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Who are Older Women Rock?


6 Minute Read

Leah Thorn explains who OWR are. She started this inspiring group when she was 65.

blood memory

I am an old age, all age woman,

no way past my use-by date.

Walking in ancestral sisters’ footsteps,

I am an archive on legs,

a time traveller, alive to life,

I embody time, provide testimony,

a radical, lyrical, womanist legacy

 

Women’s blood memory speaks in me

 

 a found poem by Leah Thorn, created after reading ‘Out of Time’ by Lynne Segal

                                                                                                and ‘How to Age’ by Anne Karpf

 

Using poetry, personal stories, ‘fashion’ and film, ’Older Women Rock!’ creates pop-up art spaces in which to raise awareness and explore issues facing early-old-age women in our 60s and 70s. It challenges our invisibility by placing us centre stage on our own terms; strengthens our resilience and our networks as we move into older age; and importantly, subverts society’s assumptions and prejudices about us.

How it started

I started ‘Older Women Rock!’ when I was 65. My generation of women made decisive change. I hope we never give up our vision of the world we want and our intention to have it.

In my 70s now, I am inundated daily with messages that as an older woman I am inconsequential and my thinking outmoded and no longer needed. This attempt to invalidate us builds on decades of oppression, where our existence has been diminished and erased.

I wanted to ‘hang out’ with older women to stop my growing sense of isolation and struggle. I was keen to see what their experiences were and to find a creative way to share what I was learning.

I set up opportunities for conversation with different kinds of women in their late 50s to mid 70s. I led workshops for women in a Zumba Gold class; women in prison; a deaf women’s group; women at a MIND Day Centre; lesbians in an Age UK Older LGBTQ project; daughters of Holocaust survivors; Women’s Institute members; unpaid carers; women who identify as feminist and those who definitely do not.

We addressed issues such as –

  • the lack of older women in the media or the misrepresentation of us as a stereotype or a joke
  • the fortune the beauty industry makes from the insecurity we feel that is manufactured by sexism and intensified by old age oppression
  • poverty and the fact that many women have small state pensions because of low-paid work and/or breaks in employment to raise children or to care for ageing parents
  • body image and the need to conceal or be ‘discreet’ about physical changes, like greying hair, facial hair or incontinence
  • sexuality
  • being a carer

Poetic clothing

Based on our conversations, I created poetry and then collaborated with older women artists to embroider, burn, print, bead, engrave and spray-paint words and images onto retro clothes sourced from local charity shops. Here are a few examples –

1

You speak of me in metaphors

of catastrophe. Soon I will be

an agequake, a grey tsunami.

My age is your nightmare.

A numerical fanfare

to fan your fear

 

Sculptor Nicholette Goff interpreted this poem by customising a 1940s jacket with skeins of grey hair and a beautifully constructed bar of ‘medals’,

2

Only men grow old on screen.

Women disappear from film and TV by fifty,

hit dread and disgust in early middle age

and suddenly we’re no longer fit for public display,

unless we’re flogging stair lifts, baths or wills

or we have a frozen face

or we’re de-aged by digital alteration.

It’s a kind of symbolic annihilation

 

Fashion designer and stylist Claire Angel burnt words from this poem onto a leather jacket.

 

3

         The beauty counter screams ‘Buy This Cream’.

Got taut, tight skin? You’re in.

Got ticking clocks? Botox. Detox.

Resist signs of ageing at all cost.

Stop. Reverse. Hide. Slo mo.

Smooth your skin ego.

Feel the urge for a youth surge?

Want a victory of science over time?

Want to reignite your youthful light?

Deny age. Defy age.

You’re in control with phenoxyethanol.

Replump with sodium phytate.

No. Retaliate. Fight age hate.

It’s a diabolical conspiracy

for women to age agelessly,

line-, scar-, crease-free

 

I refuse to let the forever-young drug erase

the handwriting of life across my face

 

Allie Lee of the Profanity Embroidery Group embroidered an image onto a 1980s jumpsuit in response to my poem –

 

4

         Vulva lost its youthful lustre?

Want a quick fix?

Try My New Pink Button,

rouge for labial lips

 

Annie Taylor of the Profanity Embroidery Group interpreted this poem onto a vintage negligee

5

         I’ll never have

a designer vagina

that vajazzle dazzles

and permanently dilates

 

Allie Lee of the Profanity Embroidery Group embroidered and beaded this poem onto a 1970s swimsuit.

 

6

         In my day, stockings came in black, bronze and American Tan,

opening a bank account needed the signature of a man,

girdles held in sexual urges, touching below the waist was no-go

and Dusty passed as hetero

There was no such thing as pubic hair wax and you daren’t use Tampax

or have a sexual climax for fear of being thought nymphomaniacs

 

A collaboration between members of the Profanity Embroidery Group, sculptor Nicholette Goff and myself, an extract of this poem was emblazoned onto a vintage wedding dress.

 

Pop up shops, a flashmob and films

 

There have been –

  • three pop-up exhibitions of the poetry clothing in shops in Folkestone, Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under Lyme and one extended exhibition in the art gallery of Keele University
  • several ‘Older Women Rock!’ programmes of talks, performance, film screenings and workshops creatively celebrating ‘early old age’ women
  • Subversive Catwalks of older women ‘modelling’ the clothing while I read the poems
  • a wild Zumba Gold flashmob in Folkestone Shopping Centre

And three films have been made during the project –

  • ‘Older Women Rock!: The Documentary’ by filmmaker Clare Unsworth, a creative record of the pilot project in Folkestone showing poetry-emblazoned retro clothes, nineteen older models strutting a subversive catwalk and the Zumba Gold flashmob
  • ‘Love Your Lines’, a Public Service Announcement film shown on performance artist Tammy WhyNot’s YouTube channel

What next?

Fashion designer and stylist Claire Angel and I are responding to requests to buy ‘Older Women Rock!’ jackets by creating pieces for sale, which will be featured in our up-coming pop-up shop in Folkestone, Kent 17th-23rd December and in an online shop in the New Year.  

There will be ‘Older Women Rock!’ workshops in the New Year, including ‘Customise Your Clothes With Pearls’ and ‘Try Out Skateboarding’ and an intergenerational workshop, ‘Tattoo Stories’. 

For more information follow us on Instagram @loveolderwomenrock or contact us at loveolderwomenrock@gmail.com

What the hell is Tre?


5 Minute Read

Have you heard people talking about Tre? I have. So I invited Tre teacher, Sylvia Tillmann to explain.

How are you post-pandemic? Well, not so post.

I spoke with friends the other day about how we were – and still are – coping with a global pandemic, a couple of lockdowns and the ups and downs of life.

We are a mixed bunch of people between the ages of 50 and 70.

Some people have dogs and enjoyed the company and the daily walks – at least something was dragging them out – some people are very much into gardening, others kept sane by swimming in the sea all year round. I noticed that nobody in this group complained about this era and the ‘new normal’; in fact, we all welcomed the more reflective mode, fewer commitments and concentrating on what was really important in life.

As for myself, I reassessed my life and reorganised my career during the first lockdown. With a business background and on furlough, I was grateful for the time I was given to take stock.

First I enrolled in various business courses, but then I asked myself: ‘What does the world really need? Surely not another business guru!’

I concluded that we all need laughter, optimism, community and a robust immune system – and I trained as a Laughter Yoga Leader.

That was fun and being interested in alternative health, positive psychology and what makes us tick, I found it amazing to see how much research has been carried out on the benefits of laughter.

I loved it, but I wanted to take it further.

Having listened to many lectures, presentations and discussions on trauma – after all, we had all just experienced a collective trauma, I rediscovered TRE.

What is TRE? I hear you ask.

TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises by Dr David Berceli) is a somatic stress management tool I had experienced once, about ten years ago.

I honestly can’t remember if I didn’t get it at the time or if I totally dismissed it because ‘I had never experienced trauma’ – or so I thought!

Now I was convinced that TRE could be an amazing self-help tool to support anybody who’s struggling – psychologically or physically.

I decided to go for it.

This training took everything I had learned before to a whole new level. My go-to modality had always been talking therapies, I had counselling sessions myself and then completed the foundation training as I wanted to train as a bereavement counsellor.

Learning TRE addressed everything I missed when working cognitively. The mind is super busy, the thoughts are going round and round and … well, at least for me, it didn’t help me massively.

Why not give our busy minds a rest and concentrate on the body?

And that’s exactly what TRE enables us to do. Practising TRE means – literally – to shake off tension and stress.

To shake it off? Really? How does it work?

The easiest way to explain TRE’s principle is by watching a dog.

Yes, please bear with me …

A dog who experiences a stressful situation immediately shakes off the excess stress after this encounter and then happily gets on with life.

Animals do it automatically, but people have un-learned this process, although we are genetically encoded to tremor – and it would be so good for us.

That’s where TRE comes in, as it activates our stress release mechanism.

