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The Hidden Power of the Indoor Climbing Wall!


6 Minute Read

Earlier this year at 76 years old, I was about to hang up my climbing shoes and call it a day. The effort of lugging a heavy rucksack filled with climbing gear into the hills to a crag was getting too much. Even places close to the road often required a steep, albeit short, slog. And then, there were various bits of equipment to carry on the climb. In fact, for the previous two years, I had hardly managed to get out at all. In any case, most climbers pack it in long before reaching their 70s. And for the last 20 years, I have had to cope with a chronic pain condition from a severe injury after being hit by a large falling rock while climbing on a sea cliff. Even so, there was sadness about letting go of what had been an enduring passion in my life.

Although I started climbing when I went to university in my late teens, once I qualified and was working as a young hospital doctor I didn’t keep it up. It wasn’t until my mid-40s that I started again. My most active and successful climbing period was from 44 to 50. I was very competitive and quite obsessive. I remember spending hours poring over guide books, creating ‘tick lists’ and aspiring to ‘better my grades’. I usually climbed with a partner who was equally matched or a bit less accomplished. This meant I would frequently lead on the rope, which is what I preferred. I have also soloed where a single fall would have been fatal. This requires a certain level of confidence, rather than recklessness. The element of danger and excitement is what produces the adrenaline rush, which is addictive.

I moved to Snowdonia during the early 90s in order to be in the mountains and joined the local climbing club. I climbed every weekend, and midweek if I could. This was usually on home ground but there were special away meets to other areas in the UK. Climbing trips abroad would be arranged with another climber from the club. I worked as a locum GP, never wanting to commit to joining a partnership as I wanted as much time as possible to climb. My motto was – I work so that I can climb. I was an all-rounder, climbing on snow and ice as well as rock. Gym training was part of keeping fit although another saying was – the best training for climbing is climbing. With fitness came confidence and that led to a lack of fear and feeling of invincibility. Pushing myself to the physical and mental edge meant there were falls. Without the ability to factor in falling, climbers are held back from improving, by their fear of falling. These days it is possible to take courses, which address this.

All this came to an abrupt end a few weeks before my 51st birthday. I was climbing on a vertical limestone cliff in Pembrokeshire, S Wales when I was hit by a falling rock. I have no memory of it to this day and woke up in an intensive care ward three days later. The rock had shattered my ribs puncturing a lung, fractured and dislocated one ankle and shattered one side of my pelvis, splitting open the roof of the hip joint and removing a significant amount of the pelvis and overlying structures. Since then I have needed to walk with the aid of a stick and have chronic pain. I managed to return to work in under five months but couldn’t even look at a rock face for years.

When I was 65, I had an urge to climb again. I started climbing with a friend that I had a good partnership with pre-accident. I became passionately involved again, enjoying regular climbing to a reasonable standard, even spending many ecstatic hours bouldering on the rocks above my local beach, as training. Then my friend pulled off a loose rock while I was climbing with him and fell. The rock shattered into pieces on its way down and I was in its line of fire, although I wasn’t injured. He suffered an injury to one elbow, which stopped him climbing. However, it was like a deja vu scenario for me and triggered an emotional response. That was eight years ago and at that point, I lost motivation and when I did go out climbing with another old friend, I was not enjoying it and even feeling a bit scared. Although I carried on doing bits and pieces.

Recently and now at the age of 76, I heard enthusiastic accounts, from several old climbing friends, of the recently revamped and re-sited Beacon climbing wall in Caernarfon about 14 miles from where I live. Before the accident, I had looked down upon indoor sport climbing. I thought that it wasn’t the real thing and lacked the adventure and danger that went with being on a natural rock face, involving route finding, placing your own protective gear and dealing with changing weather, loose rock and more, in the ‘great outdoors.’ I considered it was basically for young gymnasts who had never climbed outdoors and never would. However, since then, it has evolved its own unique identity as a competitive sport, as well as becoming a popular pastime for a wide range of participants from children to men and women of all ages, many of whom also climb outdoors.

Finally, I agreed to meet an old climbing buddy there, after filling out an online questionnaire about previous experience and following their safety rules (all basically common sense) and signing up to membership. On stepping inside the building, it was a colourful space that transported me back to the wonder and magic of my many climbing times and memories. Memories of wanting nothing more than to feel rock under my fingers and space below my feet while executing the balletic upward dance when in ‘the zone.’ However, the enormous advantage of an indoor wall is there is no heavy gear to haul around. All I needed was a pair of light special climbing shoes, I own several pairs, and a chalk bag – freedom!!

The general vibe was a friendly and family-oriented – from pre-teen kids having fun in the ‘crazy climb’ area watched by proud parents, to 60+-year-old men and women vets testing their skill and stamina. Also trendy looking climbers, teens and younger adults – male and female, impressively ascending bulging walls or swinging acrobatically in outrageous positions in the bouldering area. I was transfixed by these different climbing feats.

My previously held judgements were blown out of the air – I loved it and had come home! And now I am a regular visitor, enthusiastically anticipating my next projects. At the moment, they are running a lead climber competition during the winter, divided into age categories. Mine is the mega-vet at 70+. Maybe I’m in with a good chance as there can’t be many in this category, although I have been told there is one in his 80s! That itself is stepping outside my comfort zone, which is what it has always been about for me – the challenge.

Finding a Way to Make Love when You’re Over 70


7 Minute Read

As long as I can remember, I believed I was neither attractive nor loveable enough.

That’s why, when I met Jim, I decided to see if I could make him fall in love with me.

I clearly succeeded because just 4 months later we got married.

This must count as one of the worst decisions of my life.

Marriage to Jim only worsened my self-doubts. He was a reserved man, totally unempathetic and not particularly interested in sex. I felt unloved and unimportant. And very lonely.

