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A Fresh Start Post Redundancy


11 Minute Read

I moved to Canterbury in 2000 to take up the post of Head of Culture with the City Council.
When I was interviewed, I knew with absolute certainty that this was where I wanted to be,
what I wanted to do and who I would become. I got the job and I loved it with a passion. I
learned over time that I was an enabler. I had good ideas, I could bring people together, I
could develop projects and find investment for them, I could write policy and strategy, drive
change and influence decisions. I could make things happen. The job changed and grew and
so did I. It became who I was and vice versa. I lived and breathed it. It was work and play. It
was everything. Until it was deleted and I was made redundant.

In March of this year, I celebrated my 59th birthday. Nearly a decade earlier I’d reached
fifty filled with anticipation, excitement and threw an extravagant party. Five years later I
greeted fifty-five with a sense of satisfaction and optimism after a period of big
achievements at work. But from the moment I turned fifty-eight, I dreaded being fifty-nine.
I saw it as an unwelcome milestone, a drum roll sent to dramatically reveal the big 60,
glittering on the suddenly not-so- distant horizon. And I was very scared of being sixty.

It’s not that surprising. A year ago I was tired, jaded and close to burn out. I felt I was on the
brink of sliding non-stop into old age with a shorter temper, thinner hair and diminishing
energy. I was juggling a demanding job with caring for my increasingly frail parents. My
husband, Andrew, had recently lost his father. His mum, who lived 100 miles away, had
been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He himself lived with the after effects of late-
diagnosed Lyme disease. Anxious, stressed and pulled in several directions, I was feeling
less and less equipped to balance my personal life with my professional life and I could only
imagine it getting more difficult. I was sure something would break and thought it would
probably be me!

Then both our mothers died, sooner than we’d expected and within half a year of each
other. These two foundation-shaking events were devastating and eclipsed everything else
for me and Andrew. They stopped our world and put it on pause for a while, but as we
moved on and began to move forward, a new clarity emerged. Priorities shifted. The order
of things began to fall into place. I started to move with the flow rather than resisting it and
my eyes were opened to opportunity and change, though I can’t explain exactly how this
happened. I’d been seeing a counsellor for a few months, and she had certainly helped me
to reconsider my identity and to ask myself some starkly honest questions about me, my
work, my relationships and my future. When mum died, the loss helped me answer those
questions and put things in perspective. I’m sure it set off a chain reaction, because from
that moment, my life changed.

There had been talk of a senior management restructure at work for months. All of us on
the team knew there were big cuts to be made. I thought about it a lot. There were days
when I desperately wanted to be in the firing line, other days when I hoped I’d dodge the
bullet. Looking back, the very fact I was having those thoughts at all was an indication that it
might be time for me to go, but I didn’t fully recognise it.

Then, one chilly October morning, just three days after my mother’s funeral, I walked into
my boss’s office for a meeting about the proposed changes, fearing the worst, and I was
right. Yet despite the news that my post would be deleted in the new structure, our
conversation was positive and upbeat (all credit to my boss for that) and I walked out filled
with a sense of liberation.

When you face redundancy at this stage of your life it can be devastating. For some, like me,
what you do is who are - your identify is completely wrapped up with your work and status,
a key to how you see yourself and how other people perceive you and behave towards you.
Removing that piece of you is major surgery, and it’s life changing.

My first reaction to the news was fear. Of course it was. Suddenly you find yourself on a cliff
edge and you have to go forwards - to fly or fall. But that acute anxiety lasted only seconds,
then something else - excitable, unsure, but full of anticipation - bubbled up. I wanted to
physically jump for joy, right there in the Chief Executive’s office. He could see it happening
in front of his eyes. My boss had given me the opportunity to take my life back, and a few
months later, two days before my 59th birthday, I left my job of eighteen years and walked
out into a brave new world - scared, energised and ready for a fresh start.

My professional and personal passion is culture and the arts. I absolutely believe that it is a
transformational force. Culture can empower or enlighten a life at a deeply personal level,
or sweep in on a spectacularly grand scale, making and changing places for a moment or
forever. My work in this sector has been the motivating force in my life for 35 years, so how
could leaving it all behind excite me, thrill me, reboot me?

My early jobs, straight out of university, were in bookselling and the BBC. I loved those jobs
and knew I was privileged to have them, but I wasn’t ambitious in either. They were, I
suppose, moving me along a route to somewhere else, but I had no idea where that might
be and I didn’t really care. I remember the day that all changed, when a colleague told me
that a wonderful old cinema in Leeds, the second oldest in the country, was having to close
down. We hatched a plan to save it by organising a weekend festival to build public support
and raise money. The idea took root and started to grow - soon it had turned into a week -
long event, then two weeks. The council gave us £20k and persuaded a sponsor to match it.
That was a lot of money back in 1985 and expectations were high. Thankfully the festival
was a great success and the next year I left the BBC to run it full time. I thrived in that role
for eight years, nurturing the Leeds International Film Festival as though it were my child. I
suppose in many ways it was. It broke my heart to leave, but new opportunities beckoned,
leading an organisation in Glasgow that supported and developed young Scottish
filmmakers.

After that I moved back to my alma mater city, Manchester, to head up the northern
branch of BAFTA. My next job, working for the Arts Council in Newcastle, was a dream -
running the film, photography and literature department in an organisation that was
helping drive massive change through culture-led regeneration. Hundreds of million pounds
of investment transformed the Newcastle-Gateshead quayside; artist-led initiatives sprang
up and flourished; talent across all the art forms was nurtured, supported and given a local,
regional, national and international platform. They were exciting times and I witnessed, for
the first time, the power of the public sector, working with partners, to reimagine, redefine
and transform a city. I was completely inspired by this and wanted to spread the word, to
do the same, somewhere else.

