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AofA People – Wendy Klein – Poet, Psychotherapist


6 Minute Read

Widely published and winner of many prizes, 80-year-old Wendy Klein is a retired psychotherapist, born in New York and brought up in California. Since leaving the U.S. in 1964, she has lived in Sweden, France, Germany and England.

Her writing has been influenced by early family upheaval resulting from her mother’s death, her nomadic years as a young single mother and subsequent travel.

Despite dashing about between four daughters and fourteen grandchildren, she has published three collections: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013) from Cinnamon Press, and Mood Indigo (2016) from Oversteps Books. She is one of AofA’s favourite poets and we have republished some of her brilliantly taboo and lush poems. She was one of our poets at the AofA poetry evening at the Poetry Society in 2019.

What is your age?

80

Where do you live?

I live in Lindfield Rural, West Sussex.

What do you do?

I write poetry and emails and share care of my youngest grandchildren, 6 and 4.

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

I hate being old. I hate everything about it: the body changes, the reduced strength and energy, the way people treat me. 80 is the worst it has been so far.

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

Constipation, arthritis, widow’s hump, osteoporosis, anxiety, too many clothes I no longer wear, a garden way too big to manage, and four daughters who love me in different ways and constantly put me right. However, I do have a wonderful 3rd husband (together since 1979, married in 1983), who just about manages to put up with my worst grumpiness with love and a sense of humour.

What about sex?

Rare, but good when it happens. At our age and married this long, probably unusually good, judging from experience as a family and couples psychotherapist.

And relationships?

I have always found relationships difficult. As an only child who lost her mother as a result of an illegal abortion at 9 months old, I was brought up by my grieving maternal grandparents until I was 5 years old and my father remarried. I believe that only children are disadvantaged from the start in terms of forming relationships with their peers, and that was certainly the case for me. My father was an English teacher who hated his job, did it poorly, which meant we moved house every three years when he didn’t receive tenure. The battle to make friends began each time anew. I was always the odd one out, never felt accepted, etc. etc. It didn’t help that my grandparents expected me to grow up to be like my clever, kind mother, and I did not – felt a sense of being a constant disappointment – fight it to this day. Have a general mistrust of people in relationships despite many years of being in and out of therapy and being a jobbing therapist myself.

How free do you feel?

Not even sure what that means. Nice to have enough money and a few people with whom I can be relaxed and happy.

What are you proud of?

Having survived a terrible childhood, leaving the country of my birth with a two-year-old child and never going back there to live. Managing to be a single parent because parenting was bound to be difficult as I had received so little reliable parenting myself. I am certainly proud of my daughters, who have survived being mothered by me, and have good relationships in their lives.

What keeps you inspired?

Not sure I believe in inspiration. I get ideas from what is around me, what I am reading, people I engage with, and I write about them, and sometimes I’m pleased with what I’ve written, more often I’m not. I love sunsets, dogs, wine, gin, popcorn, rare steak (I know, I know, so un-green), etc. I think the one thing that keeps me going is being curious enough to wonder whether something interesting, even something enjoyable, might come up if I just hang on a little longer.

When are you happiest?

I am very suspicious of the word happy – rarely use it. I am at peace with myself mostly when I am alone with a good book, and if the sun is out, that’s good, too.

And where does your creativity go?

Mostly nowhere, but if it’s going, it goes into my poetry. I am failed actor, a failed dancer, but not quite a failed writer.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Not sure I have a philosophy of living – pretty basic survival. I am afflicted with a socialism of the heart, but I no longer believe in socialism as a viable way of living. I have lived collectively in two communities which have fallen apart. We are too selfish to achieve that ideal world I read about and admired when I first left the US and came to live first in Sweden, then in France and Germany. England seemed so civilised when I arrived here in 1971. And now, I am so saddened by what I see in front of me that I will never live to see a functioning left-wing Labour government. I guess I’m a disappointed idealist…

And dying?
I am not afraid of death, but I am worried about the process of dying. I support physician-assisted death. I have written a series of poems about a dear friend in California who availed herself of the California physician-assisted death plan when she was terminally ill and in horrible pain from a rare form of uterine cancer. After much surgery, chemo, etc., she was not prepared to accept palliative care, and I was with her 100% and would not want it myself. I think it is barbaric that we do not have medically assisted dying legalised in this country, so it’s always keep an overdose handy, my motto. Most of all, I fear losing my wits – I hope I know in time to take the tabs!

Are you still dreaming?
Sure, but mainly troubled dreams: bit of wish fulfilment and anxiety – nothing much fun.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
Goodness, what’s outrageous these days! Great sex and cannabis? All part of marital bliss.

 

DOO EN DAY (conversación de duende)

The hypothesis that the endogenous group of disorders would be relatively independent of prior life stress was

not confirmed.  Women who had lost a parent in infancy or early childhood were significantly more likely to suffer

from depression in later life.

(The Camberwell Collaborative Depression Study, 1988)

 

No tengo duende

I dont have duende

He perdido duende

I have lost my duende

He perido mi madre cuando tenía ochos meses

I lost my mother when I was eight months old

No me recuerdo de ella

I dont remember her

AYEEEEEEEEEEEE

El dolor the word for pain is masculine in Spanish

ayeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Tristeza the word for sadness is masculine or feminine in Spanish

ayeeeeeeeeeeeeee

La pena the word for sorrow is feminine in Spanish

Ayeeeeeeeeeeeee

El Duende (pronounced Doo En Day) the word for ghost or spirit is masculine in Spanish

Hacer la conexión Make the connection

I cannot have it; it is not mine to have

AYEEEEEEEEEEEE

No tengo duende

Wendy Klein

June 2022

 

AofA People: Janet Kelly – Writer


7 Minute Read

Janet Kelly, 61, is a writer and started writing novels in her 50s. She has four published books as well as a number of scripts in development. She tells us how much she’s enjoying her life in her early sixties. And answers our Q&A in the way we love with long and meandering answers.

Where do you live?

Brighton

What do you do?

Writer

How do you feel about being this age?

I am thoroughly enjoying being this age, never having really thought I’d make it this far. I’m still in awe of the fact I am in my sixties and having a good time. It’s like joining a secret club where the admission fee is age and experience. There are the occasional lapses of memory and physical limitations – I have been aiming to run a half marathon but my knees gave up – but these are probably more down to an excessive lifestyle than my years on this planet.

