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Falstaff vs Smokey Robinson: turning sixty during lockdown


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Nick Coleman is newly 60, and an author who used to be a music critic at Time Out and the Independent. 

I turned sixty in April, at a relatively early stage of the coronavirus lockdown. The day dawned for me, as it does nearly every morning, with the sound of a north-east-London blackbird giving it some in the tree outside our bedroom window. It was four-thirty in the morning. The little fucker.

He thinks it’s great to be alive and he probably has a point, from his blackbird’s perspective. The skies are clear, the roads empty, the atmosphere, the very air that we breathe here in north-east London is so much more breathable now than it has been at any stage of the forty years I have lived in this city. The blackbird has, I suppose, every right to rejoice and to spread the news. His air is now Bruegel-fresh, as ours is. The colours in our shared world are saturated like Caspar David Friedrich’s. There is a new tang to our daily experience of our world as if it were a fruit bowl by Caravaggio.

Except of course that I am now sixty and do not wish to be dinned out of my thinning nightly tissue of sleep by some loudmouth with a message to impart. I don’t want messages at four-thirty in the morning. I want sleep. I want to be dreaming of fruit bowls, not reminded in so many cockney chirrups that I live in one, or would do if I only had the eyes to see it. That blackbird is a prig. One day I am going to lean out of my bedroom casement with my blunderbuss and turn the varmint into a pinkish-black puff of feathers and vapourised bird flesh.

Credit: Linda Nylind
Author Nick Coleman.
Photo by Linda Nylind. 17/3/2015.

Except that I am not, of course. I do not own a blunderbuss; nor are they as easy to come by as you might think in modern Hackney.

So the day of my birth dawned for the sixtieth time with thoughts of violence. Which then turned really poisonous when I remembered that I was now, as of today, officially old.

Who wants to be sixty? No, but really: who does? What are the advantages? What are the burdensome disadvantages of being fifty-nine that we then shuck off by turning sixty? I can’t think of a single one and I bet you can’t either. And guess what: if I’d been born a fortnight earlier in history, I’d at least have got a Freedom Pass for my sixtieth, like everyone else has for heaven knows how long, as a special cheer-up present as you turn the big corner into dotage. But I don’t even get one of those. They’ve stopped it. In the nick of time.

So the blackbird really isn’t doing it for me at four-thirty in the morning. I turn over in my bed and add to the joy of nations by swearing.

*****

I don’t mind getting old, of course. It’s not the fact of it, nor even the feeling of it that rattles my cage. Getting old is just one more day added to all the others, as Justice Shallow doesn’t quite say to Falstaff in the firelight. Getting old is incontrovertible and, you might say, even fortunate. I might after all be dead (as indeed I nearly was last year when still only fifty-eight). I might be having my teenage life cancelled by measures devised to combat the pandemic. I might be struggling to raise a young family with no income all of a sudden and, worst of all, having to home-school a four-year-old and a seven-year-old (as would have been the case for my wife and I had the coronavirus struck 15 years ago). As it is, I am fortunate to live in a nice if rather jerry-built little Edwardian house in north-east-London, feeling a bit like a tinned pilchard given that the 22–year-old and 19-year-old offspring just happened to be biding here when the lockdown started, but comfortable enough. I have a small income. I have a roof. I don’t have much health but am not dead. Mustn’t grumble ­– apart from about the blackbird.

And yet the onset of sixty in lockdown is forcing the issue somewhat – I do feel like grumbling, I really do, and I think it’s unavoidable in the circumstances, like having to pee in the night. It comes with the territory, as Justice Shallow also doesn’t quite say to Falstaff in the firelight.

‘Jesus, the days that we have seen,’ he does say though. It’s a phrase I heard first issuing from my father’s lips long ago in I know not what context – the kind of quotation he was given to, having survived the war. I have heard it since at moments of dark reflection, uttered both by my elders and by me, because I am a bit that way inclined myself; inclined to the emptied-out and fatuous rather than to the mythological. Let me be clear, I identify more at sixty with Justice Shallow, the spindly, mindless, excitable legal official on his last legs, gasping to be appreciated by his companion in the firelight, than I do with the great fat beast of English half-felt regret sat next to him, Sir John Falstaff, who may well be magnificent in his way but is, basically, a regrettable old arse: charismatic, yes, but no good to anyone and absolutely and fundamentally dishonest, even unto himself.

Orson Welles saw Falstaff as an emblem of something lost and appealing, as you might expect him to do having cast himself in the role for his The Chimes at Midnight (a cinematic conflation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV pts 1 and 2 and Henry V). Welles sensed an embodiment of Merrie Ynglande in the galvanising figure of Sir John, a wild, untamed throwback to an England of the English imagination, which has probably existed in the Anglo-Saxon mind fondly since 1066 as a comfort: a creature of wit and instinct and appetite and untrammelled Nature whose pretences to social virtue are for effect only and whose unremitting jive is nothing but code for bogus class sublimation: we’re-all-in-it-together, but me first. Welles’s Falstaff is truly mythological, a vast case of the merry English blues in which eternal June meadows are pregnant with English flowers and no invasive species. Welles said himself he was glad to shoot Chimes in black and white because it would not expose the fact that he, as Falstaff, does not have blue eyes.

Well, I was born in 1960, not 1929 – I’m not even a real Boomer – and that kind of Falstaff resonates ugly with me, regardless; he smells of UKIP and Tim Martin and the upbraiding ruddy face of Fake Nostalgia. (Yes, yes, I know Shakespeare didn’t mean it that way. And nor did Welles. But, hell’s bells…)

I much prefer the Falstaff offered by Simon Russell Beale under the direction of Richard Eyre in 2012. Russell Beale’s Sir John is not mythological; he is the repulsive old bloke who’s lived his life in the pub and got stuck there, wedged in the corner of the bar, opinionated, delusional, evil-smelling and unable to get in touch with his self-loathing. Yes, he has moments of charm and even musters the odd truthful self-observation – ‘Oh, I’m old… old,’ he laments as Doll Tearsheet fumbles with his knob-end – but those moments come as departures in his life not the rule and certainly not as the engine of anything useful to man, woman nor child. They are soon gone. It is only as he stares stark-eyed away from the flames at Shallow’s hearth that he begins to sense the truth about himself. ‘We have heard the chimes at midnight,’ he announces absently and his gaze darkens to reveal an abyss engulfed by silence. He cannot speak of what he can’t actually encompass emotionally – but he senses its presence all right. That’s a Falstaff I can understand at sixty, even if I don’t identify with him.

*****

How old was Falstaff?

I am not about to re-read both parts of Henry IV to see if there are any clues to be had as to his age – and of course, age is relative, anyway, it isn’t just a number, and never more so than in 15th-century England when surviving the lottery of birth was a matter of statistical reality. But sixty seems about right to me, psychologically speaking. Falstaff is starting to lose his autonomic faculties as well as all the others, and his jive is losing its lustre. ‘Oh, I’m old … old.’ Sixty is an age of extreme self-consciousness and denial and, dare one say it, of the dawning of previously unanswered regrets. Of course Falstaff fancies that he can do all the stuff he used to do – of course, he does – despite his gouty big toe; but, when it comes to it, he would rather sit and mope with a flagon of sack.

My wife, whose name by a strange coincidence is Nell Quickly (and by even stranger coincidence also runs a bawdy house which she disguises as a respectable Hackney PR company), chased me out from under the duvet on my sixtieth birthday morning and set about my pimpling extremities with the warming pan.

