Refine Your Search

Tips on Thrifty Living


6 Minute Read

I wish there were free public classes in household economising. My upbringing in remote North West England taught me a great deal about thrifty living. Our only heating was solid fuel, wood from the land, and anthracite delivered periodically by a muscular man in a leather tunic, face black with coal dust, who’d dump a small mountain of the stuff in one of the byres.

On very cold nights, I loved it when the little open fireplace in my bedroom was lit, feeling cosy and entranced by the flickering light from the flames making shadow figures on the walls. For 25 years, and all my childhood, my mother ran a vegetarian guest house – a rarity during the rationing years of the 40s and 50s – and I have no idea how she coped. But she did. We had no fridge or freezer, just a solid stone extension with big stone slabs as a larder, and in the corner was a huge slipware jar filled with fresh eggs preserved in isinglass.

It was a big, draughty, damp and cold stone house. We’d put our clothes for next day under the top cover on our beds, so they would not be frozen stiff in the morning. We had draught excluders for the doors, and windows. Heavy curtains make a huge difference in cold weather even in my double-glazed, well-insulated little London terrace house. Charity shops often have large, proper, lined curtains, also more and more quality clothing as people are simplifying and decluttering. A most excellent gift my daughter made me is a draught excluder stuffed with plastic bags, and its weight holds it tight against the door so no gale around the ankles.

Maybe instead of everyone in their own rooms trying to keep warm and staring at their screens, we’ll revive the tradition of family gathering around the “fire,” a single source of heat, for the evenings, for homework, for playing games, story-telling, for conversation and meal times. Nobody needs a heated bedroom if they have a cosy bed with a duvet and a wool blanket under the bottom sheet and on top of the duvet. I still have some of those lovely old wool blankets with satin ribbon bindings, and you can still find them in charity shops, along with sleeping bags and sometimes eiderdowns.

Polyester duvets keep nobody warm. And of course the best is to have someone you love to cuddle. I read that Chinese mandarins used to have lapdogs tucked in their wide sleeves to keep them warm in public. Some people love to have their dogs or cats on the bed. Things to reintroduce from those cold old days: Bedsocks! Priceless. A warm scarf round the neck and in extreme cold, a woolly hat or head covering. In other words a nightcap. Whisky might warm you up fast, but it won’t last long.

Proper wool clothing is essential. I despair when I see people wearing acrylic or polyester clothes and plastic shoes, thinking they will be warm. People in care homes are almost always dressed in man-made fibres – the rationale being ‘easycare’ – no wonder hypothermia is on the rise. Hand washing woollies and spinning most of the water out before hanging out is the fastest way to keep them looking good, or skip the spin and roll tightly in a towel to dry before hanging or pressing to keep the shape.

Thick socks – preferably wool – and leather shoes with good thick soles, ankle boots, and cosy house shoes help keep your lower limbs limber and active.  A hat, gloves and scarf are essentials for going out. Layers are really a great idea with clothing, starting with a proper vest. Two thin jumpers, or a shirt and a cardie, under your coat will be much warmer than one of those trendy chunky-knits. Choose them longer to cover your lower body. I recently discovered the wonderful cosiness and comfort of a tradition – adopted by Ghengis Khan, by warriors, and by many tribespeople and including national costume – of a broad sash or scarf wrapped around the body from waist to pelvis. I now do it every day in winter. It’s pretty stylish too!

Food

With a bit of planning, it’s possible to cook a decent meal with less than 30 min of oven or stove top fuel. For several years I’ve made a practice of cooking one-pan meals…a proper steamer is an essential bit of kitchen kit and one I use most often. An example… rice, potatoes or pasta boiling in the pan, adding shredded cabbage to the steamer, and a couple of eggs in their shells, or veggie sausages, for protein, to steam along with the cabbage.

I often add a handful of nuts and raisins to the rice, and capers after cooking. I’ll sauté some root veg with onions in oil and water and pop them in the oven with something protein like nut burgers, and if I’m baking, that can go in too. I usually make enough for three days, and re-purpose leftovers into soup. Or make potato cakes and freeze them, assuming the freezer is still working. Finely grated veg like carrot, beetroot, cabbage, cauliflower, marinaded in a dressing, with caraway, lemon, raisins, seeds and capers don’t even need cooking. A pan of rice, pasta, grains or beans can lend itself to three days of different meals. Soaking oats, beans, and grains overnight reduces the cooking time. Using a flask for the kettle hot water is a very sensible thing to do, even if it seems minimal, over time it will make a significant saving. And I am going to investigate creating and using a Haybox. If you’re a carnivore, all the above is easily adapted for meat dishes.

At the first warnings about food shortages post-Brexit came through, I bought a dehydrator, and plan to use it 24/7, for fresh veg and fruit while the summer and autumn abundance is still with us. I rarely use tinned foods, and if I make a dish in the oven, I’ll make sure to cook two or three more dishes at the same time. I make a lot of preserves too and started making pickles as well. I have a store cupboard with a fair amount of dry goods.

Oh and some years ago,, I got familiar with moving around my house (three floors) with my eyes shut. (Can’t remember if I thought I’d go blind, or if there would be a power cut.) So I could walk across the room blindfold, and with confidence put my hand straight on the switch of my bedside light, go up and down stairs with confidence, and got familiar with other tasks too, such as making a cup of tea without spilling or burning myself, finding things in the dark, and having candles, matches, torches with batteries in handy places. Showering or bathing in the dark is a fun experience, worth a try before you might have to.

I’ve got to replace my fridge and cooker this autumn as they have pretty much fallen apart, and I’ll choose highly economical ones, for the sake of the environment as much as for my own purse.

An Ounce of Prevention


1 Minute Read

We have a saying here in England, ‘An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.’

With this in mind, I felt at my age, it was time to get to my doctor’s and have a prostate exam.

I had been putting this off for ages and ignoring constant advice from my significant other.

‘Go get it checked…it’s important that you do. You are at that age.’

I have always been at ‘that age’.

I have also been that person who, at any age, does not relish a stranger’s finger or two up my back passage…even professionally.

Still, needs must.

Therefore, with my early Monday morning appointment made, I brace myself for what is to come.

I decide that a shower is in order along with scented shower gel. On reflection I think why, after all it’s not a date…just a date with the fickle finger of fate.

I wear something casual and off I trot into the known unknown.

My name comes up on the screen at the surgery and in I go. The GP is actually a nice guy and a warm friendly smile greets me.

‘So what can I do for you.’ he asks… I tell him that I am getting up two to three times a night to pee and feel that I should have a prostate exam to settle my mind. He agrees and starts to make a few notes… I get up and start to undress explaining that I have been doing stretches so I can comfortably touch my toes and make life easier for him. Why him, it’s me that is going to be impaled on the fingers of his right hand.

He looks up from his screen in disbelief. ‘What are you doing he asks?’

‘I am getting ready for my close-up.’ I reply.

‘Please get dressed,’ he says.

‘But, aren’t you going to examine me?’

He looks puzzled…I look puzzled.

‘No, I am going to send you for blood tests…this is what we do now.’

