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AofA People: Caroline Culleton – Coach

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Caroline Culleton, 53, is a coach from Brisbane, yes, Brisbane!! She’s a coach, domestic goddess and much more.


Caroline Culleton






Coaching, at uni, domestic goddess, and everything in between


Busy – crazy busy – I want to do it all. FOMO – smarter than when I was 20, more courageous and care little to what the youth say about me!


Something meaningful to say! A husband! Kids! An opinion! A belief in me! The willingness to try anything new just because. My own home with a pool.


What about it?


Have to say – less exciting. In fact rather dull and domestic. Bordering on dull. Have more fun with girlfriends when I laugh loads, eat well, drink too much and feel a sense of freedom.


Getting away and walking in nature. Getting on a plane and flying anywhere. Swimming – it’s quiet underwater. Walking my dog. Driving up a highway in search of a beach to hang out on.


My kids. As corny as that sounds I reckon I’ve done a pretty good job there! Jumping out of a plane on my 50th birthday.


Trying new things. Coaching my clients who inspire me with their desire to change and be amazing, learning.


When I am walking with friends and camping. When there are no pressures from anywhere. Where I can just be me.


In writing – have a blog as well as my coaching site. I used to love painting a few years back – even won a little prize!! But haven’t done that for a while. Should do because it is a good distraction. Love to sing – but usually in the shower.


Honesty, community, connection.


Peacefully, respectfully,


Absolutely. The challenge is to act upon these dreams so they become realities – and that may mean putting self first regardless of what other say or want me to do.


Just bought into a network marketing skincare business because I know the product is brilliant but I am shit scared of selling – ha ha. That sure is outrageous. Watch this space.

AirBnB Hostess – Heaven or Hell?

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Back in my 30s, in the late 90s, when I was married (and flush), my husband, two kids and myself would travel to the West Coast of Mexico every year for a three-week Christmas holiday. I loved it there. Lying on the sandy beach, a gentle breeze always in the air, the delicious local food. At the time, Isabel Goldsmith (daughter of Sir James Goldsmith) was garnering some media attention, having built a luxurious 16-room boutique hotel inland called Las Alamandas. Reclining on my sun lounger during those long, hot days, I often daydreamed about such a future for myself. I liked to imagine myself as the hostess with the mostest, running a very small boutique hotel somewhere warm and managing a small team of staff. I imagined each day would go something like this: spend the morning making sure my guests were happy, planning the small menu each night with our resident chef, leaving the rest of my day to read a book and lie in the sun.

Fast forward 20 years and, having been an AirBnB hostess for the past two years; any dreams I had of being a hotelier have been firmly put on the back burner. To those that work tirelessly in the hospitality industry, I have the utmost respect for what you do. This ‘job’ has taught me more about human behavior than any psychology course ever could.

I live in a three bedroom, interior designed flat, a stone’s throw from the Kilburn High Road, which just happens to be off the famous Abbey Road.

Here is my listing:

“Lovely, cosy room just off the Abbey Road and only 2 stops from Euston Station. The West End and trains/buses to East London, Central London and West are all nearby. This is a very quiet flat and the owners work and live there. This room is suitable only for singles due to its size.”

My listing then goes on to say that the room features a comfortable, pull out sofa bed and the guests will have access to a large bathroom with rainwater shower head and the kitchen to make teas/coffees but not to cook breakfast or for lounging. The room also features Wi-Fi and Cat5 cabling for super fast Internet access. The price is £35 per night.

“Gee, isn’t that a bit too cheap?” said a friend of mine when she enquired about the room on behalf of a friend of hers who was visiting London and needed a place to stay.

“Well,” I replied. “It’s a very small room and I’d rather have it booked all the time and turn people away than have empty days. Besides I keep it low to avoid my guests having unrealistic expectations. They pay for a nice, clean (but small) room in a lovely flat and that’s what they get.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve learned it doesn’t actually matter whether one lives in a shoebox or a castle; travellers using AirBnB now demand the same level of service they would have if they were staying in a Hilton. On an average day as a hostess, I might be required to create a day’s sightseeing tour in London, help my guests navigate the transport system plus recommend local restaurants. I have travelled to the nearest chemist open on a Sunday to pick up a prescription when one of my guests inexplicably developed gout overnight. I have shared a bottle of wine with a guest who wanted to tell me of her marriage woes. I am a therapist, a housekeeper and a tour guide all rolled into one.

I have always been a clean and tidy person but being an AirBnB hostess has required me to take my cleaning skills to a whole new level. Take hair, for instance, or rather my futile effort to make sure that there are no traces of it in the bathroom or on my kitchen floor. Every time I host a person with long hair, no matter what shade, my inner ‘neatnik’ goes into overdrive. My bathroom floor and kitchen floor are both laid with pale grey porcelain tiles. Beautiful, yes. Practical, no. Every single hair, every crumb, every piece of fluff is visible and, yes, it drives me crazy. My dustbuster is my new best friend. Who needs a degree when just having a broom and some bleach can earn me enough money to be able to travel and avoid having to take on any client-facing work… just about.

Ninety percent of my guests only stay for a night or two, leaving me little time to get to know them, but there have been a number of amazing people with whom I have kept in touch such as the former high-flying woman physicist, recently retired, who was travelling around Europe on her own for the first time. Or the guy who left his City job to make chili-infused jelly (his mother’s recipe) that he was now selling at food fairs and artisanal grocery stores around the country (and left me with a selection to try). The up and coming pop singer who was playing a gig in town was a sweetheart too, despite forgetting to set her watch to the correct time zone and missing her train.

Then, there is the handful that I would classify as ‘odd’. I’ll never forget the Irish woman, in her mid-30s, and in London for the first time, who drank a full bottle of red, stubbed her rollie out in the hallway and tried to make a pass at my son. Or the Israeli guy who insisted on sleeping with his bedroom door open in just his boxer shorts. My most recent horror was an English guy who showed up four hours late, spilled a full bottle of (thankfully) water on the carpet and then complained that the room had a sofa bed and not a double, although this had been clearly stated no fewer than three times on the website.

