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No, No, No – Age isn’t just a Number


4 Minute Read

This is the first in a series of our OUTRAGE opinion columns about what gets our personal goats as older people. Please do join in. Write to me at rosejanerouse@yahoo.co.uk with your suggestions.

It appears on threads in discussions all the time. This innocent anodyne little sentence – Age is just a number. It is served up like a dish of cold ancient rotting turkey as a rationale for agelessness, as a justification for our ‘do what we like’ oldster rebelliousness, as part of our pride in ageing well.

BUT THIS IS DISINGENUOUS.

It’s more of the same, the same – we are young really, we don’t need to age, eternal youth is here. Misguided bollocks, in fact.

Can’t we decide as a community that ageing, getting older, putting on the years, doesn’t have to be something that we constantly avoid?

Being in our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 100s is not monstrous. We are not monsters because we are Over-50. It’s not just the external – media headlines like the Daily Mail denigrating older women far too often – critics that matter, it’s our internal critics that sabotage us.

The ones that tell us that we’re not worth anything now with these creases, fuller figures, aching bones, worsening eyesight, tiredness. I’ve got them too – those voices that instruct me to lose weight, that insist that my jowls are sagging – but I am determined to defy them.

Mary Beard urges a grey revolution around this very thing. Now Mary Beard has declared she wants to create an ‘old movement’ to encourage people to take pride in growing older.

The television historian announced that she is ‘reclaiming the word old’ in the same way ‘queer’ was embraced by the gay community.

And the 59-year-old said she hoped to rally older people into joining her in a political debate to take away the word’s negative connotations.

She said: ‘I do, partly to annoy people, say “how could you say that to an old woman like me”. I do it to reclaim the word “old”. Old instantly connotes the hunched lady or gentleman. I want an old movement. By the time I die I want “old” to be something we say about ourselves with pride. Guardian

Do you say how old you are in an assertive yet graceful manner? For me, being able to say how old I am publicly and without the everlasting shame of being old – has been liberating. Now I can relax. I no longer pretend to be younger. I just say it how it is. It all started when I was 60. I’d been on dating online sites and taken ten years off my age in order to get men my age to look at my profile. I always pretended – in my 50s – that I was younger than I was. I actively longed for people to look at me and come to the conclusion that I was at least ten years younger. I couldn’t bear not being looked at by men my own age.

And at 68, I’m still there. Out and proud. I always say how old I am. Age is not just a number. It’s part of my lived life. It’s a declaration of substance. I have been here for 68 years and I’d like to be recognised for it. I have survived. I’m not running away from the physical consequences.

Although I really do not want to be patronised either. Recently I have been working with two young black choreographers creating a dance piece for Over 60s. They told us that their collaborators assumed that our group of Over 60s were frail, elderly and limited in our movements. We are not as extensive in our movements as we were but we are doing pretty well. Rhys, one of the choreographers who is 28 said – ‘They would be surprised at the depth of movement that you all bring’. That made my soul sing.

And then Rhys mentioned that he’d heard me saying something about ‘being in my twilight years’. I remonstrated. ‘I would never say that,’ I declared emphatically. But you know, I was deluded and defensive – I am in my twilight years and what’s wrong with recognising that. Twilight years is a bit twee for my liking. Old is fine. But I am still learning what to re-evaluate and accept.

However, age is definitely not just a number – it is a certain number and we are all different at our different ages. That’s the point too. We are not a uniform bunch of older people – we are the motley array that we are!  I still haven’t come round to pensioner!

Doreen Valiente – Portrait of a Witch


8 Minute Read

This is a tale about a witch called Doreen Valiente a researcher, a poet, and an author who is still revered as the ‘mother of witchcraft’.

I moved to Brighton in 1987 and as a young woman, I was enamoured by the number of esoteric shops that existed in the North Laine. There were crystal shops, cafes full of fortune-tellers, and second-hand bookshops containing tomes on the occult. It was in a shop called Unicorn, where I was drawn to a book called Natural Magic penned by Doreen.

The book still sits on my bookshelf to this day. Amongst the pages, she shares her knowledge on topics such as numerology, astrology, and sex magic. When I first read her book, I developed an image of a slight, dark-haired woman sitting outside a cottage with a cauldron and black cat. However, this young naïve thought would eventually be challenged.

It was at a witch’s workshop in an attic of a church in Brighton where I eventually met Doreen dancing in a sacred circle. She was the complete opposite of the image I had formed of her. Tall, broad, with a booming West Country accent, Doreen was an empowered woman who had a down-to-earth nature. In conversation, she was well-read and able to hold arguments; she was a born researcher, with a critical mind who was able to detect nonsense when she saw it. There was no cottage, no cauldron, and no cat; she happened to live in a one-bedroomed council house around the corner from me.

Doreen was born in 1922 to staunch Christian parents. From a young age, she felt she was different as she had an early interest in witches and magic. It was during a trip to Ireland that she was shown a Neolithic burial chamber; the tour guide spoke of the ‘old feminine religion’ and this sent her on a lifetime quest to discover more about this mystery.

Witchcraft has had along and troubled history and its practice remained illegal until 1952. Even after the witchcraft act was repealed in 1951; witches were still feared by general society. Consequently, information was not available to the common person; and so knowledge and tradition were was shared orally or through expensive unobtainable books.

In the early 50s, Doreen was living in Bournemouth with her first husband and she frequented her local library where she weirdly found texts written by Allister Crowley and Dion Fortune.

In her own words, she felt that their magic had died with them and was uncertain that witchcraft still existed. By chance one Saturday morning in 1953, she bought a copy of a magazine called Illustrated, which contained an article about a new Witchcraft museum on the isle of Mann. Doreen quickly wrote to the curator Cecil Williamson, who then put her in touch with a gentleman called Gerald Gardener.

To cut a very long and complex story short, Gerald claimed to have been initiated by a woman called Dorothy Clutterbuck in the New Forest and to have inherited a magical tome called the Book of Shadows. Initially, Doreen was very excited to have joined his Coven and helped him to rewrite some of the rituals within his magical tome, however, she started to detect that he had confabulated his story.

On investigation, she discovered that Gerald had stolen the term ‘The book of Shadows’ from a magazine article written by Mir Bashir and it was an ancient manuscript written in Sanskrit, therefore nothing to do with witchcraft. Doreen was further challenged by his predilection for younger women and how he inculcated them to dance naked in the ritual circle to be closer to the horned god. She soon fell out with him on these matters and left his Coven to pursue her path.

She continued her investigations into witchcraft with an openly gay Brightonian called Lesley.

Roberts. Lesley was a journalist who coined his occupation as an ‘impartial Investigator of witchcraft and black magic’. Together they traversed the countryside of old Sussex to find old witch marks on old gravestones and evidence of Puck in Rudyard Kipling’s gardens. Doreen had a deep affection for Lesley, but he caused her trouble. One afternoon he went to the police station and told them that there had been a child sacrifice in Rottingdean. This caused a media storm and Doreen had to go and rescue him along with the magical tools that he had borrowed from her. She never understood why he did it, but of course, this outed her in a way that she did not expect, Nevertheless, they remained good friends, until his death in the early 60s I believe that her friendship with Leslie inspired her to write her first publication ‘Where Witchcraft lives’.

In her autumn years, Doreen met her second husband Ron who became her magical kismet and they practiced solely together until he died in 1996. She went on to write many books including ‘The Rebirth of Witchcraft and The ABC of Magic.

Through her writings, Doreen shared the belief that the Age of Aquarius would overthrow the old patriarchal ways and reignite feminism. She also believed that the outing of witchcraft would initiate the interest in environmentalism. She demystified old tradition and rewrote it to suit the modern mind. By challenging the nonsense of Gerald and Lesley’s imaginariums, I believe that she prevented neo-paganism from being misunderstood.

In addition to her books, Doreen wrote prolifically for magazines such as The Pentagram, The Wiccan, and the Psychic News, advocating for the freedom for witches and pagans to practice without the fear of persecution. As a practitioner she scribed poems such as The Charge of the Goddess; this continues to be an inspirational text used to this day by neo-pagans to invoke the goddess into the sacred circle.