Over the course of the training, I also learned that trauma isn’t just big T trauma, i.e. the truly awful things that can happen. The simple fact that we are human beings means that we all experience trauma to some degree – think of family/relationship issues, work/money stress, health scares/illness, divorce or death etc.

This time I really got it. TRE is making so much sense because mind and body are intrinsically linked, so let’s include the body.

Let’s explore it in a bit more detail: When we experience stress, we mobilise energy to defend and protect ourselves, which is helpful. But if we want to run or fight and we can’t, that energy doesn’t get used up and stays inside of us.

The result is that we stay on high alert, i.e. high on adrenaline and cortisol, always expecting danger, constantly ready to fight or flight – we might have sleep issues, psychosomatic pain or avoid certain situations that caused this response.

This is exhausting and only when we are able to complete the cycle, i.e. use up the excess energy, the body can find its equilibrium again.

By practising TRE in a safe and controlled manner, this energy can be accessed and discharged.

How to practise TRE?

TRE starts with six warm-up exercises to fatigue the muscles and prepares the body to tremor. This is followed by a grounding exercise and then the actual TRE process. By lying on a mat, feet sole-to-sole, knees out, the tremors emerge. Your brain might perceive it as unusual, if not weird, but for the body, it feels quite natural. Afterwards, participants report a deep relaxation.

How does it make me feel?

I’ve been practising TRE for well over a year now and it only takes about ten minutes a day. I credit TRE with becoming more resilient – I’m just so grateful for having TRE during the pandemic – and also with the disappearance of my lower back and hip pain.

Over the last few years, I struggled with pain and sometimes it was so bad that I thought I have to stop playing tennis – which I love – and wondered if I need a hip replacement.

TRE helped me to shake off that tension in my back and hips – I don’t know what I was holding on to, and I don’t need to know; that’s the beauty of TRE, there’s no need to verbalise anything.

Curious to find out more? Check out Sylvia’s website on www.tremendousTRE.co.uk. She runs regular TRE courses, mainly online, so you can stay in the comfort of your own home.

The Culture Interview – Daphne Lander and Anne Jones who have written a musical.


12 Minute Read

Daphne Lander and Anne Jones are both in their mid-70s and they’ve just written a musical Artaban which is about to be shown in the West End.

How old are you both?

Daphne: Anne and I are both 75 – Anne is just older than me by a few days – she is 24th December and I am 29th.

Anne: We were both born under the star sign Capricorn and have always had similar interests and outlooks on life. I understand that a trait of the Capricorn is we will always achieve what we set out to do! Certainly, this trait has helped us both through the exciting but, at times, challenging journey we have travelled with our project to create Artaban, the musical.

How do you know each other?

Daphne Lander

Daphne: We met at secondary school at age 11 and so have been friends for many years.

Anne: From the day I met Daph, at our first year at Mayfield School, Putney, which was one of the first comprehensive schools of the fifties, I was attracted to her vitality and – sorry Daph – slightly crazy ways! She was a natural actor even then and entertained the class with her antics and impersonations. We competed for the best marks in English each year and both enjoyed writing and drama. In the fourth year we were involved in the annual Drama Competition; our class put on an extract of King Lear and it was a natural that Daph played King Lear and I was the director. We became close friends then and have stayed close since with the form of friendship that can revitalize itself even when we don’t see each other for months on end.

Daph went on to shine in the amateur dramatic arena and I went on to write books; I have seven self-help books published to date.

Why a musical at this point in your lives?

Daphne: I don’t think I set out originally to write a musical – it was more in my mind to write a play which in fact I did, but then when Anne read the story, she saw it as a musical and found Rick Radley who was able to write the music inspired by Anne’s lyrics. So, through many amendments the musical was born.

Anne Jones

Anne: The idea of the musical came once Daph passed me the book The Other Wise Man. I had never considered writing for the stage before then.

How did it come about?

Daphne: I was Chair of a drama group and in the choir at my Church and had written two plays already – one celebrating the centenary of the Church and the other adapting a radio play for the stage. A member of the congregation approached me one day with a book in his hand and said that he thought I would be able to do something with it. Meaning I guess, he thought I would adapt it for a play which the drama group could perform – I read the story and was enthralled by it and sent it to Anne who was similarly moved.

Anne: Daphne passed me the book The Other Wise Man written by American Henry van Dyke, a philosopher, clergyman, and short story writer of the early twentieth century. As I read it, I could see it being performed in vivid colour and vibrancy on the stage as a musical. I could see a full cast dancing, singing, and performing on a major stage – I could even see some of the dance sequences! Which is odd as I cannot write or play music and I cannot even sign in tune! And I don’t dance either! But I felt compelled to work with Daph to create a musical and as I enjoy writing and have written some poetry, I thought I would enjoy writing the songs. Daph had stage experience, so the stage play was a natural for her.

Why are you fascinated by this book The Other Wise Man ?

Daphne: The story is very strong on many levels – if you are a Churchgoer then it resonates with the story of Christ and his message to the world and if you are not, then a story of compassion to your fellow man and making sacrifices means something to everybody. The story came out of Henry van Dyke’s head – he said and I quote ‘I do not know where it came from – out of the air perhaps. One thing is certain, it is not written in any other book, nor is it to be found among the ancient lore of the East. It was a gift. It was sent to me.’ How could you not be fascinated by this story?

Anne: Although I am not religious, I was brought up with the story of the birth of Jesus and the message he brought. I am a spiritual healer and teacher and the story of Artaban the Fourth Wise Man resonated so well with me. Artaban missed his opportunity of giving gifts to Jesus in Bethlehem because he was delayed by his need to help a sick man he saw on the side of the road. Despite his overwhelming desire to join the other Three Magi he felt compelled to help the man and missed the family who had moved on to Egypt by the time he arrived. He then spent the next thirty odd years of his life looking for Jesus but also stopping off to help those in need. Like so many of us he was faced with a dilemma and pulled in two directions. To do the right thing, to be compassionate and help others (including our families) and to follow our personal dream and seek our own fulfilment – to follow our hearts calling. It’s only a small book but the message is strong and as timely now as it was when Henry first wrote it. It is also a tale of good and evil. The story tells of the corruption and greed in the world at that time making the lives of ordinary folk miserable and the cruelty and oppression of the despotic Roman leader Herod. Similarly, we don’t have to look far in today’s world to see the two sides of humanity. The wonderful acts of kindness on the one side and on the other the scamming of the innocent and the misuse of power of many world leaders.

Was writing it at your ages, an advantage of age?

Daphne: I guess the main advantage was in being retired which gave the time and space to write it. I don’t think if I had still been working full time it would have been easy given the time that it has required to polish it to its present state.

Anne: As Daph says, I have more time now than I had when working full time. But I think age has brought a certain level of WHY NOT philosophy to me. I don’t feel scared to try something new because if it doesn’t work it just doesn’t matter – I won’t lose my self-esteem if I do something that is rejected, whereas when I was younger success mattered. Now I am prepared to give anything I feel good about a try, give it a chance and to stretch myself, to push out boundaries and not be intimidated by anxieties about what other people may think about me or my work. Once you take the fear of failure from a project you have a far higher chance of success.

Is it religious?

Daphne: The basic premise is religious because the story is undoubtedly linked to the birth, life and death of Christ. We cannot deny that this is the backdrop, but we strove to broaden the story so that Artaban could be every man or woman who has a quest or goal in life, who has to battle to fulfil that goal and has to make sacrifices along the way. This has had particular resonances recently with the COVID pandemic when so many people worked so hard to help others often at great danger to themselves. The carers of this world got the recognition that they deserved but at what cost? So the story reflects all and none of the religions I guess.

Anne: It is based on a religious story but the message is spiritual and of human kindness. Also the battle everyone has at times to feel good about themselves. Araban felt happy to help others but unhappy that he wasn’t reaching his goal, fulfilling his quest to meet Jesus. It’s a very happy and uplifting story and the music reflects this mood of hope and the power of loving kindness.

Can you tell us something about the songs?

Daphne: Over to Anne on this one as I didn’t have any input into the songs at all – apart to stand in awe as the lyrics just kept coming into my inbox – each one better than the last!

Anne: As Daphne shared earlier, Henry was inspired to write this story from a source beyond his understanding and I experienced a similar sense otherworldliness of where the words came from! I would read Henry’s words from his book and then think how to put them into a song. And the words just came! I also held in mind the mood and the feelings I wanted to share with each song. I looked back into my own life’s experiences to find inspiration; especially relating to the love story that winds its way through Artaban’s journey, with the inevitable highs and lows, close times and separations. The words we write will always have greater resonance and authenticity when they come from our personal experiences. The most exciting time was to hear the music created by Rick that brought my songs to life – such a thrilling experience!

What was the process of writing like?