I won’t lie. The lack of privacy can be a drag. The walls in my flat are not soundproofed and it’s when I’m in bed, and having sex (a rare enough occurrence) that I really wish I were alone. Lovemaking is often accompanied by the sound of doors opening and closing, footsteps on the stairs outside my room, or muffled chattering. But frankly, it’s a small price to pay for the freedom I have – to do exactly what I want each and every day.

The one-night bookings translate into a lot of washing. I have never done so much laundry in my life. It is not glamorous. I have become very adept at changing duvet covers.

For those considering being an AirBnB host, here are my top tips.

  1. Undercharge to begin with because it’s important to get reviews. This will help move your residence further up the search.
  2. It’s not necessary to offer breakfast or cooking facilities (I don’t) so think about whether you want the additional hassle of having to clean up someone else’s meal (although you can charge for breakfast too).
  3. I use Instant Book which means I don’t get to choose my guests but does mean I get almost 100% occupancy.
  4. Photos are super important – make sure your residence is tidy and take nice pics. It makes a huge difference.
  5. You can choose whether you’re a friendly host or don’t want much contact. If you work from home, I would choose the latter.
  6. If you want to rent out your entire home, you will be limited to 90 days in any one year (in London). The same rule does not apply to individual rooms.
  7. Cleanliness is super important. Stray hairs, full rubbish bins and general untidiness doesn’t really cut it with most guests and will lead to a poor review.
  8. If you have a problem with any of your guests, report it immediately and take photographs to document your evidence. My experience is that the site responds very quickly and will attempt to deal with your problem straightaway.
  9. For those that worry about items getting stolen or hosting weirdos – if my experience is anything to go by, most people are actually very respectful of your space and will go out of their way to be friendly.

If you’re an AirBnb guest:

  1. Never assume your host is a hermit. If you’re going to be late, let your host know. They may be waiting around to let you in so they can go out.
  2. Make sure you’ve read the listing thoroughly so you know what to expect.
  3. Take the sheets off the bed and hand them to your host on departure (not necessary but a lovely gesture).
  4. Try and keep noise to a minimum.
  5. Unless it has been agreed in advance, don’t assume it’s suddenly OK to bring your partner or someone you just picked up in the pub home with you.
  6. In general, treat others with the same respect you’d expect someone to treat you and everyone will get along brilliantly.

Being an AirBnB has its pluses and minuses but, if it’s taught me anything, it’s that I’m not cut out for running a boutique hotel on the Mexican coastline, any other coastline or inland, for that matter. And I look forward to the prospect in a year or two’s time – of being able to rent out my entire flat for months at a time to become location-independent. But, right now, I really must go and take the sheets out of the dryer…

How does it feel to look good naked at 61?

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”OFFS why does women ‘empowerment’ always have to involve them getting their kit off?” This was one of the responses on the Wearing Wellbeing Facebook page to a call for volunteers for – “A TASTEFUL (yes they did use capital letters) nude shoot for a piece about women and body confidence”.

Why did I jump at the chance? Well, primarily it was to see if I really had embraced acceptance of my older self. Also, I reasoned it would be useful research for my project, The Invisibility Myth. What I didn’t immediately get was the wider picture. I believe there’s a need for people to see normal body-confident golden agers and younger women who are embracing their natural body changes not fighting them; the softening, the battle scars of survival and of a life lived.

Our bodies are the manifestation of any issues that we normally conceal under clothes and makeup. Strip those away, and we have to face who we really are, no hiding. For me at 61 years old, this was an important part of my personal development. Holding a mirror up to see if my acceptance of my physical is actually real now. I’m no longer that young, confident self-made woman who lost her way in her 40s under the weight of fluctuating hormones and major life changes. I’ve been on a postmenopausal rebirth since the age of 50 and am, at 61 in a place where I’ve grown into my own skin and made peace with who I was then and who I am now, even though it requires constant vigilance!

I arrive at a photographic studio in Hoxton, East London feeling a tad apprehensive. It’s not about getting naked per-se, more an in-built unease and cynicism about the media and how I will be portrayed. Although the accompanying interview for the article has been read over the phone to me and I am happy with it, I know it’s not been edited yet, so it could all go tits up – literally! I walk into the groovy reception area, where there is a beautiful young woman with vitiligo, (I later find out she is one of the models) quietly feeding her week old baby girl. Not what I was expecting to see.

Friendly young hair and makeup ladies bustle around behind flimsy curtains preening a small group of women, before they shyly shrug off their robes to pose in the white, brightly lit studio space. I go hot and panicky. In those first few minutes, I think about bolting, but pause instead to chat with a simply AMAZING looking 87 year old woman. YES 87 with spiky red and white hair carefully arranged to hide her hearing aids. She is wondering out loud whether or not to keep her flesh-coloured thong on (it would be retouched out post shoot) for the benefit of her grandchildren. I laugh, gulp, take stock, calm down and get a grip.

Before I can think too hard I take my clothes off, put a thong, fluffy robe and slippers on… and suddenly there is a pause for lunch and chat. I recognize one of the models is a lady I met on the AoA OUTageous Bus Tour. It all begins to feel so normal, in a surreal kind of way. The (male) photographer and his young assistant join us and are so affable and confidence inspiring, I feel myself starting to warm to the occasion. The only covering our bodies have under our white robes is a thin coat of shimmering skin buffing cream applied with a body mitt (yeah there was much joking about nooks, crannies and creases!).

By the time it comes for post-lunch action, we three 87, 61 and 30-year-old women have bonded and the group shots of our bodies (think Dove commercial-esque) become a hilarious, really quite touching celebratory experience rather than a daunting on. We are stripped literally and metaphorically of anything to hide behind and I feel an endorphin flood of love and respect for these strangers with whom I am engaging in such an intimate unforgettable moment.

The photographer is happy to show us some of the results as the shoot progressed – he really knew his stuff. There was one shot of me sitting on the floor, my modesty carefully arranged intact, that I had to admit was wonderful.  It remains to be seen what the finished article and photos will look like, but whatever, I stand firm that my decision to do it was right. I leave the studio with a big smile on my face, feeling euphoric and proud of myself. I believe the other women feel the same. My reward is to trot down to the 24 hour Brick Lane Bagel Bakery (oh how many times I went there after all night benders in my youth!) to scoff a lox bagel AND a wedge of cheesecake, before meeting friends for a well-earned drinkiepoos. What started as something well outside my comfort zone, ended as an adventure. I am so pleased to have felt the fear of and done anyway.