It was after Ron’s death that I met her at the workshop in the church attic. She then became an honorary guest within our Coven helping us to celebrate the wheel of the year and orchestrate the handfast our queer friends by the Longman of Wilmington. It was at this time that she was invited as an honorary speaker at the Pagan federation conference in 1997. During her interview, Doreen endorsed the power of working alone (hedge witchcraft) and discussed that witchcraft should be all-embracing to all sexualities, races, and genders. Although she didn’t like the term ‘mother’ this is where her power as an elder came to fruition. Doreen had gained the respect of an entire generation of witches and pagans due to her research, her ability to challenge old patriarchal views.

Sadly in 1999, she developed pancreatic cancer and this is when I began to get to know her on a more personal level. I offered to help practically with tasks such as her laundry. So it led me to spend many afternoons in her living room, looking through her books and talking about magic and life on her mantelpiece were carved wooden statues of the horned god and horned goddess, it was here that she would tell me her stories of the difficulty of buying her magical tools, shopkeepers would wrap these up in newspaper and push her out of the door.

On the day of the solar eclipse on the 11th of August 1999, Doreen lay in her room dying. To her, her world was doomed because she felt that the eclipse was bringing her bad luck. I pulled her curtains to protect her from seeing the eerie darkness and held her hand to comfort her. She died a few weeks later, on the 1st of September 1999, in a nursing home in Hove.

As an aging woman and an academic, I often reflect on the brief time with Doreen and how I learned from her. After her death, a few people claimed that she had left them her magical powers. This left me feeling very bemused because she was so grounded, so I know that she would find this nonsensical and would hate that responsibility.

The real magical powers of Doreen is that are texts are available to everyone. Through them you can see that she lived her truth and as an elder, she still has plenty to teach us about challenging false myths and tales through research and critical thought. She never had the privilege of higher education, yet in my opinion, she was a natural learner and a great teacher.

The world has wholly changed since her body has left this plain, as we are now bombarded with endless information on Social media. I think what would now shock Doreen, is how the esoteric world has been hijacked by right-wing organisations such as Qanon. The anti-vax movement, the paranoia of 5G and image of Jake Angeli, a white man dressed up as a Shaman would horrify her. Doreen never told anyone to reject modern ways such as modern medicine. Although she advocated herbalism and medication, she did not deny the offer of medical support when she needed it.

For me, Doreen was pragmatic, grounded, and wise. I do not agree with everything she wrote and said. In recent years her good friend Ronald Hutton found that some of her research was incorrect. She would have never minded this and would have happily discussed it as she always took responsibility for her words. She continues as my elder and remains to have a great influence on my thinking. If you are interested in reading any of her books, then I do recommend The Rebirth of Witchcraft as it tells the story of her life and the wonderful people who she met such as Gerald and Lesley…. Enjoy!

How I Found my House in the Magical Spanish Mountains


1 Minute Read

I started my Spanish adventure in 1997, just as Tony Blair ended 18 years of Conservative rule with the slogan ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. I was one of a number of young BBC journalists helping with the count on Election Night, but soon after fled the BBC on a trip to Mojácar in Spain, on the pretext of finding a cheap house to buy. I didn’t seriously think I would get one.

Accompanying me was my old friend Mark P, who had ridden to Mojácar on his motorbike a decade before. My friend Lucy’s house was empty, so we stayed there. We had instructions to call Jacqueline, the French postwoman for the mountain villages, who put the word out for villagers with houses to sell.

It was a beautiful early-summer day and the road to the mountains twisted and turned up through arid countryside, almond trees and old ruins until arriving in the pretty whitewashed village of Bédar, with a long view back down to the sea.

Jacqueline was waiting in one of a pair of bars facing each other on the road in. Tall and thin with a mahogany tan, long black hair framing strong, handsome features, and wearing lots of silver jewellery – she was unmissable.

Jacqueline drove us down a narrow unpaved road running under the looming peaks. We undulated through tiny settlements and over a rambla [dry riverbed] before accelerating up a perilously steep bank on the other side, to end up at a collection of three or four houses strung out along the top. We bumped down a track to one, a wide, two-story house set in an overgrown garden with several olive trees.

I don’t remember much about the house, apart from that the kitchen was outside, and the water supply was rationed from the nearby balsa [water store] where you took your turn on a rota with the neighbours. There was a ramshackle outhouse, and I remember standing near it while Jacqueline and a neighbour discussed which of the stones on the ground marked the house’s boundary. The discussion went round and round, much like the roads that had brought us there. Then, none the wiser, we all piled back into the car for the drive back to Bédar where Jacqueline dropped us at the bar and drove off.

I remember feeling out of my depth, and telling Mark that what I’d really like would be something less remote, perhaps a little house on the edge of a village. We decided to have a quick drink before driving back – and then I realised that the key to our hire car was no longer in my possession. I tried to call Jacqueline but got no reply. There were no buses. We were stranded.

What happened next was, as they say, fate.

A young blonde dressed in black leather came through the door and strode up to the bar. After exchanging a few words with the bartender, she came over and asked where we needed to go. When we said ‘Mojácar’, she offered to drive us. As we weren’t in a position to refuse, we accepted.

Nadja was Swiss, and although quite fluent in English, all her sentences came out back to front. When I told her that we’d been looking at houses, she said that she had one to sell, “with mains water, electricity, a telephone socket and seven terraces.” It sounded very grand so, to rule it out more than anything, I asked how much. “Four million pesetas,” she replied (approx. £16,000). It was the same price as the house we’d just looked at.

What’s more, Nadja’s house was on the edge of a small village – just as I’d wished for.

When we reached the main road, our saviour pulled into a garage and bought three cans of lager from a vending machine in the forecourt. We drove the rest of the way to Mojácar swigging beer and listening to her peculiar jumbled steam-of-consciousness conversation. I concluded she was very sweet but most likely mad.

I didn’t think I’d call about the house, but a few days later curiosity got the better of me and we made a date to visit.

To get to Lubrín we had to return to Bédar and carry straight on, up a narrow white asphalt road that twisted its way through a magical landscape of hills studded with olive trees, yellow broom and thyme. At the top we passed the village of El Campico before descending to El Marchal where the road broadened out and continued another 5km to Lubrín.

The strange thing was how at home I felt. While the views were far-reaching and magnificent the road itself felt cocooned and cosy. We didn’t meet another vehicle that day and in the years to come, I rarely did. If it did happen, I often knew the driver, and we’d stop to chat.

Nadja and her English boyfriend Steve were expecting us. Margaritas tumbled over their garden wall, and on the left of the house were the seven terraces Nadja had referred to, planted with almond trees and flowers.

By the end of the week, we’d agreed on a price and employed a gestor to manage the sale. We sealed the deal over a breakfast of beer and tapas in Mojácar.

Back then, Lubrín was my freedom. The village seemed not to have changed since the Fifties. Set in a valley, whitewashed houses were built up the side of a hill, around an enormous red brick church in the middle.

My house, later christened Casa Becca by a guest, was set off to the right, built into the side of  ‘El Castillo’. Many Spanish towns have a ‘castillo’ hill, on top of which the original Moorish watchtower would have stood.

All the roof beams were tree trunks, gnarled and twisted, interspersed with traditional caña – cane. Stone stairs led up to a low-ceilinged dining room leading to a big kitchen with an enormous fireplace at the end. There was a windowless ‘cave room’ with a huge rock from the mountainside protruding within. More rooms led around to a third bedroom opening onto the front of the house at the other end. The bathroom, down by the main front door, was a very basic affair with an old toilet and a plastic shower over a dug-out portion of the stone floor. In its 200 years, the house had barely changed.

Although there was a phone socket, there was no phone line and, back in 1997, no Internet. Apart from the 6am bus to Almeria City, there was no public transport, either. Compounded by the feeling that I’d stepped back in time, Lubrín felt properly remote. Nobody would ever find me. I’d been unhappy at the BBC so it was a huge relief to find myself there, completely cut off from social pressures.

I turned into another person when I was in Lubrín. Scruffy, dusty, carefree. I wore flowery shift dresses and tatty shorts. The only other foreigner in the town was a Dutch guy who I never met. My friends were old men who regaled me with tales about the village and my house’s past. I found out that Casa B had been the home of the village transportista who took goods and passengers to the coast in his donkey and cart, and that a man had been shot outside during the Civil War.