On top of all that, my self-perception as an attractive woman was destroyed, a belief that burdened me for years.

I was always the one doing the approaching – not because I wanted sex but because I yearned for the closeness and tenderness I always hoped would follow – despite the repeated evidence to the contrary.

In the last few years, Jim became impotent which I interpreted as a clear sign that he found me unattractive which did nothing for my self-confidence as a woman. I tried to talk to him about it but he just retreated within himself.

Even though the sex was so unfulfilling, I yearned for at least some expression of tenderness.

But I was afraid that, if I tried to show affection he would interpret it as me wanting sex which, would make him feel pressured and cause him to retreat even more.

Finally, when the pain of staying became worse than the fear of the unknown, I left. I was 60.

After some half-hearted attempts at online dating, I realised that men regarded women my age as too old.

I didn’t really mind not being in a relationship or not having sex given how ‘forgettable’ my experience had been. Every once in a while, I still hoped for love but it seemed like it was not to be. Not that I spent too much time dwelling on it.

I spent the next ten years living on my own and rebuilding my life. I learned to attract the most wonderful friendships and went on adventures including a paragliding holiday in Turkey to celebrate my 70th birthday!

Sue Plumtree Paragliding

I started running a group with my local u3a (University of the Third Age) for people over 50 called The Life-Enhancing Group which has now been running over six years.

I felt loved and fulfilled. I had everything I’d always yearned for!

About four years ago, I thought it would be fun to start a new u3a group based on one of my interests, cooking. I called this new group ‘Come Lunch with Me’.

One of the first people to call was a man called Paul. Like me, he was 70 and also like me, he enjoyed cooking.

It didn’t take long for me to learn to like him. He really listened (and remembered!), he had an interesting life, enjoyed contributing his skills for the severely disabled and was close to his family. The more I found out about him, the more I liked him.

Here was a man who appeared to check every one of the boxes I had hungered for all my life. The more I got to know him, the more I liked and trusted him and the more my wounds from my marriage began to heal.

It didn’t take long for me to start feeling attracted to him – I mean, REALLY attracted. For the first time in what felt like forever, I started experiencing sexual feelings.

That’s when I started worrying.

I worried about my body. I have scoliosis, a curvature of the spine as well as the changes that come from ageing all of which made me feel worried about being seen naked.

I worried about the fact that I hadn’t been in a sexual relationship in over 15 years.

I worried about vaginal dryness and much more!

As I learned later, Paul had his own share of worries.

We both struggled with our own demons, particularly the fear of allowing ourselves to be seen and being found wanting. I can’t tell you how scared I felt.

But things did change.

As we gradually grew closer we both began to feel safe enough to allow ourselves to be seen – physically and emotionally.

The novelty of feeling sexually aroused was as exhilarating as it was terrifying. I felt alive again but unsure if my feelings were reciprocated.

I also worried because it had been such a long time since I made love with a man. On reflection, I never really made love. Yes, I did have sex but I don’t think I ever made love.

But by then we’d started holding each other and kissing but nothing overtly sensual which frustrated me even more.

In the end, I thought “Sod It!”.

I remember that life-changing moment as if it were yesterday.

We were at my place, just holding each other and I was beginning to feel aroused. I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t he say or, better still, do something!”

I knew the subject would come up sooner or later but I wanted it to be sooner rather than later. In the end, even though I felt vulnerable, I decided to go for it. “Paul, I want you to come to bed with me,” I said.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to drag him with me to the bedroom but first, we both admitted feeling nervous. I even admitted to lacking confidence in my body and my lack of experience – a strange admission coming from a 70-year old woman.

Joking about being ‘newbies’ inserted some light-heartedness which helped.

Because neither one of us had had sex in many years, we both read articles about sex in later life.

These articles were helpful up to a point. But I noticed that some had a condescendingly reassuring tone trying to convince men who have difficulty getting and maintaining an erection not to worry too much as it would undermine their confidence.

Their advice to men was that there were other ways to find sexual fulfilment apart from penetrative sex but they made it sound second best – just foreplay; not the ‘real thing’.

As we became familiar with each other’s bodies, Paul and I discovered that far from non-penetrative sex being a second-best experience, the reality was vastly different.

We decided to read ‘The Joys of Sex’ together for inspiration. What an eye-opener!

The way Paul puts it is, “making love lovingly.” And that’s exactly what making love with him feels like.

We can’t keep our hands off each other (present tense) – well, I certainly can’t (an ongoing joke between us).

Outside of bed, we do a lot of touching – a loving hug, an unexpected tickle that makes us burst out laughing, a cuddle, a look that tells me he sees me as a beautiful and sexy woman. All of this means that, come bedtime, we’re usually eager for more sensual touching.

But, best of all, I’ve discovered that lovemaking is so much more than sex.

One of the lovely things is that it doesn’t take place exclusively in the bedroom.

Paul and I like saying loving, even sexy things to each other. “You’re so beautiful!” (yes, even after more than four years), “I love your body” (I had trouble believing him at first) or he’ll say, “Let me look at you” gazing lovingly at my face and stroking it gently.

A favourite of mine is telling him – “I’m potty about your botty!” to which he replies, “You’re outrageous!” and we both crease up with laughter.

It tells us we’re seen and appreciated as well as regarded as sexy and attractive despite our age.

I can’t imagine looking at another man when my own looks at me with such love and desire.

What I discovered was that, when we like each other, when we value and appreciate each other, when we accept each other as we are, when we make each other feel heard and understood, when we play and laugh together – that’s when sex becomes love-making.

There’s truly nothing like it.

They say that meeting new people and making new friends gets more and more difficult the older you get but that’s not my experience.

Going to events – talks, workshops, seminars – that you’re interested in you’re more likely to meet like-minded people.

But that’s not the only way. Offering to do something for others as I did for my u3a could be fun and bring interesting people into your life.

