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I am a woman who has lived, learned and loved. I am planning to do more of the same as I embark on the second chapter of my life. In terms of what motivates me – I came across this quote the other day which simply says: “I am not impressed by your money, position or title. I am impressed by how you treat others”.
If you have a job, what do you do for a living?
I am a Social Impact Co-Pilot. This is actually a niche that I have carved out and a role that I’ve created for myself and what it equates to is that I help successful business people to supercharge their social impact without the pain of wasting their precious investment and resources.
What’s my magic source? A carefully targeted mix of 25 years+ change maker space expertise and well-honed virtual assistant toolkit. My changer maker clients include Philanthropists, Impact Investors, Social Impact Consultants, CSR Professionals and Social Entrepreneurs.
How long have you been doing this?
Officially, since 2017 when I founded Be the Difference Services and, unofficially, I’ve been doing elements of this throughout my entire career.
What do you find most satisfying about your job?
What I find most rewarding is the fact that I’m able to help people who are being the difference through doing good stuff in the world to do it even better and to do more of it.
Is your work primarily a means to an end ie money, or the motivating force of your life?
It’s my life force and I completely thrive on it.
When you were 8, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I actually can’t recall what I wanted to be when I was eight. However, by the time I was 16, I knew that I wanted to be a Careers Officer. I worked at the local Careers Office part-time during my holidays, I did my work experience there, based my dissertation thesis as part of my degree on research into careers guidance and so nearly became a Careers Officer. In the end, I adopted a wider view and did a postgrad diploma in Youth and Community work. That marked the start of my professional career.
Did you get there – and if not, are you happy/sad that you didn’t?
As I mentioned in the previous question, I nearly got there (the Careers Officer). The youth and community work qualification and social impact route that I took has served me well. It’s meant that I’ve had a very grounded and strong understanding in working with young people and also community development approaches which I’ve then been able to apply both strategically and in collaborations, developing different offerings throughout my career.
What is your dream job?
My dream job is the one I have!
If UK-based, are you glad, indifferent or disappointed that the
official pension age is rising?
I have very mixed feeling towards the pension age, particularly for women.
Women should be able to receive part of their pension earlier, with the option to work part-time. The reason for this is that, from my observations of women around me, we must recognise that many have menopause-related health issues. This can be unpredictable at times can render women unable to work in the way they would like (or had planned) to.
At 70, I may still want to work and keep my brain active, even if I’m not as mentally as sharp or as physically fit as I used to be. I’d like to see real optionsand consideration of things that are rewarding, which also take into account the wisdom and skills that older people bring. It will herald an opportunity that didn’t previously exist, society will change in that older people will be more accepted and a welcomed part of the workforce. Employers will want to take them on and trail blaze with them as a cohort. Personally, I want to be in a position where there are an array of new opportunities and challenges on offer for me to access, well matched with my desire to stay active and channel my insatiable curiosity. I’d like these to be underpinned with a realistic understanding of what it means to be 70.
I’d also like to see more inter-generational learning because certainly with me coming back to the 2nd chapter of my career, in lots of ways, with founding Be the Difference, I have been doing much more work with new colleagues who are 20 – 25 years younger than me. Some of what they do is the same but some of their approach is different. My younger colleagues are from new sectors like ethical marketing, social impact etc. I’m doing a lot of learning from them but that’s melding with my experience and skills that I can bring, which have been collected over a career.
You can find out more and contact Annie via: https://www.bethedifferenceva.com/
Philippa Perry, 61, is a psychotherapist, TV and radio presenter, who is marvellously bold. Of course, she’s also married to Grayson! Her new publication The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read happens to be a witty selection of dos and don’ts on the parenting front. You can buy it here.
What is your age (in years)
Where do you live?
London and Sussex. Having two homes is ridiculous. I can never remember which one has run out of tomato ketchup. But, I love being in the country with no noise and no street lights and I love being in the city for the friends, new people and opportunities.
What do you do?
I am a writer, but also a psychotherapist and also a TV and radio presenter.
Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
I’m alive, I have consciousness for most of the time when I’m awake. I can feel sun on my skin, the ground under my feet. I am aware that I have lived much longer than I shall continue to live, and I keep in mind how I can live my remaining years and have as much fun as possible. Fun, for me may mean sitting in the garden staring into space, or watching Pointless on the telly, or playing with my phone. It also means hanging out with people who I feel the most comfortable with. And reaping the rewards of delayed gratification. I hated writing my last book, it was a struggle. But now, the book is doing really well and I’m basking in the pride of accomplishment. That is fun. And yes, it’s a cliche, but I am aware of more aches and pains but I can still walk so yippee. I don’t like working for more than 3 or 4 hours a day. I don’t really like working less than that either.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
What about sex?
You think about it so much when you are young and spend so much time doing it, thinking about it and thinking about who to do it with. It’s nice to have the headspace that not being obsessed about it anymore gives you.
I have two mega ones. One with my husband, and one with my daughter. Then I have some very important ones indeed with very dear friends, then I have some great ones with people I have met over the years, and some great ones with people I see more on Facebook than in real life, but these are important too. Relationships, all of them, are extremely important to me. New ones, old ones, I even feel satisfied with my exchanges with strangers on the bus.
How free do you feel?
I would rather be bound by my relationships than be completely free. I have fantasies of extended times of travel but they don’t appeal to my husband so much and we miss each other if we are away much longer than a fortnight. So I choose love over complete freedom.
What are you proud of?
Some of my documentaries. Very much liked Sex, Lies and Lovebites: a history of agony aunts, and How to be a Surrealist with Philippa Perry – they were fun to make. Also proud of a radio doc I did, The Truth about Children Who Lie. I have a couple more in the pipeline at the moment. I don’t know whether I’ll be proud of them or not. I’ll have to wait and see.
I’m proud of all my three books. Couch Fiction, How To Stay Sane and The Book you Wish your Parents Had Read. The last one is doing really well. I am very proud of all the people who have bought it, read it and wrestle with it. Behttps://amzn.to/2CqKd7lcause for some it brings up a lot of psychological stuff and can upset or make the reader angry, but if they don’t throw it out of the window and stick with it, it can work as good therapy for them. I’m sorry it hurts sometimes. And it gives me so much joy when I hear it has helped someone, or a family. I’m proud when I hear any of my books have helped people.
What keeps you inspired?
What keeps me inspired is what I know already and then what is just outside of that, that fits or challenges with what I know, so that I can expand through new connections with ideas, people, philosophies.
When are you happiest?
Probably when I’m not aware of being happy, when a group of us are laughing and laughing and just in the moment.
And where does your creativity go?
I take issue with the word “creativity”. It is overused. But I’m good at cooking.
What’s your philosophy of living?
Don’t miss out on box sets or books or biscuits because you are too busy. Use alliteration whenever the opportunity arises.
Treasure those people you would like around your death bed.
Are you still dreaming?
I hanker after a bigger garden in town sometimes.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
I shoplifted a bottle of prosecco by accident. The Co-op thought I was mad when I tried to give it back the next day. Honestly, if I was really going for it, I would have got champagne. I think I find the word “outrageous” almost as offensive as “creativity”. It is not something I would be by design.
Alan Dolan, 55, is a breathwork guru. He’s known for this transformative work with the breath. He lives in Lanzarote. He says that ‘the deconstruction of the smoke and mirrors is the most worthwhile work that I have ever undertaken’. breathguru.com
Age (in years)
Where do you live?
Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain
What do you do?
I´m a self-employed breath coach
Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
55 has been something of a turning point. Whilst I´m beginning to notice the more tangible signs of ageing I know myself better than ever before. With this has come acceptance (mostly), understanding and compassion.
As I’m able to feel more compassion towards myself I find that I am automatically feeling more compassionate towards others which is a rather lovely position to be in. This relatively new level of open-heartedness has changed my experience of life and living. As my emotional spectrum continues to expand and I feel boundaries and perceived limitations disappear, I’m both elated and humbled.
On the one hand I see the infinite potential of what it means to be a human and on the other I see the sameness and ordinariness of that experience. I like Adyashanti´s perspective of ´enlightenment´ as being a process of deconstruction as opposed to adding anything into the mix. The deconstruction of the smoke and mirrors has been the most worthwhile work I’ve ever undertaken. I’m ok. I have always been ok and I always will be ok.
The misunderstanding of thinking that I have to be anything other than what I actually am has for the most part been embodied – and with that comes peace. And on the days when I feel anything but peaceful I remember the dynamic nature of having a human life and how the waking up process is ongoing. There doesn’t seem to be an end point only increasing awareness and presence coupled with decreasing identification with ones thoughts and emotions. Such a paradox. Unconditional acceptance of what is together with increasing clarity re what I am and what I am not.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
Self-acceptance, which I’ve found to be the precursor to self-love
An additional 30 years of experience and the wisdom that comes from that.
An increasingly global vision. The apathy and angst of my early years has been replaced with the acknowledgement of a shared responsibility for what we have created globally and a desire to contribute to the awakening that is happening within our species.
A more open heart
Gratitude – for ALL of it.
A sense of awe at the ever-present intelligence at work all around us. The magic and the mystery of existence.
The ability to be present and live from the now. Historically, I´ve been quite future-oriented. I find myself much more in the now these days taking time to experience each moment as the truly unique gift that it is and finding delight in the fact that as we spend more time in the Now so the quality and depth of each moment becomes more apparent.
What about sex?
Surprisingly it just seems to get better. I didn’t expect that as I thought it was pretty amazing to begin with. I’m more grounded and connected to my body these days and with that comes increased sensitivity and intensity. I’ve done a lot of bodywork and yoga over the years and now diving even deeper via Breathwork. Bottom line is that it seems there is more light and shade as well these days and I enjoy the dance between the two. Last year, I began to explore tantric practices which brings a meta-context and intention to all things sexual.
There´s a direct correlation between the relationship one is having with oneself and those which are experienced with others. As my sense of self becomes clearer so I have more appreciation of meaningful connection rather than going through the motions at a more superficial level.
How free do you feel?
As I’ve explored and become freer in my body I´ve noticed that I feel freer generally. As within, so without if you will. I recognise and value my sovereignty and am more comfortable with bucking the norm if I feel it´s appropriate. I recognise the parts of me that need validation and approval and understand why those aspects still hold sway with me. Being in the world but not of it is easier said than done. In my experience, the layers of self-imposed restriction, self-abandonment and self negation continue to be peeled away.
What are you proud of?
I think my journey to date and the fact I´ve come back to me in a sense. The word communion has been coming up a lot recently both in terms of deepening the connection I´m experiencing with myself and in relationship to others also.
What I´ve created and continue to create with Breathguru. I tend to be an early adopter so when I began promoting Breathwork in 2004, it wasn’t really on the map. Cut to 15 years down the line and it´s very much in vogue in the UK and around the world. I played a fairly major part in that process and I´m excited to see the results of all that attention and energy.
What keeps you inspired?
Lots of things
The magic and mystery of existence
Individuals who are making a difference – I just read when the Body Says No by Gabor Mate which blew me away – he´s really challenging the status quo re our attitudes to addiction and I love him for that. Compassion in action. Its time.
When are you happiest?
When I´m in on or near water.
And where does your creativity go? I
Everywhere. The whole thing is one big creation both singularly and universally.
What’s your philosophy of living?
I’m not sure I have a philosophy of dying although death and dying is definitely on my radar much more these days. I can tell you that I value my life more than ever before and even though I have a new vision I´m beginning to create I can honestly say I feel ready. I ask myself that on a regular basis these days.
Are you still dreaming?
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
I just asked a Belgian Venture Capital firm for 2.3 million quid. That felt quite outrageous and absolutely appropriate at the same time.
‘Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.’ Andre Gide
Did we lose sight of the shore? Not quite but we closed our eyes for a few minutes along the way.
Recently, my son Marlon and I went travelling together in Senegal. We were, it turns out, a bewildering combo. One rarely witnessed, if the reactions were anything to go by.
‘Are you his grandmother?’ asked Monique, a flamboyantly dressed stallholder who managed to verbally capture us on the ferry going over to Goree island near Dakar. She was, of course, more interested in our visit to see her wares – wooden masks, omnipresent bracelets and more. We didn’t go. Not because of the question, but because we weren’t interested in this particular strand of touristville.
‘Are you his wife?’ asked an array of male hustlers. The latter was in pursuit of a sugar mummy. Particularly at the beach village of Toubab Dialaw, which hovers between a tourist trap, a hubbub of djembe workshops and a relaxed environment for mixed race couples. We were entranced by it, by the way.
‘Are you his mother?’ More often and gratefully received in all sorts of different places from the taxi to the beach.
When I got home, I googled Travelling With Your Adult Children and discovered that it is a burgeoning holiday sub-section especially amongst Baby Boomers. There have been articles in the New York Times on this very subject. However, it’s usually families going on holiday together. Not a mother and grown-up son.
How did it happen? This mother and son adventure. Well, my mother died in summer after six years of Alzheimer’s. She was almost 92 and it felt as though it was her time to go. I felt blessed that she was able to let go then before she didn’t recognize us anymore. And, of course, it was distressing. Three weeks before, that, one of my closest friends, Jayne, chose to end her life at 48 because she couldn’t stand living with the torment – it had been 10 months – of suicidal clinical depression anymore.
It was a shocking, tearful time. And as death does, it prodded me into focusing on being fulsome in the present. Marlon and I had been talking about going away on our own. Having a little voyage without our partners. It’s allowed! A new propulsion arrived. Okay, let’s go to Senegal – somewhere I’ve wanted to go since having a ‘flingette’ with a gentleman from this West African country during my year out in Paris during 1973.
Senegal was a new place for me. And Marlon. It is also safe and relatively politically stable. I knew I’d get to speak lots of French. These were influences. I booked the flights to Dakar in September.
In December, I realized I hadn’t done anything other than that. I researched hotels – eventually found one recommended by the Guardian that seemed to be near to the beach. Hotel du Phare. It looked funky, maybe other travellers would be there with precious information. I booked it for four nights and a taxi from the airport to make our arrival as easy as possible. I’m an oldster traveller!!
On the plane in early January, I still hadn’t read the guidebook. My travelling modus operandi – previously in Cuba, Bali, Rajasthan etc – is to book a few first nights and then travel on the hoof with my book in hand and ears open. It does require an intense reading of the guidebook – and over the years I have honed the knack of hotel-hunting by getting to the know the subtexts of what I want and what is there, sometimes I’ll prioritise the location and others the hotel – to get what you want.