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

The confidence to be who I am and grow into myself without worrying what other people think. For example, I grew my hair out during lockdown and am now completely grey, and loving it – particularly after years of constant trips to the hairdressers to get the roots coloured. I’m embracing the opportunity to be as natural as possible.

I do have a constant nagging feeling that time is very short but I was born with a sense of urgency so I think older age has just enhanced my need to go and do things.

I do also feel a sense of wisdom about life and people. We’re all experiencing the world in different ways and tolerance is so important (not that I always have it!). My view isn’t anyone else’s view and so I think age has helped me try and understand we are all different and need to celebrate that fact – every single person has something to offer.

What about sex?

What about it?  Highly overrated in many ways and a mechanic of nature to get us to reproduce. Once the hormones are out of the way and we can see it as a pleasure to be taken as and when, rather than an overriding drive to find a mate, it can become a pleasure amongst many other pleasures rather than the bee all and end-all.  True intimacy can come from great friendship, hugs, empathy, and connection. It can include sex but doesn’t have to.

And relationships?

I treasure my good friends and look forward to living a long life with all of them so we can continue to look backwards as well as forwards. As I’ve got older, I recognise that no one person can fulfil any emotional need, this comes from personal growth and connection with a range of different types of people. Romantic relationships aren’t as important, probably for the same reasons already mentioned – once that need to reproduce is removed from the biological psyche the options for finding fulfilment expand exponentially.  Having said that I am far more tolerant in my relationship with my partner than I might have been 20 years ago and enjoy the small levels of companionship and partnership rather than the big gestures.

How free do you feel?

I am very lucky to feel free in most ways, partly because of the accident of birth and living in the UK with all it has to offer – not least its amazing language and diversity – but also because things that used to worry me no longer keep me awake. We’re here for a very short time and all of us, very likely, will be dead in 100 years. This is a sobering thought and makes me look at all those who are striving for great wealth and power with pity. The real secret to success is the ability to enjoy the life we have at whatever level we experience it.

What are you proud of?

Many things but mainly my children and particularly my grandson – it is a different relationship to being a parent. On a personal level, I am proud of overcoming adversity and difficulties and finding the ability to keep reinventing myself. I started writing novels in my 50s and have four published books – one for children – and a number of scripts that I have written since turning 60 that are in development. I am now following a career that I should have started in my 20s had I not been influenced by a need to chase the dollar.

What keeps you inspired?

As an eternal optimist, I think it is the fact that my next ‘big project’ is around the corner and that there are limitless opportunities to become involved with things I love.  I enjoy connecting with creative people who have energy and drive, and who make things happen. I am inspired to be part of that.

When are you happiest?

Walking my dogs on the seafront or meeting friends for coffee and talking about what we will be doing in our older age. I live near the sea and it always calms my mind and reminds me that we are all in this together. The sea has always been there and always will be – while people come and go.  I love doing new things – such as taking my husband for a spitfire flight experience, which was just awesome, all that history and incredible engineering.

I also love gardening and get very excited when new shoots arrive in the spring or I get to pick some homegrown vegetables. Seeing a new runner bean or courgette is like Christmas!  My chickens also make me happy as they are very much underestimated.

Where does your creativity go?

I have really started to enjoy my creativity in recent years, starting with my writing and then moving into art and music. I started up the Saltdean Jazz Band where I live which is aimed at amateur musicians who might not be able to play anywhere else as they are either rusty, don’t know enough about music or lack confidence. I play the saxophone and finally have a place to develop my musical creativity, getting more involved with solo improvisation which I find exceptionally hard but exhilarating. More recently I have been undertaking art classes and put myself forward to have my body painted by an artist as part of a campaign to get women to love the bits they hate.

Rather than hide my blobby tummy and cellulite I think it is time I celebrated the fact it is all a result of my life experiences and need to be recognised. Not only that, my body works – it does its jobs – and I’ve been very rude to it over the years. It’s time to apologise to it for being the workhorse it has been and say thank you. Without it, I’d be nothing.

What is your philosophy of living?

Do the best you can with the resources you have. You won’t always get it right but somewhere along the way there will be nuggets of gold that make the journey more than worthwhile. I get up every day looking forward to something – whether it is collecting eggs from the chickens or preparing for a walk, a holiday or a major work project. Time shouldn’t be wasted – and by that, I don’t mean we can’t sit and dream for hours on end because that is not a waste!

And dying?

It happens. For some, it happens far too early, particularly for those left behind. For some, it happens in horrendous circumstances and for others, it is just the last breath, the full stop.  I hope my end falls into the latter but I’m aware we have no idea of what might be meant for us. So don’t waste time worrying about the next stage. It will come when it’s ready.

Are you still dreaming?

Without my dreams, I’d have achieved nothing. I spend time before I go to sleep each night dreaming of what might be.  Some dreams are possible, others a little more unrealistic. Although I’m not one to ever say ‘never’.

What is a recent outrageous action of yours?

I got so drunk on my 61st birthday that I fell over, cut my head badly, and was taken to hospital in a pizza van. I still have the scar which I wear with a kind of pride that the consequences weren’t much worse. I was more upset that we lost my birthday cake. We think the seagulls ate it.

How I Became a Holy Woman in my own First Novel at 60


7 Minute Read

My father had just died of hospital-acquired Covid, my mother was in the depths of grief and clearly further developed in her dementia than I had realised. Towards the end of a working lifetime of being bullied and/or taken for granted, interspersed by failed attempts at self-employment, I felt I had run out of steam. I wondered if I could re-invent myself?

Losing my father and attempting to care for my mother had put me back in touch with childhood trauma in a most unwelcome way. I was 60, the age at which, when my career began, I could have expected to retire. The idea of working beyond 60 had never upset me.  Yet suddenly I felt utterly spent, although not ready to say, ‘I’m retired’ if anyone asked, ‘What do you do?’

I didn’t have to wait long for my answer to the re-invention question. Planning an outing with some ex-school friends, one of them suggested going to Boscobel House in Shropshire. All I knew about the place was that King Charles 2nd had hidden in an oak tree there after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, to save himself from execution by Cromwell’s Parliamentarian troops. ‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘it will be a day out, and good to see my friends again’. Little did I know what was waiting for me.  Or, should I say, who?