Most of all, enjoying your life on your own is immensely attractive to others. Happiness attracts happiness!

My Relationship With My Weight


1 Minute Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proud, Loud and Sexy at 70 – Eva Chapman


1 Minute Read

I joined Instagram over a year ago thinking that this would be a good way of promoting my book. My goal was to reach 10,000 followers. Then I got really scared. Did I dare to come out as a sexy, older woman on a platform like Instagram? I thought everyone would laugh at me and say; ‘How can someone over seventy, be sexy?’ I dared.

The response has been amazing. It seems that most people love it. They say it gives them hope. So, I have reached 10K followers and it has been great fun. And is also how I found my publisher, Publishing Push.

This book follows me from the misery of menopause, through my 50s and 60s, to 70. It has been a life-changing journey. I was so happy to finally really wake up. I have written the book for people, especially women, who think that menopause might be the end of the road. For many years, I really believed that my days as an attractive, interesting and sexy woman were well and truly over.

Especially, when I knew that my quota of eggs had run out. I believed Cher when she said: ‘Fifty sucks. Men don’t look at you anymore.’ I bought into all the societal messages that I was a dried out old husk, heading for withered crone-dome. I hated getting old. Cruise ships were full of ageing wives whose husbands had left them for a younger model. The world seemed grim. I ate too much and my evening quotient of wine rose steadily. I developed more chins. I became an apple shape as my middle expanded. I started to wear loose floppy tops.

Annoyingly my husband, Jake, got better looking with age. I railed and railed that it was totally unfair. Men got more debonair as they got older. I hated getting wrinkles. I became obsessed with having a facelift. ‘I will leave if you do,’ said Jake. My interest in sex dwindled to almost zero. I gobbled yam pills and a herb, suitably or unsuitably, called ‘horny goat’, but to no avail. I read Germaine Greer and Leslie Kenton who talked me out of HRT. ‘Was that right?’ I wondered on a bad day. ‘Surely estrogen rollicking through my veins might make me look younger and sexier.’ Germaine said she was happy that men didn’t look at her as a sexual object anymore, but appreciated her brain. I personally would have happily traded in my Ph.D. for just one wolf whistle.

Things came to a head when my husband was smitten by another woman who was half my age. I was devastated. But what could I do? Especially when I was being stalked by the Dowager of Decrepitude. Well, I turned and faced that Dowager head-on. I kicked myself up my sorry backside, dyed my hair black and had a spiky cut. I bought a black leather jacket and leather pants, and out I went to claim my man back. This is described dramatically in the book and with it came an intriguing twist that I hadn’t expected. The best outcome was that my sexuality came back like a tsunami.

Little did I know that this blast of sexual awakening, after several years of being a dried-out husk of a woman, would launch me into a fearsome self re-evaluation. I would become to my total surprise, a sexy, rampant flirt in my 60s. And with this came a re-emergence of my spiritual self. Really? Sexy at 70 and spiritual? I had engaged in many spiritual practices for over 30 years but had not yet learned one of the fundamental principles of those practices – which is to accept and love oneself totally.

With the aid of some tough self-inspection, deep inner exploration and openness to new experiences, I faced down my negative spectre of cronedom. Jake and I found some younger friends who introduced us to a whole, buzzing, new party world and I started to learn to flirt. Jake enjoyed flirting too and encouraged me. The book describes some of my early woeful flirting experiences, but I persevered. What I discovered was it had little to do with wrinkles and sagging skin, but all to do with inner confidence and self-belief. It was transformational and I had a blast.

I also explored different gurus and different spiritual paths, which all helped me see what was in the way of me truly accepting myself. I also explored the therapeutic effects of drugs, which helped me overcome limiting self-beliefs. My mother was destroyed by severe schizophrenia, which caused havoc in my childhood and teenage years, as I watched her descend into a drooling vegetable. She had never overcome growing up in Stalinist Ukraine and then at age 17 was taken as a prisoner by the Nazis, and forced to work as a slave in Germany. One of my powerful beliefs was that I would also go mad. So, I went to Peru to face my fear of madness, once and for all. With the help of my husband, Shamans and the jungle drug, ayahuasca, I managed to put my mad demons into cages where I could keep them in order. That was incredibly freeing.

There were other tough lessons along the way and many tests, especially physical. Debilitating sciatica nearly ended my marriage and cancer spread its dark shadow over our lives; as well as claiming the life of a dear friend. My husband got lung cancer and I developed a rare cancer of the blood. The book describes how we dealt with these misfortunes and fell more and more deeply in love with each other.

By dealing with my unruly unconscious, and as a result of further meditation, I made a startling discovery at age 64. Inside me was a Russian Bar Girl waiting to come out. This was not easy to accept. Russian bar girls are young and beautiful, they stereotypically pick up men in bars. Here I was supposedly on the way to becoming a wise old crone, and instead, I had to come to terms with this voluptuous, seductive inner woman, chomping at the bit. I started to do sexy dances for my husband. I said to him; ‘Aren’t I too old for this?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘I have been waiting patiently for years.’ So at least once a week I put on a sexy outfit, some music, and dance; such fun and so liberating. Below are some of the many IG photos, entitled ‘date night in’.

My book ‘Sexy at 70- a Spiritual Journey’ will be published on October 10th by www.publishingpush.com

Link to Facebook page for Publishing Push

https://www.facebook.com/pg/PublishingPushLTD/posts/?ref=page_internal

https://publishingpush.com/blog/arcs-available-now-sexy-at-70-eva-chapman/

Other links – https://www.facebook.com/evamariachapman

Instagram – @sizzling70s

Twitter – @sizzle70s

Website www.evachapman.co.uk

AofA People: Julie Williams – Dog Groomer, Reiki Master, Coach


9 Minute Read

Julie Williams, 61, runs a mobile dog grooming business called Gentle Friends, is a Reiki Master teacher and the founder of Active Connection, a series of Soul Coaching sessions.

