taking the floor is a distinct possibility post-hot-desking or mid-prandial. Taking things a step further, Syd says newcomers are very welcome to give Morrissing a go when the Westminster team practices on Wednesday nights at St John’s Hall, Hyde Park Crescent, Tyburnia – not far from the wonderfully communitarian Funky Nuns of that ilk in fact. Your school day memory of folk dancing might be a tad stiff and curricular, but happens upon Syd busking, and his colleagues shaking a leg as the weather warms and I challenge you not to feel a spring in your step. I do. And find yourself warmly encouraged – nay instinctively emboldened to join the dance.

More information at www.westminstermorris.org

The Westminster Morris Men on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY6ns2hnyfM-iHjXVz2QmWA

www.islingtonfolkclub.co.uk   at The Brewhouse on 21st April then every Thursday from May

Andy’s radio conversation with Syd is at

https://www.mixcloud.com/andy-bungay/saturday-4th-april-ft-syd-pochin-westminster-morris/

AofA People: Ben Cornish – Juggler, circus performer, workshop leader


3 Minute Read

How old are you?

 59

Where do you live?

I live in Exmouth in Devon just a 2-3 minutes walk from the beach.

What’s it like to be your age? 

I’m definitely not one of those people who says that I don’t feel any different to how I did when I was 18/25 etc.

I feel like I have always felt the age I am. That said I tend to try and avoid being responsible for anything after years of bringing up children!

Certainly, I am aware of aches, pains & things not working as well as they used to. A few years back I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and then a couple of years later contracted late-onset asthma.

So after 50 years of never being ill or seeing a doctor, my life has changed quite radically.

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

Paradoxically, in some ways, I am less opinionated than I was at that age but I am more certain of what I do know now.

I am far more patient now than I was as a young man and yet outraged at more things. For instance, how can so many people in the UK still vote for the bastard Tories? Parking charges, not being able to contact anyone etc

What about relationships?  

I have a smaller circle of friends than back in the day but the depth of those relationships is greater.

How free do you feel? 

I have been self-employed all my adult life and that has resulted in a life with a great deal of freedom.

I still feel free, but with all the restrictions imposed by COVID and the feelings of environmental responsibilities, perhaps less so than in the past.

What are you proud of?

My children. The fact that I have some really long-term relationships with wonderful people. I have never been unfaithful.

I have earned my living (as a comedian, juggler, workshop leader, and circus performer) doing something I enjoy that gives people pleasure. I can still make people laugh.

What keeps you inspired?

I love what I do & feel like I continue to develop my creativity and understand the mechanics of that better than ever.

My partner, Ange, who is a prolific landscape painter, constantly inspires me also. My incredible 90-year-old mother is also an endless source of inspiration and support.

When are you happiest?

Eating delicious food with friends and family. Walking on a beach with Ange. Practicing.

Being at juggling festivals and playing with friends I have known for many years.

Where does your creativity go?

Into my practice and my teaching. Playing the ukulele & trying to write songs & I have just finished writing my first book. It’s called Juggling and the Art of Practice.

What’s your philosophy of life?

Energy & charm will always trump talent.

Always try to create value wherever you are and whatever situation you are in.

My outlook is informed primarily by 25 years of Buddhist practice (Soka Gakkai member for 25 years, now lapsed)

Dabbling in Osho-lead philosophy…spent a month in the Ashram in Pune 6 years ago

Friendship and kindness are the most important things in life.

You can’t take anything with you when you go.

And dying?

See above. I have no real fear of death.

I came very close in August 2019 after a massive asthma attack & at the time, felt that if I hadn’t made it, I wouldn’t have had any regrets.

Are you still dreaming?

My actual dreams are rarely remembered. I have never really had much ambition.Are there still things I want to do?

Yes, but are they of burning importance, no. I am largely content in life with what I have, what I am doing & where I’m going.

You can see Ben juggling here – https://www.facebook.com/benjuggler/videos/10214707312781883

www.circusberercus.co.uk

How Many Miles? Rolling Home Here I Am


9 Minute Read

So, my dear friend Rose nudges me to get writing something for AoA.

I say nudge, but it feels more like a poke. A benign poke, but a poke is more staccato than a nudge, and is always a gift. I always say yes, and then I’m writing to some kind of deadline, which serves the writing of the piece.

Maybe boundaries she says, something about boundaries.

Humm, says my mind, mind… yes, says my deeper and quieter voice. Just yes.

I mean, I don’t really write self-help, and that’s where my mind went. I come from a field of trauma so unspeakable that I didn’t know what a boundary was, and I certainly didn’t know I had any right to say no to anything. Especially, as it happened, anything sexual. I am a long way down the road from there, and I am in many ways, the more obvious ways, pretty good at saying no when required. I have had to say it a lot (too much) over the last 3 or 4 years before my back surgery in 2020, because so many simple pleasures became impossible to manage.