My main friend was Paco, a portly fellow of about 60. He had small, dainty feet and spoke in a soft, high voice, often reciting poetry or playing with words. Like many men from the village, he’d emigrated during Franco’s rule. He’d worked in Switzerland as a carpenter – he said he’d made furniture for David Bowie.

Another frequent visitor was Christobal, a wizened, Steptoe-like man who would exhort, ‘Mujer, mujer!’ [Woman, woman] in the style of a whiny flamenco singer at the start of every sentence, while encouraging me to buy his house or be his wife.

Paco and I became good friends. Even though he didn’t speak any English and I not much Spanish, he was an excellent communicator and we understood each other surprisingly well.

Soon after I bought my house, Paco took me to his land in La Alcarria, a beautiful valley on the other side of the main road. On the land was an old trunk which he ceremoniously opened to take out two fold-up chairs – one for me, one for my friend. He set them out and we sat down – looking north over an infinity of hazy mountain ranges – the ones in the foreground like rows of reclining elephant backs. Paco loved his land and was planning to build a house on it.

When I think of the early days I remember warm friendships and laughter. Paco would accompany my friends and I on excursions in the car, or come round for raucous suppers on the patio, or we’d have mad nights out in what I christened the ‘Young Mans’ Bar’ next to the post office, where the clientele would chorus ‘Paco Toro!’ when he arrived with two young women on his arm. When I was the only foreigner in town it really was fun.

Slowly but surely, Lubrín caught up with the rest of the world.

A few settlers from England arrived every year. There was Ponytail John, who built his own house out in the campo, and Dave Beach, a lugubrious hippie with great taste in music. There was Sally and Ann, possibly the village’s first ‘out’ lesbian couple, and their neighbour Bill, a gay accountant. There was Mandolin John, always with a beautiful girlfriend. Tourists rarely found their way to the village, but when they did it felt bizarre. To me, they looked big and out of place. Sitting outside the Plaza Bar, they were like giants on a small stage.

Around 2003 the dear little road from Bédar to El Marchal was widened and tarmacked, and with that more and more foreign settlers came. The tipping point for me was when a young suburban couple arrived. Until then, the foreign residents had had something alternative about them, a touch of the pioneer. But these people had none of that. And with that, it was as if my secret hideaway had been busted and my freedom was gone.

Solo Visits

I started coming to Lubrín on my own around 2002. At first, I was nervous. I’d fly in from Gatwick, drive back in my hire car, make the bed and smoke the emergency cigarette I left on the dining room desk. Then I’d go out for provisions from Antonio and Fina’s late-night shop – and see who was around. One time I didn’t get home till midnight after being waylaid by Mandolin John and a friend of his. Another time, I woke up at 4 am in a panic. It was pitch dark and I had the sensation I was entombed within an endless Spanish mountain range – there were no buildings after mine. In my 40s I would often wake up in the night. For a while, an insomniac bird nesting in the roof would be up around the same time, moving about. I found it comforting.

Paco and I grew apart. Lubrín had won the massive El Niño lottery in January 1998 with a prize of 1400m pesetas (about 8.5m euros). Paco was one of the winners. He didn’t spend the money at first, but a few years later he bought a radio-controlled airplane and a souped-up black sports car with red flames blazing on the sides. Where once he had been patient and good-humoured, he became impatient and his gentle high-pitched voice became gruff. He’d tear off to holiday towns like Aguadulce in the sports car and return with torrid tales of his exploits.

They wouldn’t let him build a house in La Alcarria (the plot was just 1m too narrow). Bitter, and obstinate to the last, he built a swimming pool instead and put a squalid kitchen and bathroom underneath. He surrounded the pool with weird totems like plastic fans and dolls’ heads on sticks.

There was a succession of dogs he didn’t know how to look after and on occasion he’d chase English settlers in his car. The gentle, communicative Paco I knew and loved had vanished, and when I asked people how he was, they just shook their heads and said, ‘perdido’ – lost. He died in 2010.

Middle Years

So far, I’d only visited Lubrín for short holiday breaks but when I started my Spanish rug and tile business it became the base for buying and sourcing expeditions. From 2006 onwards, I’d embark on huge solo road trips around Andalusia several times a year. I visited Valencia, too, to go to the Cevisama tile fair, once driving 400km cross-country from there to Cordoba to visit our main supplier. I visited Granada and embarked on crazy missions to find new suppliers in a series of remote locations. I particularly loved going to Priego de Cordoba, a baroque gem perched atop a cliff in the Sierra Subbetica Natural Park. I’d stay at Hostal Rafi where the bar was like a Spanish version of the US series Cheers. Rafi was even playing Bruce Springstein the first time I went. My second visit coincided with a noisy religious procession, the virgin being borne through the streets, children dressed up for their communion and a major football match blaring out from TVs. Hostal Rafi was in the middle of it all – the centre of the world!

Priego was four hours from Lubrín. Driving there in the autumn you’d see bonfires blazing high on the horizon. There were deserted mountain passes where you could go for hours without meeting a soul. At these times, I’d marvel at how, sometimes just the day before, I’d been caged like a bird in my London shop watching traffic thunder by, and now was soaring free in the mountain air, maybe 100 miles away from anyone else.

Occasionally I ended up in dangerous situations like the time I took the wrong route to the pretty village of Castril, 890m above sea level on the edge of the Cazorla National Park. As the track got narrower and narrower, I found myself with no choice but to accelerate up the precipitous bends with an overweight load of wholesale ceramics in the back. Dusk was falling and I remember thinking, ‘no-one knows where I am and I might die,’ followed by a half-crazed relief when I reached the top to witness a herd of goats galloping home in a cloud of dust. It was a quintessential Spanish moment.

Now…

In 2016, Lubrín became my freedom for the third time. Disgusted by the Brexit vote in March 2016, my first thought was to leave the UK. On the basis of having a Spanish house, I applied for Spanish residency. To my surprise, the application was successful and I moved out here in 2018.

Today, Lubrín is firmly rooted in the 21st Century. There are street lamps along the road in, and a small industrial estate just north of my house. There’s a world-class olive oil press, a honey factory and modern milking sheds for the goats. The once-silent hills are full of light and noise. There’s a small housing estate opposite me, too, mainly occupied by British families who now make up a sizeable proportion of the population.

Stubbornly ‘unreformed’ for years, Casa B has been updated to make her long-term habitable. The tree trunk roof beams have gone, as has the insomniac bird. The cave room has a window. The dining room and kitchen have been knocked together and the ceilings raised. A proper bathroom has been added.

I study Spanish, teach English and Creative Writing, blog, write and walk the hills. Everyday life is time-consuming – I collect my water from the mountain spring at El Campico and drag it up to my house in a trolley. In the winter I must bring in wood, make fires and clean the stoves. More satisfying, this year I picked my olives for the first time and took them to the press in exchange for some superb Lubrín olive oil.

It’s been a little tough, establishing a life here on my own. It can be awkward negotiating social groups as an older single woman. It’s taken time to find work, or friends on my wavelength, but I keep on. Perhaps the fourth freedom will come when I really don’t care what other people think.

In the absence of family, Casa B has been my continuity. Last March, returning from winter respite on the coast, it was surprisingly nice to be back. Even though I had to hoover the flaky paint off the walls and clean surfaces thick with muddy dust, it was just lovely to hear the birds again, and the goat bells, and the church ringing every quarter-hour. Enduring country sounds. The sounds of home.

Postscript

In June 2021, I went to a dance performance at Kensal Green Cemetery in West London. ‘Dance Me To Death’ was a project started by AofA’s Rose Rouse, with all the dancers in their 60s or older. At the after-party, I was on a table with a couple from Clapham. When I asked if they knew the province of Almeria, the woman gave a little start. She said that she’d visited a place called Bédar one Christmas in the Seventies. Back then, black-clad village ladies washed their clothes at the communal fountain and collected water in huge water jugs on their heads. Donkeys were the main means of transport, roads were few, and Fi and her boyfriend had walked four miles up to the village from the bus stop. On Christmas Eve, the village ladies taught her to dance Flamenco – she pulled her body up straight to demonstrate. She looked happy as the memories resurfaced, and I thought how great it was that we should meet by chance almost 50 years later, two strangers transcending time and space to share our experiences of a tiny, faraway place that has meant so much to us both.

