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My Conversion to Mountains and Other Matters


8 Minute Read

The Track Re-visited

 I am here again. On Asanga’s wild land. Slow running up the track that I walked and slowly ran up during the first lockdown in March and April 2020 when I was here in N Wales, in Gwynedd and scared. Of Covid. Of societal collapse. Of the food chain failure. Of being treated as an interloper and sent home to London.

This is where I saw that hand-written sign on the telegraph pole right at the start of the track – GO HOME STAY HOME.

What happens when you – that is me, 67, and my partner, Asanga, 77 – have in a very small way become a poster couple for Living Apart – last year we were just about to be on the One Show when Covid hit and I’ve written various articles about it – and then are thrown together by lockdown?

Suddenly instead of Living Apart – as in five hours apart by car, we were Living Together in Wales. Heavens to Murgatroyd!

The first time round, we learnt a lot. It was not a pretty sight. There was quite a lot of shouting. I am a woman of my own terrain, and then I was on his admittedly very beautiful wild terrain and in his farmhouse. The trouble for me was it was exactly that – it is his. And he had very precise ideas about the execution of most household tasks. I struggled with this dynamic. I had lived on my own for far too long. No wonder he refers to me as the Duchess of Harlesden!

I enjoyed returning to London at the beginning of June. To the friendliness of the city. To my road’s tight squeeze of terraced houses. To people. To neighbours. Friends. I revelled in that warmth. It’s a topsy turvy world in more ways than one. Well, okay, not everyone yearns to live in the countryside. But there is a growing trend amongst my friends for moving out of the city.

And now in January 2021, back on the track, there are no shoots of new growth. No blackthorn blossom. No hare. No vole. No willow warblers. Just the bare bones of the trees to identify. And those mountains.

Those Mountains

Asanga moved up here for the mountains. He has been a rock climber since his teens, but had a major climbing accident in his early 50s, took 15 years off, then returned again to the crags in his mid-60s. By the time I met him, he’d more or less given up because he couldn’t attain the same levels. I used to joke vaingloriously ‘I am your mountain now’. Ha ha.

No Ropes, No Ropes, No Ropes 

Like a balletic Welsh goat

he devils the overhang.

A saucy clamberer, his ferocity

belies any sinking libido.

Before me, he’s a circus performer

eager to reverse salty-old-lady disapproval.

Tantric Goddess (Eyewear 2017).

I’ve given up being his mountain now though! More recently, Asanga has started going to an indoor climbing wall and joined the Mega-Vet competition for the Over-70s. The wonderful Ginger Cain aged 90 died recently so maybe he’s in with a chance! Formerly a bit of a purist about outdoor climbing, he’s now an avid indoor climber too. And during the lockdown, of course, there is the Zoom Climbing Group where they cook up their next ventures – sea stacks, slabs, overhangs – when it’s possible to go out again.

Five years ago, Asanga took me into the mountains, up Tryfan, a 3,000 ft mountain in Snowdonia. I was unprepared. I had had very little sleep.

We scrambled up the final rocks and it was scarily windy and misty on top. This is what mountain-lovers call ‘atmospheric’ and I found terrifying. And the way down was much worse. Not the manouvering between rocks but the long journey down with the loose stone to negotiate. By the end, I was trembling with exhaustion.

It put me off. I love the coastal paths from Borth y Gest to Samson’s Cove, the pebbly beach at Criccieth, the Dwyfor river walks down past stunning reed beds, I love the woods at Tremadog and the walk along the Glaslyn gorge near Beddgelert.

But I was wary about mountains.

The turning point was more of a gentle roll. We had talked about going up Cnicht, which is referred to as the Welsh Matterhorn – it’s the shape – for years. But somehow we had never made it. I’d been sticking to the sea, rivers and woods.

Yet my appreciation of Asanga’s climbing skills – his nimbleness and balance, that ‘balletic goat’ stuff – had been growing. Secretly. I started to be able to actually listen to his amazing accounts of ice climbs, of Himalayan treks or of leading feats at outrageous sea cliff locations. And even watch the very occasional climbing film like Free Solo.

Gradually it came to me that it would be great to join him in some way. Not climbing. Even if I laughing talk about it. But by finally going up Cnicht together. A going towards – from me. A sharing of his mountain love.

Finally, we went. I was anxious. Not just about being on ice and snow while climbing upwards but also about wearing the right clothes. I borrowed boots from this daughter – Asanga bought new laces – he found me some purple rainproof over trousers, I had layers, a woolly hat. My first and maybe last time in a woolly hat. I have to add that I still had flowers in my hair underneath. My loyalty to floral adornment did not waver. Oh yes, and the gaiters – they had straps that went underneath my boots and waterproof material which went up to my knees.

I looked hideous but was so content to be ready for the mud, the ice, the snow. I was also warm. This was a good start. Also, Asanga was reassuringly organised when it came to getting ready. Flasks of tea and hot chocolate.

‘Look, I’ve got these two survival blankets,’ he announced showing me these two shiny packages. I am still not sure whether he should have told me that or not. But I understood that the intention was to keep us safe whatever the outcome.

Importantly for me, we discussed various possible eventualities before we went. I said that I felt vulnerable, that mountains were his territory and unknown to me, and that I might have to say that I’d gone far enough. He agreed that that was okay. I had to do this because I didn’t want to feel pressurised into going to the top. I knew that he would want to go to the peak.

The climb starts in the spectacular mountain-cradled village of Croesor and a mossy oak wood. Reassuringly, there were four young people leaving at the same time as us. ‘Good luck,’ said a broadly smiling woman.

The lowlands were muddy and sheep-scattered, we could see one peak ahead, but it turns out there is another ‘true peak’ behind that. As we walked, we looked down and saw the Glaslyn Estuary at Borth Y Gest and the Cob, as well as the other snow-covered peaks around us – Moelwyn Mawr to the right, the Nantlle ridge to the left. I was a little concerned about the clouds coming down and being engulfed in grey. I was afraid of getting lost even though Asanga knew the way.

And it was raining. Raining was unexpected and not what I wanted on this mountain walk. It turned into sleet as we got further up. But there were sheltered pauses. I avoided all the ice at first, and then found what bits I could walk on safely. Of course, it’s all about feeling confident. And the sticks – this was my first time – helped with balance. Asanga really is like a mountain creature when he gets going on these steep trails and the sticks were a good aid for me.

At about a 1,000 feet, we got to the snow line. In fact, it was still fairly thick and we were accompanied in our hot chocolate drinking by the deep croak of a raven flying back and forth. We wished for a peregrine but the raven was thrilling in itself.

Now, we started a steeper climb, winding carefully up this spinal ridge because there was a drop on the other side. I followed Asanga. I was happy for him to lead. Of course. He was exhilarated to be up here in his magnificent mountains again. He really is in his element.

I took in the silence. I felt the aloneness. The snow and ice. And that sense of expansiveness as we looked down to nothing except other hills and peaks. No cars, no villages. Just the mountains.

