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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.”

How I Became a Family Constellations Facilitator


1 Minute Read

The summer of 2015 was a challenging one. I had accepted an offer on my family home of 16 years and was set to move into a rental property because we were waiting for the people whose house we wanted to buy – to sell up. I was worn out from the break-up of my long-term relationship, then being ghosted by my most recent lover, and trying to sell the house for two years. My health had suffered big time. I was having terrible recurrent chest infections and I just couldn’t find the energy to pick up afterward.

A friend told me about the Unicorn Natural Voice camp and I thought this would be a good holiday for me – something I could handle as a newly single person. There would be lots of community, fresh air, and singing; it would be good for my soul and my lungs. Once I had a confirmed moving date, I eagerly went on the Voice camp website, only to find that it was happening in the very same week I was moving! Then I saw another tab saying – Constellations Camp.

I had heard about Family Constellations but despite being intrigued, I had never found the time to go. Constellations Camp was a five-day camp, taking place immediately after the Voice camp, it had the same principles – camping in circles, cooking in community, no electronics, no mobile phones, no alcohol or drugs. It was also cheaper than the Voice camp, and smaller. I was excited, and I suggested to my friends Edward and Naphia who both had told me about constellations in the first place – that we book on. To my surprise, they both said yes, and a few weeks later Naphia and I found ourselves packing up the car, stopping at my solicitor’s office to sign the final documents and hand over keys, and we were on the way!

We had to take it slowly because it was hot, I was extra-exhausted and just couldn’t rush. I had really bad oedema in my legs and was worried I had heart failure by this time. I had no strength, and we had to stop at various services during the two-hour drive to Somerset. We finally arrived in a bizarre field full of tents and a few hippies. We drove around it a couple of times in the car. In the end, we found someone who told us we were in the wrong field. As we entered the opposite field, we again saw a load of tents, but this time no hippies. We really didn’t know what to do!

At the top of the field was a yurt, so we parked up and gingerly lifted the latch. The entire population of the yurt (about 35 people) stared at us as we crawled in and found a place to sit around the edge. There was a talking stick going around, and we realised when we saw Edward that we were in fact in the right place. After the introductions, feeling extremely awkward because of having arrived late, and with still no idea who was running the camp or what was going on, we did an exercise in groups of four, where we set up representatives for our parents and for life. We stood facing our mother and father, with a representative for life in between and behind them. Life comes to us through our parents. The deepest experience for me was representing someone’s mother. Through my years working as a homeopath, I have developed strong powers of intuition, but this was on another level. I could see this man as a little boy, I could see his dominating brother, I could feel his mother’s struggle trying to balance things out between them, all just standing in the position of the mother. We hadn’t even started on the constellations yet.

The next morning was the first constellation. The issue holder was an Irish man who felt he was blocked in his romantic relationships. He was asked to set up some representatives. He did this by going around the circle and choosing people to represent significant people who had been suggested to him by the facilitator, Barbara. He then put his hands on their shoulders and moved them into a position in the circle and placed them there. The representatives were then free to move as their bodies took them.

A family member had been shot by a black and tan, the constabulary employed by the British government with the express purpose of suppressing the Irish Republican Army in the war of independence. Effectively an occupying army, they imposed curfews and restrictions on movement, crowd control etc using brutality and violence. This family member was choking to death on the floor. I started laughing hysterically and desperately, trying to hide my tears. I wanted to jump into the constellation and ask the representative if he was okay. I wondered if he was really having problems breathing. My body curled up and I didn’t know if I was laughing or crying. I couldn’t believe everyone was just sitting around the edge of the yurt observing all of this and doing nothing.

Later on, sitting around the campfire cooking lunch, a more experienced person told me I was ‘caught in the field’. Systemic theory says we create a field where we are united within a system and we operate unconsciously with one another. An example of this is a school of fish or a starling murmuration where the birds move as one in flocks, sometimes millions of birds “knowing” how and where to move in unison. I couldn’t believe how strongly I’d been sucked into this field. I immediately came to realise that this was powerful stuff, and a lot more than I had bargained for.

By the second day all of the swelling in my legs had disappeared (I’d spent two days running to pee in every break, and more) and I was starting to feel like myself again. In fact I was feeling more like myself than I had done for 20 years or more. My heart was opening and pure joy was flooding in. There was space, time had expanded miraculously and rushing was no longer part of my mental vocabulary. What really surprised me was that all of this had happened and I hadn’t even done my own constellations yet. Just being in the holding circle and representing had been a deeply healing experience for me.

