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AofA People: Mychael Owen – Brand Builder


5 Minute Read

“Mychael Owen has built 10 brands of his own and has advised some of the world’s biggest brands – at board level – how to build theirs.
In his late 40’s, Mychael ‘wiped the slate clean’ and closed all his businesses to pursue what he felt he was born to.
These days, Mychael ‘Builds Braver Brands’ with his new agency mychael.co.uk, writes daily stories (3650 stories, 1 each day, for 10 years) at 50odd.co.uk and leads global clothing brand Always Wear Red as they build their reputation for creating The Best Hand Knits In The World.”

What do you do?

What I am born to do.

www.50odd.co.uk.
www.alwayswearred.com
www.mychael.co.uk

 

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

It’s OK.

I am aware of the brick wall, though.

The end.

Death.

But I am also aware that I will live for 1000 months only.

That’s it.

So I live bravely.

That’s why I closed down a raft of 7 figure turnover companies that I’d built when I was 46.

To do what I was born to do.

I thought that I’d better hurry up as I’d used 600 months or so doing shite that didn’t really matter.

Working with (some) people I didn’t really like.

It’s much nicer doing things that do matter.

And working with nice people.

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

A daughter.

Izzy Willow.

Izobel is 4.

Insights that make judgement and comparison with and from others less powerful.

A determination to see just one film as I lie on my deathbed.

Most people see two.

The film they were in.

And the film they wish they had been in.

I am determined just to see just one.

The one I want to be in.

And what about sex?

It happens quite a bit.

Actually no, wait.

There has to actually be someone else there with you doesn’t there?

No.

It doesn’t happen much.

And relationships?

I’m with Lisa.

Lisa puts up with me very well.

And is probably much more important than I imagine.

How free do you feel?

Interesting question.

Always Wear Red is a business that defines me most accurately.

Always Wear Red is the best hand knits in the world.

For the most important times of your life.

Your downtime.

It’s your permission to pause.

I believe in 8/8/8.

8 hour working (on something you love).

8 hours of sleeping.

8 hours free.

For pausing.

Because the time you do nothing can mean everything.

All of that (albeit authentic) brand-speak aside.

I am not as free as I could be.

But that might be OK, as it goes.

I’m not sure.

Freedom in of itself is not valuable.

What you do with it, is.

What are you proud of?

Izobel.

Always Wear Red.

Not turning into either my dad or my stepdad.

Both of whom were cnuts (conscious misspell).

What keeps you inspired?

Tomorrow.

And Izobel.

When are you happiest?

Mornings.

When Izobel is laughing.

And where does your creativity go?

Everywhere.

I imagine a world I want to live – and then I live it.

And I insist on people around me being endlessly free-thinking and creative.

I want them to think and behave in a blurty, Tourettes kind of way.

I assertively remove anyone that erodes the creativity inside anyone or anything with a great degree of determination and focus.

Creativity is breathing.

I can think of not one scenario where it’s inclusion would make anything less good.

What is your philosophy of living?

Life is nothing about what you do.
Life is all about what you are for.

And this… generosity is the most powerful driver of preeminence and leading an exceptional life.

Because generosity leads to a feeling of value and self-worth.

And value and self-worth lead to confidence.

And confidence leads to excellence, preeminence, and leading an exceptional life.

I see this as very straight forward.

And dying?

It makes me very, very sad.

And urgent.

I’m still processing death as a notion.

I plan to avoid it if I can.

If I ever meet God.

(Which I won’t.

Because she doesn’t exist.

But if she did).

I’d encourage her to leave the death bit out.

To create both love and death in the same lifetime is the cruelest idea.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes.

Always.

It is food to me.

Imagination and creativity are everything.

Research shows that judgment and comparison begin to erode dreams and creativity at the age of 5.

We rediscover dreaming and creating as we get older.

Because we remove the two aforementioned blockers more effectively as we celebrate (and indeed crave) our uniqueness more confidently.

I could run, growling into every day.

Desperate to dream and do at every juncture.

And take everyone with me, too.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I appeared on a TV programme where a psychologist was placed with me and my team for a week.

His intention was to bond us so closely that we’d come to work naked on the Friday.

This was pilot show for Virgin 1 TV channel relaunched.

They asked.

I said yes.

3 million people saw it in year one.

10m+ to date.

Being filmed driving 10 miles to work with an A to Z on your willy is.

Err.

Interesting.

(And cold).

The Culture Interview – Louise Kleboe, singer


10 Minute Read

Louise Kleboe is a singer and composer, plus she plays piano and guitar. She was born in Cornwall and was brought up in the Orkney Islands. She currently lives in Clerkenwell, London. Her voice is operatic and her attitude and singing have been compared to Kate Bush. She opened the Glastonbury Festival in 2017 and 2019, she will be doing so again online this year. Check glastonburyfestivals.co.uk Her new album Verdant is released this week. You can pre-order it here.

 

You were brought up in the Orkneys, how did that affect your singing?