And as we kept on, it wasn’t physical tiredness that got to me, it was more the constant sleet and the grey clouds descending. And the drop down the side. There came a point where I felt my ‘No’ gather strength and eventually emerge. Asanga graciously accepted. We were three quarters of the way up, I didn’t feel the need to get to the peak.

Afterwards, I felt content that I’d done it. And I know Asanga did too. I had shared a few steps of his grand passion. My going towards had created a new layer of togetherness. I could feel the difference in our disagreements. There was a different layer there. A new trust. Another bit of the love web. 

My Death Letter to Loved Ones


1 Minute Read

Caroline Bobby is a psychotherapist who was also part of the Advantages of Age Death Dinner film. Last year, she was in so much back pain – acute chronic pain – she made a filmed self-inquiry into taking her own life over a nine-month period. And then something miraculous happened. She was booked in for an operation, which was cancelled, she put herself out nakedly on FB to raise money to go private. Within 24 hours, she had £30,000. These are reflections of her continuing recovery. This is her death letter to loved ones

As some of you will know, I am passionate about death and I continue to enquire and investigate this amazing thing that will happen to each of us. So, it doesn’t feel strange to be writing you a letter from the alive side of death.

I am sitting here in January 2021 very much alive, writing some words I wish to have included in the rituals that occur afterwards. Those after-death parties, celebrating, mourning, loving, laughing and weeping of afterwards. I know my afterwards will be good. A consequence of having spoken, written and riffed about my death and dying, as much as I have. As well as knowing that people who love me have heard me.

I don’t doubt for a moment that you – the ones that I am writing to now while imagining your faces and presence – would get it totally right. What I mean by right, is that it would be about me. Seems so obvious, but I don’t think it is. Funerals and memorials, often end up in the hands and power of next-of-kin, and they may not be the ones that are the deepest kin.

I am remembering the horror of living in Sydney when many gay men started dying of AIDS. So many homophobic next-of-kin who claimed their dead sons, taking them away from the kin who knew and loved them. These next-of-kin gave them funerals we were excluded from, that completely eradicated each beloved brother.

That’s an extreme example. I have some biological next-of-kin, my dear brother, a sister-in-law I adore and the most delicious niece. Over the last few decades, we have got closer. We have become more real across the differences, and I know in the event of my death, their involvement would be wholehearted, and that they have seen my life in ways now that they hadn’t before. They would be led by those that know me in more detail and nuance but they are here. You are right here. I can see your faces, the way I did 13 years ago when you crossed the border and really got a glimpse of me by accepting the invitation to my 50th birthday party. I love you so much for that, and nothing was ever as distant again afterwards.

So, I’m imagining myself dead, and someone (maybe Louise, or Cath, or Sue) is reading these words to you, and a gathering well worthy of my little life is happening all around. I want you to know that I’m pissed, (in the American vernacular, rather than drunk) I’m angry.

Of course, I’m not anything, because I’ve disappeared back into the mystery. I’m angry now at the idea of this letter being necessary. This is the letter in case I die suddenly, without any warning, without any space whatsoever. The one for if I get blown up, squashed by a bus, murdered, stroke, aneurysm… you get the picture. One minute I’m here and then not at all. Gone.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways to die. The one outlined above is the one that would piss me off.

The thing is, I don’t want to miss out on my death.

In my wishes, hopes and dream versions of dying, I am either terminally ill, or I get to a point in time when I’m done, and choose to leave life by my own hand.

I have given a lot of thought to both these possibilities.

At the age of 62, I am clear that I don’t want to get very old. If nothing medical shows up as the pathway, I will know when I’m done. It feels like approximately another decade. If I feel into my heart, and I do check in with it, now I know how that’s what I hear.

It would be both simpler and more edgy to die by taking my own life. I like the not-having-to-die-of-cancer part, but it would require a different kind of discourse with people. By people, I mean you, the ones I am writing to now. The you that I have loved and travelled with, touched, been touched by, been loved by, argued with, forgiven and been forgiven by.

It’s an act of some kind of defiance to say – I’m not ill, dying of cancer, or anything else, but I am done. I’m going to go soon. I’ll take some time preparing, I’ll invite you to meet me in some of it. I will probably ask you to take on some specific parts of the afterwards. I’ll let you know when-ish, so it’s not a shock. I know how to do it, I will have the pentobarbital ready, the conditions as I have dreamed them. I won’t ask anyone to sit with me because that is a legally compromising impossibility, but you will know it’s coming, my going. I will say goodbye. I will do it with grace.

That is very different from saying – I have a terminal illness. But if I do develop one, I am not going to fight it. I’m going to learn everything I need to know about how to die of it, what it involves, how long it takes, what it will take from me before that last breath happens. What support I might need because I want to stay at home. I know it’s still a bit off the wall, controversial even, going against the cultural assumption of fighting the good fight for life at any cost.

In both these scenarios, I will have the opportunity, the actual time and space to experience the process of moving, eyes wide open towards that last out breath. If I were sick, I would want to minimise the pain relief, not to a masochistic degree, but I would want to be as awake as reasonably possible. I’m no pain meds prude, but if this were my last dance, I’m up for a bit more pain in order to be conscious so I don’t miss it, this last walk home. The nicer thing about being consciously sick, rather than the barbiturate route, is that I will have you around, faces to see rather than imagine, hands, breath in my ears, near my face. It will feel less lonely, even though I know you would be there holding me either way.

I know I am held, seen and loved, even though I spend a lot of time in solitude. I can always see and feel you if I turn your way and let the light flood in. I am always lying under the brightest of stars and blackest of skies, even though I haven’t ever really seen that sky.

A few words about my clear-as-a-mountain stream, choice not to get what I call old-old. I consider myself in the early stages of being old. If the world were a different world, where systems were built from the bedrock of humanity and kindness, where the places called Care Homes, were as a norm, thought about and operated completely differently. And this work of looking after old humans, was valued and peopled by those well trained and well paid, rather than those desperate for minimal wages to survive, with no training and support – maybe, just maybe, I would feel differently.

I’m not saying all facilities are grim, but that is the norm rather than the exception.

There is something deep in my bones that just doesn’t want old-old age. I’m tired. It hasn’t been an easy journey to find my soft place of belonging here in this ravaged and beautiful world. What I think of as a hard journey to a very soft, though not ‘cotton wool candy soft’ place. These fields of kindness and simplicity require courage, a willingness to let go of pretty much any idea you get too attached to, along with compassion and comedy in equal measure.

I live with, was born into, baseline depression, and have had a long old pilgrimage with understanding that the physical pain in my body is the embodied truth of that. With an almost mythical miracle of generosity and timing, I had my spinal surgery, and have spent the best part of 2020 understanding what I had been blind as a bat to seeing. My baby bones are coming home. It nearly didn’t happen like that. You all know this story.

So, I’m here, and often peaceful in the way my friend, Leonard Cohen speaks of in one of my favourites of his comedy riffs:

‘Peace did not come into my life

My life escaped

and peace was there.’