I teach, in a manner of speaking, some of my psychotherapy clients a few bits and bobs about boundaries.

So, the whisper of yes, that this is the thread to pull in the writing, well that’s me going down below what I think I know. What I do know, because I don’t want to disrespect the effort it has taken to learn about edges and space between, and the beauty and freedom to be found in the simplicity of saying yes, and no, and I’m not sure yet, let me think about that.

Underneath, and underneath more, there is a place where I am only a beginner at the slippery business of saying the no, that is saying a just born yes to what has been waiting a lifetime to see if I make it.

Yes, I do finally see you there, so utterly alone, so defeated. I finally see the disembodied homeless and hopeless. Me. Caroline the Compassion Queen with all my talk of welcoming and fields of kindness, only just got to the place where you became visible. I can see you through a vale of tears. I only just made it, and I know there is comedy in this. Tender comedy, tragicomedy… we are all, in the soap-operas of our little lives, trying to get home before we have to go.

My perspective. It might not be yours.

Remember, I am not in the self-help section.

I didn’t know how to listen to my body, though I probably would have told you I did… I got parts of me home. Dear God, my life has been a pilgrimage, and the many homecomings have been anchoring, rooting me into this earth, the ground, leading me to a sense of place that wasn’t defined by violence and self-murder. I found kin along the road. I wasn’t alone. I started to see myself in the mirrors of my ragged fellow travellers. The original mirror was argued with, bits of it fell off, shattered, got swept away.

If we lived in delusional Disneyworld, where all was linear and orderly, where we get a psychological fact and that’s that, well, we wouldn’t be human.

Nothing at all about my post-surgery experience has been as I might have written it. I didn’t write it, because I didn’t believe I would have a life rolling on for very long post-surgery. As many of you know, I had planned to leave – had surgery failed to significantly improve the constant agony that had become my reality. The chaos of my NHS surgery being pulled on the day, the despair, the undefended asking for help, the outpouring of generosity from so many through crowdfunding – like an enormous wave of unconditional love that had me 5 days later in my surgeon’s Harley Street Clinic, receiving the very best version of the spinal fusion that is currently available. All of this brought me here.

Here.

Here, to where I didn’t expect to be, so I hadn’t written myself in, I’d written myself out. It has been more than strange to turn back towards a life I wasn’t expecting, and find it full of fragments of old stories.

I have stopped tapping on my keyboard. Ground to a halt.

I’m looking for a word that captures that first year of afterwards. The one that won’t go away, even though I’m pushing hard, is torture. I don’t want to say it. Hyperbolic, my critical mind says loudly, but truth be told, it is the right word. So much of what and how I understood things started falling away. I probably spent that first year trying to hang on to them. That felt like torture.

With the love of some straight-talking mirrors, you know, my people. My kin. My heart buddies, I started to allow what was already happening. I stopped fighting. Not just like that, but I did turn a corner. I turned towards my most homeless, abandoned and separate self… the one that was turned away from at the very first breath, by a mother that could only feel hate, revulsion and horror. I come from that lineage.

Along to highways and byways of slogging onwards, of course I came to learn and understand that I had turned away from myself in that very same way. And, yet I had missed the embodied abandonment, until instead of deciding to take my own life because the NHS couldn’t give me what the same surgeon could if I paid him. At that point, I couldn’t not meet myself in the unoccupied house of my own ravaged body. The surgeon said my lower discs were dust, that he could sweep away and build structure and architecture. That this would hold me straight for the rest of my life.

I didn’t know this then, but only if I got it. Only if I saw the one I turned away from, because I didn’t know how not to, because I couldn’t stay with the overwhelming experience of arriving in the world in a tiny body, constantly flooded with sensation, if there was no-one there to stay with her. I internalised revulsion and absence. It was all I had to breathe in. I took that into every cell, fibre, blood and baby-bone of me. Understanding the absence and revulsion and the marks it left on me, I learned how to stay with much of what wasn’t stayed with. I found fields of kindness that caught me when I fell out of the fighting not to be depressed.

I just never, ever noticed that the pain in my body that has been as true and baseline as depression has – is the embodied expression of the same simple, unbearable, tragicomedy of my little life. I pushed on through everything, every moment of everyday, not listening to a single cry or whimper, not hearing my body pleading for mercy. Even on the dance-floors of redemption and in the kitchens of love, everything always hurt, and hurting got louder and I got deafer, and in the end the discs at the bottom of my spine were dust and I could barely move, and I literally could not continue to stay alive if this was my lot

Back to the boundaries.