Age (in years)  

61

Where do you live? 

Stockport, Greater Manchester

What do you do?

I run a mobile dog grooming business called Gentle Friends with my partner Steve. We cover our local area. I’m also a Reiki Master Teacher, combining the Reiki with basic animal communication, I’ve developed a new modality for rehabilitating groom-phobic dogs that’s proving quite successful.

I’m the founder of Active Connection, a series of Soul Coaching sessions to collaborate with clients to find a connection to the wonder and fabulousness of the soul that they came here with.

I do Shamanic journeying, talk to trees, worship the moon, connect in ritual and gifting with Mother Earth daily, where I receive “downloads” of wisdom.

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

It’s great. I feel so much more confident and brave to be myself, to dare to do new things, than I did when I was younger.

I had a hysterectomy at 43, so I went on the menopause, closely followed by a couple of bereavements,  redundancy and a relationship breakup, culminating at 44 with burnout from the corporate world. At that point, I realised that self care and genuine happiness was more important than ambition, acquisition and consumerism.

I got rid of everything that cost money to run and took four months off to recover. I took an evening job so I could go out in the sun, a dog and a bike. I read and read and read, philosophy, self-help books, spirituality, and basically self-healed.

I met my partner eight years ago, we set up a business together. I don’t think I would have had the courage to do any of that when I was younger.

I embarked on a series of therapy sessions at the age of 60 and regret I didn’t do it earlier. I had been on a spiritual path for 20 years prior to that, and I think the three things together – reaching 60, therapy and the spiritual journey – all clicked at the right time. Before that, I was scared to put my head above the parapet, to be vulnerable and authentic, so I wore my mask of “everything’s fine”, when often it wasn’t.

So what’s it like to be my age? It’s fabulous.

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

Much more happiness and laughter for sure. Wisdom and courage too.

I have my loving partner, the first relationship I’ve had where I believe we are both really equal.

I have in my life my three beautiful grandchildren who are teenagers now as well as two beautiful step grandchildren, three gorgeous stepdaughters, three lovely terriers, the business, the grooming modality, the new coaching business, lovely silver streaks in my hair and a much more solid sense of self-love and joyful entrepreneurship, leading to personal satisfaction.

I also have The Silver Tent. This is an international online community for women over 50, started three years by the visionary Francesca Cassini. There are nearly 7000 women in the group, and it’s a veritable cauldron of wisdom, creativity, projects and collaborations between women from all over the world. I’ve made some amazing friendships there and learned so much.

What about sex?

Yes, it’s great, really caring and nurturing. Not as often as when I was younger, as I might have had a somatic response to historical trauma during therapy. This diminishes as time goes by, and I’m getting back to my enthusiasm for sex.

And relationships?

I’m happily co-habiting with my life and business partner of eight years, Steve.

I reconnected four years ago with my dad from whom I was estranged for about 25 years. It went great at first, then “stuff” came up, therapy helped, and dad has been really supportive, compassionate and open. I’ve only just recently tentatively reconnected with my mum, our estrangement wasn’t total, yet our relationship was always difficult. She’s recently become quite poorly, and I’m starting to visit again. My own ability to respond rather than react, learned with the benefit of aged wisdom is softening our interactions. I’m hoping we can continue to see each other regularly.

My relationship with my 40-year-old son is, for me, a deep and open one. We have discussed issues arising from his childhood, my healing as he was growing up wasn’t that fast, and there were times where my inappropriate behaviours impacted on him. I have apologised and acknowledged my part, and he is very compassionate, intelligent and able to understand and forgive. He is an excellent father to his three children and a devoted partner to their mum. I’m very proud of him.

My relationship with my teenage grandchildren is as it is whilst they are discovering themselves. Contact isn’t as often as when they were younger, and I do miss them a little. I support their lives 100% and cherish the time when we can get together.

I have made some beautiful treasured friendships through the Silver Tent, which I hope will go from strength to strength, to even include working collaborations. There have been a few physical meetups that have been wonderful, online is great but face to face is far better. My partner and I recently met socially with one woman and her husband, we had a great time. This is a new experience for us.

How free do you feel?

In my heart I’m totally free and I enjoy my newly found self-sovereignty. I’m enjoying being free from a lot of the negative emotional burden I used to carry. I really do feel free to be me, I’m blessed to be loved enough to experiment and try new things too.

Yet I’m a Capricorn and ruled by earthy Saturn, so I do nod to the need to have an income, a roof over my head and security. Consideration of those things doesn’t mean the opposite of freedom to me, it means I’m free to recognise my needs and own them.  

What are you proud of?

I’m proud that I’ve learned to truly love myself, to do the inner work, which will continue until I’m no longer on this earthly plane. Also I’ve learned to stay strong in my own vision, a big one, as I used to put other people’s needs first to the detriment of my own.

I my really proud of my son and daughter in law and their family. Things were difficult for my son from the start as his father abandoned us when I was pregnant at 21, I married someone else, and that didn’t work out, my dad wasn’t around, so my son has never really had a male role model to learn from. Yet he has worked so hard to be a great and balanced partner and father to his three children, and he is amazing.

I’m proud of my relationship with my partner. We have learned to consciously co-create, both of us coming together in later life with a lot of personal baggage. We work through the difficulties of being together all the time, at home and at work, we work hard at it, and we make mistakes: we laugh and love a lot too.

I’m proud to have had the courage to start our grooming business and make a success of it. And I’m proud that I’ve brought together my skills that I love doing, my abilities and drive to create two new modalities that I’m bringing into being.

I’m proud of never giving up.

What keeps you inspired?

I’m inspired by the beauty and sheer joy of love and life, believing that there are so many wonderful experiences and discoveries yet to come for me and my loved ones in this life.

