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AofA People: Ashton Applewhite – Writer & Activist


3 Minute Read

WHAT IS YOUR NAME?

Ashton Applewhite

HOW OLD ARE YOU?

66

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Brooklyn, NY

WHAT DO YOU DO?

I’m a writer and activist.

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

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

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

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

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

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

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

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

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

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

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

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

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

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

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

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

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

Into my writing.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

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

AND DYING?

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

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

Of course, bigger all the time.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

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

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

Appearances

 

AofA People: Pete Lawrence – Founder, Campfire Convention


13 Minute Read

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

What do you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what about sex?

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

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

And relationships?

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

How free do you feel?

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

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

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

What are you proud of?

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

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

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

What keeps you inspired?

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

Music – the universal language.

Art – creativity in all its forms.

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

When are you happiest?

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

And where does your creativity go?

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

What’s your philosophy of living?

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

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

I thank my friend Kimm sent it to me today.

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

That floats over the swirling sea of life,

Surrounded by the meadows of the winged shepherds,

Where divine love and beauty,

The stillness of midnight summer’s warmth pervades.

Life often cuts at my body and mind

And though blood may be seen passing,

And a cry might be heard,

Do not be deceived that sorrow could dwell within my being

Or suffering within my soul.

There will never be a storm

That can wash the path from my feet,

The direction from my heart,

The light from my eyes,

Or the purpose from this life.

I know that I am untouchable to the forces

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

To serve, to love, and to give.

Strength lies in the magnification of the secret qualities

Of my own personality, my own character

And though I am only a messenger,

I am me.

Let me decorate many hearts

And paint a thousand faces with colours of inspiration

And soft, silent sounds of value.

Let me be like a child,

Run barefoot through the forest

Of laughing and crying people,

Giving flowers of imagination and wonder,

That God gives free.

Shall I fall on bended knees,

And wait for someone to bless me

With happiness and a life of golden dreams?

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

Sometimes falling, sometimes stumbling,

But always picking myself up,

A thousand times if necessary,

Sometimes happy.

Often life will burn me,

Often life will caress me tenderly

And many of my days will be haunted

With complications and obstacles,

And there will be moments so beautiful

That my soul will weep in ecstasy.

I shall be a witness,

But never shall I run

Or turn from life, from me.

Never shall I forsake myself

Or the timeless lessons I have taught myself,

Nor shall I let the value

Of divine inspiration and being be lost.

My rainbow-covered bubble will carry me

Further than beyond the horizon’s settings,

Forever to serve, to love, and to live.

And dying?

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

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

Are you still dreaming?

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

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

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

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

You can find the Campfire Convention crowdfunding campaign here:

https://fundrazr.com/campfireconvention

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


13 Minute Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is one of them.

YVONNE interviewed in 1971

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She serves me jasmine tea.

*******

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2 Minute Read

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

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

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

Age (in years) 
71

Where do you live?

Randomly moved to Wincanton in Somerset three years ago.

What do you do?

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

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

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

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

Experience.

What about sex?

Love it with the right guy.

And relationships?

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

How free do you feel?

As free as I allow myself.

What are you proud of?

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

When are you happiest?

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

And where does your creativity go?

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

What’s your philosophy of living?

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

And dying?

Don’t really think about it – no time.

Are you still dreaming?

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

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

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

Culture Interview – Lesley-Ann Jones on her memoir, Tumbling Dice


14 Minute Read

Lesley-Ann Jones is an author who worked for the likes of the News of the World back in the 80s and 90s. She was whisked around the world to interview people like Hugh Grant (post-Divine and very funny story), Madonna, Raquel Welch, Freddie Mercury and Marco Piero White. Now she’s re-lived it all in her new memoir, Tumbling Dice, which really brings it all back. It’s a fascinating read.

What prompted you to write a memoir now?

I had dined out for years on many hair-raising Fleet Street war stories. At one point, I might have mistaken the phrase ‘Tell me again the one about …’ for my name. I’d lost count of the number of people who had said to me, ‘You really should write a book about your own life.’ So I had been thinking about it for a long time, while never actually doing anything about it. Then my youngest child came of age, while my parents are now in their eighties. It occurred to me that it would be nice to publish such a book while they are still alive, and also that I wouldn’t have to hold back anymore because my children are now grown-ups and could take it. Once I started, it just poured out. It was a very cathartic experience. I hadn’t realized how damaged I was by certain episodes: we tend to bury things, and to live in denial. Writing about them forced me to confront my feelings about them in a different way. On the whole, I have to say, this was a good thing.

