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Living in London during Lockdown – Hanja Kochansky


1 Minute Read

Eighty-three-year-old Hanja Kochansky is living alone and on lockdown in London. Everyone over the age of 70 has been asked to self-isolate for twelve weeks. But what does that mean exactly? Advantages of Age asked Hanja to tell us what her days are like. And what resources she has.

The word isolated comes from the Latin insula, which means island. And here I am on a desert island in the centre of a densely populated and noiseless city.

As soon as I wake up and turn on my radio, I’m bombarded by terrifying news and a wave of sadness washes over me. Who could have ever imagined that the plague would invade our world? How long will this horror last? Then, I remind myself to take it one day at the time. I tell myself that I am on the retreat I’ve always wanted to take but never did and now it’s been imposed on me.

After a glass of hot water, I go to my computer. Facebook and the Guardian keep my interest up for quite a while. I have a coffee and eat a too large amount of my Digestive Thins before I take a shower.

My daughter WhatsApps me from Long Island. She notices my wet hair and says, ‘I see you’ve had a shower, Mum’. ‘Of course. Why wouldn’t I?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know. I thought maybe you wouldn’t bother, given you’re not going out.’ ‘Of course, I bother. But anyway, I do go out. I’m allowed to do shopping.’ We chat about how awful Trump is, about how we are coping and how is it with the kids at home now. There’s going to be no anticipated graduation for my granddaughter. I was going to go for that in June. All plans are on hold.

I do my exercises. Mostly tai chi and chi kung which I follow on YouTube. On Tuesdays and Fridays, I do a proper class with my tai chi teacher on ZOOM. ZOOM is a marvel.

Given the lovely weather, I go down to my itsy bitsy garden and plant violets and poppies. Poppies remind me of my childhood summers on the Dalmatian coast.

I sing You Belong to Me when I wash my hands. See the pyramids along the Nile, watch the sun-rise on a tropic isle . . .

Avocado on toast is a perfect lunch. Amazon has run out of the organic apple juice I normally have- so I make lemonade with the lemons I got with my last order from Farmdrop. I can get just about anything from them. Organic food, household goods and what-have-you, but I prefer to take a saunter to my well-stocked Waitrose at the Angel in Islington. After all the rain I need to stretch my legs now on these sunny days. I must walk or my legs will lose muscle. On the way, I walk through a park and hug a tree.

My son skypes from Siena, where he is housebound with his wife and two small children. ‘You must not leave the house at all, Ma.’ He warns me. ‘I have friends in London and they can bring you anything you need.’ ‘Thanks, Kas, but I absolutely need to go out.’ ‘If you get sick, Ma, I won’t be able to come and look after you.’ ‘Don’t worry Kas, I don’t think, that after all I’ve gone through in my life, it’s in my karma that I should die here, alone like a dog.’ ‘Oh, I wish you’d stay at home, Ma.’ My worried son insists.

A friend once told me how she’d always felt safe when her husband and two children were all at home in the evening, and nothing bad could happen to them. Only, one night her husband had a heart attack and died. So much for feeling safe at home.

An often-repeated platitude is, ‘We are all in this together’. No, we are not, mate. Some are on luxury yachts, others on ships, boats, overcrowded ferries and dinghies. And some are wading through treacherous seas.

My large sitting-room bay window overlooks a lawn. I watch squirrels scamper as pigeons and magpies peck for food on the green grass, while at the same time, keeping an eye on the self-confident, stalking cats who belong to some of my neighbours whose much anticipated, twice-weekly Bingo in our communal room, is now prohibited. The fox no longer comes in the evenings. I miss her – she kept me in touch with the foxy me.

How are junkies coping without their fix? How are prostitutes surviving without their tricks? I think about the rough sleepers and the old age homes where older people are dying alone. I think about what will happen to the refugees in overcrowded camps when the assassin virus finds them. How terrifying it must be for them. I’m so sad about Italy, il Bel Paese – the beautiful country. Something has shifted. The earth has struck back.

I am, at all times, grateful for my blessed life, with enough money to get by as I reflect on the poverty which will get even worse and financial anxiety will see a flurry of mental illness. As though there isn’t enough of it already. Happy to be on my own, my heart goes out to the overcrowded families who have to learn, or not, to put up with each other day and night. I fear there will be a lot of physically abused women in these tough times. And children.

And what about the thousands on cruise-liners not allowed to dock? Or the ones stuck in other countries who are not able to come home? What will happen to them?

The virus is the revolution. More than a million heroic people have signed up to help the NHS! I was gutted when I found out the dolphin in the Venice canal was an Instagram joke, but the sky is now visible in China, rivers and seas are cleaner, there has been a significant drop in pollution, ozone levels are up. The end of knife crime without Pretty Patel’s intervention is a blessing. I wonder how she feels about the prisoners that are being released. In their case, just goes to show that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on temporary leave from prison in Iran, and there is talk of a possible reprieve. She must be living in a balloon of agitation.

In the afternoons, I write. What better for a writer than a retreat?

Possibly, because I don’t love washing dishes, I don’t feel like cooking much, but I know I have to eat well because healthy food is a must. I make myself a large bowl of fruit and nuts topped with kefir and homemade yoghurt, which I buy from the kind Kurdish shopkeeper near my house on the Caledonian Road. His wife, who makes the yoghurt, has been getting racist abuses, he tells me. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ I say and feel guilty. For what? For the privilege of my white skin.

Maybe I’ll have a glass of wine and eat one of the packets of precooked lentil dahl and spicy beans which only need to be heated. Or maybe I’ll make myself a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich, or dine on fruit: pineapple, mango, apples. And a cookie. I have these delicious salted caramel biscuits and must be careful not to binge on them. I have a feeling that by the time this Groundhog Day is over I’ll have put on weight.