‘Now, Sir John,’ quoth she, ‘…er, I mean Nick… Get your hindquarters downstairs and let me and the changelings go about making this the best birthday you ever had. Come on. No excuses. No maundering. I know you’re feeling awful and that bird woke you at a grisly hour, but… well, just go with it. Be in the moment. Go into the living room and play your favourite records, why don’t you, and leave the birthday doings to us.’

‘But we’re in lockdown. I’ve got things to do…’

Thwack! The warming pan made abrupt contact with the gristle of my dwindling behind and I thought better of uttering another word.

But I did go downstairs and I did think as I went, well, this is going to be quite nice. What record shall I play? What does my soul yearn to dance to? What moves me? I know…

Smokey Robinson!

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 26: Singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson speaks onstage during the 56th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on January 26, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage)

And then the inevitable qualification… How old is Smokey Robinson? Christ on a bike – is he even still alive? Yes, yes, he must be: I’d have noticed if he’d died because… because I love Smokey Robinson and I would have undergone some sort of memorable emotional crisis if he had expired. But how old is he? Must be in his eighties now. After all, he has been embodying the poetry of undying romantic youth since… since when? 1961? 1962? Since before I was born even? The sound of Detroit south side’s beating heart, fluttering as delicately as dew-jewelled cobwebs on spring mornings; the sound of a stock of weightless metaphors so intricately extensive that they drape every curve and loop of Time itself, going both back into the past and forwards into the future until they are lost to view.

And so I went into the living room and played Smokey Robinson records all morning, while my children made breakfast and very old friends came round at timed intervals to surprise me and give me virtual hugs from beyond the front gate by secret arrangement with Nell – and the metaphors kept on lapping and mingling in the air all about until, by lunchtime, I was quite convinced this was the best birthday I’d ever had.

And then after lunch I had a nap.

And when I woke up it was still good, even though I had a slight headache.

Nick Coleman’s books are published by Jonathan Cape/Vintage: ‘The Train in the Night: a story of music and loss’; the novel, ‘Pillow Man’; and, most recently, ‘Voices: How a Great Singer Can Change Your Life’

Book Review: Dear Life – A Doctor’s Story of Love & Loss


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Reviewed by Asanga Judge

Dr Rachel Clarke is a specialist in palliative medicine. She has often been in the media during the Covid-19 crisis talking clearly about what is needed in terms of provision of PPE, perspectives and compassion.

Asanga Judge is a former GP.

I am not easily moved to tears, so the fact it happened to me repeatedly when I was reading this book is a mark of Rachel Clarke’s profound compassion towards her patients, in her capacity as a palliative care specialist running a hospice for terminally ill patients.

As a reaction to some of the awful experiences she had during her early medical career, for instance, people dying in terrifying and undignified circumstances, she decided that she intended to do everything she could to make her patients’ last days comfortable, peaceful and fulfilling.

One example was Ellie, in her early 20s with aggressively metastatic breast cancer that was causing her organs to shut down rapidly. She desperately wanted to get married with her family and friends present. She asked Rachel, ‘Can you keep me well enough to make it to Thursday?’ – that was in two days’ time. Rachel knew all she could do was to promise to try. She used all her medical skills to keep Ellie alive for the next two days and then to give her enough strength to manage the ceremony. As the final moments of the ceremony took place – Ellie was momentarily transformed ‘from a dying woman to a luminous young bride on her wedding day – radiant, ecstatic. Her cancer vanishes. And everyone sees it, everyone feels it – the world falling away until only one thing remains: two 20somethings getting married with beaming smiles. Ellie dies the next day, held by James and still wearing her dress of white chiffon.’

‘Living does not stop because one is dying.’

I have selected this quote from the end of the book because I think it creates a very welcome and inspiring picture of how the life of dying people in this type of palliative care is not typical of the generally held view of hospices. They are still viewed as places to die rather than places to live well until you die. And even in today’s progressive climate of death cafes and end of life doulas, there is still reluctance in our society to discuss the subject of dying.

‘If there is a difference between people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it is simply this: the terminally ill know their time is running out, while we live as though we have all the time in the world. Their urgency propels them to do the things they want to do, reach out to those they love and savour the moments of life still left to them. In a hospice, therefore, there is more of what matters: more love, more strength, more kindness, more smiles, more dignity, more joy, more grace, more compassion – than you could ever imagine. I work in a world that thrums with life. My patients teach me all I need to know about living.’ Rachel Clarke.

For me, one of the most important issues dealt with here is how fear and misunderstanding around death and dying, cause a lot of anxiety and potential, yet avoidable, suffering. That simple listening and communication around each person’s individual circumstances are at least, if not more, important than the use of sedatives and analgesics. Death remains a taboo even for doctors. And I speak here as one of the profession myself. Traditional medical teaching has always been focused on the ability to cure illness. Palliative care was, and still is among the profession as a whole, associated with failure. Because of this, the subject of caring for the dying patient has been woefully neglected in the teaching schedule.

Rachel Clarke also explains how for most people in a hospice their final days pass very much in the same way: gradually sleeping more and slipping into deeper unconsciousness. I imagine that prior knowledge of this, which many may not have, would be a blessed comfort. It was for me.

I cannot over-emphasize how much I was affected and inspired by this book. It even motivated me to discuss my own death with my daughter and let her know about practical matters such as my financial arrangements, which she found useful as well an indication that I was looking after her for the future. I am almost 77.

I think everyone should read it.

Ayurvedic advice in the time of the Coronavirus: Do we need a paradigm shift?


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These are challenging times…

Even if we are not concerned about our own health, we may have loved ones who are at risk, and it may be that the only way we can protect them is by staying away. Jobs are in jeopardy, incomes are compromised and above all, there is much that is unknown: How fast will the virus spread? How quickly will it peak? And what is my relationship to this unknown threat? Am I reassured by knowing that for most people it is a mild disease with no danger? Or is there an overwhelming sense of panic and visions of the worst possible outcomes?

Sometimes a current event can trigger deep ancestral fears that live on in our unconscious and we may find ourselves unable to keep a cool head. Recognising that this is the case can prompt us to find ways of helping ourselves; essentially by slowing down and focusing on the basics – adequate rest and some mental discipline as well as a good diet to increase our resilience.

Which is the real killer?

is it Exhibit A – THE AGENT, the focus of all our attention right now – the Coronavirus?

or is it Exhibit B – THE ENVIRONMENT – a damaged Microbiome?

We are so used to seeing the enemy as being out there, whether it’s a virus, a bacteria or a malignant tumour. If only we could avoid it / kill it / vaccinate against it: in all these approaches we are assuming the agent is the problem. However, our bodies play host to a whole concert of these agents, some of them deadly, some friendly and many which are relatively benign, as long as they are in balance. And the idea of balance is key when we are talking about a healthy microbiome.

Did you know that 80% of your immune system is in your gut? What if the choices you make – food and lifestyle could be used to enhance your immunity? Read on if you want to begin to take charge of your health outcomes…

According to Ayurveda, it’s not only what we eat that has an influence on our health. How, when and in what state we eat our food will have an influence on how well we digest it and whether it becomes nourishment for our bodies or, in an incompletely digested form, becomes the toxins that lead to poor health outcomes.

Why is this important for us to be aware of?