In a time when we are all going to live longer and longer, I’m now in my Golden Age and quite frankly I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks when the article comes out. I have earned the right to live out my years in as self-determining and visible way as I choose, for as long as this beautiful body of mine holds up, until I shuffle off this mortal coil. If it’s not your thing – step away and please refrain from judgment – the latter just perpetuates the myth that the only way forward is for us to be tucked away out of sight and invisible.  Ain’t happening on my watch. How about yours?

Haiku Days

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On August 11th, I took a picture of my dog’s paw, resting gently in the cup of my hand. Not a work of art, photography not being a thing I’m particularly good at. It caught a little sweetness though. Without me trying, a haiku arose to sit beside it. I posted them on Facebook.

The next day, another haiku arrived, and the next day, another. I decided to make a haiku a day for a month. Thirty-one haiku later, I am grateful to this thread of small constructions of word and syllable: a spontaneous ritual that called me to meet myself on a daily basis.

I hold my dog’s paw.
Ribbons of light, bind me tight
to this little life

I’ve never been a journal keeper. In fact, my writing is wholly undisciplined. I’m full of unwritten writing and that’s a sad fact. I suspect forgiving myself for that is a life-long project.

These haiku days, have been illuminating. And medicinal.

Dog haiku each day
Keeps Black-Dog, hound teeth at bay
It’s a small Blessing

I have learned some things along the road, that hold me now. Of course, I wish I’d learned them sooner. Mostly these lessons have been about simplicity and kindness. How to be kind to the one I am, the one I’m with, and how to welcome, even revel in sometimes, a simplicity that’s like an empty table.

The thing about living in the hinterland of depressed, is just how much racket the storms of judgement can make. It’s hard to find the gateway to simple, within all that banging and crashing. Somehow, between my hanging on and giving up, by the kindnesses of others, a beloved dog and a few maps and signposts left by the poets and vagabonds, I have found that gate.

Dog repetition
He takes me out, and back in
Three times, everyday

It’s been much quieter since the condemnations have ceased. I should be this. I should be that. The erosive violence of all that should and shouldn’t: weights and measures of success.

Mouth open: shouting
Gold falls out, and other things
It is not pretty

The haiku have helped me. A small discipline, but a discipline nevertheless. A practice, like walking Leonard The Dog. A commitment. A deal. A promise to show up. An actual showing up that is small and distilled enough for me to succeed at. See, even I’m doing it. Success: what does it mean?

Sometimes. Often, I can only stay for a fragment, a heartbeat, half a heartbeat. I need to retreat. I do come back, to myself or to you, but not immediately. I need a lot of breathing space. Quite literally, to just ‘breathe in’ space. I used to tear strips off myself for this disappearing. I deemed it absent, as a pose to the altar of Presence, where we all seem to worship. Now, I don’t even know if that’s true. I just know that I can forgive myself, if I need forgiving, and that I am free to be the one who disappears and comes back and then goes again.

No haiku came through
Running empty, all day long
Dog kissed my eyelids

The haiku are both small enough and big enough. Tiny and huge. A container. A street corner. A date. Every day the promise to haiku tugged at my hand and brought me to myself for a heartbeat or half.

And, looking back at these captured fragments of my last thirty-one days, I realise I have kept some kind of record. It’s a haiku diary.

Depressed needs to rest
Aches for the Aegean Sea
Body remembers

I dabble with the possibility of carrying on. A year of haiku. Or a lifetime.

On the 19th of August, Leonard and I ambled in our favourite London cemetery. This is the note.

Forgiveness of death
Old stones and trees, bent by time
accompany us

Many of these of these tiny reports, are love letters to my dog. The one who’s teaching me just how much love I am capable of: the one I share my days and nights with.

You are my darling
The face I wake up and see
Sweetest company

Dog rolled in something
Dog got washed from nose to tail
Dog smells wonderful

I am often lost. I stumble and fall, I lurch and crawl, and while these are metaphors, it is also direct reporting. I can’t quite understand how no-one else seems to notice me crashing into walls and falling over my own feet. Stumbling through the days of my little life, is graphic. Now, I know to keep things simple. There is a cradle I can fall back into, and it’s made up of small things: domestic repetitions, lighting many candles each day, always having flowers, walking in and out with Leonard, lists, naps, gratitude, doing the best work I can with my clients. This cradle of Grace is a living thing. There are flowers, reeds and weeds, growing in the nooks and crannies. I lined it with moss and earth. It both holds and anchors me.

Maybe, just maybe, the haiku can hold and anchor me too.

Oh Lordy – what’s all this ‘Midster’ terminology?

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Recently, there was a panel discussion on ‘Midsters’ and whether they were leading a colourful life. We sent well-being and fashion expert, Rebecca Weef-Smith along to find out what it was all about.

What’s with the Midster?

I took a bit of a dislike to the term Midster, it sounds like a slightly baggy low rise jean that Marks and Spencer would think was a good idea but – as was mentioned more than once by the audience at the launch – M & S do get it so wrong. I also have a feeling of it being too closely aligned to Mister and found myself humming some old show tune – mister can you spare a dime – but I will try not to let that interfere with my objectivity about the report which was commissioned by JD Williams, a company specialising in products for women over 45.

Overall the findings do reflect what we know here at AofA, life is bloody good when you are over 45; midster life for today’s 45-65-year-olds is a ‘distinct and exciting phase of life’.

Angela Spindler, the CEO of N Brown Group which owns JD Williams, was frank about her feelings of enjoying this part of her own life, “Age is just a number by which we are no longer defined.” There was much talk of possibilities, new opportunities and positive ageing attitudes in society at large. Women in the 45+ bracket are more confident in their appearance, have a better sex life, and are enjoying their leisure time more. However the report does also show that more than one in ten women are concerned about losing their sex drive, along with memory loss, independence and health problems.

A General Sense of Ageing

Thank goodness only 13% of those surveyed want to be 18 again but half – yes 50% – want to be thirty again. Are they mad? Has no one told them of the Advantages of Age?

