Lynne Franks, 71, is still innovating and creating. This time in Wincanton. She has a new venture Hub at No 3 which she describes as ‘a dynamic new concept in bringing women and men together to heal themselves, each other and the planet’. She runs workshops and events there. Of course, Lynne is the reason that Suzanne Noble and Rose Rouse met and eventually co-founded Advantages of Age.
Women’s Power of 7 Retreat in Wincanton on May 3rd – 5th
And her first women’s retreat working with her daughter Jessica Howie is in Marrakesh this November.
Age (in years)
Where do you live?
Randomly moved to Wincanton in Somerset three years ago.
What do you do?
I have just started three new businesses including a café, a shop and a workshop hub with bedrooms. I write books and articles; am developing my SEED women’s empowerment programmes; working in my local community with girls from our local school, creating a craft market for disadvantaged women etc etc etc.
Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
Don’t really have time to think about age. I have always been busy and nothing has changed.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
What about sex?
Love it with the right guy.
Never giving up on love. Just coming out of a lovely relationship with lots of love because we are both just too busy running around.
How free do you feel?
As free as I allow myself.
What are you proud of?
My daughter and my son who are great parents and individuals. And of course my twenty years of work with helping women around the world plus a lot of other projects I have done. I tend to forget a lot until others remind me as always moving onto the next.
When are you happiest?
When I am creating new ideas that will help others. I am a SEEDSower, which is one of my archetypes in my Power of 7 women’s leadership programme.
And where does your creativity go?
My creativity goes into my work and my home and all my activities.
What’s your philosophy of living?
Living my truth and living life to the full. Always ready for new adventures.
Don’t really think about it – no time.
Are you still dreaming?
Totally dreaming all the time – when I stop dreaming, I know it is the end.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
Starting all the aforementioned new businesses in a new town where I didn’t know anyone and just leapt in anyway.
Lesley-Ann Jones is an author who worked for the likes of the News of the World back in the 80s and 90s. She was whisked around the world to interview people like Hugh Grant (post-Divine and very funny story), Madonna, Raquel Welch, Freddie Mercury and Marco Piero White. Now she’s re-lived it all in her new memoir, Tumbling Dice, which really brings it all back. It’s a fascinating read.
What prompted you to write a memoir now?
I had dined out for years on many hair-raising Fleet Street war stories. At one point, I might have mistaken the phrase ‘Tell me again the one about …’ for my name. I’d lost count of the number of people who had said to me, ‘You really should write a book about your own life.’ So I had been thinking about it for a long time, while never actually doing anything about it. Then my youngest child came of age, while my parents are now in their eighties. It occurred to me that it would be nice to publish such a book while they are still alive, and also that I wouldn’t have to hold back anymore because my children are now grown-ups and could take it. Once I started, it just poured out. It was a very cathartic experience. I hadn’t realized how damaged I was by certain episodes: we tend to bury things, and to live in denial. Writing about them forced me to confront my feelings about them in a different way. On the whole, I have to say, this was a good thing.
You have described the experience as like going out nude? Could you elaborate upon that?
I was staying at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood some years ago with my eldest daughter when an earthquake occurred. Quite a serious earthquake: 7.9 on the Richter scale. The bed I was in at the time ended up across the room, underneath the television, a vast thing, which was now dangling precariously from the wall. Ours was a poolside room on the ground floor, with the main door leading out to the swimming pool terrace. I looked outside and saw a naked woman running along the other side of the pool, screaming. She was completely starkers, except for a very elaborate diamond necklace and chandelier earrings. I remember thinking, not even in the most severe earthquake would I go legging it outside without my clothes on. Daft, really, when you think about the difference between bare-bum nakedness and being bikini-clad, which is a few skimpy triangles and some bits of string. Not that you’d catch me wearing one of those these days, either. But you get my drift. I’ve had three kids. The body is not what it was. I wouldn’t want to frighten the animals. In other words, I am extremely shy and self-contained, like most people. Writing a memoir is the most self-exposing thing that a writer can do, and yes, it is very frightening. What on earth will people think?
Philip Norman describes you as ‘naughty’ in the foreword? Why does he think that?
I have always been a wicked type. Always up for mischief. Given to double-entendres and pranks, with a taste for shaking things up. Life is much more interesting when it has a big tee-hee factor. I was involved in a lot of end-of-pier-type escapades on Fleet Street in the name of a good story. I’ve got some cheek, too. I tend to say the unsayable. I get away with it. I think Phil was alluding to that.
You seem to me to travel between prim and on the nose?
It’s an accurate assessment. I can’t explain it. My eccentric Welsh upbringing, probably. My great-grandmother, grandmother and elderly aunts were all unbendingly proper and obsessed with keeping up appearances. They wouldn’t even nip down the shops without reaching for hat and gloves. But they all knew how to let their hair down and have a rollicking good time over a tipple behind closed doors. I have vivid memories of them all hitching up their skirts and dancing. I must take after them.
This is a memoir that is mainly about the 80s and 90s, you say there was more drugs and alcohol in TV than the music biz?
That was certainly my experience. Drug taking at Chrysalis Records, where I worked, just wasn’t a thing. We drank our share of champagne, though. It was enough. I have never ‘done drugs’. I’ve never even had a drag on a cigarette. I have only wet vices.
You do have a few demons to face down in this book, was it cathartic in that way, or just painful?
Both. Now that I’ve done it, I have a taste for it. There is much more to say. I am already working on the sequel.
You really have hung out with a lot of musicians, actors including unlikely ones like Raquel Welch and Gary Glitter? Accessibility was just so different in those days, wasn’t it?
A number of full-blown careers that we nowadays take for granted simply didn’t exist back then. I’m talking personal managers and publicists, agents and PRs… and a lot of hangers-on. Most artists didn’t have such people in their lives, all justifying their own positions and jobs by interfering and coming between journalist and star. If we bagged an interview with a celebrity, it was just us and them, in a room or a restaurant for a couple of hours. If you hit it off and got on, they might ask you what you were doing for dinner that night. The following week, you might get a call asking you to go to Dusseldorf with them, to review a show. You’d be picked up by their limo, you’d sit next to them on the plane, stay in the same hotel, and be treated like one of their entourage. There was no ‘us and them’ about it. The unspoken rules were simple: you wrote the interview. You reviewed the gig. Whatever else you might witness, it was a case of, what happens on the road stays on the road. You didn’t write the off-record stuff, or you would never be invited back. That was the code by which journalists and artists lived. That code was broken during the early Nineties, when the age of the Paparazzi reached an all-time high – or should I say, ‘low’ – and when celebrity coverage became vicious, every-man-for-himself. Think back to how the rottweilers stalked Freddie Mercury during his final couple of years, photographing him as he left his doctor’s surgery, looking gaunt and on his last legs. They appeared to relish his demise, as if to say, look, this is what you get for being gay. It was shameless and appalling. Laws have changed since then, and rightly so. In our day it was mostly fun, light-hearted and good-humoured. But of course, the Pandora’s Box is open, now. there is no going back.
There are mentions re getting old and attitudes to it – Madonna, you describe, as in fear of it and in pursuit of youth, Joan Collins who also became a friend by the sound of it, is described as having ‘mock-croc’ skin on her body but the perfect face because she’s kept it out of the sun. What’s your personal take on getting older?