As we entered the house, a guide was relating how Charles, aged 21, recognised by Royalists as Prince of Wales in England, Ireland and Wales, and King without power in Scotland, had arrived at Boscobel in the early hours of Saturday 6th September 1651. He was soaking wet, cold, hungry, exhausted and very footsore. ‘I expect Charles would have rather stayed by the fire all day instead of hiding in the oak tree,’ he said. Something inside me lit up. ‘What if I’d been here then? I could have taken care of him!’ I thought. That feeling grew stronger and stronger as we went around the house. At one point it was so powerful that I dissociated for a few minutes, swept up in my fantasy of looking after Charles.

For a fortnight afterwards, I barely slept. I read everything I could find about Charles’ rescue and eventual escape from England after six weeks as a fugitive. Source books fell off library shelves into my hands, and a friend to whom I mentioned my newfound passion gave me Georgette Heyer’s novel Royal Escape which he had just finished reading. Simultaneously, I started writing my creative narrative, blending historical events and characters with a fictional account by an imagined woman who cared for Charles.

The story poured out of me so naturally and so fast that it felt more like remembering than imagining. Sitting at my laptop one day, I saw the words ‘Healing is my sacred calling’ appear on the screen. ‘Who wrote that?’ I wondered, before quickly understanding that these words were the key to my story. Dame Sarah, my fictional alter-ego, was a herbalist. Charles needed medicinal interventions for his traumatised mind and body. This revelation also gave me a great plot twist. Sarah was adamant from the start that she was a holy woman.

The house to which Charles was first escorted from Worcester was a manor house called White Ladies, built among the ruins of a convent. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries monastic communities were suppressed, but some men and women still gave their lives to God. Sarah was one such, serving her community with her healing knowledge and practice. But herbalism also has roots in witchcraft, and during the Civil War, the ferment of Republicanism versus Royalism, and Puritanism versus Catholicism (Roman and Anglican) provided ideal conditions for anyone who practised healing to be suspected of witchcraft. Puritan rule had done away with bishops who had previously issued licenses to midwives and healers, so if the slightest thing went wrong these practitioners were prey to accusations of being witches. And women like Sarah, highly intelligent and of independent means, were threats to the patriarchy in such dangerous times.

What started as a private writing exercise soon burgeoned into a 15.000 word novelette, and it didn’t stop there! I wrote a preface setting the story in the social history of herbalism. Then friends began asking to read it. I’m normally extremely private about my writing, but I decided to share it. Six trusted friends who are writers and/or academics read it, and all said, ‘This needs to be published!’ My republican friends – whom I had expected to say it was a pity the monarchy was ever restored – told me instead that they had lived every moment of the story and they also picked up intuitively on the subliminal message I’d woven in about the relevance of Charles’ rescue to today’s emergencies of wars, inequities and the cost-of-living crisis forcing so many people onto the kindness of strangers.

So, one damp January afternoon I began an internet search for a publisher. As a first-time novelist, I knew there was no chance of being accepted by a traditional publishing house, so self-publishing was the only way forward. Nevertheless, I was astonished and elated when the first company I approached was very keen to take on my book and had a lead editor whose favourite genre is historical fiction. And, just in time for Oak Apple Day on 29th May, the anniversary of Charles’ birthday and coronation, my book is published and selling!

That visit to Boscobel House was a truly life changing experience. Not only did it give me a fabulous structure on which to write my first book of fiction; it taught me to really open up to a hugely powerful benevolent force. Many people might call it The Universe. I am an Anglo-Catholic Christian. I had an overwhelming sense of vocation to help and to care when I was a child, but have struggled with belief in adulthood. This recent experience has felt like a massive blessing and has rekindled my faith.

It has put me back in touch with happy times in my childhood when I felt spiritually at one with Nature. My love of gardening has a new focus in planting an apothecary garden. I’m applying to study a foundation course in Medicinal Herbalism, and guess what: the only college in the country which offers this course is just 16 miles from my home. Dame Sarah is a thinly veiled version of the person I would most like to be, and now I feel her guiding and shaping me to become more like her.

I even have a plan after studying to offer Living History events at which Dame Sarah teaches herbal identification and demonstrates medicinal plant remedies. But perhaps most of all, I have been taught to open myself to signs and wonders all around us which strengthen, support and sustain us if we observe and listen carefully. Emmylou Harris says that women can be just as reproductive, if not more so, after the menopause than before it, if we’re paying attention; and the Dalai Lama has said that spiritually empowered women will change the world for better. I have always believed in those ideas and am more ready than ever to embrace what is called sweet power and be part of a beneficial life force thrumming with nurture, love and compassion for the whole world.

Hilary Wellington (on social media as Ginny Rawson)

Nottinghamshire, May 2022

My book A King’s Sanctuary can be bought at

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kings-Sanctuary-Hilary-Wellington/dp/1915338212/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3GTFL2XLL3S3N&keywords=a+kings+sanctuary&qid=1653169752&sprefix=A+King%27s+%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-1

or contact me at hjwellington@icloud.com for direct sales

Over 50, Want to Set up Your Own Business – Startup School for Seniors is for You


1 Minute Read

When I was a much younger woman, sometime in my early twenties, I recall my mother telling me that the ideal job for a woman who wanted children was to be a teacher. She spoke as a teacher herself, having taught Home Economics in an American High School when I grew up before moving into marketing in my teenage years. ‘Teaching,’ she said, ‘allows you to do a job that fits alongside childcare and enables you to take holidays simultaneously as school-age children. It’s perfect if you’re planning to be a mother.’

Frankly, I could not imagine a less desirable job. Working with children sounded like my idea of hell. All that paperwork and standing on one’s feet in front of a classroom. No, thank you. I have very few pleasant memories of my school days, and my interest in academia ended as soon as I completed university. I couldn’t wait to put my classroom days behind me and work, preferably in a glamorous job such as TV or Film, which I did for nearly a decade. Although I quickly discovered that it was not glamorous but tedious, with many hours spent waiting around for lights to get rigged, make-up to be applied, and crews assembled.