As the panel discussed there is still loads of scare-mongering around; how dreadful this aging is going to be, oh the loneliness, the poverty, the poor health. AofA has a duty of care to put this right! We need to get out there and evangelise guys; 48% of 45+ women fear being a burden on loved ones and 68% fear losing their independence. This is not a reflection of my aging tribe, where is the flamboyance and sheer joy, where are the mavericks…has the word not spread that being a ‘baby-boomer’ is much better than being a ‘millennial’?

Women & Shopping

A whopping 70% of the women surveyed feel ignored by the high street, which brings me back to Marks and Spencer’s. And what can be learnt from this report that will inform the real world. At this point it may be useful to remember that JD Williams are retailers, and whilst the survey could be viewed from an alternative angle, my takeaway was that the launch was geared towards a fashion audience who are attempting to understand this demographic in order to sell them fashion, real clothes in stores and fashion-media, either traditional print or online.

The audience and panel discussed the disconnect between how we see ourselves and what we are being offered on the high street in terms of actual garments – how they fit, what styles are age appropriate -and the experience of shopping – creating environments that appeal to women 45+. What do we really want fashion retailers to provide that will switch us back on to enjoying connecting with fashion- shopping? 55% of women in this age group find it hard to discover clothing that they think suits them and the same figure -55%- stick to high street brands where they can try on before buying. 66% of the surveys stay with shops they feel comfortable in, even though 9 out of 10 put a lot of thought into outfit selection. My question would be where is the sense of adventure there? We need to encourage them to take a few more risks with where they shop and try something different, especially the 30% who desire to shop more fashionably but think they are too old! We need to do an AofA round the UK bus tour to get their flamboyance flowing! Come on ladies M & S isn’t the only option. Surprisingly shopping in charity shops didn’t figure large on the creating a positive fashion after 45. It seems that the idea wasn’t consider necessary to the survey. I wonder what the data would have revealed had they asked how many 45+ women in the UK bought fashion items from the plethora of charity retailers on every high street. My experience of working as a stylist with this age group is that there is a definite positive shift in the way that they create identity with clothes. I have a sense that age brings with it the freedom to explore fashion without the restrictions of going into an office every day, or dressing to attract the attention of men; I know that AofA members certainly aren’t all wearing ‘age-appropriate outfits’ but are certainly having fun with dressing to suit themselves.

Media Impact on body confidence

Even with all the apparent positive aging attitudes that the report reveals that the women surveyed still feel underrepresented by mainstream media; 8 in 10 don’t feel TV advertising reflects who they are, with the same figure believing that their age group has no presence on fashion catwalks.

72% are concerned with the misleading effect of photo-shopping images leading to unrealistic expectations. The idea of real 45+ women’s bodies, the way we actually perceive our own bodies, and the manner in which we compare with celebrity bodies always comes back to Helen Mirren – 60% of those surveyed put her at the top of their most admired list – poor woman, can she never be allowed off her perfect perch.

The negative impact of the media on body confidence overall was deemed relatively low with 62% of women stating that the media had no effect on their body perceptions at all.

I was cheered by the fact that nearly 1 in 20 British women aged 45+ would post a bikini –clad photo of themselves on social media and this was before Alex Shulman posted her infamous image. Of the five panel members only one said she would absolutely not post a bikini- selfie, the audience weren’t polled, which was a shame because I really wanted to know; I also wanted to know how many would have put up naked photos on social media in order to walk the talk of positive body image but alas I didn’t get the chance to ask that question!

Sex and Intimacy

42% of women surveyed want more sex, with 6 in 10 agreeing that there is less stigma attached to dating in this age group than 20 years ago. I wonder if it is the other 4 out of 10 who make up the 42% wanting more sex. Sadly only 10% found that sex was better after menopause and 23% said that their post-menopause sex-life was worse. I’m pretty sure that the fact that only 25% of those surveyed felt that it is more acceptable to be promiscuous at 45+ has some relevance to this figure but I’ve yet to work out what that my be, or what promiscuous actually related to. I would have like clarification here, it all felt a bit prudish and a British brush it under the carpet attitude of not wanting the nitty-gritty. Come on I want to know what promiscuity means to the 45+ woman in the street, clearly the 24% only having sex once a year or less may be skewing the data.

Home and Work Life

Before the debate convened I was chatting to a fashion editor who only last week had become a freelancer after 40+ years of employment. It would appear, according to this survey,that being an older entrepreneur is still unusual; only 11% of those surveyed had a career change in their 50s. (There is no figure for a career change in the 60s so I’m reading that as 50+ which could be wrong of me). There was nothing in the report, which I could find, to highlight the growing band of older female entrepreneurs or freelancers who are generating positive working experiences for themselves.

25% of this demographic struggle with a work–life balance, which means that 75% have found a way to successfully negotiate this juggling act. Overall there was little good news in this section, with 45% of women in London seeing themselves as the main breadwinner compared to 34% in the rest of the country there was a feeling that there wasn’t much opportunity for these women to enjoy the extra leisure time that they had stated was the thing they were most looking forward when becoming a ‘midster’ (44%). Another one in five was most looking forward to their free bus pass, so more AoA bus adventures then!

How colourful are we really being at 45+?

The findings in this report left me feeling less than confident that this colourful life was taking place in many parts of the UK for 45+ women. I had hoped for multi-coloured chandelier earrings with bells and whistles. Or at least an exotic splash of red. It all felt a bit beige to be honest.

The panel didn’t seem very excited about being older either; they all looked great, women in their prime who should be having a great time, but the overall impression I had was that these women felt the choices they had were limited. I was very aware of my own bra-less state in a room full of sensible support underwear. This isn’t a judgement, merely an observation; my desire to be a bit of a rebel in the room, to see aging as an aspirational goal with a freedom-pass, may well have coloured my expectations of my fellow attendees. I just want them to have a bit of a blast in an Advantages of Age style. Come on ladies let your hair down and get on the Bus!

AofA People: Sue Bentley – Author

1 Minute Read

Sue Bentley is an author who has published over 70 books during her 25 year career. She is best known for her multi-million selling Magic Kitten, Magic Puppy, Magic Ponies and Magic Bunny series – for readers aged 5-8 years. Her latest, a dark fantasy thriller entitled We Other was published in April this year.