I’m inspired to be a strong role model for my grandchildren, this is very, very important. I’d like to say that my legacy will be to tell them to grasp the nettle and just do it, yet more importantly, it’s to show them the example that they are magnificent, very much loved, and perfect just as they are.

I’m inspired to share my story, to show that someone who had hidden, felt isolated and buried themselves under traumatic memories, can learn to balance the light and dark, and to love those two equally. For all our  experiences are what makes us our unique and wonderful selves.

And I’m inspired by the Silver Tent. I’m a passionate supporter of it. The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying that Western women will change the world if so, those of us over 50 in the Tent are making a really good attempt at it.

When are you happiest?

It’s difficult to single out one thing.

I love seeing my family happy and I’m happy working, laughing and loving with my partner. I’m happy when I meet up with loved ones and friends, laughing and hugging.

I’m happy walking in nature with my dogs, particularly communing with trees. I’m happy when I do my daily practice, an earth based ritual and offering, I receive from it such wisdom.

I’m happy working with dogs, I love Reiki and connecting to energy, particularly when dogs respond to the energy.

I’m happy when I create something that others enjoy. I’m happy when I coach someone and they benefit from my service.

I’m happy connecting with the women in the Tent and seeing new projects happen, friendships forming, new skills being taught and shared.

If I had to choose a when I’m happiest, I’d say very early in a morning when I sit quietly with my coffee thinking about my daily gratitude practice. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on my blessings, which are many.

And where does your creativity go?

I write – poems – and I’ve tentatively started writing a book. I’m restarting my blog that’s been neglected for a while. When I was a child, I loved reading and I wrote short stories. This was abandoned due to other distractions, career and so on, and I’ve recently returned to it.

I’d love to paint abstract pieces. That’s on my list for when I slow down a little.

I’ve also created the service modalities, so I suspect work and play overlap in my life. Work as play, play as work.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Connecting to my inner spirit and doing what brings me joy. Being kind rather than right.

Remembering that everyone has a beautiful soul inside, no matter how deeply they bury it. And remembering that it’s all about love.

And dying?

It’s a journey beyond the veil.

I’ll sign up for another incarnation please.

On Eccentrics, Fran And Jay Landesman in 1970s London


7 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.

Spirit, Sexuality and the Menopause


4 Minute Read

At my own rather grand 50th birthday party, I found myself in a total physical and spiritual breakdown, culminating in being rushed into hospital with a kidney stone. Not what I had expected. This was the gateway to my initiation into menopause.

Since my early 20s, I had been running headlong on ‘superwoman’ energy, bringing my purpose to the world to change the damaging paradigms of the past 5000 years. I had hit the wall running and it became clear lying in the hospital bed that I could not continue like this.

Over the next months, I was shown again and again those places where I was not in my deepest truth about who I am, about how to relate or simply bring myself to the world. I was being asked to surrender to a new reality and I was putting up a fight. As a teacher and healer, I could no longer work in the world, nor could I take care of the centre I had built, Earthheart, nor the people who rely on me or the dreams that I held of the future. I faced the demons of potential poverty, homelessness and a loss of meaning in my life. I questioned the existence of ‘God’. I saw a landscape ahead with no map to guide me.

I was being guided however by a force beyond the mundane that kept saying ‘Let it all go and trust that life would take care of you’. Terrified, I argued and thrashed about negotiating for an easier passage but it was not to be. I was guided to take 13 moons out of my life, let go of everything, listen deeply inside and allow a spiritual death. So I put my caravan in the woods here at Earthheart in the Welsh Border, made a hearth and a nest in the surrounding forest into which I could sink, pray, listen, feel and surrender.

During my 13 moon passage, I asked radical questions about my life. What came back was powerful, potent, illuminating, terrifying and I knew it was truth, deep truth. And that I could no longer dilute what life was trying to speak through me and the message from the Mystery.

The message was that sexuality is at the centre of the menopause initiation. Having heard all my life that when menopause hits sex is over, women ‘dry up’, lose their libido and die a slow and boring death, I was
shocked!

I can say with absolute conviction that these stereotypes have not been my experience. I have found a connection to my sexuality on a totally new level.

It requires a willingness from a lover to show up in body, heart and soul, and that there is no compromise possible. If the heart is not in, I don’t want to know. Simply put, when I was younger ‘anything’ was preferable to ‘nothing’ in terms of sexual connections. But now ‘nothing’ is preferable to ‘anything’. Death and sexual energy are closely linked as they connect us to the Mystery and the Cycles of life. In this way ‘death’ is essential in order to claim this new erotic connection. We have to allow the old ways to die, so that something new in us can be birthed in connection both to how we express our sexual energy and to what that energy serves. Now my erotic energy is in service to Love, to the Mystery and to Truth.

Over these past few years, I have worked with many women who have come to the menopause work I offer saying they have gone off sex and have dried up. What soon becomes apparent in most cases – is that the
body’s intelligence is asking them to no longer compromise and when they/we were offered sex in the way THEY want, suddenly the body comes alive again. And it doesn’t end with lovers. How these women bring
themselves to the world has changed, they are speaking their unapologetic truth, and in that, they are truly changing the world.

Menopausal women are a powerhouse of erotic energy in service to spirit because oestrogen, the hormone which keeps us locked into a biological drive, drops away. Once this has gone – sexual energy and spirit unite to become an energy of transformation. Perhaps this is why the patriarchal system had to give us the idea that it would all be over at this time, so as to keep our power locked up just at a time when it was about to enter a whole another level of potency?

All kinds of things happen – women leave long term partnerships, leave their careers, no longer want to care for everyone in their family. All of it is a wake-up call for us to ask those deep and challenging questions about our own life; what is it we are truly longing for and can we claim it?