Because every time we trigger our stress response (fight/flight/freeze) our digestion shuts down and our immune system is suppressed. So when I listen to the latest statistics about the rising number of cases/fatalities or when I think about what will be the fate of my loved ones or wonder how we will survive financially…. my immunity drops. This information could be deeply depressing, but it could also be empowering; because it means that I hold the key to improving my immunity.

It’s also a key thing to remember because those of us who are health conscious tend to obsess about what we eat, when in fact the state of our nervous system has an even bigger impact.

We know from statistics that catching Covid19 (Coronavirus) will be relatively harmless for 80% of the population. And we know that the other 20% – those who are over 70 as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease etc. have a higher risk of complications and fatalities. What is it about age or health conditions which leads to this huge difference in impact?

Most of us don’t follow a perfect diet and so one of the things that happen gradually as we age, or more rapidly if we don’t look after ourselves, is that this begins to have an impact on the gut. Inadequate fibre in the diet leads to damage in the lining of the gut as the bacteria (which live largely on fibre) begin instead to consume the mucus lining which protects the gut. At the same time, incompletely digested food creates toxins, and these together with gliadin, the indigestible gluten found in wheat, begin to leak through the damaged gut lining into the bloodstream triggering an inflammatory response from the immune system and leading to chronic inflammation – the condition which plays a major role in many of the chronic health conditions now endemic in our society.

The diet and lifestyle advice (see below) will encourage a healthy microbiome and increase our immunity and well being.

And if you are reading this and thinking: “I am definitely in the 20% and it’s too far down the line…” there are many reasons to not despair! Our bodies are all on a journey and the final destination is death. You may be further along in the journey, but we will all have to face that eventually – our bodies are not immortal… But even when it is too late to heal the body, healing is always possible for our hearts and soul. Peace, acceptance and love are experiences that we can touch and grow.

And maybe you’re not quite at that stage yet! In that case, there are more drastic measures –interventions such as detox programmes and herbal remedies that can provide more support and begin to shift long-term health issues. Those require 1:1 guidance from an Ayurvedic Practitioner or Complementary Health Practitioner. The Ayurvedic Professionals Association has a Directory of Practitioners around the country. Many of us will also be working by skype during the pandemic. And of course there are Naturopaths, Herbalists, Chinese Medical Practitoners and many other ways to support yourself during this challenging time. Set an intention for yourself and you will find the support you need.

Ayurvedic tips for boosting immunity 

Ensure you get adequate rest to allow your immune system to do its job of keeping you healthy

Keep a sense of perspective as much as possible. Fear begets fear and reduces our immunity in the process: Consider how much media and which content is helpful for you to be exposed to.

Much of what we may fear is connected to the unknown and may never happen. If we focus on the present moment and what is needed right now our energy will stay grounded.

Expressions of love boost our immunity – whether it’s speaking to someone we love, thinking about them, doing something to help someone, enjoying touch by eg. stroking a pet or the Ayurvedic practice of self-massage with sesame oil and of course, sexual intimacy: All of these will stimulate the release of Oxytocin: the ‘love hormone’ and give a boost to our immune system.

Ayurvedic diet advice for all mucus-related conditions (eg. coughs, colds, flu)

Follow a light diet with warm soups or stews and fewer carbohydrates than usual. Herbs & spices such as basil, thyme, oregano, black pepper and ginger will help reduce mucus. Use moderate amounts of high-quality fats such as ghee and coconut oil. Stewed fruit with spices such as cinnamon is a good source of iron and fibre. Above all, don’t eat unless you have a real appetite and avoid eating late at night.

Vegetables are high in fibre and detoxifying. The only ones to minimise are the nightshade family (tomatoes, aubergine, potato, peppers) as they are inflammatory. The onion family, including leeks & garlic, contain allicin which is anti-viral and antibacterial. Garlic has more potency (medicinally as well as on your breath!) when uncooked. If you can’t find fresh greens in the shops, nettles are a great source of vitamin C and iron. You can use them in soups, omelettes etc.

Small amounts of a non-dairy fermented product such as sauerkraut can be helpful as probiotic support.

Avoid the following: Dairy products, especially cheese, yoghurt, milk & ice cream; bananas; cold food and drinks (including beer); uncooked fruit, salads, raw food; food that is difficult to digest e.g because it is fried or heavy, such as red meat and wheat (spelt is a good alternative); puddings, cakes, biscuits & sweets.

Best options for a sweet tooth: One ginger biscuit or a rice cake with honey or a few raisins or a spoonful of Chywanprash: an Ayurvedic jam, which is a tonic for the lungs.

Vitamin D is essential for a strong immune system. Non-vegans will source this from fish, meat and/or eggs. The sun is an ideal source, but until we get some, vegans and anyone who suspects their levels are low is recommended to take Vit D3 + K2 as a supplement.

Ginger, turmeric and green tea support immunity. Use ginger water (made by boiling a couple of slices of fresh ginger with a cupful of water for a few minutes) and/or drink green tea or a herbal tea containing turmeric. If you have been exposed to a virus, regular warm drinks will clear it from your throat area and flush it into your stomach; so keeping a thermos flask with you and taking a sip every 20 minutes is advised.

If you use anti-bacterial products, make sure you also wash your hands before eating, as you don’t want the chemicals to end up in your gut where they can destroy good as well as bad bacteria and lead to an imbalance in the gut flora.

Beware of using Ibuprofen if you catch the virus:  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/14/anti-inflammatory-drugs-may-aggravate-coronavirus-infection

Home remedy for immunity

Gargle twice a day (after breakfast and before bed) with turmeric and salt – as a preventative or when there is an active infection. Use ½ tsp turmeric + ¼ tsp salt in 1/3 cup hot water.

Looking after ourselves and our loved ones and taking simple measures to limit transmission (handwashing, self-isolation if you are unwell, social distancing) and keeping a sense of perspective will help us all.

AofA People – Matthew Caley – Poet


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Since his debut – Thirst [Slow Dancer, 1999] – was nominated for The Forward Prize for Best 1st Collection, Matthew Caley has published four more collections – the last three from Bloodaxe – and read everywhere from Novi Sad, Serbia to The Globe Theatre, London; from Prague’s Alchemy to Wayne-Holloway Smith’s living room. He’s recently taught Contemporary Poetry /Creative Writing at The School of English, St Andrews University, The University of Winchester and The Poetry School. He has just given the StAnza International Poetry Festival Lecture 2020. His 6th collection is Trawlerman’s Turquoise [Bloodaxe, 2019].

Where do you live?

Crystal Palace, South London

What do you do?

Poet

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

It’s strange as this questionnaire is forcing me to think about it and I rarely do. No idea why – when I was thirty and people accused me of being thirty I didn’t like the definition of it – I might lie upwards as much as downwards just to avoid definition or pre-conceived ideas. Maybe because I was hit by poetry/art very early on – and couldn’t really do anything else very well – I’ve just stuck doing those things – poetry, putting out books, readings, collaborating with artists, teaching art or poetry since the beginning – it’s a narrow seam and therefore my basic drives and actions and life remain pretty much the same and they don’t necessarily rely on physical fitness – though I feel Ok –- so it doesn’t feel so different.

Or I don’t notice the decline!

Plus, I don’t write directly from actual life and what happens to me. I write out of wordplay and structures and imagination. Some poets write their first book about childhood, their second about amorous relationships, their third about marriage, swiftly followed by decorating and divorce. My work messes with time and follows no chronology, it draws from life but tangentially, so there shouldn’t be much stress on age in it particularly.