You have described the experience as like going out nude? Could you elaborate upon that?

I was staying at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood some years ago with my eldest daughter when an earthquake occurred. Quite a serious earthquake: 7.9 on the Richter scale. The bed I was in at the time ended up across the room, underneath the television, a vast thing, which was now dangling precariously from the wall. Ours was a poolside room on the ground floor, with the main door leading out to the swimming pool terrace. I looked outside and saw a naked woman running along the other side of the pool, screaming. She was completely starkers, except for a very elaborate diamond necklace and chandelier earrings. I remember thinking, not even in the most severe earthquake would I go legging it outside without my clothes on. Daft, really, when you think about the difference between bare-bum nakedness and being bikini-clad, which is a few skimpy triangles and some bits of string. Not that you’d catch me wearing one of those these days, either. But you get my drift. I’ve had three kids. The body is not what it was. I wouldn’t want to frighten the animals. In other words, I am extremely shy and self-contained, like most people. Writing a memoir is the most self-exposing thing that a writer can do, and yes, it is very frightening. What on earth will people think?

Philip Norman describes you as ‘naughty’ in the foreword? Why does he think that?

I have always been a wicked type. Always up for mischief. Given to double-entendres and pranks, with a taste for shaking things up. Life is much more interesting when it has a big tee-hee factor. I was involved in a lot of end-of-pier-type escapades on Fleet Street in the name of a good story. I’ve got some cheek, too. I tend to say the unsayable. I get away with it. I think Phil was alluding to that.

You seem to me to travel between prim and on the nose?

It’s an accurate assessment. I can’t explain it. My eccentric Welsh upbringing, probably. My great-grandmother, grandmother and elderly aunts were all unbendingly proper and obsessed with keeping up appearances. They wouldn’t even nip down the shops without reaching for hat and gloves. But they all knew how to let their hair down and have a rollicking good time over a tipple behind closed doors. I have vivid memories of them all hitching up their skirts and dancing. I must take after them.

This is a memoir that is mainly about the 80s and 90s, you say there was more drugs and alcohol in TV than the music biz?

That was certainly my experience. Drug taking at Chrysalis Records, where I worked, just wasn’t a thing. We drank our share of champagne, though. It was enough. I have never ‘done drugs’. I’ve never even had a drag on a cigarette. I have only wet vices.

You do have a few demons to face down in this book, was it cathartic in that way, or just painful?

Both. Now that I’ve done it, I have a taste for it. There is much more to say. I am already working on the sequel.

You really have hung out with a lot of musicians, actors including unlikely ones like Raquel Welch and Gary Glitter? Accessibility was just so different in those days, wasn’t it?

A number of full-blown careers that we nowadays take for granted simply didn’t exist back then. I’m talking personal managers and publicists, agents and PRs… and a lot of hangers-on. Most artists didn’t have such people in their lives, all justifying their own positions and jobs by interfering and coming between journalist and star. If we bagged an interview with a celebrity, it was just us and them, in a room or a restaurant for a couple of hours. If you hit it off and got on, they might ask you what you were doing for dinner that night. The following week, you might get a call asking you to go to Dusseldorf with them, to review a show. You’d be picked up by their limo, you’d sit next to them on the plane, stay in the same hotel, and be treated like one of their entourage. There was no ‘us and them’ about it. The unspoken rules were simple: you wrote the interview. You reviewed the gig. Whatever else you might witness, it was a case of, what happens on the road stays on the road. You didn’t write the off-record stuff, or you would never be invited back. That was the code by which journalists and artists lived. That code was broken during the early Nineties, when the age of the Paparazzi reached an all-time high – or should I say, ‘low’ – and when celebrity coverage became vicious, every-man-for-himself. Think back to how the rottweilers stalked Freddie Mercury during his final couple of years, photographing him as he left his doctor’s surgery, looking gaunt and on his last legs. They appeared to relish his demise, as if to say, look, this is what you get for being gay. It was shameless and appalling. Laws have changed since then, and rightly so. In our day it was mostly fun, light-hearted and good-humoured. But of course, the Pandora’s Box is open, now. there is no going back.

