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AirBnB Hostess – Heaven or Hell?


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Back in my 30s, in the late 90s, when I was married (and flush), my husband, two kids and myself would travel to the West Coast of Mexico every year for a three-week Christmas holiday. I loved it there. Lying on the sandy beach, a gentle breeze always in the air, the delicious local food. At the time, Isabel Goldsmith (daughter of Sir James Goldsmith) was garnering some media attention, having built a luxurious 16-room boutique hotel inland called Las Alamandas. Reclining on my sun lounger during those long, hot days, I often daydreamed about such a future for myself. I liked to imagine myself as the hostess with the mostest, running a very small boutique hotel somewhere warm and managing a small team of staff. I imagined each day would go something like this: spend the morning making sure my guests were happy, planning the small menu each night with our resident chef, leaving the rest of my day to read a book and lie in the sun.

Fast forward 20 years and, having been an AirBnB hostess for the past two years; any dreams I had of being a hotelier have been firmly put on the back burner. To those that work tirelessly in the hospitality industry, I have the utmost respect for what you do. This ‘job’ has taught me more about human behavior than any psychology course ever could.

I live in a three bedroom, interior designed flat, a stone’s throw from the Kilburn High Road, which just happens to be off the famous Abbey Road.

Here is my listing:

“Lovely, cosy room just off the Abbey Road and only 2 stops from Euston Station. The West End and trains/buses to East London, Central London and West are all nearby. This is a very quiet flat and the owners work and live there. This room is suitable only for singles due to its size.”

My listing then goes on to say that the room features a comfortable, pull out sofa bed and the guests will have access to a large bathroom with rainwater shower head and the kitchen to make teas/coffees but not to cook breakfast or for lounging. The room also features Wi-Fi and Cat5 cabling for super fast Internet access. The price is £35 per night.

“Gee, isn’t that a bit too cheap?” said a friend of mine when she enquired about the room on behalf of a friend of hers who was visiting London and needed a place to stay.

“Well,” I replied. “It’s a very small room and I’d rather have it booked all the time and turn people away than have empty days. Besides I keep it low to avoid my guests having unrealistic expectations. They pay for a nice, clean (but small) room in a lovely flat and that’s what they get.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve learned it doesn’t actually matter whether one lives in a shoebox or a castle; travellers using AirBnB now demand the same level of service they would have if they were staying in a Hilton. On an average day as a hostess, I might be required to create a day’s sightseeing tour in London, help my guests navigate the transport system plus recommend local restaurants. I have travelled to the nearest chemist open on a Sunday to pick up a prescription when one of my guests inexplicably developed gout overnight. I have shared a bottle of wine with a guest who wanted to tell me of her marriage woes. I am a therapist, a housekeeper and a tour guide all rolled into one.

I have always been a clean and tidy person but being an AirBnB hostess has required me to take my cleaning skills to a whole new level. Take hair, for instance, or rather my futile effort to make sure that there are no traces of it in the bathroom or on my kitchen floor. Every time I host a person with long hair, no matter what shade, my inner ‘neatnik’ goes into overdrive. My bathroom floor and kitchen floor are both laid with pale grey porcelain tiles. Beautiful, yes. Practical, no. Every single hair, every crumb, every piece of fluff is visible and, yes, it drives me crazy. My dustbuster is my new best friend. Who needs a degree when just having a broom and some bleach can earn me enough money to be able to travel and avoid having to take on any client-facing work… just about.

Ninety percent of my guests only stay for a night or two, leaving me little time to get to know them, but there have been a number of amazing people with whom I have kept in touch such as the former high-flying woman physicist, recently retired, who was travelling around Europe on her own for the first time. Or the guy who left his City job to make chili-infused jelly (his mother’s recipe) that he was now selling at food fairs and artisanal grocery stores around the country (and left me with a selection to try). The up and coming pop singer who was playing a gig in town was a sweetheart too, despite forgetting to set her watch to the correct time zone and missing her train.

Then, there is the handful that I would classify as ‘odd’. I’ll never forget the Irish woman, in her mid-30s, and in London for the first time, who drank a full bottle of red, stubbed her rollie out in the hallway and tried to make a pass at my son. Or the Israeli guy who insisted on sleeping with his bedroom door open in just his boxer shorts. My most recent horror was an English guy who showed up four hours late, spilled a full bottle of (thankfully) water on the carpet and then complained that the room had a sofa bed and not a double, although this had been clearly stated no fewer than three times on the website.