Sue Bentley






I write for a living – books for children and adults. I’ve published over 70 books in a career of over 25 years.


Wonderful. I feel free of the worries and hang-ups that dogged me for many of my younger years. I have a wonderful group of writer friends and have been married to the same man for around 40 years. I’m more myself than I’ve ever been and I’m absolutely not bothered about what anyone else thinks of me.


Confidence. Time to be as creative as I like in my writing. Security of owning my own home. Time to enjoy relaxing with my partner and take a day off from working whenever I like. I can dress how I like and not be bothered by trends or agonise about body shape.


Intimacy is important to me. The security of being able to be myself in a loving relationship is very special.I feel free of the pressures on women to be ‘forever sexy’. I’m me – take it or leave it.


Relationships of all kind are very important to me. My partner and I share many interests, but I also enjoy spending time with my sisters – I have 4 of them, and we’re all very different – and my writing friends – with whom I do things my partner isn’t interested in. I think this is very healthy in a long-term relationship. I also have two grown up sons and 6 grandchildren – from ages 14years – to 2 years who I adore.


 I feel free within myself, but I do worry about the troubled wider world in which we live.


 My writing achievements. Of being able to support myself from money earned from writing. I’m proud of my two sons who are healthy, fine young men.


Being creative by nature and allowing my curiosity to go in whatever direction it leads me. I love learning new things, interacting with other writers and readers. I adore reading good fiction. That always inspires and sometimes awes me.


Being by myself, but only because I know I have the security of those I love around me. I like my own company and get lots of my best ideas when walking alone. I love my workspace. I have my own room where I can be undisturbed.


Wherever it wants to! I love colour, texture, flavour in all of life. I like the darkness, the fantastic and the extraordinary within the every day. These things are reflected in my books, short stories, and my artwork. I’m a multi-media artist and mono-print maker. Although most of my energy goes into whichever book I’m working on at the time.


Live every day to the full. If you haven’t something kind to say, then say nothing. I’m a positive, glass half-full type of person.I’m imperfectly perfect, as I don’t always live up to my ideals!


Philosophical about it. Not scared of dying, only of the process. These last two years we lost quite a few of our older generation, including my father just over a year ago. I was with three of my close relatives as they died. All the deaths were as individual as they were as people. It was a profoundly affecting experience, both terribly sad with a kind of beauty. I was also present at the birth of my grand daughter and held her in my arms immediately she took her first breath. And I’ve given birth naturally myself twice. So I have seen the beginning and the end of life. The mystery of it all is always with me.


Yes – I dream of the books I plan to write, the characters and setting I will create. Of all the wonderful things there are to experience in the world. I’m not a great traveller. I feel that I’m a creature of the place I was born in. My dreams are filled with the beauty and wonder all around me, of the greenness and trees of my little patch of earth. The wildlife in my garden. Of the laughter and wisdom of the children in my life. I allow myself to dream of the detail and richness of the close-at-hand. And that to me is the whole world.


Well – most of the outrageous things I do are in my mind! They often find their way into print in one way or another. But I hate injustice and did once shout at someone in a car park who was berating my partner, when he was actually trying to help her. The words came flying out before I could stop them! I’m not proud of that.

Poetry – how writing keeps me kicking up

1 Minute Read

‘For a poem to emerge properly, you have to avoid confronting it. You have to keep it in sight without looking at it directly.’ Fiona Sampson, poet, in Mslexia

Twelve years ago, I’d never written a poem. I wasn’t – so many say this – one of those people who started writing poems in their teens. At the time, I was a journalist whose paid work – the internet and falling sales of newspapers – was on the wane. I was unsettled, gloomy and undermined.

I decided radical action was needed on the writing front. I have always been a fan of lyrical language so I decided to try out writing poems. I knew – and this is key – that writing poetry was never going to earn me my daily bread but I wanted to do it for love. I had been on the hamster wheel of feature editors’ ever-narrowing commissions and instructions, this way I would re-discover writerly freedom.

Not that I expected it to be easy. I was in for the long haul. I signed up to City Lit’s Beginner’s course with contemporary poet, John Stammers at the helm. I’d never heard of him. His collection Stolen Love Behaviour had just come out and I devoured its post-modern bite. Here were poems that were crafted to the hilt, witty and John’s degree in philosophy drove the undertow.

Through John, I discovered so many poets – from Wallace Stevens to Clare Pollard – but most importantly, and this is a rare feature, I found out that John can actually pinpoint what works and doesn’t work in his pupils’ poems. Over the years, this has been such a boon as well as a pain.

For a long long time, my poems were embarrassingly bad. I’d have a few sizzling one liners, or a good title here and there but the struggle to write a decent poem was arduous and humbling. Luckily, I expected the climb to be arduous and was willing to plod on.

Christian Palen
Rose Rouse by Christian Palen

What is a good poem? Ah ha, there is the subject of many a book and author. Basically the content should be fresh, the voice should belong to that poet alone, the attitude should be ‘show rather than tell’ (ie cut out any of those literal lines), a big no to the overly poetic (John has a list of forbidden words and they include iridescence and meniscus!) and then the most difficult, something should emerge magically without the poet even knowing. Helen Mort who is well-known in the poetry world, has just won the Mslexia (a magazine for women who write) poetry prize and the judge, Sinead Morrissey said; ‘there’s a vortex in the middle of it that works like a spell.’ Exactly.

Funnily enough, I am still in one of John’s groups, now an invitation-only one with some damn fine poets – including Barbara Marsh, Judy Brown and Beatrice Garland who all have collections out, won poetry prizes and more. Wednesday afternoon is often the high point of the week for me. We meet in Covent Garden above a pub in Betterton Street while the Poetry Society does its refurbishment re The Poetry Studio.

The format is like this. We hardly ever discuss our personal lives. Only through the poems. John brings in three poems as photocopies, he doesn’t tell us who the poet is. He reads the first one and then we analyse/criticize them. He will bring in these poems for all sorts of reasons – they are badly edited, they have something but not everything, they sing with edge and vim etc – and we are in constant pursuit of what makes a good poem. This is a life’s work!

