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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.

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).

After a Sixty Year Wait, I Found my Long-Lost Cousin and Auschwitz Survivor


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Things can change quickly, even in your 60s and beyond. I was surprised how my looming 60th birthday stood tall, faced me and asked,

‘What’s the deepest, most heartfelt thing on your Bucket List?’

For me, it was to explore our family mysteries. I grabbed the chance. It was life-changing. The lesson: Seize the Day!

My best, most unexpected birthday gift for my 60th? Eight new cousins, I never knew before – and we actually like each other.

I had wanted to research my Hungarian granddad since I was a small child. I wanted answers to a million questions because my family had a million mysteries. My dad, born in New York, did not want to say a single word about his dad, born in Budapest. The more Dad kept secrets, the more I asked, and the more he said to shut up.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age
Kardos, Eugene + Anna

This went on for decades.

A few years ago, when both my parents were dead and gone, there was no one to object. But, I was working – I couldn’t just pack up and go to Budapest, could I? Actually, I could.

It took some transition time, but I changed all my face-to-face teaching to online teaching. These students don’t care where I am, as long as I show up onscreen as agreed.

This allows me to travel.

I travelled to Budapest, to explore The Family Mystery.

I felt bold booking a whole month. I didn’t know it would turn into five months, several returns over several years, and eventually establishing residency. My research uncovered far more than I expected. I’d become a genealogy research maniac with a mission to find the real story.

Why the secrecy?

Dad never accepted his parents were from two different religions – his mother Catholic, his father Jewish. He sided with her and wanted to hide him. Our age group is much more open-hearted, by the way.

There was a lot of basic information on the internet, but eventually, I had to follow the trail to Budapest. I am so happy I did. I fell in love with the place.

As for the story, I found so much drama, so many characters, so many ups, downs and surprises, it became the basis of my second published book.

I call my travel memoir series Noodle Trails because although my plans might be straight as an arrow, the actual route looks more like a bowl of noodles.

I was fortunate my ancestry search took me to Budapest, a cool destination in any case, with a groovy international ex-pat world and plenty to eat, drink and see.

I’d encourage readers to consider their own map of ‘ancestry tourism’. This idea grabs more people all the time. I can attest, it’s a beautiful theme to a trip, wherever your tree leads you.

I was thrilled to see the actual buildings where my family lived, worked, shopped, prayed, got married and where they were buried.

When I saw my great-grandparents’ gravestone, with my same name, my whole body shook.

Many of these sites gave me a shiver of excitement, like electricity, head to toe, like the communal DNA was fizzing.

It’s a deep experience, to walk near the roots of your tree, or to answer some lifelong question.

Surprises and deep feelings are almost guaranteed.

My most exciting result was meeting real cousins! After WW2, Auschwitz-survivor Andreas Weiss went to live in Vienna, where today he is 91 years old and his family is nearby.

I never knew he existed, until recently.

When I found his 1928 birth record, I could only hope he was still alive.

Next, I found a 1944 document saying he and his parents were sent to the death camp at Auschwitz, so I was upset but did not want to believe it. I kept searching. I wanted proof if he lived or died there, and those Nazis often kept good records.

Soon I found his name on a list of survivors from the camp at Dachau. He survived the war!

I went jumping and dancing all over the room, calling out, ‘I have a cousin! He survived the war! One of us got through!’ Oh, I cried for joy.

But, was he still alive? If so, where was he? I did not find out for many months. I just kept hunting. The lesson: Keep Going!

I only found him because he left a trail. He wrote some articles, memoirs for a history magazine from his home town Szombatheley.

The magazine helped me contact him and his family. We met. Then we met again and again until we lost count, over the last few years. We plan to meet again, in March 2020. Now it’s routine and normal, to meet whenever we can. We’re friends now.

Our two branches feuded over a hundred years ago and haven’t spoken since, but we just built a bridge.

Leave a trail, build a bridge, find new friends – not bad advice.

