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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.

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…

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