In the second half, we hand out photocopies of our own new poems to the group, read it out aloud to them and then stay silent while they discuss every aspect in terms of meaning and structure. I have squirmed many times in this position as it became apparent that my new poem didn’t make sense, was overegged – I have a proclivity in this direction – and just plainly did not work. Oh the ignoble position of the bad poet!

However, over the years, I’ve been in this group for five years – we published a group pamphlet Sounds of the Front Door in 2014 – my embarrassment has subsided and I now relish their comments even when they are constructively ruthless. Because that’s exactly what my poems need ie outside voices looking in.

In January, I’d just come back from post-Castro Cuba and written a poem Finding My Inner Orisha. A lot of it was in Spanish and through the group, I learnt that actually there was too much for people to understand so they suggested that I translate lines in both Spanish and English. I have now done that and hope it lends an incantatory aspect to the poem. Although I also decided that I didn’t want to do it all in that way as that was too much. The poet always has the last word. Although as we often discuss when reading other poets’ work, a good editor is also worth their weight in gold.

Killing your own darlings is such a useful lesson in life as well as poetry. Poets often have a proclivity towards something that takes them out of balance. Personally, I go for florid language and this can be so easily overdone. Restraint is needed. Going to The Group helps me refine my own editing skills. If I see that extra ‘fecund’, then I force myself to remove it.

This year, I found a publisher for my first poetry pamphlet – 20 poems and these days often called a chapbook – Tantric Goddess at the age of 64. It’s never too late to start. And I’m not giving up now, I intend to get a collection – around 60 poems – together next.

Tantric Goddess is published on Eyewear.

Tantric Goddess

My Dark, Lush Magnificence and Its Loss

5 Minute Read

My hair was always my ‘thing’. Thick, dark, dramatic. When I was a little girl I had a crow. Blackie. Well strictly speaking, my brother did. He shimmied up a tree and stole it from a nest, though he only admitted that recently, having said for years it had fallen out, just in time to be rescued. So Blackie would perch on my shoulder and preen and peck away at my wild nest of hair. We made quite a pair.

Now my hair is coming out. It’s all over the bathroom floor, the kitchen floor, the corridor. They’re the areas with light tiling – I can pretend it’s not all over the carpets as it is less easy to see there. So it nests in the carpet, festers till I get the vac out.

The top of my head, the ‘crown’ is no longer host to my crowning glory. It is patchy, like a mangy dog. Oh and did I mention ageing? Well, I always looked really young for my age. Not anymore – or as far as my hair is concerned.

I’m 60 in September. I just moved to London, just in time to get my ‘Freedom’ pass to the city – trains, buses, the tube. All those eyes! And I’m thinking about hats, headscarves, feathers. Well, maybe not feathers. Not that brave, just yet (Rose Rouse).  Still, I need to find some camouflage.

A woman told me recently at a party that I was very brave to come out without covering up my (lack of) hair. We all have faults, she said to my reaction of surprise, as if I should own it, grow up. Well, I was shocked because I admit I’m still in denial. I honestly thought that making a poor attempt at a double-plait at the back of my head (a piece drawn from each side) with a jewel blue slide, would hide my thinning hair. Clearly, it didn’t. On reflection, I honestly think she meant well, though she hit a a sore spot. Or more accurately, various bald spots. So what to do?

Writing this article is one way of outing myself about it. I really do want to feel more relaxed about it all.

Several comments to my venting in a Facebook post suggested shaving it off altogether. Serena Constance even posted up a pic of an elderly lady with a bald head, tattooed all over – just to complete the deal, egg the pudding and gild the lily. She looked striking. Talking of striking, Serena arrived at a recent ‘For the Flamboyant’ Advantages of Age party wearing a kind of…well, Aztec headdress and as she arrived we all clapped her down the stairs. A fabulous entrance.

Loss. I’m losing my identity. My hair has always been so ‘me’, so much of myself is bound up in visions of dark-haired beauties. ”I want to look like Elizabeth Taylor” I told a hairdresser, many years ago and he gave me an ‘urchin’ cut that was just so Liz, it was thrilling. People remarked about it on the street. 

I started to go white when I was 17 – it looked wonderful actually when my hair was silvered with ‘grey’ hairs. Then it was streaky like a badger’s coat. Then aged 30, it just began to fall out. If I hadn’t had so much to begin with I would have been bald many years ago.

The very idea that I could lose my hair – ridiculous. At my convent school in Cheshire my velour hat was something of a sensation. My friends tried it on – it came down to their noses, looked all Fred ‘Parrot Face’ Davies – remember him? A big bowler slipping down his nose was his calling-card. So I thought I still had a big head and asked the woman at the party if I could try on her amazing hat then said  – ”Oh no, it won’t fit my big head”. Which was the starting gun for my rude awakening – as she pointed out it’s just a normal size. It was my hair that made my hat so huge, that made my school friends call me ‘the girl with two heads’. Now I’m just normal – normal head, normal life. Well, if ‘normal’ is a woman going bald on top. Anyone can wear a hat. Not everyone has masses of dark hair.

So do I cling on, root by disappearing root to what I have left? I still have ‘pre-Raphaelite’ tresses at the back. Wavy, still a bit wild, almost tamed. Shall I get a ‘topper’? It’s a weave made from human hair for women with ‘male pattern’ baldness, in which over years the hair just falls out until you develop an impressive monk-like look. You have to go back every six weeks so they can rearrange it over what’s grown back. That’s a lot of time and money (it ain’t cheap) to invest in retaining your ‘real’ hair. Is it hot? Does it itch? Does it look the business? Or does it look a sorry mess?

So now – it’s ‘make your mind up’ time. Shall I go for the ‘scorched earth’ look? The shiny pate? Shall I wear a wig, wondrous hats and scarves? Or just have a topper, the ‘crown topper’ that demolishes my resistance, my determination that I’m still a girl. A wild, untamed girl with a wild, though tamed crow perched on either shoulder. Preening and pecking away at my glorious locks, my calling-card. My hair.

Going bald. I might as well have a ball.

The Culture Interview – Duncan Alldridge, ‘Improv’ teacher, writer, performer.