That it is better than the alternative. I have a circle of very close friends who are all considerably older than me. My best friend in the world, Simon Napier-Bell (the former manager of Wham!) is nearly three decades older than me, but we are virtually the same person. There is no ‘age gap’. Along with Simon, Ed Bicknell, the former manager of Dire Straits, Clem Cattini, the UK’s most prolific session drummer and former member of the Tornados, and Brian Bennett, the Shadows drummer, are my closest male friends. We make a formidable gang. My best female friend is a decade older than me. I’m still in close touch with three close classmates from school, and two from college … none of which proves anything, other than the fact that people are valuable throughout their lives, and that society places far too great an emphasis on ‘age’ and numbers. It’s not a qualification. I had grandparents and aunts who lived to great ages. I was accustomed to spending considerable time with much older people from a very young age. At my church, St. Bride’s, ‘the Journalists’ Church’ on Fleet Street, most of my friends there are in their 70s and 80s. But their ages are irrelevant. I wrote about Madonna’s hang-ups about growing older, because those are her hang-ups. Joan Collins has always been refreshingly candid about the ageing process. It was from her that I learned to keep my face and neck out of the sun! The ‘mock-croc’ phrase was hers: I’ve always admired the way in which she sends herself up. Worrying about growing and looking older is never going to arrest the process. We’d best forget about it. I live by very simple rules: keep the clutter down; dress the part; talk to men, women and children everywhere you go: everybody has a story to tell; live dangerously (because it lengthens and strengthens your life); never resort to cosmetic surgery, because those who have had it all look like freaks; keep your options open; and remember that everything that is working against you is ultimately working for you. It sometimes takes a while, but it is always the case in the end.
Bill Wyman was a friend in the 80s, and you realized in hindsight you were part of a friendship group that protected his relationship with Mandy Smith who was only 13 when she started seeing him. How does that feel now?
I feel guilty. I knew about it, but never told anyone. I should have. It had already been going on for a couple of years when I realized. I don’t know why I didn’t tell anyone. I was young too. What Bill did to us was a form of abuse. He convinced us to collude in his abuse of Mandy in insidious ways. We were impressed by him, and unsuspecting of his motives. Only when I became a mother myself did I begin to feel differently about it.
I was fascinated by all the machinations at the newspapers – the pay offs, the editors that are deposed and therefore you become more of that fallout, Nick Gordon at YOU who obviously adored you and sent you on all sorts of assignments. And then Piers Morgan when he was editing News of the World, you end up having to sit next to Hugh Grant in Business Class after he has been caught with his pants down and in the paid for company of Divine Brown – he scarpered as soon as he saw you and this impossible mission was not accomplished. How was it for you?
At the time, all of those things were just part of the job. You simply got on with it. It is only now, looking back, that I can see what a crazy existence it all was. We walked tightropes on a daily basis. Vast sums of money were always at stake. Killing the competition and getting the exclusive were all that mattered. We risked our reputations and sometimes our lives for both. I now think what a mental movie it would all make. Because those Fleet Street heyday years have never been captured on film.
There are the famous you obviously like – Joan Collins, Linda McCartney, and others that you pour scorn upon – like Hugh Grant, Madonna?
While it is true that I adore Joan Collins, and that I really loved Linda McCartney, I can’t agree that I ‘poured scorn on Madonna’. She was good to me on a few occasions. I understand her dilemma. How hard must it be to evolve from pretty young sex symbol into ageing diva? You are doing your growing-old in public, and everyone is looking for the cracks. I wouldn’t necessarily have done it her way, but perhaps I’d feel differently in her shoes (and with her money). I have never seen the attraction of younger men, by the way. Men are immature at the best of times, and tend to need mothering, which perhaps explains my friendships with much older guys!
You also tell us about your own love life throughout the book, was that difficult to do because you haven’t had an easy time? You have been a single mum with three children for most of the time.
What do I know about love? That it hurts as well as heals. That’s about it. I am older and wiser, I like to think. I have three amazing kids. My parents are still alive. I have a very busy time with all of them. My life works for me. A partner would (might) be a bonus, but is not a necessity. I have always felt that it’s better to be on my own than with the wrong person; that it is not about being with a man, any man at whatever cost, but with the man. If I couldn’t meet someone naturally, in the real world, then it wasn’t my time, this time around. I don’t do internet dating, nor any of that. I respect other people’s reasons for doing so. It’s not for me.
Tell us about John Hurt offering to buy your first-born, Mia?
I knew John socially. He was married to his wife Donna at the time, and they couldn’t conceive. I was in an advanced state of pregnancy and hanging with him at a private members’ club when he offered me £100,000 for my unborn child. There wasn’t anything sordid about it. He knew that I was about to become a single mother, and probably thought he was doing me a favour! What he didn’t know was that I had chosen to go it alone and have my baby anyway, after my relationship broke up. He was so desperate for a baby that he was prepared to pay a vast sum for one. His desperation broke my heart. He was drinking a great deal in those days. His mind was distorted. He must have known that such a transaction would have been illegal, and we could both have been done for it. Not that I considered it for a second. I would never be without Mia, not in a million years.
You certainly have a way with descriptions – you describe Joan Collins as ‘smelling like toffs’ chocolate’, which made me laugh. And Linda McCartney as ‘as down-to-earth as a root vegetable’. Has your writing always been like that?
I started writing stories when I was about 5 years old. I have hundreds of notebooks dating back to infants’ school. I have always found it easier to write than to speak. I express myself best through the written word. I have a wry view of the world, which is unsurprising, given my eccentric family. I’ve also devoured books since I was tiny. The only way to become a good writer is to read avidly. Anyone can write, it is simply a question of doing it. Of reading a lot, and then doing it. But yes, it is vital to avoid clichés, and to deploy descriptions that do not merely echo what has been said countless times before. There are something like 200,000 words in the English language, if you count obsolete words and foreign derivatives. Our average active vocabulary is around 20,000 words. We can all do better!
Were you tempted to have sex with Marco Piero White? That chapter is titled ‘You know we are going to fuck, don’t you?’
Are you joking? Absolutely not! I was fed-up, not hard-up. He smelled of food, had dirt under his fingernails, and there was dried blood all down his trousers. He was considered something of a sex symbol in his younger day, as I recall. All that matted hair and menacing staring, I suppose. But no, not at all my type. Wouldn’t touch him with yours. I always preferred them freshly-showered, brushed and tweeded, with a volume of Shakespeare under one arm.
What did you discover about yourself during the writing of Tumbling Dice, which is taken from a Stones’ song on Exile on Main Street?
I discovered that there is no real closure. Not about anything. You live with things. You survive with things. No damage ever truly heals. You just have to get on with it, and keep laughing at yourself. Because everyone else will.
How would you sum up that era for you?
I loved it. It defined me, and to a great extent still does. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
The first sport I did was serving orange quarters to Amazonian Australian girls who were on the teams. As these things tend to go, the same girls didn’t just make one team; they stormed onto all of them. As a small, migrant child dispossessed of hand-eye co-ordination, I was forever doomed to be the last one left standing when the captains chose their crew. Looking back perhaps they felt the same way when I played most of the parts in Shakespeare. I don’t really think so.
Most of these kids had emerged from the womb already swimming. Besides the dread of the weekly school lesson, there was the nuclear cloud of chlorine that hovered above the pool. It was impossible not to inhale which was pretty much my major take-out until we learned privately when I hit the ancient swimmer’s age of eight and they took the chlorine down by about fifty shots.
That’s pretty much how it went in Australia in the 1970s. Unless you were any good – no let’s make that very good at something – you were excluded. By Year 10, I’d adopted the waiter’s trick of spitting on the oranges and excelling at something none of them were interested in: cross-country running. Meanwhile, they were too busy chugging ciggies as they walked the course. I should have taken note back then.
I ran for a few years after that – until knee pain sent me to a specialist who took one look and said: ‘Well, you’re not built like a runner are you? You’ve got hips. Go swimming instead.’ Determined to turn my diminutive, curvy body into something it was resisting, I persisted. Away from the gaze of school bullies, I perfected my freestyle until I moved to London where people did not do laps in swimming pools. They floated on their backs and kind of gurgled like toddlers.