The weather and landscape there are tumultuous, unpredictable, like a wild barbaric symphony. My dad found a guitar in a skip and did it up. When I was 10, I got a book from Kirkwall Library and taught myself guitar. I loved that massive guitar. I performed my first song that I composed “Wild and Free” at the Orkney Folk Festival and on St Magnus Day celebrations in front of thousands of people. When I was 11 years old I was totally unselfconscious!! Sir Peter Maxwell Davis worked with our school music department, I was his glockenspiel player of choice!! His music was ultra-modern, atonal…it really fitted that unforgiving, stormy world. I was surrounded by folk music, the hundred violins, accordions & guitars of the Orkney Strathspey and Reel Society…what a sound!! Pure Cape Breton energy. The song “The Oyster Catcher” is about this time and it features that rhythmic violin loop that conjures up the call of a sea bird lost to the wind and it has the youthful exuberance and determination that we can change this desperate trajectory. People on Orkney care about each other and care about art and music and are leaders in alternative energies, wind power, solar power, tidal power. I did my first recording there in Attic studios at age 12.

When did you discover you had such a powerful voice?

Then when we moved to Cornwall, my teacher Mr Bosustow heard those early Orkney recordings and offered to teach me classical singing for free. I lived in a single-parent household now with two younger siblings and I was a young carer for my disabled parent and we were very poor. I could never have afforded private singing lessons. At this time of being a young carer, I had very low self-esteem and the singing lessons really helped me feel better about myself and process the difficulties and trauma I was going through. I was asked to sing with some famous jazz bands in the Bude Jazz Festival which was a brilliant lesson in improvisation and thinking on my feet!! Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald became my heroes.

And you studied music at Trinity, how did this influence your trajectory?

Studying singing at Trinity College of Music was a shock after a very deprived existence in Cornwall. Suddenly I could buy a Mars bar whenever I wanted. It was so exciting being introduced to musical theory and exploring polyphony in the hallowed company of Monteverdi and the Jazz/Opera of Gershwin.

I generally hung out with the guitarists…they were more laid back. Know what I mean?

How did you partner up with Alfie Thomas musically? I love the combination of that punk accordion and your soaring voice.

I left college early to become a full-time carer for my disabled parent. After a while and with no opportunities or time to pursue a career in opera, I decided to give up singing altogether. The vicar of the local church asked me to do just one more concert before I quit, a solo spot in a carol concert in the Regents Park Housing Estate. Alfie was dragged in by his little daughter. He heard me sing and later wrote a song for me called “Stillness”. He said that I create stillness around me when I sing. He was writing music for film at the time and our shared love of Shostakovich clinched the deal!! Alfie has an unusual mix of punk-folk attitude (he was in urban-folk outfit Band of Holy Joy) and orchestral sensibility. We clicked immediately, we formed a band “Society of Imaginary Friends” where punk accordion meets opera/blues to explosive effect and have written two full-length operas together.

Tell me about opening Glastonbury in 2017 and this year online?

Glastonbury 2017 was my first experience of singing at the incredible opening ceremony in the green field, although I had previously performed on the amazing Arcadia Spectacular giant Spider stage as “voice of the spider” at Glastonbury Festival 2011. The Opening Ceremony in 2017 was a magical evening, a hot sultry Solstice night. So special, my first experience of working with that incredible team of fire dancers, choirs,  druids,  drummers, sacred women, the Native American  “Water Protectors” of Standing Rock and pyro-mystics and the atmosphere of the 65,000 joyous people. It is always a wild journey that starts in January when we are asked to write and perform the music and songs for the next ceremony. Everything associated with the Glastonbury Festival is extreme and super-charged. It is a Sun Festival and is very male in nature. The opening ceremony in the Green Field balances this extrovert male energy with female energy with gentleness, love, healing and compassion. It’s the opposite of the corporate music industry side of Glasto and has its roots firmly in the original free festival.

It has been an honour to have been part of the Green Fields team in 2017, 2019 and now this year sadly in lockdown but still vibrant and energised. I think the online 2020 opening ceremony will be very powerful and emotional. I am singing “We’re a Real Force of Nature” and this message feels so strong and true in the performances and messages from all involved. Normally people don’t get to see the fire dancers or any of the participants close up so hopefully, this lockdown version will be a real treat.

What was the process of creating your new album Verdant like?

You won’t believe this but “Verdant” grew out of me moving my studio (Laptop, Speakers, Table) from the bedroom to the front room of my flat in Camden. I was going down a very dark cul-de-sac with my next album. Then my friend Carol who knows about these things told me to move the music production area to a more positive energetic space and suddenly the songs started to flow…the concept finally crystallised when I was moon-bathing in that incredible May Flower Full Moon.

Alfie and I have been heavily involved in the Green/Environmentalist movement for many years. We wrote music for Franny Armstrong’s film “The Age of Stupid” and are painfully aware of time rapidly running out for the earth and for our children and all of the living creatures of this amazing planet. Verdant starts dreamy and shifts into anger and desperation but is determined and hopeful in the end.

Do you and Alfie write the songs together?

Most songs are 50/50 collaborations. We are both composers and lyric writers and swap roles all over the shop. But I am the one who is most careful about LEVELS when recording, mixing and mastering!! Alfie’s punk side means he always has the knobs rammed up to 11!!

How do your politics affect your lyrics?

I am passionate about what is happening in the world. It seems to me that we are being led down the garden path by a bunch of criminal, ignorant, narcissistic psychopaths upholding a man-made economic system that works against the planet, society, equality and love. Sadly it sometimes feels like I am shouting in the wilderness or just into a social bubble. We have never been more isolated than this time of social networking. But I can’t keep silent about the madness that we are descending into.

You’ve also made soundtrack music for films?