1 Minute Read

Author of ‘Losing It: How We Popped Our Cherry Over the Last 80 Years’, Kate Monro has been taking Duncan Alldridge’s ‘improv’ classes ‘Playing on the Edge’. She described the experience as being ‘transformational’ in terms of her life. Here she decides to ask her teacher some questions.

It is surely no mistake that every time I try and text the word ‘improv’, my phone feels the need to auto-correct it to ‘improve’. Every. Single. Time. Both my phone and the universe wants me to be a better person, so somehow the powers-that-be have colluded to push me in the direction of improvisation classes i.e. getting up in front of other people and purposefully making a dick of yourself.

It took me a while to get there. Being exposed in this uncomfortable way isn’t my natural habitat but after floundering during a speaking engagement last year and getting Facebook pop ups from Duncan’s improvisation class every five minutes afterwards, I took the celestial hint and signed up. In the spirit of adventure (and my phone’s need for me to push myself), I put myself in the spotlight in the most vulnerable of ways. Six months on, I sat down with my teacher and we talked about what happens when people with no ‘thesp’ leanings whatsoever get together and play. The sound of Duncan’s epic laugh punctuated this interview so you’ll need to imagine that while you read.

K: To give you and your work context Duncan, what bought you to teach improvisation to people like me?

D: There is a rational answer. Which is, I was a drama teacher with a background in education and theatre, so why wouldn’t I teach ‘improv’? But the more interesting answer is that a few years ago, I had what we might call a series of breakdowns. I wasn’t sure if I would work again but out of that came a series of questions like ‘Well, what does work mean?’, ‘What will I offer now?’ and ‘What will that look like?’ A mutual friend had also said; ‘Duncan, if you did a drama or improvisation class for adults, I’d come. And I’d get some friends to come too’. At that time, I felt so far away from teaching anything, ever again, that it was like looking at the planet Pluto. And then a year later she said the same thing and ‘Playing on the Edge’ came from that.

K: Do you carry on learning about ‘improv’ yourself, even though you’re the teacher? What do you learn?

D: Two answers again. Because there is a practice going on here. The practice of creativity and storytelling and there are guidelines to help people to let themselves fall into story telling. So yes, I keep my own practice going. I work with other practitioners and I use that in classes alongside my own learnings. But on broader level, you learn about being able to hold a space where you can allow things to take place, even though you are not sure what’s going to emerge.

I’ve also learned the value of showing up. Because if it was a day at work, I might call in sick. But I’m going to run an improvisation class so if I just get there, I know that I’ll have a collaborator. Even if it’s just one person. In fact, one of the most beautiful classes was just two of us. So I learnt not to be afraid of it not working out as I wanted. And then everything else is a bonus. You learn that. Yeah.

K: That’s interesting. That’s a whole other layer that wouldn’t have occurred to me because I’ve been so immersed in my own experience. It has passed through my mind occasionally – I wonder what this is like for Duncan. Because you’re a very cool calm confident presence but you’re learning too, as well as holding the space as they say. The master of ceremonies.

D: I’m going to ask you a question Kate. Why did you turn up to the class – and what made you come back?

K: Initially because I did this talk last year and whilst I’m no extrovert, I’ve done lots of talks before and I’m usually good at it but I floundered with this one and it freaked me out. Alongside that, I’d kept looking at your class online and thinking – ‘I know that would be a really good thing for me to do’. Because I feel quite self-conscious but this doesn’t really feel like the real me. And it annoys me.

I also had this flashback to being eight years old and putting on a show for the end of term variety show at school. I basically nicked a scene from my favourite cartoon, Hong Kong Phooey, cast myself in the lead role, performed it for the 4th years and it got the thumbs up for the end of year show and I thought – what happened to that kid? A kid that worried a lot less about what other people thought. It was like a lens into a bit of myself I’d forgotten existed. And I thought I’d like to find that again. 

D: And actually, maybe it’s always been there…

K: Yes! But I’d got all these stories about who I thought I was, based on the past and not all of them were good. And once I really started thinking back, I realised my Hong Kong Phooey stage experience came not long after my dad died in traumatic circumstances so you’d have thought I’d have been even more challenged at that age but actually, I was much more brazen and buoyant than I remember. So ‘improv’ felt like a way of re-writing a limiting story I had for myself. I also thought it would be a good way to short-circuit one’s need to get things right. To put myself in a place where I don’t know what’s going to happen. I instinctively felt that your class could be the place for that. I don’t know. I got a vibe. You made it sound fun Duncan! And if it all went wrong, it wouldn’t matter!

D: And going wrong is what always happens. Right?

K: Right. But it’s also the greatest forum in the world for finding out that when things do go wrong, it doesn’t matter. That if you’re not going wrong, you’re kind of not doing it right. Which feels counter intuitive to one’s grown up self! The first class was joyous. The second class, I did a scene and I gave what I thought was a clear signal – we weren’t using any words in this scene – and my partner didn’t pick it up. So I’d made this ‘offer’, as you call it and it wasn’t received. And I was left standing there, thinking shit, here I am, I walked into this scene, I made a move, I got involved, nothing has come as a result and now I’ve got no idea what I’m doing and everyone is staring at me.

It was pretty awful but at the same time, I noticed that the world didn’t end. I got the feeling that it was okay for me to have NO IDEA what I was doing. I vaguely considered never coming to the class again after that, but then I thought ‘no’. I’ve started and I feel compelled to continue putting myself in this position.

D: I really get that. That there doesn’t have to be a rational reason when you say – ‘I know it’s for me’. Listening to that voice in the body or wherever it comes from is a good thing. My experience from talking to people is that many of us are having that experience all the time! But you can learn to exist in a playful uncertainty. And of course there are rules of engagement in ‘improv’. I imagine you’ve learnt a few by now. So that when that situation happens, you think okay, I’ll put on this ‘rule’ that I’ve learnt, like a vest, and it’ll hold me whilst I hang out to dry here in front of everyone.

