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Last of the Summer Sun


1 Minute Read

Black-eyed Sue traipsed across the heath                                                                                    
Facing the last of the summer sun
It kissed her face golden.

I could see the faint
trace
of her smile
as she ripped to pieces
the chorus of a love song
she didn't believe in.
She mentioned
that you'd been around 
with a bottle of wine
and while you were sitting, 
just chatting
inside
she'd been melting.
She said:
"When he's around
my clothes fall off
I come undone
I know
it's too soon to be 
Calling
But I think I'm
Falling
I've come undone!
Who am I to complain
When I find
My skin's no longer
My own 
He owns me down
to the bone
Every muscle, 
tiny synapse, spark,  filament!”
She thinks you've raised an electric storm
A galaxy of delight
but she can't hide the
Burn marks
That bloom like filigree
Across her face
When she described
Your ghosting.
That fleeting panic
In her eyes
Behind her smile
Each time she whispered
And wove your name,
Unnecessarily (I thought)
Into our conversation
And acted like she was a girl again
And threw her head back, 
Laughing.

Psychotherapy Without Soul Can Fuck You UP


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Without an appreciation of the soul’s radical desires, psychotherapy can interfere with psychological and spiritual maturation and promote a non-imaginative normality that merely supports people to be better-adapted cogs in a toxic industrial culture’

Bill Plotkin

There is a marvellous moment in Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships by the pioneering Buddhist psychotherapist John Welwood when a client finally hits the ground of infinite possibility. The truth is, she says, that right now I am a completely fucked up human being and cannot be otherwise. This revelation was no doubt preceded - as it is for many of us - by years of therapy and workshops, potions and pills. From that moment of crystalline authenticity doors began to open as she sank into the richness of her own being without judgment or concept.

One of the cavernous blind spots that snag the seeker lies in the poisoned nature of the ground in which she seeks healing. Without the soul as companion too many therapies are simply confounded by what is presented. How can that which is devised within the confines of ‘toxic industrial culture’ – that which fails to incorporate blessings and curses, ancestral hand-me-down wounds and individual karma – bring cure to what ails?

Again and again I have seen clients struggling under the weight of a geis, or what I call conditions on the soul, failed, inevitably, by systems that don’t get them, don’t want them and finally throw up their hands in confused failure offering another diagnosis by way of compensation and to save professional face.

Soul sickness does not respond to that which is soulless. It does not seek a fix, although the personality which accompanies it will. It cannot be touched by much in this world. For what has taken root in a human being, what has found a home there, is both incurable and a reflection of what is not right in contemporary culture. This sickness comes from being separated from the beauty that has been lost and which the soul now desires as a matter of urgency. The individual holds both the illness and the answer for that which lies outside the Self.

It is almost that after the soul’s journey over many lifetimes the pressure builds to a point where only death or breakthrough matter. It has to be one or the other. Nothing else will do. I am either going to find the beauty within or I will return to it in the Otherworld, the realm of the ancestors. The mood is pressing and the initiatory circumstances both more terrifying and exciting.

In Zen, it is said that the nature of dilemma is like having a red-hot coal stuck in the throat. It can neither go down nor out. You can neither cough it up nor swallow it. This stuckness or impasse is common in both individuals and society, and as Jung said it represents a preparatory period before significant breakthrough, even an evolutionary leap.

We are too quick to want to get out of this wasteland. In these days of sound bites, quick fixes and instant communication the thought that the soul might have its own agenda and desires is abhorrent. That it might want you to grow sicker and sicker until you are beyond human aid is unpalatable. This is where insight into the mythological level of life is critical. Without understanding and accepting the soul’s need for slowness and to sink into its own depths it is too easy to think a life is no longer worth living.

But the soul is calling you down, deeper than you would go on your own, farther than seems necessary to the conscious mind that only wants to ‘get on’. It takes a long time and much flailing about looking for ways out of our dilemma before accepting, like the client above, that perhaps there is no cure, at least none that we can see. If you study mythological tales, this image of the fall from grace, the wasteland, and the kingdom once abundant now in ruins is everywhere. And it is a necessary part of being alive.

For the sickness pulls us down into territories of great learning, a brush with death, and strips us of all we have known thus far until all that is left is the vision with which we were born and which has been forgotten. ‘The only way to treat the condition,’ says mythologist Michael Meade is to get everything out of the way and allow the sickness to speak for itself. It can only be heard when all the possible cures have been eliminated and its incurability has been admitted. The soul sickness needs permission to be the strange story that it declares itself to be.’

The only way at such times is to understand we have ingested soul sickness, that it is purposeful and contains great gifts, and to go further into it. In other words we have to follow where the sickness leads and where it leads is often to a threshold we don’t even want to see let alone cross.

In modern times, I see this happen most often in relationships. Everywhere I turn I hear people stuck on the horns of dilemma: should I stay or should I go?; I love him but I’m not in love with him; I just don’t feel anything any more. As soul, that feelings of passionate aliveness, most often enters us in western culture through our romances, small wonder that is where we will feel its absence.

People stay miserable within these dilemmas for years, for the sake of the children or a myriad of other sensible reasons. Yet soul is not interested in common sense or material security. It just keeps pressing in on you until you give it its due and it won’t let up until you do, ever. That does not mean the solution is to break with relationship. That may or may not be the case. It does mean you have to find a way to attend to your deeper life or get sicker.