Even if you don’t find living cousins or a great saga, you’ll find history, connections and gossip. I wholeheartedly recommend ‘ancestry tourism’. Go walk where your people walked before you. And if you can, eat accordingly.

The more you research beforehand, the better. Much can be researched for free. If I can advise, I will – please just ask.

Travel with purpose, and happy trails to you.

One 66 year old Man’s Route to Major Personal Change


11 Minute Read

This is about change, personal change, the desire for it, the need for it, the context of it, the possibility of it, and the experience of it.

I don’t want to come across as preachy, self-obsessed, needy, screechy, and so on, (as if!) and I am NOT a therapist, medical practitioner, psychoanalyst or expert in any way. I can only describe my experience.

I was born in 1951, a baby boy, in what was then Cumberland, a lovely part of the world. With friendly, open people, a strong sense of mysticism rooted in the dark hills, unpredictable weather, open countryside, the lakes, the moors, the ruins, the legacy of the Lakeland poets, standing stones, Roman occupation and invasion attempts from beyond Hadrian’s Wall. There was also immense potential for drama and isolation.

Black Sabbath lived in my hometown Carlisle for a while. Their doomy oeuvre is usually analysed in terms of bleak industrialism, soul-crushing factory work but I also hear their banshee call of the wild deserted moors that they would have crossed late at night in their van. There’s also the thrill of local supernatural legends, like the Croglin Hall vampire in their songs.

My childhood was spent in a society emerging from post-war shortages, attempting to rebuild Britain, with its new heroes, James Bond, Doctor Who, the rise of television and radio, the early days of multiculturalism. Into this world, shockingly to my parents’ generation, came the revolutionary force of teenage culture, rock and roll, hippies, drugs, permissiveness, Swinging London (it sounds so quaint now, it was so exciting then), and into this world, I emerged as a young adult, longing to be part of it, but not quite sure how to achieve that, and blundering along through a very large part of my life, a spoiled only child who threw himself at the brave new land.

Alcohol played a large part of my life. I regret that. But this is all history now but then there was a backdrop to a life of bingeing, yoyoing weight, car crash relationships, divorces, rock and roll, stressful work, money worries (yes, I know, it’s the same for pretty well all of us, but, of course, the world revolves around MEEEEEE), and a gradual slomo glide towards a final crisis. There was the slow dawning that I’d got a lot of things wrong, and harmed people I really cared about.

I had a full breakdown, lots of medical intervention (the NHS were brilliant). It was described as clinical depression, something I regard as different from morbid melancholia. My physical symptoms were – trembling hands, racing heart, gasping for breath, overwhelming feebleness (no driving, no socialising, crawling to the toilet, friends doing errands for me, even driving me to the GP), long, long periods of motionless sleep, hands folded over chest, periods of staring blankly into space for hours, no reading, no TV, no work, nothing achieved, no sorrow, no joy, nothing, but sudden attacks of helpless sobbing, coming out of the blue.

It wasn’t hell, or misery; it was just nothing. Nothing mentally, zoned out, blank, gone, withdrawn inside a feeble, trembling body overdosing on adrenalin. That was a few years ago. I recovered as my GP told me I would. She was brilliant, and she was right. But it didn’t dawn on me that the real underlying problem was still there. The horrible sense of guilt and regret that I’d conducted my life badly. I did share this with friends, but they dismissed my fears, kindly, compassionately.

I felt I was stuck in an inescapable prison, I just accepted it, and carried on with life, busying myself as my strength returned, business as usual, telling myself I’m okay. Really, I’m okay. And so it went on. With that lurking black cloud of guilt over divorce, financial loss. Things that would affect my son, not just me, but were caused by me. (I’m okay, really, I’m okay).

Still binging, still chaotic. My mother died, I had to look after my very old father for several years. That was pretty tough, but it did teach me that, well, sometimes, you have to face your destiny, and that life isn’t one long joke. He passed away in 2017, after years of decline. He was in the RAF in WW2, born during WW1. Imagine the difference between us; he actually had moral courage.