Daphne: Sometimes very easy and the words just flowed and at other times very difficult to get just the right “tone” – I have always enjoyed crafting words and I had a superb story to base my words on – although Henry did write in the vernacular of his times – lots of thees and thous which had to go. Also, the story changed along the way so there was always something new to think about and put a new twist into the story. My words reflect the Artaban that Henry wrote about, and I hope he would approve of what we have done with his hero.

How did the staging develop?

Daphne: Through many processes! We have been helped along the way by lots of people all of whom have contributed in different ways. A neighbour of mine introduced us to a musician who in turn led us to our musical Director Kipper Eldridge. Through that contact we staged a workshop in Pimlico which taught us a great deal and which has stood us in good stead for the forthcoming Showcase in St Paul’s Church – sometimes you have to fail and pick yourself up again and learn from your mistakes – just like Artaban! Another friend mentioned the Actor’s Church and we were so pleased that the Church was interested in staging it. We were introduced to a casting agency who have sourced us a great cast and a lovely Musical Theatre Director – so all of these elements have led us to this point.

Anne: As Daphne says we have been down some dead ends, fallen into some bear traps but, fortunately, we have managed to keep our sense of humour and sustained our friendship with all the members of the production team. Not only have I loved the creative times with Daph and Rick Radley, the amazing guitarist and singer who composed the music, but also our partners have been a vital component in the creation and production of Artaban and made it fun.

Do you want to write more?

Daphne: Not for the time being – I have spent so many hours with this that I think now it’s time to let Artaban find his way into the world and I will watch him hopefully entertaining and inspiring many people in the future. That would be a wonderful end to the story.

Anne: I would love the opportunity to write more songs – I found the experience of writing the words and hearing them transformed by great music one of my life’s greatest thrills! Yes, I think, I will write more songs once this production is over and we pass Artaban into the hands of professionals to take him on the next stage of his journey.

About Artaban – the story

We meet ARTABAN, magi and astrologer, in despair of a world filled with corruption, oppression and greed. But all hope is not lost; he and his fellow magi have discovered from their studies of ancient prophecies that there will be a new leader; a king who will bring light back to the world.

This uplifting story follows the adventures of ARTABAN the fourth Wise Man on his lifelong quest to deliver his gift of gemstones to Jesus. Will he succeed? Will his sacrifices reveal the true light and purpose of his life? As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the assortment of colourful characters ARTABAN meets on his journey.

With breath-taking performances by a West End cast, we witness his struggles and achievements. The story is brought to life by the vibrant music and songs which tap into all emotions.

A rock vibe is interweaved throughout, taking you on a mesmerising journey, as the songs morph from the soulful tracks “Sacrifices of the Heart”, “Love goes on Forever” and “Journey’s End” to the gritty, impactful guitar riffs of “Herod” and “Artaban”. The rousing finale of “I Now Understand” will have you bubbling over with hand-clapping, foot-tapping joy.

For more information (and to listen to some of the original music) see: https://artabanthemusical.co.uk/

To book tickets: https://actorschurch.ticketsolve.com/shows/873618294

Outrage Column: Concern versus Care


7 Minute Read

Does showing concern mean that you care?

Does caring mean that you must be concerned?

I am using these two words to illustrate some differences I see between two kinds of human behaviours, which often occur together or are mixed up with each other, and why my answers to the questions directly above are firmly NO.

But first I will tell you a story.

Not so long ago, my dear friend found himself locked out of his ground floor flat.

Well, he managed to get the large sash window open just enough to squeeze in. He decided that it would be better to go in feet first rather than headfirst. So, he got one leg through the window, was about to manoeuvre his other leg up as well and shimmy his way in, when his other leg got caught in a bramble patch by the window!

He phoned me at this point to call for assistance as he was well and truly stuck. But on my way over there (I am a good 10 minute drive away) he called again and said; ‘I’m in!’  When I got there, over a cup of coffee, he told me how he managed this feat.

One of his neighbours had happened along. A delightful young woman and also a climber. I mention that she is a climber because that means to me that she is someone who does physically challenging things. So she also probably has an understanding of the process of people facing physical challenges. As it turned out, she was very respectful too.

Anyway. He told me that she had been absolutely brilliant.

She had asked him if he would like some help.

When he said ‘Yes’, she then asked:

‘Tell me, what you would like me to do to help you?’

‘I would like you to get my leg out of the brambles and up onto the window sill for me.’

And she did precisely that and he managed to enter his flat, found his keys and all was well.

What this story showed to me was that the young woman acted with the utmost caring and respect. What she did not demonstrate was concern.

He clearly felt great about how it all happened.

Perhaps this begins to explain how I see the difference between caring and concern.

To me, caring is a deep empathy, respect and a preference to be of assistance to fellow humans (and other life forms) in whatever way that they may need and that you feel able to offer. It comes from the heart, from love and from our humanity.

Concern, on the other hand, is associated with worry, fear, anxiety and the projection of these emotions, and also beliefs about the person’s weakness, age, vulnerability and likelihood of getting hurt, being incapable and so on.

Sometimes when I have had people be concerned about me, I have experienced some irritation or other discomfort, as if it is an imposition. This is tricky to handle because caring and concern are often mixed together and come as a package. So, while I may feel uncomfortable about this concern, I feel I must do my best to hide my discomfort and be gracious and appreciative of the efforts of the concerned individual. I may also feel bad about feeling irritated!

So those less comfortable responses have to be dealt with internally. Though in less gracious moments they may inadvertently spill out!

Sometimes phoning a friend to have a bit of a rant helps! I received a call like that recently.

Something had happened on Facebook. A FB friend had posted that they were concerned as they hadn’t seen posts recently from this friend of mine. As you can imagine it set off a chain reaction with lots of comments including the suggestion that a friend be contacted. My friend read all this and felt various discomforts about it. Being talked about instead of personally contacted, having to do something about an escalating ‘bundle’ of concern being generated amongst a group, seeing people speaking about them rather than with them about their vulnerability. Not wanting to upset the person who started the posting and yet needing to communicate that it didn’t feel right and all the while having to deal with their own feelings about it.

It reminded me of ‘Does he take sugar?’ a phrase that was coined to illustrate how people sometimes do not address a wheelchair user but speak about them – in front of them to their ambulant companion – having made an assumption that because they cannot walk unaided they, therefore, cannot speak for themselves.

Has this ever happened to you or someone you know?

As we get older, get a few grey hairs and wrinkles and perhaps, as with my friend, our balance and gait change, people project their concern upon us more often, when actually what we really want is simple, practical, respectful care.

We all need help sometimes but would like the help, without this sense of people looking at us with thoughts such as: Oh no. They are weak, falling. Oh no. They are going to hurt themselves. They mustn’t do that dangerous thing. They cannot function properly /survive/take care of themselves.

I have sometimes observed that a show of concern does not always mean that someone cares. It may just mean they are reacting to something due to their own internal attitudes and/or feelings.

There is a parallel with people telling their kids; ‘You’re going to fall!’ Then the child falls and the adult says; ‘I told you so’ thinking they were right, not imagining that the child may have actually lost their balance because of the powerful statement that the influential adult just made! Children are especially impressionable. The adult thought they were taking care of the child. But they may have taken away some of their confidence and with it their ability to balance and trust their own abilities!

Yes, projections are influential. They do not have to be spoken either. Thoughts can also project.

So… concern can feel annoying, and an imposition, but also can actually be damaging. Because what you are doing when you get concerned is that you are throwing a powerful thought at the person. You may be expressing it verbally, or with facial expression, voice tone or body language. A thought which is founded on fear and based on expectations of harm, hurt, loss, or whatever else. I know I have done this, as well as having been on the receiving end!

We cannot help getting concerned at times, especially when someone seems to be struggling or suffering. I know it’s not easy to let go of our own fears and anxieties.

But most especially at these times it is better for them to feel the other’s caring and respect rather than their concern.

And to remember that if you are trying to help someone and they are getting irritated, perhaps they are feeling disempowered, disrespected, or patronised… even though that may not be your intention.

And if you feel that irritation when someone is being concerned about you… remember, behind all their weird projections they probably care.

Sadly, there are some who just want to exhibit concern in order to ‘be seen to care’. Those people you can tell firmly ‘Thank you, but no thank you.’ Or something less polite!

I would like to add a quote from my mother, who worked for many years as a social worker working specifically with older people who were leaving hospital. She helped them live where they wanted and needed to be as well as getting the support they required. She had a great respect for her clients. Some would move into sheltered housing or care homes, but some were absolutely insistent that they wanted to go back to their houses, perhaps after a fall, or a series of falls, while their families would be putting a lot of pressure on them to go into a supervised home because of their concern. Mum represented the interests of her clients as best she could and would have to deal not only diplomatically with the relatives but also with her own fears as to whether this fiercely independent person would fall again in their old terraced house, with an outside toilet that they were adamant they wanted to stay in. She had a few sleepless nights from time to time. But, one day she said something to us that I have always remembered.

‘If you cannot live dangerously when you’re eighty-five or ninety-five, when the bloody hell can you?’

