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


6 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

AofA People: Gilly Hanna – Dancer, Advertising Copywriter


4 Minute Read

Gilly Hanna is a founder member of Grand Gesture, a performance company of older dance artists in London. She’s also an advertising copywriter; and in past decades has worked as an aerobics teacher and library assistant.

What is your age?   63

Where do you live?

Central London, in Wapping. I’ve lived here for over twenty years and love this quiet, historic, riverside neighbourhood. Like many older Londoners, I did once consider downsizing to a place by the sea but soon realised I’d miss London too much. No other place is as diverse, multicultural, buzzy, green, fashionable, arty, walkable, villagey, and old, yet always new. I just hope Brexit and the Tory government won’t lead to London’s decline.

What do you do?

I work as a freelance copywriter, on an ad-hoc basis. I was a creative director in advertising for several decades. Sadly, the ad world is notoriously obsessed with youth and I was edged out of full-time employment in my early fifties. Only 6% of people in ad agencies are over 50, yet people in their fifties are the UK’s largest age group! I’m also working on Grand Gesture projects, such as choreography, filming and running our website.

What’s it like to be your age? How do you feel at this age?

I’m starting to settle into the idea of being in my sixties. It’s an interesting time, but rather daunting too when you realise how ageist our society is. In Grand Gesture we’re campaigning to have more age on stage. Older people need to be seen and heard a lot more.

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

Wrinkles. Nearly forty more years of experience and memories. Self-acceptance. I always wanted to be an extrovert and was often criticised for being stand-offish or too quiet. Finding out that I’m an INFP, one of the Myers-Briggs personality types, has given me peace of mind that it’s okay to be an introvert!

What about sex?

Hugging, holding hands, touching, being close makes you feel good, I do need physical affection. I’m also into erotic art forms like burlesque, celebrating vintage showgirl glamour and the 1940s pinup. I’d love Grand Gesture to do a fabulously theatrical exotic dance performance one day! I think it’s important to express your sensuality and sassiness as you grow older.

And relationships?

My closest relationship is with my husband who I met in ‘76. He’s a guitarist and we had a band and wrote radio commercials together in the eighties. We recently wrote and recorded a song for Grand Gesture, called We Love Living. As an introvert, I only have a small circle of friends. Being reserved and shy, I find it hard to make new ones.

How free do you feel?

I thrive on structure and routine, so lockdown restrictions didn’t bother me too much. Having a stable routine keeps me grounded and frees my imagination. I’m a minimalist and feel freer with fewer choices.

What are you proud of?

Co-founding Grand Gesture and helping to push boundaries in creatively staging ageing. Having a successful career and winning awards. Learning new things in lockdown, such as cutting my hair, editing videos and baking tasty sugar-free, flour-free cakes!

What keeps you inspired?

Curiosity. Being open to new ideas. I’ve recently discovered Wabi Sabi, the Japanese philosophy which celebrates imperfection and the passing of time. I’m also seeking inspiration from age activists like Gang des Vieux en Colère and Ashton Applewhite; older bloggers like Alyson Walsh (That’s not my age) and dancers like Charlotta Ofverholm. I’ve started exploring elder tales for a Grand Gesture project too.

When are you happiest?

I’m happiest when I’m absorbed in a creative project. But I’m pretty happy most of the time. I don’t like feeling down or negative, and if I do, walking or dancing will usually boost my mood. Motion is lotion!

And where does your creativity go?

A lot of things. Marketing, choreography, writing, the house, the garden. I’ll put my imagination to anything that needs a great idea or a new solution.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

It’s harder to shock or scandalise these days. But in Grand Gesture I’m releasing my inner rebel and rejecting the norms of ageing by having fun and being audacious. It’s time to rewrite the ‘rules’ of what it means to be older. Ageism is unfair and unnecessary; we all need to confront it and laugh at it.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Keep an open mind. Find your passion. Do your best, and that can be good enough – I’m always fighting my perfectionist tendency. Follow the Golden Rule, which is the principle of treating others as you would want to be treated. Appreciate oldness. Stay playful. And remember, you’ve got to be in it, to win it.

And dying?

Quickly, quietly, painlessly, and feeling content that what I’ve left behind is in good order and in safe hands.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, it’s never too late to do something great. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.

AofA People: Antony Fitzgerald – Model, Stylist, Art Director


5 Minute Read

What is your name:

Antony Fitzgerald

What is your age?

57 years old

Where do you live?

London, UK

What do you do?

I am a full-time model but more recently I have been also doing styling and art direction at photoshoots.

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

Being 57 – means that people often take you seriously and listen to what you say. But I feel the same as I did when I was in my 20s.

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

Confidence. I’m still self-reflective but I’m less concerned about what other people think of me. I’m more keen to add my perspective to the “pot” without fear of criticism.

What about sex?

Do what makes you happy. I am open-minded and as long as adults are consenting; who am I to judge?

And relationships?

We are all in a relationship with someone, be it a love relationship, friendship, work or family relationship. I think it’s really important that those relationships enhance and support who you are so that your “self” does not disappear in that relationship. It’s how we grow as individuals. And even when those relationships are not as they should be, they can spur us on to greater things.