Which was when I became Head of Culture at Canterbury City Council. We bid to be
European Capital of Culture, but quite rightly lost out to my home town, Liverpool. The bid,
however, created ambition and momentum and over the next ten years we attracted
millions of pounds of investment to the district. Culture transformed Canterbury, not least
with a fabulous new theatre and a restored, extended, art museum in the heart of the city.
Organisations thrived, festivals grew and new ones sprang up. Culture was placed right at
the heart of the council’s vision, and that was reflected in my changing role. For a while I led
on corporate communications alongside culture, and then a new department was set up
bringing economic development, tourism and culture together - a powerful mix that was a
catalyst for more change and investment. They were heady days, when anything seemed
possible.

But times change and so do politics. A new government brought austerity. Local councils
were portrayed as profligate and inefficient and made scapegoats for all of the world’s ills.
My job changed again and again. My focus now was saving money as our budgets were cut,
then cut again. And again. Investment in culture fell out of favour. This cycle is a normal part
of life in the public sector, but it took me further and further from the things I loved. And
those things - art, heritage, creative education, cultural industries, - needed fighting for
more than ever. Add my growing frustration to the fact that I was tired, genuinely burning
out, and it’s obvious why my redundancy turned into more of a silver lining than a cloud.
I know it isn’t like this for everybody. I’m in a fortunate position. Being over 55, my local
government pension was released when I was made redundant and even though its much
less than if I’d paid into it up to retirement age, it gives me a cushion and the means to live.

Many people facing a major life change like redundancy don’t have that, so I’ve a lot to be
thankful for. I do still need to work, but I can think about doing it differently now. Maybe
part time, maybe freelance. In that sense I’m lucky.

I feel in my gut that it’s time to go back to the cultural coal face, but though I’m full of
energy and ideas, I worry that my age will count against me and I won’t be as interesting a
proposition as a younger person, hungry, ambitious and determined to make a mark. Me,
thirty five years ago. I still am that person of course, with the advantage of a lifetime of
experience, but will others see that or just see an ageing facade? I honestly don’t know the
answer, but I’ll be finding out pretty soon.

In the meantime I’ve enrolled on a twelve month photography course. It’s been my ‘hobby’
since I was given a Nikon for my 21st birthday, but over the years (and several cameras
later), it’s been pushed into a mentally locked cupboard, waiting for a moment when I ‘have
more time’ - and now I do. I also get to spend more time with Andrew, with my dad, and
with my lovely bearded collies, Bella and Alice.

In terms of my professional life, I’m being proactive. I’ve accepted an invitation to join the
board of The Marlowe Theatre. I led the project to rebuild it and it’s been an important part
of my world for many years now, so I’m over the moon to be moving forward with it. To test
my freelance wings I’ve taken on a couple of pieces of pro bono work for small cultural
organisations. It’s a whole new way of working for me and though I’m not being paid, doing
this will help my CV, while I’m helping them. And - most exciting of all - I recently managed
a multimedia launch for my husband’s novel, Anatomised. It brought together some things
I’m passionate about - literature, promoting creativity, being an advocate for art that has
something important to say. The buzz of producing a successful public event is hard to beat,
particularly when it’s for something you’re so invested in. Afterwards I felt the seed of an
idea that’s not quite ready to bloom ...but I think that it might. For now it’s just
germinating, while I decide if it’s real or just wishful thinking. Again, I’ll find out if it’s got
legs soon enough.

I’ve also talked to friends and colleagues who have ideas about possible future projects and
opportunities, and I’m hoping one or two of them will bear fruit. If they don’t, I think there
will be others because I’m full of optimism again and for the first time in a long time, my
mind is completely open to opportunity and I’m excited to see where my road will lead next.
I’m also realistic enough to know that it might lead nowhere, and then I’ll return to that
germinating idea and try to build something right here.

Whatever happens - even if nothing happens - I can see now that over time, I lost myself in
my job. Losing it has helped me find myself again, and no matter what comes next, that has to be a
good thing.

AofA People: Alfie Thomas – Performer, Composer, Musician


3 Minute Read

Alfie Thomas plays the accordion and keyboards, sings backing vocals, and composes. Alfie was born in Middlesbrough to Belgian and Cockney parentage. He is a Soho resident and is part of the Society of Imaginary Friends.

What is your age?
60

Where do you live?
London

What do you do?
I am half of a creative partnership called the Society of Imaginary Friends, we write, record and perform music together, we write music for film and we hold two Soirees a month in Ealing and WoodGreen featuring the extraordinary talent of London's population our Ealing Soiree is held at the office where I work as a support worker for disabled people and their carers it is fully inclusive and inspiring. I have a boat on the river Thames which I escape too when my central London life gets too much.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
It is a mixture of feeling more relaxed and more urgent. I feel very involved in the current state of our city and country and world and try to reflect this in everything I do. I am starting to discover new things about myself that were hidden or lost and this is very exciting but quite challenging.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
A history!... An understanding of human nature and a healthy scepticism but a relaxed love of the moment.

What about sex?
Sex is getting better all the time.

And relationships?
I am blessed with a gorgeous, intelligent, talented Goddess as my girlfriend, I don't know what I have done to deserve this but it's brilliant and she never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

How free do you feel?
It depends what time of day or what time of year it is but generally because I feel closer to understanding myself I feel freer than I have ever felt before.

What are you proud of?
Proud of my music, I am proud of my children's and my girlfriend's resilience to the challenges of this world and our capacity to stay true to ourselves.