Is Etiquette Dead?


5 Minute Read

I’m a swimmer. A pool swimmer. I’m proud to be part of a world – a swimmer’s world – where etiquette and codes of conduct prevail. There, at the foot of the swim lanes is a sign, Pool Rules. It’s clear and simple.

I pride myself on etiquette in and out of the pool, and thankfully there is a place I can go where civility is recognised and respected. That said, alas, lately I’ve noticed that even pool rules are being flouted and broken, and that is when I feel as if I am completely alone. A lone shark, seeking solace and a sign that etiquette is not yet dead.

I have had more than one incident of a ‘surprise sharer’ – someone who thinks nothing of getting in and starting to swim without asking – I would never share a lane without first getting a thumbs up from the person who was there first – that’s what we do! It’s a common courtesy.

Quite often, if I’m asked, I will agree to share – but please ask first. Once sharing has been established, there is no certainty that the rest of the codes of conduct will be observed. Beware of the powerhouse swimmer – who I’ve agreed to share with but who still breaststrokes across the entire lane, or freestyles so ferociously that swallowing their kick water is impossible to avoid.

Then there are the little fishes outside of the swim lanes but who seem to have a strategy to flip for fun over the ropes into the swim lane at the exact spot and at the precise moment I’m passing, resulting in near misses with precious children, and a ‘what if’ shock to my system. Contra-indicative to doing exercise for health or activity for relaxation, to say the least!

There are also, what shall we call them, lane hogs who clog up the lanes and cause traffic. Lane hogs like to think they are swimming but they are mostly taking up valuable swimming real estate. They may swim a lap, but then they stop, and stand. There’s no rhyme, no reason, there is no pattern to their process unless you call swim, stop, stand and chat a pattern. They might swim another lap, but then again, they might not. That’s not lap swimming, sorry!

I want to continue to swim, so I keep my opinions to myself for as long as possible. I have even tried going to another pool club! But there is increasing evidence on my arms and legs of lane-rope cuts and bruises from avoiding collisions with humans; audible yelping, like Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, ‘I’m swimming here!’ which no one seems to hear. I am left feeling stunned, shocked, nearly defeated, and dare I say, invisible, what are my choices?

I do not want to be invisible. I want to be seen and heard. And I want everyone to observe the pool rules!! Why is it so difficult? I watch and I wonder, is it just me? I’m new here. I am not an influencer here. My mind spins and seeks solutions.

I spot Marilyn, and the clouds lift. Marilyn swims. She also knows and talks to everyone. She lives in both camps. She’s got all the gear – the mask and snorkel, the fins, the webbed fingers. When she’s not swimming, she gets into the pool in a full outfit, including hat, long-sleeved shirt, leggings and shoes, to walk and chat! This is a sight to see. It’s quirky, and it serves a purpose – it’s a new trend to avoid sun exposure. The sun mimics a light bulb over my head.

‘Marilyn,’ I say, ‘we should have a fashion show and you should definitely be in it.’ She laughs out loud. As one hilarious idea leads to the next, a fashion show is born – and the theme is Pool Rules.

I talk to Mikey, the entertainment director. He is cautiously enthusiastic, whatever that means. Maybe he knows something I don’t. I talk to some of the others, Sue and Donna, and they love it! They start to list some of the ridiculous rules at the club and discuss which rules should be changed. Like, NO Restaurant Food on the Top Deck. Like, the Snacks Only rule. Like, NO Wheels on Beach Bags. It’s not long before Sue and Donna have their theme – Sue will wheel Donna in as if she’s on a parade float. Their rule will be – NO Wheels on Beach Bags. And they will campaign to change it. It’s pretty wacky, and I’m not feeling so alone anymore. Together, we hatch the idea of a Pool Fashion Show and Water Escapades Show. It will be a variety show. We will involve the lifeguards, and Mikey will recruit all the young families with children. I don’t know what I’ll be wearing yet, but I will be campaigning hard for in-pool rule adherence.

At the end of the day, I sit with Donna and Sue in the cafe, and we chat further about the show. Then the mood changes; clouds descend again. Donna is concerned that this theme might expose her as a rule breaker. She is not so sure it’s a good idea. Sue and I muse, ’Oh really? What rules are you breaking?’ Donna goes quiet. Time passes. I take my cue from Sue, and I don’t press her any further. We do not get an answer. And we never do the show.

AofA People: Lorraine Bowen – Performer, Singer, Crumble Lady


7 Minute Read

Now known as The Crumble Lady, Lorraine Bowen won David Walliams’ Golden Buzzer on Britain’s Got Talent and has attracted tens of thousands of new fans of all ages; children are singing the Crumble Song at school, as are grown men in factories.

Lorraine Bowen is a unique performer! Quirky costumes, original idiosyncratic songs, vintage Casio keyboard played on an ironing board. She adores the fashion sensibility of the 1960s and has one of the largest polyester wardrobes in the UK.

Lorraine began her career playing the piano with Billy Bragg in massive venues in the UK and stadiums in Europe as well as both sides of the Berlin wall. Since then she has produced 6 albums, 100 videos on her Youtube TV Channel and regularly performs nationally and internationally.

How old are you?

59 (60 on 31st October)

Where do you live?

East Sussex, England

What do you do?

Musician, performer, composer, BGT Golden buzzer winner, crumble lady….. bonkers lady!

I write songs, put on shows, wear polyester fashions, think of new ideas, write lyrics, make videos on TikTok and YouTube, sing, dance and muck around on stage.  Others call it performing!

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

At 59 you start to see the world in a more landscaped view.  Women of my age should be in charge of the whole world cos we’ve seen a lot, been through a lot and can see the problems and could work through the answers in a more levelled state than a lot of leaders!  It will happen…. It will!

I have stability now that I didn’t have at 25.  Mind you I’ve had to work for it!

What about sex?

Sex?  I’ve got to do the washing up first!

And relationships?

Relationship – 36 years old relationship now.  Met in a pub in Deptford in 1986.  We were punky in nature – still are at heart.  It’s good to keep the grunge at heart.  Privilege isn’t a good thing really – it’s much better to have risen from the dirt and grime – makes you appreciate everything.  If you’ve been through the rough and tumble in life it keeps you centred and focused.  Nothing is a nightmare.  Well, another tornado in Haiti is a nightmare but the dishwasher blowing up isn’t a nightmare.  Keep it real!

How do you feel at this age?

I feel free and fanciful…. But like others, I do often worry about the world, climate change, right-wing terrorism, stupid people and what’s going to happen when I’ve got dementia and am dribbling down my own chin…

What are you proud of?

I’m very proud of my daring creativity over the years.  I’ve written lots of songs and haven’t cared what fashion they fit in, what lyrical strain they fit in – I’ve just done what I fancied and largely it’s turned out well!  My YouTube/Spotify stats tell me my biggest listening age group is 18-25s – how hilarious is that!

I’m proud that I never had kids and am part of a growing group of women who relish being free from all that.  I’m proud that I feel as a woman I’m at the forefront of a new frontier, a new age of thought.  We don’t have to conform.  We are new! We are pushing the boundaries and the boundaries are ever dissolving.

Mind you, I realise no one sees me in the street.  I’m 59 and therefore invisible… except when I’m proudly wearing my bright 1970s polyester jackets and you can see people squirm and smile at my fashion sense!  Ha ha!

What inspires you?

What keeps me inspired is that the world is quite a boring place really. Really boring. It’s up to us to brighten up things, look forward to a new day of being here, keeping it positive, keep the energy gushing out doing good things whether that being creative or working towards goals that are good. I love a new project and if there isn’t one there I’ll make one happen.  I’ve got a big show – my Greatest Hits show – in London on 10th October at ‘Above the Stag’ cabaret lounge and so am working towards that.  Also have been given a tremendous night in Brighton on November 20th to put on my Polyester Fiesta show.  Lots of my models can’t make the date …. so I’ll get some new ones!  Lots of work but a great challenge – HURRAH!

When are you the happiest?

I’m happiest when working on music…. Lyrics that make me laugh out loud, lyrics that won’t work and I wake at 5 am in the morning to scribble something down on a notepad by my bed!  Honestly lying on a beach in the sun doesn’t make me happy at all!  Being happy comes from achievement.  Working hard towards something than seeing how the hard work has made others laugh or brought about some catalyst in life.

Where does your creativity go?

My creativity goes towards my music/lyrics/songwriting/composing.  I’ve just finished writing a musical during lockdown – that took ten months – it was commissioned by a lovely young chap in Germany.  Sheer delight!

Then I recently wrote three environmental songs for piano and voice: ‘Down to Earth’ … and now I’m working on my live shows and wait for it.. a classical piece for mezzo-soprano, piano, cello and timpani!  Why not?  I’m 59 and can do what I like!

Do you have a philosophy of living?