I am surgically repaired enough to revert to pushing through, so I had to turn towards that baby that wasn’t stayed with, and ask her to forgive me for the very long wait, and ask her to show me how to listen. I had to stop fighting with ideas about becoming someone better (physically) and appreciate I am here already and that words like limits and capacity are love words, not dirty words. I live with pain. I never thought in my wildest occasional dream that I wouldn’t, but I live with pain and that is not all there is of me. That is a very big difference. I manage with medication, prayer, physical and energetic support, disciplined and simple core strength maintenance, but mostly by listening to this 63-year-old body that has been waiting a literal lifetime to be heard.

Attuned.

A word that brings tears to my eyes.

A word that shatters my heart into pieces of tenderness that are unfathomable because they belong in the tiny, helpless, wordless and lonely body of a baby, that I can actually feel from the inside of her.

I don’t fancy living many more years. I’m not going to get old, old.

And, I am here living now, and I am attuned to the SOS from the toil of getting here. I’m listening. The message is singing its purest note. I will work less. I am saying no, and I’m sorry I’m not taking any new clients for the foreseeable future. I am making the work – that I’ve come to love and trust myself in more and more as I land by my own fireside – fewer in numbers. If I don’t, I will spend the rest of my life giving too much holding, and spend the space in-between recovering rather than being Here.

Here to breathe.

Here to finish my one little book.

Here to see more of the ones I love.

Here to not know what’s going to happen next.

Here to yield to This, over and over until This is the end of being in my forgiving body.

My body will always hurt.

Sometimes that feels overwhelming.

At this moment, really allowing the truth and the grief to be here, I am flooded with something I don’t have one single word for. I find myself here more often though and am so very grateful. In the absence of one word, or anything elegant, it’s the ‘Everything in This’.

I don’t often spell this out, but a lifetime of clenching against embodiment has left pain everywhere. It was my back that collapsed, and that has been the doorway to Home, but everything hurts: head, neck, hands, fingers, shoulders, arms, eyeballs, joints… That’s how it rolls, and all of the hurting has been so lonely, and isn’t anymore.

I listen, imperfectly, and love, imperfectly, every hurt, every clench, every soften and re-clench and soften. I have given up fighting to be a different me, though sometimes I forget I have, and then I remember again…

Gratitude.

Humility.

Hilarity.

It’s all I’ve got.

The Culture Interview – singer/songwriter Luz Elena Caicedo


8 Minute Read

Luz Elena Caicedo, in her 50s, is the brilliant Colombian singer/bandleader with Conjunto Sabroso, a world-class Latin band who has performed everywhere from the UK to China. Luz has just released her FIRST VIDEO and it’s of the beautiful Yo Soy Mujer Con Tantas Mujeres Dentro (I Am A Woman with So Many Women Inside) which celebrates women and also highlights their global struggles. It coincides with International Women’s Day today. It also comes out at a time when Colombia has just made abortion legal. You can watch it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJk3Q7G5dqU

Tell me something about the connection between this song and International Women’s Day?

I would say that because the song focuses on sorority and the idea that we are in essence a collage of the many other women in our lives, and because it both celebrates women’s achievements and highlights our universal struggles, it is directly connected to this special date.

Some would argue that Women’s Day should be every day but I believe that having a specific date to mark International Women’s  Day – is an acknowledgement of our struggle, and of the fact that we have only gotten this far because of the courage, battles, alliances, support, and sacrifices made by so many other women before us. As I say in the song: ‘…we are standing on the remains of many others sacrificed…’

And also about the making of this video? The director is a woman too?

Yes, the video director is Alejandra Jimenez a Colombian film-maker. It really was an organic process, I happened to sing the song (which I was in the process of recording), in her husband’s Zoom birthday party during the lockdown, and she really liked  it, she said ‘that is an amazing song, it really touched me, Luz Elena we have to do a video of it…’, I didn’t think she was serious, but the next time we met, she brought it up again, and I was so flattered, I said of course that I would be honoured.

She explained her vision and what she wanted to do, which was to include shots/images from the women in my family, as well as other close friends. I said I would also like to include some of the Latin American songstresses who have influenced me musically, such as La Lupe from Cuba, Toña La Negra from Mexico, and Mercedes Sosa from Argentina who all appear in the video, intertwined with images of women in marches, social leaders, indigenous women, as well as images alluding to mother earth ‘La Pachamama’ to which I dedicate a verse to in the song.

As Alejandra says, there are many layers to the video. Another important aspect of the creation of the video was the various women coming together contributing their time and expertise, namely my niece Lina Maria Caicedo also a filmmaker and archive producer, who provided all the archive footage, and supported me throughout the process, and Elena Rodriguez who assisted Alejandra with technical issues. This video truly was an example of sorority at its best!

Do you relate to particular women’s struggles in the world?