The endless pings on my smart-phone announce constant messages. There’s no time for boredom. There is no shortage of stimulating articles on the computer, and I am addicted to Radio 4, I’m sure to always find something interesting to listen to. Or I can watch a movie on the iPlayer, Amazon, YouTube, Curzon Cinema or BFI. There are myriad choices. This, alas, stops me from reading much of The Leopard, the book I’m currently enjoying.

In the evening I try to do some stretching yoga, but I don’t always manage it.

With another glass of hot water, I take the supplements which I really should take in the morning. Bs, Ds, Cs and what have you.

By midnight, I’m ready to turn off the computer, do my toiletries and get to bed. Before falling asleep, I thank the universe and my angels for another serene day and send white light to the world.

But this is early days and I’m super curious about how I and the world will be changed when the nightmare is over. Hopefully, we’ll have become wiser.

Thank You from Suzanne to all the Members of AofA


7 Minute Read

I live by the principle that you don’t know until you try with very little consideration to the consequences. This attitude has in the past gotten me into sticky situations, primarily where men were concerned. Advantages of Age was no different, although with far better and more exciting results!

I was sitting with new friends introduced by Rose in my hot tub back in December 2015. We were lamenting the media’s attitude towards ageing as being a state to be avoided at all costs, despite its inevitability, when Amanda remarked, “Someone should do something called the Advantages of Age.” Having had a few glasses of prosecco, a little drunk, I nevertheless thought this sounded an excellent idea, and once everyone had left for home, I went online and purchased the website name advantagesofage.com. Then I set about creating the site, sourcing more positive representations of ageing. By the time of the next hot tub gathering, three months later, the site was live. Rose came on board as editor, and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

Over time, we’ve grown beyond the site to host activities and the Startup School for Seniors, which I run with Mark Elliott, who officially joined Advantages of Age as co-director in October 2020. During the past year, I suspect as a result of COVID and Rose’s more direct involvement, the Facebook group has become a very buzzy place where differing opinions are freely expressed in a manner befitting our age. In other words, without it turning it into a bun fight. I gave up most of my work four years ago to set it up, and it’s great to be able to take a back seat now and feel I can participate in the discussions without always having to be the one to start them.

I’m fortunate to be working with Rose and Mark on two different sides to the business, both with different skill sets and interests but with our shared aim of helping people over 50 manifest the life they desire in whatever form that takes. We are passionate and committed to this shared objective. Although we don’t have the hundreds of thousands of members that some organisations aimed at the over 50s do, I  believe our group is far more eclectic, engaged and exciting than the others!

The group has led to me having a much bigger circle of friends and new businesses. Despite being called Advantages of Age, the new connections I’ve made and the discussions in which I’ve taken part has led me to want to take action around two crucial topics – housing and employment, for which being older come with challenges.

As a direct result of living with lodger my age and the conversations with others in the AofA group in a similar living situation, I created nestful, my business supporting more people over 50 in finding compatible people with whom to share.  It really was those early conversations with AofA members that made me realise how many older people are in this situation financially. In other words, they have to share. That’s how this business came into being.

Moving into the housing space led me to all sorts of other realisations about the challenges of housing in later life. I was also invited to participate in panel discussions and to become part of a growing community of academics, business owners and investors interested in the impact of our ageing society on different aspects of life. Advantages of Age is starting to become recognised within these influential communities, which is gratifying.

Sadly, the pandemic had a crushing impact on nestful. Many of the older homeowners who are part of the nestful community identify as vulnerable; they didn’t want their spare room occupied by a stranger. The business flatlined, although I’m hopeful that we may begin to see more older people consider the benefits of sharing, both from a financial and a social viewpoint, by the spring.

As one door nearly closed, another opened. I saw friends and group members losing their jobs with no possibility of permanently rejoining the workforce. Startup School for Seniors is an Advantages of Age initiative that goes into its sixth term in January. It first received funding in September 2020 to build the eLearning platform on which the course sits. It has its own Facebook group for members. It is financially self-sufficient due to tenders we’ve won to deliver the programme to residents based in London, Central Bedfordshire and Dorset.

I submitted a grant application on behalf of Advantages of Age to perform with other musicians aged over 60. It was successful so we created a jazz concert of standards on Kilburn High Street, as part of the London Festival of Ideas. The musicians enjoyed it so much that they recommended we perform on high streets in other deprived areas of Britain!

Approaching 2022, we are considering more ways to support and receive support from our members. The first website we created in 2017 is currently undergoing a significant refresh, focusing on the hundreds of exclusive articles that Rose has commissioned over the years from both published and unpublished writers. It’s a goldmine and my go-to place when I want to read inspiring stories about growing older. Other Advantages of Age members have said the same. If you haven’t already, check it out. It deserves more recognition, and we would like to be in a place where we can pay to commission articles that support our ethos. We want to host an Advantages of Age Awards Ceremony in 2022 with both fun and serious categories, spotlighting organisations, people, media that promote positive ageing and those that could do better. COVID permitting, we want more opportunities for members to meet, either face to face or virtually. We’ve mooted the idea of an AofA Book Club, as we know many of you enjoy reading. This year we had a couple of fabulous walks – one on the South coast in Emsworth organized by Nadia Chambers, and the other (funded by TFL) around Nunhead cemetery with superbly well-informed psychogeographer and author, John Rogers. This is another area we see growing and John is equally keen to create more walks for us; members may well offer to take us around their areas too.

We talk about premium membership, but we’re aware that we could improve it from the research we’ve undertaken. It’s unclear what it delivers, and we know that for the vast majority of the premium members who pay a monthly £4 99, it’s about supporting us to help pay for the website, for paying for Rose to moderate the Facebook group – which takes time – as well as commissioning articles and any other staffing requirements. We’re in the process of transferring this aspect of Advantages of Age to Patreon, a platform expressly created to help champion creative individuals and organisations that would benefit from financial support in order to evolve. Stay tuned for that announcement.