And then along came strapping Sean from NZ and a love affair with weights. Trainers are like medical professionals, you are not allowed to covet them. And for about 20 years, I trained like a boy, watching with amazement as my muscles became more defined and grew. I delighted in wearing sleeveless tops and flexing my muscles at every opportunity. It was death or glory, I chose the latter, I even learnt to ski at the age of 47 having figured out that since my life was probably half-over, injury would not be so bad.
A life spent sticking to the Mediterranean diet, a good measure of genetics and things ticked along nicely until I was about 52. Up until then, I had not given the slightest consideration to the possibility that my investment in myself could go down as well as up. My first oversight.
The second was menopause. Okay, I had no control over that one but while I expected the sudden bursts of tube rage, I didn’t anticipate that every past injury and some new ones would all surface at once and suddenly instead of a fighting machine, my body would become a nagging old aunt.
I started to feel very, very tired. I now realise I should have adopted the Keith Richards fitness regime way before. With barely a couple of glasses of wine a week and the same healthy diet, the GP informed me two months ago that I was ‘highly methylated’ with dangerously high copper and stupidly low zinc. I got capsules for that. I also acquired a physio for the hip bursitis – that’s a menopause thing apparently – and Pilates Reformer classes for the neck. I briefly tried opiates but my tolerance maxed out after two days. Go figure.
I recently opined to my mum who has never been ill in 89 years but then she stuck to gardening, that I should have stuck closer to the Middle East staples of cigarettes and alcohol with minimal exercise – my cousins don’t eat. The rather delicious irony in all this is that because the pharmaceutical painkillers either don’t work or hurt my stomach, my effective painkillers these days are vodka or scotch and the odd cigarette.
Two nights ago, the osteoarthritis in my neck reached beyond a level of tolerable pain, I helped myself to a couple of vodka shots and felt good enough to dance to random You Tube tracks for four hours. I’m not sure that particular recipe will work long-term, but right now a modicum of the Keith Richards’ methodology is working just fine.
I am a woman who has lived, learned and loved. I am planning to do more of the same as I embark on the second chapter of my life. In terms of what motivates me – I came across this quote the other day which simply says: “I am not impressed by your money, position or title. I am impressed by how you treat others”.
If you have a job, what do you do for a living?
I am a Social Impact Co-Pilot. This is actually a niche that I have carved out and a role that I’ve created for myself and what it equates to is that I help successful business people to supercharge their social impact without the pain of wasting their precious investment and resources.
What’s my magic source? A carefully targeted mix of 25 years+ change maker space expertise and well-honed virtual assistant toolkit. My changer maker clients include Philanthropists, Impact Investors, Social Impact Consultants, CSR Professionals and Social Entrepreneurs.
How long have you been doing this?
Officially, since 2017 when I founded Be the Difference Services and, unofficially, I’ve been doing elements of this throughout my entire career.
What do you find most satisfying about your job?
What I find most rewarding is the fact that I’m able to help people who are being the difference through doing good stuff in the world to do it even better and to do more of it.
Is your work primarily a means to an end ie money, or the motivating force of your life?
It’s my life force and I completely thrive on it.
When you were 8, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I actually can’t recall what I wanted to be when I was eight. However, by the time I was 16, I knew that I wanted to be a Careers Officer. I worked at the local Careers Office part-time during my holidays, I did my work experience there, based my dissertation thesis as part of my degree on research into careers guidance and so nearly became a Careers Officer. In the end, I adopted a wider view and did a postgrad diploma in Youth and Community work. That marked the start of my professional career.
Did you get there – and if not, are you happy/sad that you didn’t?
As I mentioned in the previous question, I nearly got there (the Careers Officer). The youth and community work qualification and social impact route that I took has served me well. It’s meant that I’ve had a very grounded and strong understanding in working with young people and also community development approaches which I’ve then been able to apply both strategically and in collaborations, developing different offerings throughout my career.
What is your dream job?
My dream job is the one I have!
If UK-based, are you glad, indifferent or disappointed that the
official pension age is rising?
I have very mixed feeling towards the pension age, particularly for women.
Women should be able to receive part of their pension earlier, with the option to work part-time. The reason for this is that, from my observations of women around me, we must recognise that many have menopause-related health issues. This can be unpredictable at times can render women unable to work in the way they would like (or had planned) to.
At 70, I may still want to work and keep my brain active, even if I’m not as mentally as sharp or as physically fit as I used to be. I’d like to see real optionsand consideration of things that are rewarding, which also take into account the wisdom and skills that older people bring. It will herald an opportunity that didn’t previously exist, society will change in that older people will be more accepted and a welcomed part of the workforce. Employers will want to take them on and trail blaze with them as a cohort. Personally, I want to be in a position where there are an array of new opportunities and challenges on offer for me to access, well matched with my desire to stay active and channel my insatiable curiosity. I’d like these to be underpinned with a realistic understanding of what it means to be 70.
I’d also like to see more inter-generational learning because certainly with me coming back to the 2nd chapter of my career, in lots of ways, with founding Be the Difference, I have been doing much more work with new colleagues who are 20 – 25 years younger than me. Some of what they do is the same but some of their approach is different. My younger colleagues are from new sectors like ethical marketing, social impact etc. I’m doing a lot of learning from them but that’s melding with my experience and skills that I can bring, which have been collected over a career.
You can find out more and contact Annie via: https://www.bethedifferenceva.com/
Annie Sprinkle, a golden era porn star cum environmental activist, and her partner, Beth Stephens, a queer artist/activist, and professor, have always been all about sex, sharing their enthusiasm publically. Now, as ecosexuals, they’re skinny dipping for the environment. Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure that they directed and produced, is a documentary about water which conveys its message through the ecosexual gaze. Together, Sprinkle and Stephens, with their art, are shifting the metaphor “Earth as Mother” to “Earth as Lover.” They’ve married the Earth, Sky, Sea, Moon, Appalachian Mountains, the Sun, and other non-human entities in nine different countries. Experiencing nature (human and non-human) as sensual and erotic, they aim to make the conservation movement sexy, pleasurable, and diverse. Their partnership reflects a merging of concerns about the environment, broadening definitions of sexuality, and an expansion of radical feminist art.
From tree hugging to dirty sex—orgasmic mud baths for example—the ecosexual approach to battling climate change is more fun and maybe even more effective than mainstream, dry-mouthed techniques. Sprinkle and Stephens, the co-creators of the ecosexual movement, which teaches that humans aren’t separate from, but are part of nature, use ecosexuality as a platform for environmental discourse. “Ecosexuality is a new sexual identity, an environmental activist strategy, and an expanded concept of what sex is (and can be) in our culture. . . . What most ecosexuals have in common is a love, passion, and interest in the well-being of the Earth, and they find “nature” sensually pleasurable… .” Today they estimate 12,000 to 50,000 people identify as ecosexuals. The relationship between Annie and Beth, playful and sexual throughout, provides the medium to appreciate the erotic interplay between humans and nature embraced by ecosexuality. Their sensuality thrives in the watery milieus of Water Makes Us Wet.
The subject matter of the film is significant, yet there’s plenty of opportunities to smile and even laugh. Social issues are presented in a playful, performative and humorous way. Sprinkle and Stephens, are free spirits, which also characterizes the ecosexual movement. Working collaboratively with E.A.R.T.H. Lab, a nomadic institute situated in the University of Santa Cruz (UCSC) Arts Division with a mission to create new forms of environmental art, conduct research, develop theory, and produce happenings, Stephens, Sprinkle and their dog, Butch, embark on a performance art journey in their “E.A.R.T.H. Lab mobile Unit” around California, investigating the pleasures and politics of water. As viewers, we’re taken along for the ride. Sprinkle, about to turn 65 and be a full-on senior citizen, and Stephens, 58, in keeping with their past, briefly appear naked in the film, feeling that it was important to be naked older women countering a taboo.