I stand staring at him. ‘But I showered, put on clean underwear.  I even shaved, (why the hell did I say that)’ I protest.

He explains that they don’t do it that way anymore…

I had psyched my self up for what was going to be a big deal for me…and now feel my ‘date’ stood me up.

I had to take something from this.

I fire one more shot. ‘Can we at least go for a drink,’ I ask.

He ignores my question and hands me the blood test request to take to the hospital. He smiles warmly and tells me he does not drink.

I feel I have just found a pay packet with cash in but am upset by the amount of tax that was paid.

Ah well.

Ten days later, I get the thumbs up but that’s another story!!!

Retiring at 70 – No Way!


1 Minute Read

When Groucho Marx was asked, ‘How does it feel to be 80?” he replied, “it’s better than the altoinative!’

I recently experienced my 70th birthday, which I celebrated by retiring from my day job as a Mounted Park Ranger in New York City Parks Department. For my birthday party, I took part in a burlesque show.

I did two sets. In Part 1, conservatively dressed in white tie and tails with a red tailcoat, I presented a version of Rowan Atkinson’s “Welcome to Hell” sketch adapted for my 2022 New York audience. In Part 2, I arrived on stage covered by a purple velour cloak. And announced that I had been criticized for having been overdressed in my first set. I shed the cloak to reveal a green mankini and riding boots. Gasps from the audience, amongst whom were a Parks Dept co-worker, a couple of carriage drivers, my massage therapist and my wife! I rattled a few off-colour jokes stolen from British comics and left the stage with $14 tucked into my mankini. I aim to continue to grow old disgracefully!

As I discovered during the Covid Lockdown, I’m not one for sitting about doing nothing, so I need to find something to do. There’s also the fact that Social Security (the US equivalent of the UK Old Age Pension) doesn’t even cover the monthly maintenance charge on our apartment never mind pay the bills!

So, what to do? Up until now, my ‘career’ has been based on the Spike Milligan philosophy that ‘If you don’t plan anything, nothing can go wrong.’ During my life I’ve been a sailor (Royal then Merchant Navy) a paralegal, a motorcycle courier, and a commissionaire. Since moving from the UK to New York in 2021, I’ve been a butler, a personal assistant, a security guard, a concierge, and a mounted law enforcement officer. In my spare time I’ve been a historical re-enactor having been in the Sealed Knot for twenty years, achieving the rank of Colonel General. In New York I was an Auxiliary Police Officer with NYPD for seven years. Approximately every ten years, I’ve had a major lifestyle change – sometimes unavoidable, sometimes on a whim.

I’m a survivor. I’ve survived shootings in Northern Ireland when deployed there in 1973; I missed the Harrods bomb by ten minutes; I’ve had a bus ‘rear-end’ my motorcycle; I was on a ship that went within 30 miles of the eye of a hurricane; I was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center when the airplane hit it and I’ve had cancer. I’ve fallen off lots of motorcycles, horses and barstools.

So, what to do now? A few things, actually. I already had some moonlighting gigs as an actor and model so I’m looking to do more of that. I have a license to drive horse carriages; this license was a lot more difficult to get in New York than a license to ride a motorcycle! I’m re-learning the skills and aim to work two or three days a week in Central Park for a guy who owns four carriages and nine horses. I’m earning a few bucks from my boss by acting as co-driver on his horse-drawn hearse at funerals. American Marriage Ministries also ordain me as a wedding officiant. I’ve married seven couples (three in the open air in Central Park) and receive three or four enquiries a week. My next wedding will be an interracial same-sex wedding with a 10-year age difference.

It’s ironic that the only time in my life I’ve had anything approaching a career plan is when I’m beyond what is considered ‘Retirement Age’. Embarking on a new career is daunting at any age, but I’ve done it before, so I don’t feel as though I’m taking too much of a leap into the unknown.

So, how does it feel to be embarking on a new career having reached one’s allotted three score years and ten?

There are several challenges.

Firstly, technology. I have tried to keep up to date with technological advances. I’m typing this on an iMac computer, but still only using two fingers of each hand. Interestingly, it’s the first and second finger of my right hand, and the second and third of my left. I have an iPhone which enables me to do a myriad of things, from paying for my subway ride through to making a doctor’s appointment and ordering my dinner. I’m getting to grips with an Apple Watch that seems unlimited potential. My latest triumph is setting it up to monitor the GPS tracker AirTag on my new electric moped. I’ve also been able (with assistance) to build a couple of websites.

Secondly is attitude. There is a lot of ageism around. My carriage boss told me how he took over the business from his father, who ‘Got old and past it.’ His father is two years younger than me! In the parks department, the hierarchy wanted me to stop riding due to my age. I’ve had teenagers push me aside on subways to get a seat. (On the positive side, I’ve had two pregnant women offer me a seat – that really makes one feel old!) I have learned that the phrase, ‘Go Boomer’ is not a compliment.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

Thirdly, and most seriously, is health. The American ‘health care’ system sucks. There is no National Health Service here and most Americans get health insurance through their employer. Senior Citizens (the US euphemism for Old Age Pensioners) obviously can’t get that, but we get Medicare. Medicare A covers hospital visits. When I retired, I needed to get Medicare B & C to cover other stuff, like seeing one’s family doctor or specialists. The cost of this is deducted from my Social Security pension. Medicare only covers about 80% of the bills so I have taken a supplementary plan to cover that. I also had to buy Medicare D to cover prescription drugs. My doctor prescribed a medication, but I can’t afford it as the co-pay (the amount that insurance doesn’t cover) was $203. I recently had a trip to the Emergency Room and was diagnosed with a Pulmonary Embolism. The medication they have prescribed has a copay of $500 a month, which is unaffordable. I’m reviewing my options.

So, what, to me, are the advantages of age? Experience and memories! If I were to be granted my time over again with the benefit of knowing then that which I know now I don’t think that I would change anything, but there are a few things over which I would take a little more time! The most pointless phrase in the English language is ‘if only’ closely followed by ‘what if?’ Okay, you screwed up. Learn from it and move on. In a totally different direction if needs be.

The future? Work until I drop! Then put me in a biodegradable bag with an acorn, and plant me in Croton Woods; near the Aqueduct Trail, so that I can lob acorns at the Mounted Patrol!

The Podcast Sex Advice for Seniors Takes TikTok by Storm


4 Minute Read

‘So whose idea was this,’ said my mother. ‘Was it hers?’ she said, pointing to me. My memory being what it is, I honestly couldn’t remember. I recall Peter – I do the podcast with Peter Marriott Thompson who is also the man I’m enjoying a sexy, fun time with – saying something about starting a YouTube channel and me saying that perhaps recording a video related to sex where anyone could view it – was not the best platform for it. We needed somewhere that was more discreet. At that point, I believe I suggested a podcast and Sex Advice for Seniors was born.