I can see so many brilliant opportunities for Advantages of Age. From a small kernel of an idea in a hot tub, we have grown into a tree with many branches, of which I’m enormously proud. Whether it’s Rose’s Arts Council funded project ‘Dance me to Death,’ the poetry project she has curated, Startup School for Seniors, more informal social events, the Facebook groups. We want to encourage and support more people who want to flex their creative muscle or in other ways, like championing a JustGiving campaign or other crowdfunded initiative. We’re a group that clearly cares about one another and have seen what happens when people come together over a shared concern and what a difference that can make.

I want to echo Rose in thanking everyone who has participated in a discussion in the Facebook group(s), attended Startup School, provided Mark and myself with feedback, and paid to be a premium member. The kindness you have shown to us and each other is remarkable, especially during this time when such divisiveness is all around. As we enter 2022, I look forward to taking Advantages of Age to the next level and us all having some part to play in that. Thank you, AofA members, for being you!

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

AofA People: Antony Fitzgerald – Model, Stylist, Art Director


5 Minute Read

What is your name:

Antony Fitzgerald

What is your age?

57 years old

Where do you live?

London, UK

What do you do?

I am a full-time model but more recently I have been also doing styling and art direction at photoshoots.

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

Being 57 – means that people often take you seriously and listen to what you say. But I feel the same as I did when I was in my 20s.

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

Confidence. I’m still self-reflective but I’m less concerned about what other people think of me. I’m more keen to add my perspective to the “pot” without fear of criticism.

What about sex?

Do what makes you happy. I am open-minded and as long as adults are consenting; who am I to judge?

And relationships?

We are all in a relationship with someone, be it a love relationship, friendship, work or family relationship. I think it’s really important that those relationships enhance and support who you are so that your “self” does not disappear in that relationship. It’s how we grow as individuals. And even when those relationships are not as they should be, they can spur us on to greater things.

How free do you feel?

I feel the freest that I have ever felt in my life. I do a job that can influence the industry and other people. I have the opportunity to live in another country and still do work/what I love.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17: A model walks the catwalk at The Icon Ball 2021 during London Fashion Week September 2021 at The Landmark Hotel on September 17, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 17: A model walks the catwalk at The Icon Ball 2021 during London Fashion Week September 2021 at The Landmark Hotel on September 17, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty Images)

What are you proud of?

I am proud of setting up ‘New Silver Generation’. It is a group/collective designed to promote models of colour over 50 within the fashion and beauty industry. Already, we have attracted the support of significant fashion designers Olubiyi Thomas and Julia Clancey. As a result, I walked for them in London Fashion Week in September 2021. And it has created opportunities for those models that I support.

What keeps you inspired?

Two things.The fear of failure. But also the sense that I have not yet reached my potential. I’m still growing and the mature model industry is still growing with people like me at the cutting edge of change. I am 57 but I am less granddad and more you 30 years later. Every 20-year-old wonders who or what they will be 30 years later. I represent a group of people who challenge the stereotype of what it means to be “old”. I still dance, I still meet my friends in the West End. “Soho is still my second home”. I would still happily go nightclubbing were it not for the Covid19 pandemic.

When are you happiest?

I am happiest when I am surrounded by my friends, dancing, modelling and knowing that I am inspiring people over 50 to do the same.

And where does your creativity go?

I create shoots. Sometimes I am in them or sometimes I am behind the scenes. But I create through concepts, colours, textures and materials. I try always to include older models of colour. And I use these images to challenge the industry and redefine what is beautiful.

What’s your philosophy of living?

A little of everything does you good. Regret nothing. Everything is a learning experience even if it causes us pain. Even if my friends let me down I still have me. And in me I have enough strength to keep going. Love with passion. Through your relationship with someone else, you can achieve so much more than you thought possible. And finding peace in your life is priceless. Even if you have to let relationships go to achieve it.

And dying?

I fear death. But then to a certain extent, I fear sleep. I’m a workaholic so anything that involves doing nothing frightens me. So that means that I am in a race to achieve some of the things that I would love to achieve in my life. The problem is I keep “changing the goalposts”

Are you still dreaming?

I am a dreamer. And the more I achieve the bigger my dreams. I remember thinking when I first started modelling, that if I did London Fashion Week, and if I saw myself on a billboard then I would have succeeded within the modelling industry. Now, I have been on many billboards, magazines, TV and walked in London Fashion Week nd Paris Fashion Week. I have surpassed all of my targets. So what next? For me, managing the careers of older models of colour to start with. And who knows for the future.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

We are just coming out of a pandemic so nothing much outrageous. However, walking for Julia Clancey during London Fashion Week September 2021 was ground-breaking. The oldest by about 30 years and the only male model wearing a kaftan for this women’s wear designer. For me, boundaries are just temporary obstacles to be overcome.

The Culture Interview – Jan Day, author Living Tantra


10 Minute Read

Jan Day is one of the UK’s leading Tantra teachers. She trained for 15 years with Art of Being founder and, like her, former Osho follower Alan Lowen in Europe and Hawaii, as well as being a CTA certified coach. Jan encourages men and women to learn to trust their own unique journeys, to embrace and move beyond the limitations of their own wounds and to move towards their potential. She is happily married and lives with her husband, Frieder, in England. Her book Living Tantra – a journey through Sex, Spirit and Relationship is out on Nov 9th. You can pre-order it here – https://smarturl.it/livingtantra

Can you tell me about the evolution of Living Tantra for you as a teacher?

I started teaching Living Tantra 1 which is a seminar in about 2006 and began the Living Tantra Training in 2009. Prior to that I’d been teaching for about seven years, since 1999, mostly in Switzerland with some workshops in Hawaii (where I was based at the time) and some in the UK. I was offering workshops on a range of topics such as intimacy, touch, being in love, relationships, forgiveness and of course including sexuality.