In March 2018, something happened. My son sent me a wounding, angry email (he lives with me, but he used email to communicate this message). He told he it was time I stopped messing around, harming people, blowing hot and cold, complaining endlessly but never doing anything to improve things. Brattish behaviour. Spoiled child behaviour. He said in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t sort myself out, within a week, then things would be unpleasant between us.

I love my son. He is everything to me, and I hadn’t realised how bad things had got, how oblivious I had been. He told me that he was worried about me, that other people were worried too, even though I thought everything was fine. So I did what he said. It was brutal, it was hard, but I tidied up a lot of loose ends. Actually, it was laughably easy. It occurred to me then that a metamorphosis can be easy. Even should be easy. Even actually is really pleasurable.

But how could I do it? I’d been on diets, I’d been to gyms, I’d cycled, I’d been slim, I’d been fat, up and down, round and round, precious little willpower (it seemed to me, making excuses yet again), I’d be drunk, I’d be dry … there was no consistency, no sense of real, long-term gain, just knee-jerk quick fixes, including lying, deception, secrecy, all those little monsters scurrying around in the spoiled little boy’s psyche, neglecting friends, disappointing people I cared about, losing their respect, all that stuff.

So how to go about it? Some lights started to go on. I read, I googled, I youtubed, I sought out the things I’d missed or sneered at, the pinnacles of human achievement, inspiration, courage and liberation. I reflected on the notion of self-reinvention, like Bowie or Madonna. If they could do it, even in the context of the music world, then why couldn’t I? I’d remember seeing a movie, with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, who were trying to survive in the wilderness. And Hopkins’ repeated mantra was: “If one man can do it, another man can.”

It stayed with me. But here’s the problem: I have got fit, then slid back; I have dieted, then gone back to large fries and chocolate shakes. It’s not just how to do it, but how to keep on doing it. So I youtubed, I read, I googled … self-help stuff, motivational stuff, this diet, that diet, and still I was blundering along, but things were slowly becoming clearer.

I knew I’d been very unhappy for a long, long time, and I couldn’t break the binge cycle of action and reaction, or so I thought. How to go about it? I’d look at drawers full of clothes that were too small and think I’d never be able to wear them, but not want to get rid of them, because that would signal the acceptance of final capitulation to a chaotic lifestyle, and its aftermath. I’d waste money, miss golden opportunities, break up good relationships. It was as though I was frightened of success.

It all came to a head last March, because that same weekend I’d seen Don Giovanni in Southampton, and I’d checked the dates. Strange that it was THAT opera. THAT weekend. Synchronistic, one might reflect.

In the course of youtubing, something clicked. Motivational clips are often quite boring, predictable, and usually they are angling to sell you something, but amongst all of that there was something. Two things, in fact. One was transformation. The other was toxicity.

Let’s do toxicity first. What my son was really telling me was – get rid of poison in your life! Get rid of it. Toxicity isn’t just about substances like alcohol, tobacco and so on. There is also social toxicity, emotional toxicity, moral toxicity and, for me the biggie: psychic toxicity. I’ve listened to people moralise about young people self-harming, and, yes, it is a terrible thing, but those judging these young people might be grossly unhealthy themselves, without realising that they are self-harming too, in a terrible, terrible way, blindly, with good intentions, and, (the most horrible thought of all), that I was like it myself. Quis custodiet ipsos custodiens? Is that how it goes? So true. I was poisoning myself with guilt, regret, overwork, dark thoughts, melancholia, rejection of society, negativity, introversion. I was a psychic self-harmer. We all are, to a greater or lesser extent. It was suddenly so clear and obvious to me. I could not become well, or at least better, until I stopped poisoning myself.