People often describe our music as being “cinematic”. We write music for film. It’s an exciting process because the image becomes the voice with the music in the supporting role. It is a different skill I love to explore. I love the film scores of Bernard Herrmann, John Williams and Nino Rota. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s score for DEVS was great and we are currently loving Adem Ilhan’s score for the hilarious “Avenue 5”. It’s a really healthy art form at the moment. I’ve got to tell you about my proud moment when I recently won the “Best Sound Design” award at the Southampton International Film Festival for the film Night light.

Tell me about a couple of the songs on the new album – Virus and The Garden?

Our song “The Virus” from “Verdant” is a twisted operatic duet between myself and the amazing tenor David Pisaro who sang the part of Bill Gates in our rock opera “RAm”. He has a brilliant messianic, almost psychotic edge to his voice. The Virus is a premonition. We recorded it in Autumn 2019 secretly in a church over the road (someone left the doors open). No sign of COVID yet. I sing with trepidation about the virus leading to the death of truth and David comes back at me saying that the virus is his crowning moment as God of Earth. It is quite crazy how reality has just caught up with the song!!

“The Garden” is a question about where exactly we humans fit in, in the great scheme of things. What kind of animal am I?

I hear lots of different influences from traditional folk songs to Indian drums?

Our ears are open and we paint with a very broad palette, we have worked with some of the world’s greatest musicians on “Verdant”. For example Anselmo Netto, Brazil’s master of percussion, Kiranpal Singh’s delicate waterfall of sound from his Santoor and Tabla and Oxhy, a brilliant young producer/ composer who created beats for one of our tracks.

You finished the album during lockdown in the woods. How was that?

Our friend very kindly offered her cabin in the woods just before lockdown so that we could carry on recording at a reduced pitch of anxiety. It was an amazing offer as Alfie has diabetes and would be vulnerable if he caught COVID. If you listen closely there is the sound of birds singing on vocal tracks. We drink coffee, we eat things but the joy is missing. The taste has evaporated. The tragedy is always there in the background and the knowledge of a huge climate Crisis around the corner, it feels very biblical – pestilence and then famine.  It’s a very important lesson about priorities. Nature has finally had a rest from us humans, which is so wonderful. We saw otters and a huge snake side-winding by the door…birds of prey…the insect population is healthy, especially the ticks!!  Spooky, beautiful and precious and undeniably “Verdant” but for how long? We need Nature but Nature doesn’t need us.

You’ve been compared to Kate Bush and Grace Jones in the Telegraph?

Yes, I have often been compared to Kate Bush and I find the comparison a great compliment. Although I don’t think our voices are really that similar as my voice is deeper. I suppose she has a folk edge and classical leanings and she isn’t afraid of departing from musical norms. So we are similar in that way.  Grace Jones? She is a stylish and a formidable presence on stage with massive charisma…so…OK !! Wow !! Both wonderful comparisons, which make me happy.

AofA People – 5 Rhythms Teacher, Nikki Ashley


3 Minute Read

Nikki Ashley has been dancing and studying 5Rhythms for 12 years. She trained to teach in 2014 with Jonathan Horan, son of founder Gabrielle Roth. Nikki comes from a background in theatre; traditional, educational and participatory.

Nikki has worked with dancing Tao for 10 years, helping to shape it into a Community Interest Company, she also works with women, elders and regular groups and is a mentor to 5Rhythms teachers in training. She runs a Wednesday daytime group in South London for Over-60s who’d like to have fun with their dancing bodies.

Age 

54

Where do you live?

London

What do you do?

I’m a Movement Meditation teacher

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

A relief

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

The ability not to take myself too seriously

What about sex?

Definitely gets better the older I get. I care less about how I look, perform, I’m much more adventurous, there’s less of me in the way. I’m not going in for it unless it’s absolutely yummy and enjoyable and worth staying up late for!!

And relationships?

I don’t live with my partner – we are very different, have quite separate lives and so when we do come together it’s for all the good stuff – when it gets boring we go back to our own homes!  Seriously though this does have its disadvantages as we never really deepen through the every day to day stuff, and can
sometimes feel like we live in a bubble. So it definitely has its advantages and disadvantages.

How free do you feel?   

Very free in my body.

What are you proud of?   

My Mum.

What keeps you inspired?

Music … listening to, dancing to, making it (I’m learning to play a hand drum) singing, all forms of movement and dance.

When are you happiest?

Walking in nature

And where does your creativity go?

I pour a lot of my creativity into making my classes, finding music to complement exercises – making
playlists – DJing. Lately, I have started art classes, which I love, and that I would never have contemplated when I was younger, at school art was not a subject I excelled at – now I don’t worry so much about what the end product looks like, it’s all about the process, so my creativity is flourishing.

What’s your philosophy of living?

My father told me once ‘Life is not a rehearsal’ that has stuck with me – it keeps me in the moment and grounded in the now.

And dying?

This one caught me. A good friend of mine recently went through a near-death experience. I asked her ‘what’s on your bucket list now you’ve been granted a second chance?’  She looked at me and smiled and said –  ‘Nothing, I was already living the life I wanted to live with the people I wanted to be with. She stopped me in my tracks. So now that’s my enquiry or my version of it – which is really about self-acceptance, and trust in your own path.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes!  I dream a lot of the land I was born on the hills of my welsh ancestors. I dream a lot about the sea too.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?   