We spent wonderful evenings sat around the campfire and watching the Perseid meteor showers at night, having “stargasms” as one person called them, and talking and listening in an incredibly heart-opening and authentic way. Cooking communally on the open fire, passing round the talking stick, visiting other circles, just being outside, deeply nourished my soul. By day, there would be more constellations, sometimes five or six a day, and more rituals.

After the camp, wracked with grief at leaving, Naphia and I drove around the roads of Somerset, lost. We didn’t know why or how, but we knew we needed more of this. It had somehow completely passed me by, but Naphia told me that Barbara was starting training in September that year and that a few of the people at the camp were going to do it. In fact, some of them had done it already. On that long, hot journey home, we made a decision that would change our lives. We were going to go back and do the training.

Family Constellations is a kind of group work, which sheds light on unconscious inherited family trauma and hidden dynamics. It can reveal how a system rebalances itself after traumas such as war, genocide, famine, early death, children being given away, murder, etc. This usually affects a family member in a subsequent generation, as they identify with the missing person and compensate for the imbalance. They may develop an illness or addiction, or not thrive in life in some way, be it financially, in relationships or other areas of life. It can be used to look at issues such as relationships with family and in love, finances, work, health and much more.

There are two main principles in Family Constellations work. The first is that everyone belongs, so children who have been given away or died, perpetrators and victims, previous partners, husbands and wives as well as parents, grandparents and so on are all part of the family system. The second theory is that there is a hierarchy in terms of time. So first husbands/wives come first, followed by older children and so on. This links into the first law of belonging, so if someone is excluded, for example, a stillborn child, it will upset the balance as the order of subsequent children is not correct (the next child born after the stillborn is treated as the first when in fact she is the second). It also links into rituals, which can be used to create order, and to reinstate missing people in the system. It is a profound healing modality.

Family Constellations work was created by Bert Hellinger, a German, born in 1925 who managed to avoid the Hitler youth. He was eventually conscripted and spent much of the war in a Belgian POW camp. After the war he became a priest and was a missionary in South Africa working with the Zulu for 16 years. He was eventually uncomfortable with the dogma in the Catholic Church and instead became a therapist, exploring primal and systems therapy and working with groups in Germany.

Barbara Morgan’s training was an 18-month odyssey, eight modules of five days each and 23 group members. I am just completing the second training, which I participated in as an apprentice, helping with overseeing other trainees’ practice and having extra supervision on the training. I’ve been running workshops for the last couple of years and am now really finding my feet and discovering how to pass on this deep work for the benefit of others as well as myself. One of the aspects of the work, which has really struck a chord for me is embodiment and attunement. These are central to my work as a facilitator: feeling into my body and sensing what is going on for my client. My 5Rhythms dance practice has fed into this experience of embodiment and I’m excited by the ways in which our body holds and releases trauma, all within the art and practice of Family Constellations.

I can’t recommend a way of exploring your unconscious patterns better than through Family Constellations.

Poppy is a highly intuitive, empathic and intelligent facilitator. She runs workshops in Kingston-upon-Thames, the next is on the 6th April. Tickets available at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/heart-and-soul-family-constellations-and-rituals-tickets-54965862374?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&aff=escb&utm-source=cp&utm-term=listing

Visit www.poppyaltmann.com for more details, or like her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Poppy-Altmann-Family-Constellations-Homeopathy-123984354310660/

Unicorn Constellations camp runs from 11-16 August 2019, tickets available here: http://www.unicornvillagecamps.co.uk/constellations-camp-information

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.

A Brief History of my Xmas Cards


1 Minute Read

Cards mean a lot to me. Birthday cards and Xmas cards particularly. I love both giving and receiving them. For me, it’s an opportunity to write personal messages, or long drawled out, hieroglyphic-looking paeans to family or friends.

Yes, it’s not the cards per se. It’s the messages, the hand-written words of appreciation and love. The chance to reflect on a year spent with this person and to acknowledge those little adventures in friendship, vulnerability, travel, laughter.

Since the demise of the letter and the upsurge of the email and text, it feels to me all the more important to send cards. My French friends, Les Pougnets, are bemused, nay bewildered by the British dedication to the card. They don’t have the same tradition. However, last year they sent me a couple themselves. You see I’m converting them.

Xmas cards, it turns out, were invented in 1843 by two men – Sir Henry Cole and John Horsley – who were trying to popularize the use of the Post Office. They designed a card, sold it and encouraged people to post them. As printing methods improved, costs went down and more people were able to afford to buy and post them.

The first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. In late Victorian times, robins and snow scenes became popular. In those times the postmen were nicknamed Robin Postmen because of the red uniforms they wore. Snow scenes were popular because they reminded the public of the very bad winter in 1836.