Friends of mine will know that I don’t do frivolous things just for the sake of it. My interest in sex goes way back, and I have more experience than most when it comes to that particular recreational activity. Being impulsive, I also tend to dive into things without giving them too much thought, only to realise that – yet again – I have taken on something which requires work. I’m not sure what Peter had in mind when he suggested the YouTube channel, but I suspect that it wasn’t taking on a full-time job but rather having a bit of fun and talking about one of his favourite topics.

They say in business, timing is everything, and in our case, this was undoubtedly true. I could never have imagined doing an interview for the Sun newspaper or the Independent about my sex life if had it not been for the Emma Thompson movie, Good Luck to you, Leo Grande. This happens to be about a 55-year-old woman never having had an orgasm and paying a male sex worker to support her sexual voyage. It was released the same week as our first podcast, and I suddenly found that I was an easy go-to spokesperson when talking about sex over 60. We had our first one hundred subscribers within a week, and we were off!

Sex Advice for Seniors is dedicated to addressing all older people’s questions about sex and relationships, which often those same people don’t know how or who to ask. Peter and I discuss issues around sex and the older person in a witty, open and respectful way. Sex is still taboo as I suspect many people, especially younger ones, find the idea of older people still doing it a bit ‘ick.’ I know it is divisive within the Advantages of Age Facebook group. Some people seem relieved and happy to be free of any responsibility from having sex now that procreation is off the table. In contrast, others are still enthusiastic and enjoy an active sex life. And many would like to find a partner and struggle with doing so.

Since we’ve started, we’ve tackled various subjects, from how to keep desire alive within a long-term relationship to why men over 50 should pay for sex, which came about as a result of an interview with a 59-year-old American ‘courtesan.’ Nothing is off the table, including using sex toys, various types of lubricants and pharmaceuticals such as Viagra.

We believe there’s a place for every point of view and are keen to develop a dialogue with our listeners. We would love it if they would contact us with suggestions or questions or participate in the program. For example, our fifth and sixth episodes consist of an interview with an older ‘sex worker’ from the US who got in touch with us. We are always happy to interview people about

any related subject area.

Sex and concerns about sex remain central elements of the human experience even in older age. We would like to make this the place where older people can discuss any concerns they might have, share their experiences, pick up tips and even make connections with others. We would like Sex Advice for Seniors to become the go-to-place for those who recognise that the adventure of sex does not end with age but can ripen and become even better.

Launching our TikTok channel was my idea after a friend whose business is helping older people to grow their awareness using this particular form of social media encouraged me. My son, who also works in digital marketing, suggested that our special quirkiness would appear to TikTok’s users. And he was right.

Within a week, we had over half 1 million views of one of our videos, which took Peter and me entirely by surprise as it was simply a minute of us talking about, well, not very much. But it seems on TikTok that being old, sitting in bed talking about not very much is all you need to become an influencer these days. We are enjoying our newfound fame and joking that perhaps they’ll come a time when we get mobbed walking down the street. Oh, look, those two oldies talk about sex in bed!

So far, we’re having a lot of fun making our podcast and TikTok videos. With the benefit of knowing and understanding each other sexually, it’s a real turn-on. Let’s face it, talking about sex is sexy!

You can subscribe to our podcast here.

You can find us on TikTok here.

Our Big Cruise Adventure


1 Minute Read

Having dragged my 68-year-old ‘bestie’ Maz, a cruise virgin, on the Carnival’s latest party boat, aptly named The Mardi Gras – I was, I’ll admit, nervous about how she would take to being on the water with so many merry American cousins, all of whom seemed hell-bent on eating huge portions, drinking like Falstaffians and then collapsing onto the super-reinforced sunbeds on deck 18 (the one where no children were allowed).

She took to it like a duck.

Not that getting to that point had been easy. Two years of lockdown and uncertainty meant that our Big Cruise Adventure had been delayed repeatedly. It had started with me being on a Marketing Cruise in 2019 which sailed out of Long Beach, California and down the west coast of Mexico for seven days of fun in the sun. I’d noticed that the stream of seminars I was attending didn’t look as fun as the rowdy hoots of laughter emanating from the Piano Bar every night. It turned out that the ‘Piano Barbarians’ – aptly named – spent most of the day snoozing and boozing and then were up half the night singing along with some very entertaining pianist/vocalists in the ship’s main Piano Bar.

So I had signed us up, figuring that there was no hope if I didn’t know enough about marketing after two cruises.

Finally, with the help of Maribeth Kring, our ‘Cruise Mom’ – we had booked to sail out of Tampa and around the Gulf of Mexico in January 2022. I managed to secure a reasonably priced ticket with BA, including three nights in the Sirata Beach Hotel on the famous St Pete’s Beach reef strand.

It looked idyllic. I was packed two weeks early, flippers, mask – the lot. Got our tickets, our ESTA renewals, and paid for a pre-flight antigen test to get into the USA plus to have another test just before boarding the cruise liner.

But then there was this Covid variant called Omicron and 48 hours before departure, Maz tested positive. It was all cancelled, yet again. I didn’t even have the heart to unpack.

The next possibility was in May, so with a deep breath we signed up.

That’s how we eventually found ourselves, after queuing for hours at Gatwick and then queueing even longer at Orlando immigration for ‘aliens’, finally cracking open a bottle of chilled Californian white on the balcony of our hotel room in Cocoa Beach, overlooking the surf on one side and a very attractive pool on the other.

I hadn’t wanted to go anywhere near the ‘Magic Kingdom’ – or any of the other theme parks, so Cocoa Beach was a great alternative to the other Orlando hotels. The Beachside Hotel and suite was reasonable, friendly and they threw in a substantial continental breakfast which, being American, was a buffet large enough to feel an entire continent rather than a couple of weary travellers.

After a few hours circling the small island brimming with tropical flowers while my bottom was wedged firmly in a large inflatable tyre, I was ready to party. The ‘lazy river’ current gently nudged me around, but every time I tried to extricate myself from the inner tube, it shot me past the steps and back into the flow. I only escaped when I got so wrinkly I could slip out.

Maz, meanwhile, wanted to dip her toes in the surf. Walking a few minutes down to the beach, it looked like a scene from Baywatch, but no sign of David Hasselhof. There were red flags up, so we decided to visit Nolan’s Irish pub on 204 West Cocoa Beach Causeway for a spot of folk-singing and a bite to eat.

Their fish and chips were spectacular, and we spent two evenings ‘home from home’ enjoying great music and ambience. Scottish comedian and singer JJ ‘Hamish’ Smith had us in hysterics with his very unPC rendition of Old MacDonald’s Farm, where all the animals had special needs, including a sheepdog with Tourette’s.

Another welcome discovery was the Poke Fin café on the corner of East Cocoa Beach Causeway and North Atlantic Avenue, where the seafood and salads were fresh and tasty. Sitting there, watching all the surfers drifting in and out of Ron Jon’s palatial Surf Shop on the main boulevard, was entertainment in itself.

After more Covid antigen tests, we finally boarded The Mardi Gras.

If you’ve never been on a cruise, you are in for a treat. Always book a balcony cabin if you get sequestered into your cabin with Covid. We slept with our doors wedged open to take advantage of the fresh sea air and switched off the air-conditioning unit.