Now, thirty-five years later, I’m a teacher of sorts, and I love it. However, I suspect anyone on the course, Startup School for Seniors, I co-run with my colleague Mark Elliott, would say that neither of us is reminiscent of the people you would encounter in most schools or colleges. Firstly, we’re the same age as our students. There’s no classroom hierarchy of us versus them. I still have no academic qualifications, but I’ve earned my stripes, having started multiple businesses with varying degrees of success. What I ‘teach’ comes from experience and the desire to ensure that our students progress through our eight-week programme with the confidence and skills to understand how to create a successful business. Mostly, I’m keen to make the learning fun and effective.

Whether you want to look at it as a positive or a negative depends on your point of view, but had it not been for the pandemic, there’s every chance Startup School would not exist. In December 2019, I held down multiple jobs, including hosting events at Soho House on behalf of Advantages of Age, working for a co-working space in Croydon on events and PR, and singing blues in pubs and clubs. I’d run a version of Startup School called the Advantages of Age Business Academy a couple of years earlier with Yvonne Fuchs. We found funders had limited interest in supporting it as people over 50 didn’t appear to be particularly needy and participants wouldn’t pay for it. Rose and I were ticking along with Advantages of Age, hosting the occasional event or party, moderating the growing Facebook group and maintaining the website.

By March 2020, nearly all my work had dried up, as did many others that I knew of a similar age. Within three months, three quarters of my income had completely evaporated. However, unlike my peers, I had a lifetime’s worth of experience of starting again or starting over. Having a knack for discovering routes to money, I found a fund seeking to help social enterprises like Advantages of Age move their work online. I filled in a short application and, within three months, it provided us with a grant enabling the creation of the eLearning programme Startup School for Seniors. Mark Elliott joined me, we’d met a year earlier at a dinner party where we were the oldest attendees and bonded over our interest in supporting older people with the skills to set up their businesses.

Over three months, we worked day and night, creating videos about ideation, customer discovery, branding and marketing, and the legal aspects of running a business. I interviewed lots of people over 50 who had set up both large and small enterprises for themselves. Paul, a recently retired policeman turned video editor, offered to help edit the content and flung himself into the project, not quite anticipating the enormous amount of material we would be producing in a short time! Determined to make the course as accessible as possible – we captioned and transcribed everything we created – which contributed to the vast workload. In hindsight, it was a monumental task.

The first course launched in October 2020 with over 50 students, and by the end of the eight weeks, we knew we were onto something special as the glowing testimonials from our first guinea pigs flooded in. We both broke down in tears from exhaustion and pride at what we had achieved during the cohort’s final session.

We are now on our eighth and most significant size group of Startup School for Seniors, having won funding from multiple local authorities and grants from trusts and foundations who now recognize the need to support older people into self-employment. Recently we were shortlisted for a People’s Choice Award from Work for Tomorrow and the West London Business Awards. We’ve had inquiries from people in the U.S., Italy, and Norway who want to attend the programme or work with us. I’m most proud that we now have two part-time staff, one a former Startup School student and another who is a member of the Advantages of Age Facebook group. We’re our own best advertisement for the programme, having only got going roughly at the same time as we delivered our first programme. We’re keen to stress to anyone who comes on the course; we’re learning as we go along.

Entering ‘teaching’ in later life may not have been many benefits when looking after my children, who flew the nest five years ago, but it has its upsides. Last winter, due to the course being remote, I was able to escape to a warmer climate and carry on delivering the course from Las Palmas, Gran Canaries. It’s a joy watching my peers learn how to become financially self-sufficient doing something they enjoy. Like all the best jobs, it rarely feels like work, as Mark and I get so much from meeting and working with people for whom we can make a genuine difference to their lives.

If you have an idea, you’d like to turn into a business, or too many ideas with no clue which one to choose or an existing business that isn’t making enough money, come and join an upcoming cohort. We run the programme throughout the year and have sponsored places available for people who fit our funder’s criteria. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain!

We run courses throughout the year. Sign up here to find out more:

 

https://startupschoolforseniors.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funky Morrissing in London – meet Syd Pochin


4 Minute Read

‘The one thing that gets me is, you just get six guys and a musician, and you’ve got a show. It all comes together ‘

Syd Pochin and I are having a pint in a Battersea pub where House music is playing in the background. It doesn’t seem as far away from the sound world of Cornish Billy or The Worcester Hornpipe as you might think.

‘When I’m dancing, I’m thinking this is tradition, this goes way back to a bygone age when there were no electronics. And no boxed sets on the couch.’ Whereupon Syd deftly traces the Rabelasian history of Morris Dancing as the resident musician of the Westminster Chapter. The stipendiary gig, he tells me, goes back to Henry VII bringing in an artisanal take on things to lively up the Galliards and Lavoltas in the court cloister. A bit later, Will Kemp was doing Morris moves instantly recognisable to country people all the way from London to Norwich.

Dance was a bush telegraph of allusion and social mobility like folk song tweaked visually and musically cross-country and quite possibly across continents. ’This is how we do it’ as youngers chant at Raves. If you’ve ever shaken a leg at a wedding reception or a corporate do, or indeed ventured out with a bit of A of A–style Flamboyance, it seems we’ve actually being Morrissing without noticing it. Syd got me wondering, as the house soundtrack ran on, about Ceroc, Capoeira and The Four Tops among other things.

These days Westminster Morris is itself the host of a Day of Dance in Trafalgar Square and radial hostelries in W1 which this year falls on May 12th. For reasons best known to itself, Westminster Council has just given them the morning, around noon, thus far. Although the Morris tradition is maintained and respected in the new world of dance diversity – Bhangra, Lindyhop, you name it – by the likes of Cecil Sharpe House for instance, the repository of many of the tunes in Syd’s cheery repertoire – you hopefully will be lucky enough to come across him on one of TFL’s busking pitches up West as I was recently.

Syd’s fascination with Morris began when he left the Wirral for a ten-year stint in Systems Consultancy with KPMG in Hong Kong. ‘I got involved with the Round Table and we used to put on an Ox Roast every year – we came across the Honk Kong Morris, about 15 guys from Ove Arup and other Anglo- Chinese outfits.’  One wonders how the present administration in Hong Kong would respond – given the Chinese urban habit of Tai-Chi in the morning.