I’m tired. I have some more life in me, but not without a sense of limits. This is not complicated for me, or sad, bad or wrong. Or right. Just simple.

I long to have the opportunity to die creatively. I want to make it a project that has meaning, may even be an offering. Since kindness and simplicity have found me, I have had this sense that all I have to offer is my little life. I discovered my own generosity, not as claim to anything, but as a gift that brings me closer to myself and to you. It is the ‘peace’ that was there.

If you are listening to these words being read at a ritual gathering, I have died suddenly. I have not been able to give myself to the longed-for experience. I missed it. I feel an indescribable sense of loss at this possibility, just as I know that it is not in my hands. I have to long, and to let go. I am tasting the grief as I write these words. I have to trust you will know how to include this offbeat part of who I am, and who you love, in my afterwards. I do trust that.

The Culture Interview – Glen Colson, 72, music PR


5 Minute Read

Glen Colson, 72, is an ex-music PR – his clients have included Lindisfarne, Ian Dury, Kokomo, and Elvis Costello. I always remember Glen as a prankster PR who was interested in the ‘craic’ more than the selling of records. He worked for Stiff Records at one point, and re-papered the NME’s editor’s office walls with Costello’s new album cover. He has just published the book of his life as a music PR and typically, it’s called Nefarious. Although I think Glen was more hilarious than nefarious! He’s now more into his bamboo growth… Nefarious is available here – www.glencolson.com

I didn’t realize that your mum and dad ran the Magdala Tavern in Hampstead?

 I lived at the Magdala Tavern for 19 years.  In 1958 Ruth Ellis murdered a racing driver outside the pub and became the last woman in England to be hung. 

And you come from a long line of Kent publicans?

Yes, all my uncles had pubs in Margate.  My uncle Bob’s pub, The Dog and Duck, was the biggest, right on the seafront.  I was born in the Princess of Wales which is opposite Dreamland.

Tell us a bit about drumming and you? How come you didn’t end up as a drummer rather than a PR?

I have been drumming since the age of 10 and had lessons with Frank King, a famous tutor in Archer Street, W1.  The reason I didn’t end up drumming as a career was that I couldn’t find any like-minded musicians in Hampstead growing up and fell into PR at the age of 21 and never looked back.  Only drumming after that for pleasure.

You used to frequent La Chasse, a private members club for the music industry, in the 70s?

The Chasse was a private members club in Wardour Street where the Charisma office would relax after a hard day’s work. It was frequented by musicians and roadies from all the great bands of the day, including Marmalade, The Nice, The Searchers, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, Keith Moon, and Stan Webb.

And your tutor in PR, Terry The Pill?

Terry the Pill was a villain who sold pills to the Beatles in Hamburg and then managed Eric Burdon and ended up becoming the fly poster King of London.

Oh and your stay in NYC which included being asked to dance by the great Pattie Smith? Which, of course, was at a party hosted by Frank Zappa in 1976.

In 1976, I spent 18 months living in Manhattan, sleeping on Chris Charlesworth from the Melody Maker’s sofa before getting a job with the rock manager Pete Rudge.  He managed The Stones and The Who.  I had originally arrived from the US to promote a Van der Graff Generator date at the Beacon Theatre. 

Glen Colson
Keith Allen, Jock Scot, Neneh Cherry, and Glen

Tell us a few Stiff tales…

My favourite Stiff anecdote took place when waiting outside the offices for a coach on the 5 live Stiffs tour. 

A robbery took place on the opposite side of the road at the house of Tracey Ullman.  The perpetrator fled along Alexander Street and was pursued by an entire coach load of Stiffs and finally being tackled to the ground by none other than Nick Lowe.  

Who was your favourite behind-the-scenes character in the music biz? 

The funniest guy I ever met in the music business was Tony Ashton who was a Hammond organ player who was originally with the Remo Four from Liverpool.  He later formed on Ashton, Gardener and Dyke who recorded ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ famously covered by Elvis Presley. Tony always drank his beer from the water jug. 

How did you meet Keith and Kevin Allen? And I guess there were a few japes in those years?

I first met Keith when he played the Albany Empire and latterly met his brother Kevin when I intervened in the two of them brawling in a club in Convent Garden.  I ended up waking up the next morning with a black eye for my troubles. I recount many tales of the Allen brothers in Nefarious.

Glen Colson
Andy Paley, Glen, and Brian Wilson

And then there was the spirited, gifted Kirsty MacColl?

Kirsty was a close friend who I sorely miss.

I like your honesty about Trinidad and ‘the local lovely’ who made off with your shoes, shirt and shorts after sex following your claim that you ‘had no cash on you’.

This event took place in a Trinidadian nightclub when I made the mistake of picking up a girl who unbeknownst to me turned out to be a hooker who demanded money from me when we entered my hotel room and then made off with all my clothes when I was sleeping.

And the Viv Stanshall years? You seemed to genuinely like him?

After drumming sting with the Bonzos in 1969, Viv became my mentor who I would work with for the next 25 years.

Although not Ian Dury, who seemed famously tricky?

I worked with Ian Dury when he was in The Kilburns and latterly The Blockheads, although, he could be a very tricky customer who had a wicked tongue.  From time to time I would feel the lashing from it.

I guess I can’t miss out The Warwick in Portobello which is where I know you from. What a place! The characters.

After starting to work with Keith Allen, he introduced me to his local pub The Warwick Castle in Portobello Road. The pub was brim-full of Runyonesque characters, murderers, thieves, actors, musicians, market traders, dustmen, and alcoholics. The landlord, Seamus Costello specialised in pigs trotters and pints of Guinness. 

What are your reflections now on music PR at that time?

I have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever.

And how did you get into gardening?

I have always loved and been fascinated by growing things ever since I planted my first tulip bulb in a window box as a young boy. Many years later I was lucky enough to be accepted as a volunteer at Kew Gardens. After taking an RHS course in Horticulture at Twickenham College, I spent ten years at Kew working in various departments until my retirement five years ago.

The Culture Interview – Isa L Levy, artist and psychotherapist


6 Minute Read

Isa L Levy, 72, is a London-based artist and psychotherapist who has just published her memoir, Conversations with a Blank Canvas: From Nowhere to Somewhere Decades of Change and Transformation. You can buy it here.

What prompted this memoir?

Two clairvoyants told me I had to write my life story: one 40 years ago and one more recently a few years ago and so I decided to write it.

What is your aim in writing it?

Sharing my life story so that others can see how it’s possible to overcome your demons and with courage keep listening to your authentic voice to fulfill a sense of belonging to your ‘true self’; so often hidden by a ‘false self’ adapting to an outer superficial world. This is very much a sign of our times within our social media screens of ‘selfie’ curated false images and how that can emphasise feelings of low self-worth leading to depression, anxiety, addiction, and in the worst case of scenarios self-harm, suicide, and high crime rates

You mention ‘invites the reader to enquire more consciously about their own personal journey’?