Our cruise took us to sea for three days which gave plenty of time to explore the massive liner and its many places to eat or be entertained. We joined up with the other Piano Barbarians for one memorable night with Carnival’s Number One performers, the amazing Eden Parker, who performed for six hours without a sheet of music.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

Then we arrived at a different port of call. First, San Juan in Puerto Rico, fantastic museum and picturesque walk through the old city. Next was Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, where we joined an excursion to a private beach villa for lunch and a swim in the clear sea waters. Our final stop was at Grand Turks and Cacaos, where the samba band was on the pier to greet us.

At first, I felt guilty about descending on these Caribbean islands, so severely hit by natural disasters and then Covid lockdown, which killed the tourist trade on which they rely. But they seemed genuinely thrilled to see the big ships coming in to drop anchor once again, bringing badly needed dollars to their economies.

We saw a lot on the excursions, had some delicious gourmet meals as they are all-inclusive on The Mardi Gras, and enjoyed excellent entertainment every night. Still, neither of us visited the huge onboard Casinos where people sat for hours, smoking, drinking, and playing the slot machines with religious fervour.

There were big cash prizes on offer, but for me, the best prize was having a week away, soaking up the sun, relaxing without family or small grandchildren much as I love them, and being able to sleep like a log every night, rocked by the sound of the waves. We had a cabin on a lower deck which was cheaper and also closer to the ocean … perfect.

The incredible beauty of cruising is that you are transported from one adventure to the next in comfort and every new morning brings a unique experience.

Once you’ve boarded through their smooth running, speedy boarding processes, then unpacked your suitcase and hung up your clothes in the ample wardrobe or drawer space, that’s it. Your cabin becomes a ‘home from home for the time you are away, with an experienced and very obliging cabin attendant who’s just at the push of a button to help with any problems you may have.

The USA has a culture of tipping at 20% for everything. Still, on the cruise, you have the option of paying for tips upfront and never carrying money, just your ‘on-cruise’ personal card on a thong around your neck, for paying for any of the additional treats that aren’t part of the all-inclusive package deal.

The in-cabin TV keeps you informed of all the many events going on all over the ship, and some companies put a paper copy of the day’s itinerary under your door. When you meet new friends, exchange cabin numbers and then use notes or What’s App to arrange a rendezvous at one of the many gourmet restaurants, bars or coffee shops on board.

The entertainment on board is fantastic – top-notch singers, dancers and musicians go on a rota from one set to another. Most people discover their favourites and then follow them around the ship to enjoy their performances. Some are smaller-scale individual shows, for example, in the Comedy Bar, and others are full-scale productions that, combined with digital projection and special effects on a huge scale in their theatres – which seat over 2,000 people – would give some West End shows a run for their money.

Other activities to enjoy are the communal dance sessions on the main deck – sometimes line-dancing, sometimes salsa, always good fun to watch even if you don’t feel like participating.

You settle your ‘on board’ bill the night before you dock back at the final destination and leave your suitcase outside your cabin door for collection by midnight. The next morning, you wave goodbye to your ‘home from home’ cabin and your attendant, go for a leisurely breakfast and then leave by the same gangway that just one week earlier seemed like taking a yellow brick road to Oz and the unknown, but now transports you back to the real world.

Until the next cruise, that is.

AofA People – Wendy Klein – Poet, Psychotherapist


6 Minute Read

Widely published and winner of many prizes, 80-year-old Wendy Klein is a retired psychotherapist, born in New York and brought up in California. Since leaving the U.S. in 1964, she has lived in Sweden, France, Germany and England.

Her writing has been influenced by early family upheaval resulting from her mother’s death, her nomadic years as a young single mother and subsequent travel.

Despite dashing about between four daughters and fourteen grandchildren, she has published three collections: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013) from Cinnamon Press, and Mood Indigo (2016) from Oversteps Books. She is one of AofA’s favourite poets and we have republished some of her brilliantly taboo and lush poems. She was one of our poets at the AofA poetry evening at the Poetry Society in 2019.

What is your age?

80

Where do you live?

I live in Lindfield Rural, West Sussex.

What do you do?

I write poetry and emails and share care of my youngest grandchildren, 6 and 4.

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

I hate being old. I hate everything about it: the body changes, the reduced strength and energy, the way people treat me. 80 is the worst it has been so far.

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

Constipation, arthritis, widow’s hump, osteoporosis, anxiety, too many clothes I no longer wear, a garden way too big to manage, and four daughters who love me in different ways and constantly put me right. However, I do have a wonderful 3rd husband (together since 1979, married in 1983), who just about manages to put up with my worst grumpiness with love and a sense of humour.

What about sex?

Rare, but good when it happens. At our age and married this long, probably unusually good, judging from experience as a family and couples psychotherapist.

And relationships?

I have always found relationships difficult. As an only child who lost her mother as a result of an illegal abortion at 9 months old, I was brought up by my grieving maternal grandparents until I was 5 years old and my father remarried. I believe that only children are disadvantaged from the start in terms of forming relationships with their peers, and that was certainly the case for me. My father was an English teacher who hated his job, did it poorly, which meant we moved house every three years when he didn’t receive tenure. The battle to make friends began each time anew. I was always the odd one out, never felt accepted, etc. etc. It didn’t help that my grandparents expected me to grow up to be like my clever, kind mother, and I did not – felt a sense of being a constant disappointment – fight it to this day. Have a general mistrust of people in relationships despite many years of being in and out of therapy and being a jobbing therapist myself.

How free do you feel?

Not even sure what that means. Nice to have enough money and a few people with whom I can be relaxed and happy.

What are you proud of?

Having survived a terrible childhood, leaving the country of my birth with a two-year-old child and never going back there to live. Managing to be a single parent because parenting was bound to be difficult as I had received so little reliable parenting myself. I am certainly proud of my daughters, who have survived being mothered by me, and have good relationships in their lives.

What keeps you inspired?

Not sure I believe in inspiration. I get ideas from what is around me, what I am reading, people I engage with, and I write about them, and sometimes I’m pleased with what I’ve written, more often I’m not. I love sunsets, dogs, wine, gin, popcorn, rare steak (I know, I know, so un-green), etc. I think the one thing that keeps me going is being curious enough to wonder whether something interesting, even something enjoyable, might come up if I just hang on a little longer.

When are you happiest?

I am very suspicious of the word happy – rarely use it. I am at peace with myself mostly when I am alone with a good book, and if the sun is out, that’s good, too.

And where does your creativity go?

Mostly nowhere, but if it’s going, it goes into my poetry. I am failed actor, a failed dancer, but not quite a failed writer.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Not sure I have a philosophy of living – pretty basic survival. I am afflicted with a socialism of the heart, but I no longer believe in socialism as a viable way of living. I have lived collectively in two communities which have fallen apart. We are too selfish to achieve that ideal world I read about and admired when I first left the US and came to live first in Sweden, then in France and Germany. England seemed so civilised when I arrived here in 1971. And now, I am so saddened by what I see in front of me that I will never live to see a functioning left-wing Labour government. I guess I’m a disappointed idealist…

And dying?
I am not afraid of death, but I am worried about the process of dying. I support physician-assisted death. I have written a series of poems about a dear friend in California who availed herself of the California physician-assisted death plan when she was terminally ill and in horrible pain from a rare form of uterine cancer. After much surgery, chemo, etc., she was not prepared to accept palliative care, and I was with her 100% and would not want it myself. I think it is barbaric that we do not have medically assisted dying legalised in this country, so it’s always keep an overdose handy, my motto. Most of all, I fear losing my wits – I hope I know in time to take the tabs!