In a sense, the more soul sickness you’ve imbibed the better equipped you are to heal what is within and without. In turning towards what is dark within the Self and the culture we increase the possibility of bringing some of the beauty trapped in the Otherworld back over the threshold. It is as if we have to risk death to step over and beyond ourselves, but what we bring back can alone illuminate that which has fallen into forgetful chaos.

AofA Interview: Prof. Barbara Foster – Professor


1 Minute Read

Barbara Foster, 78, is, wait for it, an Associate Professor at City University of New York and a belly dancer. That's the sort of eclecticism that we love here. She lets us know what being an 'original' consists of.

What is your name?

Prof Barbara Foster

How old are you?

78

Where do you live?

The  Village NY, NY

What do you do? 

Writer--Assoc. Professor City University  of New York
belly dancer

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

Intimidating because people's perceptions are so fixed. They want to write off an older woman, which I rebel against. I am an "original" as they said in the eighteenth century.  I consider each day an adventure.

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

A bit of wisdom gained in the field. I have taken many chances and learned much from the risks I have taken.

What about sex?

I  still like it very much but at this point it is difficult to find the right partner. I have tried younger men with mixed results, older are a bit doddering--ready for the nursing home.

And relationships?

I would like one, and have the skill to conduct one, but the right partner is a hunt that makes it difficult when you have much else to do.

How free do you feel?

Free and not so free. I have  a creative career which takes up much time. It is a blessing but it has demands that I cannot deny. Time is gone before i know it.

What are you proud of? 

My writing and unique personality.

What keeps you inspired?

The game of life. It is so challenging, so surprising.

When are you happiest?

Writing, it's a gift.

And where does your creativity go?

Into fiction non-fiction and poetry, dancing.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Accept change as the Buddhists say. Don't expect your world to be fixed. Look for new challenges.

And dying?

Not looking forward to it.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, I dream of visiting new faraway places.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

Nothing to recent, but some years ago i bathed in the polluted Ganges river with intoxicated natives all around and almost got kidnapped.

The Culture Interview: Shamim Sarif – Screenwriter, Film Director


5 Minute Read

Shamim Sarif, 47, is an award-winning British novelist, screenwriter, and feature film director. The tagline for her first film said it all - ie 'Just another British, Indian, Muslim, Arab, Christian, lesbian romantic comedy'. She occupies the unusual position of having written three novels, then their screenplays, then directed the films! What a woman. Her latest feature as writer/director is Despite the Falling Snow, which released theatrically in the UK in April 2016.

You seem to have carved a singular place for yourself as a novelist, screenwriter and a film director often of these self-penned novels? How did that happen?

I really just started doing what I loved and what felt natural to me – storytelling. And that evolved into different media. What made it possible to make the leap from novelist to director was my partner Hanan’s involvement. When we started our own production company, it was specifically to develop our own, female-led stories.despite-the-falling-snow-2016-david-johnson-dp

How does it feel to be the only promoter of gay, Muslim and Christian culture?

I don’t feel I promote any particular agenda other than being a good human being, or trying to be. I was raised Muslim but do not practice any religion. My first films, I Can’t Think Straight and The World Unseen, did reach an incredibly receptive audience in the Muslim world, though. I think there is a great thirst for role models especially in the form of lesbian characters. I was surprised by the outpouring of support and really happy to be part of it.

Have you always been rebellious?

My sister would laugh at that question. I was always the quiet one, never causing any trouble, going out, or doing anything challenging to my parents. I think my personality (introverted writer!) created that. But when I met Hanan there was no doubt in my mind that I would follow the path that felt right. It didn't feel like a rebellion for the sake of it – more an acceptance of what was right in the face of everyone telling me it was wrong.

We have read that it was not easy for your Indian/Muslim/Palestinian families when you married producer Hanan Kattan? Have things settled down now?

It was very difficult. Twenty years ago even more taboos existed. But yes, things settled down. The great realization we had was that the more we focused on the drama and stress, the worse it got. So we decided consciously to focus on building our own family and let others be part of it if they wanted to.

Has age helped with this evolution?

Age helps with everything except my running speed and eyesight! I think breaking away mentally from your family is a huge ask and an accelerated maturity in a way. I’m definitely less and less concerned with how people perceive me as I get older.

How has being in your mid-40s influenced your film-making/writing?

I hope experience improves everything – I feel it does. Also when you have lived through certain experiences like marriage and children, it gives you an insight that you can’t quite have when you are much younger.

I Can’t Think Straight seemed to be autobiographical but what about your recent film, Despite The Falling Snow?

Despite the Falling Snow is not based on any family history but it continues with themes that have always formed part of my work. The way two people from very different points of view can open up the world to each other. How love can be transformative to our way of thinking. And how politics creates pressures that test our characters to the limits.

It seems to be a good idea, especially with the long haul that is film-making, to be working with your wife? Is it?

Yes, it’s an excellent idea. I think it’s hard for partners to be separated for that long and working intensely on something together is fantastic (maybe more for me than Hanan, who has a harder job in my opinion!) We also take our children, Ethan (17) and Luca (13) with us when we film, so we stay together as a family as much as possible. They’ve appeared in every film we’ve made.