In writing about my own journey of self-discovery I reveal how the ‘blank canvas’ was the beginning of my true connection to myself. I only discovered painting when I was 40 and some 450 paintings emerged – I say from nowhere but in fact from an unknown place of mystery and that was tremendously meaningful for me and life-changing. What I learned about myself through painting was very much what I facilitate in my clients which is the safe space within which to explore their own ‘blank canvasses’ within and if they can face their fears and pain they will find the richness that is there hiding in their ‘true self’. 

Tell us something about your own Jewish background growing up in Cardiff and how it has influenced you?

I believe my Jewish background is within every gene of my body; however, I did not identify as a religious Jew and have found my spiritual connections as a Quaker and Buddhist. I also realised that I did not conform to family and cultural expectations, which created a deal of painful confusion for me. If I didn’t conform – who was I? The Cardiff Jewish community was tight-knit and my parents were very committed to the local community. However, the pain was my motivation to find out more about myself.

Your family knew Dylan Thomas?

Yes. My father was born in Swansea, as was Dylan Thomas and Dylan lived in Chelsea with my uncle, art critic, and author, Mervyn Levy. My father, at that time, in those Chelsea days, was a poet and had exchanged poetry with Dylan and joined them when he ran away from home. I had the privilege of sitting on Dylan Thomas’s knee as a 2-year-old, although I can’t say I remember the experience. 

You describe yourself as ‘the black sheep of the family’, how did that manifest itself?

I now realise that I am a non-conformist but it’s taken me 72 years and the writing of my memoir to accept that label. It’s hard to fit into a traditional family as a non-conformist as individuality threatens the status quo.

What have been the most challenging areas of your own personal journey psychologically?

Well, I believed I was a failure in everything because I didn’t fit in; Failed in education, the pressure to marry, not wanting to marry, weight issues, and poor body image that created a lack of confidence which led to low self-esteem.

Tell us a bit about ‘questioning your sexuality’ as a teenager and the confusion of that?

Basically, I did not feel comfortable discussing my sexuality as a teenager in the 1950s and coming from a traditional family where we didn’t discuss anything that didn’t fit in socially. I discussed with a few friends but mainly kept things secret.

You performed a one-woman show at Wormwood Scrubs which changed the direction of your life?

Yes. I made a conscious decision to move from performance into the caring profession as I was more interested in the lives of the prisoners than my own performance.

You mention depression and loneliness?

I think depression and loneliness are part of the human condition and I think these problems can be masked by a manic defense against facing our most vulnerable side by compulsive addictions that are socially acceptable – like work, money, drink, narcissistic power distortions. We just have to look at our present demise with politicians and leadership. I think depression and loneliness is what we all face within our own ‘blank canvasses’ and we have been forced to look deeper into ourselves during this pandemic as everything familiar has been taken away from us and left us with time for a re-think.

And then, finding a more meaningful life?

Buddhism as a philosophy for life gave me permission to engage with my suffering as I realized there was nothing wrong with me other than that I was just human. My painting was the beginning of this journey of letting go and just allowing everything to flow out of me – it was liberating. And then 15 years later I had nothing more to say and closed the door on my studio without knowing what next. In the fullness of time I found myself embarking on a Masters degree in Arts and Psychotherapy in my mid- 50s without an A Level to my name and graduated at the ripe old age of 61 with a whole new career as an Arts Psychotherapist.

How has painting, poetry and other writing supported your evolution?

I could not have survived without creative expression as an actor, singer, songwriter, poet, playwright, artist, author and back to actor now for I had no other way to express myself.

You’re now involved in a musical production of ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’?

That was 2 years ago but I am involved with that director, Clair Chapwell and we’re performing a weekly soap opera at Jacksons Lane community centre, North London for a Pensioners Lunch Club; on zoom at the moment. I was invited by my local MP to sing a song I wrote about Climate Change, some 50 years, ago in parliament, when I had no idea at the time about the crisis that we have got ourselves into.

Tell us about your painting The Female Resurrection?

The Female Resurrection was painted after the death of my mother and four other important females in my life. I inherited a 7 foot blank canvas and decided to paint a female crucifixion scene putting the female figure on the cross as I wrestled with the question; how can you celebrate life whilst going through so much suffering? As there was no room for the central figure’s head as if by magic, I could see that there had been a resurrection, completely spontaneous, and therein lay the answer to my question.

How has lockdown been for you?

A very creative time linking me to like-minded international souls on zoom, publishing and promoting the book, seeing my therapy clients, albeit on zoom, seeing friends in a café when tiers permitted, facing myself and my core human loneliness and finding more transcendence, kindness, and compassion towards myself and others with more of a connection to my heart.

Where are you now on this journey and how has writing the book been?

I go with the flow now and enjoy what I have to deal with each day with the resolve to make it the best that I can, opening to new possibilities and expansion in every which way possible.

How am I Coping?


9 Minute Read

Ok, just got the news of a new lockup on 16th December. It had been expected but I was hoping it would be on Friday so I could still have lunch with my friend Pamela at the French House in Soho on Thursday. No such luck. Was planning on oysters. It was going to be my Xmas treat, but I had to kiss that one goodbye.

One of the main reasons the lockdown is upsetting is because many pubs and restaurants are going to go under. Will the historic French House survive? Doubtful. So many jobs lost.

I’d been going there regularly since the 60s when the good-natured Gaston Berlemonwas was the owner. He knew how to mix the best cocktails.

The French House had always been popular with actors, painters, and writers. In other words, bohemians.  It was the days of the very long liquid lunch, and there one could enjoy good conversations with heavy drinking journalists, martini downing publishers, and famous barristers drinking champagne

Struggling artists cadged free drinks from sloshed businessmen who hoped sooner or later to lay their hands on a painting that would make them a lot of money. Scruffy looking bards, whose nourishment seemed to consist of mainly vodka, flirted with gregarious, heavy boozing gutsy chain-smoking women out for a good time, who were to be found there.

As was Jeffrey Barnard, whose weekly column for the Spectator principally chronicled his daily round of intoxication. His writing was once described by the journalist, Jonathan Meades, as a “suicide note in weekly installments.” And there was the regular, Frank Norman, whose play about cockney low-life characters in the 1950s, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be, had won The Evening Standard’s award for best musical in 1960. Other regulars over the years have included Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Tom BakerMalcolm Lowry, Jay Landesman, Elizabeth Smart, and John Mortimer.

Before my time, when the pub belonged to Gaston Berlemonwas senior, the painter, Augustus John, drank in the company of Brendan Behan who reputedly wrote large portions of The Quare Fellow there. Dylan Thomas, it’s said, once left the manuscript of Under Milk Wood under his chair. Sylvia Plath is also reported to have visited the French House.

For me, it was the one place in Soho where people truly chose to share time and conversation.

Soho will never be the same when we go back to ‘normal’ times. Gone are the ‘normal’ times. It has all changed, we have changed, I have changed.

Not that I know quite how I’ve changed, but I feel like a limp wool doll that’s been turned inside out. I’m upside down.