Are you still dreaming?
Sure, but mainly troubled dreams: bit of wish fulfilment and anxiety – nothing much fun.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
Goodness, what’s outrageous these days! Great sex and cannabis? All part of marital bliss.

 

DOO EN DAY (conversación de duende)

The hypothesis that the endogenous group of disorders would be relatively independent of prior life stress was

not confirmed.  Women who had lost a parent in infancy or early childhood were significantly more likely to suffer

from depression in later life.

(The Camberwell Collaborative Depression Study, 1988)

 

No tengo duende

I dont have duende

He perdido duende

I have lost my duende

He perido mi madre cuando tenía ochos meses

I lost my mother when I was eight months old

No me recuerdo de ella

I dont remember her

AYEEEEEEEEEEEE

El dolor the word for pain is masculine in Spanish

ayeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Tristeza the word for sadness is masculine or feminine in Spanish

ayeeeeeeeeeeeeee

La pena the word for sorrow is feminine in Spanish

Ayeeeeeeeeeeeee

El Duende (pronounced Doo En Day) the word for ghost or spirit is masculine in Spanish

Hacer la conexión Make the connection

I cannot have it; it is not mine to have

AYEEEEEEEEEEEE

No tengo duende

Wendy Klein

June 2022

 

My Mother


1 Minute Read

Valerie Blumenthal, is a critically-acclaimed novelist and author of ten books – her first four were published by Harper Collins and a further four were published by Sceptre/Hodder & Stoughton.  Sadly, she was diagnosed with Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA), a rare form of Alzheimer’s affecting the visual, motor and spatial parts of the brain.  More recently, PCA has rendered her illiterate – which, to quote her, is a cruel trick to play on a writer.  Using voice recognition software, she has just published her memoirs Please Remember Me As I Was about living with PCA, which are now available to purchase on Amazon from here.

The year was 2012. My eighty-nine-year-old mother was terminally ill with Parkinson’s and dementia.

It is a mild, spring day, and my mother and I are circling around the garden at a snail’s pace. She leans heavily on a walking frame, gripping it
so tightly from the effort that the veins of her fingers protrude like claws. She had such beautiful hands once; long, elegant fingers without a blemish.

As we walk I point out various things which might be of interest to her: the red kite in the distance; buds that had burst into flower overnight; the clacking sound of a disturbed pheasant. She disregards my efforts.

“I want to go home now,” she tells me. “It’s a very long way home.”

I do not contradict her. Slowly, painfully, we re-trace our steps.

Back indoors I settle her in her usual chair, and she slumps into it, as though she has just completed a marathon. Absently, I glance at the large clock on the kitchen wall; I had bought it for her a few months previously, to enable her to read it more easily; now, however, I found that I was unable to decipher any of the digits. Only by squinting was I finally able to tell the time. It remains etched in my memory: 12:10. Had that been the beginning?

Disconcerted I made tea for us both, and switched on the television for my mother. She was staring at me in a strange manner, as though she were troubled by something.

Ignoring the television, she continued to gaze at me, frowning in that same, assessing manner. Then, in a lucid, gentle tone, she said, “Darling, I do hope you’re not getting the same illness that I’ve got”.

I was stunned. What had prompted this remark? Had I said or done anything stupid, without my realising it? She and I had always been exceptionally close; had she sensed something in my demeanour? Had the remark been prescient in some way? I shall never know.

There is so much I remember about my mother: her beauty, of course; her kindness; her humour; her wisdom; her pride in me when I became a published novelist; and – much more recently – her stoic bravery when my father, the only man she had ever loved, died. He had been a brilliant, charismatic man, of great intellect and humour.

I commented to her one day that she had not cried.

“I can’t cry. I have never been able to cry.” She tried to explain. “I was brought up to have a stiff upper lip, and not to talk about my feelings. It was a different era then.”

We played dominoes together, and snakes and ladders. I bought her a writing pad, so she could write about her feelings; but it remained untouched. I watched her condition deteriorate. One day I broached the subject of death: did she believe in anything? Was she afraid at all, I had asked her?

“Oh no darling,” she replied, with conviction, “I shall see your daddy again and everyone I love.”

It gives me such comfort to know that she had not been afraid.

It has only just struck me that I have a kind of affinity with my mother: we have both experienced dementia, and I recognise myself in her. If anything, I feel even closer than I did when she was alive. I understand her. I know what she went through. I hope I can be as stoic as she was.

In the earlier stages of her illness, I used to see her at least four times a week and I would phone her twice a day. On the other days, I had organised for a carer to come. I recall an amusing incident: I had phoned in the morning, to speak to her; the carer had passed the telephone to my mother, then left us to it. “I can’t talk now,” came my mother’s surprisingly youthful voice, sounding agitated. “I’m very busy.”

“Oh”, I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’m sorry to disturb you; what are you doing”

“I’m selling the house,” my mother said. At this point, she was in her usual chair and was watching television.
I thought quickly: “I mustn’t disturb you then.” I paused. ”Are you by any chance watching one of those interesting property programs,” I asked. “Yes darling,” she affirmed, “it’s really interesting, I must go.” And she hung up.

A day after this little incident, my mother requested that I read to her. The book that she asked for was one of my own and had been her favourite. I made her comfortable and started to read. I stopped, almost immediately. The words were dancing before my eyes, like witches. I knew the beginning by heart and began again. I made another attempt, but the same thing happened. I could not read a word. What was happening to me? I could not read my own novel, which had once meant so much to me.

Meanwhile, my mother had fallen asleep anyway.

GHOSTS

In this soulless place of lost dreams
and fragmented memories,
these are the ghosts of my future,
from which there is no escape.
With gentle cruelty the past nudges me.
Your turn soon, it whispers.
Trembling fingers, like broken wings,
stretching out for help:
What’s wrong dear? What do you want?
The ghost does not reply. It wants too much.
Most of all it yearns for youth.
And in this sterile place of lost dreams and blank faces, the television plays on and on and on without remorse. But from a far corner of the room comes a faintest of stirs; I notice, then, the tiny, wizened, figure; a smile flickers on the edge of her lips, like a tiny beacon.
For a moment it seems as though
she is embraced by a halo of light.
Is she remembering the many times she lay in a damp, coital pleasure, and she would turn to him beside her, with illuminated eyes?
Then the light dims,
and the ghost of my future tiptoes away.

AofA People: Janet Kelly – Writer


7 Minute Read

Janet Kelly, 61, is a writer and started writing novels in her 50s. She has four published books as well as a number of scripts in development. She tells us how much she’s enjoying her life in her early sixties. And answers our Q&A in the way we love with long and meandering answers.