What keeps you inspired?
Humanity, my extraordinary clients... carers who have given everything to look after a family member completely selflessly. Beethoven and Shostakovich.

When are you happiest?
On stage, by the sea, composing. Walking the streets of Clerkenwell with Louise.

And where does your creativity go?
Into the ether.

What’s your philosophy of living?
Be kind to each other, be truthful, live adventurously but don't be naive.

And dying?
When I die there are a number of people that I am really looking forward to meeting and seeing again and others that I am going to be having some firm words with, generally I think it's going to be a fantastic party over the other side these words will come back to haunt me!!

Are you still dreaming?
Of course I am, my girlfriend and I always discuss our dreams her dreams are more lucid than mine, I can usually tell my psychological state by what I have dreamt the night before so it's a handy indicator.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
Putting my middle finger up at a motorcade as they passed my car which I presumed to be our Prime minister but was later told by a police motorcyclist that it was the president of China and he was very upset! The policeman let me off with a caution as he was unhappy with our Prime minister as well..

What The Weaver Knows by Wendy Klein


1 Minute Read

I’m not just any maiden lounging in the millefleurs,
there to bait the trap. On my canvas, invisible

to the innocent, fish knives gleam, wait to scale
your silver, crack open your heart. Listen;

there are rumours of drowning by metaphor:
the flicker of dance, the aspiration of flight,

the whale-bone squeeze that robs breath, moulds
flesh into enticement, promises nothing.

Embrace the rush of darkness, the drip and seep
of 4 AM when eyelids are peeled back, lashes bat

and flap, when the tick of the body is loudest
as light advances, twists, morphs, begins its birth trial:

crown of head, shoulders, the buttocks’ heart-cushion,
legs and feet, their twitch and kick built-in.

No I’m not just any maiden, there to bait the trap, a silly pawn
in some hunter’s game. It’s the beast I covet:

the arch of his back, his mane’s rough silk, the heave
of his white, white breast. Look out, for only the canniest

can break into the spiked circle, where I spell-spin;
a sucker for unicorns; not much of a lady.

Talking Co-Housing with Eve Tibber


6 Minute Read

Eve Tibber is a member of the Cannock Mill Co-Housing Project in Colchester. She's a member of the Advantages of Age FB Group and we decided to ask her a few questions because so many of our members are interested in co-housing.

Would be great if you could introduce yourself and what you do and the Co-Housing Project and your age and the age of the others.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my passion.

I am of French origin and a lecturer in Economics specialising in agro co-operatives. For the moment, I am living in Latin America waiting for the co-housing building to be built and retirement. It’s in Colchester and is called the Cannock Mill Co-Housing Project.

Our members

Our members are around retirement age. We all have lived full, active diverse lives and intend to carry on enjoying ourselves in the same way.

How were you introduced to the idea of Co-Housing?

From my background in Co-operative studies as well as my active interest in alternative movements from my late teens.

Do people confuse Co-Housing and Communes?

Yes, and with the gated community too. Communes, everything put in common, physical assets, work and sometimes more. It is managed by the commune Diggers and Dreamers.

Co-housing a mixture of private and common. Easier to define what is common because everything else is private. Common is the land we bought and maintain together, the Mill (our 'common house') where we can share occasional meals, entertainment and whatever we want to do and some shared utilities like a carpool, a bicycle pool a tool pool etc. Private is everything else we own - including our individual house or flat with its own front door.  Of course, we manage ourselves without any form of exterior administration.

Gated community are independent homes, with a sort of clubhouse attached to them, security at the gate and are managed by an agent without too much say from the people living there. Same for a retirement village.

What appealed to you and why now?

With my husband

Easy because for my husband and myself, after a lifetime of living abroad, we had to decide where, how and with whom we wanted to spend the rest of our lives. People are to us, the secret of a good life, people from diverse walks of life but with the same values of respect, cooperation and fun. This is what attracted us to this way of living.

What tipped it over into a project from an idea?

Hard work, determination, courage, confidence in ourselves and the right people with the right values. Above all, the right people who all wanted the same thing.

How do you think co-housing connects to getting older and the future?

Cohousing is for everybody, intergenerational cohousing is successful but senior cohousing is easier to start up. The advantages of long-term deep companionship, emotional support, common goals, activities and togetherness losing our individual choices - should allow us to live healthier and more fulfilling lives. We hope to be less a burden to society and to our kids, as well as enjoying our time as fully as possible. My aim is to be part of society and community until I am 105.

How hard was it to find a group of similar spirits to do it with? 

Incredibly easy thanks to the UK Cohousing network. There is a lot of information, blogs, and above all a directory of groups.

The pond

Are you a mixed gender group?

Yes and equal opportunity.

And what about the land? How difficult was finding that?

Ha! That was the problem. We looked for a site for more than six years but things may be getting easier. The government is waking up to the advantage of senior cohousing and there is some support available for groups.

And paying for it?

Today there are more and more institutions helping, lending money, if you can demonstrate a sound business plan. Community-led housing and community land trusts are lobbying successfully to help groups. Some housing associations are becoming very interested in cohousing.

But the truth is that in the end, we are building our houses, privately. The positive side is that we are completely independent. Building in London is prohibitive but more and more groups are starting in places where brownfield land is still affordable. Some people club together to buy an old place like a small community hospital or old school. Support is available via the Community Land and Trusts.

Tell me about the site and the facilities?

The site in Colchester is in the Bourn Valley, in a nice little wood but still at walking distance from the centre and with a bus at our doorstep 20 minutes to the station, 45 minutes to London by train. There are plenty of cycleways and we have a wonderful greengrocer on our doorstep.