There are mentions re getting old and attitudes to it – Madonna, you describe, as in fear of it and in pursuit of youth, Joan Collins who also became a friend by the sound of it, is described as having ‘mock-croc’ skin on her body but the perfect face because she’s kept it out of the sun. What’s your personal take on getting older?

That it is better than the alternative. I have a circle of very close friends who are all considerably older than me. My best friend in the world, Simon Napier-Bell (the former manager of Wham!) is nearly three decades older than me, but we are virtually the same person. There is no ‘age gap’. Along with Simon, Ed Bicknell, the former manager of Dire Straits, Clem Cattini, the UK’s most prolific session drummer and former member of the Tornados, and Brian Bennett, the Shadows drummer, are my closest male friends. We make a formidable gang. My best female friend is a decade older than me. I’m still in close touch with three close classmates from school, and two from college … none of which proves anything, other than the fact that people are valuable throughout their lives, and that society places far too great an emphasis on ‘age’ and numbers. It’s not a qualification. I had grandparents and aunts who lived to great ages. I was accustomed to spending considerable time with much older people from a very young age. At my church, St. Bride’s, ‘the Journalists’ Church’ on Fleet Street, most of my friends there are in their 70s and 80s. But their ages are irrelevant. I wrote about Madonna’s hang-ups about growing older, because those are her hang-ups. Joan Collins has always been refreshingly candid about the ageing process. It was from her that I learned to keep my face and neck out of the sun! The ‘mock-croc’ phrase was hers: I’ve always admired the way in which she sends herself up. Worrying about growing and looking older is never going to arrest the process. We’d best forget about it. I live by very simple rules: keep the clutter down; dress the part; talk to men, women and children everywhere you go: everybody has a story to tell; live dangerously (because it lengthens and strengthens your life); never resort to cosmetic surgery, because those who have had it all look like freaks; keep your options open; and remember that everything that is working against you is ultimately working for you. It sometimes takes a while, but it is always the case in the end.

Bill Wyman was a friend in the 80s, and you realized in hindsight you were part of a friendship group that protected his relationship with Mandy Smith who was only 13 when she started seeing him. How does that feel now?

I feel guilty. I knew about it, but never told anyone. I should have. It had already been going on for a couple of years when I realized. I don’t know why I didn’t tell anyone. I was young too. What Bill did to us was a form of abuse. He convinced us to collude in his abuse of Mandy in insidious ways. We were impressed by him, and unsuspecting of his motives. Only when I became a mother myself did I begin to feel differently about it.

I was fascinated by all the machinations at the newspapers – the pay offs, the editors that are deposed and therefore you become more of that fallout, Nick Gordon at YOU who obviously adored you and sent you on all sorts of assignments. And then Piers Morgan when he was editing News of the World, you end up having to sit next to Hugh Grant in Business Class after he has been caught with his pants down and in the paid for company of Divine Brown – he scarpered as soon as he saw you and this impossible mission was not accomplished. How was it for you?

At the time, all of those things were just part of the job. You simply got on with it. It is only now, looking back, that I can see what a crazy existence it all was. We walked tightropes on a daily basis. Vast sums of money were always at stake. Killing the competition and getting the exclusive were all that mattered. We risked our reputations and sometimes our lives for both. I now think what a mental movie it would all make. Because those Fleet Street heyday years have never been captured on film.

There are the famous you obviously like – Joan Collins, Linda McCartney, and others that you pour scorn upon – like Hugh Grant, Madonna?

While it is true that I adore Joan Collins, and that I really loved Linda McCartney, I can’t agree that I ‘poured scorn on Madonna’. She was good to me on a few occasions. I understand her dilemma. How hard must it be to evolve from pretty young sex symbol into ageing diva? You are doing your growing-old in public, and everyone is looking for the cracks. I wouldn’t necessarily have done it her way, but perhaps I’d feel differently in her shoes (and with her money). I have never seen the attraction of younger men, by the way. Men are immature at the best of times, and tend to need mothering, which perhaps explains my friendships with much older guys!

You also tell us about your own love life throughout the book, was that difficult to do because you haven’t had an easy time? You have been a single mum with three children for most of the time.