Hmmm, well I was always a bit of an Xmas rebel. I didn’t do Xmas every year with my family. I just found it all a bit stifling and repetitive. Not really fun. My mum used to go on Caribbean cruises, my sister and her family would go skiing, Marlon and I would seek out other friends who wanted to celebrate with us. I was a single mum and I sought out other mums with kids. It felt freer that way. I wasn’t the 2.4 family and back in the 90s, that mattered more.

But Marlon – he’s 32 now – and I always made our own cards. It was our individualized offering to our world. Just as I don’t buy many off-the-peg clothes, I tend to do the DIY charity or vintage thang or have them made, I didn’t want to do the classic box of cards buying. I certainly did not want robins and nativity scenes. I was predictably anti-religious.

In fact, I remember a friend whom I played tennis with in the 80s telling me in a confessional kind of way that she really didn’t think that she could let herself stray from the traditional Christian iconography as far as her Xmas cards were concerned. I was shocked by her card modesty. Especially as she played in some well-known rock ‘n roll bands.

How conservative could you get! I laughed when she told me in such a coy tone. But then again, her family did found the Salvation Army.

And so they started with Marlon’s drawings. At six in 1992, he drew a classic paunchy Santa but by seven, he was doing funnier cards. Ones that portrays the sledge without the reindeer. The reindeer wanted the year off, he wrote winsomely.

And then there’s a funny Xmas cityscape with Santa disappearing down chimneys and one of my favourites with Santa nailed to the cross. Black humour. Teenagedom is obviously approaching.

And then in the noughties, the photos started. Marlon doing his tinsel-bedecked Eminem impression – to be honest, I think the tinsel was under coercion from me!!! And then I start appearing in the shots as Marlon is obviously more reluctant. There’s a punk-inspired one of me roaring at Xmas with a question mark on my head!!! Kind of Young Ones, a bit late.

And then the ‘arty’ shots, me popping my head around a corner, Marlon wearing a white mask, me and an Xmas tree with lights around my neck, a tumble of kitchen implements in the background. This was our Kitchen Sink drama, evidently.

There’s a distorted angel digitally enhanced. A blackened tree with baubles looking distinctly dystopian. The vibe seemed to be experimental, dark, brooding.

Phew, then we lighten up with photoshop and we are given Santa’s white beards and hats in a sudden turn for the comedic.

More recently, Marlon, of course, has moved out. And I am left doing the Xmas card myself. Keeping up this Rouse tradition. There was the lyrical black and white shot of my mother at 86 taken by Marlon, of course.

And finally a kitsch shot of my partner, Asanga and I at Portmeirion. I look as though the pot of flowers is a headdress. It keeps up the tradition!! Do you have one?

Goodbye my Lovely Friend – Nigel Castle


5 Minute Read

There comes a point in life and I’m sure it’s different for everyone when one becomes aware of one’s mortality. I can’t pinpoint when, exactly, it was for me but one day I became scared of climbing up or down steep staircases, thinking I might fall. I stopped driving about 10 years ago when my little Fiat 500 was taken back by the leasing company and, since then, when I get in the passenger seat of a car, I’m aware that my heart beats a bit faster than usual. I avoid looking out from tall buildings. These may all be totally unrelated or, as I suspect, they’re just my brain sending out a warning signal that life is full of dangers that I’m not quite as resilient as I was in my youth and that death may come upon me suddenly.

I have also spent the past year becoming more interested in death and specifically, how I’d like to die and my funeral. A lot of this has come from putting together the film Death Dinner which Rose Rouse and I created last year with the help of an Arts Council grant.

Death Dinner explores the arena of death in conversation with ten characters who are connected to the death industry. There is a marvellously gothic mortician, an end-of-life-doula, a death rituals’ academic, a soul midwife, a photographer of Afro-Caribbean funerals and more. It all took place over an abundant feast in the Dissenter’s Chapel at Kensal Green Cemetery. Prior to making the film, I hadn’t really given death much thought, but the dialogue over dinner made me realize that there are many different sorts of funerals and ceremonial aspects, as well as various ways of body disposal.

Recently, I attended a Thanksgiving for the Life of Nigel Castle, held at the Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel in the heart of Hampstead. Nigel was someone who had been in and out of my life for the past decade, thanks to an introduction made by his closest friend, Rob Norris.

A keen gardener, skilled healer, acupuncturist, osteopath, masseur plus being a good musician, Nigel was multi-talented. At various times, he had tended to my garden, worked his magic on my back and danced with me and others at 5 Rhythms, another passion of his. My children, now grown up, remember us all sitting in a circle and singing together while Nigel and Rob played guitars. He was a familiar face around Maida Vale and Queens Park, driving around in his beaten up Volvo. I never knew how he kept that car on the road but somehow he did. Nigel was always around and then, one day, I found out, via Rob, that he had lymphoma and two months later he was gone. He was 67. I never got a chance to say goodbye but there were plenty of people that did. Nigel was much loved by everyone that met him.