This documentary is part of their film trilogy to raise awareness about the environment. In Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story (GGM) (distributed by Kino Lorber), they raise performance art hell in West Virginia to help save the region from mountaintop removal destruction, which climaxes with their wedding to the Appalachian Mountains.
A porn actress and pleasure activist in the 1970s and 1980s, Annie Sprinkle was a key player in the sex-positive feminist movement, her art projects a vehicle for promoting sex education and equal rights. Now, an ecosexual, she’s enlarged the scope of her efforts, approaching her mission with the enthusiasm with which she embraced her life as a porn star and pleasure activist. “My work is still very much about sex, and I’ve done work about sex for almost five decades. Just that now my ecosexuality and love for the Earth comes into play.”
Beth Stephens, her partner, and collaborator for eighteen years, realized her connection to nature growing up in West Virginia, spitting distance from Gauley Mountain. An interdisciplinary artist and activist, she’s explored themes of sexuality, gender, queerness, and feminism through art since the eighties. Currently, a professor, Chair of the UCSC Art Department, and founding director of the E.A.R.T.H. Lab, Stephens’ visual art, performance pieces, and films, have been shown extensively, nationally and internationally.
Initially, I didn’t take ecosexuality seriously, but I’ve learned it can be very serious and may be a surprisingly successful conduit to express crucial messages about the natural world. The environmental ethic suggests that survival requires a mutual relationship of respect and care between humans and the Earth. Who can argue with that? (See Sexecology.org)
“Why water?” I asked.
Living in California after their wedding to the Earth, the state was experiencing a severe drought.
“So not having water, being on water restrictions, and reading about places where over 100,000 people don’t have good drinking water, like the central valley in California, we got worried. We just love water. Plus we depend upon it for life.”
To some extent, the water problems of California provide a paradigm for water crises occurring elsewhere in the United States and globally. The U.S. is technically water-rich; however our usage is outpacing our resources. For the past few years, the effects of serious drought have been extensive throughout the west—not just in California.
In 2016, when Sprinkle and Stephens set out on their road trip, the reservoirs, rivers, and aquifers in California had dried up. Narrated by the Earth, Water Makes Us Wet is informative, funny and engaging—and focal.
What started their quest? The drought was a factor, but it was a clogged toilet at home that made them ask, “Where does it all go?”, leading to their investigation into what happens to San Francisco’s wastewater. The education they received was the impetus for their journey. Blending the scientific with the spiritual, their exploration into the ways of water include visits to research labs and field stations, conversations with a wildlife biologist and a Director of Public Works, and meetings with others of a more spiritual bend.
At Big Sur they swam in the perennial stream, Big Creek. “When you spend a lot of time in nature you don’t need to know the name of the thing,” their biologist guide, said. “You just need to know its place in the environment, stop talking all the time, see where your mind goes”—an ecosexual message.
A visit to Annie’s family home and pool where they stop to swim provides the opportunity to share details about the water burden associated with pools. Annie gave her first blow job in this pool which is why she picked the name Sprinkle when she got into the sex industry—she loved it wet. Here, Annie and Beth cavort naked talking about water magic, against the backdrop of information about the burden of the more than 1.2 million residential pools in California, 250,000 in Los Angeles County. Thirty-thousand gallons are required to fill most pools: California water usage varies according to the socioeconomics of a region. For example, the daily average for residents of Compton—a community with few pools and below average median incomes—is 106 gallons, compared with Beverly Hills where residents average 284 gallons.
Informational screenshots about the ocean are sobering, letting us know the consequences of greenhouse gases on ocean waters, and that between 1970 and 2012 there’s been almost a 50 percent decline in marine life populations. Poignant and humorous images, such as their communication with elephant seals, capture the sexuality omnipresent in nature.
In the mountains east of Los Angeles, Stephens and Sprinkle learn how Nestle is mining water off the mountain, depleting the water supply, endangering more than half a dozen animal species, and creating a shortage for people living there.
Annie succumbs to eating a Big Mac that she says, “is more embarrassing than making porn,” which never embarrassed her. This moment, the film’s editor, Keith Wilson feels, reflects the complicated relationship many have to water and consumerism, to food and humor, and our ability to handle and juggle that complexity. Annie’s downfall provides the opportunity to explore the relationship between water and beef, resulting in a trip to stockyards: 1799 gallons of water are needed to make one pound of beef in California. California Feedlots
One of the last places visited is Lake Tenaya, where Annie’s dad had wanted his ashes sprinkled. Tenaya is an alpine lake in Yosemite National Park, and problems associated with high visitor use have been increasing, information that would have been good to include. This is one of the scenes which best reflects the sensuality of their relationship with nature, and an understanding of ecosexuality.
The interplay of the sexual with the ecological, the personal and the informational, the mixing of levity with significance, is successful. At the end of the film Annie and Beth “crash” the San Francisco Pride Parade, add an “E” to GLBTQI, reflecting the integration of sexuality and ecology, and the connection to their earlier lives.
To respect, love and be kind to the environment, to realize that we are part of a beautiful ecological cycle and every move counts—are ecosexual messages delivered by Sprinkle and Stephens, by the experts they meet, and the photography which reinforces the magical dynamics of nature. Screenshots of facts are effective, as are visuals such as endless shelves of bottled water and the stockyards. However, depending on the target audience, moments such as the baptism of a childhood friend, Beth learning how to use a netipot, or the extent of time spent at the San Francisco parade, were distracting.
Keith Wilson, who’d edited Goodbye Gauley Mountain, also edited Water Makes Us Wet: An Ecosexual Adventure, with assistance from Jordan Freeman, Sprinkle and Stephens. Wilson was the cinematographer for most scenes and arranged a number of interviews. The second camera was managed by Jordan Freeman, who also did the aerial shots. Footage of Big Creek, Sagehen, and Yosemite was shot by Seth Temple Andrews. Water Makes Us Wet, distributed by Juno Films (junofilms.com), runs 80 minutes, premiered in documenta 14, and was shown in New York City at several venues, including the Museum of Modern Art. It is being shown at the British Film Institute in London, March 23 at 8pm.
What’s next for Stephens and Sprinkle? In spite of their ages, they aren’t slowing down. “As the Earth is our love, we are in an intergenerational relationship with the Earth. We are just a few decades old. The Earth is millions of years old. We are very young by these standards.”
And, they are completing a book, Assuming the Ecosexual Position, University of Minnesota Press, chronicling their ongoing art collaboration and exploring their ecosexual work, combining sex and gender activism with environmental activism. To quote Annie, “We expect the book to make a big splash in the academic world.”
Philippa Perry, 61, is a psychotherapist, TV and radio presenter, who is marvellously bold. Of course, she’s also married to Grayson! Her new publication The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read happens to be a witty selection of dos and don’ts on the parenting front. You can buy it here.
What is your age (in years)
Where do you live?
London and Sussex. Having two homes is ridiculous. I can never remember which one has run out of tomato ketchup. But, I love being in the country with no noise and no street lights and I love being in the city for the friends, new people and opportunities.
What do you do?
I am a writer, but also a psychotherapist and also a TV and radio presenter.
Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
I’m alive, I have consciousness for most of the time when I’m awake. I can feel sun on my skin, the ground under my feet. I am aware that I have lived much longer than I shall continue to live, and I keep in mind how I can live my remaining years and have as much fun as possible. Fun, for me may mean sitting in the garden staring into space, or watching Pointless on the telly, or playing with my phone. It also means hanging out with people who I feel the most comfortable with. And reaping the rewards of delayed gratification. I hated writing my last book, it was a struggle. But now, the book is doing really well and I’m basking in the pride of accomplishment. That is fun. And yes, it’s a cliche, but I am aware of more aches and pains but I can still walk so yippee. I don’t like working for more than 3 or 4 hours a day. I don’t really like working less than that either.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
What about sex?