I’m back from my 13 Moons with a cauldron of offerings for this sacred passage and some significant insights as to how we can meet it as a powerful force of change in the world, simply by being who we are. As menopausal women, our light and radiance is both needed and wanted in a world where the old paradigms are crumbling and a new vision emerging.

Welcome

On Ageing With Vitality


1 Minute Read

The first thing that comes to mind with the word vitality is someone who is leaping about, full of energy and health.

But in the process of ageing – I am now nearly 75 – I researched and realised the real meaning of the word vitality.

The free dictionary online gives the following descriptions of vitality;

  • The capacity to live, grow or develop.
  • The characteristic, principle, or force that distinguishes living things from non-living things.
  • Physical or intellectual vigour, energy, or force that distinguishes living things from non-living things.

From the age of 32, I have had a lot of experience supporting older people, in various capacities, as a carer in the care industry, Nursing Home proprietor, a friend and having elderly parents.

Along the way, I observed the values, beliefs, and characteristics of those people who were content with being older, and the differing ones of those, who made everyone’s lives a misery, including their own.

For example, when I worked in the local care home, there was a man who everyone dreaded attending to. I was on night duty at the time, and he was the last resident whose needs I attended before giving my report after a long night shift. He started to verbally abuse staff the minute we opened the door to his room. I found out afterward that he had been a cruel husband and father, and no-one came to see him anymore. He was now bitter, twisted and a very lonely man.

There were also those who professed to be Christians, yet they were among the bitterest ones.

The happiest ones were the ones that gave a smile and thanks when we did anything for them. They were the ones that the staff would love to sit and chat to, which is ironic because the bitter ones were probably the ones that needed the chat. But try as we may, we just heard them bemoaning their lot and that drove us away.

Among the most remarkable was a woman who had lost one leg, one eye, and her breasts. Of course, she needed a lot of attention. But far from feeling sorry for herself, she used to make us laugh. “They will get a big discount when they bury me” she used to joke. “Because there is only half of my left.”

From quite an early age – I decided to get rid of everything in my mind, body, and soul that would make my sunset years unhappy.

That meant forgiveness to those who had hurt me in any way — forgiving myself for the hurt; I may have caused too. I realise now that my strengths as I get older, such as patience, compassion, a way with words, staying cheerful, being grateful, will be much needed for the time I have left.

Life happens, and during my 40s, problems arose for me, and this was the time when someone said to me that I needed to find who Patricia really was, and where she was going.

That started the ball rolling; I realised how much I depended on the teachings and examples of others, and that I needed to start finding out how to be free.

I am now coming up to 75, and it has been a long journey of discovery. But in the last seven years, as I got nearer the top, my ascent became more enlightening. I am not quite there yet, but I have certainly found The Truth for me.

The journey has been one of a major loss, divorce, bereavement, but also love, forgiveness, finding out who I am, and a second very happy marriage.

Advantages of Age | The Advantages of Age

Ten years ago, I used to walk 25 miles a week, and I remember thinking and hoping that I would still be doing that in my 80s. However, now I am experiencing the limitations of some of the things that an ageing body can bring.

I have a vision impairment and fibromyalgia, but I am living with those conditions, and dealing with them, and avoid saying that I am “suffering” from them.

I do not believe in the anti-ageing industry but rather that we need to accept ageing; but in a vital way.

Society, in general, is afraid of ageing and death. People do all they can to look younger and ignore the fact that we all die.

I was amused this week when I saw an article about objections to planning permission for a funeral director’s office because it would be near shops, and where a lot of children go. Are we supposed to hide funeral directors’ offices away so that they only come out of hiding when someone dies?

During my research around vitality in ageing, I came across inspiring teaching from a Buddhist, about the grace of ageing. That if we can forgive both ourself and others, it will contribute towards being a gentle and compassionate older person. And also if we can learn to receive graciously, as well as give, it will help us to accept the care that we may need and make those who care, want to carry out their task with pleasure.

And so, I have reached a point where not only am I a full-time carer for my husband but I am also living with fibromyalgia and vision impairment which can at times make life more difficult.

I have found the grace to ask for help, from neighbours, friends and family. Rather than live in denial of my needs.

I have realised that being vital – stays with us until we die. I want to be a vital human being, in the way of recognising that I still have a vital force within me that will not go until I draw my last breath.

I can be vital by being gracious, grateful and knowing that even just a smile can make a difference.

Of course, I do forget at times, that is the human being that I am. I too can moan, be annoyed, irritated and worried. But I soon realise that I do not have to do that. My fellow humans all have feelings, past stories and experiences that make them who they are today.

I practice mindfulness and consciousness, and as my dear old Dad used to say; “Put yourself in their shoes.”

The biggest influence in my life before all of this was being a member of churches who preached the fundamentalism of Hell and Damnation if you were not “saved.” So I grew up feeling pretty worthless. The only way that I could be loved was to be a born again Christian and behave like those around me.

A big part of my growth, study and research from the heart over the last 27 years, has been learning how the teachings of these people, have done so much damage. I have studied the history of early Christianity and how the bible was written.

My complete story is in my upcoming book “The Truth Has Set Me Free.”

And it has set me free to be who I am and made ageing a pleasure instead of a burden. I am ageing with vitality.

I run a group, on Facebook by that name, (please note the e in ageing.)

And if you go to my website http://www.patriciacherrylifecoach.com you will find blogs about my favourite subjects, including weight and food management, ageing, death and macular degeneration.

Since becoming 67, I have gained two recognised diplomas— one as a Life Coach, and the other as a Funeral Celebrant. In the last 12 months, I also trained as an End of Life workshop facilitator, with the not for profit company “Before I Go” which you can find online — run by Jane Duncan Rogers. At the moment, I have had to go a little slower because of my husband’s health making every day a bit uncertain, but I am still going forth in the way I wish.

Patricia’s book The Truth Has Set Me Free is available here.