Seriously, I read the Brandt guidebook (which I recommend in this case) and one other book – a Senegalese classic So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba – when we were away and Marlon read five!
But I enjoy it. The ad-hoc planning, that is. Be warned. It isn’t for those who desire complete relaxation and comfort. There are errors and not so much insulation from the rough and tumble. When I was in Cuba with my friend Amanda in 2017, there were so many more tourists than I had imagined – a new diplomatic détente with the US had happened – and finding places to stay was tough. I had to try very hard, with friends of friends of our various hosts and speak Spanish as best I could. It was the sort of challenge I like.
Funnily enough. when we arrived at the aforesaid Lighthouse Hotel in Dakar, we were both ill with British colds and coughs, and there was a disco for 18-20 year olds going on!! Not the ideal. And the hotel had style but not much organization. Towels were difficult to obtain. We were paying £60 a night so I wasn’t impressed.
But the location in Mamelles – which is dusty but leafy too – near the sea was perfect. Yes, mamelles does mean breasts, it refers to the two hills in the area. One of which has the 19th-century French lighthouse – it is still used – on it.
Immediately, we discovered just how French Senegal still is. Baguettes and croissants for breakfast, the currency is tied to the Euro, everyone speaks French as well as their local tribal language and there are gendarmes everywhere too. It became independent in 1960 and the first president, Leopold Senghor, the poet-president as he was called, was all for Negritude – promotion of black arts and culture which still affects Senegal positively today – but also into keeping close links with the colonial power, France. Not everyone agreed with him in the latter respect believing it would hold back its evolution as an independent African country.
But it’s sandy. It is the Sub-Sahara. And Dakarois take the biscuit when it comes to knowing how to sport their often jaunty boubous and hats. With so much grace and attitude. It’s not a strut, just relaxed pride. Even at the bus stop. There would be those attractively clashing stripes for the men plus maybe a trilby, and the architectural headscarves for the women in yellows and oranges. No pastels here.
Big news. We made it to see Yousn’dour. He is the superstar Senegalese singer and musician who did that amazing duet Seven Seconds with Neneh Cherry in the early 80s. It sold millions. Marlon noticed he was playing locally with his band Super Etoile. So we made our way over there, through traffic jams and desert dust and managed to buy tickets.
We thought we were arriving reasonably late at 9pm, in other words, he might come on soon. Four hours later, a whole host of Senegalese pop stars had appeared but not the man himself. And we were standing! This was a mistake. As we bought the tickets, it wasn’t obvious that there was a choice. We wondered why the seats were all empty – perhaps he’s not as popular as he used to be, haha – and then three hours later, they began to fill up. Some people knew something. There was a dazzling array of sparkle on display, ‘selfies’ were de rigeur and Nicky Minaj seemed to be the main inspiration for the women.
However at 1am, this outdoor venue, which was now packed – erupted. The atmosphere was one of deep personal love. Everyone knew all the lyrics and sang along. There was much swaying and boogying. Yousn’dour’s voice is plaintiff, electric, devotional. I couldn’t help falling in love myself.
By 2 pm – after five hours of standing, we were both tired out –and decided to wiggle our way out, the band was still playing and Yousn’dour’s incredible voice unified the crowd. In fact, as we departed, groups of young people invited us to dance in their circles. Of course, you know which one of us took up the offer!
‘Well done, mum,’ pronounced Marlon, too grown up to be embarrassed. We finally got to bed at 3pm. Earlier, it has to be said, than the rest of the crowd.
There was also the trip to Goree island – the notable encounter with Monique – which has the UNESCO heritage site, La Maison des Esclaves, visited by world leaders from Obama to Mandala. This is one of the places where thousands of Senegalese people who had been captured as part of the Atlantic slave trade – were deported to the Americas. There were dungeons, places of torture for the recalcitrant, and the final doors where they stepped out to either death at sea or servitude. 33,000 people and children were trafficked from Goree over a 300 year period from the 15th century. This was just from this one port in Senegal. There were at least four more.
The information is mostly in French, and I did my best to translate. One of the shocking bits was that a woman ran the place for a long time from 1776. Anne Pepin was a signare and a metis – she was the child of a Senegalese mother and French man, and she herself was in a relationship with a French aristo – and in Senegal it was common for the signares to be the interface between the slaves, the traders and the colonial power. This was a clever move, in their terms.
We learned how Africa was weakened by this trade, how their cultivation was severely affected by all these tribal growers being captured and trafficked. Whole families were taken. It is dark reading matter but essential for understanding the bigger colonial picture and the shame of it. We were moved and reflective afterwards.
Toubab Dialaw – about an hour and a half by taxi south – is by the sea and our next destination. I confess that an important part of my travel vocabulary these days – is hire a taxi to get to the next place. In the 80s and 90s, and even ten years ago, I was still getting local transport. I have passed through that stage! The roads are crazy in Senegal, the driving is ‘organic’, and there are a lot of accidents. I have to say my 30something companion didn’t seem to mind this choice either.
The guidebook describes TB as bohemian and teaming with artists!! I booked into Sobo Bade, which was designed by Haitian artist and architect, Gerard Chenet. It has turrets and towers, – Gaudi and Dali were on his mind – there are mosaic crescendos. It is a marvel. Turns out that Mons Chenet is 87 and still lives in one of the rooms. I tried to meet him. Unfortunately, he was sleeping every time I enquired. But we did get to stay in a thatched turret overlooking the sea.
The first artist we met, was Picasso. Naturally. On the beach with his paintings. Turned out he was the younger brother of Picasso after all. We were assailed every time we hit the beach – with the Senegalese terranga. In other words, welcome. Which often translates as ‘Come and see my paintings’.
Toubab Dialaw was fascinating. Crafts salesmen but an empty beach, French tourists, super duper contemporary homes, and shacks beside the sea selling Yassa Chicken, one of the most popular local dishes with onion gravy. It is a winsome mishmash.
It is a mixed race couple hot spot. There are the couples that I assume have met, for instance, in France. A Senegalese man with a French woman. And then there is the pervasive boyfriend trade – which comes in different forms. The offer to be a boyfriend for the day with sexual services thrown in. I happened to be reading in one of the hotel’s hammocks when the-younger-than-my-son security guard showed himself eager to visit the Sine-Saloum Delta with me. Expenses paid of course. I didn’t take up the offer.
Later that day – we went off for an afternoon visit the amazing Theatre d’Engouement, a magical location, theatre plus rooms, swimming pool and off the wall sculptures also created by Mons Chenet, for performances and festivals – we found ourselves being consciously lured into a crafty shop. It had some Malian wall hangings that I liked the look off!
Well, Bad Boy was eye-catching at first. With his haphazard, stylish dreadlocked side ponytail. The father of all Sufi neck pieces – we are about to learn that he’s a Baye Fall which means he belongs to the Mouride Sufi Muslim brotherhood that is known for their mostly liberal ways – which features a photo of his spiritual guru on a very thick leather cord. It is a fuck off spiritual accessory, to say the least.
We’re offered mint tea and we accept. There is much pouring. To create a decent head of foam. A young Danish woman comes in and is obviously partnering up with one of the Baye Fall brethren because she’s just been to Touba, their holy city and is full of it.