How free do you feel?

I feel the freest that I have ever felt in my life. I do a job that can influence the industry and other people. I have the opportunity to live in another country and still do work/what I love.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17: A model walks the catwalk at The Icon Ball 2021 during London Fashion Week September 2021 at The Landmark Hotel on September 17, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 17: A model walks the catwalk at The Icon Ball 2021 during London Fashion Week September 2021 at The Landmark Hotel on September 17, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty Images)

What are you proud of?

I am proud of setting up ‘New Silver Generation’. It is a group/collective designed to promote models of colour over 50 within the fashion and beauty industry. Already, we have attracted the support of significant fashion designers Olubiyi Thomas and Julia Clancey. As a result, I walked for them in London Fashion Week in September 2021. And it has created opportunities for those models that I support.

What keeps you inspired?

Two things.The fear of failure. But also the sense that I have not yet reached my potential. I’m still growing and the mature model industry is still growing with people like me at the cutting edge of change. I am 57 but I am less granddad and more you 30 years later. Every 20-year-old wonders who or what they will be 30 years later. I represent a group of people who challenge the stereotype of what it means to be “old”. I still dance, I still meet my friends in the West End. “Soho is still my second home”. I would still happily go nightclubbing were it not for the Covid19 pandemic.

When are you happiest?

I am happiest when I am surrounded by my friends, dancing, modelling and knowing that I am inspiring people over 50 to do the same.

And where does your creativity go?

I create shoots. Sometimes I am in them or sometimes I am behind the scenes. But I create through concepts, colours, textures and materials. I try always to include older models of colour. And I use these images to challenge the industry and redefine what is beautiful.

What’s your philosophy of living?

A little of everything does you good. Regret nothing. Everything is a learning experience even if it causes us pain. Even if my friends let me down I still have me. And in me I have enough strength to keep going. Love with passion. Through your relationship with someone else, you can achieve so much more than you thought possible. And finding peace in your life is priceless. Even if you have to let relationships go to achieve it.

And dying?

I fear death. But then to a certain extent, I fear sleep. I’m a workaholic so anything that involves doing nothing frightens me. So that means that I am in a race to achieve some of the things that I would love to achieve in my life. The problem is I keep “changing the goalposts”

Are you still dreaming?

I am a dreamer. And the more I achieve the bigger my dreams. I remember thinking when I first started modelling, that if I did London Fashion Week, and if I saw myself on a billboard then I would have succeeded within the modelling industry. Now, I have been on many billboards, magazines, TV and walked in London Fashion Week nd Paris Fashion Week. I have surpassed all of my targets. So what next? For me, managing the careers of older models of colour to start with. And who knows for the future.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

We are just coming out of a pandemic so nothing much outrageous. However, walking for Julia Clancey during London Fashion Week September 2021 was ground-breaking. The oldest by about 30 years and the only male model wearing a kaftan for this women’s wear designer. For me, boundaries are just temporary obstacles to be overcome.

AofA People: Lorraine Bowen – Performer, Singer, Crumble Lady


7 Minute Read

Now known as The Crumble Lady, Lorraine Bowen won David Walliams’ Golden Buzzer on Britain’s Got Talent and has attracted tens of thousands of new fans of all ages; children are singing the Crumble Song at school, as are grown men in factories.

Lorraine Bowen is a unique performer! Quirky costumes, original idiosyncratic songs, vintage Casio keyboard played on an ironing board. She adores the fashion sensibility of the 1960s and has one of the largest polyester wardrobes in the UK.

Lorraine began her career playing the piano with Billy Bragg in massive venues in the UK and stadiums in Europe as well as both sides of the Berlin wall. Since then she has produced 6 albums, 100 videos on her Youtube TV Channel and regularly performs nationally and internationally.

How old are you?

59 (60 on 31st October)

Where do you live?

East Sussex, England

What do you do?

Musician, performer, composer, BGT Golden buzzer winner, crumble lady….. bonkers lady!

I write songs, put on shows, wear polyester fashions, think of new ideas, write lyrics, make videos on TikTok and YouTube, sing, dance and muck around on stage.  Others call it performing!

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

At 59 you start to see the world in a more landscaped view.  Women of my age should be in charge of the whole world cos we’ve seen a lot, been through a lot and can see the problems and could work through the answers in a more levelled state than a lot of leaders!  It will happen…. It will!

I have stability now that I didn’t have at 25.  Mind you I’ve had to work for it!

What about sex?

Sex?  I’ve got to do the washing up first!

And relationships?

Relationship – 36 years old relationship now.  Met in a pub in Deptford in 1986.  We were punky in nature – still are at heart.  It’s good to keep the grunge at heart.  Privilege isn’t a good thing really – it’s much better to have risen from the dirt and grime – makes you appreciate everything.  If you’ve been through the rough and tumble in life it keeps you centred and focused.  Nothing is a nightmare.  Well, another tornado in Haiti is a nightmare but the dishwasher blowing up isn’t a nightmare.  Keep it real!

How do you feel at this age?