You think about it so much when you are young and spend so much time doing it, thinking about it and thinking about who to do it with. It’s nice to have the headspace that not being obsessed about it anymore gives you.
I have two mega ones. One with my husband, and one with my daughter. Then I have some very important ones indeed with very dear friends, then I have some great ones with people I have met over the years, and some great ones with people I see more on Facebook than in real life, but these are important too. Relationships, all of them, are extremely important to me. New ones, old ones, I even feel satisfied with my exchanges with strangers on the bus.
How free do you feel?
I would rather be bound by my relationships than be completely free. I have fantasies of extended times of travel but they don’t appeal to my husband so much and we miss each other if we are away much longer than a fortnight. So I choose love over complete freedom.
What are you proud of?
Some of my documentaries. Very much liked Sex, Lies and Lovebites: a history of agony aunts, and How to be a Surrealist with Philippa Perry – they were fun to make. Also proud of a radio doc I did, The Truth about Children Who Lie. I have a couple more in the pipeline at the moment. I don’t know whether I’ll be proud of them or not. I’ll have to wait and see.
I’m proud of all my three books. Couch Fiction, How To Stay Sane and The Book you Wish your Parents Had Read. The last one is doing really well. I am very proud of all the people who have bought it, read it and wrestle with it. Behttps://amzn.to/2CqKd7lcause for some it brings up a lot of psychological stuff and can upset or make the reader angry, but if they don’t throw it out of the window and stick with it, it can work as good therapy for them. I’m sorry it hurts sometimes. And it gives me so much joy when I hear it has helped someone, or a family. I’m proud when I hear any of my books have helped people.
What keeps you inspired?
What keeps me inspired is what I know already and then what is just outside of that, that fits or challenges with what I know, so that I can expand through new connections with ideas, people, philosophies.
When are you happiest?
Probably when I’m not aware of being happy, when a group of us are laughing and laughing and just in the moment.
And where does your creativity go?
I take issue with the word “creativity”. It is overused. But I’m good at cooking.
What’s your philosophy of living?
Don’t miss out on box sets or books or biscuits because you are too busy. Use alliteration whenever the opportunity arises.
Treasure those people you would like around your death bed.
Are you still dreaming?
I hanker after a bigger garden in town sometimes.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
I shoplifted a bottle of prosecco by accident. The Co-op thought I was mad when I tried to give it back the next day. Honestly, if I was really going for it, I would have got champagne. I think I find the word “outrageous” almost as offensive as “creativity”. It is not something I would be by design.
The summer of 2015 was a challenging one. I had accepted an offer on my family home of 16 years and was set to move into a rental property because we were waiting for the people whose house we wanted to buy – to sell up. I was worn out from the break-up of my long-term relationship, then being ghosted by my most recent lover, and trying to sell the house for two years. My health had suffered big time. I was having terrible recurrent chest infections and I just couldn’t find the energy to pick up afterward.
A friend told me about the Unicorn Natural Voice camp and I thought this would be a good holiday for me – something I could handle as a newly single person. There would be lots of community, fresh air, and singing; it would be good for my soul and my lungs. Once I had a confirmed moving date, I eagerly went on the Voice camp website, only to find that it was happening in the very same week I was moving! Then I saw another tab saying – Constellations Camp.
I had heard about Family Constellations but despite being intrigued, I had never found the time to go. Constellations Camp was a five-day camp, taking place immediately after the Voice camp, it had the same principles – camping in circles, cooking in community, no electronics, no mobile phones, no alcohol or drugs. It was also cheaper than the Voice camp, and smaller. I was excited, and I suggested to my friends Edward and Naphia who both had told me about constellations in the first place – that we book on. To my surprise, they both said yes, and a few weeks later Naphia and I found ourselves packing up the car, stopping at my solicitor’s office to sign the final documents and hand over keys, and we were on the way!
We had to take it slowly because it was hot, I was extra-exhausted and just couldn’t rush. I had really bad oedema in my legs and was worried I had heart failure by this time. I had no strength, and we had to stop at various services during the two-hour drive to Somerset. We finally arrived in a bizarre field full of tents and a few hippies. We drove around it a couple of times in the car. In the end, we found someone who told us we were in the wrong field. As we entered the opposite field, we again saw a load of tents, but this time no hippies. We really didn’t know what to do!
At the top of the field was a yurt, so we parked up and gingerly lifted the latch. The entire population of the yurt (about 35 people) stared at us as we crawled in and found a place to sit around the edge. There was a talking stick going around, and we realised when we saw Edward that we were in fact in the right place. After the introductions, feeling extremely awkward because of having arrived late, and with still no idea who was running the camp or what was going on, we did an exercise in groups of four, where we set up representatives for our parents and for life. We stood facing our mother and father, with a representative for life in between and behind them. Life comes to us through our parents. The deepest experience for me was representing someone’s mother. Through my years working as a homeopath, I have developed strong powers of intuition, but this was on another level. I could see this man as a little boy, I could see his dominating brother, I could feel his mother’s struggle trying to balance things out between them, all just standing in the position of the mother. We hadn’t even started on the constellations yet.
The next morning was the first constellation. The issue holder was an Irish man who felt he was blocked in his romantic relationships. He was asked to set up some representatives. He did this by going around the circle and choosing people to represent significant people who had been suggested to him by the facilitator, Barbara. He then put his hands on their shoulders and moved them into a position in the circle and placed them there. The representatives were then free to move as their bodies took them.
A family member had been shot by a black and tan, the constabulary employed by the British government with the express purpose of suppressing the Irish Republican Army in the war of independence. Effectively an occupying army, they imposed curfews and restrictions on movement, crowd control etc using brutality and violence. This family member was choking to death on the floor. I started laughing hysterically and desperately, trying to hide my tears. I wanted to jump into the constellation and ask the representative if he was okay. I wondered if he was really having problems breathing. My body curled up and I didn’t know if I was laughing or crying. I couldn’t believe everyone was just sitting around the edge of the yurt observing all of this and doing nothing.
Later on, sitting around the campfire cooking lunch, a more experienced person told me I was ‘caught in the field’. Systemic theory says we create a field where we are united within a system and we operate unconsciously with one another. An example of this is a school of fish or a starling murmuration where the birds move as one in flocks, sometimes millions of birds “knowing” how and where to move in unison. I couldn’t believe how strongly I’d been sucked into this field. I immediately came to realise that this was powerful stuff, and a lot more than I had bargained for.
By the second day all of the swelling in my legs had disappeared (I’d spent two days running to pee in every break, and more) and I was starting to feel like myself again. In fact I was feeling more like myself than I had done for 20 years or more. My heart was opening and pure joy was flooding in. There was space, time had expanded miraculously and rushing was no longer part of my mental vocabulary. What really surprised me was that all of this had happened and I hadn’t even done my own constellations yet. Just being in the holding circle and representing had been a deeply healing experience for me.
We spent wonderful evenings sat around the campfire and watching the Perseid meteor showers at night, having “stargasms” as one person called them, and talking and listening in an incredibly heart-opening and authentic way. Cooking communally on the open fire, passing round the talking stick, visiting other circles, just being outside, deeply nourished my soul. By day, there would be more constellations, sometimes five or six a day, and more rituals.
After the camp, wracked with grief at leaving, Naphia and I drove around the roads of Somerset, lost. We didn’t know why or how, but we knew we needed more of this. It had somehow completely passed me by, but Naphia told me that Barbara was starting training in September that year and that a few of the people at the camp were going to do it. In fact, some of them had done it already. On that long, hot journey home, we made a decision that would change our lives. We were going to go back and do the training.