Before I can mention Mali and fabric, Bad Boy has gone all spiritually soppy on me. He gazes into my eyes as though he is seeing a woman for the first time. I have to say they are rivered with red. ‘You must come with me to Touba,’ he announces as though I have no say in the matter. ‘You’re my Yaye Fall.’ There is an absolute nature to his tone. I give Marlon a nudge and we beat a gentle retreat while waving at Tiffany in New Orleans on one of the other guys’ phones. Oh the joy of craft shops.
I must say I hadn’t been expecting this kind of attention. We’re both bemused.
Although less so when a very drunk dreadlocked gentleman leers and lurches up to me in the pitch black later that evening. For a moment, – and it’s the only moment on our entire trip – I’m frightened. We walk rapidly in the other direction.
Our next stop is Joal-Fadiouth, which is at the beginning of a new greener landscape around the Sine-Saloum Delta. And so many spiky, remarkably shaped bulbous baobab trees. Regarded as sacred in Senegal, they have many healing properties as well as fruit for juice and oils. They are wonderful as they mark this desert so undeniably.
Hmmm, our auberge is in a great location in that it looks out onto the water and the mangroves. In the morning, we spot several pied kingfishers in black and white, bloody great pelicans, sandpipers, cormorants, elegant herons and whiter than white great egrets. As Marlon remarks. ‘ They all have their different methods for killing, some stay still, others dive, the sandpiper gets hold of a crab and knocks it about until it dies.’ It’s quite a massacre at 7am the next morning.
We loved the location. The room and services less so. The room had strip lighting and basically no running water. We were supposed to tell them when we wanted water and they would turn on the pump. However we had one whole day without any water. Let’s not talk about flushing the toilet. Why didn’t we leave? Because we really liked the river and the staff, and this is an adventure after all.
Leopold Senghor, the first president grew up so we went along to his old house. Lots of fading photos and dense French text on the walls. However, the only employee who was called Stephane – Senegal is 92 % Muslim but those French missionaries did their job well down here and there are Catholics including Stephen and the Senghor family. Now Stephane was a hoot, which is just what was needed.
‘Don’t go in that room,’ he warned, ignoring my post-menopausal status. ‘It is dangerous. It’s a baby factory. Senghor’s father had 43 children with five different wives.’
It turns out that Leopold was child number 21 by the third wife. So often we laughed out loud in our Senegalese encounters. Stephen did a brilliant comedic turn.
Fadiouth is the famous shell island – over hundreds of years, cockle shells were discarded here– and is connected to Joal by a footbridge. You have to take a guide to go over there. We did but in comparison with Stephane, he was so on script we were quickly bored and doing our own thing.
Mostly goats are the ubiquitous animals in Senegal but here it’s pigs and piglets. Catholic, you see. There is also conch meat and stingrays out drying, not to mention a woman chopping the hammer off a hammer head shark and then doing a little dance to show how it moves in the water. More masks and bracelets to be avoided. Marlon did however buy a bag of dried cockle meat for his dad – we’re not together but we’re friends – to cook up one of his spicy stews on our return.
The star visit is to the graveyard. Surreal with shell hills, crosses lie on one side and moons on the other. Muslims and Catholics lie here together. There are even the ashes of a Black-American who discovered her ancestors came from here and wanted to be flown back.
Joal is poor. It’s a fishing village with dozens of brightly painted pirogues on the beach amongst the mountains of detritus. It’s a challenge and also needs to be seen. There’s the smell of sewage and the water problem. But there’s also the spirit of community, people sit outside their family compounds cooking fish, drinking mint tea and chatting.
One of the hotels – Hotel de la Plage – is mentioned in my book but looks closed. We wander in.
Giles, the eloquent caretaker, tells us what happened. Climate change is raising the water levels, the sea is coming much further in, it has broken up all the front of the building and the swimming pool looks as though it’s been hit by a tsunami. It’s for sale but no-one is going to buy it. This really is the world changing right in front of us.
There’s also a tourist crisis. We really don’t see many tourists in Senegal and certainly not one British one. Giles explains that the Ebola, increased prices and the financial crisis have deeply affected tourist numbers.
After a big heartfelt send-off – they were really sweet people – from the auberge without water, we are on our way further into the delta.
Faoye is a rural community on the north of the Sine-Saloum Delta. When we arrive, we can’t believe our luck.
Oh Lordy, this is an idyllic spot. After the chaos and dirt of Joal, this is a row of thatched cottages on stilts, which looks onto a vast expanse of water with salt plains at the side. It is simply magnificent. We exclaim a lot in disbelief. As usual, we are the only visitors.
And there is running water. No electricity but that is part of the treat. Early to bed and early to rise. Keeping to those rhythms of nature. Now we are in dream holiday land. It isn’t an expensive luxury eco-lodge but rather an encampment created by a Spanish NGO, which is run by members of village and the profits go to the community too.
The food is cooked by Khady who often has her third child, eight-month-old Mohammed, strapped to her back. Fish, chicken, beef. Simple tasty fare but it would be tough for a vegetarian, as would most places in Senegal. As the sun goes down, villagers arrive with their goats and horses to wash in the delta. Horses are very much part of the transport system in these parts.
We could easily have stayed a week but we just had two days. The next morning we go out with a local fisherman in his leaky boat. There were some initial difficulties. The engine kept stopping as we ‘phutted’ across this vast delta arm, he also decided to pull alongside his mate’s boat, a fisherman with no engine. And I have to add – we were paying quite a lot of money for this trip. £40.
Aminata had also come along, a young woman who was working at the encampment – to help translate. He spoke Serer (the ethnic group here is Serer) not French. So she speaks French to me. She is wearing a dazzling white dress. I am a little frustrated when she points out the ‘cows’ on the banks. It turns out she’s actually a business student in Dakar but the President, Macky Sall, has cut all funding for the moment – in other words because there is an election which needs funding – and the students have all gone home.
Finally, after an hour, everything improves. The fisherman sets free his friend’s boat, we find some mini mangroves and pelicans. And there are the inimitable salt-covered flat islands. These strange landscapes. Marlon jumps into the water, the fisherman buys some fish from friends in another boat. We end up on an island, it could be Treasure Island, we could have been stranded there for days. There is nothing but shrubs, fish and driftwood. No shade either. We crouch under a distinctly unleafy shrub while our ‘man’ makes a fire and grills the fish. They are delicious.
In the end, we are out for about six hours without shade, we got back delirious but happy. I even paid him extra.
Our final resting place is another city – this is four hours away from the delta by car and north of Dakar – but this time the old capital Saint Louis, which is squeezed onto a thin island. Pinks and yellows, crumbling 18th-century buildings with iron balconies – it reminds us of New Orleans, of Havana. There is an ambling, laidback quality to it. The perfect city to stroll in.
I am delighted because we find a big old room with a balcony that looks over the River Senegal, which has great white cotton sheets and fluffy towels, hot water and a flushing toilet. Plus electricity. I appreciate the rough and tumble of cheap hotels but then I relish the opposite. Totally. This is a room we can luxuriate in.
The wondrous encounters continue. We see what we think is a bicycle shop, we go in and it is a bike jungle instead. There are bits of bicycle hanging plentifully from the walls like a host of strange fruit. Ah ha, there is an artist in the other room. Of course.
Meisse Fall – we find his sculptures everywhere later – is the sort of gentle artist that I long to come across. His words have a lyricism that carries them along. Like a hymn to life. And ordinariness. ‘I was repairing bikes, my family always did that but I did so well that people weren’t coming back. I had nothing to do. I became an artist.’