Perhaps the magic lives on, after all.

Becca is running a trio of online Creative Writing courses. Each runs for six weeks and a number of themes are covered, including Fantasy & Transformation, Imagery, Characterisation, Dialogue, ‘Fragmented Writing’, Theme, Plotting and more.

Classes contain excerpts from a range of relevant authors and a 25-minute writing exercise based on the theme of the week. There’s time for students to read their work and discuss, and homework is given.

Featured authors include Kei Miller, Tim Winton, Margaret Atwood, Rose Tremain, Carys Davis, Jo Shapcott, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O’Brien, Andrea Levy, Helen MacDonald, Jeanette Winterson, Tricky, Tracey Emin and Melissa Harrison. 

The Creative Writing courses will run from mid-September, along with the journalistic ‘Write an Article in a Week’, which runs over two weekends. The price for each course is £125, with a 10% reduction if you book up for two or more. Becca is currently developing a new course on Memoir Writing.

For more info please visit https://beccaleathlean.wordpress.com or email lubrinbecca@gmail.com

A of A People: Michele Kirsch – Music Education Coordinator at The Premises


8 Minute Read

Name: Michele Kirsch Music Education Coordinator at The Premises
From the time I started to listen to records and go to gigs, I was always the nutter, sticking her head in the bass amp. I thought when I started to grow up, I would grow out of that, but it got worse. I wanted a job that would let me play music (of other people, otherwise I would be condemned to a lifetime of Kumbaya on a starter guitar) while I was doing the job.
This started extraordinarily badly. My first proper job was as an assistant school teacher in a very liberal, folky dokey holistic private school in Greenwich  Village, NYC. It was a class of five-year-olds and when the main teacher would have her break, I would supervise “mat ” time, when the kids would lay themselves out on yoga mats and go to sleep while listening to The Four Seasons by  Vivaldi, not the Frankie Valli ones. It was very boring, and I hated that record, which was what they played when you were on hold on the phone. So one day I brought in Rocket to Russia by The Ramones, and the kids went apeshit, rolling up their mats and boinging each other on the head and just going hog wild. The headteacher had to have a word with me.

Now since then, I have had to do jobs that require a lot of concentration, but also, some jobs that mainly require standing up and chopping stuff (cheffing) and standing up and cleaning stuff (cleaning) and of course, raising my kids. For all the ones that did not need concentration, I needed a soundtrack. Music makes any job a thousand times better. If you are slipping the skins off eleventy-billion broad beans, then it goes faster if you are listening to Boogie Down Productions. Trust me. When my kids and I used to clean the house after wrecking it with art stuff all day, I would put on Little Richard’s Slippin and Slidin. It still brings a HUGE smile to my face. We played air piano to it.
When I worked, not very long, as a kitchen coordinator for a Brain injury charity, the best bit of preparing lunch with people living with brain injury, was the “Let’s DO THIS” music we put on at the end of cooking and beginning of service. This one poor kid had quite bad brain trauma but was WORD perfect to Despacito with Daddy Yankee and Justin Beiber. We would all dance around the kitchen and sing along. I think with hindsight, it was inappropriate.  That’s kind of my middle name.
Who am I, what motivates me:

I have done lots of jobs but the main thread that runs through all of them is writing or some kind of communication. My aim started small, which was to not piss people off, which I did for a sizable chunk of my early working life as a journalist. I mean I DID piss people off. It was my MO.  I have moved up a gear and I am actively trying to be a “people person” and specifically, within the music business. I used to pass by this recording studio pretty much every day on the way to another job, and see people, rock and roll or soul people, just, my TRIBE, loading gear into and out of these recording studios. I thought it must be fun to work there, plus the commute would be a cinch.

I used to work in the music business, first as a writer, then as a tour manager, which was a disaster, but a GREAT story, and then as a PR for an independent label. I had to do some crazy things in that job, but I loved it. I had to dress up as an alligator, and I had to take these five guys, average age, 75, who played a type of music called Mento, on homemade instruments, to a Goth Night in Camden. But we got to listen to music all the time, which made the days fly.
Just before the first lockdown, I saw a local online newsletter that mentioned the formation of a rock and roll book group. We managed about two meetings talking about rock and roll books before we had to just stop everything, but I made friends with this guy, and he turned out to be the CEO of The Premises, the recording studio where I thought it would be fun to work. It turned out there was some part-time work going there, which was to take over running of the education programme, which uses the studios but for lessons, workshops, etc. What motivates me is an understood mutual love of music. The music is at the heart of everything fun, and important to me.  That people might want to learn how to be better on their instruments, or better singers,  or do that and be with equally enthusiastic people, there is no greater buzz than being part of that.
When did I start the job: 

I started in April, and have mainly been focusing on promoting two workshops. The first is a Piano Week with Nikki Yeoh, and working on that has taught me quite a bit about jazz and the jazz scene, which was previously off my radar. Stupid me.  The next one, which I’m working on now, is a Vocal Recording Workshop running the first three days of October, with a professional studio recording on the third day. The people running the course are people I kind of fangirl anyway: Sarah Moule, Simon Wallace and Liane Carroll. It’s about getting the best out of your singing voice without relying on autotune and stuff like that. What’s funny is I would be hopeless, myself. I can’t sing for toffee. Even my own cats cover their ears when I start to warble along to say, a PJ Harvey track, but I bring home the Dreamies, so they have to put up with it. We have a cat in the studio, which to my mind, is the mark of a great place to work. Her name is Doris and she sits at my desk. Cat, music, cool boss, fun place to work. Local business. It’s a great fit for me.

Is your work primarily a means to an end ie money, or the motivating force of your life?
 I like to learn new things and meet new people, always, so this has opened up a whole new area of music that, while I did not dismiss it, it was not my thing. I can’t promote jazz stuff without learning more about it, particularly the current scene, and the young people involved.  There is this brilliant woman who comes in to rehearse, Roella Olaro, and she’s so young, and so talented, and so humble. It’s great to see the buzz around her and when she pops by the office to stick her head in and say hi, it makes my day. Lots of musicians call in to say hi to my boss, Viv Broughton, who owns the joint.
There is a real love there, people like to hang with him, tell him what is going on, and I find that so uplifting. This is NOT a workplace where people come in, in a bad mood. Everyone is chilled and in good form, or excited. We had The Lightning  Seeds in just before the football cup final. They did that Three Lions song and it was thought they might have to do it again if England won. They asked me to get an autograph but I was suddenly attacked by a bout of shyness, something that has never troubled me so that we got someone else to do it. This week, Marc Almond is in and when he was in last, I just listened outside the door and had a little dance and when the tune finished, I stuck my head in and said, “Oh, that was SO GREAT” and they were fine with that. Gracious.
When you were 8, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a scientist who figured out how to stop all pollution. I wanted to plant apple trees on the motorways and I wanted to invent a time machine so I could go to all the concerts I missed for being too young at the time.
What is your dream job?
I like any job where the people are nice and laid back. The work itself is less important than the atmosphere. I still write and would like to write more, for money, but that’s turned into my side hustle.
If UK-based, are you glad, indifferent or disappointed that the official pension age is rising?
I am NOT HAPPY that it has been raised. Because I would like a bit of my life where my health is good, my body is strong and I can spend all my time doing fun stuff. I am 60 now and the thought of working for another seven years, even doing something I like, does not spark joy in my heart. Plus I have not been that smart, pension wise, and will be mainly reliant on the State one if they have not abolished it. I fully expect to live on Dreamies and the kindness of strangers.
You can book a vocal recording workshop with top jazz musicians Sarah Moule, Lianne Carroll on this link:

My Love Affair with Italy


1 Minute Read

Annie Llewellyn has an academic background in Psychology and has lived and worked in Wales for many years. She is grateful for the years she spent in academia because she was able to teach and research In Europe. In 2002, she met and married an Italian and has never lost her love for this amazing country. She is now resident in Italy for much of the year and works remotely while still trying to work out the bureaucracy and the language.