To me, it doesn’t seem outrageous but to some who see me dancing on my local common every evening around sunset, it may. I always get the odd glance but sometimes someone will join in for a wiggle and that’s always magic.

https://www.5rhythms.com/teachers/Nikki+Ashley

The Culture Interview – Monique Roffey


8 Minute Read

Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian-born British writer of novels, essays, a memoir and literary journalism. Her latest novel is The Mermaid of Black Conch, (April 2020). Her novels have been translated into five languages and shortlisted for several major awards and, in 2013, Archipelago won the OCM BOCAS Award for Caribbean Literature. Her essays have appeared in The New York Review of Books, Boundless magazine, The Independent, Wasafiri, and Caribbean Quarterly. She is a founding member of XRWritersRebel, and an advocate for emerging writers in Trinidad, founding St James Writers Room in 2014. She is currently Lecturer on the MFA/MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and a tutor at the Norwich Writers Centre.

The Mermaid of Black Conch is available straight from Peepal Tree Press here: https://www.peepaltreepress.com/books/mermaid-black-conch

Tell us how a mermaid became your central character for this book?

Easy, she swam to me in my dreams. I began to dream of her. Then, some years ago, back in 2013, I was in Tobago, for a fishing competition. Big fish were being weighed on the jetty, strung up by their tails. Wahoo, dolphin fish and the like, and it went from there. I made the leap, imaginatively; mermaids are in some way a link between the natural world and the human world. 

And a little about the mermaids that you have researched?

Mermaids are pan-global and pan iconic; they exist in every ocean and many rivers. Rivers are also often named after the feminine too, e.g. The Ganges, Mother Ganga. They are a pre-Christian water Goddess. Collectively, we have dreamt them up. The first mermaid ever written about came from Syria, her name was Atagaris. She killed her lover by mistake, so the legend goes. She, a Goddess, and he a mere human, some versions of the legend say that she killed him by the power of her lovemaking. Distraught, she tried to drown herself in a lake, but the other Gods saved her and turned her into a mermaid. Mermaid stories are everywhere. Often they are very sad stories, tales of women cursed and isolated, of women who are ‘bad’, temptresses, luring sailors to their deaths, e.g. Homer’s sirens in The Odyssey. Mermaids in the 21st century have been cutesified by Disney, but the original Hans Christian Anderson story of The Little Mermaid is very dark; she agrees to cut out her tongue and gives her beautiful voice to the sea witch. When she walks, it’s with searing pain. All this she agrees to so she can meet the prince again, who treat her like a pet. Because she cannot talk, she is a kind of mute over compromised innocent, in the real story. In the end, the prince marries someone else. Tragic. 

What is your mermaid a symbol of?

Water is often gendered as a feminine principle. We talk of ‘la mere’ for example. Sexual ambiguity and also the sexual objectification of women. They are also the quintessential ‘other’, a chimera, the mermaid is womxn, as a symbol of the outsider, the outcast; often she has been blamed, shamed and exiled. My mermaid is a symbol of otherness, for sure. Aycayia is indigenous, shamanic, and the target of a curse. She has been denied her rite of passage into womanhood, Eros. I decided to give the myth of Aycayia a 21st century feminist update, and let her enjoy and embrace that rite of passage, erotic love.

And how does this compare with more traditional mermaids?

To be honest, my mermaid is of the great pantheon of mermaids, an exile, a woman cursed. She is young, beauteous, talented and her own woman.

Credit: Haitian Painter Mireile Delice

How do you personally relate to your mermaid?

Ha, ha. The mermaid c’est moi! I relate to her entirely, as a complex loner, an outsider, of hybrid identity.

Is there a Black Conch island in the Caribbean? I can see there is a Conch island.

Black Conch is another name, from way back, for the island of Tobago, or so I gather. The island I’ve conjured is loosely based on the northern tip of Tobago. Tobago has its own mermen legends, so I’ve fictionalized the island.

You write much of the spoken dialogue in Creole, how was it to do that?

While I speak with an English accent, I’ve always had Trinidadian dialect in my ear. When you know a place well, things like language are part of the knowing. My brother and his family all speak with this dialect, it feels for me like a second language, one I know intrinsically. I do speak it too, now and then.

And there are the wonderful names Nicer Country, Miss Rain and Short Leg, which contrast so tellingly with Nicholas or Thomas. These names tell a de-colonising story in themselves, don’t they?

Yes they do. Nicer Country is someone I’ve met, only briefly. His name speaks of a pastoral postcolonial idyll. Short leg is a fictional name but symptomatic of how nicknames are so common and identifying in small places and how something like a disability is treated very matter-of-factly. Life, the artist and sweetman, also has a name which speaks of independence and freedom. I know a man called Life too. Black Conch is an amalgam of parts of Trinidad and Tobago I know well, rural areas I have lived in on and off over decades.

There are also brilliant words in it – pussy bone, bite-up and many more, did you have a ball with language?

Trinidad’s Creole has its own grammar and lexicon. Words like ‘wajang’ and ‘’mamaguy’ are a well-known part of that lexicon. Pussy-bone I made up. It’s one of the fun things about being a writer, making up words. There’s a blend of forms too, in this book. I wanted the mermaid to have a voice and she speaks in free verse and uses broken English, Creole parlance and some of her own words, like canoa, jiguera, and yabisi. Lots of language thing going on in this book, for sure.