I don’t consider myself a feminist, although you could argue that I may have perhaps rewritten the narrative of what was expected of me as a Colombian woman from a conservative family, given that I chose not to have any children, and that I am a bandleader and lead singer of a band in a male-dominated genre, in that sense I would say that perhaps I’m more of a feminist by action than by personal perception.

I don’t belong to any active group combating gender inequalities, but of course, I relate to the many issues and struggles that as women we all face, for instance, less pay, less credibility as an artist, fewer opportunities in professional settings, the fight against domestic violence, the legalisation of abortion etc.

Tell me how Conjunto Sabroso started?

I never intended to be a Salsa singer, I was a Colombian and Latín folk dancer for many years, I actually saw myself as a dancer who sang a bit and played a bit of guitar. However, when I came back from my year abroad in Mexico in 1992 the Latin/Salsa scene had exploded in the UK. I was told there was a Salsa band auditioning female backing singers, and I went to audition and got the gig.

It was a 7 piece band, all men plus me. I didn’t really like their repertoire, but it was an opportunity to sing professionally which I had never done before! My harmonies were not very strong and after 8 months they told me I was going to be on a three-month trial, and that I would have to go if I didn’t improve because they were ‘…going up in the world, and I wasn’t moving with them…’ I felt very hurt naturally, but I decided to leave soon after that conversation, and form my own band, where I wouldn’t be told what to sing by a man.

I realised I was more of a lead singer, as I felt like I was in the straightjacket of singing backing vocals with a bunch of men and just looking pretty. I formed a band where I had the freedom to do what I wanted, specially choosing my own repertoire, which was very liberating. It was a great lesson, it gave me the courage to start something that has stood the test of time. Today I am proud to say, we are one of the most popular and longest-running Salsa bands in the UK, and are blessed to have some of the most outstanding, talented and experienced musicians on the Latin scene playing with us!

And your history as a singer? Did everyone in your family sing?

There are no other musicians in my family but my maternal grandmother (I am told I look very much like her) and her sisters sang in family reunions when they were young, they apparently had very beautiful voices. My grandmother lived with us, and I have beautiful memories of her singing all day, and singing to us, she would have a different song for each one of us.

How important is it for you that you are Colombian?

Being Colombian is very important to me, I love my culture and our music. Being a Colombian folk dancer as a teenager gave me a sense of belonging, and that was very important in my formative years, as I understood my place in this society. I am part of an immigrant family, and have the benefit of enjoying the best of two different cultures, as I love London and the amazing multicultural aspect of this amazing city!

How do you choose the songs that you sing which come from all over South America?

In terms of the Salsa band Conjunto Sabroso, I choose them with Wilmer Sifontes, who is co-leader of the band with me. One of us will suggest a song we like. If it makes us both want to dance, we have it written out and for sure it goes in the set. I have written a few of them, and the audience really like our original tunes, so we must be doing something right…! 😉

For Matices Latinos which is kind of a contemporary folkloric Quartet, I choose most of the songs, and it’s an opportunity to play many different genres from the Latin American songbook. We have the benefit of sharing the same language in most of the Latin American countries and therefore we listen to each other’s music, which is what makes it so interesting. I am now singing more of my own songs in this band.

And are some of them passed down through your family?

The songs are not necessarily passed down through our families, but we have been definitely influenced by the music our mothers and fathers have listened to. Dancing and festivities and celebrations are Intergenerational in our culture, so we get to share much of the same music!

How is it being Colombian in London?

It’s great, as I said before it feels fantastic living in one of the most iconic cities in the world. I feel very privileged to be here, I love London for its openness and respect for people’s individualism. I love that there is space and audiences for all types of music, including mine, and that because there is so much appreciation for the arts here, it’s an amazing place to thrive if you put your mind and effort into it.

We think of salsa when we think of Colombia but tell us something about La Cumbia?

Cumbia is an Afro Colombian rhythm from the Caribbean Coast, and it is also Colombia’s national rhythm. It is traditionally played with drums, Gaita which is an Amerindian and ancestral flute, and voice. You also have orchestrated Cumbias, and this music is danced throughout Colombia, Latin America, and has also taken Europe by storm in the last ten years.

What have been some of your favourite gigs?

Some of my favourite gigs have been playing in China in The Beijing International Festival, at The Poly Theatre in Beijing in 2001, playing in Kenya at The Kijani Festival in 2007, playing at The Jazz Café after coming out of lockdown last year was pretty special, playing two open-air gigs in Carnaby Street also last year was amazing, and two weeks ago playing at Tomek Zaleski’s life celebration event, who was a renowned Salsa DJ and collector who did so much to promote Salsa music in the UK and sadly passed away this January! He did the liner notes for our first Conjunto Sabroso album!

Look out for @conjuntosabroso on Insta.

 

 

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