Where do you live?

Brighton

What do you do?

Writer

How do you feel about being this age?

I am thoroughly enjoying being this age, never having really thought I’d make it this far. I’m still in awe of the fact I am in my sixties and having a good time. It’s like joining a secret club where the admission fee is age and experience. There are the occasional lapses of memory and physical limitations – I have been aiming to run a half marathon but my knees gave up – but these are probably more down to an excessive lifestyle than my years on this planet.

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

The confidence to be who I am and grow into myself without worrying what other people think. For example, I grew my hair out during lockdown and am now completely grey, and loving it – particularly after years of constant trips to the hairdressers to get the roots coloured. I’m embracing the opportunity to be as natural as possible.

I do have a constant nagging feeling that time is very short but I was born with a sense of urgency so I think older age has just enhanced my need to go and do things.

I do also feel a sense of wisdom about life and people. We’re all experiencing the world in different ways and tolerance is so important (not that I always have it!). My view isn’t anyone else’s view and so I think age has helped me try and understand we are all different and need to celebrate that fact – every single person has something to offer.

What about sex?

What about it?  Highly overrated in many ways and a mechanic of nature to get us to reproduce. Once the hormones are out of the way and we can see it as a pleasure to be taken as and when, rather than an overriding drive to find a mate, it can become a pleasure amongst many other pleasures rather than the bee all and end-all.  True intimacy can come from great friendship, hugs, empathy, and connection. It can include sex but doesn’t have to.

And relationships?

I treasure my good friends and look forward to living a long life with all of them so we can continue to look backwards as well as forwards. As I’ve got older, I recognise that no one person can fulfil any emotional need, this comes from personal growth and connection with a range of different types of people. Romantic relationships aren’t as important, probably for the same reasons already mentioned – once that need to reproduce is removed from the biological psyche the options for finding fulfilment expand exponentially.  Having said that I am far more tolerant in my relationship with my partner than I might have been 20 years ago and enjoy the small levels of companionship and partnership rather than the big gestures.

How free do you feel?

I am very lucky to feel free in most ways, partly because of the accident of birth and living in the UK with all it has to offer – not least its amazing language and diversity – but also because things that used to worry me no longer keep me awake. We’re here for a very short time and all of us, very likely, will be dead in 100 years. This is a sobering thought and makes me look at all those who are striving for great wealth and power with pity. The real secret to success is the ability to enjoy the life we have at whatever level we experience it.

What are you proud of?

Many things but mainly my children and particularly my grandson – it is a different relationship to being a parent. On a personal level, I am proud of overcoming adversity and difficulties and finding the ability to keep reinventing myself. I started writing novels in my 50s and have four published books – one for children – and a number of scripts that I have written since turning 60 that are in development. I am now following a career that I should have started in my 20s had I not been influenced by a need to chase the dollar.

What keeps you inspired?

As an eternal optimist, I think it is the fact that my next ‘big project’ is around the corner and that there are limitless opportunities to become involved with things I love.  I enjoy connecting with creative people who have energy and drive, and who make things happen. I am inspired to be part of that.

When are you happiest?

Walking my dogs on the seafront or meeting friends for coffee and talking about what we will be doing in our older age. I live near the sea and it always calms my mind and reminds me that we are all in this together. The sea has always been there and always will be – while people come and go.  I love doing new things – such as taking my husband for a spitfire flight experience, which was just awesome, all that history and incredible engineering.

I also love gardening and get very excited when new shoots arrive in the spring or I get to pick some homegrown vegetables. Seeing a new runner bean or courgette is like Christmas!  My chickens also make me happy as they are very much underestimated.

Where does your creativity go?

I have really started to enjoy my creativity in recent years, starting with my writing and then moving into art and music. I started up the Saltdean Jazz Band where I live which is aimed at amateur musicians who might not be able to play anywhere else as they are either rusty, don’t know enough about music or lack confidence. I play the saxophone and finally have a place to develop my musical creativity, getting more involved with solo improvisation which I find exceptionally hard but exhilarating. More recently I have been undertaking art classes and put myself forward to have my body painted by an artist as part of a campaign to get women to love the bits they hate.

Rather than hide my blobby tummy and cellulite I think it is time I celebrated the fact it is all a result of my life experiences and need to be recognised. Not only that, my body works – it does its jobs – and I’ve been very rude to it over the years. It’s time to apologise to it for being the workhorse it has been and say thank you. Without it, I’d be nothing.

What is your philosophy of living?

Do the best you can with the resources you have. You won’t always get it right but somewhere along the way there will be nuggets of gold that make the journey more than worthwhile. I get up every day looking forward to something – whether it is collecting eggs from the chickens or preparing for a walk, a holiday or a major work project. Time shouldn’t be wasted – and by that, I don’t mean we can’t sit and dream for hours on end because that is not a waste!

And dying?

It happens. For some, it happens far too early, particularly for those left behind. For some, it happens in horrendous circumstances and for others, it is just the last breath, the full stop.  I hope my end falls into the latter but I’m aware we have no idea of what might be meant for us. So don’t waste time worrying about the next stage. It will come when it’s ready.

Are you still dreaming?

Without my dreams, I’d have achieved nothing. I spend time before I go to sleep each night dreaming of what might be.  Some dreams are possible, others a little more unrealistic. Although I’m not one to ever say ‘never’.

What is a recent outrageous action of yours?

I got so drunk on my 61st birthday that I fell over, cut my head badly, and was taken to hospital in a pizza van. I still have the scar which I wear with a kind of pride that the consequences weren’t much worse. I was more upset that we lost my birthday cake. We think the seagulls ate it.

Letting go of 40 years’ worth of family memories


1 Minute Read

Over the past couple of years, I have had to share – with my partner, sister and other family members – the grim and heart-breaking task of clearing our parents’ house, selling it and saying goodbye to well over 40 years of memories. My father bought it as a plot of land, so it has only ever had our family living in it – until last summer.

Dismantling my parents’ lives and all that they had built up together over so many years has caused me actual physical pain. Despite never having lived in the house, I felt our family’s history seeping from every wall. I was incredibly protective towards it; particularly after my mother had to go into a care home, and the house was standing empty for most of the week. I hated having to leave it every time we stayed there. It felt as though I was abandoning it, and my parents with it (although my dad died 23 years ago), and I would often cry for most of the two-hour journey home. My only consolation is that our buyers are a young couple, keen to put down roots and, most likely (I’m guessing), want to start a family. The place needs another family and all the new life that brings. The last few years have been undeniably sad and tough for us all.

I cried, too, when I saw the skip on the drive for the first time. We had to hire three altogether. It took two solid weekends to clear the garage, shed, loft and airing cupboard alone, never mind any of the actual rooms. When I hired someone to help clear the house of the larger items of furniture in the final week, he had just the one day free that week. He said he had been manically busy, as had all house clearance/van hire people, because of the stamp duty holiday and easing of lockdown rules. This was also the reason why so many of the charities we tried couldn’t take our things. They were overrun with surplus items. The world and his wife, it seemed, had been having massive clear outs during lockdown.