It seems to me that toxicity is very BAD for us, to put it simply, tritely even. But let’s think about it. Psychic toxicity is BAD too, banal though that might sound. You know, and you feel, how your body reacts to toxic junk food. That’s a given, I think, so … why did I do it? Some kind of post-Freudian self-flagellation thing? Probably. Nice flavour? Something like that. It’s the same with junk emotions, junk mindsets, junk values, junk irrationality, they poison you, and lead you to real self harm, to comfort eating, to retail therapy, as it’s jokingly called. To waste, to anger, embitterment, resentment, excess. Whatever. I became bloated, and limited in my choice of clothing. It was shit. Because of self-poisoning. Why? One thing is for sure: ultimately, you are the one who will pay for it. So don’t do it. It sounds banal and crude, and I do apologise for this, but I’ll still continue, even though you are already thinking about things you do to yourselves that are toxic. Do I need to name them? Do you need to throw them out, push them away like a raft that once brought you to safety, but is now allowed to drift off because it isn’t needed anymore?

It seems so obvious to stop. We beat ourselves up, and it is counterproductive. At this point I have to say this especially includes toxic relationships. Sorry. I apologise again for being preachy, I am truly sorry, but I am describing a life-changing experience. I am NOT telling you what to do.

Now is when you are really going to hate me. There is one thing that is not optional. We all know that, don’t we? Again, it’s obvious, so simple, but it seems so hard to keep going. Let’s think of it this way: not exercising is in itself a form of toxicity. You have the option. And all of this can be done at home. It is an incredibly exciting thing to experience, trust me. I’d say one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced, (in a very clunky, bedraggled life that has included clinging terrified onto a horse bolting through strange woodland), is to see the world this way, then react accordingly. You’re NOT on a diet, you’re NOT slogging painfully away. You are relaxing, and you are not beating yourself up any more. THIS IS THE KEY.

Soooooooo easy, soooo obvious, really. I’m ranting. Forgive me, I don’t want to piss you off. It gets worse though. It’s almost like … well, it actually is … a psychedelic experience. Seriously, your perception alters, things just seem to intensify. This is just what happened to me, between the ages of 66 and 67. I dropped from XL to M, waist from 44 to 36. Without feeling I had to do something, had to join a gym, had to get on a bike, had to limit what I ate, had to take supplements … once I stopped agonising (ie psychically poisoning myself), I just did these things naturally, with really very little effort, as though they were happening to me, and all I had to do was go with the flow, let it wash over me.

It’s boring to read this, I’m sure. I have zero willpower, but something stirred inside me (honestly, stop laughing) and I found myself going to a gym, then, imagine it, this hot summer of 2018, cycling nearly every day, off-road, in open countryside, along route 23 on the Isle of Wight, amongst rabbits, squirrels, herons, jays, woodpeckers … stopping for a pot of tea at Pedallers’ cafe (highly recommended). It was utter, utter, joy. It just was, and it still is. I even whistle sometimes. But exercise doesn’t seem like a task, it’s more like a pleasing ritual for me, doing crunches with music or a lecture playing, so I’m not exercising, I’m listening, and learning. I just do this and that while I’m listening. This has been my journey since March 2018. At some points before that, I did lose track, but life seems better now.

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.

Sleep – That Old Bugbear!


6 Minute Read

Maxine Cook is a psychologist, complementary therapist and sleep disorder treatment specialist. She works with clients that have a long-standing problem with sleep that has become a chronic condition.

People generally tend to grossly underestimate the importance of good sleep. I’ve had countless conversations with people who say to me, ‘Oh, I haven’t slept well for years!’ It is all too often dismissed with a bit of a chuckle and a wave of the hand as if it’s not that important.

That is, however, a situation where not realising how critical it is to get a good night’s sleep (not just occasionally but regularly) is, in fact, costing people their health and in some cases their lives.

Most people are not aware of the real science of sleep, and the extent to which restorative rest supports and maintains the immune system, organ function and emotional health.