If funerals could come with ratings, then Nigel’s would have been a five star one. I’m by no means an expert on what constitutes a good or bad funeral, but Nigel went out in a way that will leave a lasting memory for me and, I’m sure, for many others.

Rob Norris

The service itself lasted two hours. And, let’s face it, it’s hard enough to find a table in a restaurant that will let you sit there for two hours, much less a chapel. The service presided over by Anja Saunders, Nigel’s old friend and an Interfaith Minister, wove together music, poetry, tributes, recollections and finally Nigel’s own voice. At various points during this unconventional and beautiful service, we danced around the beautiful wicker casket to Dance me to the End of Love by Leonard Cohen, and then we were invited to come up and weave flowers into it or write tributes to Nigel on small, brown labels which would be buried with him.

There were tears and laughter as friends and family recounted their memories of Nigel. A pianist had written a song for him. A guitarist wrote another one. His friends from 5 Rhythms read out a series of poems. Rob and I particularly liked White Owl Flies in and out of the Field by Mary Oliver, which seemed to sum up Nigel perfectly.

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings—five feet apart—
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow—
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows—
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us—
as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

The length of the service felt like we were all able to collectively grieve, and by the end, I felt my spirits lighten as we all said goodbye to him. It was an amazing tribute to a wonderful person and I couldn’t help thinking that the world would be a richer place if everyone chose such an intimate departure ceremony.

Afterwards, I spoke to Anja to thank her for the way she managed to oversee the service and its host of participants in such an effortless manner. She was so fittingly graceful in the way she provided just the right amount of space and time between tributes for us to absorb what Nigel had meant to those he loved and just how much of an impact he had had on so many people. At the end, she encouraged us all to breathe and we did…

The Culture Interview – Laura Benson, lead actress in the award-winning and challenging new film Touch Me Not.


9 Minute Read

Laura Benson is a British actress based in Paris – she was in Dangerous Liaisons – who plays a lead role in the controversial and challenging new film Touch Me Not (which also features Seani Love, a sex worker who appeared in the AofA Tantra Hot Tub Salon which was FB Live). Touch Me Not follows three characters, one of which is called Laura, a 50 something woman, who is in out of touch with her sexuality and takes some radical steps to address this situation. The film coasts a fluid line between reality and fiction. It won the Golden Bear earlier in the year in Berlin and is the London Film Festival on Oct 16 and 17th plus a special screening at the ICA on Oct 23rd.

How were you cast in Touch Me Not?

Through a casting agent, who works with the French co-producer. They were casting in several countries. I was asked to send something that I had shot recently. The film I had just done wasn’t out yet and I didn’t have anything recent in stock. So they sent me five pages about the subject of the film and I was asked to do an exercise: a video diary for my lover. I thought about it for a week and then did it and sent it, like a bottle in the ocean. The next week I was asked if I could go to Bucharest to meet the director. I obviously agreed. We had a four-hour meeting. I had understood what she wanted from this meeting.  It wasn’t going to be a chit-chat… she wanted to feel who was in front of her and what I was made of.  So my challenge was to go and not contain myself and be as free as possible.

What were your initial thoughts about playing this character, Laura who has difficulty with sex and intimacy?

What I had read gave little insight into her feelings and her struggle.  She seemed cold and terribly cut of from herself…  dead in a way.  I didn’t know how I was going to bring her to life.

Were you excited by the original script in that you were playing a woman in her 50s who is the main character in this revealing/naked about vulnerability way? It’s unusual to get this opportunity, isn’t it?

I would say that what is unusual is to have a lovely part to explore (which has nothing to do with the age) and to work with an inspiring director that you get on with and understand in a way as well as on a project you like. All those ingredients are not always present all at once!  I never actually considered that I had the main character and her vulnerability appeared during the process.  I didn’t know before we started working that this would emerge.  And yes yes, it was a lovely opportunity, which came out of the blue! I feel very lucky. I think that Laura could be 40, 45, 50, 55…

Obviously, it was a wonderful opportunity to have an interesting important part to play, considering that most important characters in film are under-45! A casting agent friend of mine told me that in France when they suggest actors over 50, the producers and TV say ‘no, menopaused’! But I do more theatre than film, and a female actor’s age doesn’t have the same significance on stage, because there aren’t close-ups — the body and how you move and your energy are more important than the reality of your age. I’ve seen some Comedia dell Arte where the character is 20 and the actor behind the mask 80. So to answer your question, I didn’t realize really how lucky I was.

What were you challenged by in the process as an actress where it sounds like you had to get in touch with your own vulnerabilities?