I feel free and fanciful…. But like others, I do often worry about the world, climate change, right-wing terrorism, stupid people and what’s going to happen when I’ve got dementia and am dribbling down my own chin…

What are you proud of?

I’m very proud of my daring creativity over the years.  I’ve written lots of songs and haven’t cared what fashion they fit in, what lyrical strain they fit in – I’ve just done what I fancied and largely it’s turned out well!  My YouTube/Spotify stats tell me my biggest listening age group is 18-25s – how hilarious is that!

I’m proud that I never had kids and am part of a growing group of women who relish being free from all that.  I’m proud that I feel as a woman I’m at the forefront of a new frontier, a new age of thought.  We don’t have to conform.  We are new! We are pushing the boundaries and the boundaries are ever dissolving.

Mind you, I realise no one sees me in the street.  I’m 59 and therefore invisible… except when I’m proudly wearing my bright 1970s polyester jackets and you can see people squirm and smile at my fashion sense!  Ha ha!

What inspires you?

What keeps me inspired is that the world is quite a boring place really. Really boring. It’s up to us to brighten up things, look forward to a new day of being here, keeping it positive, keep the energy gushing out doing good things whether that being creative or working towards goals that are good. I love a new project and if there isn’t one there I’ll make one happen.  I’ve got a big show – my Greatest Hits show – in London on 10th October at ‘Above the Stag’ cabaret lounge and so am working towards that.  Also have been given a tremendous night in Brighton on November 20th to put on my Polyester Fiesta show.  Lots of my models can’t make the date …. so I’ll get some new ones!  Lots of work but a great challenge – HURRAH!

When are you the happiest?

I’m happiest when working on music…. Lyrics that make me laugh out loud, lyrics that won’t work and I wake at 5 am in the morning to scribble something down on a notepad by my bed!  Honestly lying on a beach in the sun doesn’t make me happy at all!  Being happy comes from achievement.  Working hard towards something than seeing how the hard work has made others laugh or brought about some catalyst in life.

Where does your creativity go?

My creativity goes towards my music/lyrics/songwriting/composing.  I’ve just finished writing a musical during lockdown – that took ten months – it was commissioned by a lovely young chap in Germany.  Sheer delight!

Then I recently wrote three environmental songs for piano and voice: ‘Down to Earth’ … and now I’m working on my live shows and wait for it.. a classical piece for mezzo-soprano, piano, cello and timpani!  Why not?  I’m 59 and can do what I like!

Do you have a philosophy of living?

Life is short – make the most of each day. Try to say to yourself – I’ve achieved this or that today… it might only be saving a bee from dying at the side of the road but that’s very important too!  (Without bees we as humans are dead in 9 years. My grandfather was a famous beekeeper in his day and warned of the destruction of the natural world). I think humans have got about 20 years left to sort themselves out…. Else it’s BOOM!  And unfortunately, everything else comes with us.

And dying?

My song ‘Would you like to be Buried of Cremated’ sums up everything!

Audiences love it as it puts life into perspective and you get them dancing on the table!  Total joy!

Would you like to be

Buried or cremated,

Mourned or celebrated?

I’d like to know,

Before you go

 

Would you like a coffin

Or any ‘ol thing to go off in?

Do let me know

Before you go

 

Cos

Life is such a day to day affair and often quite surreal

One minute you’re waiting for the bus

And the next you’re underneath the wheel, So!

 

Would you like your funeral

With all your favourite tunes and all

Can we dance

If we get the chance?

 

Cos

Life is such a day to day affair and often very weird

One minute you’re a little baby girl

And the next you’ve got a really long beard, So!

 

Buried or cremated?

Mourned or celebrated?

Can you face the music? cos

It’s up to you to choose it

 

Buried or cremated

Mourned or celebrated

I’d like to know for certain

Before you draw the curtain!

Are you still dreaming?

Of course, I’m still dreaming! I’m just about human and only humans have dreams and beliefs… no other animal or mammal would be stupid enough to have them! Why do we have them? It’s crazy!  They are a yearning, a make-belief that there is another way that could be better out there/something better that we could do… so dreams have to be fun. Dreams can lead to you doing crazy things so keep having them!  As a geeky spotty teenager, I used to dream of being a fashion model… now I am in my own Polyester Fiesta fashion show… I didn’t fit in with other people’s reality so made my own dream come true!   Have a go at your own!  Go-Girrl!

LORRAINE BOWEN’S GREATEST HITS TOUR DATES

https://abovethestag.org.uk/cabaret-lounge/lorraine-bowens-greatest-hits

Lorraine Bowen’s Greatest Hits

SUN, 10th OCT

15:30 – 17:30

Above The Stag Theatre & Bar (map)

72 Albert Embankment, LONDON SE1 7TP

Lorraine Bowen performs her Greatest Hits from her many original albums and of course the BGT famous Crumble Song!

 

SAT 20th NOV

Lorraine Bowen’s POLYESTER FIESTA

At the Ironworks Studio, Brighton, BN1

Lorraine and friends strut their stuff on the catwalk on polyester’s 80th birthday!  Nylon, Crimpelene, Terelene and more – come dressed up in your best flowery dress and join in the audience catwalk competition!  Fun night guaranteed!

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