You also give Aycayia give a different voice by giving her a poetic form to speak in?

Yes. Initially, I wanted to write the whole book in the voice of the mermaid, but it wasn’t really do-able. I played around with the mermaid’s voice a lot. I wanted some of her lost lexicon to be part of it, and to capture her partial grasp of her new language, which is a Creole parlance, as well as English from books, e.g. Standard English. The mermaid has earnt American Sign Language too. Basically she speaks in a kind of free verse. No punctuation. My biggest experiment with this book was if I could pull this off.

Did you wrestle with this book or was it easy to birth? Which were the difficult stages?

I dreamt it for a very long time. I did lots of research, as usual. Then it all came quite easily, and fluidly, over about nine months. I wrote most of it in 2016. We sold it in 2018.

There are some horrifically brutal parts of the book and it felt as though you were being political – as in your activism for the earth, for the shamed in society, and for women – through this narrative.

I feel that’s by the by. I’m old fashioned about writing and feel all I really want to tell is a good story. If people want politics they can watch Channel Four news. Of course, the book is deeply political and deeply feminist, but really it’s just part of the weft of the narrative. All I really hope for is that readers fall in love with the characters and get swept along. Politics is for later reflection. When we write with myth and archetypes, we are plugged deeply into the collective unconscious, so much work is done and already there. I don’t have to point out to the reader the ‘mermaid’ is other. We already know this.

The sexuality veers between yearning and idealization to barbaric and shocking, how did you weave this thread?

Sex is part of life and we are all made from sexual coupling. I have been drawn to writing about sex, over time, in all its shadow and light. Many writers leave sex out entirely. In this book I get to give an ancient myth a 21st century update and gift to the mermaid the rite of erotic passage from virgin to lover.

How have your books based in the Caribbean – from White Woman on a Green Bicycle to House of Ashes to The Mermaid of Black Conch – changed your relationship with Trinidad where you were born and where your family still live?

I’ve spent most of the last dozen years or so, going back and forth to Trinidad, living with my mother for large chunks of time. I’ve watched my brother’s kids grow up. I’ve done lots of teaching in Trinidad and mentoring of local writers; I’ve run writing retreats out here too. And yes, four Caribbean books have emerged, too. I think Trinidadians, at first, wanted to know who I am. Trinidad did become a much bigger part of my life in my 40s and early 50s. It’s where my family live and where I was born and schooled and it has always been home. Push, pull. Yes, the book has brought me closer to Trinidad and given me time to know my place in such a complex post-colonial society.

This feels like a love story, which was also a love story for you too, did you fall in love with your mermaid during the writing?

I have never written such an out and out love story. In fact, there are two love stories here. Did I fall in love with the mermaid? For sure. I love her dearly.

AofA People – Matthew Caley – Poet


9 Minute Read

Since his debut – Thirst [Slow Dancer, 1999] – was nominated for The Forward Prize for Best 1st Collection, Matthew Caley has published four more collections – the last three from Bloodaxe – and read everywhere from Novi Sad, Serbia to The Globe Theatre, London; from Prague’s Alchemy to Wayne-Holloway Smith’s living room. He’s recently taught Contemporary Poetry /Creative Writing at The School of English, St Andrews University, The University of Winchester and The Poetry School. He has just given the StAnza International Poetry Festival Lecture 2020. His 6th collection is Trawlerman’s Turquoise [Bloodaxe, 2019].

Where do you live?

Crystal Palace, South London

What do you do?

Poet

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

It’s strange as this questionnaire is forcing me to think about it and I rarely do. No idea why – when I was thirty and people accused me of being thirty I didn’t like the definition of it – I might lie upwards as much as downwards just to avoid definition or pre-conceived ideas. Maybe because I was hit by poetry/art very early on – and couldn’t really do anything else very well – I’ve just stuck doing those things – poetry, putting out books, readings, collaborating with artists, teaching art or poetry since the beginning – it’s a narrow seam and therefore my basic drives and actions and life remain pretty much the same and they don’t necessarily rely on physical fitness – though I feel Ok –- so it doesn’t feel so different.

Or I don’t notice the decline!

Plus, I don’t write directly from actual life and what happens to me. I write out of wordplay and structures and imagination. Some poets write their first book about childhood, their second about amorous relationships, their third about marriage, swiftly followed by decorating and divorce. My work messes with time and follows no chronology, it draws from life but tangentially, so there shouldn’t be much stress on age in it particularly.

I had a big party when I turned 50 and another when I turned 60 but they weren’t really about that. I discovered that a ‘big number party’ is the only way to see friends you haven’t seen for years. They’ll turn up for that. So it wasn’t really about me or my age but just a grand excuse to catch up. So I don’t view myself through the lens of any age. I’ve met people in their thirties who think they are old. It’s all relative. Of course, you can’t escape how others see you. Or noticing how certain people react because of your supposed age. I notice them noticing but I don’t care. So that solves that.

I would also think that whilst your stated aim to change the image of older folk is a great one, that you must also have to be careful to avoid—as any of these pro-these people or pro-that movements do—ghettoising yourselves. All persons are persons –just at different stages. I want to be around all ages of people -and luckily again – at the moment – I can be. This happens much more naturally in other countries than here I find. Children, teenagers, young adults, adults, older folks etc should be all mixed up in the same spaces. I don’t want to know only one strata. That’s stultifying. Advertising and social spacing can force people into their own age group. It’s good to mix it up. The media often stereotype older people so the image should be combatted but outside of the media folks need to mix it up themselves.