A Book of Its Time – Female Sexual Fantasies by Hanja Kochansky


13 Minute Read

Hanja Kochansky, 82, is a free-spirited iconoclast who has led a big life including acting, writing and living in a ménage a trois. Her book, Female Sexual Fantasies was published before Nancy Friday’s Secret Garden in 1972. The excerpt, which is an interview with Yvonne, 74, reads like a document of its time, the only sexual fantasies, in fact, come right at the end!

A Book of Its Time – Female Sexual Fantasies by Hanja Kochansky

I have to confess that it all started because I wanted to earn some money as a writer, and asked myself, what sells? Sex, of course, sells, but what hadn’t been done as yet? Ah, women’s sexual fantasies hadn’t been explored. I certainly knew a lot about those, seeing as I practically never had sex without thinking up elaborate ‘dirty’ scenarios while I was doing it.

I soon found a publisher who gave me a decent advance, and so, armed with tape recorder, curiosity, enthusiasm, and considerable apprehension, I set out to interview many women from different walks of life, and stepped into a labyrinth of euphemisms, revelation, truth, laughter, sorrow and words. I detected an undercurrent – words are distortions, contradictions, hazards. The sentences we’ve been taught automatically shape our notions and label our emotions. And most often, the idioms we’ve been unconsciously indoctrinated with – formulate the patterns of our lifestyle. I tried to avoid these traps and pitfalls as I endeavoured to arrive at each meeting fresh, without preconceived notions, and let the individual talk freely, and in so doing reveal both herself and her sexual fantasies.

I took it for granted I would have no trouble gathering a bouquet of carnal Scheherazade stories, and hey presto, the erotic best-seller would be on bookshelves. I was wrong. As I found myself unwittingly stepping into lives that I had not given much thought to, I very soon discovered that most of the women I met lived their mundane existence without fantasy, and this reflected in their sexuality.

It’s rare to hear tales of perfumed gardens by chemically sedated housewives, bored-to-death establishment teachers or robotized secretaries. Most often I encountered simply the real need to talk, share secrets, ask questions.

I became a feminist then, when, due to the interviews, I became conscious of the hardships of both ordinary and not-so-ordinary women. As my research proceeded, my heart went out to the women whose secret confessions I heard.

It soon became clear to me that the nature of my own fantasy life was not unique, that multitudes of women shared the masochistic orientation: degradation, brutalization, flagellation and slave images which are so much a part of their role. I felt that if women could verbalize them and share them, perhaps it would serve to clarify both their own sexual identity and to what degree these fantasies are a product of male domination and, therefore, not genuinely their own.

The women arrived organically – one sent the other. They all wanted to talk – for the majority, this would be the first time they could speak openly about their sexual fantasies. I was privileged to be able to give them a voice.

When I presented the manuscript to the publishers they were furious and asked for the advance back. Yeah, sure. They accused me of giving them women’s real stories rather than hot sexual fantasies.

They were right, because as I started to speak to the women, whose lives mostly seemed miserable, I was drawn to their stories.

They did publish it in the end but cut the women’s stories considerably.

When I finally got the rights to my book back I typed my original out and gave the women their voices back as I self-published.

Here is one of them.

YVONNE interviewed in 1971

Seventy-four year old Yvonne chars in a recording studio: she exudes energy as she dances to the music while she sweeps the floor. The full volume which pounds into my brain and hurts my ear-drums doesn’t seem to bother her. She chats, jokes, and speaks loudly in a foreign accent. The sound engineers smoke dope; she refuses the joint, saying she’s never been able to inhale, but accepts a glass of red wine from the producer; then goes to the pub next door, brings back toasted sandwiches for everyone, makes coffee in the studio kitchen, gives her opinion on the music. Her grey hair is pulled back in a bun; her round face speaks of good-natured as do her bespectacled, lively black eyes. She laughs and laughs, showing horsy teeth; her short, stocky body is strong. Everybody in the studio loves her: she’s part of the group.

I ask her shyly if she’ll talk about her sexual fantasies. “Sure dear,” she says enthusiastically. We make an appointment to meet at her flat.

Her bed-sitter is in an airless, dark, damp basement in a seedy building in a characterless street: a non-residential area almost exclusively utilized during the day by office workers.

A couch which doubles as her bed, two standard sofas, a green rug, and several small coffee tables covered with lace doilies and many framed photographs of her children, grandchildren, herself when she was much younger and her family in Belgium. Well-cared for rubber plants, potted violets and ferns all giving an impression of warm overcrowding. The sparkling-clean bathroom, she tells me, has only been installed a few years ago after much pressure on her part.

In the diminutive kitchen yeast pills, organic medicines, herbs, vitamin C, brown rice and potted herbs crowd on each other. After our talk, she was going to the Health Food Fair which had opened the previous day.

She likes to go to the cinema, spends time in the pub, but finds that usually she can’t communicate with her contemporaries.

Born in a village on the periphery of Brussels she’s been living in London ever since she married her Irish husband.

She serves me jasmine tea.

*******

“I’ve been by myself for twenty years now. I don’t hate men, I tolerate them. I like men’s conversation and I like men’s company, but I don’t want to know further than that. I regard sex . . . I can feel it in myself that it’s not dead, but I don’t want it. I sometimes think it would be nice to meet someone, a companion, nice and loving, but as soon as I start saying, he’s a nice chap, why don’t you bring him home, my husband comes right back, right into my mind I get him, and I revolt against him . . . a kind of revulsion inside me. The first thing that comes into my mind is, they only want you for sex purposes, and I don’t want a person for sex purpose only. Sex without love for me . . . yes . . . you enjoy it the same . . . but it’s not satisfaction.

“A few months ago a bloke had the cheek to come and say to me – he’s younger, about 20 years younger than me – he has the cheek to come and ring my bell and says: ‘Yvonne, whenever you feel you want sex I can oblige. It’s my duty to make you come.”