When I started the Living Tantra Training in 2009, the work developed very quickly and the topics we explored during the seminars evolved a lot because in seminars we were (and still are) responding to whatever arises in the group. I carried on exploring and learning for myself and incorporating anything I found useful. I did some Gestalt training, worked with Genpo Roshi at a Zen retreat learning Big Heart, Big Mind which developed further the Parts work I had already started working with. In one seminar we needed to work with conflict and it became important to dive deep into listening with the group, and that became a process that we incorporated going forward. Of course, the increased understanding of trauma work and attachment theory has become

important to incorporate.

Why was it so important for you to write Living Tantra – a journey through Sex, Spirit and Relationship?

So many people had been asking if I had written a book that they could read either before or after a Living Tantra workshop and I also realised it would be a wonderful and very accessible way to reach people who couldn’t do a workshop. Although group work is a very powerful and effective way of learning and has the advantages of learning with other people, of course it is more expensive than accessing information in a book.

I’d been asked for book recommendations but there wasn’t anything that I could say represented my work fully. Many tantra books are focused on sexual technique and Living Tantra is much broader than that. It really is an embodied form of spiritual and personal growth.

How do couples and singles benefit from your tantra work?

The majority of people who come to my workshops are singles. Couples can attend together but I usually recommend that they come individually to most of the workshops because it is deep inner work. Having a close partner there with you can reinforce old patterns of behaviour and it can also be a welcome distraction from going into your inner world and facing difficult situations. When couples attend separately, the intention is that they do their inner work so that they can bring all the gifts of that learning back to their relationship. So the relationship can thrive and become more fulfilling. I’ve seen it light up both individuals and the relationship with a new sense of meaning and aliveness.

The workshops give people a powerful sense of connection to themselves, a coming home to themselves, to become more sensitive and aware of the sensations, feelings and energies flowing in their body. They develop their capacity to stay present in their own body and to hold themselves in all that is happening within them, so they feel more grounded and confident in their own being.

Because they share a very deep experience, it also leads to an ongoing connection to each other. This happens even in the 7-day workshops but is especially powerful within the 18-month training groups where a strong sense of community develops. It is much easier to grow and let go of old patterns when you are part of a group that is supporting you and cheering you on.

The workshops give people an opportunity to explore their relationship with touch, how they receive it, how they give it, what they expect, how to know and communicate what they want and don’t want. When those things are established, we can find our own unique natural sexual nature, an innocence with it and we can begin to more fully enjoy the pleasure of giving and receiving touch and being sexual. For so many people touch and sexuality have been damaged by insensitive or abusive touch or by distorted beliefs about what touch means. We all need touch to thrive. If it has taken on a false meaning such as ‘this is what you have to do to get loved’ or ‘it’s really unpleasant’ or ‘I’ll be used’ or ‘any kind of touch is going to lead to sex’ etc, then we can’t enjoy the benefits of touch or sex. In the process of learning about touch, we learn about communication, we learn to feel and stay in connection with ourselves, we learn to hold ourselves, we learn to care and to develop empathy. One of the main teachings is the weaving together of body, heart, mind, higher mind and spirit. For body, we include the lower chakras, our sexual nature and wanting. Heart includes our feelings, care, compassion and love. Mind includes our intellect and understanding. The higher mind is about a deeper listening, sensing, a connection to source and intuition. Spirit means we are open to the transcendental realm, the sacred, Source, God, the Divine, the Beloved. It’s a journey. It begins with weaving together sex and heart because these are often split.

People also learn to feel into and attune to others, to stay in connection with themselves, to see and be seen, to understand and experience intimacy and discover how they sabotage that. They learn to listen and feel into the perspective of others. So in short, they learn how to be in deep connection and intimacy with themselves and they learn how to be in deep connection and intimacy with others. Which affects every aspect of life in every moment of our lives.

How is your teaching different to that of other Tantra teachers?

People say they feel safe, they know there is no pressure to do anything or have anything done to them, but rather to keep feeling into what is right for themselves moment by moment. They feel accepted and able to show up and not pretend to be some ideal or other. There is more general work to explore and expand the whole person rather than a narrow focus on sexuality. When we are exploring sexuality, our focus is on integrating heart, sex and the sacred in one dance.

Who has inspired you the most as a teacher and why?

I’ve been inspired by so many teachers. I worked with Alan Lowen for a long time and his creativity and courage was very inspiring and I still use many of the processes he developed. I certainly learned a lot about leading groups from him. I was inspired by Genpo Roshi in the way that he applied Voice Dialogue and included the transcendental realm. Recently I’ve been inspired by how Martin Ucik applied Integral Theory to relationships and how he presented it with such humility and generosity. I was deeply touched by Amma many years ago by her devotion, love, dedication and humility. Different teachers have inspired me in such different ways.

Have you seen a sea change around sexuality in the past ten years that you’ve been teaching in the UK? What does that look like?

Two things stand out.
I think men are now more wary about doing anything that could be deemed inappropriate and that can lead to a loss of confidence and an unwillingness to own their sexuality or show desire. Moving through this to attune to women and understand what it means to honour both themselves and a woman, is important learning.
There is also a lot more mainstream interest in BDSM since 50 Shades of Grey came out. For a few different reasons, we don’t work with that in our workshops. But now I have to be explicit in asking people not to start spanking in touch structures.

What is the number one teaching in Tantra?

To weave together an embodied aliveness that includes sex, power, heart, being, mind and spirit, which means we can be fully present to all experience and all that happens.

What do people misunderstand the most about Tantra?

The biggest misunderstanding is that Tantra is all about sex. It does include sex for very good reasons, but it is absolutely not limited to sex.

How does learning Tantra enrich our lives and relationships?

By making us more embodied and alive, being able to stay present to our whole experience and so to open in love, care, understanding and compassion for all beings.

Could you describe one exercise that we can all do that would help us be more connected?