Why the Cold War for this film and the 2004 novel that it’s based on?

It’s always been fascinating to me, and I don’t think we see the Cold War much from a female perspective, and I loved discovering it through Katya’s eyes.

Do you have any futuristic visions for old people’s homes/care? What would you like to happen to you?

I haven’t thought about it much but the older I get the more I feel that family and friends – a human connection – is so important. And that’s quite something for me, because I am often happy in my own world as a writer. I would love for us to be always be near our boys and to maintain a lot of our great friendships.

Shamim Sarif will be in conversation with Helen O'Hara at the Hampstead Arts Festival on 13th November. You can buy tickets here.

Sex in My 70s – at last, the pressure is off!


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Much of my life, despite discovering meditation in my 30s, has been about achieving goals - either physical ones in different sporting activities or intellectual ones in my medical career. Although often denying it, I was very competitive. I competed in sports at school and university and later on became obsessed with achieving improvement in performance as a rock climber and mountaineer. Even during meditation competitiveness could creep in, in the form of achieving good results.

And as a man this applied in the field of sex as much as anywhere else. The goal of course was to achieve that desirable yet elusive ever-more earth shattering orgasmic ejaculation; and not only that, but to make sure the woman had the same, simultaneously. It was even my responsibility that she did, or so I thought – what misguided arrogance to think that I should be in charge of her body. No matter how hard I tried this scenario was doomed to fail and end in frustration and worse: projection and unspoken recriminations towards the other – familiar picture anyone? And putting oneself under pressure can inevitably lead to the issue of performance anxiety with burn out and even physiological failure, i.e. erectile dysfunction.

I would like to think that now in my 70s life is more laid back but am not sure this is so. What I can say is that I am less obsessed with achieving goals and happier to enjoy the landscape along whatever way I travel. Of course there are still goals but they are simple, practical, everyday ones: when cooking a meal I want the result to be pleasing – both on the eye and palette. Also I am less concerned with impressing others and happier to be me: eccentric, opinionated, flamboyant, insecure. Of course, I still catch myself slipping back into old habits around wanting to be the best but I am not perfect and have come to realise that to pursue perfection is pointless!

And along the pathways of getting older – my mountaineering accident, the death of my wife – I have chosen to face the nooks and crannies within myself. I have attended personal development workshops in which I have had to face and own my shadows in public. I have taken risks exposing sexual and emotional issues around shame and weakness to strangers. I have dared to ask for what I want from another person while showing them who I am and seeing who they are - without masks. And as a result I have re-discovered a zest for life, my big heart and how much fun I can have. It has definitely been life-changing.

I am blessed by finding a strong-willed, like-minded woman to share in this. When I asked her to be my “tantric sex goddess,” after some hesitation she said it was an offer she could not refuse, but then spent months backtracking every time I came forward. I had to learn patience, to respect another’s boundaries and compassion. She had to learn how to show her vulnerability. In any case, I had no idea  what I meant by such a request, which although was what I thought I wanted, was also a fantasy. I was soon to find out the nitty gritty of real relating. And it has not been a particularly smooth ride but a real and honest one. We choose people to relate to intimately because they mirror ourselves and press our buttons. Accepting this, however difficult, can be a springboard to deeper intimacy.

We first came to know of each other’s existence 4 years ago in a seven-day group process known as the Path of Love which is about getting in touch with our potential to be in our hearts. It is not about sex as such but sexual energy is our life force and this process is also about taking risks and living life to the full. Participating in such groups together can be scary but also bring a deeper intimacy and tenderness between couples. Partly in order for our relationship to survive, we have taken part in several residential events including Path of Love as staff, and as participants in a Shadow Work weekend and a seven-day Making Love Retreat where the emphasis was on Slow Sex, a flowing, organic, playful immersion into consciously sharing body, mind and spirit. Basically, it includes spending sweet loving time together. Another discovery was how it is possible to do soft penetration: the penis entering the vagina while only semi-erect! I believe relating to another has to be worked at and this applies to sexual relating. I prefer the word “relating” to “relationship” as I think it gives the impression of something dynamic rather than static.

Gradually, over the last four years, my partner and I have found a way to become slower and less expectant in our sexual life. And I have been able to – after quite a few red hot battles – give myself something more organic. Somehow it now no longer matters whether she has an orgasm, or I do, or no-one does, we’re on a continuum of sexual pleasure which in traditional terms might be considered foreplay. With penetration added. But no pressure.

Something we use as a resource when there is friction between us is to sit facing each other, holding hands starting with eyes closed focusing on breathing into the belly, and then when ready opening the eyes and gazing softly at the other’s face with no judgement, being passively receptive, not actively looking. Then taking it in turns to share what we appreciate about each other. This avoids the mind’s tendency to dwell on negative thoughts and projections and inevitably dissolves the friction. And it is always nice to feel appreciated and not taken for granted.

So, whenever we can, we bring little rituals into our love making as part of setting the desired scene: giving a sense of erotic sacredness. Like slowly undressing each other to a backdrop of lyrical, meditative music and then having a bubble bath together and washing at least each other’s feet and legs - slowly and lovingly, while lying facing each other. In the past I would resort to candles and incense but that was it. Now there is no rush or goal to be achieved and in this way everyday actions become part of making love – even going for a walk or drinking a cup of tea together.