Family Constellations is a kind of group work, which sheds light on unconscious inherited family trauma and hidden dynamics. It can reveal how a system rebalances itself after traumas such as war, genocide, famine, early death, children being given away, murder, etc. This usually affects a family member in a subsequent generation, as they identify with the missing person and compensate for the imbalance. They may develop an illness or addiction, or not thrive in life in some way, be it financially, in relationships or other areas of life. It can be used to look at issues such as relationships with family and in love, finances, work, health and much more.
There are two main principles in Family Constellations work. The first is that everyone belongs, so children who have been given away or died, perpetrators and victims, previous partners, husbands and wives as well as parents, grandparents and so on are all part of the family system. The second theory is that there is a hierarchy in terms of time. So first husbands/wives come first, followed by older children and so on. This links into the first law of belonging, so if someone is excluded, for example, a stillborn child, it will upset the balance as the order of subsequent children is not correct (the next child born after the stillborn is treated as the first when in fact she is the second). It also links into rituals, which can be used to create order, and to reinstate missing people in the system. It is a profound healing modality.
Family Constellations work was created by Bert Hellinger, a German, born in 1925 who managed to avoid the Hitler youth. He was eventually conscripted and spent much of the war in a Belgian POW camp. After the war he became a priest and was a missionary in South Africa working with the Zulu for 16 years. He was eventually uncomfortable with the dogma in the Catholic Church and instead became a therapist, exploring primal and systems therapy and working with groups in Germany.
Barbara Morgan’s training was an 18-month odyssey, eight modules of five days each and 23 group members. I am just completing the second training, which I participated in as an apprentice, helping with overseeing other trainees’ practice and having extra supervision on the training. I’ve been running workshops for the last couple of years and am now really finding my feet and discovering how to pass on this deep work for the benefit of others as well as myself. One of the aspects of the work, which has really struck a chord for me is embodiment and attunement. These are central to my work as a facilitator: feeling into my body and sensing what is going on for my client. My 5Rhythms dance practice has fed into this experience of embodiment and I’m excited by the ways in which our body holds and releases trauma, all within the art and practice of Family Constellations.
I can’t recommend a way of exploring your unconscious patterns better than through Family Constellations.
Michele Kirsch, 57, is a brilliantly witty writer and cook. She used to be a cleaner. She’s a regular AoA contributor. NME, City Limits, and Men’s Health were all lucky recipients of her work. Her first book Clean – one woman’s story of addiction, recovery and cleaning – is out on March 7th. Buy it here,
What is your age?
I am 57, turning 58 in April.
Where do you live?
I live in Hoxton. I am the Accidental Hipster. I live in a Tower Block and none of us talk to each other but we nod in familiar, ‘You’re not a ruffian on the stairwell’ sort of way. We have many ruffians on the stairs. It is a warmer place to do drugs than outside.
What do you do?
At the moment I am working for a charity that supports people living with the effects of brain injury. I support people in getting kitchen confidence skills back, or learning how to cook. It doesn’t feel like proper work. A lot of it is just hanging out and having chats with people who, outside this setting, are treated as ‘other’. In our place, we just shoot the breeze, cook, play music, play games, hang. It’s brilliant. I never want another job. Except I sort of have another job. I’ve written a book and I still write. The book is a memoir, out on 7th March, It is called Clean and available from the proper WH Smiths, the ones on the train stations. As well as other bookshops and Amazon. Some people thing it might be big. That would be great. But I am OK with just doing the job I have now. I am glad I have written and published a book that is going to be in proper shops.
Tell us what is it like being your age?
I am happier now than I have ever been, probably. I had a drug problem for a long time and I am free of that, now. I didn’t get on with my children for a long time and we get on very well right now. Physically, I am very well though I feel I may have messed up my stomach with the long term drug and alcohol use. Though I had stomach problems always. I love my job, I have a good roof over my head in a great neighborhood, I see my grown-up children as often as we can as we all work, and I have a good relationship with their dad, my ex. I guess the one difficulty is that I only get to see my mum and sister, who live in NY, about once a year. My life feels contained and structured, in a good way. Recovery is the gift that keeps on giving. I don’t mind the physical effects of getting old nearly as much as I used to. I still love Topshop and Miss Selfridge. I am absolutely working the mutton dressed as lamb thing and I don’t give a hoot. If the book does well, I suppose I can dress up as more expensive lamb.
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
Oh my gosh, where to begin? Mainly I live in a country and city I LOVE. I grew up between Liverpool and New York but always felt pulled to London. To live here is an honour, a dream. I have a job I love. At 25 I was starting out as a journalist and making very bad money and I was never getting the great stories anyway. I had no confidence in my ability as a writer. I also thought I was passable in the looks department, but never actually pretty.
These days I have pretty moments or pretty days. It comes from inside, nothing to do with men. I have two wonderful, street smart, loving grown-up children, a huge amount of very good friends, a lovely ex-husband. I also have a sense of purpose, which comes with my job. I can make peoples’ lives more bearable. And I’ve written a book, which some people may find that they can relate to, on some level. I also have, as well as all my new friends, all my old friends. I am a stickler for keeping in touch. I love the internet for that. It makes it much easier. I have freedom from my addiction. That is my number one gift. 57 has probably been my greatest year, in terms of contentment.
What about sex?
I find at my age my appetite for it has diminished but not disappeared. Having said that, I still get the horn if I see a Paul Newman film, or Betty Blue. In real life, I have a boyfriend, and though it’s slightly complicated at the moment, I would say we are well matched and all will be well. We tend to be in the same mood at the same time, which is a bonus.
I have this notion of myself of being rather plain when I was younger, but I always had boyfriends or husbands (two) or men after me. I have no idea where this idea came from, that I was not fanciable. I was a very late developer. I did not start my menstruation until I was 16. Then it all kicked off. I also had the luck to be in love with my very first lover, when I was nearly 18. It was mutual. He loved me too. We are still friends.
One thing that has always been the case is that I feel ridiculous when I try to ‘look sexy’. It never works and I always burst out laughing. I can barely put stockings on, I don’t understand the little clippy things at the top, and I still put a bra on with the back facing the front so I can see myself doing it up. I used to have good rack, but after children and a pretty druggy career, my curves diminished, so bras don’t really do anything for me either.
My bed is never sexy. It is covered in books and newspapers and the cat and cat hair. I’m a mess. My sheets are mismatched and I fall asleep most nights listening to old comedy shows on the radio. The only thing that looks right in my bed is my hair, because I have permanent bed hair. I don’t have to buy a product to make it that way. It’s just like that. Oh, I will say this! I do have an erogenous zone I never knew about until recently. I have an unusually long neck and I like people stroking it. This man at work, he’s, you know, brain damaged and has no impulse control, he stroked my neck and I had to firmly pull away and tell him that it was not OK to do that, in a nice way of course. But I have to say, it felt really nice. That’s a shocking thing to say, but, a brain-damaged guy stroked my neck and I liked it. Doesn’t really scan so there won’t be a song….
I have many, many very good friends, some for 30 or 40 years, in America and over here. My relationship with my boyfriend is a separate thing. I do not have sexual relations with people unless I am married to them or they (he) is my boyfriend, or I think I am in love with them. Serial monogamy is what I do. Though I had some short-lived obsession in my early 20s. That drove me crazy. Everything now feels so much easier. I LOVE Facebook and I’ve made many virtual friends as well as all my real life ones. The relationships I value most are with my family, children and best friends.
How free do you feel?