EXERCISE from Living Tantra, the book – Touch yourself with love

Lie or sit comfortably and put your arms around yourself. Hold yourself as if you were holding a small child who is in pain. Use your hands to soothe and stroke yourself. Gradually over minutes, allow your hands to move further over your body, sensing what feels good, what you’d like. You may find yourself stroking your face or putting your hands on your heart, running your fingers through your hair or exploring a hand or an arm as if you’d never seen one before. Give yourself the fullest attention you can. Stay connected with your feelings using your breath to bring focus and attention to the different areas of your body. Try opening and closing your eyes. Notice if you can be more present and connected with yourself with eyes open or closed. Notice any thoughts that arise. End as you began by holding yourself and find some encouraging words that feel true to say to yourself.
Make some notes about the experience in your journal.
How did you feel about doing it?
How did you feel afterwards?
Did it feel familiar or strange to hold yourself and give yourself loving touch?
Could you enjoy it?
Could you relax into it?
Was there any difference when you had your eyes open or closed?
Did you have any feelings that surprised you?
Did you include your genitals and breasts?
Was it easier or more challenging than you expected and why?
Did you feel more or less connected to yourself after this exercise?

This Wednesday, Nov 3rd at 9pm, she is being interviewed by psychotherapist Noel McDermott for the Well-Being podcast. You can access it here https://www.youtube.com/c/NoelMcDermott/live.

She is being interviewed by Jo Good on Radio London on Nov 9th at 11pm.

The Zoom Launch is on Nov 10th and Costa Prize-winning author, Monique Roffey is interviewing Jan and has been her student. Should be fascinating. You can register here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/living-tantra-a-virtual-book-launch-tickets-182697803047?fbclid=IwAR1tpryYP7VBZOiewj10Q6XZwl3iwx19jRgH0w3Lq3TarPd2Y22vIg_i-jI

Being at LoveJam, a festival where Baby Boomers are in the Minority


10 Minute Read

I felt cynical on the way there. I knew I was going to be a rarity. Festivals often feel as though they belong to my generation. Talk about entitlement. Yep, that was me. Putting out festival entitlement.

Oh no said a loud voice in my head, not young facilitators, young teachers of yoga, young breathwork teachers. Hell is a festival like this. It’s going to be endlessly rosy in the worst way. Spiritual bypassing with the flowers intact. What do they have to say to me at 68? Been there, got the Make Love Not War T-shirt.

At least we had a bell tent. I’ve always aspired to own a bell tent and now I could pretend with this delightful borrowed five-metre lovely from my friend Jake. I could at least relish that. I’d even taken fancy lights to adorn it. Not to mention a puce pink garland.

Here we are – arriving on a field in Cambridgeshire, using our grand age to take advantage of passing through the barriers (we can’t park here and pull a cart full of our stuff across the field, we’re too old) and something else happens.

The clouds darken, a rainbow appears. It is a heavenly portent. A message from the festival gods. A double rainbow. We bathe in this extraordinary light, this is a sign of the times.

I still have my ‘observer’ hat on. Vegan cafes, a sober festival with no alcohol, an upcycling clothes stall, a lot of Hemp talk and products. A main marquee with the Hemp Redemption stage – all huge pagan drapes and hangings, a van which half made up the stage, tassels, fairy lights and a very young technician. At first, I thought he was a small person and then I discovered it was Xi, a thirteen-year-old ‘lege’ – as my niece who is co-creating this LoveJam Camp Out 2021 puts it – who plays didge, juggles fire and tends to the musical equipment on stage. In his spare time.

As the light fades, we – I am with my other niece, Mils, and Asanga, my partner – wander over to the sacred fire, which is located behind some odd mounds. A dandy poet declares words of love and honour. There seem to be Vikings amongst us as well. Long haired young men with bare chests and long coats. Violins. Accordions. A young woman sings into the wind, laments, stories of freedom and connections to the ancients. I realise quickly that ANCIENT is a very important word at this festival. It’s everywhere – on lips, hips and in philosophies.

I’m not listening to their hearts yet, I’m still on their style. Modern medieval, I conclude. But there’s Rasta thrown in there. And a lot of natural fibres. No makeup, just face paint.

The next morning is the Opening Ceremony – we gather (maybe 100 of us out of the 600 that will be present on Saturday), Nathan, my niece Zena’s boyfriend, who’s 27 and founded LoveJam by inviting a few people to Victoria Park in London to drum together– starts us off with acknowledgements. He’s also had his grandfather die in the last few days so is trying to cope with that as well as running the camp. He invites offers to lead it and up steps PK – short hair, black humour, a lot of it and a wolf at her side. Well, okay a dog. PK takes us to the four directions and we honour their qualities and what they will bring to the camp while we move around this axis. Someone else invites us to freesound (new verb to me) and lo there are wild, cascading sounds. The dandy poet proclaims our virtues. A blonde-haired young woman sings with passion. That’s it we’re ready to go.

There’s a lot of Nathan-venerating, I worry slightly and hope there isn’t a guru-type situation brewing – after all, that’s where so many communities in the 70s and 80s went awry. By giving too much power to one person and pedestaling spiritual leaders.

One of the joys of LoveJam is that in attendance with my family. Invited by Zena – niece and co-visioner of LoveJam – my other niece Mils is here, my son, Marlon, and his girlfriend, Lina are soon to arrive. We’re an encampment. My sister, Ro, and her husband, Martin, are staying in a Shepherd’s hut a mile away. We’re eating together outside. We’ve made roast vegetable tarts and blackberry – from the hedgerows of Wales – pies. And we’re toasting the proceedings with tonic and lime. They are so tasty. Who needs gin? What a pleasure! And a blessing to be able to do.

And then there are the workshops and the dancing. Tonight we go exploring in the woodland music village. A relic from the Secret Garden brigade, it is a wonderland of trees with a pink neon heart stage called funnily enough New ANCIENTS stage. There’s some psytrance whirling – not my kind of sounds so we find a pathway which leads us to another new world – a fire, wooden structures, huge ones all around, more lights, mandalas specifically made around an oak tree, a young man turns up with a flute and blesses the arboreal altar, a few naked beings scamper towards the sauna in the next area. It’s cinematic. One from the Heart.

The red sign on one of the other trees says – not all those who wander are lost. 