He talks about everyone having a memory from their childhoods about bicycles and how his sculptures evoke that special time. He’s actually wearing a lyric cycling top – he cycles everywhere. There are masks from the saddles and metal animals from spokes. ‘We always say that looks are deceptive but with bikes you get what you see. They are naked. When you see a part in the road, you know it’s from a bike.’
There are contemporary galleries – one near our hotel is opened up by the owner himself, businessman Amadou Diaw who proceeds to show us around his modern creation – local restaurants, old colonial hotels, caleches, and the young fisherman who goes home and records a whole brilliant USB stick of great Senegalese music for us, the PE teacher Joel who we end up going out with. It really goes on just like that…
Senegal – you were extraordinary and have ignited my travelling spirit all over again, – that openness, that trust, that flow to whatever comes along. There’s nothing else like it. The shore is disappearing.
TIPS FOR OLDER TRAVELLERS
Buy a great guidebook and learn to deep-read it. This takes a little time but reaps enormous benefits as you start to realize what it all means.
Allow yourselves spontaneity. If you book everything up, you’ll miss the thrill of the new adventure. This means making a few mistakes and relishing the glory of the exquisite choices.
Don’t bother with local transport. Let yourselves book a taxi and driver. It can all be arranged when you get there. We often did ours on the hoof.
Pack lightly so you don’t have heavy bags to drag around. Not a backpack necessarily. I just took a small wheelie this time.
Buy a post-bite stick. They are brilliant at de-itching mosquito bites.
Hone up on the language beforehand. Gosh, it makes all the difference.
Advantages of Age hears from Kate Tym and Kate Dyer, the founders of the UK’s first Coffin Club.
It’s a sunny morning in September in a room above an art gallery in Hastings. There are laughter, chat and a feeling of warmth and camaraderie which seems slightly odd considering each of the five people involved are busily decorating their coffins. This is Coffin Club UK where death is always top of the agenda and yet no one seems very sad! Kate Tym and Kate Dyer, the founders of the charity, encourage clubbers to plan their perfect send-off and, if they like, bling up their coffins too. ‘We go through life planning each step of the way and then, when it comes to our funerals, we seem quite happy to just leave them completely up to chance,’ says Kate Dyer, cheerfully. ‘Yes,’ adds Kate Tym, ‘families find themselves, at a point of bereavement, having to make decisions about what mum or dad or sister might want and they’re not in the right place, emotionally, to start asking questions or thinking creatively. Coffin Club removes that anxiety as it means you get exactly the end of life celebration you want and you know exactly where every penny’s going.’
Funeral Directors, generally, like to offer a range of packages – it’s 20 minutes up the cremation, or a religious place of worship, to a very set format. ‘People don’t realise that funerals are actually very unregulated,’ says Kate Tym, ‘you can separate the cremation or burial from the celebration of life.’ ‘We’ve had send-offs in barns, village halls and even the upstairs room of a pub,’ Kate D says. ‘Simply by changing the setting, the whole atmosphere changes, too,’ she enthuses. Kate T says that by putting a brightly-decorated coffin into the mix it becomes part of the proceedings. ‘Guests aren’t afraid of it – they come up and look at it, touch it, pat it, have a chat with the person inside. Sometimes we leave a space where people can write messages to the person inside – they’re involved right up to the last moment.’
Coffin Club runs over six weeks, for one morning a week, and each week there is an invited speaker – forward-thinking, independent funeral directors, the manager of the local crematorium, a representative from the local hospice, the manager of a natural burial ground and a lady who did her own DIY ceremony for her husband just over a year ago. ‘She kept him at home for five days after he’d died,’ Kate T says cheerfully. ‘She really is our poster girl!’ Each clubber is given a funeral wish-list right at the beginning and fills it in as the weeks go by. So, from burial or cremation to music choices, to venues and readings and anything else they might fancy, not a stone is left unturned.
‘The reasons people come to Coffin Club are all different,’ says Kate D. ‘Some are all about practicality, they want to cost their funeral and have it all organised before they go, so that their family aren’t left with the job. For others, it’s more about coming to terms with the inevitable and finding that in itself empowering,’ Kate T adds.
Currently, in the UK, the average cost of a funeral is around the £4000 mark (https://www.sunlife.co.uk/how-much-does-a-funeral-cost-in-the-uk-today) and that’s not including the ‘do’ afterward, the flowers or the catering or any legal costs around settling an estate. Coffin Club wants to deal with funeral poverty, too, ‘We can get a much more personally-tailored funeral to come in at around the £2,500 mark. It can be done even more cheaply if you don’t use a funeral director at all, but that’s not for everyone,’ says Kate D.
‘Each time we’ve run the club we’ve had one person attend who is terminally ill,’ Kate T says. ‘That’s really hard, but also means a lot to us. Ashley came along wanting to be buried in the field at the back of his house, but wasn’t sure if that was even legal. It is legal and it’s really not difficult to arrange. Coffin Club enabled him to get exactly what he wanted.’ ‘He had the most fantastic celebration of his life,’ says Kate D. ‘We started in the village hall, which was packed. The service itself was full of music and lots of people stood up and told personal stories of their memories of Ashley. Without the crematorium time limit hanging over us, we were able to let the service take as long as it took, and at the end that was about an hour and a half. Then he was drummed across to the field where he was buried with family members helping to lower his coffin into the grave.’ ‘Ashley had actually been too poorly to decorate his coffin,’ Kate T explains, ‘so his family did it for him after he’d died. They covered it in maps of places he’d travelled to and tickets from gigs he’d been to. I think they found it a nice experience, talking about things he’d done and sharing memories.’ Kate D takes over, ‘Everyone came up and touched his coffin, wrote messages, talked to him – it was really very lovely.’ That’s the true validation of Coffin Club – someone who came along and got exactly the send-off they wanted and for it to not cost a fortune.
The coffins Coffin Club that uses are really innovative. They are flat-packed ply coffins that come in ten sections that are then put together with an Allen key. The Kates get them from a Dutch company called Coffin in a Box. ‘They have a really low-carbon footprint,’ says Kate T, ‘they’re made with virtually no waste, have low-emissions in combustion and bio-degrade really easily. Putting them together is pretty funny, too. Having been involved in making and decorating the coffin gives people a feeling of taking control.‘
‘We’ve had people’s kids come and help them, they laugh together whilst decorating their box, it’s a truly bonding experience and makes the whole thing less frightening. Of course, there is a very deep sadness when someone dies,’ says Kate T, ‘but celebrating their life and trying to capture some of the joy and energy they had when they were alive is about love and respect, too. It’s not about making light of it, it’s about caring deeply enough to give them a send-off that is totally about them.’
The decorated coffins have ranged from simple – painted white with a Star of David to much more decorative , for example, hot pink with unicorns and Elvis, to the jokey, for example, a plain box with This way up and Handle with Care stickers on it. ‘It’s not about how good they are, artistically,’ says Kate D. ‘It’s more the process… the thought behind them. It gets our Clubbers thinking about what’s been important to them during their lifetime.’ They range from an elderly Quaker who had a Quaker Oats themed coffin to Bev, who loves purple and went for a vibrant violet base coat. ‘A lot of the conversations happen while we’re decorating,’ says Kate D. ‘It’s a time when people share some of their deepest feelings because thinking about dying – brings these emotions sharply into focus.’