This period of intensive self-exploration has happened over the last five years of my life probably as a result of having more time on my hands to reflect on my real priorities and want I want out of life. This includes making a commitment to make it work between me and my woman.

But the pressure to achieve unrealistic goals is off, which means we can enjoy the adventure.

Is it said that life begins at fifty? Well, I know that life begins whenever you choose a new beginning. It’s never too late.

The Culture Interview: Lesley-Ann Jones


1 Minute Read

Lesley-Ann Jones, 58, met David Bowie when was she was 11 and lived down the road from him and Angie in Beckenham. She went on to get a rock n'pop column for the Sun! And then the Mail on Sunday. In the 80s, those were the sort of days they were - she interviewed Grace Jones on a massage table, U2 in a pool and Cyndi Lauper on a plane. Her latest book is Hero: David Bowie on Hodder & Stoughton.

Was the decision to do a biography about Bowie an easy one?

It was a no-brainer. I had been writing features about and interviews with David Bowie for years. I always knew that one day I would write a whole book about him. We even talked about it: he said to me during an interview once that one day he would get me to tell the ‘entire, brutal truth’ about him in an autobiography, and that I could be his ghost. We also joked that it would be unpublishHero: David Bowieable. The morning I heard that he had died, I began writing the book in my head there and then. By the time I came to have the conversation with my editor, just a couple of days later, I already knew what I wanted to say in it, and how the whole book would pan out. Minus the surprises, of course. I was not yet prepared for some of the amazing revelations that were made to me by people close to David, who mostly felt that they couldn’t say the things they had to say while he was still alive.

 

Was he your hero when you met him in his yellow kimono and you were an 11 year old schoolgirl?

The first time I met him, I was still at infants’ school: Oak Lodge County Primary in Kent. I had a friend there, Lisa Money, whose mother Hy Money worked as a photographer on a local newspaper, the Beckenham Record. Mostly mother-and-baby portraits, but she also used to cover local events. One Sunday afternoon, Hy took Lisa and me to the Arts Lab, in the back room of the Three Tuns pub on Beckenham High Street, to see a sitar player called Vytas Serelis, whom she had arranged to photograph. David Bowie and Marc Bolan were there that day, but they could have been anybody. By the time we got to grammar school, we were a little older, and more aware. David was a local hero thanks to his success with ‘Space Oddity’, which the BBC had used as a soundtrack for their coverage of the historic lunar landings in the summer of 1969. My friends and I resolved to find out where he lived – Haddon Hall in Beckenham – and we started doorstepping him after school. Angie, his first wife, would give us signed photos and pack us off home. But I knew that we should keep trying; one day, she would be out, he would answer the door, and of course he would ask in in for tea. This he did. Imagine all the eyebrow-raising today: two 11 year-old schoolgirls in uniform going round to a rock star’s gaff for tea, behind their mothers’ backs, and that rock star dressed in little more than a lemon silk kimono… The last vestiges of innocence have been eradicated in the internet age. Back then, there seemed nothing wrong about what we were doing. He was nice to us. He talked to us as equals, and he wasn’t at all up himself. He was absolutely our hero. That first time, just sitting there hanging out with him, talking to him, I knew that I needed to grow up and live my life among people like him. But how was I going to do that? I was neither musical nor artistic. Then the pennies dropped. I could do what my father Ken Jones had done. Once a professional footballer, he was injured out of the game, and became a journalist - a big-name columnist, eventually, who spent ten years travelling the world with Muhammad Ali. I could go on the road with artists and bands, and write about them. It’s what I did.willie-and-the-poor-boys

 

You seem to have kept up a relationship with him across the years?

I hadn’t seen David for a few years when I bumped into him in Chartier, a budget restaurant in Paris one Christmas. I was a Modern Languages student on my year out, living in France, and he’d been doing his Christmas shopping at the Galeries Lafayette just down the road from the brasserie. We had a glass of wine together. He had a little phrase that he always used to say whenever he saw me: ‘You again!’ Eventually, I was interviewing him in my own right, for a variety of publications. I think, perhaps, that he might have had a soft spot for me because I was ‘from home’: from the same neck of the woods as him. The greater the superstar he became, the more wistful he seemed about ‘home’, and the ‘good old days’. Every time I saw him, we’d sit there talking about Beckenham, Bromley, our old schools, Medhursts department store on Bromley Market Square, where we both used to buy records. About Top of the Pops. We had people in common in New York, where I spent a great deal of time, during the ‘80s and early ‘90s. I used to bump into him, we’d go for coffee or lunch, and just hang out. I could never have said, and I never have said, that we were ‘friends’, as such. He was a planet, I was a satellite. Superstars do not forge bosom friendships with hacks, and that seems right. But he was never less than kind and generous to me.

 

I love the way you say his best friend, George Underwood was much better looking?