Life is short – make the most of each day. Try to say to yourself – I’ve achieved this or that today… it might only be saving a bee from dying at the side of the road but that’s very important too!  (Without bees we as humans are dead in 9 years. My grandfather was a famous beekeeper in his day and warned of the destruction of the natural world). I think humans have got about 20 years left to sort themselves out…. Else it’s BOOM!  And unfortunately, everything else comes with us.

And dying?

My song ‘Would you like to be Buried of Cremated’ sums up everything!

Audiences love it as it puts life into perspective and you get them dancing on the table!  Total joy!

Would you like to be

Buried or cremated,

Mourned or celebrated?

I’d like to know,

Before you go

 

Would you like a coffin

Or any ‘ol thing to go off in?

Do let me know

Before you go

 

Cos

Life is such a day to day affair and often quite surreal

One minute you’re waiting for the bus

And the next you’re underneath the wheel, So!

 

Would you like your funeral

With all your favourite tunes and all

Can we dance

If we get the chance?

 

Cos

Life is such a day to day affair and often very weird

One minute you’re a little baby girl

And the next you’ve got a really long beard, So!

 

Buried or cremated?

Mourned or celebrated?

Can you face the music? cos

It’s up to you to choose it

 

Buried or cremated

Mourned or celebrated

I’d like to know for certain

Before you draw the curtain!

Are you still dreaming?

Of course, I’m still dreaming! I’m just about human and only humans have dreams and beliefs… no other animal or mammal would be stupid enough to have them! Why do we have them? It’s crazy!  They are a yearning, a make-belief that there is another way that could be better out there/something better that we could do… so dreams have to be fun. Dreams can lead to you doing crazy things so keep having them!  As a geeky spotty teenager, I used to dream of being a fashion model… now I am in my own Polyester Fiesta fashion show… I didn’t fit in with other people’s reality so made my own dream come true!   Have a go at your own!  Go-Girrl!

LORRAINE BOWEN’S GREATEST HITS TOUR DATES

https://abovethestag.org.uk/cabaret-lounge/lorraine-bowens-greatest-hits

Lorraine Bowen’s Greatest Hits

SUN, 10th OCT

15:30 – 17:30

Above The Stag Theatre & Bar (map)

72 Albert Embankment, LONDON SE1 7TP

Lorraine Bowen performs her Greatest Hits from her many original albums and of course the BGT famous Crumble Song!

 

SAT 20th NOV

Lorraine Bowen’s POLYESTER FIESTA

At the Ironworks Studio, Brighton, BN1

Lorraine and friends strut their stuff on the catwalk on polyester’s 80th birthday!  Nylon, Crimpelene, Terelene and more – come dressed up in your best flowery dress and join in the audience catwalk competition!  Fun night guaranteed!

How I Found my House in the Magical Spanish Mountains


1 Minute Read

I started my Spanish adventure in 1997, just as Tony Blair ended 18 years of Conservative rule with the slogan ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. I was one of a number of young BBC journalists helping with the count on Election Night, but soon after fled the BBC on a trip to Mojácar in Spain, on the pretext of finding a cheap house to buy. I didn’t seriously think I would get one.

Accompanying me was my old friend Mark P, who had ridden to Mojácar on his motorbike a decade before. My friend Lucy’s house was empty, so we stayed there. We had instructions to call Jacqueline, the French postwoman for the mountain villages, who put the word out for villagers with houses to sell.

It was a beautiful early-summer day and the road to the mountains twisted and turned up through arid countryside, almond trees and old ruins until arriving in the pretty whitewashed village of Bédar, with a long view back down to the sea.

Jacqueline was waiting in one of a pair of bars facing each other on the road in. Tall and thin with a mahogany tan, long black hair framing strong, handsome features, and wearing lots of silver jewellery – she was unmissable.

Jacqueline drove us down a narrow unpaved road running under the looming peaks. We undulated through tiny settlements and over a rambla [dry riverbed] before accelerating up a perilously steep bank on the other side, to end up at a collection of three or four houses strung out along the top. We bumped down a track to one, a wide, two-story house set in an overgrown garden with several olive trees.

I don’t remember much about the house, apart from that the kitchen was outside, and the water supply was rationed from the nearby balsa [water store] where you took your turn on a rota with the neighbours. There was a ramshackle outhouse, and I remember standing near it while Jacqueline and a neighbour discussed which of the stones on the ground marked the house’s boundary. The discussion went round and round, much like the roads that had brought us there. Then, none the wiser, we all piled back into the car for the drive back to Bédar where Jacqueline dropped us at the bar and drove off.

I remember feeling out of my depth, and telling Mark that what I’d really like would be something less remote, perhaps a little house on the edge of a village. We decided to have a quick drink before driving back – and then I realised that the key to our hire car was no longer in my possession. I tried to call Jacqueline but got no reply. There were no buses. We were stranded.

What happened next was, as they say, fate.

A young blonde dressed in black leather came through the door and strode up to the bar. After exchanging a few words with the bartender, she came over and asked where we needed to go. When we said ‘Mojácar’, she offered to drive us. As we weren’t in a position to refuse, we accepted.

Nadja was Swiss, and although quite fluent in English, all her sentences came out back to front. When I told her that we’d been looking at houses, she said that she had one to sell, “with mains water, electricity, a telephone socket and seven terraces.” It sounded very grand so, to rule it out more than anything, I asked how much. “Four million pesetas,” she replied (approx. £16,000). It was the same price as the house we’d just looked at.

What’s more, Nadja’s house was on the edge of a small village – just as I’d wished for.

When we reached the main road, our saviour pulled into a garage and bought three cans of lager from a vending machine in the forecourt. We drove the rest of the way to Mojácar swigging beer and listening to her peculiar jumbled steam-of-consciousness conversation. I concluded she was very sweet but most likely mad.

I didn’t think I’d call about the house, but a few days later curiosity got the better of me and we made a date to visit.

To get to Lubrín we had to return to Bédar and carry straight on, up a narrow white asphalt road that twisted its way through a magical landscape of hills studded with olive trees, yellow broom and thyme. At the top we passed the village of El Campico before descending to El Marchal where the road broadened out and continued another 5km to Lubrín.

The strange thing was how at home I felt. While the views were far-reaching and magnificent the road itself felt cocooned and cosy. We didn’t meet another vehicle that day and in the years to come, I rarely did. If it did happen, I often knew the driver, and we’d stop to chat.

Nadja and her English boyfriend Steve were expecting us. Margaritas tumbled over their garden wall, and on the left of the house were the seven terraces Nadja had referred to, planted with almond trees and flowers.

By the end of the week, we’d agreed on a price and employed a gestor to manage the sale. We sealed the deal over a breakfast of beer and tapas in Mojácar.

Back then, Lubrín was my freedom. The village seemed not to have changed since the Fifties. Set in a valley, whitewashed houses were built up the side of a hill, around an enormous red brick church in the middle.

My house, later christened Casa Becca by a guest, was set off to the right, built into the side of  ‘El Castillo’. Many Spanish towns have a ‘castillo’ hill, on top of which the original Moorish watchtower would have stood.

All the roof beams were tree trunks, gnarled and twisted, interspersed with traditional caña – cane. Stone stairs led up to a low-ceilinged dining room leading to a big kitchen with an enormous fireplace at the end. There was a windowless ‘cave room’ with a huge rock from the mountainside protruding within. More rooms led around to a third bedroom opening onto the front of the house at the other end. The bathroom, down by the main front door, was a very basic affair with an old toilet and a plastic shower over a dug-out portion of the stone floor. In its 200 years, the house had barely changed.

Although there was a phone socket, there was no phone line and, back in 1997, no Internet. Apart from the 6am bus to Almeria City, there was no public transport, either. Compounded by the feeling that I’d stepped back in time, Lubrín felt properly remote. Nobody would ever find me. I’d been unhappy at the BBC so it was a huge relief to find myself there, completely cut off from social pressures.

I turned into another person when I was in Lubrín. Scruffy, dusty, carefree. I wore flowery shift dresses and tatty shorts. The only other foreigner in the town was a Dutch guy who I never met. My friends were old men who regaled me with tales about the village and my house’s past. I found out that Casa B had been the home of the village transportista who took goods and passengers to the coast in his donkey and cart, and that a man had been shot outside during the Civil War.

My main friend was Paco, a portly fellow of about 60. He had small, dainty feet and spoke in a soft, high voice, often reciting poetry or playing with words. Like many men from the village, he’d emigrated during Franco’s rule. He’d worked in Switzerland as a carpenter – he said he’d made furniture for David Bowie.

Another frequent visitor was Christobal, a wizened, Steptoe-like man who would exhort, ‘Mujer, mujer!’ [Woman, woman] in the style of a whiny flamenco singer at the start of every sentence, while encouraging me to buy his house or be his wife.

Paco and I became good friends. Even though he didn’t speak any English and I not much Spanish, he was an excellent communicator and we understood each other surprisingly well.