Morris, as a team game, appears the soul of joshing democracy.  The ‘corners 1 and 6, 2 and 5 dance together, corners and middles rotate as does the leader, then the middles 3 and 4. Then everyone dances together’. Tempo is moderated democratically over a swift half.  Westminsters’ bush telegraph moderates to the Cotswolds’, while across the country, according to your locality, you might find ‘swords’ (actually used, Syd explains, to brush down pit ponies while the miners danced in lieu of showering facilities), handkerchiefs (fluttering Moorishly to waft away evil spirits) or clogs (factory girls square bashing to the looms’ groove to keep warm). Even, in Syd’s Liverpool days Pom-Poms, where female troupes with melting-pot influences from Tiller Girling to The Nolans and Cheerleading – practised enthusiastically under the handed-down Morrissian aegis. These days, Open Morris welcomes women and all the colours of the terpsichorean rainbow.

Syd’s first encounter with the musical kinship of Morrissing harks back to the Scouseward pub residency of The Spinners, whom you might remember as beacons of Scouse diversity on night-time TV in the seventies – you had to arrive early to get a seat. He has in turn gravitated to a Wednesday night residency at the Brewhouse in Islington, near Highbury Tube, which hosts all manner of guests and where taking the floor is a distinct possibility post-hot-desking or mid-prandial. Taking things a step further, Syd says newcomers are very welcome to give Morrissing a go when the Westminster team practices on Wednesday nights at St John’s Hall, Hyde Park Crescent, Tyburnia – not far from the wonderfully communitarian Funky Nuns of that ilk in fact. Your school day memory of folk dancing might be a tad stiff and curricular, but happens upon Syd busking, and his colleagues shaking a leg as the weather warms and I challenge you not to feel a spring in your step. I do. And find yourself warmly encouraged – nay instinctively emboldened to join the dance.

More information at www.westminstermorris.org

The Westminster Morris Men on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY6ns2hnyfM-iHjXVz2QmWA

www.islingtonfolkclub.co.uk   at The Brewhouse on 21st April then every Thursday from May

Andy’s radio conversation with Syd is at

https://www.mixcloud.com/andy-bungay/saturday-4th-april-ft-syd-pochin-westminster-morris/

How I Finally Made Music In The Countryside


6 Minute Read

I didn’t notice how fast my pace of life was until I jumped off the ‘hamster wheel’ and swapped the hustle and bustle of city life for the gentler flow of life in the country.

Having worked in Manchester city centre from the age of 18, and with regular client visits to London, the relentless pace of city life seemed ‘normal’ to me. I certainly never considered any alternative way of living. Many years later, however, having now retired from business and fully immersed myself in country life, I’m amazed at how different my outlook is; and how fulfilling rural life has proven to be.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, the seeds of change had been planted many years earlier, way before I actively decided to make a change. This is how it all came about…

I spent ten years as an insurance broker in my 20s. I would play keyboards in bands and write and record songs in my spare time. It got to the stage where I found myself having meetings with record companies to make a deal. I would give them demo cassette tapes of my songs, but the ‘big deal’ was ever-elusive. Then, out of the blue, I discovered that a major record label (one of the ones I had given a demo tape to) had ripped off the catchy part of my song and used it as the basis for that year’s UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest!

This revelation led to a crazy few days of TV and radio attention, during which I did over 20 interviews, putting forward my side of the story. As shocked as I was at this turn of events, it nonetheless led to the realisation that, while I had enjoyed my time in insurance, I now wanted to move away from that line of work and follow my passion for music.

I knew that the music industry was very fickle, but my desire to step into the unknown was strong. Anticipating that it might take me a few years to build up an income through composing jingles or writing film soundtracks, I decided to teach myself how to build websites to earn some money while I waited for the music to take off. The internet was in its infancy, and I liked the freedom of being able to work from any location.

As the web design work got busier, the music took a back seat. I took on some employees, and, over time, the business grew into a digital marketing agency. After joining forces with another entrepreneur, he and I embraced some exciting business opportunities, which led to us establishing a sizeable team across several countries. The excitement of building the business meant that, at first, I didn’t mind putting my music on hold. I vastly underestimated, however, just how long my music would be on hold! The pace of change in the digital marketing world grew ever faster and, whilst the business was profitable, I started to feel as if I was on a ‘hamster wheel’, running faster every year but without moving forward. I was used to overcoming business challenges as they arose, but when two major business complications and a divorce (mine!) all came along at the same time, the time felt ripe for me to make a radical change. I realised I no longer wanted to spend my energy on business. Instead, I wanted to return to my passion for music. As before, when I left the insurance industry, I didn’t know exactly what aspect of music I wanted to focus on or how I might make a living from it. What I did know, though, was that I would have to free up my time if I were to find the answers.

The first step was to change my mindset. I ‘retired’ from business and wound down my digital marketing responsibilities. The next step was to move somewhere quiet, with a low cost of living, so that I could relax and give rein to my creativity. I wanted to explore new ideas without feeling pressure to return to business.

A few years earlier, I had bought a derelict thatched cottage on impulse (which is another story…!). This proved to be the ideal place to start my new adventure. I set about learning everything I could about renovating old buildings, and I began the mammoth job of converting the house and barn into a habitable home. The physical labour involved in renovating the cottage was hard, but it was also incredibly energising. It proved to be the perfect antidote to the business world.

Attending music events in the surrounding area, I met many locals and quickly made new friends. This led to many opportunities to explore my creativity whilst also contributing to the community. I learnt to sing; I recorded and produced music albums; I volunteered at schools and charities for the disabled community and organised community music events. I realised, through these activities, that helping others learn to play the piano was where my main passion lay. I spent time developing a new method of learning piano designed to remove the barriers presented by traditional methods.  My method removes the need to read traditional notation to play, which facilitates incredibly rapid progress. I named my piano tuition method ‘DecPlay’, and was awarded a patent.

I’m very fortunate to have high-speed internet at the cottage, which has greatly helped develop my piano tuition method into an online course (DecPlay.com). This course is specifically designed to make learning piano easy in later life. This is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. I’m especially gratified when I receive feedback from students telling me how DecPlay has changed their lives. It’s heartening to encounter people who, having struggled to learn piano for years, find they can now start playing songs within days and to see people aged 50 and over (even into their 80s and 90s) play for the first time.