I won’t lie. The lack of privacy can be a drag. The walls in my flat are not soundproofed and it’s when I’m in bed, and having sex (a rare enough occurrence) that I really wish I were alone. Lovemaking is often accompanied by the sound of doors opening and closing, footsteps on the stairs outside my room, or muffled chattering. But frankly, it’s a small price to pay for the freedom I have – to do exactly what I want each and every day.

The one-night bookings translate into a lot of washing. I have never done so much laundry in my life. It is not glamorous. I have become very adept at changing duvet covers.

For those considering being an AirBnB host, here are my top tips.

  1. Undercharge to begin with because it’s important to get reviews. This will help move your residence further up the search.
  2. It’s not necessary to offer breakfast or cooking facilities (I don’t) so think about whether you want the additional hassle of having to clean up someone else’s meal (although you can charge for breakfast too).
  3. I use Instant Book which means I don’t get to choose my guests but does mean I get almost 100% occupancy.
  4. Photos are super important – make sure your residence is tidy and take nice pics. It makes a huge difference.
  5. You can choose whether you’re a friendly host or don’t want much contact. If you work from home, I would choose the latter.
  6. If you want to rent out your entire home, you will be limited to 90 days in any one year (in London). The same rule does not apply to individual rooms.
  7. Cleanliness is super important. Stray hairs, full rubbish bins and general untidiness doesn’t really cut it with most guests and will lead to a poor review.
  8. If you have a problem with any of your guests, report it immediately and take photographs to document your evidence. My experience is that the site responds very quickly and will attempt to deal with your problem straightaway.
  9. For those that worry about items getting stolen or hosting weirdos – if my experience is anything to go by, most people are actually very respectful of your space and will go out of their way to be friendly.

If you’re an AirBnb guest:

  1. Never assume your host is a hermit. If you’re going to be late, let your host know. They may be waiting around to let you in so they can go out.
  2. Make sure you’ve read the listing thoroughly so you know what to expect.
  3. Take the sheets off the bed and hand them to your host on departure (not necessary but a lovely gesture).
  4. Try and keep noise to a minimum.
  5. Unless it has been agreed in advance, don’t assume it’s suddenly OK to bring your partner or someone you just picked up in the pub home with you.
  6. In general, treat others with the same respect you’d expect someone to treat you and everyone will get along brilliantly.

Being an AirBnB has its pluses and minuses but, if it’s taught me anything, it’s that I’m not cut out for running a boutique hotel on the Mexican coastline, any other coastline or inland, for that matter. And I look forward to the prospect in a year or two’s time – of being able to rent out my entire flat for months at a time to become location-independent. But, right now, I really must go and take the sheets out of the dryer…

I Am 60 and Visible – fuck the Invisibility Myth


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I invite you to sit back comfortably with a libation of choice, for I would like to tell you a little story about an obsession of mine – The Invisibility Myth. And how I have made myself visible.

I have attained the ripe age of sixty years, marking it with a symbolic tattoo of phoenix wings soaring high from my wrist and on-going celebrations. I elected to string them out as long as possible, feeling justifiable self-congratulations for having survived. I left home at seventeen and made my way in the big scary world without support. I manage to live comfortably in my own skin without recourse to excessive self-loathing and embrace changes of direction as new life adventures. I try to stretch my mind in ways that my body is reluctant to embrace these days without chemical help…

Yep, I believe the post-war baby boom of 1956 was a good vintage and worthy of a few glasses of fizz …That is, according to the thoughts of Chairman Jeanie, as I am lovingly known in my family. Others would have you and I believe otherwise. Much of the media and some of my contemporaries, think that post-50 women become invisible.  Many believe this happens as early as 40 – across the board in shops, bars, restaurants, clubs, transport, the workplace, sexually…Hmmm I haven’t put this theory to the empirical test by shoplifting, walking out of bars etc. without paying, but I have added it to my ’to do’ list. I am guessing I will report back from the confinement imposed by my ankle tag or open prison cell.

So, what is the story here?

I stopped bitching and embarked on a journey to show that I/we are only as invisible as I/we choose to be, or allow others to make us feel. Hence The Invisibility Myth was conceived.

What happened next?

Well, I started a blog, upped my social media profile, created a website (with a liddle, iddy bit of help from the young uns in my life) and started researching. I prepared to be shot down – 270 Instagram and 300 Twitter followers hardly invites much in the way of global media debate, but my naivity and vanity gave me expectations way beyond my pay grade (£0), and status as the kick-starter of a global movement, with only a few cosmetic surgeons and dodgy pharmacists commenting on my enthusiastic postings and tweets!