We are biologically designed to heal ourselves through various automatic processes. A direct example of this is the body’s ability to seal off a break in the skin (with a scab), to help prevent infection. Another is the body’s manufacture of white blood cells that directly attack viruses and overcome bacteria that can impair or destroy the healing process.

It is all part of our biological barometer of homeostasis, where our bodies seek to systemically maintain us at an optimal level of temperature, satiety, hydration etc. Sleep is the biggest enabler of healing and homeostasis. We are pre-programmed to go down to a baseline level of sleep each night where the body and brain automatically repair and heal from a wide variety of emotional stressors and physical complaints.

For most people, however, modern life and the stresses and challenges they bring – act as direct blocks to us getting to that level. Sleep dysfunction is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions, all across the world, prompting scientists to learn more about what lack of sleep means in real terms for our health and wellbeing.

When we experience sleep deprivation, we tend to become well acquainted with the more salient aspects of it, such as irritability, exhaustion, and an inability to concentrate. We understand how that affects our reaction times, our thought processes, our ability to sustain healthy relationships and function well at work, etc. What we tend to be less aware of – is becoming disconnected from our homeostatic process and the systemic damage we incur as a result.

If sleeplessness goes on for a long time (as in more than a few days), we actively sabotage our own ability to heal. Our immune system, for example, literally loses its ability to protect us from infection. We also fail to remain robust enough to avoid emotional consequences as well, such as anxiety and depression. These can arise when the brain doesn’t get the chance to restore and strengthen mental functioning as one of the natural healing functions facilitated by good sleep.

Sleep is the most fundamental cornerstone of health and wellbeing. Regular good quality sleep is critical to maintaining health and optimising lifespan. Insomnia can directly and systematically sabotage both. In short, we can get sick when we don’t need to, and we can die years before we’re supposed to, as a direct result of not getting enough sleep.

Each person is individually affected by sleep dysfunction. There are different types of insomnia that affect people in different ways, at different times, and for different reasons. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ remedy, which is why I tailor specific Sleep Reset Programs to individual needs.

I carry out a comprehensive health, lifestyle, environmental and social assessment with each client to determine where they are currently at, how they got there, and what individual factors are contributing to their sleep problems. I look at symptomatology and how the client’s life and health are being affected, and I then set up a treatment protocol that will deal directly with the issues that a particular client is facing.

There may be a need for brainwave re-patterning (retraining the brain to go down to the optimal baseline level of restorative, healing sleep), circadian rhythm re-setting, lifestyle changes and cognitive reframing. It could be a combination of strategies, depending on the individual. Happily, for most people, these changes are not radical.

They are more of a gentle modification, a series of tweaks and re-balances that provide a more stable platform for the treatment program to work. For instance, someone may need to eat at a different time in the evening or stop drinking coffee at a specific time of the day. They may need to simply think differently about what it means to go to bed to sleep or adjust their expectations of the capabilities of their bodies and brains.

It takes the brain roughly 60 days to learn a new habit and get rid of an old one. My most popular program runs for eight weeks, after which the vast majority of my clients have learned to sleep properly again and also the necessary tools and strategies to ensure it stays that way.

I also have a more intensive 12-week program which is only needed by about 5% of clients. They often have a more deep-seated cognitive or psychological dysfunction (e.g. trauma response or PTSD) that requires more intensive psychological support.   I offer complimentary preliminary assessments to people considering a Sleep Reset Program, where we identify the issues and discuss suitability.

The good news is that, barring an underlying medical problem, most sleep disorders are relatively easy and straightforward to correct. With time and commitment to the process, most people do resolve their sleep issues.

Maxine’s Top Tips For Better Sleep

Make sure you are adequately hydrated before going to bed. If your body needs the water, you won’t wake up in the night to go to the loo.

Sleep in a room at the optimal temperature on 18C which significantly increases the chances of good sleep.

Don’t wear restrictive clothing to bed and try to avoid synthetic fibres. The body operates well with natural materials such as cotton or silk.