One of the joys I get from the class and why it’s so gorgeously funny in the most human way is that that vulnerability which you offer, whilst hanging out to dry, when someone has missed the cue you’ve given them (or ignored it!) and you’re standing there thinking ‘I don’t know what to do and I want to leave’ is a place that the audience LOVE seeing. Because we all recognize that in ourselves. And then something usually does happen as a result, that’s deeper, and human and ultimately more vulnerable. And it’s not ‘clever’, nor is it supposed to be ‘right’. I’ve seen many moments like that in this class and that’s what keeps me going. It’s not so much exciting as touching. And delightfully funny. It’s deeply funny. Not ‘clever funny’.

K: That’s an entire reframing of the vulnerability that we feel in the class.

D: And that’s because it is your absolute inability to be witty, clever or in control in that moment that draws us to you. I’m not saying that a funny line won’t be funny but a funny line is short-lived and not memorable. It’s a way of getting through. But what actually draws us to you is your humanity, of being lost in front of us. And then being found! Because someone will eventually join your scene and say – ‘Would you like an ice-cream?’ or ‘It’s cold today’ and you’ll say; ‘Yes, I am absolutely freezing!’

K: I have picked up some tips Duncan and one of those is to use what you feel in the moment to inform what you do next. So, if you’re shitting yourself and you can’t think of what to say, be an actor who can’t remember their lines. Or be a person who feels lost and confused and can’t find their way. Be that, until one day you think ‘maybe I’ll just dance a jig while I’m standing here and I don’t know what I’m doing’.

D: And I’m still lost and confused! I’M LOST AND CONFUSED. I mean how many different ways can you say that single line for example! You could just keep saying that. Bringing that sort of authenticity of how we are feeling in the moment into the safety of the rule playing scene, it has another depth altogether for me.

K: What do you think most people are scared of when they come to ‘improv’?

D: I think most people who come, who haven’t had experience of performance, and actually, it can be more daunting for trained actors. Because actors are used to having scripts and direction. What people are most afraid of is not being accepted. ‘I’m not enough’. I’ll make a fool of myself. People will laugh at me. What I have to offer isn’t enough I think is the fullest answer.

K: Do you see people transform that idea?

D: Yes, it’s the most beautiful thing to watch when people realise that whatever they have to offer absolutely is enough. And then people begin to take more risks and then they’re able to play. And then you get flowing humanity.

K: The word ‘play’ is key because it’s something we think only children do. But we get into too many well-trodden routines in adult life and forget how to make things up as we go along. So this was an extreme version of learning how to do that, of getting into a place where you can make your vulnerability into a joke. Or just say how you feel in that moment and for that not to be a terrible thing. That actually it’s a really human thing and people connect best with you when you’re honest.

D: Yes, and everybody is longing for that. The audience, the film crew, whoever, subconsciously or not, is longing for the people on the spot to say those things. Because it’s what we all feel underneath. And especially when we’re seeing it but it’s not being acknowledged, because mostly it’s – ‘how do we get through this together’ Kate. It’s not about ‘us’ and ‘them’. It’s about the collaboration. How can we fix this together? One of the important things about these sessions is that the witnesses, the other people in the class who are inadvertently invited to watch, are watching with a view to joining. It’s not a passive watching or ‘it’s not my go now’. It’s – ‘if she needs you, jump in and help, even if you don’t know what you’re doing yourself.’ And when you get that, you’ve got a community. A group of people who can playfully help each other. It’s been delightful to watch that grow.

K: Another massive one for me, when I began, was that I thought I needed an entire story in my head in order to perform. But what I’ve observed is that actually, it’s the smallest things that delight the most. It’s when someone gets up and does something really quite tiny or insignificant but they throw themselves into it. They could be pretending to type. They could be a thief, moving booty across the floor, slowly and deliberately in a heist scenario – which was totally genius. The class was in stitches. Because the performer was so absorbed. It was as if we weren’t there. So it’s the C word – commitment. Go all in. Focus on a bit of fluff on the ground. It could be the most fascinating piece of fluff that you’ve ever seen. And if it’s the most fascinating piece of fluff to me, it’s interesting for the audience to look at that piece of fluff with me.

D: Got it! Be fascinated in what’s around you. Your imagination is an infinite resource for being fascinated by anything you want to be fascinated about! And the extension of the C word is commit ‘and’.

So, you’ve made the commitment. You’re fascinated by the fluff on the floor. Then 15 seconds later and you’re still fascinated but no one joins in. No one helps you. So keep being fascinated. Keep going! There is the commitment to the fascination. And half an hour later, you’re still fascinated. And that’s what happens in these classes. Know that it’s really really difficult right now – but I’m going to keep committing to the fluff on the floor and eventually someone’s going to come along, stamp on it or say – ‘this is just what I need to make new earplugs with tonight’. So yes, that’s a huge lesson for life. Commit – and see it through.  And maybe there is a time to stop as well. *The sound of laughter punctuating this last observation*…

K: That’s brilliant.

Are you and I late-developers Duncan? Or is culture not keeping up with the fact that people continue to evolve as they get older and learn new skills?

D: I would never have been okay about doing this before. I would have needed too much control a few years ago to run something like this.

K: That’s interesting. So I guess what I’m saying is, what do you bring to the table now, at the age you are, that you wouldn’t have done before?

D: It’s the slings and arrows of life that enable me to hold a space like this now, because I’m not attached to the outcome of where it’s supposed to be going. In fact, it comes from a place where I had no idea where it was going. So any outcome I attach is purely random. And out of ‘not knowing’ has come me starting a business, and taking it into team building exercises in the corporate world, some of my students have ended up becoming clients and all of that has come from something I had no expectation of.

I don’t know about you but I have lots of big ideas and it’s about me learning to take tiny steps. Because if I try and take big steps, it doesn’t work. It’s the tiny steps where I reap the most rewards. So teaching ‘improv’ and running a class like this has invited me to take tiny steps and really see what’s happening. That is one of the great advantages of age, to bring it full circle. For me, it’s to take smaller steps, and to wait each time and see what happens.

Because if you look at a tiny piece of fluff on the ground, it is tiny but if you look at it up close, there’s a whole universe in there.

K: Amen to that.

Duncan’s improv classes ‘Playing on the Edge’ are on Sundays from 11am till 1pm at The Grange Pub

upstairs, Warwick Rd, W5 3XH. Contact: duncanalldridge@gmail.comHyperlink for Duncan’s class:

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