I cried some more when I saw the boxes and boxes of brand-new, never-been-taken-from-their-wrappers Christmas decorations. Mum had obviously bought them (when?), then someone (who?) had put them away in the loft for her. She must have forgotten about them. But she was clearly ordering for a big family Christmas – the kind we used to have, when our grandparents and other family members came to stay, and when friends and neighbours dropped by. I gave some away to the kind next-door neighbours who had been keeping an eye on the place for us when we weren’t there and also to our lovely gardener who was a huge help to us in so many ways. It broke my heart to see them all. She must have spent a small fortune on them; no doubt from one of the many colourful catalogues that dropped through the letterbox on an almost daily basis; her link to the outside world (she couldn’t manage a computer, or even a mobile phone, for which, with all the clever scams about, I was heartily thankful). I suspect half the attraction for her was being able to speak to someone on the other end of the line. I hope they understood this and were patient with her.

We tried putting the bigger and better items from the house at the top of the drive for people to take (again, a lot of them were unused and still in their original packaging) and some of them went very quickly. The rest had to go back on the skip, or to charity. My sister’s friend helpfully put ads on a local ‘free’ website and we managed to pass on a lovely big armchair and matching footstool that way. (We all liked it, but none of us had room in our respective homes for it.) The woman who came to pick it up had had a stroke and was walking with a stick. She was very grateful for the chair, and for a couple of other useful items she rescued from the skip.

Someone else came by and asked if we had any houseplants. As it happened, we had ten, all bought by me in an attempt to make the place look lived-in, and I was planning on bringing them all back home with me, then decided I could probably live without most of them, so he walked away with six plants for his wife. He told me he had been living in South Africa for 12 years but decided to return home for his children’s sake. He wanted a better education and life for them and it was getting very dangerous out there, he said.

Another man came in to see what bits and pieces of crockery were going begging, saying he was getting them for his daughter, who he and his wife were now living with. Their son had been killed in a road accident on the nearby bypass just a year before and it had made them look at things in a different light. They were living in a seven-bedroom house at the time, with four cars on the drive. He said he had had 47 pairs of jeans and about a hundred Ralph Lauren shirts! After letting the family take what they wanted, he and his wife walked out of the house with just one bag of belongings each – and that was it. He looked so sad as he was telling me all this, I really wanted to hug him, but couldn’t (Covid).

Being an avid reader myself, I looked more closely at the books that summed up my parents’ lives. Typical of their generation, there was no internet and Google, of course, and so the bookshelves were filled with huge, hefty tomes of advice and information on gardening, family health, cookery, the Royal Family, travel (just how many books on France and Italy did we need?!) and sport (mostly rowing, golf and cricket, which were my dad’s interests). There were encyclopedias and atlases, bibles galore (and we’re most definitely not a religious family), and sensibly, useful books and pamphlets on making a will and what to do when someone dies.

Having come from a wartime background of ‘Make do and mend’ my parents kept their furniture for decades. There was the 1950s oak sideboard they bought when they were first married. The big, very old family bureau that I’m hoping will stay in the family, though nobody appears to have the room, is temporarily residing in my sister’s living room at her small flat. I know my mother wanted it kept in the family. A few more, smaller items of furniture we managed to share between us without any argument. Oh, yes – ahem – there’s also the very old oak dining table and chairs my grandparents bought at auction a very, very long time ago. I looked and looked and looked at it over the weeks and months we stayed in the house and finally decided I just couldn’t let it go, so I paid quite a bit of money to have it transported from the house to my own house, where it now resides in the already-rammed-full home office at the bottom of the garden, as there is no room for it anywhere else. I used to enjoy dusting and polishing its chubby, curved legs whenever I stayed with my beloved grandparents. There are so many memories of happy family meals around that table. Though who’s going to have it after I’ve gone is anybody’s guess. (Maybe I’ll have stopped caring by then. I do hope so. It’s exhausting and debilitating, carrying around all this emotional baggage.)

However, surprisingly, despite it being very trendy and sought-after in certain quarters, few people were interested in the G-Plan furniture my parents collected from the 60s and 70s. It was in excellent condition, considering its age (unlike the rest of us), but we were paid a fraction of its worth to have it taken away. It had to go. Though I found an old label for how to put one of the items together, and I’ve kept it, so there. (You see how difficult all this has been for someone like me?!)

There were LPs galore: musicals and big band sounds, James Last, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Andy Williams and Simon and Garfunkel. Plus many more. The musical history of our family.

There were countless letters and cards to wade through, postcards both used and unused, newspaper clippings, local theatre programmes and brochures for stately homes and gardens visits and, as one who likes to keep these things myself, it has made me see the utter pointlessness of doing so. Have I ever looked at any of mine again? No. Will I, in the next ten or 20 years? Unlikely. I suppose the answer would be to collate the highlights into scrapbooks but, again, who else would be interested in seeing those?

The ancient family bible, dated 1817, is so huge and so heavy. I was hoping somebody else in the family would want it, but no, it’s landed on my dining table, along with a lot more stuff I have yet to wade through, so I guess it’s mine until I can pass it on to whoever in my family would like it. That’s the problem with not having children. I don’t have anybody to pass all my toot and tat on to, aside from my niece and nephew, and I doubt very much they will welcome it with open arms when the time comes!

Something they might be interested in, though, is my maternal grandfather’s diaries. Unfortunately, he didn’t keep diaries every year – or, if he did, they’ve long gone – but I brought home the ones dating 1934 to 1941 (though not consecutive, unfortunately –whatever happened to those?) and have found them riveting reading. I’ve learned an awful lot I didn’t know about my own family and my partner, on reading them, said that he felt he knew my grandad really well, despite never having met him. There’s lots about the war, of course: rationing, hiding under the table in the kitchen when bombs were being dropped rather too close for comfort and there’s a mention of lots of planes flying overhead one night, which, it turned out, were on their way to bomb the hell out of Coventry. Family and work-related news is in there. They all enjoyed going to the local cinema, and cycled everywhere in the surrounding countryside to visit relatives and friends. The weather is mentioned quite a bit, and it’s not nearly so dull as it sounds. If only he hadn’t written most of it in pencil, though, bless him.

Don’t get me started on the photos. Boxes and boxes, suitcases, albums and bags of them galore – often duplicated, just to add to the confusion. Some of them have careful and helpful explanations and identifications on the back, but many don’t. I study their faces for clues. The houses and gardens in the background. The fashions of the day. Someone in the family has attempted to begin the family tree on my mother’s side, but I’m still no wiser as to who half the people are in the photographs. My sister, panicking at the encroaching completion deadline, threatened to hurl boxes of slides on to the skip, without going through them first, which I thought unwise, so, guess what? They are my own house now, along with the bulky projector to view them with. And I still haven’t looked at them.

There were way too many drinking glasses – who needs that many?! We weren’t a family of drinkers. Nor did we give frequent parties. I don’t know what was going on, there. The local charity shops have got very picky, these days, and will only take full sets, now, so the rest had to go into recycling.