The route to Italy began when my daughter came home for the weekend with a copy of an advertisement that she had found in the Sunday Times ‘Lonely Hearts’ section and I think she wished to divest herself of coming to seek me at weekends so that she could spend more time with the current boyfriend. The advertisement said that the gentleman concerned had a cottage in Wales and a house in Italy and was looking for someone to share his life with and I put it on one side thinking he would have loads of applicants.

One day I was feeling particularly lonely, and I decided to phone him, bearing in mind that I hadn’t seen a photograph as this was before the days where you swipe left or right based on physical characteristics. We had a chat on the phone, and I felt quite excited to be asked out on my first date. I dressed very carefully in a red dress and high heels (never usually wear these things). I found my date waiting for me in a high street in a mid-Wales town and we went to a rather seedy pub full of slightly inebriated locals. To say it was ‘love at first sight’ was simply not the case and in fact, it was very much the opposite. He was a slightly rotund, very well-dressed businessman whose accent belied his private education and his Italian ancestry. We looked slightly out of place I have to say in this rather run-down Welsh pub on a Saturday night.

The conversation though was interesting, and we spoke of many deep things such as the sudden death of his previous partner at a young age and his heartbreak at this. I saw a survivor and someone who was very likeable. I spoke of my yearning to travel to see other countries now that my children had grown up and I had time on my hands not to mention the unfaithful but long-lasting relationship with a younger man (we can go there another time). Richard – yes, that was his name – talked of how he longed to wander the beaches with his dogs on a rope lead and divest himself of all connections with money and become a gypsy. I have to say I only found out later than he knew how to sell himself, but I digress from my story.

I got ready to leave and said that I had enjoyed his company, but I didn’t think we were especially suited. I also thanked him for arranging to meet and moved to get up and go and I wished him well with finding the right person. He then said: ‘Would you like to eat?’ and I had to admit to feeling peckish and so we found a local Indian and we ate a good curry. He confided that I was the fourth date of the evening and that there had been 350 applicants so far, but I was the best of them all.

Of course, after the troubles of my previous relationship where I had lost not only my husband but most of our worldly goods which went to buy his new younger model a house and car – this somewhat bolstered my ego. We parted as friends and he said that he would phone me before he left for Italy the next day to complete on his house and I wished him a good trip and drove away thinking that I would never hear from him again. Yet, the next morning I received a text thanking me for a beautiful evening and promising to ring me on his return from Italy. My thoughts returned to him during the week as I wondered whether he had completed on the house and then on Thursday morning he texted me to say that he had completed upon the house. And I replied that ‘I am delighted that you have achieved your dream’ as he had been born in Florence and the text came back to say ‘you are my dream’ and I honestly had to get out of the bath to read it properly because the bath was steaming up the screen of my phone. I had never considered leaving Mid Wales again let alone taking up with a foreigner who admitted years later that he had sent it over a drunken lunch with his sister.

During the time that Richard was away, there were several gossipy lunches with girlfriends and the consensus was that what had I got to lose? Well, there was the issue that he wasn’t my physical type; my style of man was more along the lines of a tortured poet but as my friends pointed out my last attempt at tortured poets had certainly not gone well. A week after Richard’s return from Italy he invited me to his farmhouse in South Wales and we sat outside drinking gin and tonics and the first night he cooked me a beautiful meal of roast duck with all the trimmings and the housekeeper had put flowers in the spare room next to my bed.

We spent the days exploring the nearby market town and getting to know each other and, in the evenings, we ate out in Abergavenny. It is true that Italian men have the gift of romance and this one played Maria Callas, and I began to enjoy the ease of his company. Despite the heavy romancing, I continued to sit on the fence but four weeks later the school holidays were drawing close; and Richard made me an offer of two weeks in Italy followed by two weeks in Spain and I was absolutely hooked. I had probably been planning to spend the holidays scrubbing the skirting boards and put that against jetting off to a country that I already loved and of course, I accepted.

Before we left, I was introduced to the Italian mother and she was utterly lovely a gorgeous, lithe lady in her late 80s living in Fulham. She had once been part of the Folie Bergère in Paris where she had met her Italian Count but sadly the Florentine family didn’t feel the same. I too was similarly dismissed when I met Richard’s children who apparently treated all his girlfriends in the same way and would clearly have preferred him to return to their mother so that they could resume their private education.

I had anticipated a lazy drive down through France to Italy but any hopes of that were dismissed as we navigated the M4 to the ferry. Once Richard joined the motorway down to the South, I began to realise there is no such thing as a lingering road journey to an Italian. It was hot and he drove very fast and in mid-France, I began to dream of flights wondering how much more I could take of this road trip with Puccini blaring from the speakers. I quickly learned that Italians manage their women in a manner that is subtle but designed to get their own way.  We arrived at the house 18 hours after we left Dover having navigated the long incline to the house, a truly nail-biting drive and one of the most dangerous in Italy. There are 13 hairpin bends and some of them are the switchback type. Passing places are few and it is a single-track road much beloved by cyclists and people in camper vans seeking a rural idyll after the joys of Florence, Rome, and Sienna. We arrived about 3 am in the morning. I was absolutely shattered and planned to catch the first flight home from Pisa as soon as morning light dawned.

I awoke the next morning to warm sunshine flooding the room and threw open the shutters and I was blown away by the view. It was literally love at first sight as my eyes took in the rugged mountains, the breathtaking views and the valleys shimmering in the warm sun below. I would come to love that view and I drank it in every morning and was there until late evening draining the last drop of prosecco from my evening aperitif. You couldn’t hear a sound and after the hectic drive and the journey, I felt that I had come home. Many people experience this when they first come to Italy and indeed, I had felt this on my first trip, but something gripped me on that visit that has never left my soul. I love the bones of Italy and I don’t feel the need to do the touristy things that Italy offers to many (although I do them in passing) but it is the experience that grabs me more than anything. It is being alive under the Italian sun as it were and simply being and there is no more pleasurable meditative state.

Every day I fell further in love with Italy and Richard. I would sit and people watch, and few words were exchanged between Richard and me as I immersed myself in people watching and eating dinner late in the evening at different restaurants. I loved to peek into doorways as we paused to gaze at the tranquil gardens where I imagined sitting in the evenings. The Italians, of course, rarely sit in their gardens during the day preferring to shade themselves from the sun. I lit candles in the evening on the terrace and Richard prepared simple food, which we bought from the market vendors during the day.

Richard and I were not lovers before we embarked on the trip but I fell in love with him during this trip. It wasn’t my usual passionate kind of encounter but the simple love of a man and woman who meet in mid-life and are appreciative of the time they spend together and are merging in a kind of simplicity that is hard to define. We spent long hours listening to the voice of Maria Callas singing arias from Madam Butterfly and indeed the aria was played at Richard’s funeral some eight years later. Richard admitted that the trip was one of the happiest that he had ever made to Italy. Just us and the landscape – what a joy!

We returned to Italy every few weeks (flying, of course). Richard didn’t change, and many times he dragged me from the sanctity of the house back into the hire car to various sites of interest such as Florence, Siena, and Assisi where I was expected to drink in the atmosphere in a few hours. Richard proposed after a visit to Bologna to see his sister and he bought me the most beautiful diamond ring and I think I was the happiest I have ever been. We married in Florence just before Christmas eighteen months later on a beautiful frosty, snowy day in the Palace Vecchio. The wedding ceremony was conducted in Italian by candlelight with beautiful frescoes in the background and centuries of history surrounding us.

The years I experienced with this man were years that I will never forget, and he never made life easy, but he did his absolute utmost to make me happy. When he became ill six years after we married, it didn’t slow him down and he didn’t involve me in his treatment. He died two years later, but he gave me something that was beyond money. He introduced me to a different way of living and a life that I had never experienced before. In the last two years of his life, I gave up my job and we spent time in Tenerife because he liked the climate and the small mountain house remained closed. I was with him in the final stages of his life and his last words to me were ‘don’t leave me’ as he sank into a morphine-induced sleep.