“I could have hit him, but he’s bigger than me, so I shut the door in his face. And he was an intelligent person because he was a housemaster . . . but he has no sense. Sex is not duty; sex is because you want that person. How can the brain of a person work so it thinks that it’s a duty?”

“My husband wasn’t what you might call a very good man. Oh, there’s not another person on the face of the earth, no matter what nationality, like my husband. I have wasted my time in every kind of way. No satisfaction in sex, no satisfaction in love, no satisfaction in having a good husband and father.”

“Well, I loved my husband when we first married and he killed absolutely everything . . . I mean right down to the respect I had for him, and by killing that he killed the lot. I’ve had so much to put up with. I’ve got five children by him and he’s never treated me like a person . . . anybody look at me he’d punch them in the nose – because that belongs to me. He’d make me feel like a piece of furniture. Well, your dream gets broken I suppose. He was like an animal, if you understand what I mean . . . he wants it, no matter if you was half dead, he had to have it . . . he called that my duty.”

“Sex to me should be loving, tender, warm, beautiful. With flowers and poetry. How can men satisfy themselves in sex and then leave you behind? How can they make a person happy, how can they call that love?”

“Well, you don’t realize it at the time that you are not satisfied. I had to put up with him for thirty years and then I couldn’t bear it any longer and it was finished. Now if you come and tell me he’s dead, alright, the neighbour is dead too.”

“When I first came to England I heard a woman saying that there was nothing on the face of the earth more disgusting than childbirth. And I thought, well, I don’t know if she’s going barmy or if she doesn’t understand, or if I’m unusual. I was very sentimental as a young girl and very home loving and I didn’t mind having children because I love children. I don’t regard them as sex, if you know what I mean.”

“You see when I come to England I couldn’t speak English at all and it took me quite a long time. In those days you wasn’t allowed to speak about sex. You wasn’t even allowed to mention period time. My husband said my period was a dirty thing. In Belgium it was different. When a girl becomes a young woman – the first period she had – the family gave her a little present and they make a special occasion, the whole family, men, women, boys; and they know she’s a young lady now and they give her presents because they are thankful she has become a woman.”

“In Belgium, you talk about sex. When I was young they talked about sex more there than here now. They have jokes as well. Here they talk about sex as if you’ve got to shove it under the carpet or something. What’s there to be ashamed of? And another thing – my father was at the birth of all us children, and I’m seventy-four, so that’s not new, is it? Here it’s new. Now, why? He’s the father, why can’t he see the child born? I think if the father was to be at the child’s birth they’ll be better fathers and becoming better fathers they’ll be better husbands and better lovers. But not such a coward as the ones who don’t want to be there.”

“Also I used to strip at the waist in one house I lived that had no bath. I always do, to wash every day, and I didn’t think anything was wrong, then my husband’s sister said I was dirty. But I’d just washed myself!!! You see because my mind didn’t work that way, I said: ‘I just washed myself, how can I be dirty?’ ‘Fancy doing it in front of the children,’ she said. ‘Do what in front of the children? I never done anything wrong in front of the children.’ ‘You strip,’ she said. Oh my God! So you have to feed your baby, and you strip to the waist and that’s called dirty also. Now, this I can’t think why.”

“Is sex dirty? Still, to some people it is because they make it. Like my husband. As I said he acted like an animal and therefore sex was dirty in his mind, except when he needed it and then it was a kind of my duty. But not lovable . . . It’s so very difficult when you come across people like that . . . well, to put it plainly, they turn you off.”

“But I think the young people, they’re all right. I realize it more and more by seeing the young people. They are free, free of mind. But the older people . . . “

“Well, of course, I’m alone most of the time. I do go back to Belgium sometimes to see my sister, yes, and last year I went to Spain to see one of my sons who lives there. Well, I don’t mind where I live – there are good things everywhere. But I would like to see more of my children. The thing is, my family, I don’t know whether they’re trying to be funny or what is wrong with them, they say I talk too much, but that’s because I’m so much alone that when I get the chance to have somebody, I think I chatter, chatter. They want to know why I talk so much. They don’t realize that they talk just as much as me.”

“Now, another thing is a woman, when she has a child, she loves her child. Why a man is jealous of his children I don’t understand. They start to think that they don’t get the attention, but they do, you see, if they look at it properly, they do. You love your husband just as much as you love

your children – I did – and the things he is able to do for himself, surely he don’t expect you to do it when you’ve got youngsters that need to be attended to. That’s where the man goes wrong; they don’t want to do for themselves that which they are capable of doing.”

“It starts with the mothers, doesn’t it? I brought up four boys and one girl and I used to say: ‘All right, you get up and you do that, you do this, and you do that’. And one day Paul came in and said: ‘Not my job to wash up; Mary’s job to wash up.’ ‘Mary’s job to wash up?’ I said. ‘Yes, it’s Mary’s job to wash up. She’s a girl.’ So I said, ‘What difference it makes, you’re a boy and you eat like her, don’t you? Every job has to be done by everybody, and you’ll find out when you grow up.’“

“Now, some women say if their husbands really loved them they couldn’t go somewhere else . . . with another woman. In my feelings as a woman, I think a woman can’t do it. A woman feels guilty when she goes with somebody else because she’s doing it without love, but a man, although he’s in love with his wife, he can still go with another person because a man in his own mind wants a certain kind of satisfaction. A woman thinks there should be love on both sides, and that’s why there are more women who are true lovers than men.”

“Now, if I think how I would like to make sex, it would be with a gentleman who really loves me and thinks of my pleasure as well as his. He would kiss me all over, like my husband never did, and tell me he loves me. And we would have this lovely sunny bedroom with lots of mirrors and flowers and wall-to-wall beige carpets. And there would be pink satin sheets on the bed.”

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