Before the crown of all pandemics sequestered our lives, I didn’t watch TV programs a lot. Now, to pass the interminable time, I see much more stuff on my computer. Films, documentaries, Amazon Prime videos, Italian movies on YouTube — what have you. But I still don’t have Netflix. I feel that Netflix is a monopolism, so I’m boycotting it, but who knows, as time proceeds and there is less and less material for me left to look at I might give in. After all, I buy from Amazon constantly, and that too is a monopolism. I am a contradiction.

I don’t feel like reading. My eyes hurt, the print is too small. And as for eating on my own? How does one cook for one? Take a cabbage leaf, add a baby tomato, a slice of potato . . . Some of my friends make soups or vegetable stews which they put in the fridge to eat all week. But that’s not for me. Sometimes a yogurt with berries and nuts can suffice. And yet, even though I don’t eat that much, I’ve put on weight. Coronavirus pounds. Surely a glass of wine in the evening and the occasional Bloody Mary are not the cause of me no longer being able to get into my clothes? But you know what? I don’t care. I’ve grown up in 2020.

I know I’m fortunate to be on my own. I’m an old cat with a sticky character and others enervate me. I’m aware there is a price to pay for having a sticky character. There’s a price for everything.

My cleaner came this morning. Her eyes a combination of fury and tears, and before she even greeted me, she cried out, ‘They’ve closed the schools!’ She has two young sons. She’ll come to me on Sundays now when her husband is home to take care of the kids. We all need to adjust. Somehow we adjust. It is what it is. Fucking awful, is what it is.

I wake up each morning with my heart in the pit of my stomach which is in a  knot. I turn on my radio. All the news is bad again. How am I going to get through today? Although I don’t even know what day it is as I seem to have lost all sense of reality as days melt into each other. I feel I’m in a Dali scenario.

Under the soothing hot water in my shower, I remind myself that here I am, in a privileged condition, so best stop complaining. You’ll get to see your grandchildren next year, I tell myself. The time will pass in a jiffy, treat it as the retreat you’ve always wanted to take and never have, and now here it is. The good news is you have lots of time for writing. And don’t forget to follow the advice of Eckhart Tolle to be here now. Maybe I’m coming to terms with fate. What else can one do?

I castigate myself for moaning as my thoughts go to the masses of underprivileged poor who will not be able to afford to give their children a Xmas treat, who shiver in the hovels they cannot afford to heat, let alone pay the rent for. How many abused wives and children will suffer in this festive season? How many more homeless will hit the streets? How many suicides will there be? And to think that Dominic Cummings received a pay rise of at least £40,000 this year. Not that that seemed to put a smile on his surely face. Nor does Scrooge Rees-Mogg smile as he criticises Unicef who will now be feeding hungry children in South London. He accuses them of playing politics. Really? Has he any idea? How many gifts will the nanny be wrapping to place under his huge Christmas tree? How large will the turkey, so lovingly stuffed by the cook, be a feast for the taste buds as it rests ready for carving on the antique family table?

Christmas promises to be a disaster. People are tearing their hair out. Total contradiction and confusion. Celebrate with your loved ones, but don’t get on a train, it’s dangerous. In fact, best to stay at home. Do this, do that, be careful not to kill your granny and whatever you do, remember no hugs. Danger looms around every corner. We are in the unpleasant hands of a cheating populist government that does not know what it’s doing as death tolls rise. They’ve lost the plot and we pay for their stupidity. The Joker Johnson, at all times, fails in his duty to protect his citizens.

Weather permitting, I’ll take a walk on my own and talk to the ducks on the canal. Not that I mind being on my own, for some years I’ve spent Christmas alone. It’s ok, no big deal, 25th of December is just another day. When you get to my age you can be philosophical about it, especially as most old-time friends I used to celebrate it with have died. There is a mausoleum inside of me crowded with those dear departed. I think about them daily.

But wait a minute, hold your turkeys, Christmas has just been canceled! With the excuse of the advent of a new, more virulent virus, we have been moved to Tier 4. Not going anywhere.

Grandparents are beyond desolation, disappointed children are shedding tears, fathers are cursing as they have another Gin, and mothers don’t know what they will be doing with all the food they have bought in anticipation of feasts.

A black mist of anger hangs over the depressed population.

But don’t despair, the powers that be assure us. The brilliant news is that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel called The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID19 vaccine. It’s astonishing that they got it together so quickly, and is, indeed, great news. Doormat Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health, sheds tears publicly as he witnesses Margaret Keenan, a 91-year-old grandmother, be the first person in the world to receive a jab as part of a mass vaccination programme. ‘I’m so proud to be British,’ he says, unaware, perhaps, that the vaccine has been developed by the Turkish, Uğur Şahin and the German Özlem Türeci, daughter of a Turkish physician who immigrated from Istanbul. These two gifted emigrants are now amongst the richest people in Germany. For them, Covid-19 has not been an ill wind.

I was surprised to have already received a phone call from my surgery offering me a jab. Which I refused. This was not an easy decision, but I’m not ready yet. I need to think about it carefully. At this point, I don’t want to put anything foreign into my healthy body. I use no allopathic medication but instead eat healthy food, make extensive use of essential oils, take a zillion supplements, do a zillion exercises. I haven’t been ill, not even a cold, in years.

My son is upset. “Mum, get the vax, if you get the virus you will probably die.”

“I won’t get it. I’m being very careful,” I try to reassure him. Wishing for a more ‘normal’ mother, he shakes his sceptical head.

‘You won’t be able to travel if you don’t get vaccinated,’ friends cry out. Maybe so, but in the meantime, I’ve booked myself a flight (before Brexit kicks in) to Tuscany for next year.

As for now, I’ll continue wearing a mask, keep a reasonable distance, wash my hands, rush through Waitrose, and remind myself, at all times, that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

The fundamental question is whether our values will shift after we come out of the nightmare?

A renaissance must take place. Principles will have to be reviewed. The powers that be will have to seriously understand that love, altruism, compassion, fairness, caring for those less fortunate than us, is fundamental. There are going to be new viruses just around the corner if people don’t change their behaviour and attitude to animals. Huge amounts of money will have to be deployed to heal the climate.

If we don’t do this, it means we have learned nothing at all from this plague which surely has come to give us a lesson.

Getting Creative as We Get Older – Go For It!


9 Minute Read

How are you doing on the creative front? Has getting older freed you into a more creative place?

I just googled exactly that and depressingly it came back with endless reports about the brain being less creative as we get older. Bullshit, I thought. But I did find this from Psychology Today in 2007.

‘The ageing brain resembles the creative brain in several ways. For instance, the ageing brain is more distractible and somewhat more disinhibited than the younger brain (so is the creative brain). Ageing brains score better on tests of crystallized IQ (and creative brains use crystallized knowledge to make novel and original associations). These changes in the ageing brain may make it ideally suited to accomplish work in a number of creative domains. So instead of promoting retirement at age 65, perhaps we as a society should be promoting transition at age 65: transition into a creative field where our growing resource of individuals with ageing brains can preserve their wisdom in culturally-valued works of art, music, or writing.’