I was heartbroken and it was two years before I was able to return to Italy as I couldn’t face returning to the house and life there without him. He left me his share of the small mountain house and I knew it would be hard in practical terms to live there full time and so started to think that selling the house was my only way of keeping afloat. I hadn’t realised the extent of the practical problems that living in Italy inevitably brought until I started to engage with bureaucracy. I spoke only a little Italian and even now it is a work in progress, I learned that Richard’s way of dealing with taxes was to ignore them. This is not so easy for the person left behind. I came to realise that the man whom I loved so deeply had left me his part of the house but not the income to support it. I returned to my job and picked up the threads of my life and paid off all the taxes that were owed. Healing came more slowly and there were relationships post-Richard, but they were not important.

I yearned to spend more time in my Italian home and popped over for brief visits to pay bills but I couldn’t face spending longer without the man I had loved so much by my side. It was the support of a loving therapist that made me see that I could create new memories and that Richard would want me to return and I began to want to give it a try. I cleared the house of memories and had the place revamped and so I started to appreciate once more the peace of the country I had come to see as home. I decided to cash in my pension to give myself some capital and a monthly income, but I also negotiated a few hours of teaching on Zoom and I managed to sustain a level of income that would make living in Italy work. I was faced with loads of practical problems such as driving on the other side of the road in the terrifying mountainous area in which I live, but is something I was able to overcome.

My week is now punctuated with visits to the Wednesday market in the nearest village after navigating the thirteen hairpin bends where I buy locally grown fresh vegetables and fruit often for as little as one euro. I also buy a spit roast chicken from the rotisserie in the marketplace, and I eat this with fresh salad or pasta.  On Saturday, I get on the local train to visit Lucca and enjoy a cappuccino with a friend and perhaps wander around the market to see what bargains are available. I have picked up designer cashmere sweaters for as little as 5 euros. Once a month there is the antique market where people gather to buy the beautifully restored, shabby chic furniture and magnificent chandeliers. I often join friends for lunch and revel in the odd purchase I make such as crystal chandelier droplets for my Christmas tree. Trains are cheap in Italy, and I can travel to other places quite easily to experience a different side of Italian life.

I live in the moment in Italy and appreciate the compensations of my life as I get up to greet the dawn on my terrace and gaze down to the valley below watching as the sun clears away the clouds. I can often be found swaddled in a blanket, sipping my morning tea alone on my terrace engulfed by the silence. I am alone but the airport is not far away and I am only half a day’s travel away from my children and friends.

Single women are drawn to Italian life and there are always people around who will chat and readily express their envy when they realise you are not a tourist but live there. Friends who visit are drawn to choosing their own place, but when they return home; I return to my life of silent contemplation where I read by my fireside in the evening, or I light a candle and enjoy a glass of frizzante wine alone. I don’t often feel lonely because I have found my peace and I have memories from the past and hopes for the future that I am planting as I go. There is no rush even though my memories of Richard remind me that life is brief and that all we have is now. However, I know that I have everything and that is more than enough.

“Deep in the soul, below pain, below all the distraction of life, is a silence vast and grand – an infinite ocean of calm, which nothing can disturb. Nature’s own exceeding peace, which passes understanding. That which we seek with passionate longing, here and there, upward and outward; we find at last within ourselves.”

Richard Maurice Bucke

Why I had to Write This Book


1 Minute Read

Last year, Dr Eva Chapman wrote about her book, ‘Sexy at 70’ for us at ‘Advantages of Age’. Here she explains why she had to write her latest book, ‘Butterflies & Demons’.

 Butterflies and Demons is set in Adelaide, South Australia. After a vision, in 2006, about the Adelaide Aborigines (the Kaurna), I felt compelled to tell their story, which is also partly my story. In 1950, I arrived as a three-year-old Eastern European refugee in Adelaide.

I didn’t see an Aboriginal person until my teenage years even though the Kaurna had inhabited the Adelaide plain for 40 thousand years. It was as if they had been obliterated. I was taught the European version of history at school, which was that Australia began when the white man came to her shores. I was curious and spent the next few years researching the history of the Kaurna. This entailed going back – by this time I had moved to the UK – to Adelaide, speaking to Aboriginal people, and looking through diaries, newspaper articles and archives. I loved doing the research and found that Kaurna people were so gentle, so clever, and so mindful of the piece of earth they lived on. They suffered terribly at the hands of the British Empire, as did I, an unwelcome refugee in 1950s Adelaide.

I was thrilled to come across the diaries of two Lutheran missionaries, Teichelmann and Shurmann who came to Adelaide in 1838 and lived among the Aborigines, describing in great detail, what happened to the Kaurna, as the British occupied their lands. The missionaries learnt the Kaurna language, believing this was the best way to convert the Aborigines to Christianity. I reproduce many of the conversations between the missionaries and Kaurna men especially Murlawirrapurka who was regarded as the wise elder of the Kaurna people. The missionaries recorded many conversations and events which involved Murlawirrapurka, which demonstrated the measure of the man and the delicate line he had to tread with his new masters. He was gentle and trusting and bent over backwards to accommodate the white man, working hard to ease tensions within his own people. He, as the custodian of the Kaurna people, hoped that the whites would uphold their traditions. But sadly, this was not to be, even though Adelaide was set up to be a model colony, which was not supposed to repeat the harsh treatment of Aborigines in the Eastern States.

The story in my book bounces between two eras, the 1840s, which describes what happened to the Kaurna, and the 1950s, which follows the story of a migrant child who also suffered at the hands of British imperialism. This is based on my own story and describes the prejudice I personally experienced, as I spoke weirdly, looked strange and smelt of garlic. Adelaide residents prided themselves on their Anglo-Saxon heritage and were afraid that the influx of ‘aliens’, as we were called, would dilute their Britishness. They set out to ‘australianise’ us as quickly as possible. My misery was compounded by having a violent, schizophrenic mother who thought the Communists were persecuting her.

The Kaurna story and my story intertwine in a startling and dramatic way – I personally received great healing from their loving energy, which still imbues the gum trees and blue skies of the majestic Adelaide plain.

The pivotal theme that fuses the parallel stories is that past misdeeds cannot be buried. I include a meta-commentary that illustrates this. This Greek chorus is supplied by a dreaming circle of Kaurna grandmothers who observe the unfolding drama, confront and challenge the author (often with humour), and also take part in the action. So I use it as a way of challenging myself. For instance –

Grandmothers:  Eva Chapman, who do you think you are?  Are you attempting to write about the Kaurna, the Red Kangaroo people?

Author: Hey who do you think you are? I am trying to write Chapter 1.

Grandmothers: We are the Kaurna Grandmothers. And we want to know why you are writing about us? We exist in an oral tradition. We are here to protect our sacred Kaurna heritage. We don’t want white, nosy know-it-alls, poking their pointy snouts into our business.

This dialogue device is in honour of the Kaurna oral tradition, and also of the plays or ‘ngunyawaietti’ that the Kaurna loved to put on, and which were described by Teichelmann and Shurmann, in their diaries. The other outstanding contribution of Teichelmann and Shurmann, was their grammar book of the Kaurna language which they published in 1840. This was subsequently lost for 150 years, but by a series of miracles recovered. As a result, Kaurna is one of a handful of the original 450 Aboriginal languages that is still spoken, and taught in schools.

The story ends in the present. Deeply held racist attitudes still hold sway towards Aborigine people. The author is challenged by the Kaurna grandmothers about her own racism, and the result is surprising and ultimately rewarding. Out of the chrysalis of greed, racism and demons emerge new hope – including a song that had been driven underground and a virtually extinct butterfly.

The butterflies which are in the title and on the cover are the Delias Aganippe which were in abundance on the Adelaide plain. Now they are rarely seen. Fortunately, the South Australian Butterfly Conservation Society has taken it on as its mascot and are working to restore vegetation to bring them back.

I have had many visits with Uncle Lewis Yelopurka O’Brien, the current highly esteemed Kaurna elder, who is now 91. What a lovely man. As well as taking me on a historic tour of the Kaurna sites, he read my book ‘Sasha & Olga’ and said my life had been harder than his. Excuse me! His humility is astounding. He feels very honoured that I wrote ‘Butterflies & Demons’ and has fully endorsed it.