Soon after I bought my house, Paco took me to his land in La Alcarria, a beautiful valley on the other side of the main road. On the land was an old trunk which he ceremoniously opened to take out two fold-up chairs – one for me, one for my friend. He set them out and we sat down – looking north over an infinity of hazy mountain ranges – the ones in the foreground like rows of reclining elephant backs. Paco loved his land and was planning to build a house on it.

When I think of the early days I remember warm friendships and laughter. Paco would accompany my friends and I on excursions in the car, or come round for raucous suppers on the patio, or we’d have mad nights out in what I christened the ‘Young Mans’ Bar’ next to the post office, where the clientele would chorus ‘Paco Toro!’ when he arrived with two young women on his arm. When I was the only foreigner in town it really was fun.

Slowly but surely, Lubrín caught up with the rest of the world.

A few settlers from England arrived every year. There was Ponytail John, who built his own house out in the campo, and Dave Beach, a lugubrious hippie with great taste in music. There was Sally and Ann, possibly the village’s first ‘out’ lesbian couple, and their neighbour Bill, a gay accountant. There was Mandolin John, always with a beautiful girlfriend. Tourists rarely found their way to the village, but when they did it felt bizarre. To me, they looked big and out of place. Sitting outside the Plaza Bar, they were like giants on a small stage.

Around 2003 the dear little road from Bédar to El Marchal was widened and tarmacked, and with that more and more foreign settlers came. The tipping point for me was when a young suburban couple arrived. Until then, the foreign residents had had something alternative about them, a touch of the pioneer. But these people had none of that. And with that, it was as if my secret hideaway had been busted and my freedom was gone.

Solo Visits

I started coming to Lubrín on my own around 2002. At first, I was nervous. I’d fly in from Gatwick, drive back in my hire car, make the bed and smoke the emergency cigarette I left on the dining room desk. Then I’d go out for provisions from Antonio and Fina’s late-night shop – and see who was around. One time I didn’t get home till midnight after being waylaid by Mandolin John and a friend of his. Another time, I woke up at 4 am in a panic. It was pitch dark and I had the sensation I was entombed within an endless Spanish mountain range – there were no buildings after mine. In my 40s I would often wake up in the night. For a while, an insomniac bird nesting in the roof would be up around the same time, moving about. I found it comforting.

Paco and I grew apart. Lubrín had won the massive El Niño lottery in January 1998 with a prize of 1400m pesetas (about 8.5m euros). Paco was one of the winners. He didn’t spend the money at first, but a few years later he bought a radio-controlled airplane and a souped-up black sports car with red flames blazing on the sides. Where once he had been patient and good-humoured, he became impatient and his gentle high-pitched voice became gruff. He’d tear off to holiday towns like Aguadulce in the sports car and return with torrid tales of his exploits.

They wouldn’t let him build a house in La Alcarria (the plot was just 1m too narrow). Bitter, and obstinate to the last, he built a swimming pool instead and put a squalid kitchen and bathroom underneath. He surrounded the pool with weird totems like plastic fans and dolls’ heads on sticks.

There was a succession of dogs he didn’t know how to look after and on occasion he’d chase English settlers in his car. The gentle, communicative Paco I knew and loved had vanished, and when I asked people how he was, they just shook their heads and said, ‘perdido’ – lost. He died in 2010.

Middle Years

So far, I’d only visited Lubrín for short holiday breaks but when I started my Spanish rug and tile business it became the base for buying and sourcing expeditions. From 2006 onwards, I’d embark on huge solo road trips around Andalusia several times a year. I visited Valencia, too, to go to the Cevisama tile fair, once driving 400km cross-country from there to Cordoba to visit our main supplier. I visited Granada and embarked on crazy missions to find new suppliers in a series of remote locations. I particularly loved going to Priego de Cordoba, a baroque gem perched atop a cliff in the Sierra Subbetica Natural Park. I’d stay at Hostal Rafi where the bar was like a Spanish version of the US series Cheers. Rafi was even playing Bruce Springstein the first time I went. My second visit coincided with a noisy religious procession, the virgin being borne through the streets, children dressed up for their communion and a major football match blaring out from TVs. Hostal Rafi was in the middle of it all – the centre of the world!

Priego was four hours from Lubrín. Driving there in the autumn you’d see bonfires blazing high on the horizon. There were deserted mountain passes where you could go for hours without meeting a soul. At these times, I’d marvel at how, sometimes just the day before, I’d been caged like a bird in my London shop watching traffic thunder by, and now was soaring free in the mountain air, maybe 100 miles away from anyone else.

Occasionally I ended up in dangerous situations like the time I took the wrong route to the pretty village of Castril, 890m above sea level on the edge of the Cazorla National Park. As the track got narrower and narrower, I found myself with no choice but to accelerate up the precipitous bends with an overweight load of wholesale ceramics in the back. Dusk was falling and I remember thinking, ‘no-one knows where I am and I might die,’ followed by a half-crazed relief when I reached the top to witness a herd of goats galloping home in a cloud of dust. It was a quintessential Spanish moment.

Now…

In 2016, Lubrín became my freedom for the third time. Disgusted by the Brexit vote in March 2016, my first thought was to leave the UK. On the basis of having a Spanish house, I applied for Spanish residency. To my surprise, the application was successful and I moved out here in 2018.

Today, Lubrín is firmly rooted in the 21st Century. There are street lamps along the road in, and a small industrial estate just north of my house. There’s a world-class olive oil press, a honey factory and modern milking sheds for the goats. The once-silent hills are full of light and noise. There’s a small housing estate opposite me, too, mainly occupied by British families who now make up a sizeable proportion of the population.

Stubbornly ‘unreformed’ for years, Casa B has been updated to make her long-term habitable. The tree trunk roof beams have gone, as has the insomniac bird. The cave room has a window. The dining room and kitchen have been knocked together and the ceilings raised. A proper bathroom has been added.

I study Spanish, teach English and Creative Writing, blog, write and walk the hills. Everyday life is time-consuming – I collect my water from the mountain spring at El Campico and drag it up to my house in a trolley. In the winter I must bring in wood, make fires and clean the stoves. More satisfying, this year I picked my olives for the first time and took them to the press in exchange for some superb Lubrín olive oil.

It’s been a little tough, establishing a life here on my own. It can be awkward negotiating social groups as an older single woman. It’s taken time to find work, or friends on my wavelength, but I keep on. Perhaps the fourth freedom will come when I really don’t care what other people think.

In the absence of family, Casa B has been my continuity. Last March, returning from winter respite on the coast, it was surprisingly nice to be back. Even though I had to hoover the flaky paint off the walls and clean surfaces thick with muddy dust, it was just lovely to hear the birds again, and the goat bells, and the church ringing every quarter-hour. Enduring country sounds. The sounds of home.

Postscript

In June 2021, I went to a dance performance at Kensal Green Cemetery in West London. ‘Dance Me To Death’ was a project started by AofA’s Rose Rouse, with all the dancers in their 60s or older. At the after-party, I was on a table with a couple from Clapham. When I asked if they knew the province of Almeria, the woman gave a little start. She said that she’d visited a place called Bédar one Christmas in the Seventies. Back then, black-clad village ladies washed their clothes at the communal fountain and collected water in huge water jugs on their heads. Donkeys were the main means of transport, roads were few, and Fi and her boyfriend had walked four miles up to the village from the bus stop. On Christmas Eve, the village ladies taught her to dance Flamenco – she pulled her body up straight to demonstrate. She looked happy as the memories resurfaced, and I thought how great it was that we should meet by chance almost 50 years later, two strangers transcending time and space to share our experiences of a tiny, faraway place that has meant so much to us both.

Perhaps the magic lives on, after all.

Becca is running a trio of online Creative Writing courses. Each runs for six weeks and a number of themes are covered, including Fantasy & Transformation, Imagery, Characterisation, Dialogue, ‘Fragmented Writing’, Theme, Plotting and more.

Classes contain excerpts from a range of relevant authors and a 25-minute writing exercise based on the theme of the week. There’s time for students to read their work and discuss, and homework is given.

Featured authors include Kei Miller, Tim Winton, Margaret Atwood, Rose Tremain, Carys Davis, Jo Shapcott, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O’Brien, Andrea Levy, Helen MacDonald, Jeanette Winterson, Tricky, Tracey Emin and Melissa Harrison. 

The Creative Writing courses will run from mid-September, along with the journalistic ‘Write an Article in a Week’, which runs over two weekends. The price for each course is £125, with a 10% reduction if you book up for two or more. Becca is currently developing a new course on Memoir Writing.

For more info please visit https://beccaleathlean.wordpress.com or email lubrinbecca@gmail.com

Aof A People: Mish Aminoff Moon – Artist and Photographer


8 Minute Read

Mish Aminoff Moon, 63, is an artist and photographer. She captures images every day with her camera – from her particular perspective, details of London life. She blogs at https://www.mishaminoff.com/ with her photographs being the main focus. Mish took some amazing shots of our Dance Me To Death performance; no one else had her eye.