I had a big party when I turned 50 and another when I turned 60 but they weren’t really about that. I discovered that a ‘big number party’ is the only way to see friends you haven’t seen for years. They’ll turn up for that. So it wasn’t really about me or my age but just a grand excuse to catch up. So I don’t view myself through the lens of any age. I’ve met people in their thirties who think they are old. It’s all relative. Of course, you can’t escape how others see you. Or noticing how certain people react because of your supposed age. I notice them noticing but I don’t care. So that solves that.

I would also think that whilst your stated aim to change the image of older folk is a great one, that you must also have to be careful to avoid—as any of these pro-these people or pro-that movements do—ghettoising yourselves. All persons are persons –just at different stages. I want to be around all ages of people -and luckily again – at the moment – I can be. This happens much more naturally in other countries than here I find. Children, teenagers, young adults, adults, older folks etc should be all mixed up in the same spaces. I don’t want to know only one strata. That’s stultifying. Advertising and social spacing can force people into their own age group. It’s good to mix it up. The media often stereotype older people so the image should be combatted but outside of the media folks need to mix it up themselves.

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

More books! Two daughters. A flat. I know my insides and my outsides. I know where to stand in relation to the source in order to get a poem. I know it’s not my drive that does it. The arc of propulsion that drives the poems started before me somehow and I just keep in its slipstream and end up where it takes me. I’ve narrowed down what I do so it’s more focused. If I’ve gained any wisdom then I probably don’t notice it be because you can’t re-construct exactly how you were before. Learning and skills are invisible once you’ve mastered them. You have changed, but there’s no former you to compare with. On Magazine’s- [the post-punk group’s] -‘comeback’ LP Know Thyself their songwriter and lyricist Howard Devoto has a song ‘Dear Howard of Course’ which is a song to his younger self. But much of his younger self had been filmed or recorded and maybe he has a better memory than me. Much of the LP deals with ageing, though in a typically oblique way, there’s a song called Holy Dotage! But it’s a fired-up fast song. I would guess there are losses and gains but sometimes the losses are good and the gains not so good. I have a bad memory which means I don’t tend to dwell in the past much so I’m usually dealing with the present. The now is all we have so its best to deal exclusively with that or you end up in the ether.

What about sex?

I’ve always had great fun and luck in the amorous world. It’s hard to talk about it overtly – not because of prudism – though our current culture can be strangely prudish –but because our current moment could but not misread it.

Since meeting Pavla and seeing my daughters born it all changed. Now it’s blood-ties and love. A different thing. But also I think discretion in relationships is a very underrated virtue – you make yourself vulnerable in amorous relationships and whoever or how many people are involved, what goes on is a beautiful, private thing. Those might seem strange in a world where people post videos of their genitals to each other quite merrily and overshare at every opportunity. This vies with the overall prudish culture to make a strange mix. I feel very grateful for all my past relationships, brief or more substantial, with some very strong, powerful, original, and beautiful characters. They all meant a good deal to me. But Pavla and I have been together for 20 years now and have two daughters. She’s a very strong character herself and an artist. Love and sex are both mutual and mutable things, their form changes virtually every day – if you drift with it. Being with one person isn’t so different from having a few lovers because everything changes all the time. If you keep alert they renew themselves.

And relationships?

Of course, there are many different types of relationships – not just the amorous world. I’m lucky again. I’ve got a wide range of friends – men and women of all ages and types. Because I’ve taught in art schools and poetry schools I regularly meet 18-23 year olds. I know quite a few young poets. I meet my daughters’ friends. So I have some ‘young’ friends and friends of all types. It’s just that I don’t see any of them very often because I’m too busy or always travelling about – though I have friends scattered everywhere so I see those when I travel – but with friendships – they usually hold up if they’re meant to.

How free do you feel?

‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’ as yer man said. No-one’s truly free under Capitalism or Communism. It’s just seeming degrees of it. Freedom is internal.

What are you proud of?

I find that word a bit iffy – it gets misused so much. There’s a danger it can become a kind of vacuous Facebook meme type word. An Award Ceremony word. Like the word ‘hero’ has become. But if there’s another word then I take great delight – I like the word ‘delight’ – in my daughters. Mina is [13] a musician-playing violin and viola, in all manner of orchestras and quartets and solo and Iris [19] is studying Animation in the Czech Republic which is a brave leap forward. They are delightful and I delight in them and who they’re becoming. And Pavla, of course, who has put so much into them.

What keeps you inspired?

I read that Leonard Cohen quote a while back – the one where he says, ‘If I knew where good songs came from I’d go there more often’. It’s a good line but I was dissatisfied with it – why can’t you climb back up the rope ladder to the source? I’ve spent 6 years working on that. It’s not ‘inspiration’ which I’ve found is a flimsy and insubstantial friend. It’s a mixture of internal ‘athletics of the mind’ – technique[s] and knowledge of timing. Then you can go there when you want and get the poem you want, when you want. I’m much closer to getting that. I’m not perfect at it yet but it’s getting much closer.

When are you happiest?

Most of the time. My default mode is pretty OK – most of the time. [That really annoys some people I notice.] So if I get happy then I’m really up. I’m happier being a ‘hired’ gun rather than full-time. I’m happy ‘on-the-road’ gigging. I’m happy to get back to my beauties. I‘m a cup more than half full and slightly above the brim person.

When in Chartier in Paris. Having coffee on a frozen balcony. Listening to The Punch Brothers or Fleet Foxes or Lankum or O’Hooley & Tiddow at a concert with all the girls. The Rabbit fair, Konice, Moravia. On the road. Everywhere. It’s portable, happiness.

And where does your creativity go?

I prefer the word ‘imagination’. Always into the poems, the books.

What’s your philosophy of living?

I try not to have one! Stand in the place where you live. Be in the minute you’re in. Reduce your worries to a minimum. Walk everywhere. Advice is the worst way of giving advice. Develop out of what you lack. [Baudrillardian. Barthian. A bit of Schopenhauer. Kristeva. ] You don’t need much. Know what you do need. Avoid elegy and nostalgia. Don’t carry a phone. Tell the time by laundrettes. Appreciate everyone, especially your enemies.

And dying?

It’s another imaginative leap – until it isn’t I guess.

Are you still dreaming?

I rarely dream. The poetry replaces that, maybe. The world is enough.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

You should see some of my line-breaks.

Shanks’ Pony: Travels on my feet.


14 Minute Read

Some of my earliest memories, growing up as a child in inner-city London, involve walking. Walking everywhere. I recall trotting alongside my mum, her pushing my sister in a pushchair whilst I clung onto the side handle as we marched, always purposefully, along city streets, through parks, over bridges, past shops and offices and through the ‘back doubles’ (one of my mum’s favourite phrases) from the council estate where we lived to just about everywhere we needed to go. We walked mostly out of necessity, walking is free and when you don’t have much money, it becomes an obvious way to cut costs.

We also walked because my mum, Geordie lass that she was (and still is) was used to walking to get from A to B – whether that was the six-mile round trek in all weathers to get to and from her local school or the I-don’t-know-how-many-miles round trip to get my sister and me to nursery before she set off to one of her many part-time jobs. When the young me got tired of walking, I was invited to step onto the footplate of the pushchair and hang onto the crossbar as mum then transported two youngsters across town.