For me, the challenge wasn’t as much about being in touch with my vulnerabilities than it was about dealing with my fear of the unknown, my lack of confidence and my doubts.

And how did the improvisation go? Do you enjoy this way of working?

The script was just a starting point, like a trampoline that we could bounce off.  A kind of skeleton, if you like. It acted as a kind of safety net. There was very little dialogue.  A great deal of the material, the nature of the interaction, came from what was happening on set and how it was happening. Doing a scene when you have no idea where it is going to go, and more to the point – if it is going to go anywhere at all can be very uncomfortable. I would say that ‘exploring a situation’ rather than ‘acting a prewritten scène’ is a lovely way of working when you have a director that you can understand (and can understand you) and with whom you share the same vocabulary. There is a certain amount of preparation needed in that kind of approach. Adina has her way of working that takes you into a profound process, so you’re not lost and you are pretty charged. What was nice about the relationship on set, was that she was as worried and excited as us.  So we all worked together (technicians included because for the camera and sound people, it wasn’t easy either) to do the best we could. The work was about being in the present moment, being spontaneous and authentic.

What did you discover personally?

I discovered how little I knew! How much there is to experiment with!  I think the most surprising thing I discovered was when I was filming myself on a day off.  It was a way of staying involved in the process and not losing touch with the film.  It was something that spontaneously came to me when I woke up that morning. I put my body in the window frame (the window was very big) and I pushed and pushed against the structure. The architecture became my prison.  And since I had voluntarily put myself in that space – that I wasn’t a victim – my frustration and anger transformed into pleasure. Close to a sexual pleasure. It was very empowering.  When Seani Love talks about ‘conscious kink changing the world’, I understand how some sexual activities can release and transform very powerful negative energies. And that changed my outlook on BDSM.

What kind of dialogue about sex and intimacy was going on between you and the director, Adina Pintilie? This is also included in the film?

We spoke about many many things; I don’t remember it being focused on sex.  But the conversations, when we weren’t talking about work, were generally intimate I think they contributed to creating a particular dynamic based on trust.

Did it make a difference having a female director?

I have often worked with women.  Doing this film with a man would no doubt have been very different…  but how, I cannot exactly say.

Do you think it is valid not to explore why the character Laura has ended up with such difficulty in her sex and intimacy life? Anger with her father is intimated but not explored.

I think that Adina is more interested in looking at someone’s attempt and struggle to change than explaining where the problem comes from.  As far as I am concerned, we don’t need to know where Laura’s problem comes from – what is important is that she can move towards going beyond it.  A young couple at a film festival said that it was the only ‘positive’ and ‘uplifting’ film they had seen in the film festival.

What was your interaction with Seani Love like? He was in our AoA FB Live Hot Tub event on Tantra, we loved him. He’s playing himself in the film? A sex worker, who deals with intimacy issues.

Seani’s work is really interesting and I would say that the interaction we had is what you see in the film. We didn’t meet and talk before, my only interaction with him is when we were on set filming. I didn’t even see his face before he came into my sitting room!

Were there moments when you had to say ‘No’ to the director?

No.  Adina was very respectful of limits even though wanting everything!  She never – or rarely – asked for anything precise. So the limits were where you yourself put them. I asked her at the beginning of the film, when we were preparing the escort scenes : ‘Are you expecting me to sleep with them?’ She said: ‘you do what you want’.  Things were generally not decided before.  It was more organic than that.

The film’s reviews have been very mixed, I read the Guardian one by Peter Bradshaw and laughed. I wondered if this is because these reviewers have difficulty themselves with intimacy issues?

I think the reactions correspond to the anger someone can feel when they are going out to have fun and escape reality, then find out that someone is forcing them to have a therapy session and that they weren’t asked if they wanted, let alone warned that they were going to have one (whether they like it or not).

What kind of conversations has come out of it for you?

People have shared some lovely things.  One young man said that he spent his first night with his girlfriend just after they had both seen the film and that it totally changed his way of relating with her and changed both of their approaches to their intimacy. I am surprised because a lot of people have thanked me and given me hugs. I recently spoke to a woman who said she was happy to meet me because she had been worried about me during the film. I think it is a film that is a relief for a lot of people who have suffered feelings of inadequacy. In Kiev, a young woman had been thrown out of a café three weeks earlier because she suffered from cerebral palsy.  She was so pleased to see the film. It gave her courage and hope.

What did you enjoy about making this kind of film? And the responses?

I enjoyed the complicity with Adina, the challenge and adventure and am relieved that I managed to overcome any fears and doubts, or at least deal with them. I am pleased to have managed to be spontaneous. So I guess that I have grown up a bit!