I am 67 and a half!! Did Adrian Mole ever get to that age? And I co-founded Advantages of Age with Suzanne Noble in 2016. In many ways, we’ve gone in different directions – in that Suzanne is developing her Silver Sharers site and Start-Up For Seniors while I am more focused on the arts and my relationship with poetry and dance and writing non-fiction. Although having said that Suzanne is singing the blues and performing when we’re not in Covid times.

Being a part of Advantages of Age – advantagesofage.com – has definitely helped me develop my relationship with the arts. In 2017, we received – on the second try and we didn’t write the budget bit – our first grant from the Arts Council and we created Death Dinner, the film about death and dying, had hot tub salons on everything from tantra to co-housing, ran a Taboo Club around sexuality/love, filled a bus Flamboyant Forever with Over-50s dressed up not just to the nines but the tens and elevens. There was a lot of production work involved.

And I realised that I could do it – get that sort of thing together. The same year 2017, I had my first poetry pamphlet Tantric Goddess out on Eyewear. By 2019, I created a book of poems with my partner, Asanga Judge illustrating them with watercolours – it was called Wild Land. We had an exhibition – poems and paintings together – at the Llyn Arts Festival in N Wales and we also performed there. By this time, I’d written a long poem A Song for an Old Woman, which was about the fears and vulnerabilities of getting older plus my mum having Alzheimer’s and the horrors of the later stages. Asanga plays the crystal bowls. So we did a performance where I read one stanza and then he responded with the haunting sounds of the bowls. We were going to do a version at the Poetry Café but Covid came along.

In 2019, Brent – I live in Harlesden and have written a non-fiction book – A London Safari walking adventures in NW10 – about my walks here with Louis Theroux, George The Poet etc – were told that they’d won the competition to be the London Borough of Culture 2020. Immediately, I started thinking of a project that I’d love to do. Be Willesden Junction Poet in Residence and immerse myself in this bleak but beautiful place. This scary but intriguing place.

I already had a relationship with the station. I’d done a chapter in A London Safari where I walked with railway enthusiast, Ian Bull and been enthralled by his litany of Willesden Junction nuggets, for example, that the buddleia seeds were brought in on the train’s wheels from ports, they came from China. For example, the old transformer building dates back to 1910 and is Arts and Crafts. Plus his winsome theories on my favourite building – the building on stilts. He surmised that it was a carriage washing building.

However, I didn’t go ahead until I’d had several chats with producers. Thanks, Titania Altius. And it became obvious that community was the name of the case. Of course. It’s not all about you, Rose. So I came up with the idea of The Willesden Junction Poets in Residence. I would gather poets in Brent and we would unravel the station through all of our different perspectives. And so I filled in the form. Yes, I managed it with a bit of advice from Suzanne on the budget front.

Lo and behold, last November I heard that I was one of the lucky ones. I had a grant of £3,000 to create The Willesden Junction Poets, make a book out of our poems, find an artist to illustrate it and launch it. I was over the moon. Exactly my kind of project.

By Feb 2020, I’d put the word out on social media, the Kilburn Times and amongst friends for nine poets. I found about 30 and decided on the group. One of my aims was to cherish this group so that it had long-lasting roots so that we became a collective that could carry on afterwards. I had tea with the ones I had decided upon.

On March 1st, we got together for the first time. A vegetable curry at my flat, lots of research about WJ strewn on my floor, shared our WJ stories and then we went to the station. The sun shone and we looked at the station in a way that we never had before. Even me. The fences suddenly looked like the staffs owned by medieval nobility. There were convex mirrors everywhere. And frills on the roof. A wasteland with steps to nowhere. The poets were animated and falling for WJ. Poems started to be written.

And then there was the night visit. I really wanted to go in the dark. Three of us went just as social distancing was coming in but wasn’t understood. Not by us either. No masks yet. We stood in the drizzle and dark, feeling like people in an Edward Hopper painting. There was a loneliness to it and an endless blue freight train. And postmodern blue lights like spears.

Lockdown happened. We took to Zoom like everyone else. Poetry workshops – we shared and commented on our WJ poems. Zoom kept our group together. The project was meant to last three months. We spent two months on Zoom. It deepened the trust and commitment in the group.

By June, the visits to the station started again. This time with masks. Filmmaker Tereza Stehlikova – she’s made Disappearing Worm Wood which is about this landscape which is changing all the time – came for a visit with us. This bleak and beautiful landscape. The vast horizon with all those tangles of tracks where both art critic John Berger drew and made etchings from (I haven’t been able to find any) in the 50s and painter Leon Kossoff made gorgeous, ugly paintings in the 70s and 80s.

Tereza told me she thought of Willesden Junction as a land of enchantment, I told her I thought of it as a theatre. Together with poet, Sue Saunders, we found the beating heart of WJ. Round the back, down a narrow passageway, near the steel bridge. Where the station staff make their way up and down in their orange hi-vis. Where we were forced into close encounters because the pathway is so narrow. Where the mainline trains speed by to Scotland, where freight trains chug by slowly carrying limestone aggregate, for instance, from the Mendips. And the wind is howling as though we’re on the moors in Haworth. Meanwhile, we’re caught up in an intensity of lines – fences, bridges, tracks.

More poems are written. Another high point is the visit with a botanist, John Wells who introduces us to over forty varieties of wild plant in the wilderness that looks like a wasteland full of rubbish and rats. Bristly ox tongue, dove’s cranesbill, spear thistles to name but a few.

I’d always wanted to re-frame the infamous WJ ‘walkway from hell’, ‘the purgatorial pathway’, ‘the jailed path’ with our imaginations. And these urban plants gave us another chance to see and feel this challenging walkway differently. And the poems went on.

By July, I’d picked the poems for the book and thought that BeWILDering could be a good title. The station was referred to as ‘bewildering’ in the late nineteenth century because it was labyrinthine and people actually got lost trying to look for their trains!

Be Wild, re-wild, Wild thing, Willesden Junction – they were all in that title for us. And Sue turned up at our interview with local radio station The Beat with badges bearing – Be, Wild, Er, Ring. I congratulated her on her brilliant deconstruction of our title. ‘I just couldn’t fit it on the badges,’ she said beguilingly.

In the meantime, Keira Rathbone was making her dazzling typictions.  And having her own adventures at the station. She wasn’t keen on WJ at first, but as time went on, she fell into intrigue. Keira would appear in her silver jacket and mask looking like a visitor with Mars with her own old Imperial typewriter. Then she’d sit and turn the platen while typing furiously and by some twist of wonderment, she’d create all these images.

On one occasion, she and I were down by the heart of WJ, and we simply became fascinated by an old pipe in the wall. This very textured wall with what looked like gunshots in it. Keira said something like – ‘Look like her come hither look’. And then she became the sexy pipe. And on we went. The spirit of the WJ residency captured. That spirit of tale-telling and you never know where it will lead you.