We moved to the south coast of England when I was eleven and the walking continued as, at that time, we didn’t have a car and, well, old habits die hard. When I started work as a student nurse in the local hospital, I used to get up before 6am in order to walk to work to start an early shift at 7am. When I had children of my own I would walk everywhere because getting a pushchair on and off the bus was too much of a pain

Our family prospered and as we became a little more affluent and I was able to have my own car the day to day walking turned into going out somewhere for the deliberate purpose of walking: beach, forest, hillside or field – just being outside propelling myself under my own steam, often with kids and picnics in tow.

As an adult, I gave a name to that which I just knew to be true as a child – walking is what we are built to do. It is as necessary to our wellbeing as fresh air and human touch. When we walk we connect, with our own rhythms and ourselves and with the environment through which we pass. When we walk we breathe the way we’re meant to breathe. We also see the day change in front of us and we are part of that.

I started doing longer distance walks almost by accident when a girlfriend asked me if I’d like to go on a walking holiday in the French Pyrenees – an offer I couldn’t refuse. From that point onwards I’ve been hooked and now a trip without a walking element just feels like a wasted opportunity to really get to know somewhere and to gain a sense of place.

I’ve enjoyed walking with groups and alone but the best of times have been walking with my best friend. In 2018 we completed the 500 plus miles of the Camino Frances, carrying all of our own kit. What an absolute privilege and joy that was.

Earlier that year we had set out on the Great Stones Walk (from Swindon to Salisbury) and, partway we were halted by the snow that accompanied the Beast From the East.

What follows is an account of that walk and the more recent finale.

The Great Stones Walk from Swindon to Salisbury

February, 2018. Perhaps not the best month to undertake a long-distance walk (just under 55 miles) but Catriona and I have scuba dived in the cold dark waters of the Solent, run miles and miles in sub-zero temperatures, body boarded in the icy alpine white waters of the Isere and completed a marathon on a very warm day. Suffice to say that we are women of a certain age and temperament and it takes a lot to put us off when we have decided to do something. The something on this occasion being the Great Stones long-distance route, which runs north to south through the Wiltshire countryside, linking England’s great prehistoric sites of Avebury and Stonehenge.

Our mini-adventure started modestly, alighting from the train in Swindon and transferring to a local bus, which would deposit us near the distinctly non-neolithic roundabout where our first night’s pub accommodation was located. The cold weather, icy wind and snow were already making itself felt across the country to the north of us and a weather warning had been issued for the part of the world that we now planned to hike across for the next 5 days. Perfect.

Overnight accommodation in a pub near a roundabout always seems like a great idea when you book it – it’s cheap and there is beer readily available. When you actually arrive, especially in inclement weather, it’s more often than not a bit of a letdown. It’s noisy due to the traffic, it’s rarely a gastronomic delight, the rooms are usually a bit sad and not in the least bit luxurious and they never offer packed lunches for the following day. So it’s cheap plus beer that scores the only points out of five if you were doing a review on Tripadvisor.

However, beer and a meal of deep-fried stuff ensured a good night’s sleep and the breakfast the following morning provided enough bread to fashion a couple of marmalade sandwiches and biscuits for a packed lunch and coffee to fill up my flask (an essential bit of kit that goes on every single walk). We set off in a light sleet, wearing multiple layers of thermals and waterproofs, and headed for the start of the route: Coate Water Country Park.

This is a surprisingly lovely part of Swindon where there is a lake, constructed in the 1820s to provide water for the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal and is now a haven for wildlife as well as an open-air swimming area during the warmer months. From here our route took us across the M4, via the Iron Age fort of Barbury Castle and the steep slope of Barbury hill onto the Ridgeway National Trail for several miles before looping off to take in Avebury and its remarkable stone circle.

The Ridgeway is often described as Britain’s oldest road and it is now a national trail, extending from Wiltshire, along the chalk ridge of the Berkshire Downs, including footpaths and parts of the ancient Ickneild Way from Streatly, through the Chiltern Hills to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. As we marched along the deep ridges of frozen solid mud I thought about the 5000 years of footfall that this route has seen, the ancient people’s whose footsteps we were shadowing and how cold they all must have been without a down jacket and alpine grade waterproofs!

Our arrival in Avebury bought us into the village through the fields that were just beginning to grey out in the failing light of the late afternoon, we were both taken aback by the sudden appearance of the great stones, bleak and beautiful with their dusting of snow. Almost the entire village of Avebury is encircled by the stones and the effect is enchanting. I am so glad that we experienced this in mid-winter when the absence of tourists made us feel like the first people to have set eyes upon this prehistoric monument.

Avebury also left me with a warm fuzzy feeling because we stayed in a fantastic B and B where we were treated to tea and cake on arrival, had sherry and chocolate in our room, plus access to a very large bathtub and, as well as a substantial breakfast, we were supplied with a great packed lunch.

Day Two of our walk saw us heading towards East Chisenbury via Overton Hill and Casterley Camp. It was bitterly cold and windy with regular blasts of fine, icy snow. Our eagerly anticipated packed lunch was taken in the porchway of All Saints Chruch at Alton Priors where we discovered that Branston pickle does indeed freeze in a cheese sandwich and that ice crystal in your drinking water bottle can give the illusion of having a cheeky gin and tonic! A short ‘praise the Lord for the flask of coffee’ ensued and we continued on our way, getting blown up the hill towards the edge of Salisbury plain where we spent what seemed like a very long time trekking alongside the huge MOD ‘Danger – Keep Out’ fence, with our heads down to avoid being ice blasted by the now driving snow and listening to the occasional muffled boom of artillery being fired somewhere in the distance. As the snowdrifts started to deepen and the countryside turned white and silent (now that the day’s tank shelling practice had ceased) we descended along strangely quiet country lanes, empty – apart from a few abandoned cars that had fallen foul of the snowy roads, to arrive at the Red Lion pub, and its unbelievably gorgeous accommodation at Troutbeck, in East Chisenbury.

To say that I was overjoyed when I discovered that the restaurant at the Red Lion is run by an epic chef whose menu is superb would be a gross understatement. To add that I was deliriously happy when we discovered that we would be snowed in for the next two nights (drifting snow, high winds and a red weather warning from the Met office should not be ignored!) would be a very accurate description of my state of mind that evening.

We spent the following day messing around up on a small hill just outside of the village. This involved an Olympic standard toboggan run using a survival bag and drinking real gin and tonic from our water flasks. Our husbands had been instructed to stay away for another night (for their own safety of course) before coming to rescue us in a Landrover.

February 2020. February again. This time we had storm Dennis to contend with! Trina’s husband dropped us off early on Sunday morning in East Chisenbury. It was raining steadily with no sign of letting up so ponchos were donned over waterproofs, gaiters and thermal layers and we set off for the relatively short (9 miles) walk to Amesbury which is about 3 miles from Stonehenge. It was actually very pleasant to be walking along English country lanes with high banks and hedges giving shelter from the storm winds.

I could see this day unfolding in an uncomplicated way. Then we rounded a bend to find the road ahead flooded with at least a metre deep water and just very narrow grass banks, backed by blackthorn bushes, on both sides. We hopped onto the right-hand bank and started to gingerly pick our way along. At the halfway point the bank narrowed even further and the choice lay between getting soaked or getting impaled. But I spotted a five-bar fence on our right a couple of feet ahead. We could climb over the fence, into the farmyard and clamber over a large pile of soil to walk along the edge of the farmer’s field parallel to the road until we found another exit, beyond the flood back onto the road. Plan thus agreed, we scrabbled along the diminishing bank, launched ourselves onto the fence and clambered over.