I’m convinced that the headspace I was able to find in the countryside was pivotal in developing my creative ideas into a finished product, and the community groups I joined locally inspired me to extend the course to include online community events (using Zoom and Facebook). Combining the course with online community events has proved highly effective, with DecPlay achieving the highest rating on TrustPilot of any piano course (96% of students gave us the maximum 5 stars); and has also been featured on the BBC.

It’s funny to reflect that I’ve been able to impact a greater number of people since coming to the countryside than I ever did when I lived and worked in the city – as evidenced by the DecPlay.com course currently having over 3,000 students in 73 countries!

When I go to the city, I have a spring in my step as I’m not rushing to an office – I’m going to the theatre!

AofA People: Robin Thomson – Sculptor and School Technician


8 Minute Read

Robin Thomson, 66, is a marvellous gentleman – he’s also a sculptor and a school technician. I met Robin on the plane to Morocco in 1985. He re-appeared at the performance of Dance Me To Death in Kensal Green Cemetery. Here he kindly answers AofA’s questions in a fulsome way.

What is your age? 

66 last time I counted

Where do you live?

Raynes Park, West Wimbledon

What do you do?

I’m a Sculptor and School Technician in Design Technology

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

Very cool. I’m in good health and financially secure, I have many lovely and loyal friends, a close-knit band of siblings and a clear conscience. I feel lucky to be in good health – lucky firstly in the lottery of genes, and grateful to have been brought up with a positive attitude to health. My parents were vegetarian and didn’t taste meat until age 16. Except for a spell (18 – 30) when I sampled everything from black pudding to ostrich, I’ve stuck to a vegetarian diet, though since my mid 50’s I’ve included fish and seafood. I’ve always been active – my workshop has been my gymnasium, and gardening and walking have kept me fit.

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

My own home, a job that I LOVE, happy memories and brilliant experiences enough to fuel reminiscences for years to come, a more complete understanding and outlook on life, and a collection of obsolete technology.

What about sex?

It’s a wonderful thing but, for me, it seems to have been a complication to relationships that I am happy I no longer need to worry about.

And relationships?

Intense relationships never seem to work for me long term. I was married for three years after living with a girlfriend for six. We divorced in 2000. We have no kids but we keep in touch and care for each other. I had one partner since then, 15 years younger than me. We were together for 3 years.

I have many lovely friends, stimulating, fascinating and supportive, and I make new ones from time to time. A few are very special to me and I know it’s a mutual feeling. My close friends range in age from 10 years senior to 47 years junior.

How free do you feel?

With no dependents or partner, no “ties”, I’m used to immense freedom about what I do and when. But I’m inclined to get sucked into projects, and sometimes feel enslaved by them. Usually, it’s a cathartic experience and no less rewarding for that. These can be of my own making – like the total refurbishment of my own bathroom I took on a few years ago or starting a sculpture work in my studio that started small but has grown both in scale and time input to become a magnum opus. They can also be work-related, like my commitment to a Summer School this year – there was only a week’s paid work but the planning and preparation dominated four weeks of my Summer break. Did I mention that I LOVE my job? If I didn’t have that I’d feel free to up sticks and leave the mothership that is London, though I wouldn’t want to be too far from friends and family.

What are you proud of?

My work; my achievements in the pursuit of excellence!

Apart from some exceptional bespoke furniture that I produced as a designer/maker between 1985 and 2002, I’m proud of my contributions to Education in my second career, maybe I’m more proud there because the benefits to the next generation will outlive me and anything physical I’ve produced.

Working in an Inner London Secondary school since 2011, I’ve enjoyed the interplay of support and inspiration I’ve shared with students aged 11-18. One annual seasonal highlight has been a Drama production, usually a musical. On my part the input was both technical and artistic, designing set and making props and scenery. I know that my designs and products took productions to another level from the audience perspective, but I always felt I was putting my best efforts into supporting the latent talent of the young performers, giving them a professional setting to match their aspirations.

I also designed and planned the construction of a ‘model’ Saturn Five rocket for a Science day. The finished article was 30’ long, 1-metre diameter and hung in an atrium space until Xmas, when it acquired Santa as a jockey, wearing a mask with an uncanny resemblance to our Headteacher.

What keeps you inspired?

The expressions of joy that come naturally to the young; they shriek, sing, dance and, often literally, embrace and celebrate racial, gender and so many other differences (replacing the exclusion, sexism, division and bigotry that seemed the norm in my youth).

The expressions of surprise on the faces of students seeing the results of some practical skill or technique I have taught them.

Seeing young people gaining confidence and strength, through their formative years.

Meeting former students now “comfortable in their own skin” and succeeding in the wider world.

When are you happiest?

Sensory phenomenon bring delight of course; music, dance, art, the natural world all bring pleasure, but I’m happiest in a creative mode. I’m in a “comfort zone” when working on something, refining a surface or a form, or arranging parts in a pleasing composition. When something I’ve worked on succeeds, that’s when it becomes happiness; getting feedback in the form of acknowledgement or praise, or seeing the delight and wonder it might bring someone else.

And where does your creativity go?

In my day job, I have lots of opportunities for creativity, from arranging a spreadsheet so that it’s easy to read and identify key data, to creating displays, props or scenery. Sometimes, without being asked, I’ve produced a display item destined to be seen by the whole school.

In the run-up to Halloween one year, I led students in assembling together a few redundant dome tents to make a sphere. We then taped big bags together and stuffed them full of crumpled newspaper to make huge sausages that were draped top to bottom, and tied around the tent-dome. I then stitched fabrics – anything orange or tan in colour – together, to clothe the whole thing, which was then hoisted high into the atrium.

It was at this point that the Headteacher in passing said “Robin, would you mind telling me what this is supposed to be – just in case anyone asks?”

When I had added a gaping gap-toothed grin and sunken eyes, illuminated from within, it became obvious it was a giant pumpkin-head – well most people got it after they were told what they were looking at!

What’s your philosophy of living?

A fellow gardener once said his philosophy was “Leave your little patch in better heart than you found it” I can’t top that.

And dying?