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

More books! Two daughters. A flat. I know my insides and my outsides. I know where to stand in relation to the source in order to get a poem. I know it’s not my drive that does it. The arc of propulsion that drives the poems started before me somehow and I just keep in its slipstream and end up where it takes me. I’ve narrowed down what I do so it’s more focused. If I’ve gained any wisdom then I probably don’t notice it be because you can’t re-construct exactly how you were before. Learning and skills are invisible once you’ve mastered them. You have changed, but there’s no former you to compare with. On Magazine’s- [the post-punk group’s] -‘comeback’ LP Know Thyself their songwriter and lyricist Howard Devoto has a song ‘Dear Howard of Course’ which is a song to his younger self. But much of his younger self had been filmed or recorded and maybe he has a better memory than me. Much of the LP deals with ageing, though in a typically oblique way, there’s a song called Holy Dotage! But it’s a fired-up fast song. I would guess there are losses and gains but sometimes the losses are good and the gains not so good. I have a bad memory which means I don’t tend to dwell in the past much so I’m usually dealing with the present. The now is all we have so its best to deal exclusively with that or you end up in the ether.

What about sex?

I’ve always had great fun and luck in the amorous world. It’s hard to talk about it overtly – not because of prudism – though our current culture can be strangely prudish –but because our current moment could but not misread it.

Since meeting Pavla and seeing my daughters born it all changed. Now it’s blood-ties and love. A different thing. But also I think discretion in relationships is a very underrated virtue – you make yourself vulnerable in amorous relationships and whoever or how many people are involved, what goes on is a beautiful, private thing. Those might seem strange in a world where people post videos of their genitals to each other quite merrily and overshare at every opportunity. This vies with the overall prudish culture to make a strange mix. I feel very grateful for all my past relationships, brief or more substantial, with some very strong, powerful, original, and beautiful characters. They all meant a good deal to me. But Pavla and I have been together for 20 years now and have two daughters. She’s a very strong character herself and an artist. Love and sex are both mutual and mutable things, their form changes virtually every day – if you drift with it. Being with one person isn’t so different from having a few lovers because everything changes all the time. If you keep alert they renew themselves.

And relationships?

Of course, there are many different types of relationships – not just the amorous world. I’m lucky again. I’ve got a wide range of friends – men and women of all ages and types. Because I’ve taught in art schools and poetry schools I regularly meet 18-23 year olds. I know quite a few young poets. I meet my daughters’ friends. So I have some ‘young’ friends and friends of all types. It’s just that I don’t see any of them very often because I’m too busy or always travelling about – though I have friends scattered everywhere so I see those when I travel – but with friendships – they usually hold up if they’re meant to.

How free do you feel?

‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’ as yer man said. No-one’s truly free under Capitalism or Communism. It’s just seeming degrees of it. Freedom is internal.

What are you proud of?

I find that word a bit iffy – it gets misused so much. There’s a danger it can become a kind of vacuous Facebook meme type word. An Award Ceremony word. Like the word ‘hero’ has become. But if there’s another word then I take great delight – I like the word ‘delight’ – in my daughters. Mina is [13] a musician-playing violin and viola, in all manner of orchestras and quartets and solo and Iris [19] is studying Animation in the Czech Republic which is a brave leap forward. They are delightful and I delight in them and who they’re becoming. And Pavla, of course, who has put so much into them.

What keeps you inspired?

I read that Leonard Cohen quote a while back – the one where he says, ‘If I knew where good songs came from I’d go there more often’. It’s a good line but I was dissatisfied with it – why can’t you climb back up the rope ladder to the source? I’ve spent 6 years working on that. It’s not ‘inspiration’ which I’ve found is a flimsy and insubstantial friend. It’s a mixture of internal ‘athletics of the mind’ – technique[s] and knowledge of timing. Then you can go there when you want and get the poem you want, when you want. I’m much closer to getting that. I’m not perfect at it yet but it’s getting much closer.

When are you happiest?

Most of the time. My default mode is pretty OK – most of the time. [That really annoys some people I notice.] So if I get happy then I’m really up. I’m happier being a ‘hired’ gun rather than full-time. I’m happy ‘on-the-road’ gigging. I’m happy to get back to my beauties. I‘m a cup more than half full and slightly above the brim person.

When in Chartier in Paris. Having coffee on a frozen balcony. Listening to The Punch Brothers or Fleet Foxes or Lankum or O’Hooley & Tiddow at a concert with all the girls. The Rabbit fair, Konice, Moravia. On the road. Everywhere. It’s portable, happiness.

And where does your creativity go?

I prefer the word ‘imagination’. Always into the poems, the books.

What’s your philosophy of living?

I try not to have one! Stand in the place where you live. Be in the minute you’re in. Reduce your worries to a minimum. Walk everywhere. Advice is the worst way of giving advice. Develop out of what you lack. [Baudrillardian. Barthian. A bit of Schopenhauer. Kristeva. ] You don’t need much. Know what you do need. Avoid elegy and nostalgia. Don’t carry a phone. Tell the time by laundrettes. Appreciate everyone, especially your enemies.

And dying?

It’s another imaginative leap – until it isn’t I guess.