Exactly my ethos.

A quixotic creature with a swirling light tail passes by. A mythical reminder that we are in fairyland.

We walk back to the tents, past so many bell tents, and gatherings of musicians. Guitars, flutes, drums – they regale us with their haunting tunes as we meander.

One of the advantages of not having alcohol is that I’m up and ready for Phil’s yoga at 8 the next morning. He’s a Scouser, who is part of the organizational trio – Nathan, Zena and himself. He also seems to know an awful lot about mudras and Sanskrit. His session is fast and furious. Backbends, front bends, warrior poses, full wheels if you so desire, sun salutations. I do what I can do which is quite a lot. I observe Mils doing some great binding in front of me. My arms are too short for binding but I’m a star at bending. It is dynamic and I appreciate that as well as his devotion to the practice.

And then there is a highlight. Naked swimming in the lake. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be socially possible. I’m with my partner, and my son and his partner. But Asanga and I decide to go for it. And Marlon and Lina lie down and look away!! It’s that thing about the freedom of strangers and the boundaries around family. But I’m so glad we did ditch our clothes and allow that cold water to seep over our bodies. There was hardly anyone around and it was a holy moment. In homage to water and bodies. Amid the water lilies. And so refreshing. There was even a wonderfully positioned carpet over the stones so that walking in can be graceful!

There’s lots of nakedness over the weekend at the lake and it’s so welcome. And lovely. And innocent. These gorgeous bodies. I change my dress code when more of my family is around – brother in law, sister – and opt for a costume. I notice and feel proud that my LJ co-visioning niece strips off and jumps in when her dad is in the water. Great confidence and knowledge of what is right for her.

Nathan is running a Breathwork and Intimacy workshop next. He developed it himself. Impressively – and this is one of the key differences with younger facilitators – he stresses that intimacy doesn’t mean that fire of passion, that it’s not about exchanging that fire and asks for our consent on that front. Everyone’s hands go up. Which really clarifies and distinguishes sexuality and intimacy and prevents blurry lines.

The breathwork was simple in a good way – six breathes in and then out. A grounding support. To recorded bells so we could be in unison. And then the intimacy exercises which most I am familiar and comfortable with. It’s about being open, in your heart and just receiving and giving from that place of love. But wow, what a gift to do with this community. We give each other heart words/appreciations while gazing right into the other person’s eyes. We are walking slowly around the tent until Nathan invites us to stop in front of someone. After a few times around the tent, I realise that Marlon, my son, is in there still. Some people faded away as we came to these structures. And then we’re in front of one another, and unconditional love is pouring forth. I am crying first and then tears roll down his cheeks slowly. We use the breath to ground ourselves and carry on looking deeply into one another’s eyes with such everlasting tenderness.

What a supreme moment!! How blessed we are to both be in the same workshop and get to do this exercise together. This is a first for us. Being in a workshop at the same time.

I honestly felt after this experience, I didn’t need anything else from the festival. It had given me this precious witnessing. But the festival went on giving.

At 5 pm, a band sets up at the end of the pontoon which extends into the lake. It is like being at a wedding, the perfect location. They play Brazilian tunes and a Forro class with partners starts in the middle of the lake. I joined briefly but I am not feeling it so I go rogue and solo

I dance in the breeze. Giving everything to those minutes.  Surrounded by fresh water and naked loveliness, caressed by eddies of air, it is rapturous. My body spins around, limbs twirl, head bobs. It is an utter joy. A sumptuous young woman joins me, we go wild together. We let go into melting and communing. And laughing with our flesh.

In the evening we make our way down to the Hemp Redemption stage and Mobius Loop, these Lancashire musicians who have songs about veganism and death, get the entire tent dancing. And singing. Rollicking, proclamative, political, humorous, they are like crazy cabaret dervishes. My favourite song is Dance Dance Dance while you can, We’re all going to die, Dance Dance, Dance while you can. I sing it very very loudly.

It could be an Advantages of Age anthem. I sing it with determined abandon. I couldn’t agree more. Dance now while we can. We break out into ceiliad -stripping the willow. The joy of dancing and singing about death at the same time. The next day they are down at the protest nearby which is about closing down the beagle puppy farm where they are sold for animal testing. Mobius Loop sing about ending slavery of all sorts, including these puppies. Campaigning and dancing at the same time.

On Monday morning, there’s the closing ceremony. We gather around the sacred fire. Nathan, Zena and Phil do their thank-yous. People stand up and declare themselves grateful. PK does a closing speech – speckled with expletives, honesty and fire. I decide that I need to speak. To honour the young that have created and facilitated this festival. I mention that it’s often the elders/olders that are respected and honoured, but that I also think there’s a fallacy about older people having all the wisdom. We are not automatically wise because we have lived for a long time. We can learn so much from each other.

And then I simply thank them for creating a festival so full of love and kindness and inclusivity and sweetness. That it has enabled me to expand into my better self and also to fulsomely be here.

You will gather that I am no longer cynical about a festival run and peopled mostly by young people, instead I am inspired and ignited on an intergenerational level.

www.lovejamcommunity.com

On Turning Sixty


4 Minute Read

In March 2020, I turned 60. I had a big party planned six months earlier, as we were in lockdown, and I wanted to allow guests to fix a date in their diary. Friends commented on my forward planning and enjoying having an event to look forward to.

I envisaged singing, dancing, a gorgeous vanilla sponge cake, delicious cocktails surrounded by all the people I know and love. I didn’t want to hide my light under a bushel or pretend I was anything other than my age. When you co-run an organisation about the positives of growing older, it’s essential to walk the walk and talk the talk. Turning 60 is a milestone birthday, and I wanted a big, f*** off party in which to celebrate it.