Culture Interview with author of The Ethical Slut, Janet W Hardy.


1 Minute Read

Janet W. Hardy is a provocative American sex educator and one of the leading authors and publishers on alternative sexualities including BDSM, polyamory and alternative gender/orientation expression. Author of ten books, including her notorious and groundbreaking guide to polyamory and open relationships The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities (co-authored with Dossie Easton), Hardy has been one of the most infectious and compelling voices of consensual non-monogamy and the pursuit of (ethical) pleasure for more than twenty years.

She is doing a talk in London on Oct 3rd. You can purchase a ticket here.

We’re called Advantages of Age and we’re hopefully challenging media stereotypes around ageing, do you see this pursuit as relevant to you and your work? Could you tell us how old you are?

I’m 63, due to turn 64 in February. Not quite old-old, but not really middle-aged anymore either.

Your new book is called Impervious – Confessions of a Semi-Retired Deviant – so we were wondering what you are still up to as a deviant?

I think of myself as a “deviant emeritus” – with all the knowledge and experience I acquired over three decades of exploring alternative erotic behaviors, gender expressions and relationship structures, but not very actively involved in any of them anymore – hence “semi-retired.”

Could you let us into a few juicy interludes that you have included? Why did you want to write this memoir?

I wanted to write it for a few reasons. First, because I think any one individual’s personal experience of kink gives a very different perspective on kink as a whole than can be gleaned by a media-filtered overview. Second, because I don’t think enough has been written about kink as an ecstatic experience, and for me, that’s by far the most important aspect of BDSM. Third, because it’s fun to write a smutty graphic recounting of some of the amazing experiences I’ve had through the years.

 Some of my favorite chapters of the book include one about an encounter in which a group of women spent an evening preparing a very small woman to be fisted for the first time by her very large husband; one about an encounter where my partner and I broke the common BDSM rule about “never play while angry,” and one about agreeing to become a substitute disciplinarian for a dominant who was out of the country and could not properly chastise his slave.

You and Dossie Easton wrote Ethical Slut over 10 years ago, why did you use the word slut and has it served the cause?

Actually, the first edition was published in 1997, so that’s upwards of 20 years now. In the beginning, we were calling it “The Ethical Slut” as a working title, kind of a joke between us – it was a phrase Dossie had invented, but we never thought we’d actually publish under that title. But as we tried to come up with something more socially acceptable, all we could find were horrible clunky textbook-sounding things like “Multiple Loving for the Coming Millennium,” blargh. Finally, we had to get our cover designer started, and we really couldn’t think of another title than “The Ethical Slut,” and some friends encouraged us to go for it, so we did. And it turned out to be a brilliant move. I think we helped jumpstart a whole new part of the sex-positive movement, one in which people of any age, gender or orientation can claim the title “slut” with pride.

Is society catching up with you now? How do you view polyamory and pansexuality now? Has your attitude towards polyamory changed?

My attitude hasn’t changed at all – I think polyamory is one of many excellent ways to manage a relationship, and that any relationship style that works for the people in the relationship is great. But there’s no question that polyamory is far more broadly understood and more socially acceptable than it was in 1997. There was a Newsweek cover, there was a reality series, there have been uncountable newspaper and magazine articles, podcasts, etc. 

I do want to note, however, that pansexuality and polyamory are not the same thing. Pansexuality is a retooling of “bisexuality” for people who believe that bisexuality implies only two genders (it doesn’t). Polyamorous people can be hetero, bi, pan, ace, gay, or any other sexual identity.

I guess the Metoo campaign has made ethical all the more important?

I think what #metoo has done is brought to the forefront a very long-overdue conversation about the nature of sexual consent – and that’s a conversation that’s changing shape almost daily. Poly people do not have a monopoly on ethical sexuality. Everyone, whether they identify as monogamous, poly or something else, has to consider the ramifications of their sexual and romantic behaviors, which must be respectful, consent-aware, honest and growth-oriented in order to be considered ethical.

Polyamory is difficult to do – jealousy has to be dealt with – but do you think it’s easier for older people?

I don’t really have an opinion on that. On one hand, older people are often more comfortable with who we are as individuals, with less need to seek out romantic partnerships in order to feel whole. But older people got indoctrinated into normative monogamy at a very early age, and may have to work harder to overcome that conditioning. Younger people these days are likelier to enter the sexual/romantic arena with more sense of what possibilities are out there, but they may not have as much self-awareness as older folks, and self-awareness is essential to ethical poly.

Are you in a non-traditional marriage?

Sure am! My spouse and I are both genderqueer, bisexual and kinky, none of which makes us all that non-traditional in the groups we run in. However, we have never had sexual intercourse, and we no longer have any form of genital sex, which is still pretty non-traditional, even among our perverted friends.