Are you still dreaming?

I rarely dream. The poetry replaces that, maybe. The world is enough.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

You should see some of my line-breaks.

AofA People: Hanja Kochansky – Writer


3 Minute Read

A refugee during the Second World War to Italy, in 1948 Hanja Kochansky went to Johannesburg as an emigrant. In 1966 she played one of Elizabeth Taylor’s handmaidens in the film Cleopatra. In 1972 her book Women’s Sexual Fantasies was published by Ace Books in New York and became a best-seller. She is currently writing a novel and editing her memoir.

What is your age (in years)?

I’m 82, will be 83 on the Ides of this March.

Where do you live?

In Sheltered Housing, just off the Caledonian Road, in London.

What do you do?

I write. Have just finished a novel about the love affair between two septuagenarians. I’m also re-editing my memoir Now and Then.

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

I’m much more chilled out now, which is a blessing but find it difficult to cope with the deterioration of my body (my mind seems to be ok.) Legs hurt and I can no longer go for the long walks which once were a pleasure to do. I have also become slightly incontinent, which I hate. On the whole, I find what happens to the body in old age humiliating. But I say to myself, it is what it is and you are so lucky to be in good health (I take no big-pharma medication), so stop complaining. But I do complain. I do not like getting old. Although I’m not concerned about no longer being beautiful and having put on some weight.

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

Everything. Beginning with self-confidence. I had a very unhappy childhood living with a violent alcoholic father. It took me years of reading self-help books, starting with Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, which I read when I was already 50, to turn my lack of self-esteem into love for myself. Also, now I’m always given seats on public transport. At first, given that I don’t see myself as old, I found that surprising, but now I’m grateful for it.

What about sex?

I had my last affair, at the age of 72, with a man of 78. It lasted for two and a half years. The sex was good, but he turned out disappointing. I’m pretty sure I won’t be having any more lovers. I still have sexual urges and masturbate, but have no desire for a man.

And relationships?

I’m happy to say that I am constantly making new friends. Mostly they are a bit younger than I am, but no one seems to be prejudiced towards my age. I’m lazy and happy about being at home, but I make an effort to go out and meet people. I love good conversation, and I never hang out with someone who is banal.

How free do you feel?

Totally free, especially as I don’t have to pay rent and am given Pension Credit and a few other perks. This is such a blessing and I wish everyone in need would have my good fortune.

What are you proud of?

My (almost) daily exercise routine which consists mostly of Tai Chi and Chi Kung. And that, even in bad weather, I go to my Tai Chi class.

What keeps you inspired?

The philosophy of the Dali Lama is inspirational.

When are you happiest?

I am always happy, as I live in gratitude, most of the time. I don’t want to be on my death bed and realise I spent time being unhappy.

And where does your creativity go?

Basically towards writing.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Be the change you want to see in the world.

And dying?

‘I will not go gentle into that good night.’ However, I could easily change my mind about that and hope I will pass away gently and painlessly.

Are you still dreaming?

I dream all the time and should I ever find a Jungian dream therapist who doesn’t charge a fortune I would love to consult her.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I have no desire to be outrageous.

Dirty Blues & Jazz 1920s-40s | Valentine’s Day Special


0 Minute Read

Suzanne & George take you back to the 20s, the 1920s when blues was all the rage, Harlem’s delis sold ‘hooch’ and artists such as Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter and Ethel Water were making the rounds of the vaudeville theatres in both the U.S. and Europe singing songs filled with sexual innuendo that became known as the dirty blues. You’ll be laughing and crying as Suzanne belts out songs about sex, lies & heartache.

AofA People: Any Lucas – Events Ambassador, Riverside Studios


5 Minute Read

Let me introduce you to 59 year old Any Lucas who has recently become Events Ambassador at the newly reopened Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

How old are you?

59

Where do you live?

Hammersmith & Fulham

What do you do?

After 25 years spent in the educational system, I decided last summer that it was time to turn a brand new page. My 17-year-old finished 6th form in June (hence ending my 28 years role as a school mum as there is a 14-year gap with my eldest!) at almost the same time that my resignation letter to my headmaster took effect. In September, instead of preparing to meet new classes and deliver syllabuses, I started in my new role as Events Ambassador at the newly reopened RIVERSIDE STUDIOS in Hammersmith.

How do you feel about being your age?

I absolutely LOVE it! My brain seems to have finally learned to live to its fullest without endangering different aspects of my life. I am so grateful to all the lessons learned in each decade (good ones, hard and bad ones) as no growth would have taken place without these different experiences. Physically, despite some inevitable aches and pain, I am the fittest I have been since my body went through the miracle of birth three times.

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

So many things to mention, much better knowledge of myself and others makes a huge difference when perceiving everyday life situations so confidence is definitely high on the list. So much more acceptance of everything in general. A real appreciation of being part of humanity.

How do you feel about sex?

Oh la la! Over the years I have found myself many a time in the midst of conversations with friends where the tone of the exchanges turned far too über explicit for my liking. On each of these occasions, I can always feel the redness and tend to remain rather quiet! Sex is such a powerful expression of intimacy! However, as a mother of 3 daughters, I have tried to make sure that the sexual aspect of their upbringings was always an open dialogue.

And relationships?