Obviously, I have commitments, my job, my children, my bills, my relationships, my recovery (first and foremost) but paradoxically the more I do, the free-er I feel. Unfortunately, I am still plagued with worry and anxiety, these are long-standing issues, but I have come to accept they are part of me and just try to ride the waves of panic. It’s not always a heap of fun. I find travel …. hard. But most of my friends know this about me and know if I don’t go somewhere I am not being antisocial, just a bit agoraphobic. I have never found anything- meditation, yoga, exercise, chanting, whatever, that works totally, but I did have a short course of hypnosis, which helped a bit.
What are you proud of?
I am proud of my children. I am proud of my job, which is the best job I ever had. I am proud that I wrote a book that might make waves, somehow. It might help people who have been through a similar situation – feel less alone. I try not to be too proud, as I absolutely believe pride comes before a fall.
What keeps you inspired?
I find inspiration in so many things. I am proper nosy and I love to listen in to other people’s conversations on public transport. Whole little dramas unfold. I can’t wait to get somewhere to write it down. I love little alleyways and cobblestone streets. There are loads of alleys in Liverpool and lots around Hoxton where I live so I love to just wonder down one and wind up somewhere I’ve not seen.
Music always inspires me. I play all my old records all the time, and music can transport me back to a certain time and place in my youth more than anything else. I dance all the time, anywhere. I have no shame. My sponsor inspires me in her recovery. She has gone on to do remarkable things after a very long period of drug-induced crazy times. She is so loving and caring and inspirational. I can’t tell you who she is but I think she will be famous in the thing that she does, professionally.
I am also inspired by couples who have been couples for a really long time. Just because very long lasting love didn’t happen to me, though I was with my second husband for nearly 20 years, most of them pretty good, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I am also religious, and I find inspiration in Bible stories. I did something quite unusual several years ago, which was a formal conversion from Judaism to Christianity. It’s a long story, but actually there are many similarities in the two faiths, as I understand them, though they end differently. I do pray, but I don’t pray for obvious things like success or money or to win something. And I don’t pray for big, worldly things like world peace and a reversal of climate change. I can’t tell you what I pray for, it’s personal, but it’s important to me and it is an inspiration. The Big Book we use in recovery is inspirational to me as well.
When are you happiest?
Without a doubt, I am happiest when I am dancing. I don’t get out dancing enough. I used to go to a soul night with my girlfriends and dance all night. Not even on anything. At work, I have music on in the kitchen, where a few of us make lunch together. People get very excited about lunch where I work. It is the dividing time between morning and afternoon. And people are really into their food. They love it.
I’m am OK cook, not a great cook by any means, but when the music is on and we are, say, all dancing to ‘Monkey Man’ ( I LOVE Ska!) I am just so happy and thinking, I can’t believe I am at work, dancing and cooking and getting paid for it. I cook with this one guy who absolutely goes nuts when he hears Justin Bieber. I am not even a fan, but when this guy goes so crazy when Bieber comes on, I go crazy with him, and we dance and do the bad boy rap gun hands and all that silliness. I am extremely happy then.
I also love walking home from work. And if I am feeling low, I take myself down to the Thames and stand on London Bridge and remind myself that I live here. I live in this fantastic city. People save up all year to spend a few days in London. I LIVE here and I LOVE it. I am also happiest just hanging with my kids. They are great, really grounded and good people.
Where does your creativity go?
I like to think some of it goes into my cooking that I do at the centre, but I have had mixed reviews. I am the skinny chef you are not supposed to trust. My creativity goes into my writing. I write all the time, even if it just little entries on Facebook, I am always writing.
What is your philosophy of living?
Tricky. Though I am religious, I would not say I was particularly spiritual. Many people think the two go hand and hand, or you can be spiritual without having the structure of religion. My philosophy of living is to do no harm, and to try to be kind and considerate. Don’t shout, except for joy. Be patient. I have waited all my life to be patient (see what I did there) and it is finally starting to sink in.
Working where I do, you HAVE to be patient. Chose your battles, and when possible, chose not to have battles. Be generous with time as well as material things, or only with time if you have few material things. Don’t preach. Don’t complain about minor ailments, though I did this all the time until I started working with people living with brain damage. It’s a real wake up call. Be grateful, every morning – think of at least five or ten things you are grateful for. This is not original, it comes from working my recovery programme, but it’s a good way to live. Be kind to your friends and animals, always. Be kind to strangers, unless they are unkind to you. Then you can tell ‘em to fuck off. Keep your body in good nick as much as you can. If you can exercise, exercise. Get fresh air every day.
I have had more than my fair share of death in my life, compared to other people I know. Death has punctuated and punctured my life at various points. I would like to die when I am old, and after a brief illness. I hope whatever takes me out doesn’t take too long. I don’t really have a fixed notion of an afterlife, but I do secretly (well not so secretly as I am saying it here) I hope that after the body dies, we are somehow reunited with the dead people we have loved and lost. I don’t know how I would find them. There are a gazillion dead people. I hope they have a sort of filing system and index cards. There are definitely people I want to see again. But I don’t like the idea of an eternal afterlife. That idea horrifies me.
Are you still dreaming?
I am not sure what you mean. If you mean if I have big dreams for my life, not really, no, I am amazed I get to be this happy, right now. I would be happy to feel this happy for the rest of my life. I guess I can choose this, I can chose to be happy. At night I have strange, psychedelic dreams but I don’t talk about them as nothing is as boring as other people’s dreams. I used to love it when my kids told me their nightmares. They were damp with sweat, I remember the little wriggling bodies, the recounting of the story, a glass of water, a cuddle, ‘til they drifted off back to sleep.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
I chased a swan all along the Thames embankment. I know the swan could have turned on me, they are angry birds, but the tide was out and the swan was pretty tame, as swans go. My friend and I went there to look for treasure, but she wound up getting all eco and picking up garbage, and I chased this poor swan around. I said to my friend, ‘See, this is a fundamental difference between you and I. You see a discarded bottle and pick it up to put it in the bin. I play silly buggers with a swan.’ The other tiny act of outrage I always commit around Easter is when all those little gold chocolate bunnies are facing one way on the display in a shop, I take one and put it facing the other way around. I have to do this. It is a compulsion. I am really not very outrageous. A bit mischievous, but not outrageous.
I’m a skeleton collector. I have a large sea-washed radius from a sperm whale beached on the sands in Orkney. Part of its flipper, its hand. One of my most treasured possessions is an early Victorian piece of scrimshaw, engraved with portraits of two women – maybe the whaler’s wife and daughter or maybe his lovers in different ports – made from a sperm whale’s tooth which I inherited from my father. In fact, I have a whole collection of teeth, ranging from a 50,000-year-old European cave bear’s molar to all my baby milk teeth kept by my mother alongside my four adult wisdom teeth taken out when I was 21. I can now keep my wisdom in my pocket.
Bones and teeth survive. Bones remind us of the transformation that occurs at death. I have a bunch of my hair too, literally a fist full of matted dreadlock strands woven with strips of fabric and beads, remnants of my thankfully brief ‘crusty grunge’ phase in 1991 – hair which has lasted nearly 30 years. Like bones, hair lives on. I’ve come to understand I’m a bone worker. Bones have worked their way into my ‘medicine basket’ of ritual tools that have helped me navigate a year filled with death. From the sudden death of my mother at the end of 2017, to the sudden death of my mother-in-law within two weeks of that anniversary in December 2018, to the sudden death of a yoga friend who tragically took her own life shortly after this New Year. Their bones now are ash; only fragments of bone remain, returned to the earth to sit with ancestral bones or waiting, resting, keeping family company whilst loved ones adjust to the massive, unexpected earthquake of transformation that’s hit them. The dead have to adjust too. Sometimes their souls need help crossing the mythic river in the Underworld. There lies the role of the shaman, the psychopomp, the death doula, the soul midwife, the priest or priestess and the Irish mna caointe and baen-shea in the-end-of-life and soul-crossing rituals they perform.