What is your age?

I’ll be 64 in August.

Where do you live?

In London, near Kentish Town.  I love the location as it’s near Hampstead Heath and also quite close to the centre of town, so it’s urban but also close to nature. One of my photographic projects has been taking the ever-changing view from my window through different seasons and light conditions. It feels exciting to me to witness a cityscape out of the window.

What do you do?

I’m an artist. Most days I wander around the streets with my camera capturing whatever piques my interest. I paint too but photography is something I do every day. I also produce a regular blog that combines images and text.

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

I feel very fortunate to be here and to be relatively fit and healthy. I lost a good friend a few days ago and another of my friends has been seriously ill for a while. I reached a turning point when I turned 60 – when I began to appreciate life in a different way. In my 30s and 40s I was probably more concerned about ageing but now I see life as a gift.

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

For a start, I have two grown-up sons! I’m also married (for the second time), and we live together in our own apartment. I have nearly 40 more years of experience and am still learning. I’ve discovered that I’m a good singer – this only happened as I approached 50 when I was looking for a transitional activity to replace the regular salsa dancing in clubs. I joined an Afrocuban choir called The London Lucumi choir and have been singing ever since. We’ve performed alongside amazing artists and recorded several albums. In terms of my physical identity, I have much longer hair, which is streaked with grey.

What about sex?

On the one hand, I felt a bit wary of this question as I don’t want it to be sensationalist like “we broke the bed the other day” (which we did). I value all the senses and for me, sex and sensuality are an important part of intimacy and connection. I treasure the fact that my partner and I are lovers as well as companions. I don’t know if my feelings around this will change but this is how I’ve felt up to now.

And relationships?

I met my husband Stephen when we were both 55 and single. I was in a good place creatively and socially but relationship-wise I had totally resigned myself to being single. There’s actually a funny story connected to this. When we met, I had an exhibition of my photos at Bar Italia and sold some pictures to several people, one of them being Stephen. With some of the deposit money I went and treated myself to some fancy lingerie. I was recounting the story to a woman from the Great British Song Book who used my words verbatim as the chorus to a song which we performed at the Barbican. The chorus goes like this:

“ I’m going to buy myself the most beautiful bra in the world. Nobody’s ever gonna see this bra but I DON’T CARE!!”

So, after the exhibition was over, Stephen and I arranged to meet for an afternoon coffee. This coffee was the start of something that then developed into a relationship I hadn’t anticipated or expected. It felt and still feels incredible to have met my soulmate and something about finding each other at such a late stage means that we are appreciative of each day we have together.

How free do you feel?

I feel quite free as an autonomous individual but I also feel that my duties and responsibilities are going to increase in terms having to care for my mother who is in her 80s. So fantasies about spending months living in Venice might have to remain fantasies for a while.

What are you proud of?

This is a tough one. I’m proud of my sons and my relationship with them. I’m proud of what I consider to be my bravery and fearlessness in certain situations – I’ve worked hard to live in a way that I feel is authentic.

What keeps you inspired?

I’m inspired by reading. Relatively recently I read The Choice by Edith Eger, a holocaust survivor who was presumed dead amongst a pile of corpses but survived. She still goes swing dancing with another nonagenarian! Talk about Carpe Diem. I’m particularly inspired by black women authors and am currently reading a fascinating book by Raven Leilani who is only 30. I love watching world cinema (which I used to teach) and listening to music. But I am also aware of too much “consumption” so try to keep a balance.

When are you happiest?

Lots of situations – I’m happiest hanging out quietly at home with Stephen, but I’m also extremely in the sense of pure life energy when I’m dancing, singing and around rhythm. I recently bought a pandeiro-type of Brazilian tambourine and even a few minutes of playing totally raises my spirits.

And where does your creativity go?

I take photographs or work on my photography every day. I’m also into fashion and some of that creativity goes into my personal style. I think I’m quite a creative cook too, which has made lockdown a rather tasty one. My newest dish is a re-creation of a Sicilian speciality I read about in one of Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels!

What’s your philosophy of living?

The following phrases inform and inspire me day to day:

“Keep on Trying … I just keep on trying” Faith Ringgold, an incredible artist from Harlem who found success relatively late in life, said this in an interview to Alan Yentob prior to her solo exhibition the Serpentine. She was in her late 80s at the time.

“You don’t have to keep up dear. You just have to keep open”- spoken by Anna Madrigal, the transgender character created by Armistead Maupin from the conclusion of Tales of the City series of books.

I mentioned Edith Eger before; she writes that we always have a choice irrespective of how dire the situation is, and we can choose to have a victim’s mentality or that of a survivor. She says “we have a choice: to pay attention to what we’ve lost or to pay attention to what we still have.”

This is also linked to the idea of being an active or passive agent in your life. This brings me to my next nugget of philosophy:

“Some pursue happiness, others create it”. I first came across this in New York – part of a motivational project called Be Mighty where people could tear off little inspirational quotes from flyers in the street (see attached photo). This one really resonated with me. I later found out it is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

And dying?

I’ve taken small steps towards acknowledging and confronting dying; the tai chi and qigong practice I’ve been doing increasingly since lockdown (see attached photo of people practising on Hampstead Heath) help me come to terms with acknowledging loss, notions of seasons, transience, change and letting go.

Mish Aminoff

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, but I don’t always remember them. One dream that had a profound effect on me was a kind of premonition involving bonding with a woman in a red flowing dress. This was followed in waking life by encountering the Red Rebel Brigade of the Extinction Rebellion movement in a similar scenario. I photographed them and wrote a blog called Red Flow which develops the theme.

Mish Aminoff

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I don’t really go for outrageous – I tend to strive for balance and harmony. But I do have a lot of adventures and spontaneous wonderful experiences. For instance the other week I had been dancing Forro – a type of Brazilian dance in the bandstand at Regents Park. After the class, a Brazilian dancer started a Maracatu line dance parade with live percussion in front of a crowd and my friend Alicia and I joined in even though we’d never done it before. We ended up performing in the front row, doing movements representing slaves getting rid of chains and it was incredibly powerful. We ended with impromptu wild ululation! And the crowds cheered…

My Love Affair with Italy


1 Minute Read

Annie Llewellyn has an academic background in Psychology and has lived and worked in Wales for many years. She is grateful for the years she spent in academia because she was able to teach and research In Europe. In 2002, she met and married an Italian and has never lost her love for this amazing country. She is now resident in Italy for much of the year and works remotely while still trying to work out the bureaucracy and the language.

The route to Italy began when my daughter came home for the weekend with a copy of an advertisement that she had found in the Sunday Times ‘Lonely Hearts’ section and I think she wished to divest herself of coming to seek me at weekends so that she could spend more time with the current boyfriend. The advertisement said that the gentleman concerned had a cottage in Wales and a house in Italy and was looking for someone to share his life with and I put it on one side thinking he would have loads of applicants.

One day I was feeling particularly lonely, and I decided to phone him, bearing in mind that I hadn’t seen a photograph as this was before the days where you swipe left or right based on physical characteristics. We had a chat on the phone, and I felt quite excited to be asked out on my first date. I dressed very carefully in a red dress and high heels (never usually wear these things). I found my date waiting for me in a high street in a mid-Wales town and we went to a rather seedy pub full of slightly inebriated locals. To say it was ‘love at first sight’ was simply not the case and in fact, it was very much the opposite. He was a slightly rotund, very well-dressed businessman whose accent belied his private education and his Italian ancestry. We looked slightly out of place I have to say in this rather run-down Welsh pub on a Saturday night.

The conversation though was interesting, and we spoke of many deep things such as the sudden death of his previous partner at a young age and his heartbreak at this. I saw a survivor and someone who was very likeable. I spoke of my yearning to travel to see other countries now that my children had grown up and I had time on my hands not to mention the unfaithful but long-lasting relationship with a younger man (we can go there another time). Richard – yes, that was his name – talked of how he longed to wander the beaches with his dogs on a rope lead and divest himself of all connections with money and become a gypsy. I have to say I only found out later than he knew how to sell himself, but I digress from my story.

I got ready to leave and said that I had enjoyed his company, but I didn’t think we were especially suited. I also thanked him for arranging to meet and moved to get up and go and I wished him well with finding the right person. He then said: ‘Would you like to eat?’ and I had to admit to feeling peckish and so we found a local Indian and we ate a good curry. He confided that I was the fourth date of the evening and that there had been 350 applicants so far, but I was the best of them all.