‘Coffin Club was born out of frustration,’ says Kate T. ‘We’re funeral celebrants and we were so depressed by the one-size-fits-all formula of most funerals that we thought there must be a better way. We want everyone to know that there’s a vast choice of send-offs available to them from the traditional Victorian gent in front of a limo hearse to skipping naked through a field with dancing girls and fire eaters!! If you know you can do anything at all and still want to go the totally conventional route, we’ll support you 100 percent. But, we don’t want people having 20 minutes up the cremation because they had no idea they could do anything else. Coffin Club is all about choices.’
Ultimately, Coffin Club is about people taking back ownership of their end of life celebrations. ‘We can’t believe the children of the 50s and 60s generations are going to go for the formulaic way!’ The Kates really believe, as a nation, we’re on the brink of a funeral revolution. ‘We’ve run three Coffin Club Master Classes so that people in other areas can learn how to set-up and run Coffin Clubs and are certain they will grown all over the UK.’ Coffin Club has been followed by a local documentary maker, Whalebone Films, for over a year and the BBC came and filmed in September too – there is a definite feeling of the tide turning. ‘We don’t believe respect is about how much you paid or what you wear. it can be about getting out a pot of paint and doing something that’s a labour of love.’
Coffin Club really is a fabulous initiative. As the Kates say: ‘We’ve got to start talking about death again as a nation. From the moment we’re born we’re all terminally ill. We need to bring death back into the every day and out of the scary, taboo place that it’s been for a long time now. If you talk about sex, you’re not going to get pregnant and if you talk about death, you’re not going to die. You’ll just be well prepared – Coffin Club is really just about thinking outside the box!’
Debra Sofia Magdalene, considers herself timeless but came into this body in 1961, she’s a spiritual entrepreneur and a digital nomad. She’s been home-free since 2011.
What’s your name?
At birth, I was given the name Mary Deborah Philomena plus my family surname on my birth certificate but always known as Deborah. I took on my husband’s surname when we married and after a numerology reading in the nineties, I changed the spelling of my name to Debra and took on two initials of N G to bring in different energies. When we divorced, I didn’t want to return to my maiden name as it didn’t resonate. In 2011, I was moving into a new chapter of my life and needed a new passport. I set the intention for my new name to come to me. Debra Magdalene came in whilst I was visiting a dear friend who’s a numerologist, followed two weeks later with my middle name of Sofia. When my friend checked out the numbers, she confirmed that it brought in energies that would support me – so I am now known as Debra Sofia Magdalene and changed my name by deed poll.
My son asked why I had taken the name of a prostitute. It was then I received an insight that I’d been given the name ‘Magdalene’ to raise awareness that Mary Magdalene was a spiritual teacher in her own right. Your name carries a sound frequency to the Universe that holds codes for the experiences you have. When you change your name, you change the game you’re playing here on earth. My life is very different since I changed my name. I was able to let go of addictions to food, sugar and alcohol which I’d struggled letting go of previously.
[It’s interesting that at birth my first name was ‘Mary’ and now my last name is ‘Magdalene’. I call my blue Honda Jazz ‘Mary’ and the first two initials of the registration plate are ‘MM’. I knew she was mine as soon as I saw her!]
What is your age?
I consider myself to be timeless – I came into this current body in 1961. I no longer define my age in terms of numbers. I actually feel younger now than three decades ago. Age is a state of mind and a state of being. Time is an illusion so why limit ourselves?
Where do you live?
I’ve been home-free since the summer of 2011 when I sold my house and gave away most of my furniture and possessions so that I was free to travel and follow my soul’s calling. I’m now a digital nomad and can work from anywhere in the world as long as I have a good internet connection. I live in other people’s houses looking after their homes, pets, plants, businesses. I choose which assignments I take on and check in with my intuition as to where to go. It’s rare I have gaps between gigs. I had a cancellation earlier this year when a client had an injury so was unable to travel so I took the opportunity to work on an organic farm (WOOFING) in exchange for food and accommodation. I was in heaven and loved every minute. I also gained valuable experience of planting and harvesting crops and looking after livestock (donkey, pony, sheep, pigs).
What do you do?
As a spiritual entrepreneur, I have a portfolio of services which create multiple streams of income. I love to collaborate on joint ventures and make new connections.
Essential Oil Queen at Magdalene Wellness: I teach you how to use essential oils as safe, natural alternatives for health, replacing chemicals in the home, detoxifying and cleansing the body, using for emotional release, using for spiritual purposes, using to replace chemicals in the home, using to make healthy raw chocolate and in the kitchen etc. I have a team which is growing internationally and I mentor you for free if you want to create an additional income through teaching people about essential oils. mydoterra.com/magdalenewellness and https://www.facebook.com/magdalenewellness
Therapies and Healing: I have trained in several healing modalities, from spiritual healing, shamanic healing and energy healing and have developed my own intuitive healing combining knowledge and wisdom gained from my life’s journey. I offer AromaTouch sessions using therapeutic essential oil plant essences and Sacred Anointings which clear trapped energy from this and previous lifetimes to free the soul.
HUGS House and Pet-sitting Service: I started this business on 1 January 2017 when my last relationship ended and love the flexibility that it offers me to travel and take on gigs in parts of the world which I want to visit. Last year I spent five wonderful weeks in Turkey with a fellow house-sitter and dear friend looking after 5 dogs, 6 cats and 20 chickens in a mountain home in Turkey. https://www.facebook.com/HUGShouseandpetsittingservice
HUGS House & Pet-Sitting Service Agency: My business has been such a success that I now have a team of people I trust who I can match to sits in different parts of the country that I’m unable to do personally. This enables us to provide a service not just in the UK but overseas too. I love how it’s growing organically and how delighted clients are when they see how lovingly their furry friends are cared for. I love animals and enjoy a deep connection with every one of them. We can learn so much from the animal kingdom.
Bed & Breakfast Business Relief Manager: This year I’ve been running B&B businesses in Glastonbury when owners go on holiday. I have made beautiful connections with people from many different countries who have become dear friends.
I’m an event manager and promote spiritual teachers whose work I have personally experienced and happy to recommend. In alignment with my purpose of raising consciousness, I ran spiritual events in Manchester, UK for 10 years. I’m also invited to speak at events and organise retreats for other teachers.
Silver Tent Radio Host: I’m a Silver Grove member of The Silver Tent – an online community of wise, wonderful women 50+. I interview people who have positive messages to share to help raise consciousness. After the interviews have gone out in audio format through the mixcloud platform, I upload the video to my Mastery Path youtube channel and share across social media platforms. https://www.mixcloud.com/debra-sofia-magdalene/
I’m Director of Hugs and have a Facebook group for Global Hugs Ambassadors – the mission is about helping the excluded to feel included and to share unconditional love through offering hugs. Hugs are healing and beneficial in so many ways. Do join us. https://www.facebook.com/groups/globalhugsambassadors
The things I’ve mentioned are some of the things I do. I do so much more than that.
I’m an Alchemist!
What it’s like to be your age?
Age is irrelevant to me. I feel that I’m in the prime of my life and feel very grateful to be in this physical body at this exciting time on planet earth when we’re going through a mass awakening. I have a lot of energy and stamina, I take my doTERRA high quality supplements every day (this is my health insurance), I do regular cleanses and detoxes (this is an act of self-love to care for my physical body), I eat healthily, I love to be out in nature and connecting with the land. I feel so blessed.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
When I was 25 I was married, in a high-powered job with big house, company car, good income, no children, had a small network of friends.