Don’t read in bed to fall asleep. Read in another room, then when you feel sleepy, go to bed. The brain then learns to associate bed with sleep.

Use foam earplugs if you’re a light sleeper, as this will filter out specific noise frequencies that might keep you awake or wake you up.

Try to go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each day, this will help reset circadian rhythms.

Don’t eat a full meal late at night – aim to have your evening meal finished at least two and a half hours before going to bed.

http://www.maxinecook.com/

AofA People: Any Lucas – Events Ambassador, Riverside Studios


5 Minute Read

Let me introduce you to 59 year old Any Lucas who has recently become Events Ambassador at the newly reopened Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

How old are you?

59

Where do you live?

Hammersmith & Fulham

What do you do?

After 25 years spent in the educational system, I decided last summer that it was time to turn a brand new page. My 17-year-old finished 6th form in June (hence ending my 28 years role as a school mum as there is a 14-year gap with my eldest!) at almost the same time that my resignation letter to my headmaster took effect. In September, instead of preparing to meet new classes and deliver syllabuses, I started in my new role as Events Ambassador at the newly reopened RIVERSIDE STUDIOS in Hammersmith.

How do you feel about being your age?

I absolutely LOVE it! My brain seems to have finally learned to live to its fullest without endangering different aspects of my life. I am so grateful to all the lessons learned in each decade (good ones, hard and bad ones) as no growth would have taken place without these different experiences. Physically, despite some inevitable aches and pain, I am the fittest I have been since my body went through the miracle of birth three times.

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

So many things to mention, much better knowledge of myself and others makes a huge difference when perceiving everyday life situations so confidence is definitely high on the list. So much more acceptance of everything in general. A real appreciation of being part of humanity.

How do you feel about sex?

Oh la la! Over the years I have found myself many a time in the midst of conversations with friends where the tone of the exchanges turned far too über explicit for my liking. On each of these occasions, I can always feel the redness and tend to remain rather quiet! Sex is such a powerful expression of intimacy! However, as a mother of 3 daughters, I have tried to make sure that the sexual aspect of their upbringings was always an open dialogue.

And relationships?

My husband Chris and I have been together for over 38 years. It definitely hasn’t been ‘une longue fleuve tranquille’ – far from it! But, despite all the highs and lows, some really humongous ones, he is still my very best friend. We share so many memories! And of course, I could not do without the rich tapestry of people with whom I share an array of different but equally invaluable friendships. 

How free do you feel?

Very free! The freest I have been since my children were born. I value being in charge of achieving the right balance between work/life, wellbeing and I also appreciate the simple joy of life. I feel that today, after years of living in a near state of constant stress I am getting to the balance.

What are you proud of?

As anybody who knows me will testify, I would be a liar if I said anything other than my three smart and talented daughters. Each of them continues to amaze me every day, they are the sunshine of my life for sure. To witness them transforming into confident, super able femi/nist/nine women is the best highlight ever!

What inspires you?

Everything and anything really: family, books, Nature, paintings, skies…To be inspired is to be alive.

When I swim up and down my local pool: it’s my time for making lists, meditating, being aware of strength and physicality or simply the best way to start the day! Cycling along the river as a commute to work and of course at any other time.  Family time.

Where does your creativity go?

Strangely, unlike most of my family and a hefty majority of my friends, there is nothing concrete, visual or audible to touch, see or hear which could be attributed to me. I think most of my creativity is somehow directed in the sphere of my social being. It appears to go into my everyday life and my interactions with my fellow humans. I seem to be able to form connections between disparate people who are often engaged with the creative arts.

What is your philosophy of living?

To really live life. To focus on the positive and let bygones be bygones. Regrets and anger are such destructive and self-centred emotions. To have a permanent sense of curiosity and wonder. To be kind to oneself and others. Acceptance of oneself and others. Someone told me once I was the tree and my daughters were the blossoms and, as it stands I am happy now to be grounded as my blossoming years were somewhat volatile.