Through all of this, more than ever before, I’ve come to understand the value of ritual in our natural cycle of life and death. Ritual makes us human. Ritual connects us to our animal, secular and spiritual selves. We know many species have ritualistic behaviours. Corvids have been observed participating in mourning rituals, and I still have the vivid picture in my mind of a London raven jumping up and down on a dead bird’s body, cawing as if were singing an intense keening in St James’s Park as I walked to work. We now know that ritual increases the likelihood of species survival as it binds groups together. I wonder if this large, black bird was performing a ritualistic death dance to warn the rest of the flock, or was it in mourning? Ravens have long since been associated with death in folklore and myth.
Part of being human is coming to terms with death. Ritual has its place in helping us negotiate that final transformation – from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In our increasingly secular society long focused on prizing youth above elderhood, spending vast amounts of money on maintaining a youthful veneer, we have developed an unhealthy relationship with death. Death and its rituals have been pushed to the sidelines in this relentless pursuit of youth, of living as long as possible, even if the quality of that life is often questionable. Death has been taken out of the home and medicalised. So many people want to deny death, they fear death; by doing so death has gone underground until it rears its inevitable skeleton head. Death is all around us, there is no escaping; delaying possibly, but let’s face it, it’s not going away. The planet is at the precipice of the sixth mass extinction, yet still so many of us are ill-equipped for death. We’ve forgotten how to greet it, to sit with it, and ultimately how to mourn and grieve. However, many of us do instinctively know that ritual has its place when it comes to death. Even if that instinct is sometimes more unconscious than conscious.
Death demands ritual. Not just the physical death of our loved ones: our partners, our elders, our families, our friends, our babies, our children, leading ultimately to our own death, but other symbolic deaths too. The end of our bleeding (if we’re a woman), our marriages, our jobs, our old, worn-out selves, all these transformations involve a final goodbye which deserves to be marked and mourned. Ritual and ceremony can provide a framework to do just that. Underlying all ritual (and myth) is a universal pattern: the death and rebirth of a god or divinity that ensures the fertility of the land as well as social order and harmony. When we place ourselves at the heart of ritual we connect back into that universal pattern. I think that’s the key to ritual unlocking whatever transformation and change we are marking, honouring, letting go of or celebrating.
You don’t have to be religious to create ritual. As I’ve discovered, consciously creating your own personal rituals can be very cathartic and freeing. There can often be a sense of drama to ritual, and there is the idea that theatre itself emerged out of ritual. The performer in me, having created improvised theatre and dance over many decades, has been naturally drawn to creating ritual in recent years, particularly in this year of major loss. The death of the mother is one of the most fundamental deaths to grieve, since not only do we come into the world from our mothers, they represent the fertility of our land, of our society, of our ancestors. No wonder 2017/2018 was an earthquake year when I lost both my mother and my mother in law. At the same time I’ve been losing my periods – the ultimate ending of my fertility, although an ending I’m finally glad to embrace after giving birth to death. It’s taking me 13 years, and many deaths in between to reach this place of acceptance.
Through all of these griefs, I’ve found myself creating ritual. I’m not religious; but I am spiritual. For many years I was a card-carrying atheist, rejecting the dogma and ingrained patriarchy of most monotheistic organised religions. Christian mythology never really did it for me anyway. I just couldn’t relate to Jesus, and as a mythologist, I couldn’t understand how people actually believed the Bible as a gospel truth, not as a loose collection of stories written down many hundreds of years after the grains of various historical events had become mythologised and spun into stories. I enjoyed the story telling aspect at Sunday School (I voluntarily went when I was seven for a brief period) and at 14 easily gained an A in compulsory O level Religious Education. I guess it’s because I’m a storyteller.
When my baby died, I found myself craving ritual. I remember going into churches just to create my own rituals focused around Mary, lighting candles for her and my son. The archetypal mother who had also lost a son. To me she was the only remnant of an ancient fertility goddess left, sanitised into a virgin by a male dominated institution. I found Catholic or High Church of England churches always good for some goddess veneration in the form of Mary. Their churches really do the best smells and bells – because they understand the theatre of ritual. The three cores aspects of ritual being:
blood sacrifice (the blood of Christ in a cup)
a natural process or mythic historical narrative (the Christian mythology), and
an act of magic (the Christian symbol of transformation, the Holy Communion)
Thirteen years on from that earthquake birth, I’m exploring and creating my own rituals which have been particularly helpful during my year of mother grief. I have organically gathered together my ‘medicine’ basket with my tools of ritual. My bones, my incense, my core oracles – the runes and roses – and various other objects of meaning and personal importance. My horse skin drum ‘Paskadi’, my rattle, my cloak, my hood, and my 1940s fox fur cape. The elements of ritualistic transformation. I’ve started inviting others to join my rituals and offer rune and rose reading rituals.
I created my rune set after being called to work with runes in three dreams within three months of my mother’s death. This became a ritual in itself; collecting the wood to complete the set (I’d been given the first nine), carving, sanding, polishing and then anointing them with the last vestiges of my own menstrual blood (the blood sacrifice), into a tool that can help others transform (the magic), underpinned as they are with a Norse mythological framework (the narrative).
By working intuitively and instinctively, I’ve found that creating rituals both personal and shared, has really helped me through my grief. It’s provided a focus and an outlet for my grief. When my mother was close to death (she died 24 hours after having a major stroke whilst out shopping), I somehow knew what to do. I didn’t consult a book; I wasn’t a member of a church, but I knew that ritual was important. In the year that’s passed, I’ve also discovered I have a natural ability to do what I now know as soul journey work. I’ve found I have ‘psychopomp’ abilities – I had to look this up – after experiencing very strong and vivid dreams and vision journeys with drumming, where I’ve helped dead or dying people (and trees) ‘cross over’ to the other side.
Birds too, back to the corvids, are said in many cultures to have a psychopomp nature, carrying the dead to the afterlife . A few days before I lost my son, I was lying in my old bedroom at my mother’s house, clinging on for dear life looking out at the sycamore tree at an unusual gathering of at least 15 magpies in the tree. There had not been one before or since. My mother and I were both struck by the strange occurrence. The magpie is my death bird and my magician. I don’t try to explain this psychopomp phenomenon, as ultimately I don’t think it matters. I simply accept it. All I know is the role of the psychopomp is known in myth, in folklore and in ancient spiritual practices, down through the millennia. I’ve also starting exploring the power of singing laments and keening from the Celtic Scottish and Irish traditions – coming as I do from strong Celtic stock as well as Norman Viking – using my drum to access these songs as they emerge. They are a powerful way to bring voice to death and grief.
I’m beginning to see there is a place for all this work – as we enter into a new, more open and frank relationship with death. Death is coming out of the shadows. Ritual most definitely has its place and new death rituals are emerging, rooted in our landscape, in a way that is meaningful for us today. The growth of the death cafe is one example of communities coming together to talk about death and break some of the taboos that have grown up in our youth-obsessed world. I went to one in Plymouth the week before I led a small family ceremony to interr my mother’s ashes in her family grave. The cafe was well-facilitated, we all sat round tables talking about our experiences of death, dying and grieving, and it was actually very light hearted. There was much more laughter than I expected. Ultimately I think that’s the trick – to laugh with death, even in the midst of the tears, the anger and the whole gamut of emotion death wrings out of us. Gallows humour, morbid humour is there for a reason. Death doesn’t want us to be deathly serious…all of the time.
So I’ll continue to collect my bones, read my runes and bang my drum whilst I lug my increasingly heavy medicine basket around the country singing to the land and telling stories to birds in the trees, laughing along the way like some crazy Sacred Fool literally dancing with Death. And strangely as I sit here in my mothers easy chair finishing this article, the voice on a radio play I’m listening to drifts over, and says: “She deserves a good death.”