The white house was a water mill that we are making it into our common house with kitchen, guest bedrooms, dining room and a sitting room.

The sitting room is for music making, meetings, yoga, chilling room. We are painting it white! And it will feel so cosy.

What have you set up to deal with conflict in the group?

Our decision-making process is through consensus and well-honed. This process is democratically collaborative, transparent and thoughtful. Until now we have avoided major conflict by being honest and being good listeners. We intend to put in place a conflict resolution process when we move in.

Could you tell me about the process re the project so far?

We are self-developers, that is to say, we have contracted a builder but we are lucky to have in our group the talent and competence to look after the finances and the legal work as well as so many other details, which are incredibly time and skill consuming. We are a Limited Company, all members are directors but we behave like a cooperative. The company is building the houses and owns the leases, each cohousing member - also directors of the company - buy the houses and manage the common assets.

And why Colchester?

We wanted to be close to London, in a dynamic town with both artistic and sporting activities. Most importantly, we wanted a town which was alive. Colchester is very much alive with its university, garrison and interesting history.

Where are you at with it now?

We are moving into our eco-houses in November. We have still 2 houses available or more exactly not allocated yet. We have created a waiting list because life being what it is - we already have had people who had to abandon their dream for personal reasons.

Room at the top of common

What are your hopes and fears for the future?

Happy forever in my enchanting co-housing, but realistically, co-housing is like everything in life. It is what you make of it. My hopes are to have enough energy to further my engagement in more social, affordable, sustainable community-led housing and co-housing. My fear is that I end up watching daytime television, even if it is in the common room of my co-housing project!

For more about us click here.

AofA People: Goodtime Mama JoJo – Burlesque Performer, Choreographer, Speaker


8 Minute Read

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

I'm a Londoner

WHAT DO YOU DO?

OOOOH! I "do" all kinds of things!
Work-wise - I run my own business - I'm the founder of the first burlesque and striptease school in Europe - The ""London Academy of Burlesque"" and I teach burlesque, striptease, sexy dance moves, and physical theatre techniques. The focus is on improving the students' self-confidence, body-image, and connection with their own sensuality (through movement and mindset exercises). I am also a producer, a speaker, a choreographer, and a performer. I'm in the process of working on a one-woman show with the help of my great friend and published writer, Victoria Sadler, and at the request of many people, I am also (slowly) writing about my life as a striptease burlesque entertainer.

Hobby-wise - I write poetry, dance whenever I can, and I restyle dolls into burlesque angels and various other bizarre incarnations!

Life-wise - I cook, clean, take care of all my parental duties, and occasionally, I rest.

AGE?

59

TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

I don't spend a huge amount of time considering my age really. I'm usually only aware of the fact that I'm no longer 26 when someone else talks about ageing or when I ache a lot after doing something that wouldn't have caused me pain, before.

So, thinking about it, I would say that being 59 is unpredictable, amusing, challenging, and lucky!
Let me try and explain... It's unpredictable because of other people's reactions to age. My lengthy career and my expertise in my work have brought me a lot of respect and admiration, and I am seen as wise and knowledgeable by many people (Haha!, No honestly, I am!) but there are definitely others who are surprised (and even shocked) that a woman of "my age" is involved in this industry. So, you just never know how others will react. Also, I think that I am predictably unpredictable because most of the time I have no idea what I'm going to do next!

When I get negative or horrified reactions to my work, I find it amusing. I know that it's probably because of the other person's baggage/upbringing/lack of understanding. I remember the lovely group of psychiatrists I taught, and how one of them said: "If some of my patients came to see you first Jo, they wouldn't need to see me!"

I also find it amusing that there seem to be rules about what should or shouldn't be worn by women of a certain age. That's just so bloody hysterical!! Why would I let anyone else decide what I can or cannot wear? It just reminds me what a non-conformist I am.

I had my first and only child when I was 45 (after being told I would NEVER have kids). She is a miracle and I love her ridiculously, and although being a mum is challenging at any age, it is definitely more so when your child becomes a teenager. Why didn't anyone warn me? It's a roller-coaster ride of emotions and my challenge is, to be a great mum and to not lose the plot!

And finally; I'm lucky to be here (after three near-death experiences), I'm lucky to be a mum, I'm lucky to have a career doing something that I love, and I'm lucky to have amazing people in my life!"

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?

Self-confidence and self-esteem - which I think can only truly blossom through life experience. I am comfortable being me and don't need anyone else to value or validate me in order to value myself. I worried about my looks when I was 25, but I have learned to accept and love myself over the years. I don't really watch my figure, I'm a burlesque performer, so I let other people do that! ;)!

I now have the wisdom to know that I don't know much! I never stop learning and there is always something new to try, taste, see or experience by keeping an open mind and an enthusiastic spirit.

I have the ability to allow myself to change my mind or say no to someone/something - these were virtually incomprehensible concepts to me when I was young.

At 25 I was stripping and travelling around the world, as and when I pleased. Now I have roots and responsibilities - I am responsible for another human being which means earning enough money to pay bills, keep her fed, clothed, and a roof over her head. I have roots because kids have to go to school and that tends to keep you in one place.

I am more aware and appreciative of peoples actions and the world around me. I have gratitude and I feel grateful every day for a variety of things.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

Sex is the gift that just keeps on giving! It's an important part of being holistically healthy for me. Being intimate, open, and sexual, ignites my passion for life. Communication is key and so I have to be with someone who is not afraid to say what they want and who will also listen to my desires. I have always been very aware of my sexual and sensual powers and love, love, love being a woman. I used to say that my favourite things in life were laughter, sex and dancing! I suppose I haven't changed that much!!