And dying?

It should be just like turning another page into the unknown of the next chapter! Unfortunately, it saddens me that in the 21st century too many examples of ‘bad deaths’ are occurring on a scandalous scale. Our modern society needs to have a very serious open debate and to be prepared for some seismic changes at many different levels: law, medicine, care system, costs, attitudes to entitle every individual to a dignified death.

Are you still dreaming?

Oh yes! In all its varied aspects! When I sleep, daydreaming and when completely lucid! Getting the chance of working in the creative arts and joining Riverside Studios, that is a dream come true.

Tell us something outrageous that you’ve done recently.

I find this question confusing. What might appear totally outrageous to one person might not be so to another! For example, recently I was describing to some friends my love of cycling in the dark on the wilder north bank of the Thames between Barnes and Hammersmith Bridge – they described this as being totally outrageous! They mentioned the danger of being alone in the dark. I utterly disagreed (so did some other friends). When you speak of darkness in London, it is a bit of a joke really. In those moments, the reflecting lights on the water, the whooshing sounds of the leaves under my wheels, the complete awareness of sounds in the trees and bushes alive with birds and wildlife mixed with the rush of adrenaline. That isn’t outrageous! That is having fun on my way back home.

When the Wild Adventures Stop and a Real Loving Relationship Begins Later in Life


5 Minute Read

Sometimes he sneaks up behind me when I’m in the kitchen and puts an arm in the small of my back. I take a breath or jump, kitchen knife in hand. Of course, it’s Andrew, however, somehow it hasn’t registered that he’s the person saying hello. So far nobody has been injured, however, there have been lectures on kitchen safety. Yes, I do know we live together and I’m not expecting anyone else but maybe I’m not expecting him either. We’ve lived together for around three years now and I love it. So, why the hell do I react like this almost every time?

I can only surmise that it’s the legacy of living alone for around 16 years. Ok, maybe 17 but however long it’s been, it’s patently obvious it’s had a profound effect on me.

First, you should know, I love living with him. Unequivocally. I was never a serial monogamist and he’s really only the second person I’ve loved. In between the two, there has been a wild series of adventures which, as well as being diversions with all the fun and frustration those bring, only served to make me more aware not just of what I wanted in a man but what I needed as well.

Our meeting was the most serendipitous and I’ve never enjoyed being around someone so much. For one thing, it’s helped to address my cuddle/hug deficit which was in the negatives before he came along. I mean – we are talking serious minus numbers here. I think that subconsciously while I was having those mad affairs in my 40s, I knew I needed hugs but unlike my 20s when I had sex hoping I’d get a cuddle as well, I never expected them. Unless they were the pre or post-sex kind.

Besides living alone, I’d been brought up to be utterly independent. There wasn’t much choice when you were part of a migrant generation in a new country with both parents working and trying to figure out how life worked. At nine, I was taking the tram to Melbourne’s CBD with my sister and buying clothes. At 14, I was doing it by myself and by 15, I could sit in a café with a cappuccino as if it were the most normal thing. I loved travelling alone around Europe in my 20s and while I would have liked some help in making big life decisions, the way things were – I just made them.

Meeting Andrew was huge for me, but then on another level, it was absolutely the right time. The other day, musing about it I said, ‘I was ready to meet you.’ He agreed. And yet when I make a cup of tea, I still don’t ask him if he wants one. Same goes when I raid the chocolate stash on level two of the upper kitchen cupboards. (He could if he wanted to put it on level three out of my reach but he doesn’t.)

He asks me what I’m going to do on a Saturday and I’ll say I’m off to trawl my favourite charity shops. Now I know he likes doing this. I consciously know this however instead of saying: ‘Why don’t we….’ I, well, I still say: ‘I’.