What do I know about love? That it hurts as well as heals. That’s about it. I am older and wiser, I like to think. I have three amazing kids. My parents are still alive. I have a very busy time with all of them. My life works for me. A partner would (might) be a bonus, but is not a necessity. I have always felt that it’s better to be on my own than with the wrong person; that it is not about being with a man, any man at whatever cost, but with the man. If I couldn’t meet someone naturally, in the real world, then it wasn’t my time, this time around. I don’t do internet dating, nor any of that. I respect other people’s reasons for doing so. It’s not for me.

Tell us about John Hurt offering to buy your first-born, Mia?

I knew John socially. He was married to his wife Donna at the time, and they couldn’t conceive. I was in an advanced state of pregnancy and hanging with him at a private members’ club when he offered me £100,000 for my unborn child. There wasn’t anything sordid about it. He knew that I was about to become a single mother, and probably thought he was doing me a favour! What he didn’t know was that I had chosen to go it alone and have my baby anyway, after my relationship broke up. He was so desperate for a baby that he was prepared to pay a vast sum for one. His desperation broke my heart. He was drinking a great deal in those days. His mind was distorted. He must have known that such a transaction would have been illegal, and we could both have been done for it. Not that I considered it for a second. I would never be without Mia, not in a million years.

You certainly have a way with descriptions – you describe Joan Collins as ‘smelling like toffs’ chocolate’, which made me laugh. And Linda McCartney as ‘as down-to-earth as a root vegetable’. Has your writing always been like that?

I started writing stories when I was about 5 years old. I have hundreds of notebooks dating back to infants’ school. I have always found it easier to write than to speak. I express myself best through the written word. I have a wry view of the world, which is unsurprising, given my eccentric family. I’ve also devoured books since I was tiny. The only way to become a good writer is to read avidly. Anyone can write, it is simply a question of doing it. Of reading a lot, and then doing it. But yes, it is vital to avoid clichés, and to deploy descriptions that do not merely echo what has been said countless times before. There are something like 200,000 words in the English language, if you count obsolete words and foreign derivatives. Our average active vocabulary is around 20,000 words. We can all do better!

Were you tempted to have sex with Marco Piero White? That chapter is titled ‘You know we are going to fuck, don’t you?’

Are you joking? Absolutely not! I was fed-up, not hard-up. He smelled of food, had dirt under his fingernails, and there was dried blood all down his trousers. He was considered something of a sex symbol in his younger day, as I recall. All that matted hair and menacing staring, I suppose. But no, not at all my type. Wouldn’t touch him with yours. I always preferred them freshly-showered, brushed and tweeded, with a volume of Shakespeare under one arm.

What did you discover about yourself during the writing of Tumbling Dice, which is taken from a Stones’ song on Exile on Main Street?

I discovered that there is no real closure. Not about anything. You live with things. You survive with things. No damage ever truly heals. You just have to get on with it, and keep laughing at yourself. Because everyone else will.

How would you sum up that era for you?

I loved it. It defined me, and to a great extent still does. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

The book will be available from 6th April on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, as an eBook and in paperback. Signed/personalised/dedicated copies can be ordered from Lesley-Anne’s website via PayPal: www.lesleyannjones.com

 

 

AofA People: Annie Moon – Social Impact Co-Pilot


4 Minute Read

What is your name?

Annie Moon

Briefly sum up who you are and what motivates you

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 options and 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/

AofA People: Philippa Perry – Writer, Psychotherapist, TV and Radio Presenter


5 Minute Read

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)

61

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?

LOADSA MONEY

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.

And relationships?

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.

And dying?

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.

AofA People: Alan Dolan – Breath Coach


6 Minute Read

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)    

55

Where do you live?         

Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

What do you do?

I´m a self-employed breath coach

www.breathguru.com

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

Perspective

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.

And relationships?

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

Nature

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?            

Be Love

And dying?

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?           

Always.

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.

Travelling with my Adult Son – me 65, him 32


21 Minute Read

‘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.

Rose Rouse

‘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.

Rose Rouse

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.

Rose Rouse

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.

Rose Rouse

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.

Rose Rouse

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.

Rose Rouse

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.

Rose Rouse

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.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

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.’

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

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.

Rose Rouse

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.
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