Aannnd so? Action.

Whilst en route to a Colour Walk (a whole other story) in Spitalfields, I spied an advertisement for models wanted of all ages and sizes. I had vague thoughts of it being a niche porn portal, but I felt protected as the application form was online. I filled it in – the theory being that if I am invisible, they would not get back to me once they saw my age. I uploaded a Facebook profile pic and pressed send.

Eeeek. A week later found me on my way to a photographic studio in London, fresh faced as requested (pah, as if – had to put on lippy, or else I felt naked), pulling a suitcase full of clothes, for a day long suitability photo shoot, ready to be participant and observer in my own story. The people there were fascinated by my honesty in that I said it was book research that motivated me to respond to their ad, not a desire to be the next Advanced Style Plus-sized Model. (Yes, anything over a size 10 is plus size in model terms! grrr.)

What did it feel like to face up to the scrutiny of the camera lens? The thing is, I was only in competition with myself. The young girls who came and went throughout the day were another tale – happiness, tears, desperation. Self-esteem inflated/shot down.

The work

I had a hilarious day full of big hair and makeup. I laughed as I watched my face being used as the canvas in my own self-portrait. (Oh, hello eyes and eyebrows I struggle to find nowadays.) My hair was lacquered, back-combed and curled to frame my newly defined face. It made me think of the reveal in the Gok Wan show How To Look Good Naked. Newly re-imagined, I then dressed in the clothes I felt most ‘me’ in and went outside to start the shoot. The photographer was used to getting people to feel at ease in front of the camera, and I was quickly strutting my sixty year old stuff like a pro! Three more changes of clothes and increasingly glam rock makeup and I was ready to keep going all night. But alas, I had to reluctantly share the limelight with the three year olds. I felt a tad resentful to be honest…until I heard the start of a mini tantrum that is.

The outcome?

After a while sitting around (no food available in the studio – good job I had snacks in my bag – I was the only one eating), I was called in to the debrief. I was shocked to hear that they were proposing to take me on. My face and bod is being put out there. Who knows if anything will come of it, but I sure as hell was true to my determination to be visible. I floated out of that studio on a cloud of disbelief. Grinning like the loony, now overly visible, clown-makeup- wearing-bag lady you avoid talking to on the tube,I was engaging with everyone who would do eye contact, keen to share my news.

I hope that I have illustrated a point here. Invisibility is a choice, not inevitable. It is fed by the oxygen we choose to feed it.

Opportunities are always there to take you out of the shadows, you just have to in the title words of Susan Jeffers’ 1987 book – Feel the fear and do it anyway. I’m now engaged in gathering material for a book, The Invisibility Myth, from ‘extraordinary ordinary’ posts by fifty women from all over the world. So many diverse inspiring stories are arriving of lives being inhabited to the fullest.

We post-menopausal women have never had it so good – the possibility of many years between 60 and eternity to rock and roll, aided by a whole plethora of drugs to keep us kicking with the rest and best of them, till the final curtain call. I’m choosing to embrace it and planning what I can get up to next.  Are you? I hope so.

Opinion | The Jane Addams Model


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These days everything puts me in mind of Jane Addams. Many of the social problems we face today — the fraying social fabric, widening inequality, anxieties over immigration, concentrated poverty, the return of cartoonish hyper-masculinity — are the same problems she faced 130 years ago. And in many ways her responses were more sophisticated than ours.

Read the full story: Opinion | The Jane Addams Model

Let’s end a shocking prejudice | Cannes Lion


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You don’t get less creative as you get older. Disruptive thinking doesn’t belong just to the young, and you can’t put a price on the value of experience. Why then, are we an industry tarnished by ageism – especially when diversity is such a hot topic across the industry?

Read the full story here: Let’s end a shocking prejudice

Fuck The Ageing Black Hole, I’ll Take The Freedom


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I wasn’t going to write about this at all. I was going to write about being A Recovering Drama Queen. Finally. However, very much still in the process of ‘recovery’. It’s an age and awareness thang.

However before I could get to the computer keys, I read about endurance swimmer, Diana Nyad’s memoir – Find A Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life, came out last Thursday on Pan Macmillan – and was compelled to write about what was touched in me not just by her feat, but by her bloody-and-be-damned attitude to ageing.