David and George met in the Cub Scouts, and had known each other since the age of 8. George was, and still is, deliciously good-looking, with a gentle demeanour and a rakish charm. An incredibly talented artist, he was the one who got to art school - not David. He had a most distinctive personal style, and seems to have been a great source of inspiration to David. He was also a talented guitarist and singer. He and David were in a number of bands together, before David went off and did his own thing. Then George signed his own recording contract with the most successful producer of the day, Mickie Most, and was tipped to eclipse his best friend. David was so angry and frustrated about this that he threatened to kill George. But then something terrible happened: George had a complete mental breakdown, and was admitted to Cane Hill - the same psychiatric institution in which David’s brother Terry was incarcerated. When George had recovered eventually re-emerged, all thoughts of a pop career had been cast aside. He settled into the quieter, and safer, lifestyle of artist and illustrator.

 

How do you perceive Bowie’s approach to getting older and the changes he made to his life? And how do they compare with your own?

I think, in common with most rock stars of his generation, that he felt invincible and immortal. For a while, at least. Journalists liked to write about him ‘maturing’ during the mid-‘80s: certainly he had cast aside his various alter egos, the shock-locks, the mad make-up and the outrageous interview style. By the time of Live Aid in 1985, he was 38 years old, looked fit and glowing, and was probably one of the world’s most eligible bachelors. He was a rich single dad with all his own hair. He’d been on his own for a few years by then, and he had begun to talk about ‘finding true love’ and ’settling down’. That had definitely become a focus. He got engaged to Melissa Hurley, a dancer on his Glass Spider world tour, 1987. But she was half his age, and the age gap really showed. She dumped him. Who dumps David Bowie?! She did! It wasn’t until he met Iman that things fell into place. The gift of the love of his life seemed to give him permission to let go. He was extremely happy with Iman. He relaxed, made the music he wanted to make -which didn’t please everybody, but so what - and started going with the flow. He became who he was always destined to be – as he put it himself, he evolved into his own dad!

As for me: like my own father, I’ve always raged against the dying of the light. I think the relationships that we have, and the way we have and raise our children, shape our ageing process. I have always been a late starter, at absolutely everything. I had my first child at 30, and became a single mother for 8 years. I married late, and had my second and third children in my forties. I had always been fit and active, crashing around the world with rock stars, doing my share of champagne-guzzling (though never anything worse). I had to come off the road when I had children, of course, and that cut me down to size. But I still think of myself as a young upstart. In my head, I’m still an 11 year-old pop fan, and from behind, I like to think (I have kept my hair long), I still look 25… yeah, I know, in my dreams. I still wear denim every day, and black at night. It’s not so much desperation to cling to my youth, but refusal to change from who I really am. Dad’s in his 80s, and he still wears jeans. Who’s to say that we shouldn’t, and who cares what they say anyway?

My marriage collapsed in divorce while my children were still very young. That took some getting over. For a long time, I regarded it as an ending, and an enormous loss. Another decade on, I have come to regard it as a definite beginning. I have written, published and promoted five more books since - which I may never have done, had I stayed married. It was definitely a new lease of life. My former husband wasn’t into rock and pop music – he preferred classical concerts, ballet and opera (which I love too, by the way), and so I hadn’t been to a rock gig for years. I picked up with a number of old friends in the music business, made some new ones, started going again. For me, the important thing is to be out there, and to take part. Life is all about people. Writing is a lonely occupation, but beyond work, there is no point in being a recluse. I maintain a strong Christian faith, and I truly believe that the next life will be infinitely more than this one. I’m not wild about growing old and losing my looks, such as they were: who is? But what are you gonna do about it? I’m far too squeamish for cosmetic surgery, and anyway, I have never met a face lift I found convincing. I lived with Raquel Welch in Los Angeles for a few months, a long time ago. She and her best friend Nancy Sinatra are richer than Croesus, and could afford the finest plastic surgeons on the planet. They looked ab-fab in photographs, but at point-blank range? The lips went one way, the eyes another. My take was always that you can cut through and re-stitch flesh and muscle, but not nerves. Our nerve endings give our faces their personality. As do our wrinkles. Jowls you can keep. But nowt can be done. I’ll keep drinking the champagne, then, and will remain ever grateful for myopia. And I only look in mirrors in the dark.

 

And his ways of thinking around his own approaching death?

I didn’t see David during his final years, and I never got to discuss this with him. But I have been told, by a couple of musicians who worked with him on his last albums, that he was sad when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer – because he didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to leave Iman, his daughter Lexi, his son Duncan. He wanted to be there when his grandson arrived. He at last had everything he’d ever wanted. He just didn’t have it for long enough.

 

What about you and getting older and how you look at the world of rock stars?

Once upon a time, they were supposed to want to die before they got old. Now, they just keep doing what they do for as long as they can. Why shouldn’t they? No one ever says that a classical musician must hang up his violin or her oboe because he/she has passed the point of no return. I know that many vintage rockers find the road gruelling beyond belief. There is no doubt that touring is exhausting. But Sir Paul McCartney is rarely off the road, and he’s still one of the finest rock musicians who ever lived. People love to knock, and to say that his voice is not what it was - but whose is? And why shouldn’t he? For as long as he’s performing live, I’ll be queuing up to buy tickets. Ridiculous? Who says? Who’s the judge? It’s not going to end well for any of us. We’ve got to make all the hay we can while the sun’s still out.

 

Please do reminisce a little about interviewing the famous in the 80s and compare to now?