Success. Or maybe not. I placed my walking pole onto the earth pile only to watch it sink into several feet of soft and sodden manure. Great. Now we had cow poo Armageddon on one side and blackthorn, hawthorn and a helpful barbed wire fence on the other. We opted for sharp things. Picking our way along a two-inch furrow that seemed to be relatively clear of smelly stuff we were focused on getting to the grass about 20 yards ahead when the wind picked up and we spent the next jolly half hour wrestling our ponchos out of the thorny grip of the hedges. When we finally made it to the muddy but clean (kind of) haven of the grassy field the heavens opened and the rain sluiced down. We were very glad of this hosing as it washed all the cow pats off!!! I can’t imagine the reception we would have got, had we turned up at our accommodation later that day in our original state.

When we did get to the Stonehenge Inn (mediocre carvery pub, bleak rooms, no breakfast included – give it a miss) we decided to have a late lunch – (at the aforementioned mediocre carvery) and then hunker down to binge watch tv before an early night. As the springs were actually visible through my mattress I slept on top of the duvet, in my clean clothes ready for the next day, using a bath towel as a blanket!

All in all, it was an excellent walk. We enjoyed, as ever, lots of mini-adventures and lots of laughs. Our friendship has been cemented by many shared experiences but our walks together have enabled a depth of sisterly camaraderie that I don’t think would arise from any other activity.

SUGGESTIONS FOR ADVANTAGES OF AGE FUTURE WALKS

Walk one – a day trip to the South Downs (walking distance approx 8 miles)

This is an ‘out an back’ walk (to avoid crossing the bust A3M) and is one of my favourite local walks, it takes in Butser Hill, Queen Elizabeth Country Park and the lovely village of Buriton.

The walk starts in Buriton and follows the Hangers Way to Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP), which sits at the foot of Butser hill. The climb up Butser is rewarded with great views onto the Solent, across the South Downs and Meon Valley and, if the visibility is good, across to the Isle of Wight.

The walk back can take in the visitor centre at QECP where the homemade cakes are always tempting and can finish off at the Five Bells pub in Buriton where you can reward your efforts with real ale and good food.

Getting there:

Train from London Waterloo (South Western) to Petersfield (approx 1 hour).

Bus from Petersfield station to Buriton. (approx 20 mins).

Walking options: Those who don’t fancy hiking up Butser hill (and back down again) can stay around the visitor centre at QECP – this will make their walk approx 5 miles.

Walk 2 – an overnighter (or two) on the Jurassic Coast.

You cannot beat the Dorset coastline for some spectacular sea views and this circular walk,(approx 6 miles) out of Swanage where there is YHA accommodation takes in the Swanage Coastal Park, the Priest’s way and the Dancing Ledge. Midpoint is the village of Worth Matravers where the Square and Compass pub, which dates back to 1752, provides great food, drink and, very often, live music.

Getting there: Train from London Waterloo (South Western) to Wareham (approx 2h 20)

Bus from Wareham to Swanage (approx 40 mins)

Options:

a) Arrive in Swanage after midday on day one, settle into accommodation, short local walk, evening in pub with live music. Main walk to start around 10.00am on day 2, lunch in Worth Matravers, back to Swanage around 5pm to allow time to get the bus back to Wareham station.

b) As above but stay an extra night in Swanage to allow extended time at the Square and Compass and then an early evening walk back to Swanage. Additional walk from Swanage on Day 2 to Corfe Castle via the Purbeck Ridgeway (approx 8 miles) returning to Swanage on the Swanage Steam railway and then taking the bus to Wareham station.

Walk 3 – A weekend on the Isle of Wight.

The Isle of Wight is literally crisscrossed with hundreds of walking paths, each one affording a mixture of sea views and beautiful countryside.

I’ve chosen three walks, all starting in Ventnor, which I think to capture the uniqueness of the Island. Ventnor is a great place to be based for the weekend with a variety of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets.

Friday Afternoon – A coastal walk from Ventnor to Shanklin .

This lovely 3-mile leg stretcher starts on the Sea wall linking Bonchurch to Ventnor, gives a short detour to see the old Church at Bonchurch, before following the coast path through the Landslip, Rylstone Gardens and the Appley steps and on into Shanklin where its possible to visit the beautiful chine before catching the bus back to Ventnor.

Saturday – a walk with everything! Ventnor to Brading via St. Boniface Down.

This walk of just over 10 miles provides stunning views from the top of the Downs (ST. Boniface and Brading) as well as deep woodland and charming villages. It’s a great walk to get a real sense of the Island and the Waxworks at Brading is the ultimate in UK Kitsch! Bus back to Ventnor.

Sunday morning – Easy walk along the seafront and then the Botanical Gardens.

A relaxing Sunday morning, just enough walking to blow away cobwebs and enjoy Ventnor’s Victorian heritage before heading for home.

Getting there: Train from London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour (approx 1hr 50). Ferry from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde (approx 25 mins). Either train/bus to Ventnor (train from Ryde to Shanklin then bus to Ventnor, approx 1 hour) or Bus direct from Ryde (approx 1 hour).

Dirty Blues & Jazz 1920s-40s | Valentine’s Day Special


0 Minute Read

Suzanne & George take you back to the 20s, the 1920s when blues was all the rage, Harlem’s delis sold ‘hooch’ and artists such as Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter and Ethel Water were making the rounds of the vaudeville theatres in both the U.S. and Europe singing songs filled with sexual innuendo that became known as the dirty blues. You’ll be laughing and crying as Suzanne belts out songs about sex, lies & heartache.

On Eccentrics, Fran And Jay Landesman in 1970s London


1 Minute Read

ON HER BED

‘You must have a very small heart to only love one man, all your life.’

Fran Landesman

The gravelly voiced actor, Lionel Stander, who was in London during 1965, working with Roman Polanski in the film Cul-de-Sac, first took me to meet Jay and Fran Landesman.

‘They’ve recently arrived from New York with their two young sons Cosmo and Miles. They’re a great couple, you’ll love them,’ he said, adding, ‘they have an open marriage.’

‘How interesting.’

Fran, he told me, was a well-known lyricist, having penned such evergreens as The Ballad of the Sad Young Men, and Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. Whereas Jay’s multi-fold talents, Lionel explained, were mainly channelled into the Art of Living.

We found Jay, wearing skin-tight black faux-leather trousers and a very crumpled denim shirt, outside his house in Duncan Terrace in Islington. He was solemnly engaged in a not-so-serious conversation with the street cleaner whom he introduced to us as ‘The Demon Sweeper.’ Then he held out an elegant hand to shake mine and presented himself with the words, ‘Stan Stunning, I’m deeply superficial and superficially deep, sweetheart.’

His brown hair fell to his chin and there was a twinkle in his inquisitive, dark eyes that suggested he was always ready to play. I was instantly attracted to this charming eccentric who verged on the surreal.

His invitation into the sitting room of the terraced Georgian house was prefixed with the warning, ‘My wife will probably join us in a minute. Don’t mind if she’s not very friendly, her moods can be heavy. But I’m working on improving her character.’

Just then Fran, with a short crop of rich auburn hair, cut by Vidal Sassoon, sallied in. She was adorned with many glass, plastic and Bakelite jewels, which perfectly matched the colour-coordinated flowing clothes that draped themselves sexily around her slender body.

In a light mood, she shrugged her husband’s remark off with: ‘I heard that! It’s true. I know I’m spoilt rotten and my tongue can be acid. But it’s not my fault, it’s the devil that makes me do it,’ she said, scrutinising me with her topaz eyes, and then smiled.