The book went to the designers, then the digital printers. By October, we had the beauties in our hands. Finally, my son, Marlon – thank you son – who is a filmmaker came down and made short films of us reading our poems ‘on set’ as Tereza put it. It was a great day. An acknowledgement day. Andrea Queens read Legend – where magical occurrences happen at WJ – on the steel bridge, I was near my beloved Building on Stilts, Ian McLachlan performed Changeling down ‘the purgatorial path’, we even got into the station itself for a quick shoot of Sue Saunders reading her Closely Observed Pigeons, Elizabeth Uter was filmed near the 266 bus stop reading her How Many Feet, Iman Hamid told us about her experiences On Platform 4 and Sue Saunders read Nick Moss’ STOP because he couldn’t be there.

And so The Willesden Junction Poets project has been a great project. We are now a group and hopefully, we will carry on performing in London. And I have just filled in another application. So let’s see if the next project comes about next year when I’m 68…

The book can be downloaded here – https://www.brent2020.co.uk/whats-happening/programmes/culture-fund/bewildering-by-willesden-junction-poets/

Follow us on #willesdenjunctionpoets on Insta Films on YouTube –
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCt3edoilQeSdKFh4d25Os0A

Can you tap your hot flushes away?


1 Minute Read

Every year World Menopause Awareness Day is on Oct 18th. Isn’t it sad that something that affects 50% of the world population needs so much more awareness, understanding, and education? And boy, does it need education.

I, a woman in my 50s, really knew nothing about the menopause and what it meant in terms of the body. A few years ago, I decided to visit my GP to get some advice. I wasn’t sure whether I had hit the menopause or whether some of the niggles that bothered me had anything to do with it. The male GP, otherwise lovely, turned to Google.

Shouldn’t something that concerns half of all humans on the planet be part of standard GP training? I swiftly made an appointment with a female GP in her 60s. She had been there, I figured, and she would know. A slap in the face with a wet fish couldn’t have taken me aback more than what came next.

Clearly irritated and impatient, the female doctor didn’t listen to my questions but declared emphatically – ‘Women like you want answers.’

‘Erm, yes I do, don’t know about the other.’ She went on to inform me that ‘most women sail through the menopause!’

‘Really? Not the women I had talked to.’ She then finished up with: ’You can have HRT if you want it!’ I didn’t want HRT. I wanted advice. I wanted options. I wanted to get some clarity in my confusion. I’m glad to say that after changing my GP surgery, I feel much better looked after but I still don’t know enough about ‘the change’. But we do learn by doing and sharing and being curious.

In my job as an EFT Practitioner for the Breast Cancer Haven, I support women through the emotional and physical onslaught of the cancer diagnosis, treatments, and their aftermaths. 70-80% of Breast Cancers are hormone-driven, and these patients often struggle with the effects of a sudden onset of the menopause, – debilitating hot flushes being one of them. One would think that hot flushes are not a big deal in the grand scheme of all things cancer-related, but what I heard was different.

‘I can’t think because I am so exhausted after waking 6 times a night in a wet puddle.’

‘I am so tense when I have a business meeting because I never know when the next one is coming.’

‘It’s so embarrassing because I get all flustered and red in the face and the harder I fight it the worse it gets.’

‘I feel like a hot, flustered mess!’ One client gave up a high-powered job she loved because she couldn’t take that pressure anymore.

‘I was sceptical that tapping could help with the hot flushes, but I did persevere. Over a few weeks with Bettina’s guidance, I began tapping whenever I felt a hot flush coming and could feel the improvement. Now my hot flushes don’t last long when they do come, and I am no longer frustrated with the feeling. I just tap and breathe. Thank you for teaching me EFT!’ JM

My intention was to help women manage and release the anxiety, stress and overwhelm they felt at being helplessly subjected to hot flushes. My clients were surprised to find that tapping can stop a hot flush when done at the first tingling of heat, and considerably reduces their intensity and frequency. Soon they no longer felt like helpless victims of a bothersome but common physical process; instead they had a remedy to release the heat as well as their emotions literally at their fingertips.

In a world where women spend millions on natural and not so natural remedies that sometimes work and often don’t, it’s good to know that you are not helpless. You can be in charge. Without side effects. After all, if a man sitting in a business meeting felt an asthma attack coming on, he’d take out his inhaler and would use it. There wouldn’t be an accompanying embarrassment.

EFT (short for Emotional Freedom Techniques and also known as Tapping) is a combination of modern psychology and ancient TCM wisdom. It is sometimes called ‘acupuncture without the needles’. One brilliant thing about EFT is that it works on different levels. When working with an experienced therapist, it is possible to go deeper as well as gently and safely release old trauma, limiting beliefs, chronic pain, phobias, addictions, and more. Yet the Tapping sequence itself is easy to learn and can be used by anyone in the moment when painful or overwhelming emotions come up for a quick and gentle release. Powerful stuff.

I run regular courses Menopause? Learn to release hot flushes with EFT. The next one starts on 6th November 2020. Sign up here.

AofA People: Mychael Owen – Brand Builder


5 Minute Read

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

What do you do?

What I am born to do.

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

 

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

It’s OK.

I am aware of the brick wall, though.

The end.

Death.

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

That’s it.

So I live bravely.

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

To do what I was born to do.

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

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

It’s much nicer doing things that do matter.

And working with nice people.

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

A daughter.

Izzy Willow.

Izobel is 4.

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

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

Most people see two.

The film they were in.

And the film they wish they had been in.

I am determined just to see just one.

The one I want to be in.

And what about sex?

It happens quite a bit.

Actually no, wait.

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

No.

It doesn’t happen much.

And relationships?

I’m with Lisa.

Lisa puts up with me very well.

And is probably much more important than I imagine.

How free do you feel?

Interesting question.

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

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

For the most important times of your life.

Your downtime.

It’s your permission to pause.

I believe in 8/8/8.

8 hour working (on something you love).

8 hours of sleeping.

8 hours free.

For pausing.

Because the time you do nothing can mean everything.

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

I am not as free as I could be.

But that might be OK, as it goes.

I’m not sure.

Freedom in of itself is not valuable.

What you do with it, is.

What are you proud of?

Izobel.

Always Wear Red.

Not turning into either my dad or my stepdad.

Both of whom were cnuts (conscious misspell).

What keeps you inspired?

Tomorrow.

And Izobel.

When are you happiest?

Mornings.

When Izobel is laughing.

And where does your creativity go?

Everywhere.

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

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

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

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

Creativity is breathing.

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

What is your philosophy of living?

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

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

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

And value and self-worth lead to confidence.

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

I see this as very straight forward.

And dying?

It makes me very, very sad.

And urgent.

I’m still processing death as a notion.

I plan to avoid it if I can.

If I ever meet God.

(Which I won’t.

Because she doesn’t exist.

But if she did).

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

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

Are you still dreaming?

Yes.

Always.

It is food to me.

Imagination and creativity are everything.