Please message me if you want a signed copy or get it on Amazon.  Website www.evamariachapman.com , emachapman@gmail.com  

Every day, In Every Way, It’s Getting Better and Better and Better


6 Minute Read

Sex gets better with age. Hi, I’m Nicola Foster, as  Sex and Relationship therapist I spend my working days talking about sex. I’m fortunate to have such privileged, inside insight into peoples’ sex lives. Of course, it’s a subject I’m hugely passionate about. I’m sharing here 10 of the reasons why I think that making love is something that only improves as we get older. (I had to stop and 10, I could probably get to 100!)

10 reasons sex gets better with age

One – Becoming less self-conscious

The chances are that neither of you has the firm, springy, glowing body of your youth (if you even had one!). Now, we’re older, it’s bonding to share self-consciousness about our bulges, bumps and scars. They tell the story of our life. By now you’ve also probably figured out strategies for feeling less concerned – soft lighting and candlelight do wonders don’t they?. One of my favourite techniques with a new lover is to keep a silky sarong, or soft blanket to hand to drape over myself if I feel too exposed. (Top tip: these also come in handy to caress the skin of your beloved later).

Two – Better at loving touch

If you’ve had some variety of sexual encounters over the decades, you’ve most likely learned a few different ways to touch and be touched. And you may have become more generous in giving touch so that your partner can relax and enjoy. If you’ve been alone for a while – now is the time to be curious and experimental. What does your partner like? soft, firm, slow, hard, and where? Get talking about what you like in the first stages of your arousal and what works better for you when you are more turned on? Now that I’m older I understand that each person’s body (and genitals) are completely different and they like very different things. I offer a free guide to Types of touch – get a copy here: https://www.wanting-more.com/touch

Three – More skills

More time on the planet means that we have had the chance to discover that lovemaking isn’t only what comes naturally (although that’s wonderful!) There are many skills and techniques we can develop from doing some research and reading about how pleasure works. Check out OMGYes, Layla May and The Wheel of Consent for ideas on how to increase your own pleasure.

Four – Saying ‘no’

Many of us when we’re young, get good at ‘going along with’, with being people pleasers. With maturity (and some tough knocks) we can get better at being able to say, no. “No, I don’t like that, but could you try this?”  No is such a powerful sexual word!

Five – Saying ‘yes’

Yes, Yes, Yes. When we give our partner enthusiastic consent for what they are doing, they can relax into enjoying what they are doing more, and, hopefully, in return, we get more of what we like.

It’s a great sadness to me when I speak to young women about sex, many of them tell me they don’t say anything during sex. They don’t make any noises or use any words. ‘Good girl’ conditioning has led to a fear of being seen as too slutty or ‘forward’. It’s one of the best aspects of my job, dismantling this conditioning and encouraging more verbal enthusiasm for the innocence and joy of enjoying and loving our bodies’ responses to being touched. I hope that us older folks are more willing to let out an enthusiastic ‘hell yeah’ in bed!

Six – Deeper connection.

Often in our younger years, there’s an over-emphasis on performance. On wanting to be seen as a good lover. Wanting to get it ‘right’. Fear of getting it ‘wrong’.

  • Am I orgasmic enough?
    Am I  hard enough?

  • Am I wet enough?

  • Was it long enough?

One advantage of age is that we can discover that sex is much less about performing and much more about connecting and communicating. It’s a way of offering a loving presence to the person we’re with. We can let go of the emphasis on orgasm or a goal, and simply be with what is. What a relief, huh?

Seven – Getting experimental

If you held down a responsible job, could you have been fired for risque behaviour outside of the office? Now post-retirement, it’s the perfect time to try something wilder, kinkier, sillier, more taboo. A swingers event? A kink munch meetup? A  tantra workshop? Safe in the knowledge that no one from work is going to be there and you’re not going to find yourself the subject of office gossip.

Eight – Slowing down

I’ve learned as I’ve aged and now have health issues that I need to attend to my energy levels. By the end of the working day, I’m usually pretty tired. For me. if I want to enjoy sex it needs to be during the day. I use a food metaphor when talking to clients. If you want a full three-course meal version of sex – you need to set aside a really proper amount of time for that. A whole day is a wonderful thing to do. But, a little snack size taste of sexuality can be enjoyed during the week. A 15-minute window here and there. Maybe cuddle with some caresses and touch? Some gentle genital touch in the morning? Eye gazing and fantasizing? There’s a whole smorgasbord of play that can be enjoyed in snack-size portions.

Nine –  acceptance of illness.

Many, many of us contend with some level of illness that affects sexual interest and energy levels.  As we get older, we learn we need to work with and adapt to the individual and unique differences in how our bodies can move or respond.  Can we get curious and creative about what we can do, rather than focusing on what we can’t do? With warmth and humour it’s possible to avoid the vicious circle that so many couples get into. Check out the Netflix TV show the  ‘Kominsky Method’ on NetFlix for some fantastic characters enjoying a sex life in thier seventies and eighties.

Ten – New possibilities.

Rather than seeing long-term, committed sex as mundane and monotonous – the couples who have most satisfaction see it as a voyage of discovery. Each sexual experience is like a snowflake, no two are the same. There are infinite varieties of the kinds of sex, power dynamics, toys and intimacy that we can combine. When we remain optimistic, there are always new discoveries to be made. Many older men find that their genitals are more sensitive and erogenous in the soft state. Some discover that it’s actually possible to enjoy a full-body orgasm, without ever having an erection. Check out the author Gina Ogden, ‘The Return of Desire’ on womens’ sexuality in later life.

I personally find this curiosity-based approach to exploring what’s possible endlessly fascinating. There’s a freedom in having escaped the ‘shoulds’ of societal norms and knowing our bodies so much better. What can you discover about yourself as a sexual being at 50? 60? 70? 80?. For more inspiration, I highly recommend Jack Morin’s classic book ‘The Erotic Mind’. It’s a great way to explore your sexual blueprint more deeply. We’re only just getting started! Keep in touch with me on my blog www.wanting-more.com/blog  or podcast www.wanting-more.com/podcast

Age is no Barrier to Getting your Book Published


5 Minute Read

Judy Piatkus, 71, is an entrepreneur, publisher and business coach specialising in conscious leadership. She founded Piatkus Books when she was in her 20s and grew the company to become an international brand, before selling it in 2007, just before the global financial crash that she had shrewdly foreseen. She is now a keynote speaker and a coach and mentor to start-ups. In 2011 she founded Conscious Café, a network that brings people together for connection and discussion.  www.judypiatkus.com

It was 2019. I had no plans to write a book as I travelled to a café in Islington, North London, for a ladies networking lunch organised by a friend of mine. Yet one of the women I was to meet there was to set my life on a new and unexpected trajectory during the next three years.

Helen Elizabeth Evans offers a process called Scientific Hand Analysis which helps you understand yourself better. I was fascinated when she looked at the palm of my friend’s hand and revealed information about her that she could not have previously known as they had only just met. I booked my own session with Helen and discovered that I had ideas I wanted to communicate to the world, stories I wanted to share. Writing some of them down seemed an obvious route to go and so it began.

My background is book publishing and I had founded my company, Piatkus Books in 1979 and sold it successfully in 2007 to one of the largest publishing conglomerates. I had made a first attempt at writing a book after that but the three eminent literary agents I offered it to were not impressed and so I abandoned it.

At the start of 2019, I determined that writing my book would be my project for that year and that I would approach it in a more professional way. I joined a writing class run by a previous colleague from my publishing days. It soon became clear that memoir would be the form of writing that came most naturally to me and so I began. Interestingly, I didn’t write about my life in a linear way. I wrote the easiest chapters first and then amalgamated them with later chapters which were harder to write and didn’t flow so effortlessly.

After I had written 40,000 words I sent them to an experienced freelance editor who a publisher friend recommended. It was an anxious time waiting for her response. However, she was very encouraging and suggested guidelines that I could follow. I persevered and finally, the book was completed. It was a great feeling to finally write those two immortal words ‘the end’.

I sent the completed typescript which was by then about 80,000 words to the freelance editor and asked if she would copyedit it so that I could look for a literary agent to represent me. She got to work, subtly improving what I had written. Nevertheless, it was still a shock when the early pages were returned to me as she had cut 20,000 words from my text. As an ex-publisher though, I knew that whatever she had chosen to leave out would improve my book immeasurably and after a couple of days of adjustment, I was able to send it out on a quest to find a literary agent who would represent me.