We had a caravan in the 1970s and, yes, right at the back of one of the kitchen cupboards we found a very bright yellow melamine set of plates and mugs and bowls – the ones we used when we were away. But I’m not keen on bright yellow, and nobody else seemed to want them, so they also went to a charity shop.

There were sets of pristine, unused bedding, blankets and towels. After a bit of research and a few phone calls, we were able to take a lot of those to a local homeless shelter. Again, though, even those places were a bit sniffy about what they were prepared to take, which surprised us. And the tea-towels! I said to my partner: ‘Who the hell needs so many tea-towels?!’ When I was back in my own home, I opened the drawers under the bed, where we keep spare linens, and guess what? There were about a hundred tea-towels lurking in there. I sorted through them, kept my favourites and the rest (all unused, of course) went to charity. I do like a nice tea-towel, though – I’m drawn to them, then I put them away, because I don’t want to get them grubby. Sigh. Clearly, it runs in the family.

I have always thought having lots of storage is A Very Good Thing. Not any more. Having ample storage just means shoving lots of things away and never looking at them again and my parents’ small house was very well served with built-in cupboards in every room – sometimes more than one. All deep and all rammed to bursting.

A friend has just had her loft converted into another bedroom and bathroom, and has found she doesn’t miss the extra storage space at all. She says she prefers to have everything to hand; it makes for a much easier life and I can understand that one. It does force you to keep your belongings down and, as far as I’m concerned, this is my new Very Good Thing.

Another friend, who lives in a very small flat, pays storage rental for furniture that belonged to her parents, which she wants to keep but has no room for at the moment. She is currently looking for a larger flat.

This entire, painful, emotional exercise has been a salutary lesson in not hanging on to useless stuff we never even look at again. What is it all for?! All the old newspapers and leaflets commemorating some event or other, all carefully saved and filed neatly into plastic folders by my parents, ended up on the skip, or in the recycling bin, simply because there was no time to go through them all first. And that’s not including the boxes of papers and other items both my sister and I took to our respective homes to sort through. I have all my mother’s old diaries and address books and they, alongside 20 bursting carrier bags, are piled up on a bench in my kitchen – and have been for the past ten months – because every time I go to look through them, I start to cry. But I have mild OCD and I like my home to look good, so it’s a daily niggle for me and I know I have to get on with sorting it all out before an entire year has passed!

I really wish my parents had thought to clear out the loft, and other places, while they still could. Though, of course, nobody expects to have two strokes 12 years apart and die of the second (my dad); nor do they expect to end up physically disabled, and with dementia, in a home (my mother). The wardrobes upstairs were full of the clothes and shoes my mother ordered by phone (she couldn’t leave the house in the last few years), then never arranged to have them sent back when they didn’t fit her, or whatever – they all still had their labels on. Unable to leave the house at all, not even to go and sit in the garden, I’m not at all sure what she thought she was buying all these things for. And the cupboards downstairs were full of brand-new, expensive-looking china, more glassware, kitchen and beauty gadgets still in their boxes and a set of silver-plated cutlery with the receipt still in the box – over two hundred pounds, ouch. My theory is that, after spending most of her life being careful with money and making-do, she could finally afford to relax the purse-strings a little and spoil herself with the sorts of treats she would never have considered before. None of us knew about these things whenever we visited; nor about the unpaid cheques, bills and backlog of important paperwork, or we could have helped her with it all, of course.

The whole sorry process wasn’t helped by me being such a terrible sentimental hoarder. I wish I could have hardened my heart and just tipped the whole lot into the skip. But I couldn’t. In fact, I’m still haunted by what we chucked out and gave away and regret not keeping more, but our own house isn’t that big and is already very full. Sigh. My partner is just as bad: when it came to clearing his parents’ house, he took things to the local charity shop one day, and then went and bought them all back the next!

We had been enjoying regular takeaway Sunday roasts and other meals from the local village pub for some months, since they were able to reopen after lockdown. We wanted to support them. The first time we sat down  with our lovely lunches in front of us, wafting their appetising scent everywhere, I said to my partner: “I honestly cannot remember the last time a roast was cooked in this house.” Even my sister, who has a much better memory than me, couldn’t remember.

Then there was the garden: a riot of bloom and colour when my parents were fit and able, but sadly gradually deteriorating over the years. I was paying our regular gardener to come out every couple of weeks to keep it all in shape, and put new plants into the patio pots and in the borders, which were looking bare and unloved before. I was also keen to keep up appearances for security’s sake. To make the place look cared-for and occupied. Last year, at what turned out to be our last spring at the house, I found it particularly moving to notice all the bulbs emerging from the earth. My parents must have planted these and the garden will continue to flourish; oblivious, of course, as to who will be looking at the plants and flowers and taking care of them from here on. And so the cycle continues…

Saying goodbye to the lovely neighbours, our gardener and his wife and the dear elderly and very sprightly man who has lived in the same house in the village all his life and who very kindly took the bins out for us, and for various neighbours who couldn’t manage it themselves (and brought them back in again), was especially hard for me, although we have been invited to tea with all of them – an offer we haven’t been able to take up yet, as our trips to see Mum in the home take up the entire day, there and back. After so many years, it feels sad and strange to no longer have a base in the area. Like outcasts. Mum is unaware we have had to sell the house, and thinks it’s still ours, with all her things still in it, which makes for some very difficult conversations with her. It would be immensely distressing for her to learn the truth and I hope she never finds out. Naturally, she wants to go back there, which would have been impossible in any case, even if we had somehow been able to hang on to it.

A shout-out to my long-suffering partner, here. I don’t know many men who would have done what he did for me, over the past few years. All the driving (I don’t drive), the checking and fixing of things in the house and the uncomplaining support he gave me in so many ways, during what was easily one of the worst times of my entire life was over and above and beyond the call of duty. It continues, too, with our regular trips to see Mum in the home. He is a rare gem indeed.

I finally came off the anti-anxiety/depression/sleeping pills I had been taking to get me through all of it. I was crying every day, and barely sleeping for worrying about the place when we weren’t there. The funny, plain, ordinary, boxy little house that Dad had built had been a true haven, refuge and sanctuary for me over the years, and never more so than in the last two years of our ownership. I think he would have liked that, though I’m not so sure he would be so happy with, or approve of the way things have turned out. I hated that our last few weeks there were so stressful, fraught, panicky and emotional, and I’m still feeling wretchedly guilty, grief-stricken and regretful at what we threw into those skips, and gave away to charity and the neighbours – it haunts me every single day. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Mum. Though, as someone pointed out to me last year, I’d have most likely felt sad every time I looked at anything I’d kept. He said it’s not always healthy to be reminded. He has a point, though I have kept some things, of course. Just not everything.

And when I do think of what we had to leave behind, I find it helps me a little to imagine that at least some of those things belonging to our family are still residing in the area and, especially, in the village we loved and were very happy to call our home for so many years.

© Clare Cooper, 2022

Show me more
Surprise Me

Hear more from us

Subscribe to our newsletter