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

I am incredibly fortunate to have more than my fair share of friends. It's fascinating how some friendships endure and evolve. One of my friends has been in my life since we were at infant school, another since my first job at 17, and then there are those who I have met more recently but still have a strong connection with.

My relationship with my daughter is incredibly strong. As an independent parent, I have been the nurturer, disciplinarian, friend, nurse, teacher, role-model, mother, and father. For everything I inspire in her, I feel that she inspires me more. I have learned so much about myself through being her mum.

As for my intimate and/or private relationships - that's where they stay - intimate and private. No "kiss and tell" here - maybe I'll keep that for my book?

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

I'm not free - I'm expensive! I don't know who originally said that but it does make me smile.

I feel very free, most of the time. I was always a non-conformist and a bit of a rebel. I'm not one who cares for constraints and limitations imposed upon us by people who don't know how to live OR who are secretly doing all the things they say we shouldn't! However, being a parent has tamed me somewhat and there are definitely things I don't say or do in case it affects my daughter. Only 4 years or so until she's 18 and then the floodgates will open and the true force of my freedom will flow once more!!!

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

Following my heart. Facing and conquering challenges. Being true to myself.

The fact that I've taken risks in all areas of my life and have (for the most part) had wonderful experiences.

I'm proud of being able to say that I have changed people's lives for the better, through my work, my friendship, and my love.

I'm proud of bringing up my daughter without any idea of what I was/am doing other than my best.

Single-handedly starting a brand new business in 2000 which has since made burlesque and striptease accessible to everyone.

My ability to see the funny side of almost every situation.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

My inner voice that keeps telling me that I've still so much more to achieve, a hunger for knowledge and enlightenment, and an intense passion for helping people to discover their own passion.
My daughter, obviously - inspired and motivated.

Music, sunshine, travelling, the sea, interesting conversations, an awareness of a multitude of possibilities.

LIFE!

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

When the sky is blue (not a great fan of grey skies).
When I'm dancing, stripping, performing, or teaching.
When I see that my daughter is happy.
When I'm by the sea or on holiday abroad.
When I'm in good company.
When I'm with a caring and passionate lover.
When I am helping people and doing something worthwhile.
When my bra fits and doesn't cut into me!
When I am surrounded by colours.
When I hear good news, birds singing, great music, and laughter (not necessarily all at the same time).

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

Into everything I do, think, feel and say.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

Love yourself, and treat yourself and others kindly. Immerse yourself in the moments that matter! It's more rewarding to follow your passion than fashion.

AND DYING?

I will be lying on my death bed when I'm 92 (my daughter has made me promise that I'll live till then) and someone will say, "WOW! Jo, you've lived such an amazing life and you've done so many incredible things. You must be ready to go now?"

To which, with my dying breath I'll reply "Oh yes, but I just want to..."

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

It's more goal-setting than dreaming really as I intend to make my "dreams" my reality.

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

I dance (well) and sing (badly) wherever I feel like it - the street, supermarkets, train platforms, I talk to the whole world and their uncle and happily tell people off (loudly) if they are rude or obnoxious, and I take my clothes off for a living - So nothing I do ever seems outrageous to me!

However, my next truly OUTRAGEOUS action will be performing at the Advantages of Age Vintage Cabaret Night on June 16th. Coz this bitch is vintage outrageousness, don'tcha know!

Neha Misra Tries Out Her First Workshop – Naked Dating!


9 Minute Read

I have a confession to make, until last weekend I was a virgin in the realm of workshops. Despite being an intuitive life coach and healer, the word ‘workshop’ and the thought of all that navel-gazing with a load of strangers has always made me want to run for the hills. Maybe because I am such a rebel and that it seemed almost ‘de rigueur’ that by a certain age, 53 in my case, with a certain lifestyle, one ought to have attended some kind of self-development workshop/course/retreat.

However, I came at Jan Day’s workshop ‘Meeting without Masks’ in a back to front way that sidestepped all my knee-jerk reactions. I went to a talk she gave in Portobello Road’s Electric House one rainy night in February and was immediately struck by Jan’s gentle energy and the powerful content of her conversation. She discussed intimacy in a way I had not heard spoken about before - with really intelligent observations around consent and about when ‘yes’ truly means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ truly means ‘no’.

I was totally hooked in and wanted to know more, because in the months post the beginning of the ‘Me Too’ movement, I was predominantly working with clients wanting to heal and release their sexual traumas. I liked the way Jan talked about how critical it was to explore one’s own boundaries first, and how vital boundaries are in a trusting relationship.

Of course on the actual day, I wasn’t so keen to go. We were having a rare moment of stunning sunshine after the Beast from the East plus it a was the London Marathon and it felt like the entire world had stepped onto my tube platform, it was worse than any rush hour scrum. Consequently, I was a bewildered hot mess when I arrive a few minutes late.

However, Jan and Frieder, (her husband and co-workshop host) couldn’t have put me more at ease with no judgement. In fact, the moment I walked into the room, I felt the loving playful way in which they were holding the space for everyone. Participants were already sitting down in a circle and the only place left was between Frieder and rather fortuitously the best looking man in the room.

The icebreaker in the first exercise was designed to loosen us up and inspire playfulness was actually my idea of hell, plus it didn’t help that Mr Good Looking was my partner. I was even more flustered. Thankfully, he seemed to find it equally awkward and I sensed a mutual rebellious spirit against anything contrived to force merriment. He had a droll deadpan humour and I couldn’t stop giggling. The group was gender-balanced with ages ranging from mid-20s to early 70s. As we moved onto the next exercise, I could see how cleverly they were designed to subtly yet skilfully lead us into exploring true listening and being present to our partner. I know from my marriage of 18 years that this is an area that gets woefully neglected in long relationships.