Although a former publisher myself, I hadn’t given much thought to which company might publish it. Over the next eight months a literary agent took it on and she sold it to Watkins Books, a perfect fit, as it turned out because Watkins publish books in the genres I was writing about.

My memoir is entitled “Ahead of Her Time: How a One Woman Startup Became a Global Publishing Brand”. It’s the story of how I started the business in my bedroom at home in the 1980s when I was pregnant with my second child and how my colleagues and I gradually built it into one of the UK’s most successful independent publishing companies. We became known for publishing popular fiction and for being pioneers in the area of alternative health and personal growth publishing. In the 1980s we published classic bestsellers such as Colour Me Beautiful and cookbooks by Mary Berry whose first book for Piatkus, Fast Cakes, is probably on many of your shelves. We also published the earliest works by Jon Kabat Zinn, who brought the concept of mindfulness to the West and a range of health and mind, body and spirit titles including the first UK books on detoxing and decluttering.

In April this year – 2021 – my book was published. And so, after all these years of enabling other authors’ voices to be heard, I too found myself holding my own book with my name on the front and not on the spine this time. By now the UK publishing trade has of course changed considerably. Amazon controls over 50% of the marketplace and my book is available as a hardback, as a kindle download and as an audiobook. I already had a platform on social media (essential for all aspiring authors) but it was nevertheless quite an adjustment to find myself personally connecting with readers via Twitter. There was also a lot of new terminology to learn.

The advantage of being able to look back on a richly-lived life at this time of my life has been immeasurable. I feel very grateful that, at the age of 71, I am still capable of taking on a fascinating new project and of being able to see it through to completion. Age truly is no barrier when you have the right mindset.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/judypiatkus

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/judy.piatkus/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/judypiatkus/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/judypiatkus/

AofA People: Kevin Allen – Film Director


7 Minute Read

Kevin Allen, 61, is a film director and old mate of mine from our Portobello days. He made Twin Town (before Rhys Ifans was on the cinematic map) to great acclaim and now runs the Mobile Film School where he teaches people of all ages to make films on their smartphones. His latest feature film, La Cha Cha, was shot during lockdown using Iphones with anamorphic lenses. It was a Mobile Film School production engaging a mix of students and seasoned pros. It stars Ruby & Sonny Serkis, Liam Hourican, Dougray Scott, Rhys Ifans and Keith & Alfie Allen. It’s scheduled for release in cinemas at the end of Sept – depending on the third Covid spike, of course. 

Age                                                                                              

I’m sixty-one year’s young.

Where do you live?

In a cabin by a magical lake on a farm on the fabulous Gower Peninsular, South Wales.

What do you do?

I write and direct films – and run my Mobile Film School, teaching people of all ages from all walks of life, to make films on their smartphones.

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

I wasn’t at all happy about reaching the big Six-Oh. It’s around about the age when my relatives used to kick the bucket. But most of them had tough lives, I guess. I suppose sixty isn’t really that old these days. I don’t feel old. I think my kids are a decent barometer. They don’t really see me or treat me as an old git, and that’s nice. Although I suffered two serious knee injuries, my body is holding out okay.

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

Four bird feeders and a beard.

What about sex?

It’s definitely up there with a good Sunday roast. Always up for a bit of hanky-panky when the occasion arises. Although one-night-stands cease to satisfy these days, the ergonomics of Tinder has been a Godsend.

And relationships?

My marriage broke up about seven years ago. It took some time to get over but it was a good 16-year shift and we get on well. I’m happily single. I’m not sure I could live with someone again, to be honest. I know you never know what might come along but I do like living alone in my little cabin on the farm with my dog and chickens. The relationship I have with my rescued mutt, Schmeichel, is very satisfying. Our love for one another is unconditional.

How free do you feel?

Freer than ever I suppose. I live virtually off-grid, have no debts, no mortgages, and all my kids will be adults in a few years. FB keeps its eagle eye on me, of course – but I don’t really give a fuck who’s working out my algorithms. I can slip anchor anytime I want really. I have a loaded air rifle by my front door, should I be required to join the revolution. Although I’ll probably just film bits of it and sell it to Netflix.

What are you proud of?

My four kids. They’re lovely individuals. I don’t just love them, I actually like them. I’m really proud of the house I designed and built in Ireland … of my debut feature, Twin Town, and of my movie adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. But, I’m really chuffed with La Cha Cha – the movie I shot during the lockdown. It’s a sort of counterculture rom-com set on an alternative care-home/caravan park, where creative oldies can let their hair and pants down. We treat the elderly so appallingly in this country and the movie offers a glimpse of what could be a viable alternative for those wanting to go out with a bang, rather than a whimper.

What keeps you inspired?

Since setting up The Mobile Film School, we have trained many young filmmakers from scratch. Literally thrown them in at the deep end whilst making a movie. It’s a wholly immersive alternative to rip-off three-year Uni media courses. Watching them develop and blossom on set is truly inspiring. Balm for the soul.

When are you happiest?

Pottering about on the farm, cooking outside for friends, walking the mutt along one of our many beautiful beaches. I’m very happy when I’m making a movie. After the interminable grind of writing everything opens out during pre-production, followed by the adrenalin rush of shooting a film. I feel especially happy working on the score with my long time composer, Mark Thomas. Music is a critical component of my filmmaking and it’s just so much fun to play around in the studio after wrapping a movie shoot.

And where does your creativity go?

Quite often it goes straight into the bin – and sometimes it develops into something interesting and worthwhile. The filmmaking process can be quite protracted and often soul-destroying. It’s a journey that involves a huge amount of collaboration and juggling all the individual elements that go into making a movie is such a huge creative endeavour in itself. Filmmaking aside, I try and see the art in just about everything. With the lucrative proceeds of a big studio movie, we moved from Hollywood to a remote part of Ireland where we bred free-range pigs – and four free-range kids – in relative isolation. I learned to recognise and appreciate the art of the field. The creativity that goes into good farming is something to behold, and this is what inspired me to create the Flat Lake Literary & Arts Festival in County Monaghan, with the novelist Pat McCabe. The Arts Council of Ireland told us such an event couldn’t possibly happen in such a cultural backwater. We proved them wrong, and it was the ludicrous dichotomy of farmers and urban intellectuals coming together on the border that made the festival so genuinely special. It also made a significant cultural contribution to the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland – that Brexit just royally fucked up.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Don’t trouble, trouble – until trouble troubles you is a quip I picked up while writing a movie in Alabama years ago, and it sort of stuck with me. I guess I spent too much time in my early career looking for trouble that I didn’t need to address with such cockiness. I was so hell-bent on confronting what I loathed about my cartel-run industry head-on, that it only led to burning a few too many bridges. Leaving the Hollywood treadmill behind to farm in Ireland allowed me to rethink and reprioritise what I really wanted to do, and I naturally re-engaged with filmmaking with a quieter, calmer, more sustainable approach to achieving what I felt I could achieve.

And dying?

As more mates drop off around me, I guess it brings one’s own mortality into sharper relief. I’ve lost three best mates, the most recent hanged himself. It was traumatic, to say the least, and made me think a lot more about making the most of what I have left. I want to carry on making films until I’m physically and mentally unable – then check out in a place like La Cha Cha, the caravan park where my last movie is set. I’d like to spend my final chapter bathing in creativity. Painting, sculpture, growing weed, dancing around a campfire, taking lots of drugs … and if the body and mind allow, a bit of slap ‘n tickle by the lake at twilight.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, I recently dreamt of making the perfect sherry trifle. My kids entered me into the world of sherry trifle-making championships held at Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was a close run contest between me, Salman Rushdie and Fiona Bruce. Bruce pipped me at the post, but then failed a random drugs test, so I lifted the coveted Golden Trifle. I returned to Swansea on a double-decker bus where thousands of sherry trifle fans lined the streets. A male voice choir sang at a special ceremony at the town hall where I was handed the keys to the city. The triumph was bittersweet though, as I later learned that Fiona Bruce had been dropped from the Antiques Road Show. However, we all know that the Sherry Trifle circuit is rife with drug abuse, and the way of the transgressor is hard.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I just spent 200 quid on a tin of organic olive oil from Umbria.

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