Oh, what a razzle dazzle of a woman. Beyond belief. First of all – the feat. At the age of 64, Diana Nyad swam unassisted from Cuba to Florida. That is 110 miles through seas infested with venomous deadly box jellyfish and sharks for 53 hours without a rest. She was the first person to do it. That is phenomenal.

But before that were the amazing amount of failures. Which make her feat even more incredible. Nyad was one of the world’s best endurance swimmers in her 20s. She’d attempted this swim at 28 in 1978, failed and given up. Two years later, she retired. At 60, she decided to try again. Spurred on by her mother’s death.

And she failed and failed. Stung by box jellyfish, stopped by an asthma attack and more. Her friends who were very involved as back up, begged her to give up. She refused. She had a silicone mask made to protect her from these jellyfish because ninety percent of the people touched by their tentacles die. She was stung but didn’t die. After all her unrelenting tenacity, she actually did succeed at 64 in 2013. Hallelujah!!

What I love about her attitude to ageing is recounted in her memoir. Someone suggested at one of her talks that she was too old to attempt this swim. She is still incandescent about this kind of ageism. Even now. “Age, gender, nothing should be a barrier,” she insists. “I’m not 25, I’m not 45, I’m 66 and I can’t do anything about cosmetic ageing. I look in a mirror and of course my face is going to show the years lived. Same with the body. I carry more fat than I did when I was younger. What am I going to do? Worry about that? Talk about not being in the moment! Any moment I spend fretting that I’m not younger, it’s just a waste.”

She then informs the Observer journalist – the piece that inspired this one – Carole Cadwalladr that the photographer had just enquired if she’d prefer to change positions to a more flattering angle. She erupted with the sort of fire spirit that we admire at Advantages of Age. “I couldn’t care less,” she insisted, “It’s what I do and what I say, and how I live that’s important, not how I look. My looks aren’t my issue and it’s just very freeing.”

Okay, I’m not quite there yet. I still do care what I look like and what photographs of me are like. But I’m 63 and I am beginning to understand the breadth of the freedom that comes with ageing. That I can make choices based on what I want to do, rather than what society, the media or even what my tribe dictates. I can be my own dictator. In the last few years, I have grown my hair long again. The convention is still that older woman shouldn’t have long hair, that their faces will sag and disappear into the hag look. I cut my hair into a bob when I was 43 somehow persuaded by conformity. Pushed by a boyfriend. At 60, my desire for lengthy tresses returned. So I allowed myself the luxury of length. Hair is a sensual pleasure and there is a be-quiet-sexuality message in the obligatory cutting.

No, I’m not about to swim even across the local Grand Union Canal but Nyad’s message around ageing feels supremely loud and clear. Don’t be cowed by comfort zones (your own) or limits (your own). And find your voice, live your life. Be free. Which doesn’t have to be narcissistic.

One of the freedoms I have reclaimed recently – is the freedom to speak my mind politically and to go for the edge. To not be afraid of showing that I’d like a radical change in society, that years of Thatcher, Blair, Brown and Cameron had silenced my anger against the inequality we live with. But no longer.

A few weeks ago as I stood in Parliament Square shouting: “Shame on you” at the Blairites who were trying to bully the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn – who is committed to social justice and a much fairer society – into stepping down, I felt totally inspired about this kind of potential change. I also imbibed the unity and strength of 10,000 people coming together in 24 hours via social media and in being there together. This was no rag bag of ultra lefties, this was a huge crowd of ordinary people who wanted something better and were willing to get out on to the streets and demand just that.

It was electrifying and inspiring to be part of truly going for something bigger that I believed in.

You can read an extract from Diana Nyad’s memoir – Find A Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life here.

We’d love to hear from you what you’ve found freeing about getting older… please tell us at info@advantagesofage.com

 

Whoops, I didn’t forget to have children


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I’m rarely asked why I chose not to have children. I’ll admit the idea of missing out on mum politics and a school run did disturb me but it passed. People I know have never felt the necessity to discuss the topic with me, probably because I didn’t. I recall reading a strident Polly Vernon, vehemently defending herself from the barrage of people who seemed to approach her daily, yes daily I tell you, to inquire as to her fertility choices. I’d hazard an educated guess that when faced with intensely personal issues, the stress comes not from others but more likely is a result of our unresolved selves. It’s somewhat far-fetched that your hairdresser, newsagent or the guy at the pub will constantly engage you with, “So what are you doing tonight? Thinking about having children?”