Meetings Without Masks or Naked Dating (in other words allowing you to remove your social masks) is not created for participants to get to know one particular person, but more to look at one’s own interactions and to get us accustomed to interacting in more heartfelt ways. As I worked with different partners, it struck me just how many men hadn’t considered what kind of relationship they really wanted. I actually started to really appreciate and respect the courage it took for everyone in the room to articulate this. It wasn’t easy to pull masks off that had built up over the years of self-protection. True intimacy requires vulnerability and that requires courage and most of the people I worked with seemed utterly frozen in their fears of rejection.

As the morning continued, I felt that shifts occurring. That maybe some of those shackles were loosening. Jan and Frieder were pushing us gently yet firmly to move out of our comfort zones. We had been asked to write notes of appreciation about everyone we encountered which would be put into envelopes with our names on it to take home. At one point Frieder even came up to and asked if I had written a note to Mr Good Looking and I recoiled in fear at the mere thought of it. I told him if I ever found a man attractive, it actually made me want to run away or even leave the room. Then to my extreme surprise, he asked me if I had been abused a lot by men, which I had. Having done decades of healing on myself, I was shocked to realise there is so much residual trauma left which still impacts the way I behave in a relationship. This workshop shone a torch into all my dark crevices making me see right into those areas that had yet to be healed.

In another exercise, we had a fabulous opportunity to start an honest dialogue with the opposite sex, which is so rare and precious. We were divided into sexes and invited to think about three questions. Firstly, we were asked to think about one thing that we appreciated about the opposite sex, then to consider one aspect that aggravated us, and finally to ponder a question that had always intrigued us about them.

I found myself in front of Mr Good Looking again and despite my lack of comfort, I forced myself to look into his eyes and tried not to get flustered as more masks came off. His answers were surprising and yet confirmed what I had already realised, we are all scared of getting rejected, and we all just wanted to be accepted, heard and loved. The vulnerability of showing these feelings of fear and discomfort - is real heartfelt intimacy.

By lunchtime, I had a lot of insights to mull over. For a small extra amount of money, there was a delicious vegan and gluten-free buffet.

The kindness and nurturing energy emanated by Jan and Frieder throughout the workshop, reminded me of my doula (trained birthing assistant) when I gave birth. They know that this isn’t an easy process and they hold the space in a strong, loving and supportive way so that participants can push through the layers of social masks to give birth to themselves safely if they wish.

It felt as if time was slowing down as we dived deeply into examining our responses to exercises, which encouraged us to practice vulnerability and openness. We went from less talking to more experiential work. In a very simple exercise where we could explore consent, we walked towards a partner after they had indicated their consent with an open or closed arm gesture. This became a moving, revelatory and extremely powerful experience for me because as someone who was brought up with the ‘disease to please’ simply taking the time to check in with myself that I was okay with moving forward, was an alien concept.

I had to consciously stop myself going on doing what I thought my partner wanted. Although a total stranger, my partner displayed extraordinary kindness by waiting patiently and holding the space in a non-threatening manner. I felt safe so I eventually was ready to move forward. It was the first time in my life that I felt that kind of patience from a man.

Having said that, when I was about three feet away from him, I felt the energy between us dramatically change. So much so that I had to go backwards in a knee-jerk reaction and take a moment before I stepped once again into that challengingly intimate space. It was almost too much for me and even though we hadn’t exchanged a word yet I knew he could feel it too. When I caught his eye, we both burst out laughing with the surprise and intimacy of it all.

The second version of this exercise became even more interesting as it required us to look at what was leading us to make the decision to move forwards or backwards. Was it our head or our sexual desire? Jan knows this is an enormous challenge for most of us and I loved the way she gently introduced it – especially to the men - as a way of unapologetically standing in and embracing one’s own sexuality.

As the day ended, we left holding our envelopes with the notes of appreciation and there was no doubt many masks had been removed. I felt tired but lighter. As I left, Mr Good Looking asked me how I had found it? The energy between us felt different. We had both just done the workshop and it felt as if there was another quality to the communication. I felt as if my words were truly being listened to, as if my words were falling into a deep pile that softly held it.

The truth is that I felt a bit discombobulated after the workshop. I was shocked that at 53 and after an 18-year marriage, I didn’t know how to respond to an attractive man. My traditional response had been to run away. Yet now I could look Mr GL in the eye without needing to control the situation. I could be instead present to the connection we were making.

Therein lies the beauty of this day course. Its tools are so accessible and immediate. Perhaps we were still in the bubble of the workshop, however, I think there was a difference to the quality of our communication as we walked and talked and got to know each other better in the beautiful back streets of Belgravia bathed in spring sunshine.

Later that night, I read the notes of appreciation we had been encouraged to write. Mine were touching and sweet. They reminded me of the courage that it takes to be vulnerable. True intimacy is so scary for so many of us, especially for those who have never had it. The last note I opened was from Mr GL, it said; ‘I loved your infectious joy, positivity, sense of mischief and curiosity – and your jewellery which was nearly as plentiful as mine.’

As for what happened next with Mr GL, well that’s a story for another time…

The next Meetings Without Masks is on June 17th in Belgravia. More info on meetingswithoutmasks.com or janday.com

AofA People: Patricia Rivera – Soul path guide and intuitive healer


2 Minute Read

Patricia Rivera says, "I'm a soul path guide and Intuitive Healer. I do workshops and one on one sessions. I help to discover your own soul guidance, creating a space for communication with your true intuition."