Of course, after the troubles of my previous relationship where I had lost not only my husband but most of our worldly goods which went to buy his new younger model a house and car – this somewhat bolstered my ego. We parted as friends and he said that he would phone me before he left for Italy the next day to complete on his house and I wished him a good trip and drove away thinking that I would never hear from him again. Yet, the next morning I received a text thanking me for a beautiful evening and promising to ring me on his return from Italy. My thoughts returned to him during the week as I wondered whether he had completed on the house and then on Thursday morning he texted me to say that he had completed upon the house. And I replied that ‘I am delighted that you have achieved your dream’ as he had been born in Florence and the text came back to say ‘you are my dream’ and I honestly had to get out of the bath to read it properly because the bath was steaming up the screen of my phone. I had never considered leaving Mid Wales again let alone taking up with a foreigner who admitted years later that he had sent it over a drunken lunch with his sister.

During the time that Richard was away, there were several gossipy lunches with girlfriends and the consensus was that what had I got to lose? Well, there was the issue that he wasn’t my physical type; my style of man was more along the lines of a tortured poet but as my friends pointed out my last attempt at tortured poets had certainly not gone well. A week after Richard’s return from Italy he invited me to his farmhouse in South Wales and we sat outside drinking gin and tonics and the first night he cooked me a beautiful meal of roast duck with all the trimmings and the housekeeper had put flowers in the spare room next to my bed.

We spent the days exploring the nearby market town and getting to know each other and, in the evenings, we ate out in Abergavenny. It is true that Italian men have the gift of romance and this one played Maria Callas, and I began to enjoy the ease of his company. Despite the heavy romancing, I continued to sit on the fence but four weeks later the school holidays were drawing close; and Richard made me an offer of two weeks in Italy followed by two weeks in Spain and I was absolutely hooked. I had probably been planning to spend the holidays scrubbing the skirting boards and put that against jetting off to a country that I already loved and of course, I accepted.

Before we left, I was introduced to the Italian mother and she was utterly lovely a gorgeous, lithe lady in her late 80s living in Fulham. She had once been part of the Folie Bergère in Paris where she had met her Italian Count but sadly the Florentine family didn’t feel the same. I too was similarly dismissed when I met Richard’s children who apparently treated all his girlfriends in the same way and would clearly have preferred him to return to their mother so that they could resume their private education.

I had anticipated a lazy drive down through France to Italy but any hopes of that were dismissed as we navigated the M4 to the ferry. Once Richard joined the motorway down to the South, I began to realise there is no such thing as a lingering road journey to an Italian. It was hot and he drove very fast and in mid-France, I began to dream of flights wondering how much more I could take of this road trip with Puccini blaring from the speakers. I quickly learned that Italians manage their women in a manner that is subtle but designed to get their own way.  We arrived at the house 18 hours after we left Dover having navigated the long incline to the house, a truly nail-biting drive and one of the most dangerous in Italy. There are 13 hairpin bends and some of them are the switchback type. Passing places are few and it is a single-track road much beloved by cyclists and people in camper vans seeking a rural idyll after the joys of Florence, Rome, and Sienna. We arrived about 3 am in the morning. I was absolutely shattered and planned to catch the first flight home from Pisa as soon as morning light dawned.

I awoke the next morning to warm sunshine flooding the room and threw open the shutters and I was blown away by the view. It was literally love at first sight as my eyes took in the rugged mountains, the breathtaking views and the valleys shimmering in the warm sun below. I would come to love that view and I drank it in every morning and was there until late evening draining the last drop of prosecco from my evening aperitif. You couldn’t hear a sound and after the hectic drive and the journey, I felt that I had come home. Many people experience this when they first come to Italy and indeed, I had felt this on my first trip, but something gripped me on that visit that has never left my soul. I love the bones of Italy and I don’t feel the need to do the touristy things that Italy offers to many (although I do them in passing) but it is the experience that grabs me more than anything. It is being alive under the Italian sun as it were and simply being and there is no more pleasurable meditative state.

Every day I fell further in love with Italy and Richard. I would sit and people watch, and few words were exchanged between Richard and me as I immersed myself in people watching and eating dinner late in the evening at different restaurants. I loved to peek into doorways as we paused to gaze at the tranquil gardens where I imagined sitting in the evenings. The Italians, of course, rarely sit in their gardens during the day preferring to shade themselves from the sun. I lit candles in the evening on the terrace and Richard prepared simple food, which we bought from the market vendors during the day.

Richard and I were not lovers before we embarked on the trip but I fell in love with him during this trip. It wasn’t my usual passionate kind of encounter but the simple love of a man and woman who meet in mid-life and are appreciative of the time they spend together and are merging in a kind of simplicity that is hard to define. We spent long hours listening to the voice of Maria Callas singing arias from Madam Butterfly and indeed the aria was played at Richard’s funeral some eight years later. Richard admitted that the trip was one of the happiest that he had ever made to Italy. Just us and the landscape – what a joy!

We returned to Italy every few weeks (flying, of course). Richard didn’t change, and many times he dragged me from the sanctity of the house back into the hire car to various sites of interest such as Florence, Siena, and Assisi where I was expected to drink in the atmosphere in a few hours. Richard proposed after a visit to Bologna to see his sister and he bought me the most beautiful diamond ring and I think I was the happiest I have ever been. We married in Florence just before Christmas eighteen months later on a beautiful frosty, snowy day in the Palace Vecchio. The wedding ceremony was conducted in Italian by candlelight with beautiful frescoes in the background and centuries of history surrounding us.

The years I experienced with this man were years that I will never forget, and he never made life easy, but he did his absolute utmost to make me happy. When he became ill six years after we married, it didn’t slow him down and he didn’t involve me in his treatment. He died two years later, but he gave me something that was beyond money. He introduced me to a different way of living and a life that I had never experienced before. In the last two years of his life, I gave up my job and we spent time in Tenerife because he liked the climate and the small mountain house remained closed. I was with him in the final stages of his life and his last words to me were ‘don’t leave me’ as he sank into a morphine-induced sleep.

I was heartbroken and it was two years before I was able to return to Italy as I couldn’t face returning to the house and life there without him. He left me his share of the small mountain house and I knew it would be hard in practical terms to live there full time and so started to think that selling the house was my only way of keeping afloat. I hadn’t realised the extent of the practical problems that living in Italy inevitably brought until I started to engage with bureaucracy. I spoke only a little Italian and even now it is a work in progress, I learned that Richard’s way of dealing with taxes was to ignore them. This is not so easy for the person left behind. I came to realise that the man whom I loved so deeply had left me his part of the house but not the income to support it. I returned to my job and picked up the threads of my life and paid off all the taxes that were owed. Healing came more slowly and there were relationships post-Richard, but they were not important.

I yearned to spend more time in my Italian home and popped over for brief visits to pay bills but I couldn’t face spending longer without the man I had loved so much by my side. It was the support of a loving therapist that made me see that I could create new memories and that Richard would want me to return and I began to want to give it a try. I cleared the house of memories and had the place revamped and so I started to appreciate once more the peace of the country I had come to see as home. I decided to cash in my pension to give myself some capital and a monthly income, but I also negotiated a few hours of teaching on Zoom and I managed to sustain a level of income that would make living in Italy work. I was faced with loads of practical problems such as driving on the other side of the road in the terrifying mountainous area in which I live, but is something I was able to overcome.

My week is now punctuated with visits to the Wednesday market in the nearest village after navigating the thirteen hairpin bends where I buy locally grown fresh vegetables and fruit often for as little as one euro. I also buy a spit roast chicken from the rotisserie in the marketplace, and I eat this with fresh salad or pasta.  On Saturday, I get on the local train to visit Lucca and enjoy a cappuccino with a friend and perhaps wander around the market to see what bargains are available. I have picked up designer cashmere sweaters for as little as 5 euros. Once a month there is the antique market where people gather to buy the beautifully restored, shabby chic furniture and magnificent chandeliers. I often join friends for lunch and revel in the odd purchase I make such as crystal chandelier droplets for my Christmas tree. Trains are cheap in Italy, and I can travel to other places quite easily to experience a different side of Italian life.

I live in the moment in Italy and appreciate the compensations of my life as I get up to greet the dawn on my terrace and gaze down to the valley below watching as the sun clears away the clouds. I can often be found swaddled in a blanket, sipping my morning tea alone on my terrace engulfed by the silence. I am alone but the airport is not far away and I am only half a day’s travel away from my children and friends.

Single women are drawn to Italian life and there are always people around who will chat and readily express their envy when they realise you are not a tourist but live there. Friends who visit are drawn to choosing their own place, but when they return home; I return to my life of silent contemplation where I read by my fireside in the evening, or I light a candle and enjoy a glass of frizzante wine alone. I don’t often feel lonely because I have found my peace and I have memories from the past and hopes for the future that I am planting as I go. There is no rush even though my memories of Richard remind me that life is brief and that all we have is now. However, I know that I have everything and that is more than enough.

“Deep in the soul, below pain, below all the distraction of life, is a silence vast and grand – an infinite ocean of calm, which nothing can disturb. Nature’s own exceeding peace, which passes understanding. That which we seek with passionate longing, here and there, upward and outward; we find at last within ourselves.”

Richard Maurice Bucke

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