How has ageing affected your desires on the BDSM and leather front?

My libido is certainly not what it once was, but it’s still very present. However, I rarely-to-never feel the desire to indulge it with anybody but myself. I still do the very occasional BDSM scene, either as part of a lecture/demonstration or with an old and beloved friend, but the hunger that sent me to play parties every weekend and play dates once or twice a week is not part of my life anymore, and I find I rarely miss it much.

What do you see as the possibilities re ageing and sexuality?

I think the work being done in alternative sexuality toward creating forms of sex that are not predicated on penetrative intercourse (we sex educators call this “outercourse”) has the potential to be extremely helpful for older folks who still want the excitement and connection of sex. Penetrative stuff can very often be problematic with older bodies – penises refuse to get or stay stiff, vaginas get stubborn about lubricating. But outercourse can be fun for anyone.

I see you have also been into tantra and full body orgasms?

Yes. When my coauthor Dossie and I were researching our book “Radical Ecstasy: S/M Journeys in Transcendence,” we took many tantra classes together and had some astonishing experiences. While I don’t think full-body orgasms scratch exactly the same itch as genital orgasms, I also believe in having lots of arrows in my quiver, so I like doing some of each!

Are you still working with Dossie Easton? I was intrigued by the scenes that you two set up together when you’re writing about sexuality.

We don’t have any new books in process – we don’t have anything that urgently needs saying right now, but if that changes, we’ll definitely be back at our keyboards. 

Our scenes together have always been part of our process as writers. If there’s an issue on which we need clarity, we create a scene to explore it together. I don’t think I can recommend our technique to all coauthors, but it’s worked pretty well for us for thirty years now.

Are we making progress re openness and sexuality as a society, do you think?

Right now, depressingly enough, we’re in the midst of a sex panic – finding ways to talk about important sexual information is more challenging right now than I think it’s been since the Internet started enabling people to share information about sex. But I don’t think the genie of good sex information is going to go back into the bottle. There is a lot more information about sexuality than there was when I was young – I was pushing 30 by the time I figured out that I wasn’t the only person in the world who got turned on thinking about spanking, and it’s hard to imagine that happening now. But the more forthright and informative sex information becomes, the greater the pushback against it from conservative forces who want to restrict sex to a very narrow form of expression (married/heterosexual/fertile/etc.).

What’s important to you now re sexuality and desire?

Self-awareness, access to information and tools (any older person who does not have a bottle of lube on their nightstand is missing out on a lot), fighting back against shame and oppression.

What mistakes have you made on the relationship front and where have they led you?

I am by nature a caretaker, and that’s led me down some unfortunate paths. I don’t think I get to stop being a caretaker in this lifetime, but I have gotten better about distinguishing between caretaking and codependency, and at looking for relationships where my caretaking is met with appreciation and echoed by someone who wants to take care of me too.

Can we be old and bold on the sexuality and relationship front? And what does that look like for you?

The best thing about being old, as far as I can see, is getting over caring what strangers think of you (aka “having no fucks left to give”). I fear that many older people avoid being overtly sexual because they think they’ll look ridiculous. And what I think about that is, who cares? If you feel hot, and you look hot to the person you’re in bed with, what some twentysomething thinks of you is the least relevant issue imaginable.

For me, this plays out as a lot of experimentation with gender signifiers, and a lot of thinking and discussing the possibilities within our grasp when we let go of conventional thinking about questions like “What is sex?” “What does it mean to be female?” “What do we actually need from relationships?”

A Breath Before Sixty


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My hair is grey.

I return from my hairdresser having had the last bits of colour chopped out.  I’m now sporting a choppy, silver and pepper pot, topknot, not entirely dissimilar from my beloved dog.

I don’t fully understand the impulse to grow out the colour, which had me ditch the hair dye in April. I knew it was related to my sixtieth birthday, which is now a mere two weeks away. I wanted to see my hair. I had been using colour for fifteen years, ever since my hairline started to grey.

It wasn’t anything clichéd about aging and grey hair, that drove this. It hasn’t been comfortable at some points during the process, seeing the half in, half out thing going on, on a daily basis. Now I’m here. My hair is grey and I’m surprised by the strength of my feeling. Oh. I say to myself in the bathroom mirror. Hello.

I limp and lurch towards my ‘big birthday’ not only as a metaphor, but literally, as I’m long overdue for back surgery. Limping and lurching is what I do – though, my bulging discs notwithstanding – it is a blessed relief to understand that stumbling, staggering and lurching, is the human condition of our little lives. My own little life has become much sweeter, since giving up on getting life right.

Sixty.