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

I live between Mexico and UK

AGE? 52

TELL US WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOUR AGE?

Feels great! I feel really young like my life is just starting! My energy level is improving with age, and there’s so much I want to do! I decided to move to London where I was born, last year, after all my life in Mexico, so I’m starting over in many ways and enjoying it very much.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE NOW THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE AT 25?

I have more confidence, I love myself much more, I feel very comfortable in my body.

WHAT ABOUT SEX?

I think its just getting better, I take my time to enjoy the moment, feel and receive. I’m very interested in learning tantra and going deeper in the experience.

AND RELATIONSHIPS?

Having conscious relationships is worth the wait. I had to go through a lot to get to this point, many changes, so much learning, pain and guilt to leave what was known and safe but no longer growing. Mature relationships can be really joyful, with deeper and intimate emotional connection.

HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?

I am free! I choose freedom now.

WHAT ARE YOU PROUD OF?

I’m proud of my kids, have twin girls 21 and 15-year-old boy. They are intelligent, mature and loving, we have a very close relationship.

WHAT KEEPS YOU INSPIRED?

Following my intuition, knowing that wherever it takes me is the best for my highest good, thats inspiring, because there is always magic and synchronicities happening!

WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?

I’m the happiest when I can show someone their true connection with themselves, when I am in nature, when I travel, and just any day with my partner or my kids or close friends or with myself.

AND WHERE DOES YOUR CREATIVITY GO?

I use my creativity to cook, love cooking from what I can find in the fridge, no planning. I also enjoy design, I am a graphic designer too.

WHAT’S YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIVING?

"Connect to your real self, it knows what is true. This body is just a suit that we have for a while, so enjoy it and experiment with it."

AND DYING?

It's just a change, I don’t believe we ever die, just change to other realm and keep experiencing.

ARE YOU STILL DREAMING?

I always have dreams! Imagining is the way to create your future, so I do it a lot!

WHAT WAS A RECENT OUTRAGEOUS ACTION OF YOURS?

Moving to the UK and starting over last year! A great experience so far!

The Advantages of Being 71


6 Minute Read

After joining this group, I started pondering the advantages of being 71. I couldn’t think of any to start with! Last year, I went to a Blondie concert with my daughter and her friends and although Blondie is my age, the crowd was all my daughter’s age, mid-forties because they grew up in the 1970s and 80s listening to her music. They are from a different generation.

I was feeling a bit glum and a bit like an old fogey. I couldn’t stand for hours and my daughter found me a chair so I could sit down, in between jigging to Blondie tunes.

So, what are the advantages of being in my 70s? For me, the biggest is having been alive in the 1950s, a totally different epoch.

I was born in 1947 in Prague, the illegitimate daughter of a Ukrainian refugee. We escaped the Communist regime and ended up in Australia, the only place in the world who would take a Ukrainian single mother and child. Having read the horrors of what happened in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s (copying the terror of Stalinist Russia of the 1930s), I am extremely grateful that my mother risked everything to get us out.

Although Australia was gripped by its own version of McCarthyism and was a puppet state of the USA, I experienced the many positive sides of the 1950s. No one locked their houses, no one had a car, TV or telephone. I walked to school (twenty minutes away) often alone, from the age of 5. Later, I rode my bike - well into the 1960s - and never locked my bike anywhere. It didn’t even occur to me or anyone that someone might steal it. We as kids played in the street and rarely saw a car. I would occasionally listen to serials on the radio, and hardly ever went to the cinema. In the evening, I would read all sorts of books and dip into my trusty Arthur Mee encyclopaedia set. It wasn’t a happy childhood - my mother Olga did not survive the terrors of Stalinist Russia and of being a prisoner in Nazi Germany. She spent the last 17 years of her life incarcerated in a mental hospital, after being subjected to psychotropics, ECT and a lobotomy. These were the days when mental illness was misunderstood and treated as a scourge.That was extremely difficult to bear, but I benefitted from living in a relatively free society.

In 1957, I was riding my bike (not many people had lights in those days) on a dark road looking up at the starlit sky. Then I saw it - the first Sputnik. That was an amazing feeling - that Russian earthlings had put up a spacecraft and I could see it moving through the sky. Then crash, I ran over a man who was also staring fascinatedly upwards. I knocked him out. When he came to, he said: ‘Gosh, I just saw stars and a Sputnik!’

The 1950s were a lot slower. We waited in queues in shops, wielding our string bags and jiggling our coins, and everything was served in brown paper. At 14, I opened a bank account which I have kept to this day. The bank teller would enter my small amount of money in ink and add up the columns. It was all pounds, shillings and pence and when I worked in my stepfather’s delicatessen, I was really good at adding up long sums as well as working things out in pounds and ounces. SUGAR. We all so blithely ingested tons of sugar. I would drink a few cokes on a hot day from the refrigerated machine, which a Coca-Cola representative kindly installed in our shop, for free!! At home, we would drink strong Russian tea laden with sugar. Life was very sweet!! The upshot is that I have now developed diabetes.

Queen Elizabeth II visited Adelaide in 1954. I loved her dearly and thought she was the prettiest woman in the world. In fact, she was the Empress of a vast monolith. I proudly perused a world map, which was dominated by the red countries of the British Empire, where the sun never set. I felt like a privileged citizen of a vast, seemingly ordered world and basked in what was promulgated as an age of freedom. In the north of South Australia, was the Woomera Rocket Range, which we were told, was where Australia was keeping up with the Space Race. It was only when I was an adult that I discovered that nuclear bombs were secretly detonated there and that at times when the wind changed, and Adelaide was swathed in radioactive fallout. Of course, no attention was paid to the hapless Aboriginal inhabitants in the outback.