I’m now happily and amicably divorced, I have a son and daughter who have children of their own and I love being a grandma.
I have a global network, more skills, more knowledge and more wisdom.
I don’t need anything external to be happy – I have everything I need within me.
What about sex?
I love sex and have a high libido. However I don’t sleep around and I am extremely careful about whom I let into my energy field. My rule is: ‘Don’t have sex with anyone who you don’t want to be like’ – their energy stays with you. To me, sex is a sacred experience. Ancient cultures and mystery schools recognised the power of sex magick for creation and manifestation and this knowledge was suppressed by religions for the purpose of power and control. It took a lot of work on myself to undo this deep-seated conditioning and to find my own truth.
When my husband left me for another woman, I went on a healing journey to dissolve feelings of unworthiness and rejection. I knew I needed to be in a higher vibrational state before entering into another relationship, otherwise I would attract a partner who was in the same low vibrational state that I was in (processing grief, sadness etc). When I felt ready, I made out a list of what I wanted in a partner and after dating several men, realised that I was being judgemental as they didn’t match up to my list. So I asked the Universe to send me the man I would have the most growth with. He showed up soon after and I had to smile at the cosmic joke because he was the opposite to everything I had on my list! From day one, I suggested that our relationship be one where we chose to be together rather than stay out of any sense of obligation. We agreed to follow our hearts and to make every day a choice. During our relationship, there were several times when it didn’t feel right for me. So we’d change our status to friends and take a period out for reflection. When it felt right, we’d come back together and our relationship would be elevated to a new level. He brought balance to my life and I did to his. On our ninth anniversary of getting together, we evaluated where we were and agreed that the relationship had run its course in its present format. We changed our status from partners to best friends and remain so to this day. We still have a deep love for each other, enjoy each other’s company and he’s still a part of my extended family.
In terms of other relationships, I have a huge network of friends and a close inner circle. Most importantly, I have the best relationship with myself that I’ve ever had – I’ve learned to love myself unconditionally.
How free do you feel?
I’m a free spirit and always will be. The nomadic lifestyle that I’ve consciously created for myself allows me to follow my heart and go wherever I feel drawn. I’ve reclaimed my sovereignty and can easily disengage from the matrix. I am whole, I am sovereign, I am free!
What are you proud of?
I’m proud of who I have become – the journey back to wholeness, the journey back to my heart and to unconditional love. Work on myself is a constant process – I use others as a reflection to gain insights and do not get caught up in drama playing out around me. I am able to take a higher perspective and keep centred in the midst of chaos.
I am proud of getting to the root cause of my unworthiness belief which had come from indoctrination from the Catholic religion. After repeating “Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed” at every mass I was forced to attend, it took a lot of unravelling. I had this insight whilst in Peru and made a point of attending Catholic mass and affirming “Lord I am worthy to receive you and I invite you to share consciousness so that we may have a beautiful union”. It was liberating.
I’m proud that I was able to access hidden parts of myself when travelling.
I was attacked by a pack of wild dogs whilst walking alone in the mountains in Bolivia. I accessed my inner warrior, became Alpha dog and they backed off after seeing my fierceness.
I connected with wild dogs when living in the mountains of the Sacred Valley and they walked by my side. When some locals got out of a passing Tuk Tuk – the dogs went to attack them and the locals fled. The dogs then returned to me and we continued walking up the mountain. Experiences like this have given me confirmation that I am truly standing in my personal power and able to master my energy.
I have had so many incredible experiences in my life and I am grateful for every one of them.
What keeps you inspired?
I am inspired by so many things. Observing the fractals in nature; watching a drop of rain on a leaf; being with my grandchildren and other children; having beautiful exchanges with animals; working on the land; being still and meditating; watching inspiring movies; listening to music which touches my soul; poetry, reading, learning and expanding my knowledge and skills … so many things.
When are you happiest?
Happiness is a choice in every moment. Many years ago, I developed a talk called ‘7 Steps to Happiness’ and love to teach others how to be happy.
These are a few of my favourite things: When I’m out in nature; when I’m with my children and grandchildren; when we have extended family gatherings; when I’m meditating; when I’m travelling; when I’m connecting with people; when I’m being of service and see how others are benefitting; when I’m eating raw chocolate; when I’m swimming in the ocean; when I feel the sun upon my body; making footsteps in virgin snow; playing and connecting with animals …
Even when I’m experiencing a dark night of the soul, at a deeper level I’m happy that I’m learning such valuable lessons and receiving insights which will elevate me even higher. You can’t experience the highs without experiencing the lows. For example, when my marriage broke up, I wasn’t expecting it and although I was experiencing deep grief, I also knew that my husband was doing me a big favour and that he was setting me free. We had a soul contract for this to happen and it was a catalyst to my awakening. I reframed him leaving me for a younger woman and gave it the meaning: “He’s set me free and I can now become the person I’m destined to be”.
This was enormously empowering and helped me through that deeply emotional time.
And where does your creativity go?
Business: I’m an entrepreneur and see opportunities everywhere. I love to create opportunities for myself and others which are mutually beneficial and to connect people within my huge network.
Painting: When I was in the Amazon Rainforest living with the Shipibo Tribe in 2013, I started to paint with acrylics for the first time ever. I’ve since enjoyed experimenting with different medium and allowing my intuition to lead me artistically.
Writing: When I was living in Cusco, I started to write a book called ‘Life Lessons from Mosquitos’ inspired by a big healing I had with a mosquito I the Amazon when I merged consciousness with it. It’s still work in progress and I’ll complete it when I feel the impetus to pick it up again.
Poetry: After merging my consciousness with a huge rock in the mountains above Cusco, I have developed an ability to tap into the consciousness of standing stones and trees, in particular Yew Trees. I receive poems from these wise beings and will publish them when I get around to it.
Photography: I love taking photos and capturing magic moments, nature, insects, flowers, animals, family etc.
Music: I’m from a musical family and in addition to singing in a choir, I played piano, violin, guitar and oboe as a teenager – none of them very well. I love music and have a wide taste, from mantras to rock music.
Dance: I love to express myself freely through dancing and find that it transports me to other dimensions. Unlike my earlier years when I needed a few drinks to lose my inhibitions on the dance floor, I have dropped ego which kept me from doing spontaneous things and feel free to express myself in any moment no matter where I am or who I’m with. It’s a liberating feeling.
What’s your philosophy of living?
When we are born, we forget who we are and our journey is simply to remember our Divinity. We are here to experience and grow the collective consciousness.
There is no right or wrong at a Higher level. That comes from duality thinking which comes from the illusion of separation. When we remember that we are not separate but part of all that is, we move from ‘I’ to ‘We’ – all part of the One.
Live in the moment of now – it’s all we have and it’s where we create from.
I always trust my intuition and follow my heart – it’s my inner guidance system.
Be loving, be compassionate, be accepting of others, be grateful.
Don’t take like seriously – lighten up, have fun and do what brings you the most joy.
Ultimately, love is all there is.
Being in the physical vessel of the body is a temporary experience in which the soul can experience and expand. When I was in the Amazon Rainforest, I experienced a shamanic death and a life review which gave me deep insights. We never die – our consciousness lives on eternally. We create our own heaven and hell on earth. We are not our physical bodies.