My dad died when I was a wilful and rebellious teenager. He and I had been going through a difficult patch – perhaps the tension was heightened for him as he had suffered a “warning” heart attack. So, I was stunned when he died during surgery. I’m sure that, today, a 16-year-old would be offered bereavement counselling. As it was, a couple of years passed before I grieved his passing. I think I have had an enhanced sense of mortality as a consequence, often contemplating the natural cycle of life and death, ruminating on how I would be affected by the deaths of others, and I think this helped prepare me for my mum’s death in 2010. As to my own demise… I’m not expecting an “awfully big adventure” – I think that when we’re gone, we’re gone, but my main concern will be for others to know that I was happy with my time on Earth.

Are you still dreaming?

I love this question – it should be song lyric! If you’re asking about the unconscious at play while we sleep – yes, I love my dreams and their constant ability to surprise me!

If you’re asking about ambitions – I suppose I would like to see myself playing some role in the transformation that has to happen if life on Earth is to be anything more than a blip in geological time.
I think my role may be in encouraging urban young (and old) to make an emotional connection with the natural world. The joy that that could deliver might compensate for the hardship that I think must be entailed in letting go of fossil fuels, of failure to process waste in a circular economy, of casual materialism. Maybe my dream is now that we stop dreaming and wake up!

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

The assumption that I must have done something outrageous recently – how very dare you?!

I’ve shared my surprise at this question with a few friends and colleagues. Their response has been more along the lines of “Which to choose??”

Would it be the giant cardboard bicycle decorated with colourful butterflies, caterpillars, flowers and seeds, now hanging in the atrium at The Elmgreen School?

– or could it be that incident when the Punk Rock Goblin invaded the stage at the end of the school production of “We Will Rock You!” snatched the tribute bouquet from the Headteacher and threw it into the audience?

– or was it the theft of whole branches full of ripe cherries that somehow fell from a neighbour’s tree into the yard at Parade Mews Art Studios and was shared by fellow artists and potters last Summer?

– or would it be the mysterious arson attack on the isolationist allotment neighbours’ fence? Oh, strike that last one, it hasn’t happened yet!

Living in London during Lockdown – Hanja Kochansky


1 Minute Read

Eighty-three-year-old Hanja Kochansky is living alone and on lockdown in London. Everyone over the age of 70 has been asked to self-isolate for twelve weeks. But what does that mean exactly? Advantages of Age asked Hanja to tell us what her days are like. And what resources she has.

The word isolated comes from the Latin insula, which means island. And here I am on a desert island in the centre of a densely populated and noiseless city.

As soon as I wake up and turn on my radio, I’m bombarded by terrifying news and a wave of sadness washes over me. Who could have ever imagined that the plague would invade our world? How long will this horror last? Then, I remind myself to take it one day at the time. I tell myself that I am on the retreat I’ve always wanted to take but never did and now it’s been imposed on me.

After a glass of hot water, I go to my computer. Facebook and the Guardian keep my interest up for quite a while. I have a coffee and eat a too large amount of my Digestive Thins before I take a shower.

My daughter WhatsApps me from Long Island. She notices my wet hair and says, ‘I see you’ve had a shower, Mum’. ‘Of course. Why wouldn’t I?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know. I thought maybe you wouldn’t bother, given you’re not going out.’ ‘Of course, I bother. But anyway, I do go out. I’m allowed to do shopping.’ We chat about how awful Trump is, about how we are coping and how is it with the kids at home now. There’s going to be no anticipated graduation for my granddaughter. I was going to go for that in June. All plans are on hold.

I do my exercises. Mostly tai chi and chi kung which I follow on YouTube. On Tuesdays and Fridays, I do a proper class with my tai chi teacher on ZOOM. ZOOM is a marvel.

Given the lovely weather, I go down to my itsy bitsy garden and plant violets and poppies. Poppies remind me of my childhood summers on the Dalmatian coast.

I sing You Belong to Me when I wash my hands. See the pyramids along the Nile, watch the sun-rise on a tropic isle . . .

Avocado on toast is a perfect lunch. Amazon has run out of the organic apple juice I normally have- so I make lemonade with the lemons I got with my last order from Farmdrop. I can get just about anything from them. Organic food, household goods and what-have-you, but I prefer to take a saunter to my well-stocked Waitrose at the Angel in Islington. After all the rain I need to stretch my legs now on these sunny days. I must walk or my legs will lose muscle. On the way, I walk through a park and hug a tree.

My son skypes from Siena, where he is housebound with his wife and two small children. ‘You must not leave the house at all, Ma.’ He warns me. ‘I have friends in London and they can bring you anything you need.’ ‘Thanks, Kas, but I absolutely need to go out.’ ‘If you get sick, Ma, I won’t be able to come and look after you.’ ‘Don’t worry Kas, I don’t think, that after all I’ve gone through in my life, it’s in my karma that I should die here, alone like a dog.’ ‘Oh, I wish you’d stay at home, Ma.’ My worried son insists.

A friend once told me how she’d always felt safe when her husband and two children were all at home in the evening, and nothing bad could happen to them. Only, one night her husband had a heart attack and died. So much for feeling safe at home.

An often-repeated platitude is, ‘We are all in this together’. No, we are not, mate. Some are on luxury yachts, others on ships, boats, overcrowded ferries and dinghies. And some are wading through treacherous seas.

My large sitting-room bay window overlooks a lawn. I watch squirrels scamper as pigeons and magpies peck for food on the green grass, while at the same time, keeping an eye on the self-confident, stalking cats who belong to some of my neighbours whose much anticipated, twice-weekly Bingo in our communal room, is now prohibited. The fox no longer comes in the evenings. I miss her – she kept me in touch with the foxy me.

How are junkies coping without their fix? How are prostitutes surviving without their tricks? I think about the rough sleepers and the old age homes where older people are dying alone. I think about what will happen to the refugees in overcrowded camps when the assassin virus finds them. How terrifying it must be for them. I’m so sad about Italy, il Bel Paese – the beautiful country. Something has shifted. The earth has struck back.

I am, at all times, grateful for my blessed life, with enough money to get by as I reflect on the poverty which will get even worse and financial anxiety will see a flurry of mental illness. As though there isn’t enough of it already. Happy to be on my own, my heart goes out to the overcrowded families who have to learn, or not, to put up with each other day and night. I fear there will be a lot of physically abused women in these tough times. And children.