So, I am glad that I am as old as I am because I experienced a whole different world in the 1950s that was changed out of all recognition by the advent of the 60s and 70s. If I had been born much later, I would not have had that experience. I would have also missed the timing of the Beatles song, ‘She was Just 17’, which thrillingly, hit the Australian charts shortly after my 17th birthday.

I believe experiencing the 1950s has added a depth to my perception of life. Dare I say wisdom? I lived during a time when we were not bombarded by information technology and social media. The world was fine without those things - stretching out in a slow, peaceful and leisurely fashion. However, if you are immersed in modern technology the whole time, you can’t catch the effect it has on you. My daughter and her friends were born into a world of cars, phones, TVs, music tapes - they are like fish trying to see water; they are unaware of their immersion. They don’t know a world without the ever-present technology being used continuously.

Now I am in my 8th decade, I feel enriched by having lived in a totally different epoch. It has given me more of an overview - an ability to identify what is truly important. Like many people my age, I am horrified that people in restaurants look at their mobiles a lot more than at each other.

There are a lot of ‘Age is just a number’ slogans floating around the internet. I understand that these slogans are fending off societal attitudes to age, and rightly so. For me my age is an important number - it signifies a lot. Being 71, is a badge I wear proudly, despite my creaking bones. I am a baby-boomer who emerged from a dreadful dark age in history and survived, being an immigrant and the child of a traumatised mother. I won the freedom I have today, by dint of a lot of hard work on myself and truckloads of psychotherapy. I had to do it because I had a deeply painful legacy to unravel. I am grateful to be living in a time when there are a wealth of techniques to face our dark sides and not be run by them. My dear mother did not have that luxury.

I’m not crazy about my wrinkles but I take heart in a claim by a woman on Instagram who says of herself; ‘my wrinkles are my stripes’.

How I Became a Midlife Stress Buster


4 Minute Read

‘Tell me what you do in just one word?’ After 12 years in the business, it still didn’t slip off my tongue. How was it possible to sum up midlife and all its issues, in just one word? I went for a very long walk.

My love of personal development coaching had always been part of me. At junior school, I received the ‘Concientiousness Towards Others’ award two years running. I knew helping others, listening to their needs, was a huge part of me, yet as I reached my 40s, this potential had not been truly realised.

One day, sitting with my toes dangling in our private pool, and I could see into the next 20 years. Very clearly. It was not a place I wished to be. I had everything, a loving husband, a luxury lifestyle in the Mediterranean, a six bedroomed home, two wonderful boys soon to fly the nest, and my own hormones creating havoc. I wasn’t happy. None of my peers seemed to be happy either. What was it about the peri-menopause, modern day living and me? There had to be more to life.

I found inspiration in a magazine. I realized that I could take my social science degree, add to it life coaching and begin a new career. This life change has led to a glorious 15 years of exploration and connection to myself and what matters to me the most - helping others. With it comes those all-important, life-changing light bulb and goose-pimple moments. I usually know when I’ve hit the spot because my skin begins to have those telling sensations before my client has fully explained what is happening to them.

My clients tend to be midlife women, coming through peri-menopause into menopause and beyond. Often they are dealing with life issues such as divorce, loss of a loved one, empty nests, boomerang kids, ageing parents, financial worries, ill health and their own looming mortality. It can be a tough place to be. Each and everyone one of us will cope with it differently and yet we all share something in common - a problem shared is a problem halved.

Listening to another person can be draining and rewarding at the same time. Often things will come up in this conversation that apply to your own circumstances. However, keeping your own ‘story’ out of the way is key to the results. As I honed my skills throughout the years, I noticed one theme came up again and again - the need to put oneself first, to be Sensibly Selfish. Wear the oxygen mask before helping others, something many women fail to do. (Myself included at times).

Yet it wasn’t until 2015, when my own life took a dramatic turn that I saw new results in my business. My husband was offered a job working in East Africa. A contract to build a 5* hotel. We couldn’t refuse. Within the space of a month, I had put our Spanish finca for sale, decluttered 20 years worth of possessions, told our two grown kids to fend for themselves, and arrived in Zanzibar with 20 kg of luggage. My new home had just two rooms and a red tin roof, yet it was perfect in every way and very close to the most beautiful beach and azure sea.

Walking daily on the pure white sand, connecting to nature, living a simple natural life, with healthy food and exercise made me realize where my own personal life-disconnections had been. I had been stuck in the rat race, believing that possessions make you content and that striving to consume was good despite the constant feelings of disharmony I was feeling as the havoc of such a lifestyle created on the planet and myself internally.

I discovered that there is no need to live in turmoil. By simplifying my thoughts and my possessions, I had plenty of literal and metaphorical space to connect to self without causing harm to Mother Earth. It is this simple peaceful space that I offer clients in order that they can also find clarity. I help them look at their lives in a holistic manner and find their own sustainable success.

So what is my one word? Stress-Buster.

Actually, it finally ended up as four words ‘The Midlife Stress Buster’ yet my coach accepted it! Stress has had a bad rap over the years, in fact it does have a good side. Often we cannot avoid the actual midlife stressors but we can choose to cope with them differently. Sometimes we just need support to see things differently. Supporting others to find a way with their midlife tensions is what gets me jumping enthusiastically out of bed every morning.

You can find Kay Stress Busting here: www.Kay-Newton.com

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