My husband Chris and I have been together for over 38 years. It definitely hasn’t been ‘une longue fleuve tranquille’ – far from it! But, despite all the highs and lows, some really humongous ones, he is still my very best friend. We share so many memories! And of course, I could not do without the rich tapestry of people with whom I share an array of different but equally invaluable friendships. 

How free do you feel?

Very free! The freest I have been since my children were born. I value being in charge of achieving the right balance between work/life, wellbeing and I also appreciate the simple joy of life. I feel that today, after years of living in a near state of constant stress I am getting to the balance.

What are you proud of?

As anybody who knows me will testify, I would be a liar if I said anything other than my three smart and talented daughters. Each of them continues to amaze me every day, they are the sunshine of my life for sure. To witness them transforming into confident, super able femi/nist/nine women is the best highlight ever!

What inspires you?

Everything and anything really: family, books, Nature, paintings, skies…To be inspired is to be alive.

When I swim up and down my local pool: it’s my time for making lists, meditating, being aware of strength and physicality or simply the best way to start the day! Cycling along the river as a commute to work and of course at any other time.  Family time.

Where does your creativity go?

Strangely, unlike most of my family and a hefty majority of my friends, there is nothing concrete, visual or audible to touch, see or hear which could be attributed to me. I think most of my creativity is somehow directed in the sphere of my social being. It appears to go into my everyday life and my interactions with my fellow humans. I seem to be able to form connections between disparate people who are often engaged with the creative arts.

What is your philosophy of living?

To really live life. To focus on the positive and let bygones be bygones. Regrets and anger are such destructive and self-centred emotions. To have a permanent sense of curiosity and wonder. To be kind to oneself and others. Acceptance of oneself and others. Someone told me once I was the tree and my daughters were the blossoms and, as it stands I am happy now to be grounded as my blossoming years were somewhat volatile.

And dying?

It should be just like turning another page into the unknown of the next chapter! Unfortunately, it saddens me that in the 21st century too many examples of ‘bad deaths’ are occurring on a scandalous scale. Our modern society needs to have a very serious open debate and to be prepared for some seismic changes at many different levels: law, medicine, care system, costs, attitudes to entitle every individual to a dignified death.

Are you still dreaming?

Oh yes! In all its varied aspects! When I sleep, daydreaming and when completely lucid! Getting the chance of working in the creative arts and joining Riverside Studios, that is a dream come true.

Tell us something outrageous that you’ve done recently.

I find this question confusing. What might appear totally outrageous to one person might not be so to another! For example, recently I was describing to some friends my love of cycling in the dark on the wilder north bank of the Thames between Barnes and Hammersmith Bridge – they described this as being totally outrageous! They mentioned the danger of being alone in the dark. I utterly disagreed (so did some other friends). When you speak of darkness in London, it is a bit of a joke really. In those moments, the reflecting lights on the water, the whooshing sounds of the leaves under my wheels, the complete awareness of sounds in the trees and bushes alive with birds and wildlife mixed with the rush of adrenaline. That isn’t outrageous! That is having fun on my way back home.

AofA People: Kathy Keefe – Artist


3 Minute Read

Kathy Keefe, 63, is a wildly wonderful artist who lives in Kent and can be found often on Colour Walks in London. She makes hats, paints and makes incredible dolls. She also is the carer for her profoundly deaf husband, Derek.

How old are you?

 63

Where do you live?

I live in a small village in Kent.

What do you do?

I am an artist and also a carer for my husband who is profoundly deaf.

How is this age for you?

 I enjoy being my age and living life to the fullest. I don’t have a mortgage to worry about and I only have myself and my husband to please. We are very compatible.

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

 I have more time and patience. I also have more knowledge as I decided to get a degree in Art/Design when I was in my 50s.

What about sex?

Sex is great. I have a very loving and healthy marriage to a wonderful man. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.

And relationships?

I have only ever had one relationship that has lasted 45 years. I met my husband when I was just eighteen. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but we certainly had something that has got us through the ups and downs of married life.

How free do you feel?

My freedom to be creative and sometimes impulsive is very important to me, and I have always been able to be myself. I have never felt the need to have extramarital affairs as I am very happy.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of many things. I am proud of our two beautiful talented daughters, and also our two beautiful granddaughters. My wonderful husband who has had to overcome many difficult and life-threatening health issues. I am also proud of myself for finding the strength to help support him and our children during those difficult times. I’m also proud of becoming a mature student and getting my degree. Plus getting a first for my dissertation when I’m dyslexic.

What inspires you?

Like-minded people. I love to mix with other people who are interested in the arts and fashion. I am a very visual person and I need to be stimulated by colour and good conversation.

When are you happiest?

When I am working on a new project. I love it when I don’t want to stop working on something that I’m creating from scratch.

Where does your creativity go?

Into whatever I’m making or painting. It could be a hat, a drawing, a painting or making one of my dolls or putting items of clothes together to wear. I have curated a couple of fashion shows locally. I would love to do more of those..

What is your philosophy of living?

To live life to the full and have no regrets.

And dying?

I don’t worry about dying, it’s something comes to all of us. That’s why my philosophy of life is to live life to the full.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, I dream about winning the lottery. What I really would like to do is to give most of it away. It must sound boring but I have most things that I need. It would however allow me to organise family holidays and make it a lot easier for my family and friends.

What was the last outrageous thing you did?

OMG I can’t think of anything. I’m much too sensible to do anything remotely outrageous, and if I did, do you think I would tell you?

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