‘Great to see you, Lionel. I see that as usual, you’re in the company of a beautiful woman. Sorry, this room is such a mess chaps, but then, as you know, I’ve never believed that cleanliness is next to godliness.’

‘She doesn’t have too many serious beliefs,’ her husband informed us, as he gave her a hug.

‘Well, for sure, I believe it’s all bound to end in tears,’ she retorted. A shadow of gloom swept over her animated face. Then added; ‘I’ll get some tea and I’ve just made these great hash cookies. Better than Alice B Toklas’ recipe. They’re strong, so watch your appetite.’

My eyes wandered over the sprawling room on whose fading-yellow walls artworks by talented friends rubbed frames with high-priced paintings, international bric-a-brac and Victorian pub mirrors. Bohemia sprouted from every corner of the room. An old dentist’s chair was by the window. The keys of the old piano needed tuning, the plants needed watering, the vinyls needed to be put back into their sleeves, everything needed dusting. Clearly, no one cared.

Fran Landesman

The kitchen, with its large, old-fashioned black and white enamelled gas cooker, was at the far end of the room. A glass door opened from it onto a small wood platform, steps led down to an unkempt garden.

As we lounged, sipping tea and nibbling at hash cookies, on a mattress covered with a worn Moroccan carpet piled with colourful cushions, our stoned chatter was punctuated with laughs. I felt I was, at last, where I belonged. Until then, I’d believed hippies were supposed to be young, untogether, unsuccessful, uneducated and hard-up. But Jay and Fran, an obviously classy, brilliant, talented and well-to-do couple, were leading an unconventional lifestyle, which was exactly to my taste.

I had come home.

Fran invited me upstairs to see her bedroom. It was bathed in a soft light that was seeping in through the two broad sash windows, which overlooked the huge trees in the park across the way.

Every space was filled – the cloudy-grey walls were covered with pictures, paintings, photographs, bangles, beads and wood trays decked with fluorescent butterfly wings under glass. All the lovely objects she’d collected were on display. Mementos of her past holding her present life together. Above the solid wood wardrobe between the windows, her mother’s portrait looked sternly down on shelves creaking with books. A chaise longue covered in fading blue satin was piled with pink and purple feather boas.

The mirror above the marble mantelpiece atop the fireplace was framed with postcards from long-standing friends and pictures of past and present lovers. A note on it read- ‘DON’T TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY’.

Satin dressing gowns and silk kimonos hung on the large bi-fold door that opened to the bathroom.

Her bedside table was crowded with knick-knacks: lustrous lipsticks, burnished rings, Bakelite boxes, French glitter and pills for all seasons. A Kodak film can packed with Thai grass.

A canopy made from an embroidered Chinese shawl hung over the generous bed; a large mirror served as its headboard.

Subsequently, I learnt that Fran spent countless hours on her bed. She read on her bed, watched TV on her bed, napped (often) on her bed. Propped up on a mound of pillows covered in exotic fabrics, she did her sewing and patchwork on the bed. She entertained on her bed; put makeup on, on her bed; got stoned on her bed; received lovers on her bed and wrote world-renowned songs on her bed.

‘Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.’

Carl Gustav Jung

One didn’t necessarily have to be famous to frequent the Landesmans, but you had to be amusing given that the main proclivity at Duncan Terrace was the pursuit of fun. Nothing put a light in Jay’s eyes as much as the prospect of revelry.

Out-of-town friends often stayed in one of the many rooms and parties were organised for them. A stream of articulate friends poured in through the yellow front door. There were heavyweights like Norman Mailer, R.D. Laing and Tom Waits. That merry prankster Ken Kesey danced cowboy style with Christine Keeler, who, looking at the spice rack in the kitchen, asked in a bemused fashion, ‘Who are Rosemary and Marjoram?’ A story Fran never tired of telling. There were the writers Chandler Brossard, Anatole Boyard, and the comedian Tommy Smothers, who was rated to be a great lover by the many women he bedded. The writer, performer and poet, Michael Horovitz, who founded the New Departures publication and the Poetry Olympics, was a frequent visitor. As was Jim Haynes, who co-founded the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the counter-cultural Arts Lab; as well as the satirist, Peter Cook, famed for the television show, Beyond the Fringe, who was as funny off stage as on. The entrepreneurial Sam brothers turned us onto macrobiotics, and brown rice was now on our menu. Carolyn Cassady charmed with tales of her life with husband Neil and lover Jack Kerouac; the uber-feminist, Betty Friedan, never cracked a smile. Beautiful young women sang Fran’s songs, talented men played the piano, until Ralph Ortiz created a happening with his Piano Destruction Concert as he hacked their old piano to bits.

‘You need to get a new one immediately, Jay,’ cried Fran, who hadn’t thought this destruction a good idea.

‘Your wish is my command, my Jewish Princess,’ replied her husband and bought another piano.

Fran was nifty at the cooker, Jay mixed the best martinis, the grass was from Thailand, the hash from Morocco, the acid on a direct express line from Timothy Leary. The ecstasy count was high and it was the ecstasy count that counted in Duncan Terrace.

There I heard Germaine Greer tell a story. ‘I was in New York a few winters ago, walking down a freezing street when this hobo approached me and mumbled, ‘I wn shuk ya cnt.’ What did you say, my man? I asked. ‘I wan shuk yo cnt.’ I still couldn’t understand him and I said, speak up my man, make yourself clear. So he said, ‘I wanna suck your cunt.’’ I looked at this poor creature, there in the dirty snow, and overwhelmed by compassion said: ‘And so you shall my man. I pulled up my skirt.’

We were never sure whether it was a true account or a tale told for our amusement. But knowing Germaine for the giant she is, she very likely gave the bum an unforgettable Christmas gift.

My Relationship With My Weight


1 Minute Read

I was born feet first at midnight with a caul which was said to indicate a child of mystery and magic, A puny miserable lactose intolerant creature I spent the first year of my life in hospital, puking and unable to thrive.

My mother had a wonderful statuesque figure and after selling her rings to pay bills decided to be a nude photographer’s model in order to be able to keep me alive. As I reached twelve months, she was told to take me home as they did not believe I would survive.
She met a woman on the steps of the hospital who recommended unpasteurized donkey’s milk and that turned out to be the nectar of life for me.

Like many children of the 50s, we ate dinner plus a pudding. And my Mom was a good wholesome yummy cook. Macaroni cheese, cottage pie, French toast and syrup, white bread with butter and apricot jam and peanut butter. Rice pudding, trifles, ice cream and chocolate sauce. A starch. a protein and a veg then pudding and lots of full cream milk to drink.

We were fairly active and played outside, as well as cards and board games, drawing and painting. We also did cultural activities and had weekend drives and generally a good family life with mom, dad three siblings and a bunch of assorted pets.

A shilling a week provided for sweets on a Friday at the local café. Penny chocolates were my personal favourite.
 Everything went well up until my 13th Birthday when I was sent away to boarding school.

I thought it was going to be a great adventure but loathed every second of it. The restrictions and rules and the emotional trauma, which took place around leaving my family.

So I filled the empty spaces in my heart with Romany creams and gained 15 kg in one term. During a three month period, I became a little barrel on legs. In addition, my skin stretched suddenly and I had livid stretch marks on my breasts, stomach and thighs.

Although outwardly the comic and the card, inwardly I was deeply unhappy. Alas, the more I expanded the less visible and loveable I felt. I fell for a gorgeous Portuguese young man but it was unrequited and that made me feel even worse.