It didn’t happen. Instead, I took my newly acquired Oyster 60+ card, entered the underground and spent a rainy Monday visiting a handful of friends across London with a keto-friendly chocolate cake cut into slices. I arrived home at 7.30 pm to finish the celebrations with my partner Bob. We ordered a takeaway pizza and burrata, joining a dozen friends from across the world via Zoom, who stopped in to wish me a Happy Birthday. I felt cheated and underwhelmed, the previous two decades celebration held in clubs complete with drinking, dancing and lively conversation.

On reflection, turning sixty hasn’t felt nearly as dramatic as turning forty or even fifty. At forty, I had recently gotten divorced and spent the next ten years perpetually in heat, exploring sexual avenues that were extreme by most people’s standards. At fifty, menopause arrived and with it, hot flashes, sleepless nights and my libido going off a cliff which took about three years to accept. I sold my house, moved my career into technology and, with it, encountered ageism for the first time. Setting up Advantages of Age with Rose, more by accident than design, was a turning point that opened up opportunities and a whole new friendship group. By sixty, I am comfortable in my skin which may not be as dramatic as turning forty or fifty but is a boon.

I’m in a better place mentally, moving forwards financially after some rocky starts. I’m settled in a good way. I’ve rediscovered my voice and taken up jazz singing again after a 35-year lapse, and it feels good to be engaging with that side of my creative life again. I like the attention and the occasional praise. Occasionally I consider all the mad escapades and the frankly dangerous circumstances in which I would often find myself, especially in my forties, and wonder whether there’s any of that younger me still left. While the desire for that outrageous behaviour no longer holds the same attraction for me, I’m not quite ready to let go of the thrill that comes when stepping into the unknown.

The ongoing battle to be in better shape continues. This week a pair of jeans I have struggled to get anywhere close to buttoning slipped on without a hint of fat spilling over the sides. It has taken ten months of changing my eating habits, exercise and daily listens of a ‘Thinking Slimmer’ audio download to achieve this personal goal. I have lived in tent-shaped dresses the past year when I have a wardrobe full of figure-hugging clothes.

Last week I decided to take frumpy ole me in hand, not in an attempt to turn back the clock but to reflect the older but still glamorous me and become more visible. I hired a former stylist I met while working as an entertainment publicist in the 90s; I wanted a ‘look’ for performing jazz & blues. Standing in my bedroom, watching her dig into my wardrobe to find suitable clothes, retrieving dresses and high shoes from my younger days was a form of therapy. ‘I’ve never seen you look like this,’ she said as I paraded around in 4″ heels, a tight red ruched dress, flower in my hair. I almost didn’t recognise myself.

She issued me with a set of instructions.

Cut my hair shorter into a graduated bob.
Trim and tint my eyebrows.
Buy a new colour of blush – something with a pink tint.
Obtain new shoes, with a wedge heel but comfortable.

‘I want glamour,’ she said. ‘Older woman glamour. Sexy, a bit louche. I want to see you perched on a high stool, leaning back but with attitude.’ I looked in the mirror and saw a different me. Yes, I thought. I’ve still got ‘it.’ Issuing me with a shopping list and a recommendation to turn three dresses into pencil skirts has led to a new feeling. I am developing a persona who is me with all the lived experience, the awareness and the self-confidence that has taken me all of sixty years to acquire. I’m well aware it’s an ongoing process.

Although sixty and I had a crap start, I’m aiming to make up for it now, starting with these shoes. Wowza!

My Business – planning your end of life!


1 Minute Read

Jane Duncan Rogers is the CEO of Before I Go Solutions. Her first husband died when she was 54 which led to awful grief but also the book Gifted by Grief which ultimately led to her end of life planning social enterprise. She lives in Scotland, got married again in between lockdowns plus she and her new husband are building not only a new life but a new eco-house too. www.beforeigosolutions.com

My worst fear had just happened – my husband was dead, we’d had no kids, and I was left alone in the world. Aged 54, too old to be a young widow, too young to be an old one.

That was how my 2012 started. Not a good place, and certainly not a place where I could ever have imagined what has happened since.

In those early months, I knew, in theory, there would be a blessing somewhere in his death, but I wasn’t in the least interested in finding it. As grief took its grip on me, and I was tossed and turned by its waves, I just hung on, doing my best to trust that I would survive. And at that time, I wasn’t even interested in surviving that much – I didn’t actively want to die, I just didn’t want to be alive.

But now, I can honestly say I am grateful for my husband’s life AND his death. For without them both, nothing of what I am doing now would be happening.

Three years after he died, I published my memoir, Gifted by Grief. By this time, the blessing in disguise had shown itself, the writing of the book had proved cathartic, and I was in a good place in myself.

Readers’ reaction to the book showed that they too wanted to answer the questions I had asked my husband a few months before he died. Things like ‘what are your passwords’, ‘what kind of coffin do you want,’ and ‘how do you want your body dressed’. Not easy to answer at the best of times and certainly not when you know you are on the way out. But we had plucked up the courage and amazingly, had enjoyed working on what turned out to be our last project together, despite the title being ‘Philip’s end of life plan’.

Little did I know it, but this was the start of what has become a fully-fledged social enterprise Before I Go Solutions, a training organisation where we train others to become accredited End of Life Plan Facilitators and provide products and programmes to help people put a good end of life plan in place.

I had previously run training courses and had in the back of my mind to train others, but this was brought forward a year when several people asked if they could train in what I was doing. Hence our pilot in 2018 for what is now our End of Life Plan Facilitators Programme, with the 8th intake for the training about to start as I write.

I had a lot to learn about being a social enterprise though. Despite being eligible for grant funding because of our status, it took a while to get my head around the fact that there are funding opportunities, and what social impact really meant in the eyes of possible funders.

I thought that by the very nature of the business, we were making a social impact – after all, everyone has to die, it’s a community event, and therefore an impact on society. But funders needed to see a more specific benefit than that. Eventually, we were successful with a lottery-funded bid for £10K to bring Dead Good events to Scotland, and the development of a pack of End of Life Planning cards.

We have also developed the Philip Rogers Scholarship Fund, enabling those from disadvantaged backgrounds to become Facilitators, bringing this work to their communities too.