It’s all very different now. Back then, pre-internet, we’d be sent everywhere, no expense spared. We’d get the exclusive interviews, sometimes trouncing our rivals. Sweet victory. If they liked you, the artist/s would say ‘let’s have dinner.’ You’d be invited on the road with them. You’d fly in their private jet, sit next to them on the plane, join them in the limo, go out with them for dinner. What changed? 1, technology. 2, middle men. In those days, there were not the managers, the promoters, the agents, the publicists, the hangers-on, coming between us and the artists. We could, and did, forge relationships with them, that lasted many years in a few cases, and a couple of which are still sound. Nowadays, journalists rarely get that close.

 

Bowie gave you his house in Mustique to live in while you were writing a book?

After he married Iman, they began offloading his various houses around the world. Iman was creating her own territory, her own landscape with him. She didn’t like Britannia Bay House on Mustique - primarily because Mustique is a very racist place. All the home-owners were rich white people, and all the servants were black. So David was getting rid of it. I happened to mention to him one day that I was going to go off for a while, to write my first book on Freddie Mercury. He invited me to go down to Mustique for a month. My elder daughter, Mia and I went together. That was special. There are photographs of our experience in the book.

 

Have you kept up a relationship with Iman?

I met her only once, and could never say that I had a relationship with her. Amazing woman, though. I have nothing but admiration for her.

 

By dying at 69 in the way that he did, at home, and by specifically not having a funeral, what was Bowie saying to the world?

I think he was telling us that he was in control. That he would die exactly as he had lived: by his own rules. On his own terms. How could he have a funeral? It would have been a bunfight. He would have loathed that whole showbizzy shebang. A funeral is an intensely private rite of passage. He left the rest of us to mourn him in our own individual ways. Some of us wept and gnashed and danced in the rain, in the street. Some went to his star on Hollywood Boulevard. Some left flowers and candles and album covers at appropriate landmarks around the world. Some pitched up on his doorstep. Some drew on walls. Some of us wrote books. Being David, he would have laughed at and approved of it all.

 

Can I Embrace Death?


1 Minute Read

I’ve just turned 49. I can hardly believe it. I feel young, often mischievous (close friends call me that) and alert in spirit, and yet, 49 is not considered young in body anymore and the evidence of age is becoming ever more apparent in my skin and around my eyes.

I’ve also noticed that as I’ve moved further into my forties, ageing, sickness and death have moved into my consciousness much more.

In March this year, I was forced to look ageing, illness and death straight in the eye with the death of my beloved aunt - a kind, patient and generous person (modest too) – aged 79. My aunt was like a second mum to my sister and I. She didn’t have a family of her own and was very much a part of our childhood, supporting my single mum and often holidaying with us.

During the last two years of her life she suffered unbearable emotional and physical pain, endured endless operations and was in and out of hospital. Despite a strong will to live, her body could not take any more.

I got a call from my mother just before Easter, saying that I needed to come. I was just about to go on a two-week retreat in the Scottish Highlands but I changed plans, booked a flight to Germany and went straight to hospital from the airport. I got to spend the final hours with her, witnessing her last breath just after 5am – something I’ll never forget. She was gone forever.

Death as we all know, is the one certainty we all share in life and yet it is something we find very uncomfortable to sit with, to talk about.

Can we find a way to turn towards that which many of us consider the most intolerable and painful experiences in life - ageing, sickness and death - with an open heart-mind? They are, after all, experiences that we all have to face - whether we want it or not.

Would we find it easier to talk about ageing and death if we learnt to relax into and accept that the life is a process, a continuous cycle of becoming and ceasing, embedded in a larger cosmic cycle of life and death.

Seeing my aunt’s suffering caused me enormous emotional pain. It also taught me a lot about myself. I discovered that the distress that I was experiencing came from not wanting to accept her suffering and from not knowing how to tolerate the unbearable. I wanted it my way; I wanted my aunt to be well again, I didn’t want her to suffer. I didn’t want to suffer seeing her suffering.

When I was able to see things as they were, when I was able to sit and see my aunt’s sick and decaying body, and the presence of her nearing death for what it was, I felt something in me relax and soften, which helped me to turn towards the experience with patience. I was then able to offer a loving attitude towards my own pain and discomfort in the midst of the unbearable.

Taking responsibility for one’s death

My aunt’s death was also a wakeup call for me to reflect on my own death and to begin to take responsibility for it.

My aunt had no will and this caused much difficulty for my family.

Shortly after my aunt’s death, I made an appointment with a solicitor to make a will. I asked two of my closest friends to become my executors. I asked another friend whether she would be willing to lead my memorial service. I decided to be simply buried in a green burial - to dissolve back into nature.

By taking responsibility for my death, I must face up to the fact that I too will die, that I too may suffer from sickness, that I too may need care, that I too will leave a life and affairs behind for others to deal with.

Taking responsibility for our own death is a tremendous gift to ourselves and to the people we leave behind.

Accepting the life/death cycle - turning towards what is intrinsic and inevitable in life, rather than pretending it doesn’t happen; to feel enriched and empowered by the cycle of life and death we are all born into.