I’ve improved a little bit over time. He does get a hot beverage sometimes, even when he doesn’t want one. And he doesn’t miss out on the important things. If I cook dinner, I do it very much with him in mind. His guitar mates marvel at the compliments I give him just because I say what’s on my mind. They tell me they’d have to work very hard to get anything like that.

When we’re at home, we’re two introverts in a toybox, a world of our own. Sometimes he’ll go off and play guitar but not before checking in and letting me know he’s off to make noise and may not return for some time. I’ve told him he doesn’t need to ask me because that’s just plain wrong. I don’t own him. My mother always told me that. When he tells me, I appreciate him even more, however, I don’t think I’d appreciate him less if he didn’t. I just take it as two adults who understand each other doing what they do. I must be infuriating sometimes.

I’m utterly delighted when he walks in the door even though I might be in the writing zone. I just don’t want to talk right then. I love it when he picks me up from the train. For me, these are moments of excitement. Perhaps, just perhaps, the little girl in me is happy he’s returned and can’t believe it. Because I actually never expected to meet a man I love being with later in life, and I know many readers probably felt or feel the same way. Occasionally, I’d accept the idea that I’d be alone, but the enormity of that didn’t ever register.

And if you’re not going ‘aw shucks’ by now, I will tell you what changed us from being friends into lovers. It was a moment when we were all with our late friend Bob and Andrew was leaving the weekend party early. For some reason, he stopped and said, ‘Behind those passionate eyes is a lost little girl.’ He hugged me then left. Luckily, that was the beginning of a whole new conversation the next day.

AofA People: Kathy Keefe – Artist


3 Minute Read

Kathy Keefe, 63, is a wildly wonderful artist who lives in Kent and can be found often on Colour Walks in London. She makes hats, paints and makes incredible dolls. She also is the carer for her profoundly deaf husband, Derek.

How old are you?

 63

Where do you live?

I live in a small village in Kent.

What do you do?

I am an artist and also a carer for my husband who is profoundly deaf.

How is this age for you?

 I enjoy being my age and living life to the fullest. I don’t have a mortgage to worry about and I only have myself and my husband to please. We are very compatible.

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

 I have more time and patience. I also have more knowledge as I decided to get a degree in Art/Design when I was in my 50s.

What about sex?

Sex is great. I have a very loving and healthy marriage to a wonderful man. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.

And relationships?

I have only ever had one relationship that has lasted 45 years. I met my husband when I was just eighteen. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but we certainly had something that has got us through the ups and downs of married life.

How free do you feel?

My freedom to be creative and sometimes impulsive is very important to me, and I have always been able to be myself. I have never felt the need to have extramarital affairs as I am very happy.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of many things. I am proud of our two beautiful talented daughters, and also our two beautiful granddaughters. My wonderful husband who has had to overcome many difficult and life-threatening health issues. I am also proud of myself for finding the strength to help support him and our children during those difficult times. I’m also proud of becoming a mature student and getting my degree. Plus getting a first for my dissertation when I’m dyslexic.

What inspires you?

Like-minded people. I love to mix with other people who are interested in the arts and fashion. I am a very visual person and I need to be stimulated by colour and good conversation.

When are you happiest?

When I am working on a new project. I love it when I don’t want to stop working on something that I’m creating from scratch.

Where does your creativity go?

Into whatever I’m making or painting. It could be a hat, a drawing, a painting or making one of my dolls or putting items of clothes together to wear. I have curated a couple of fashion shows locally. I would love to do more of those..

What is your philosophy of living?

To live life to the full and have no regrets.

And dying?

I don’t worry about dying, it’s something comes to all of us. That’s why my philosophy of life is to live life to the full.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, I dream about winning the lottery. What I really would like to do is to give most of it away. It must sound boring but I have most things that I need. It would however allow me to organise family holidays and make it a lot easier for my family and friends.

What was the last outrageous thing you did?

OMG I can’t think of anything. I’m much too sensible to do anything remotely outrageous, and if I did, do you think I would tell you?

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