I’ve never had a change of heart. Barely eleven years old, I recall thinking to myself – indeed I may have even loudly announced it to nobody in particular – that I was never going to have children. My father ensured our home life wasn’t stable and it left a legacy. On reflection I realise that I didn’t get the chance to enjoy being a child, and the idea of being responsible for one was far too scary. Nonetheless, at the time I thought I was odd. I hadn’t even thought of marriage. However, what I had come to think of as my errant woman brain turned out to be a full-time, clinically depressed one. I took and still take anti-depressants, drugs that my psychiatrist said might have to change if I wanted children. No way. Now I’d got the right ones, after so many false starts, I was finally feeling like me. I wasn’t about to do something that would alter that state. A life marked by years of inconsistency and instability finally had a floor, albeit a shifting one, but it was the most security I’d had and this was no time to go rogue.

I told him it was sorted.

“What do you mean?” He said in the same voice he said everything: his steady, educated but slightly uninformed voice that ensured he got the information he wanted.

“I mean I’m not having children. As much as I think they’re adorable and the idea of a squeezy toddler makes me smile and go gooey, it’s just not going to work. It’s too much responsibility and I’m still dealing with the fallout of being a grown up toddler myself.” He thanked me for doing part of his job for him, then out of interest I asked him how high the stakes were for a depressive having children. The figures weren’t good. That applies both in terms of producing a child who would have to face a life where the moving men drop into your brain, as well as the spectre of post-partum depression from my end. I didn’t want to end up in the news, demonised by social workers because I left my kids in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket.

By the way I adore kids. No that’s wrong. I love, love them. I love them for being interesting and creative people and fun. I’m a fairy godmother, an anarchist auntie and they’re not just cameo roles. I’ve played a huge part in the lives of my godchildren – yes I’ve changed nappies and dealt with school runs (the politics of the latter was far too much for me) as well as the fun stuff – and it’s been utterly fulfilling. It’s also been just enough, enabling me to enjoy my own inner child, who likes to play. I like the fact that a piece of cardboard can be a car and that when I’m with them I can be in the moment. Now in the advantage of my age (my new name for middle age) I don’t get questions, however I see the questions debated in articles from the UK and Australia where many people are old and alone.

“But aren’t you afraid of growing old alone?”

Ah now you’re talking future. In order to maintain non-panic in my life and give the impression of being the most resilient depressive in the world, I have a dirty secret: I live for the moment. Not the future. That’s too onerous. You see why I love the company of children? So the idea of having babies as some sort of insurance, a security blanket for old age, has never entered my head. It’s a strange notion in this era. Children go travelling and meet tall blonde men on beaches whom they follow to a foreign place. (I did) They study abroad. They work abroad. They become drug dealers and go to jail. They build lives that people could not have imagined 40, 30 even 20 years ago.

“It’s nice to have children around as you get old.”

What is old? Will I get old? I might die before then. I might be hit on the head by a coconut, struck by lightning or taken by aliens. Seriously I know so many people who have kids they never speak to. And others who have children they don’t like, where the feeling is mutual. I know one family where the only child joined a religious sect and was never heard of again. So this concept of being around, let alone kids being around, well it’s all a bit abstract, to me anyway. Word to the wise: If your reason for igniting your ovaries is to bring security in old age, I’d seriously rethink it.There are no guarantees they will be there or even bring you joy. Having said that, I do get a warm fuzzy feeling when I see generations together, but there’s no envy or self-pity. It’s the same feeling I’ve had when I see young children with their parents in the park. It makes me happy. A bit like watching Toy Story.

“Aren’t you scared of dying alone?”

The adage goes there are two moments in life when you are totally alone. Before you make a speech. And just before you die. Having just experienced the death of my friend Bob, his children were in his thoughts but as seizures and incontinence took over his body, he didn’t want them around. Some of us don’t get old. Happily, even with there are still many families where the children are around to provide comfort in old age or can quickly hop on a plane when needed. However, there will come a point, regardless of who is around, where we will all feel alone. From a personal point of view, I’ve lived my life feeling alone in a crowd of people I know, leaving parties after five minutes because I’ve felt disconnected. So the idea of being old alone doesn’t concern me as long as I have some friends who are still alive and most importantly good health. Because ironically, the thing that people value most as they grow older is independence. My mother who has not been sick a day in her life is 86 and not a day goes by when she doesn’t reclaim her independence. While she loves to see us and have us around, I know it’s that ability to run her own life that keeps her from being alone.

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