Sport was a nightmare as was the gym. Chafing thighs and plus I felt like a mammoth.
 A year later, my family moved to the area and I was released from prison but continued on through my teenage years being plump.

Around 15 when I left school, I started smoking and taking Nobese, a diet appetite suppressant and Veinoids to lose weight. And so began the see-saw and metabolism destroying journey of the next 30 years. Weight watchers, Weighless, the Dr Atkins diet revolution. Bran and yoghurt.

Yes, I did lose weight. I also fainted often and regained those same15kgs over and over again. I got married at 23 stopped smoking and entered a new phase of more-than- plump. My husband loved me and we were social. I worked hard in the beauty sales industry and we built a life and everything that goes with it.

My mom, my gran and my aunt came and co-lived with us and everything was hunky-dory. At 36 I fell pregnant with our first and only child. Fast forward with motherhood and a career and an extended family. I gradually got heavier year by year. I had already decided that was it, no more dieting. Thirty years followed with me holding onto my “baby fat”’ and eventually weighing in at just under 100kg which was way too heavy for a small163cm frame.

I moved to Cape Town, got divorced six years ago after 39 years and my former husband died three years ago. Had seven moves and then on my 64th Birthday, my new partner and I set a goal to lose ten kilos as an incentive to go on a cruise. The biggest loser would sponsor the other. Being competitive by nature, this turned out a grand idea.

I had also been to a seminar when I was 61 and set a five year ahead goal to reach a target 30 kilos or almost five stone lighter. We did a firewalk, which helped imprint this intention.

How did I lose this 30 kilos? First of all, I took a product called Wondernut that is an emetic. Because I had lost the same 15 kilos again and again. I started noticing my clothes were looser on me. I felt more energetic so I started walking every other day – 5,000 steps on my phone. As well as drinking warm lemon juice every day and consciously drinking more water.

I found that my sweet tooth started to go away. And I was eating three meals a day rather than snacking. That helped with weight loss and stabilised my moods. The latter was slow as I travel and socialise a lot.

A year later, I had lost ten kilos even with an erratic lifestyle. I feel so much more comfortable in my body.

After a few more months of losing weight, I went out and bought new clothes from exchange shops. At the end of 18 months, I could swap size 22 clothes for size 12 ones.

This was just fantastic. I started yoga and Body20, a modality with an electrode enhanced jacket that gives the equivalent to a five-hour work out in 20 minutes. I am a star pupil!

I just enjoy my life so much more. And my relationship with my body is so enhanced. No chafing thighs, no puddles under my breasts. I buy new underwear and feel so much sexier.

Have I changed as a person? Am I happier? Did I have body shame? No to all of those. I just feel healthier and better. I eat what I like without the devouring urge. Hurrah.

The end result is at 67, I am now 30 kilos lighter, exactly the amount, I wrote down in my forward vision. The new partner is no more, The body is lean and gorgeously toned. I have been at this weight for over a year now, I walk, hike, I love life and wear stylish clothes. I am fit and healthy. My inner being is now my outer JOY. For me, everyone is perfect just the way they are but for me, this does feel better.

How My Wife and I Persuaded Sir Karl Jenkins To Play At Our Village Church


1 Minute Read

Peter Harrison, 81, tells the story of how he and his wife, Vivien, 78, set up a fantastically successful series of classical music concerts. In their local village church. Sir Karl Jenkins, the classical composer is bringing the world premiere of his new work there on November 29th.

This is the story of an unexpected later-life vocation that has transformed my life. Alongside my wife Vivien, I am the co-founder of registered charity Grayshott Concerts, a classical music concert series established in 2004. I have no musical qualifications, but the sheer joy of sharing live classical music with others and creating a legacy for my community has culminated this year in bringing the world premiere of the new work by Sir Karl Jenkins, the world’s most-performed living composer, to a small village on the Hampshire-Surrey borders.

In 2003, our daughter married at our local village church, St Luke’s in Grayshott. We wanted a choir to perform during the service and lead the singing, not least as St Luke’s is a relatively large church and a big space to fill. I had been a chorister at school and university, and evidently had more important duties to perform on the day as the father of the bride, but we successfully recruited a host of singing locals and the ceremony was beautiful.

The following year, the church was appealing for funds and we rallied the same choir to put on a paid performance. The result? £3,500 raised for the church and much local acclaim which prompted people to ask us when the next concert would be, and so Grayshott Concerts was born.

The marketeer in me could see that there was clearly an appetite for high-quality classical performance in the very local area, but my musical knowledge and education are limited. I had sung in amateur choirs since my school days and have always enjoyed listening to classical music but have never played an instrument or performed myself, nor has my wife. We are however great believers in the power of positivity and take an “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” approach to most challenges.

Having decided to create an ongoing programme of classical concerts, we needed to find performers to fit the bill. As a starting point, Vivien and I compiled a wish list of our personal favourites. And then went about tracking them down to ask them to forego more familiar venues like the Royal Albert Hall to instead come and perform at our village church!

Amazingly, several of them said yes! Along came London Mozart Players, Chloe Hanslip, Howard Shelley, Tasmin Little, Alison Balsom, Nicola Benedetti, The Sixteen Choir and others. Sir Karl Jenkins had been on our list for some time, so when we learned that he would be visiting the area one particular weekend, we engineered a meeting where we could quickly tell him about our concerts and ask him to get involved.

He also said yes! In 2007 he became our Patron and since then we have commissioned him to write several works including The Healer: A Cantata for St Luke to celebrate our tenth anniversary in 2014. He has also composed a shorter piece for Shoshanah Sievers, a young and very talented local violinist that we have supported since the age of six with opportunities to give public performances.

From two performances that first year, the programme has grown to include five or six every year, and every event has been a sell-out. This has encouraged us to stage bigger concerts with major works including symphonies, oratorios and operas. We have also invested in staging and a permanent lighting rig and screen systems in the church. But of course, none of that comes cheap so, alongside the visible activity of promoting the concerts, Vivien and I have invested a huge amount of time in securing additional funding from individual and corporate sponsors and grants.

Unsurprisingly, by 2009 Grayshott Concerts was taking up so much of our time that we decided to wind up our business in order to concentrate fully on it. In 2011, Grayshott Concerts became a registered charity so we now work with a board of trustees, which has enabled us to benefit not only from a wider pool of volunteers to manage the programme but also claim tax benefits through Gift Aid. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to bring the local community of all ages more closely together through the joy of music.

We have invited children from the local primary school to sing at several concerts (including the Karl Jenkins compositions), and members of our house orchestra, the London Mozart Players, regularly visit the local care home to entertain residents in between rehearsals. We’ve also extended the social aspect of the concerts by adding on pre-concert suppers, hosted at a nearby restaurant which has always sponsored every event.

This year we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of Grayshott Concerts. Quite a milestone, and one that we are tremendously excited to be marking with the world premiere of Sir Karl’s newest work, Miserere: Songs of Mercy and Redemption, on 29th November. We have managed to recreate the exact line-up of performers featured on the newly-released CD including Polyphony Choir, Britten Sinfonia Orchestra, international counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, cellist Abel Selaocoe, former Royal Harpist Catrin Finch and percussionist Zands Duggan, conducted by Stephen Layton.

As with all of our concerts and events, it’s a sell-out – in fact, it’s our fastest selling performance to date with all tickets selling out in just two days. And that will take some beating.

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