AofA Culture Interview: Suzi Quatro – Musician, Poet


1 Minute Read

Suzi Quatro, 66, is still out there in those leather trousers. She was the first female bass player to become a rock star. Pre-punk!!! Next Friday, Oct 21st, she will be reading from her collection of poems and lyrics, Through My Eyes at the Archway Tavern in London. As part of the Archway With Words festival. Info re tickets below.

Has age affected your songwriting and, if so, how?

Age and of course experience, although writing is organic. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes nothing comes out at all. I simply tune into the vibes around me and when i have something to say and it usually flows. I 'love' writing songs. I 'love' writing poems. I simply love the written word – poetically or lyrically.

Who inspired you to play the bass?

I was trained on piano and percussion, both 'rhythm' based instruments. When we did our family trips and singsongs, which were frequent, my dad always played the bass part , which always appealed to me. Then in 1964 we began our first all girl band. Everyone quickly took and instrument and my sister Patti said, You are playing' bass.' It was lucky because there could be no better instrument for me. It was a perfect fit from day one.

You’ve kept your poetry under wraps until now. Was there a reason?Archway with Words

No. No reason. It was just always sitting there on my bucket list. It has come out now at exactly the right time.

Are there any women or men that have influenced your writing?

Many. Rod McKuen, Shakespeare, Kahlil Gibran, song wise, I am a total sum of the music I learned at my fathers knee, right up to the present day with an emphasis on lyrics that mean something. My last few albums had some excellent examples of this - Back to the Drive, In the Spotlight (Deluxe Edition) and indeed QSP, my new super group which has just been signed to Sony Records in Australia composed of myself, Andy Scott (guitarist from Sweet) and Don Powell ( the drummer from Slade).

Have you ever been tempted or felt forced to alter your appearance in any way?

No, never. In fact, quite the opposite. I fought to stay exactly as I am, even refusing to put on make up for Top of the Pops! I am a stickler to remaining who you are. It’s all we have in this world.

Despite being American you have lived in the UK for the best part of your life. Why?

It was my career that brought me here. I was supposed to make the album and go back after 3 months. It didn't work out that way. It took longer. I formed a band, fell in love and basically put down roots here. But saying that, even after all these years, I am still an 'American' in London. I am a Detroit girl in every bone of my body.

Do you have any philosophy about dying?

Yes I believe we go around again and again. The spirit lives on but that’s another story. See my poem about Egypt. It says it all 'The power of One.'

Have you planned your own funeral?

No, only the song I want played which is Nat King Cole’s ‘When I Fall in Love,’ which to me says it all.

Can you imagine your ideal old people’s home and how would it be?

OMG. Difficult. It would have to have lots and lots of rooms with different activities, lots of old movies to watch, lots of music to play, just lots of everything. I bore easily!

Do you have any thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn? 

Mmm. I don't like to get political. I will just say I would not have voted him in.

Suzi Quatro is appearing at Archway with  Words on 21st October. You can purchase tickets here.

Archway with Words is ten-day day festival and that there are more than 40 other events, with the programme here.

Why I’ve Always Loved Younger Men


1 Minute Read

Why I’ve always loved younger men....

Younger men... now there’s a damning phrase if you are an older woman. Branded as cougar, cradle-snatcher, why is it that all those rather unpleasant epithets never get showered on men who prefer ‘a younger model’?

I’ve always been open about my preference, recognising it’s fundamentally part of who I am, rather then just a midlife need for a good fuck... (Although of course that never goes amiss.)

So grab a coffee, and enjoy...

Clear as day I remember standing in the Sussex kitchen of my mother’s best friend. The three of us. Exasperation at me was written all over my mother’s face. I was 16, so most would find this unsurprising. But this emotion had been on her face whenever she looked at me for most of my life. Nothing new there.

The discussion turned to boyfriends – a delicious wayward boxing half-blue, history student at Cambridge was my current choice. Older – yes, a little, more experienced – quite definitely. My mother and friend both knew how much I was enjoying it, him.

But the comments that followed changed my perspective forever. The world went quiet. My heart stopped. The seismic plates shifted. No-one else noticed – but me.

‘Hmm the thing about Erica is she needs a strong person. To control her. To ensure she doesn’t do anything stupid. Someone much older. A real man who can tell her what to do. How life is.’

Throw-away comments maybe. As if I wasn’t in the room. But those few words resonated into my future. I absolutely knew I never wanted an older man, a father figure, someone who knew best. Those words still make my heart go cold.

What I wanted, had probably always wanted, was a playmate, a partner in crime, a lover who was up for exploration, someone as wild-minded, intense like me. Who loved passionately. I wanted someone to ‘see’ me. And this man was always going to be my age or younger. From the get-go. A sort of sexy Peter Pan, combined with Jack Sparrow. Insouciant. Fresh-faced. Smiling. Light of body, mind, heart.

Life went on. I married a man my own age. I loved him passionately. We had happy times and lots of children, but his childhood damage claimed him. So there I was back in the world of dating again. Time to imagine next steps. And it was never ever about someone older.

After licking my wounds, eight years ago I threw myself back into the maelstrom that is internet dating. Curious and worried.

I was facing 50 – with all the uncertainties of the menopause ahead, of being ‘past it’, of thinking life was on a downward spiral from here on. To my surprise – I was thrown a lifeline from a really unexpected quarter. Those younger men who had always featured in my mind’s eye came up trumps. To them I was catnip. I was a person to be courted, fantasised about, enjoyed and spoiled. They wanted to engage with me, just as I had always wanted to engage with them.