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

We rediscover dreaming and creating as we get older.

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

I could run, growling into every day.

Desperate to dream and do at every juncture.

And take everyone with me, too.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

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

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

This was pilot show for Virgin 1 TV channel relaunched.

They asked.

I said yes.

3 million people saw it in year one.

10m+ to date.

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

Err.

Interesting.

(And cold).

The Psychology of Sexuality and Ageing: Time to get Mature About it


7 Minute Read

Alan Gray is a social psychologist and researcher of both romantic and platonic relationships.

In contrast to popular opinion, most people never expect their sexual appetite to lessen as
they age.

Studies show that those who expect sex in later life, have sex in later in life, and visa versa. In fact, the amount of sex you belive older people are having now is likely to predict how much sex you yourself will be having when you reach that age. In other words, our beliefs here can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, influencing our own sex lives decades later. More reason than ever before to bring senior sex onto the popular agenda – and to start paying serious attention to the sexual needs of older generations.

It’s pretty well understood by now that relationships are crucial to our mental and physical health – feeling lonely is a physiological risk factor akin to smoking, and is associated with disease, even early death. Researchers have identified romantic relationships as particularly important, and it’s no surprise that sex – and the bond brought about by sexual activities – plays a big part.

Strange then, that in our rapidly ageing and health-focused population, researchers (as a rule) have avoided asking the question: are older generations doing it?

Take our largest national sex survey, for instance. Natsal-4 (led by researchers at UCL) restricts itself to only including participants aged under 59. A surprising cut-off that eliminates an increasingly large proportion of the population – and one of particular concern when you consider ​the rising rates in the over sixties of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

It doesn’t help, too, that many of these surveys use intercourse as the sexual ‘gold standard’ – ignoring the full scope of sexual activity to focus on the penis, and what it’s getting up to. All in spite of the fact that many – young and old – find pleasure in a much broader definition of sexual experience. From the affection expressed in intimacy to mutual masturbation, oral sex; hugging, cuddling, and kissing.

Still, those who have addressed the subject have done a great deal to debunk the ageist myth of asexuality. For a start, there’s substantial diversity in the response to ageing. Not everybody ages in the same way, and it’s certainly not the case that most older adults lose sexual interest or capacity. For many women, in fact, the end of menopause coincides with an ​increase​ in libido. And while some older people welcome a dip in sexual appetite, others see it surge.

So what accounts for this difference?

Well, it’s complicated. On the one hand, it’s a personal preference (and it’s important not to dismiss those that feel this way, or assume that all older people are unhappy with their sex life – as that’s simply not true). On the other, though, it’s often down to the lack of a partner – and while sexual interest may still be present, the opportunities for expression may not. Indeed, the strongest predictor of sexual activity in later life is whether you’re in a romantic relationship – with most partnered older adults experiencing physical tenderness far more frequently than their unpartnered counterparts. A trend especially noticeable in older women.

As the data here is almost exclusively concerned with heterosexual pairings, it’s likely that this result owes much to women romantically favouring older men. Men who at the end of course, don’t live as long as they do. Yet the disparity in sexual activity between widow and widower is surely telling in other ways. Notably, the sexual ‘double standard’ that continues well into later life.

Both genders are subjected to ageism – there’s no doubt there. But women must also contend with a sexist society that often exacerbates these prejudices – imposing more restrictive sexual norms, and creating expectations otherwise absent in the opposite sex. Take the recent release in the UK of over-the-counter Viagra. Another advance in the treatment of sexual dysfunction that largely ignores women (and does so despite claims the disorder is less common in men!).

Popular culture traditionally does little to help: ​a UK Film Council survey of 2011 revealed that 60% of older female film-goers were fed-up of seeing themselves portrayed on screen as ​“sexless grandmothers”​. While it may be the norm for older men to be depicted pursuing relationships with younger women, when the genders are flipped these pairings are often seen as taboo, or fantasy (see ​The Graduate​) – further cementing the thought that an older woman’s sex drive is something to be considered unusual and in some instances, comical.

This discrimination has deep consequences that are only now coming to light. Not only do older women feel less comfortable discussing their sexuality and seeking out sexual partners, but they often find trouble convincing health-care professionals to see them as sexual beings. In a GP surgery, for instance, both parties can be reluctant to broach the topic, and guidance or sexual health advice is often passed over. A damning result in a time of rising STIs among older people – and a disturbing finding considering what we now know about sexual assault: (1) that it occurs at all ages, and (2) that older women are far more
likely to be sexually abused than previously acknowledged.

Tough stuff all this, I admit. And maybe not what you’d expect on a website called ‘The Advantages of Age’. But raising awareness of these societal challenges is what’s needed right now, and open discussions of sexuality – as you’ll find in many pieces on this site – can only help shift the culture of silence or awkwardness. As I said at the outset, we all have much to gain from shedding ageist sexual stereotypes. And by acknowledging older adults as sexual beings, we don’t just open up a conversation but create an atmosphere that helps older people challenge unwanted advances. (A lesson echoed in the success of the ‘Me Too’ movement, which highlighted the difficulties women often face in reporting sexual assault).

Gerontological research on sex, no doubt, still has far to go – and health-care services can do more for older adults in their policies and procedures. (Those in retirement homes, for example, might want the option of sharing a bed with a significant other, rather than being separated by default; and selling lube on-site would benefit residents who struggle to obtain it otherwise). But change is happening, perceptions are shifting, and the literature is beginning to recognise a fundamental fact: that it is not age ​per se​ that influences our sex life but the circumstances surrounding it. Our norms and stereotypes are perhaps the
biggest barriers of all in this respect, and it’s up to us, young and old, to challenge them. Even if that’s just not being afraid to talk more openly, free of the nonsense.

Further Reading

Bows H. The other side of late-life intimacy? Sexual violence in later life. Australas J Ageing. 2020;39(Suppl. 1):65–70.

Dillaway, H. E. (2005). Menopause is the “good old”: Women’s thoughts about reproductive aging. Gender & Society, 19, 398–417.

Freak-Poli R, Malta S. An overview of sexual behaviour research in later life—Quantitative and qualitative findings. Australas J Ageing. 2020;39(Suppl. 1):16–21.

Freak-Poli R, ​Malta, S. Sex and intimacy in later life: From understanding and acceptance to policy. Australas J Ageing. 2020; 39 (Suppl S1); 3-5.

Slatcher RB, Selcuk E. A social psychological perspective on the links between close relationships and health. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2017;26:16–21.

Lai Y, Hynie M. A tale of two standards: an examination of young adults’ endorsement of gendered and ageist sexual double standards. Sex Roles. 2011;64(5):360-371.

About Alan Gray

Alan Gray is a social psychologist and behavioural change analyst. His research tries
to understand the mechanisms that underpin relationship development, with
particular interest to attraction, laughter, and self-disclosure.

He holds degrees in psychology from the universities of Durham and Oxford, and
lives in London.

Find out more about Alan Gray’s research at​ ​grayarea.co.uk

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