Caroline Bobby by Elainea Emmott
Caroline Bobby by Elainea Emmott

The shoreline. The beginning of being old: to my way of seeing it, anyway. No, I am not the new forty. I am not still middle aged. I am averse to ageing euphemisms.

My mother died, just days after her sixtieth birthday. She was bitterness and sorrow as an art form, and I never really understood how that came to pass. I was on the other side of the world, caught up in my own version of sorrow and bewilderment. We were estranged for years. Her death coincided – although I wasn’t to know it for quite some time – with the death rattle of my addiction. No coincidence. I was so nearly dead myself, on my knees in the shadows of Sydney’s yellowest sun. My mother died and I stayed alive.

Thirty years ago: half my little life ago.  And, here I am with my grey hair, having somehow descended into tenderness. I wish my mother and I had had more time together, an opportunity to see if there was any other way to dance our dance. It was a brutal dance and I needed kindness like a desert landscape needs water. I nearly died of thirst. I believe that is exactly what she died of – she was latched on to the breast of death, and didn’t ever get to know there was another place to drink from.

Twenty years ago, when I was in therapy and starting to interpret past events, I went to the graveyard on the edge of Dartmoor where she’s buried and lay down on her grave. It was a pilgrimage of sorts, though I was making it up as I went along. I didn’t know what I was doing or why, but I managed to trust the imperative. If it were physically easier (those discs again), I’d go back there now to lie on the ground that holds her body. A mother and daughter, with a hundred and twenty years between them: thirty of them in this world at the same time.

This turning a new decade, it has some juice. As an exquisitely understated friend of mine would say – ‘it’s not nothing’.

Credit: Elainea Emmott
Credit: Elainea Emmott

I don’t have any recollection of reaching ten except for a tiny, waft of unease. Neither do I remember a twentieth birthday, which was undoubtedly due to drugs and alcohol. Turning thirty was the milestone of my life. I don’t remember anything at all with my conscious mind, but almost dead from self-hatred and drugs, I finally turned my face towards this human world.

Ten years later, I celebrated becoming forty around a table with friends. I had a profession: psychotherapy, and a partner. I was trying to force myself into an idea of myself and it was only a partial success.

By fifty, I had escaped the partial partnership and some internalized constraint. I had found and then lost again, the love of my life and the daughter we called in. I had a proper party with catering and dancing and wore a sea green dress. It seems so long ago.

Sixty.

With a light, yet serious touch, I’ve dedicated a few ritual acts of love and kindness towards this birthday. In May, I went on a pilgrimage to Hydra, the Greek island where Leonard Cohen lived, wrote and loved. More recently, I commissioned a photo shoot. At home with Leonard The Dog and Bebe The Cat. Family life. Love.

Credit: Elainea Emmott

And, it was not nothing – to see the sweetness and comedy I live inside, from the outside.

These last ten years I have been winding myself home. Many things I’d thought I needed, turned out not to matter much. I found the Fields of Kindness and Simplicity. I discovered they had been here all the time. I had been here all the time.

I wonder what the next decade of me, and of this wailing world will be. I’m viewing my personal next decade through the lens of no real appetite for more than that. My sense of having the capacity for another ten years, but not much more, is clear as a mountain stream. No drama. Nothing complicated or ambivalent. Just its ring of truth. And, of course I know ideas, beliefs and passions change, so I’m not gripping on too tightly.

I am trusting my own precious heart. If this is my last decade, I’ll do the very best I can with it.

If you are wondering about why a person might ‘only have another decade to give or to live’, I can only say I’m very tired. I’ve been tired all my life. Living with depression is tiring. I’ve been dragging myself through the days of my life, and while I finally fell from the self-violence that came down through my mother’s line, into something like Grace, it will always be heavy. Dragging the heavy is wearing and I am worn.

The thing is, all of this is gentle. I did, eventually get home to that precious heart I mentioned. The fact that it took a long time, and that in many ways I’m ready to go now, just makes me smile. Maybe I’ll make it to seventy. Maybe I won’t. If I do, and still feel like this, I’ll be writing about ending my life. If I get to seventy and don’t feel like this, I’ll be writing about that instead.

Depression and weary aside, I know I don’t want to be old, old. Seventy feels doable. More than that feels dangerous. We don’t hold old age with compassion and respect in these broken systems of our government. I am crystal clear I don’t want to spend my last years in that system. Unequivocally not.

So, here I am, stumbling sweetly towards my sixtieth birthday, which incidentally I’m celebrating by going on a Death Retreat. I tell people, and they mostly grin at the perfect pitch of it. So very me, and so very lovely to be seen and understood in my deepest longings.

As Leonard (Cohen)would say:

And here is your love
For all things.

And here is your love
For all of this

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, Goodbye.

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