And what about the thousands on cruise-liners not allowed to dock? Or the ones stuck in other countries who are not able to come home? What will happen to them?

The virus is the revolution. More than a million heroic people have signed up to help the NHS! I was gutted when I found out the dolphin in the Venice canal was an Instagram joke, but the sky is now visible in China, rivers and seas are cleaner, there has been a significant drop in pollution, ozone levels are up. The end of knife crime without Pretty Patel’s intervention is a blessing. I wonder how she feels about the prisoners that are being released. In their case, just goes to show that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on temporary leave from prison in Iran, and there is talk of a possible reprieve. She must be living in a balloon of agitation.

In the afternoons, I write. What better for a writer than a retreat?

Possibly, because I don’t love washing dishes, I don’t feel like cooking much, but I know I have to eat well because healthy food is a must. I make myself a large bowl of fruit and nuts topped with kefir and homemade yoghurt, which I buy from the kind Kurdish shopkeeper near my house on the Caledonian Road. His wife, who makes the yoghurt, has been getting racist abuses, he tells me. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ I say and feel guilty. For what? For the privilege of my white skin.

Maybe I’ll have a glass of wine and eat one of the packets of precooked lentil dahl and spicy beans which only need to be heated. Or maybe I’ll make myself a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich, or dine on fruit: pineapple, mango, apples. And a cookie. I have these delicious salted caramel biscuits and must be careful not to binge on them. I have a feeling that by the time this Groundhog Day is over I’ll have put on weight.

The endless pings on my smart-phone announce constant messages. There’s no time for boredom. There is no shortage of stimulating articles on the computer, and I am addicted to Radio 4, I’m sure to always find something interesting to listen to. Or I can watch a movie on the iPlayer, Amazon, YouTube, Curzon Cinema or BFI. There are myriad choices. This, alas, stops me from reading much of The Leopard, the book I’m currently enjoying.

In the evening I try to do some stretching yoga, but I don’t always manage it.

With another glass of hot water, I take the supplements which I really should take in the morning. Bs, Ds, Cs and what have you.

By midnight, I’m ready to turn off the computer, do my toiletries and get to bed. Before falling asleep, I thank the universe and my angels for another serene day and send white light to the world.

But this is early days and I’m super curious about how I and the world will be changed when the nightmare is over. Hopefully, we’ll have become wiser.

How Lockdown Led Me To Photography


1 Minute Read

Until the lockdown and the worldwide pandemic struck back in March 2020, I spent my life racing here, there and everywhere, barely stopping to study my surroundings. I have had a busy life with various jobs and two children, and I didn’t realise it, but a hole needed filling. Photography did that.

I found it challenging to remain locked in during the lockdown and soon realised that the allocated exercise time plus the great advantage of owning a dog allowed me to walk around London and explore.  

It was eerily quiet with empty streets, and I began by taking photographs with my i-phone of the deserted roads. I will never forget standing at the top of The Mall at about 9 o’clock one weekday morning during what would have been a rush hour, and there wasn’t a single car in sight. The parks were equally empty at the very beginning of the first lockdown. It was then that I started studying my surroundings in close detail, from flora and fauna in the parks to the detail of buildings and structures that I had known all my life but never truly looked at before. So many people have said to me that although they knew a building, bridge or structure exceptionally well, they had never seen it from that angle or noticed details that I could point out through my photographs. 

Since I was a child, photography has been part of my life, but I never saw myself as a photographer. My mother was a keen photographer and a very good amateur watercolourist. Until lockdown and Covid 19 struck, my photographs mainly consisted of happy snaps of my friends and children. 

Then, last August, I won the Evening Standard Life in Lockdown Competition 2021. Not only first place but also fourth and ninth out of twenty. The first prize was for a photograph I took of Albert Bridge in Chelsea, and I can only say that after I had taken the shot, I jumped for joy with excitement. I had this instant feeling it was the one. And I’ve had that feeling a few times. The photograph that came fourth was taken early one morning in Hyde Park of two people walking near the Serpentine. They were silhouettes against a very crisp light on a chilly November morning in 2020. The ninth prize winner was a view of Buckingham Palace taken through two pillars of a balustrade at one of the entrances to St James Park. The pillars gave the impression of looking through a keyhole, and I chose it to be the cover of my book LONDON SILENCED.

Winning that competition gave me the confidence to do more photography, and in-between lockdowns, I was venturing further afield, discovering parts of London that I hadn’t known before. I was fascinated to learn the history of various areas such as Clerkenwell and Spitalfields. Clerkenwell has one of the oldest domestic buildings in London, dating back to the 15th century. The oldest is part of the Tower of London. Not many houses survived before the Great Fire of London in 1666.

I am drawn to the river. One day is never the same as the next, and photographs from the same spot look different in changing weather and light. I hadn’t realised how busy the river is for transporting building materials, waste and goods, and the Uber Riverboats transporting people, some of whom commute daily on these boats. Smaller companies rent out ribs and various types of boats, including a Venetian taxi boat, the first one to be licensed by Port of London. 

Not to mention the many houseboats, some of which are permanent residences and feel rather village-like on the river.

I can genuinely say that creating the book resulted from social media. I received an enormous amount of positive feedback and encouragement.

Publishing a book is like being on a roller coaster. There were many times when I was filled with doubt that anyone would be interested in what I had to show them. This contrasted with the huge thrill when I realized that people did appreciate my work and bought the book. 

I have been approached to have an exhibition of my photographs in the new year. I have had some of my images blown up to 3ft square and larger, and I am delighted with how good they look as it is a far cry from seeing an Instagram post on a smartphone. 

The moral of this story, as far as I am concerned, is that every cloud does have a silver lining, and one never knows what is around the next corner, but you have to be open to all possibilities, seize the moment and be ready to take some chances in life. Had it not been for the lockdown, I very much doubt I would have slowed down enough to realise what must have been lurking inside me all along – an eye for composition.

My book is for sale via www.claretollemachephotography.com and through four independent bookshops, John Sandoe, in Blacklands Terrace. SW3, Belgravia Books, Eccleston Street. SW1, Heywood Hill in Curzon Street, W1 and Mayhews in Motcomb Street. I am currently trying to get broader distribution for the book. (Any ideas gratefully received!)

 

©2021 Clare Tollemache Photography @claretollemachephotography

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