The reasons to enjoy them are many and varied...So here’s my list – once sampled you can add your own...

• Younger men understand personal grooming really well.
And if you don’t believe me – compare younger men’s profiles to those in their 60s and 70s on any dating site. If you did the same comparison for older/younger women, the difference is much less stark.

• Yoga is something they’ve tried and probably do.
Supple bendy men are wonderful lovers. Health/wellbeing is part of who they are. Most of the younger men I have dated have done yoga... Older men? Nada.

• Your/their gene pool really is irrelevant.
You may have children already, or be past those years... Yeay, they are happy not to have to factor that into any dating equation. Not so with women closer to them in age.

• If you are lucky, you have your own space, so are not looking to them to provide a roof over your head. What they earn and whether it can support a mortgage/rent is therefore not important. Nor is a pension for that matter – you’re more sorted anyway.

• You know what you’re doing in bed and boy, is it fun exploring all sorts of new stuff... Toys, apps, you name it.

• They love the fact that you are older...

Be prepared to have the whole world feel they can make personal comments about you/your relationship/their prejudices about the inappropriateness of older woman/younger man together with impunity...

I dated a very beautiful 6’3” triathlete – eye-candy of the highest order. If I went to the loo in a bar, girls young enough to be my daughters would feel they could express jealousy/horror and everything in between. Until you explained that they, when older, could be doing just the same. Hah! That put it in perspective in a way they’d never anticipated.

He too was asked what it was like ‘shagging his mother’... Not expecting the ‘best sex ever’ reply his laddish inquisitors got. But what amazed him was how many men wanted to talk about it more, and more, and more. And then would ask us about it together.

It would seem that there is a need for ‘fact site for dating older women’ somewhere.

• Those younger men are up for adventure – big time.
Whereas an older guy doesn’t get why you want to have sex in as many car-parks as you can round London to see where the CCTV cameras can’t reach, my playmate at the time thought it was a crazy, fun-filled way to spend odd weekday evenings. We saw parts of London I never knew existed, in ways I hadn’t anticipated!

Windsurfing and sex – tick, kayaking and sex – tick, sleeping outside in all weathers and sex – tick.

• Yes I did have my fair share of sexual problems to deal with... premature ejaculation, lack of erection, etc. Sometimes I wondered if I’d become the sexual therapist some of these men needed, but being able to talk about it to me was an unanticipated bonus – for them.

• They get why the roof off the car, loud music at 2am on a frosty night is the only way to get home from a party.

• Importantly - I love younger people...
Most of my company’s clients are in their 20s, 30s, early 40s – I’m mixing with them on a daily basis, building their companies with them, understanding the issues they face. I talk their talk, walk their walk. And some of them are hot as hell. Although clients are a definite ‘no, no’, it’s not rocket science these are the types of men I engage with emotionally, or physically. And I’m not interested in retiring (well, other than to a well-appointed bed with some delightful company). There are too many things to do, people to see, places to go... I find the ‘slippers/pipe’ mentality in older men unbelievably dispiriting. Please no, don’t unhook me from the mainstream.

• Younger men don’t get M&S, or the National Trust
This may sound a little odd. But next time you’re in M&S – look around you. No-one hot and tasty in there, is there? No, see my point. So I run in, buy Rosie HW’s silk bras and dash out again, a little worried I might have been seen by my latest squeeze. Who just so happens to love removing said silk 
bras, cami-knickers and cashmere sweaters that M&S does so well, priced so reasonably. And what hot date has ever asked you to go round a NT property – unless of course they were the tree-surgeon?

• Younger men appreciate the menopause could be a good thing...
My breasts are having a great mid-life career at the moment. Post-menopause they are getting bigger and bigger (and I was never poorly endowed). Whilst the rest of my body is fit, lithe, responding to exercise, healthy diet and yoga, my breasts have decided they are having none of that. They are big, beautiful and objects of wonder to my lovers. Older men have that sort of ‘seen it all before’ ennui.

And of course – pregnancy is no longer an issue. Condoms are for sexual health, not contraception. Ah, pregnancy.

Therein lies the rub when you are in the wonderful world of dating younger men. Because many of them will make fabulous fathers. If they are not already.

My deal with younger men has always been that when they meet the girl they want to be the mother of their children, be honest, say so. Because it can’t be me. Be truthful. They know I’ve loved being the mother of 4 – how on earth could I ever hold them, keep them from experiencing this too. So sometimes even though your heart is aching because you love them, you have to let them go to someone closer to them in age.

• You stay under their skin, in their souls...

So despite the sad point above, bear in mind one key thing. Told to me by a male friend I’ve known since I was in my late teens... If you have enjoyed loving and being loved by a man very much younger than you, he will never ever forget you. You will always be part of his life, who he is, how he loves. And if things go wrong, as sadly they do – it is you that will be on the speed-dial once the worst has happened. Because he knows you have years of life to call on to help him through. Not wisdom. Just years’ of life practice.

Go out and enjoy the smorgasbord younger men can offer. And you know one of the really great things about getting older? There are even more younger men next year than this year! Enjoy.

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