One of the ongoing challenges with this business has been the need to educate people about the importance of doing this work at all, and specifically what an end of life plan actually is.  Most know about wills and funerals and the importance of doing them, and at the very least knowing if you want to be buried or cremated. And even then, a significant number have not attended to these matters (fewer than 4 in 10 adults in the UK still do not have a will in place, with statistics showing that there’s has been only a 1% increase in will-making between 2019 and 2020, despite the pandemic).

But an actual end of life plan means you not only have a will sorted, but also both powers of attorney; your funeral organised in all its details; your digital life planned (because you’ll still be alive online years later unless you state otherwise beforehand); your house decluttered (aka death cleaning); your advance care plan in place (your preference for treatment towards the end of your life); and the way your finances and household run – all documented and in one place.

And even when people realise that actually, this is a big project (after all, planning a funeral can be at least as big an event as a wedding, and yet we are supposed to plan that in a few days, compared to at least a few months for a wedding), they often just don’t do it.

Like Susan, who told me ‘I bought your second book, Before I Go, intending to go through it and complete everything. But 6 months later and I haven’t touched it. I need help’

Or Regina who said ‘I’ve started but I’ve got stuck with what to decide about how I want my end of life to be ideally, especially as my family are not forthcoming in talking about this with me’.

Or Saul, who shyly attended one of our courses as a lone man, and expressed his overwhelm in beginning to deal with the numerous build-up of possessions over the past 40 years, leading to anxiety, indecision, and worrying about what would happen amongst his kids when he was gone.

These are some of the scenarios that our Facilitators now help with.

This journey so far has been one of ups and downs, with a lot of dogged determination on my part to fulfil our mission of having an end of life plans become as commonplace as birth plans.

Now, my time is focused on developing the Facilitators Programme, working with organisations to help their staff become more at ease with talking about end of life to their customers, and learning how to scale a young business so it becomes sustainable for long after I have gone.

This is quite a challenge for someone who has been used to being a solo professional for most of her life!  We now have a team of administrative staff, all working part-time, and a crucial part of the workings behind the scenes.

Plus a growing international community of licensed Facilitators (we’ve trained over 70 now, and about 25 of those are actually practising). And of course, I am a director on the Board, of what is now the leading training company in this arena.

For me personally, I feel as if Philip and I are still in the business together somehow. As a psychotherapist, he was intent on helping others have a better life – and in a strange sort of way, he is still doing this from beyond the grave. This is definitely an unforeseen blessing!

No, No, No – Age isn’t just a Number


4 Minute Read

This is the first in a series of our OUTRAGE opinion columns about what gets our personal goats as older people. Please do join in. Write to me at rosejanerouse@yahoo.co.uk with your suggestions.

It appears on threads in discussions all the time. This innocent anodyne little sentence – Age is just a number. It is served up like a dish of cold ancient rotting turkey as a rationale for agelessness, as a justification for our ‘do what we like’ oldster rebelliousness, as part of our pride in ageing well.

BUT THIS IS DISINGENUOUS.

It’s more of the same, the same – we are young really, we don’t need to age, eternal youth is here. Misguided bollocks, in fact.

Can’t we decide as a community that ageing, getting older, putting on the years, doesn’t have to be something that we constantly avoid?

Being in our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 100s is not monstrous. We are not monsters because we are Over-50. It’s not just the external – media headlines like the Daily Mail denigrating older women far too often – critics that matter, it’s our internal critics that sabotage us.

The ones that tell us that we’re not worth anything now with these creases, fuller figures, aching bones, worsening eyesight, tiredness. I’ve got them too – those voices that instruct me to lose weight, that insist that my jowls are sagging – but I am determined to defy them.

Mary Beard urges a grey revolution around this very thing. Now Mary Beard has declared she wants to create an ‘old movement’ to encourage people to take pride in growing older.

The television historian announced that she is ‘reclaiming the word old’ in the same way ‘queer’ was embraced by the gay community.

And the 59-year-old said she hoped to rally older people into joining her in a political debate to take away the word’s negative connotations.

She said: ‘I do, partly to annoy people, say “how could you say that to an old woman like me”. I do it to reclaim the word “old”. Old instantly connotes the hunched lady or gentleman. I want an old movement. By the time I die I want “old” to be something we say about ourselves with pride. Guardian

Do you say how old you are in an assertive yet graceful manner? For me, being able to say how old I am publicly and without the everlasting shame of being old – has been liberating. Now I can relax. I no longer pretend to be younger. I just say it how it is. It all started when I was 60. I’d been on dating online sites and taken ten years off my age in order to get men my age to look at my profile. I always pretended – in my 50s – that I was younger than I was. I actively longed for people to look at me and come to the conclusion that I was at least ten years younger. I couldn’t bear not being looked at by men my own age.

And at 68, I’m still there. Out and proud. I always say how old I am. Age is not just a number. It’s part of my lived life. It’s a declaration of substance. I have been here for 68 years and I’d like to be recognised for it. I have survived. I’m not running away from the physical consequences.

Although I really do not want to be patronised either. Recently I have been working with two young black choreographers creating a dance piece for Over 60s. They told us that their collaborators assumed that our group of Over 60s were frail, elderly and limited in our movements. We are not as extensive in our movements as we were but we are doing pretty well. Rhys, one of the choreographers who is 28 said – ‘They would be surprised at the depth of movement that you all bring’. That made my soul sing.

And then Rhys mentioned that he’d heard me saying something about ‘being in my twilight years’. I remonstrated. ‘I would never say that,’ I declared emphatically. But you know, I was deluded and defensive – I am in my twilight years and what’s wrong with recognising that. Twilight years is a bit twee for my liking. Old is fine. But I am still learning what to re-evaluate and accept.

However, age is definitely not just a number – it is a certain number and we are all different at our different ages. That’s the point too. We are not a uniform bunch of older people – we are the motley array that we are!  I still haven’t come round to pensioner!

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