I have had the privilege of being present at the passing of three people. First time was when I was living in the mountains of Quillabamba in Peru on a coffee plantation where I was nursing Rosa who was coming to end of life. Her passing was very peaceful and her daughter Gladys (a doctor) was present too. Initially, the Gladys attempted resuscitation which failed and I gently reminded her that it was Rosa’s time to go. After a cup of tea, we cleaned Rosa’s body and dressed her in her wedding dress which she would be buried in. This was a rite of passage for me and prepared me for my own mother’s passing last year.
I’ve given sacred anointings using a special oil blend to people who have been dying and they have found great comfort and deep peace. One lady told me that whilst I was doing the anointing, all her past memories came flooding back to her and that she now felt ready to go. The essential oils are working emotionally, physically, spiritually and multi-dimensionally. It was an honour for me to be of service in this way.
Are you still dreaming?
Always. We create through our thoughts and our imagination. Life is exciting!
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
I received a parking ticket which I felt was unjust and after having a rant on Facebook, a You tube video posted on my timeline from a friend sent me down the rabbit hole as I researched the legal system. I discovered that there’s two systems operating – the Legal system which is based on maritime law, and the Lawful system based on the law of the land dating back to the Magna Carta (some of which still applies today). I went through a process of reclaiming my sovereignty in respect of not being bullied by an unlawful system which uses fear to control the population. I refuse to be bullied by organisations and corrupt systems which rely on ignorance and fear of the masses to line their pockets. You could say that I’m a peaceful non-conformist.
Debra Watson, 53, is a wildly exciting woman. She runs a participative theatre, art and media charity. She’s a performer who’s interested in intimate methodologies. She’s a tutor. She does sensual poetry performances as part of The Crimson Word, The Bloody Poets and the Poetry Brothel London.
Her next performance is this Thursday where she will be performing FemmeDom, tickets are only on sale beforehand from Eventbrite.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
Up in leafy Muswell Hill. It’s very suburban and also very green and pretty. I moved here when my son started high school. I love North London because of the proximity to the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. It’s a life-saver in the summer!
WHAT IS YOUR AGE?
TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?
It’s great! I’ve had a fantastic last two years creatively. I am full of ideas and have some great people around me to work with. I worry as I am not sure how much longer I can go at this pace. I had to take a month off for health reasons in mid-October.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?
I am a lot more at peace with the fact that I am odd. My 25th birthday was amazing. I was working on a hit show at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. My sister brought my nephew and niece backstage and brought a cake. I was semi-famous. That year, we were invited to perform at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and then for a run at the Tricycle Theatre in London. Yet somehow, though my work now is much more marginal, I have much more confidence in my process and output, than I had then.
WHAT ABOUT SEX?
Ah. I have discovered that sex is not as difficult to get as I thought it would be for someone my age. I enjoy it immensely when I have it. I don’t currently have any long-term sexual partners. I’d prefer that to a series of one-off encounters. I’m super into intimacy. I’ve discovered I’m not really that promiscuous anymore. I long for depth and the scariness that comes with allowing someone to know you. You can discover a lot about yourself. I am surprised at how sexual I still am. This year, I’ve performed intimate poetry in a few different sex-clubs. It’s been an eye-opener. I clearly have a lot to learn and explore. I feel lucky to still feel sexual desire and to be desired. I know that for many women and men, sex becomes irrelevant to them as they age. It’s a genetic thing, I think. My mum was the same.
I am separated from, but immensely close to, my ex-husband (whom I met when I was 25!), I work with him sometimes. He is my best friend. I can’t imagine a life without him. We co-parent. He wipes away my tears when my lovers break my heart. I have been experimenting (badly) with polyamory. It has been chaotic. I don’t enjoy relationship chaos. I like being treated well, with consideration and sensitivity. I can’t bear being blindsided by stupidity.
HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?
In what way? Personally, there are things I feel free about, but to be honest, I think I would feel freer if I had more liquidity. I am not free enough to travel as much as I would like, or to give up working for money or to just pack up my flat and go full Nomad. There are many ways in which I feel constricted. Not free at all.
WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?
I am super proud of my creative output in the past three years. On my 50th birthday, I did a ‘dress tease’ for my friends and it started off a creative process that has been wonderful for me. In my late 40s, I started writing poetry again and this has led to an interest in performing intimate poetry. In the last two years, I have been performing with The Poetry Brothel London, The Bloody Poets and this year, have started a new intimate, immersive poetry collective The Crimson Word, with my friend Winter James. We are set up to do events, pop-ups, and parties; but we keep changing our mind and expanding the horizons of the company. The Bloody Poets was started in London by Mad Pirvan and Belen Berlin in 2017. Mad moved to London a year ago and runs the event once a quarter. It’s been very experimental and probably the closest I have come to re-picking up the thread of exploring experimental performance work I was doing in the early 80s and 90s.
WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?
I can be a lone wolf, but I really enjoy working in collectives. I get tremendous inspiration from other artists and tend to enjoy having events and themes to write to. My work is very, very personal, but having a group and compatriots that are also focussed on work and creativity has been crucial for me in developing in ways I haven’t expected. Social media is fun too. I’ve found that Instagram is an amazing tool for reaching new audiences. That being said, I need downtime and alone time to process, research and write.
WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?
When I am creating. Even though it can be fraught, I love the creative process. The starting with a blank page, or one phrase, or one image and then building that up ‘into’ something. I am often not at all sure that I am going to pull off an idea. It is fabulous when/if things come together. I also get very, very happy when people pay me well and when they tell me that my work has moved them or impacted them in some way or another. Sometimes, especially after the very intimate 1-2-1 readings, people have an after-glow. They say: ‘It’s better than sex’. I used to be very shy about approaching performers and acting all fangirlish. No more. I realise how important it can be, in those dark and lonely hours when you think all your work is shit and that you’ve never have done nor will do anything well, to remember a kind word or a moment of sincere praise.
AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?
I perform, I write, I make costumes. A lot of my work is concerned with intimacy/intimate performance. It’s so intense and unpredictable. I also run a participative theatre, art, and media charity, so I also tutor and facilitate creativity. Part of my life is me being a big show off and another part is engaging very sensitively with other people to get them to tell their own stories.
WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?
Go towards what terrifies you.
I recently had a health scare. I am not out the woods yet. I am still in terrible pain on alternate days, but they don’t think I am dying. Before the diagnosis, I had a very serious discussion with my ex. I felt 100% that if it turned out to be critical, I would take this as an opportunity to step off the planet. I am not too keen on living for long. The world seems to be going to shit. I think I have had a good run of it, I think there is more fun to be had, but if it all had to end, I hope to face it graciously. Secretly, I am envious of people who die suddenly and quickly. It’s horrid for those left behind but I am not, and never have been, a fan of chronic pain and slow decay.
ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?
Yes. And there’s still so much I feel I need and want to do.
WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?
I tend to do all my outrageous acts in performance. The Crimson Word is just about to launch the first of a series of ‘Suprasensual Poeticals’ at a private members club in Hackney. It’s a continuation of work we have been exploring over the summer. Our theme is ‘Venus in Furs’ after the 1870 novella written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. It explores themes of female domination and male submission. So, I am going to be exploring FemmeDom in performance. I hope it will be fun! It’s a small audience in a beautiful room in a private members club. No tickets will be available on the door. Only sales in advance from here.